I haven't done a confession in a few weeks because I've been working on this... so, yeah, it's a long one. I do appreciate you taking the time to read this giant post, and I hope that it inspires you in some way.
I think a good place to start is with a little history on my weight: all through high school and college I was overall happy with my weight. I wasn't an athletic teenager, but I was a waitress and was otherwise active, and, well, I had that young metabolism! Once I finished college and got my first desk job, I gradually put on 15-20 or so pounds, courtesy of going out to lunch will colleagues every day and going out for dinner and drinks with friends each night (oh, the life of a young professional with no responsibilities!).
When I finally resolved to get the weight off, I used the strategy of lean cuisines for meals and 45 minute cardio during my lunch break. I got all the weight off around the time I met Taras. We were quickly engaged and in the craziness that was a long distance relationship + full time job + wedding planning + graduate school, weight just kept coming off and at our wedding I was the thinnest of my adult life. Then we were married, moved to Boston, and I had to deal with winters (how do I work out when it's so cooold??) and we wanted to try all the best restaurants around town. So, basically, I was eating and drinking out a lot and not getting in much regular exercise. From our wedding until I decided to get a hold on my weight, I had gone from 115ish to 150ish pounds, and I've made it back down to 125ish pounds, a weight I am happy with. Which brings me to how I lost the weight this time around, and how I'm keeping it off....
It is important to note that I am not a nutritionist, doctor, or athletic trainer. This is my personal story and what worked for me. Please consult the appropriate professionals before making any major changes to your diet or exercise plan.
1. I had to quit comparing my plan and results to someone else, and figure out what worked best for me. What works for one person might not work for another. Not only are all of our bodies different, but we all think differently - some of us need rewards, some need quick results to keep motivated, some prefer the consistency of a slow and steady weight loss, etc. I also had to realize that just because someone is skinny, it does't mean they're healthy (I'm not sure why this realization helped me so much, but it did).
2. I counted calories, and then I stopped. I calorie counted for about a month and it was an eye opening experience. Understanding how many calories it adds to put a slice of cheese on a sandwich or realizing how much those cocktails added up over the course of a week was an important step for me. The reason I stopped was because I wanted to make my weight loss about nutrition, not just calories (but more on that later).
3. Maybe the most important thing I did was adopt a new way of eating for a full month, using an eating plan that eliminated the bad stuff from my everyday diet. Taras and I did it together, which was a huge help. We had heard a lot of great stuff about the Engine 2 diet, which is a whole food, plant-based diet that also focuses on eliminating sugar and fats. (Note: I'm not saying you must do the Engine 2 diet. Do what you believe in - I might have chosen paleo had I known about it at the time.) I cannot say enough about how important this step was. A month is enough time to really change your habits and to expose you to new foods and new ways of cooking. Don't look at this step as a diet in the sense of losing weight, but as the first step to changing the way you eat for life! Taras is an avid cheese lover, I was a big sweets person, and we both ate a lot more meat than we even realized. For a month we eliminated all of these vices (and it was so easy! it really was!) and at the end of it our cravings and habits had changed, and we were left feeling empowered over our achievements and excited for a future of better eating. We now eat a lot more fruit and veggies, but much less sugar and dairy. We found the Engine 2 diet to be easily adaptable to social situations, which was a big factor in our success.
4. I made my weight loss about nutrition, not weight. This was pivotal for me. The last time I lost weight I was eating nutritionally sub-par lean cuisines and I didn't teach myself anything about how to really eat right and how to appropriately nourish my body. This time around I made it a point to understand how different foods impact my body, and how you need to keep your gut healthy! Here are some of my takeaways about the nutrition of eating:
- Be honest with how nutritional your diet is or isn't. I hid behind the things I knew I was doing right: I rarely ate fast food, I never drank soda, and when we cooked at home, we focused on whole foods. All of this sounds great, but obviously I was going wrong somewhere. To make this about nutrition, I had to be honest about what parts of my diet needed more attention: sugar intake, social drinking, and eating out.
- Eat whole foods! This is already a long post, so I'll link to a write-up on this topic.
- Stop the sugar! Oh my goodness, I loved sweets (I am my father's daughter, for sure). This was probably the number one reason why I put on as much weight as I did. Darn you, ice cream! But once I did the elimination diet, my cravings and habits with sugar changed and I've become very sensitive to sugar - I can't drink sweet cocktails (which I used to love) and if I eat too much sweet stuff I get physically sick because my body is no longer used to it. As soon as I understood sugar, what it does to my body, and how much sugar I should actually have each day, it was easy for me to want to reduce my sugar intake. I found this article very insightful.
