I’ve struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. I grew up a chunky kid, went through my teenage years as a pudge, and entered adulthood decidedly obese. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be thin either. I wanted to lose weight. I tried every diet I could find, from Weight Watchers to Atkins. The more I dieted, the more weight I ultimately gained. I’m sure you’ve been there too. You start the latest fad diet. You lose a little; you gain a lot.
So many times I felt like giving up on dieting and trying to lose weight. Little did I know, that was exactly what I should have done years ago.
The Problem with Diets
The biggest problem with diets is that they don’t last. We’ve redefined the word diet to mean some temporary, drastic change in the way we eat. What diet should mean, according to Webster’s anyway, is “food and drink regularly provided or consumed.” That word regularly doesn’t seem to coincide with starving oneself on and off over the years, does it?
The other problem I’ve found with dieting is that obsession leads to regression. The more I counted points, calories, grams, and carbs, the more I thought about food. Think about it. When you’re on a strict diet, don’t you find yourself obsessing over what you can or can’t have for the next meal, even while you’re eating the current one? Then you finally give up and start eating like crazy again – not a great way to lose weight.
So, if diets don’t work, what can we do? We retrain ourselves to eat like normal human beings.
Eating the Right Way
Forgetting about dieting was my first breakthrough in losing weight. The next one wasn’t so big. In fact, it took baby steps to achieve the next important milestone in my weight loss journey. I knew I wasn’t ready to start cutting back on major amounts of food. So, I started replacing them instead. Think nonfat milk instead of whole, fat free dressing instead of creamy, baked instead of fried. You get the idea. I still ate pretty much what I wanted, but tried to make at least one healthy substitution, or addition, at each meal.
Then I started looking at how much I was eating. That word regular in the definition of diet got me to thinking about how a regular person would eat. Then I remembered something from years ago. In one of my dieting phases I had read Oprah Winfrey’s book, Make the Connection. (A book I still highly recommend.) I remembered how Oprah had to retrain her body to know what hunger really felt like. I looked at how often I was eating and figured I couldn’t possibly be really, truly, and honestly hungry every time I went for that bag of Cheetos. So, for a while, I did go on a mini-diet. I cut back until I reconnected with my body and what hunger, not just cravings, felt like.
When I went back to the non-diet, I still ate what I wanted and when. I still made my healthy substitutions. The difference was that I paid more attention to whether I was really hungry or if I was just bored or stressed. If I was bored or stressed, I found something to do. If I was hungry and wanted pizza, I ate pizza. But, I didn’t eat half a pizza like before. I ate what a normal person would eat, a slice or two. An amazing thing happened. Now that I new what full really felt like, I started getting full after eating less.
To sum it up, eating the right way means:
Making healthy substitutions
Adding healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, to your meals
Eating when you are hungry, not when you have a craving
Avoiding fad diets
You Have to Exercise Too
I found that eating the right way stopped me from gaining more weight. But I was still heavy and still out of breath when I climbed the stairs. I knew the awful truth. If I was going to lose weight, I had to exercise.
I had tried gyms in the past but didn’t enjoy panting for breath alongside the track team. I’ve also owned a variety of exercise equipment. At one time, you probably could have considered me a collector. Like a true collector, my equipment remained unused and in pristine condition. If I was going to do this, I had to find something cheap, enjoyable, and easy to schedule. That’s where walking comes in.
I know you’ve heard it a million times, but I’m going to say it again. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. It’s basically free; all you need is a good pair of sneakers and the clothes on your back. You can squeeze in a walk just about anywhere, any time.
Your first walk should only be around the block, or even around the house, whatever you can do without hurting or feeling worn out. If you dive in full throttle, you’re not going to make it past the first couple of days. Each day, or week, add a little distance to your route. And please, for the love of God, stretch. I didn’t stretch when I started out and had tons of leg cramps to show for it. Eventually, I worked up to walking about 5 miles per day. That’s when the weight really started coming off. Another bonus – my blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and mental health all improved too.
Here are some things I found that made my walks easier:
Water – Take a big, cold bottle of water on every walk.
Music – Music and podcasts can make the time go by and take your mind off the effort you’re expending.
Good Shoes – I ended up buying a pair of Skechers Shape-Ups. Yes, they really do work.
Route Planner – There are plenty of web site that will help you plan or track your walking route. It’s fun to see how many miles you’ve walked around your neighborhood.
Changing Your Mind
I couldn’t possibly tell you how I lost weight without giving you these last bits of advice. If you really want to lose weight, you have to stop thinking like a dieter. When you make changes, think about whether you can live with these changes for the rest of your life. If you can’t, rethink your strategy.
Do what works for you. If walking isn’t your thing, then try yoga, or pilates, or whatever will keep you coming back day after day.
Stop thinking about the pounds. Don’t weigh in every day, or even every week, especially if you’re exercising and gaining muscle. Instead, look at how your clothes are fitting. If your pants are getting loose, you’re doing something right.
Finally, stop rushing it. We seem to be programmed for instant gratification these days, but that’s not how it works with weight loss, not healthy weight loss anyway. Losing tons of weight in a couple weeks, or even months is unrealistic. It took me years to put on all the weight I did. It took me only about one year to lose half of what I want. In the scheme of things, that’s pretty darn fast.