This time last year, right after the holidays, I was heavier than I’d ever been – and I could no longer pretend that the numbers on the scale were an anomaly or a temporary weekend bump. I realized that I was at the age (37) where you either start taking care of yourself, or start going downhill. I knew I had to do something. I decided to lose 10 pounds. That’s right – my original goal was just to lose 10 pounds – but by the summertime, I would lose 20 pounds – and would be fitter than ever.
Everyone has to figure out what elements of a healthy lifestyle work for them – which foods they love and can’t part with, which exercises they hate – but this is how I did it.
- First, I set a realistic goal: lose 10 pounds by summertime. I didn’t want to lose 20 pounds in two weeks or become a bikini model: I just wanted to become a better version of myself, and create a healthier lifestyle that was sustainable.
- I enlisted support. I told my brother what my goals were – and that I would be calling him up when I needed a boost of support or some positive words. And I did! He’s not a fitness fanatic or a nutrition pro – but he was there when I needed him.
- I learned the calorie counts and portion sizes of my common meals, and started keeping a food journal. That’s right: I started counting calories – but please don’t stop reading. I bought a digital scale and began weighing my food. Yes, it was a pain in the ass at first. Counting out 150 calories of almonds or measuring 4 ounces of chicken breast is not anyone’s idea of a good time. But this step was crucial in realizing how many calories I was actually consuming on a regular basis. My standard breakfast was almost 600 calories – but I thought it was healthy because it contained lots of fresh vegetables. I was shocked to discover the common calorie counts of bread, pasta, crackers and chips – and that chicken breasts from the store are often well over twice the weight (10 ounces) of chicken breasts as written in recipes (4 ounces). And here’s the secret: you eat the same things over and over. After a while, you no longer have to look up the calorie count of your favorite foods. You know them by heart. You also learn what portion sizes look like. Best of all, counting calories is temporary – by summertime, my food journal was a thing of the past.
- I identified which healthy foods I love, and which “indulgences” really don’t do much for me, and adjusted my diet accordingly. I have a sweet tooth and love fruit – so I made sure to always have fresh berries and other fruits at the store. Some people love pasta, bread, and other carbs – but for me, they are “meh.” It was very easy to start eating open-face sandwiches with just one slice of bread, and to cut out pasta altogether.
- Eating delicious food is really important to me, so I resolved to try one new healthy recipe per week. Some recipes I didn’t like at all – but some I loved, and these new dishes helped build up my repertoire of healthy meals to cook.
- Will-power testing foods were banished from the house. Did I mention my sweet tooth? I stopped relying on my willpower and banished chocolate, cookies, ice cream, and other sweets from my house. This isn’t to say I banished them from my diet – but I would indulge in single-serving treats outside the house, instead of bringing a whole big package in. Yes, I would crave chocolate like crazy – but then the cravings would go away. I realized that not giving into my nightly cravings for sweets wouldn’t kill me, which made my willpower stronger every day.
- I created a point system, and kept track of my daily progress. Every time I ate a healthy breakfast, lunch or dinner – I received points. Every time I ate healthy all day long – I received a lot more points. At the end of the month, I could “exchange” those points for non-food treats – like new paints, new flip flops, or a trip to the movies.
- I coupled my efforts with an exercise program. After spending an hour at the gym, I wasn’t about to un-do all those efforts and more with a plate of nachos. I wanted to honor my body, and give it the nutritious food that it deserved.
By June, I had lost 20 pounds and dropped several dress sizes. I could relax my eating restrictions, and I went shopping for a bikini. Previously, I thought the weight gain was just a part of getting older – in fact, many people told me to just accept my heavier size as part of life. But I didn’t, and you don’t have to either. You can do it too.
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