- Read labels! If you're eating whole foods and eliminating unnecessary sugar, reading labels is essential. We shopped at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's so it was mostly easy to find options without hydrogenated oils and preservatives. But still, I've made it a practice to check labels and make sure there's no added sugar (or syrups, etc.) and, honestly, I'm amazed by how many products add sugar and preservatives. I even stopped using salad dressing, since they all add sugar. Give me a little olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper and I haven't needed the bottled stuff since! Here's an interesting read.
5. I worked hard to find a new eating lifestyle that worked for me. Once I got to a point where I was eating mostly whole foods, less sugar, and overall more healthily, I had to figure out how to eat for my lifestyle. Taras and I are social people who love a good chef-cooked meal (read: lots of butter!) and having drinks with friends, so I needed to find the balance that allowed me to indulge and live life.
- I pay attention to serving sizes and make sure to fill up my plate with lots of vegetables. I truly enjoy fruits and vegetables so I make sure to eat plenty of them.
- I do eat gluten and other grains, but in moderation. I know everyone has their opinion on this one, but my body feels better when I eat less of it, so that's what I do.
- I do eat dairy, but in moderation. Partially because I know dairy can make me feel bloated, and partially because, I don't know, it all seems so pasteurized and processed to me.
- I eat until I'm satisfied, not full.
- We order less and share more when we eat at restaurants.
- We reduced our social drinking. We nurse a couple drinks on a night out, rather than being over-indulgent and, on average, we have less than one drink a day.
- Water, water, water! This was easy for me because I love water and it's always been my go-to drink.
- I weigh myself every day. I know for some people this might not work and might make them obsess, but I find that it helps me stay mindful about eating well.
- I try to avoid emotional or comfort eating. It's usually not worth the five minutes of comfort to then have an hour-long stomach ache because I ate five cupcakes, you know?
- I make sure two meals a day are good and nutritious, which keeps me from feeling guilty when we do go out to eat or have an indulgent meal at home.
Through this all I've been happy to learn that it's true what they say: the better you eat, the more you crave those nutritious foods. I don't feel like I've lost out on anything by changing the way I eat, because I truly crave the better foods and because my body and mind feel better. I'm sure reading this can sound like my life is no fun and I just have a lot of food rules, but that's just not true. My basic formula is to eat healthily most of the time so that I have no worries or concerns about treating myself when I want to - it really is as easy as that!
I moved to Boston in the winter and I completely let my workout routine slip. Sure, I was doing a lot of walking and some sporadic jogging, but it wasn't enough to keep me healthy.
Once I got committed to a healthier lifestyle, Taras and I got into cycling and I made biking a part of my everyday life. I biked to and from work (about six miles round trip) and biking became our primary way to get around the city. And when we weren't biking, we were walking. I would also try to jog two to three times a week. Now, I know this isn't a perfect exercise routine - there was no weight training or yoga - but making my lifestyle a more active one is what kept me motivated and interested (plus, it kept me from the pitfall of "oh, I'll exercise later"). I felt stronger, healthier, and more energized just by simply adapting to a more active lifestyle.
When we went on our trip we stayed active with hikes and biking/walking around towns and cities, and we mixed in some sporadic running, swimming, and yoga.
And, now, we're home and starting our new life in Portsmouth. It's winter and snow is everywhere and we just got jobs, which meant there was no money to spend on a gym. Basically, I've just given you a long sentence of excuses. I've been completely horrible at working out this winter and I need to step it up. I'm realizing that I will need to be more dedicated to the effort now that we live out of the city and have a less active lifestyle (no more walking or biking everywhere we go). I'd like to alternate yoga and running, so send me all your positive thoughts so I can get back on the wagon (er, bike?).
Losing the weight has been a gradual process because I made it about creating a healthy lifestyle, not just crash-losing the weight. It probably took me one and a half to two years, but now I know I've set myself up for a healthy life, not just a skinny phase of life. You can see some more of my health posts here.
Have you had your own weight-loss or nutrition journey? I'd love to hear about it, or if you've done your own post, please link to it in the comments!
PS - I did a couple posts over at Tagabonds about how we ate on the road. You can read those here and here.
Thanks for reading! You can also find me here: Tagabonds (our travel blog), facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, and on the new vine app for the iPhone (search for: amanda bouzakine).