Saturday, November 26, 2011

On dropping the extra weight.

It’s Thanksgiving which means a) everyone’s obsessed about food (with good reason I LOVE Thanksgiving) and b) everyone’s obsessed about weight.  I’ve been finding “tips for losing weight fast” all over the place, and after reading yet ANOTHER top ten list today that had the same useless recommendations (crunches are NOT the solution to all my problems tyvm) I realized that I probably could write my own top ten list, and it might be more useful than those canned magazine suggestions. 

First, a confession.  The summer after I graduated from college I weighed 170 pounds. According to those annoying charts, I was actually bordering on obese for my height.  I felt horrible about myself.  Then one day I looked in the mirror and realized that all the things I hated about my body were things I could change.  For the first time, I got really serious about the dieting. I spent the summer with my family as my coaches and cheerleaders, really working on losing weight, and in the end, I dropped almost 30 pounds.  I’ve kept that weight off for three years now, and I’m actually still losing weight (much, MUCH slower.  I have dropped five pounds over the past three years, but they were a hard-earned five pounds.)  Having actually managed to make a lifestyle change,  I feel like I actually have some advice to offer if you’re looking to lose weight permanently yourself.  These ten points are NOT tips for quick weight loss, they’re ideas that you might take into account as you begin to create a lifestyle change for yourself.  These have worked for me, and I hope you find them useful:

 1.  DON’T DEPRIVE YOURSELF.  It’s in all caps for a reason.  For me, diets never work.  I feel like I’m punishing myself and just end up craving horrible things (even the piece of chocolate cake I actually hate) just because I’m not allowing myself to eat them.   Instead of completely cutting out anything sweet, I keep a bar of dark chocolate or a box of ginger snaps in the house and an hour or two after dinner, when the sweet craving sets in, I have two squares of chocolate or two cookies and a cup of hot tea.  It makes me feel like I’ve had desert, satisfies my cravings, and allows me to stick to the diet plan I have.

2.  Don’t buy bad food.  If you have it available, you’ll eat it, so don’t tempt yourself, don’t buy it. It’s as simple as that (but not really.)  As a rule, I don’t allow myself to go to the grocery store when I’m hungry.  It helps me resist buying the bag of chips or the delicious slice of carrot cake.

3. Cook your own food.  If I cook it, I know exactly what goes into it.  I try to limit the amount of meals I eat out (and here I’m counting everything I don’t prepare from scratch.)  This is EXTREMELY hard to do when you’re busy, so here’s a place I find ways to cut corners: In the summer I eat a lot of big salads that make me feel full, but are quick to make.  In the winter when I’m craving comfort food, I make a huge pot of soup and supplement that with the occasional treat so I don’t feel I’m constantly eating the same thing. 

4. Find the exercise you enjoy.  If you enjoy it, you’ll do it.  I do a combination of yoga and jogging.  The yoga builds muscle and flexibility, the jogging is great cardio (and I can motivate myself by thinking of it as “outside time” rather than exercise time).  If you’re trying to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in, so make it easier for yourself by finding ways to make the calorie-burning endurable.

5. Kick-start by going no carb.  I started my diet regime with two weeks of absolutely no carbs at all: no fruit, no starchy vegetables, nothing.  I dropped a lot of weight quickly and it got my confidence up.  If you’re having trouble starting, try this, THEN focus on changing your lifestyle and habits to keep the weight off and continue dropping pounds. 

6. Set a non-weight-related goal.  I have a mantra I use when I exercise.  It reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing.  Don’t lose weight to lose weight lose weight because....(fill in the blank)

7. Eat right.  Learn where the calories are hiding in your foods.  Don’t trust things that claim to be “low fat” or “low sodium.” Often, they compensate by adding more of something else equally unpleasant.  Read labels.  When I started I had no idea how many calories were in the food I ate, so I started keeping a food diary and counting calories. It was hugely frustrating, but it taught me some valuable lessons.  For me, counting calories didn’t actually help me lose weight (I felt like I was depriving myself) , but it did help me educate myself so I could be successful later. 

8.  Get a hobby  I eat when I’m bored, so if I keep myself occupied, I feel less hungry.  You can also try keeping snacks like raw almonds in the house to combat the urge to snack on something less healthy.  A friend of mine goes about this differently.  She set a rule that she’d never eat after 9pm and she sticks to it.  For me, with my insane life, that’s not a reasonable rule, but it works for her. Both of these strategies are about finding constructive ways to combat the urges and cravings that are just a fact of life.

9. Stay AWAY from the scale.  I DO NOT weigh myself every day.  My weight fluctuates by as much as 5 pounds daily.  I tend to weigh myself once a week and this gives me an idea of the general trend (am I gaining, losing, or maintaining?) so that I can adjust my habits accordingly. 

10.  Create your own top ten.  What works for me might not work for you. For me, as long as I’m exercising, I generally maintain weight, so I can afford to be a little lax about the food I eat.  I do some form of exercise every day, even if it’s just 5 sun salutations or 10 minutes of different kinds of sit-ups because I find it’s easier to maintain my exercise regimen that way. I mix up my daily routine with short-term challenges (the 40-day challenge is an example of this) and reward myself at the end (not a food reward of course.)  If your weight is more dependent on your diet than your exercise, your top ten will look different from mine.  Know what the challenges are for you and find reasonable ways to combat them.  The trick is not to go on a diet, but to create a lifestyle change.  It’s the only way you’ll actually keep off the weight you’re losing. 

So what are your top ten weight-loss strategies?  Leave some ideas in the comments so I can benefit from your wisdom.  After all, my list is a constant work in progress.