Every year, for many, many years, I would promise myself I'd lose weight. Sometimes I would make a little headway, but mostly I didn't. Then in 2017, it happened. Like most huge changes, it was actually lots of little choices adding up to something big. Here's how I did it.
Know Why You Want To Lose Weight
For a very long time, I felt conflicted about wanting to lose weight at all. We get so many confusing messages about how we should feel about our bodies, both positive and negative. I had kind of landed in a place of trying to accept myself wherever I was at, which was good, but it meant I also sometimes felt embarrassed about wanting to change. It's so personal, but I would say don't make a decision about how to treat your body based on what other people expect from you.
The fact is, my knees hurt and I was often lethargic and sick. I've been consistently more energetic, less depressed, and less frequently ill since I began exercising. Changing my diet cured my almost daily heartburn. Being thin isn't the same thing as being healthy, but in my case, this weight loss was undeniably a benefit to my health.
Do It With Friends
Making a change in how you take care of your body can be very isolating, because so many of our social activities revolve around food. That feeling can be mitigated with a support network. I was lucky that first month, because a group of friends were doing the Whole 30 at the same time. We made a private Facebook group to support each other, complain, give tips, and share recipes. It is true that people who are getting into fitness never shut up about it, so find a crew of people who you can blab at unashamedly. I've also done text threads, email accountability check-ins, healthy brunch outings, and GroupMes.
If you're not surrounded by people interested in talking about how many steps you got in today, join other open groups on Facebook or fitness subreddits. Most calorie counting apps have a social component where you can post pictures of food with other members or talk about your struggles. It feels corny at first, but it may save your relationships with people who can't hear any more about how alert you feel since giving up sugar.
Commit To Something For 30 Days
At the beginning of 2017, I did the Whole 30. I am not advocating for this diet specifically. I'd originally intended to give up dairy as a New Year's resolution, but found out a big group of friends were embarking on the Whole 30 journey, and wanted to do something with buddies (see above). In fact, the Whole 30 is not necessarily a diet that's even devised to cause weight loss. It eliminates things like sugar, alcohol, and dairy, plus a whole bunch of other delicious stuff.
I did ultimately lose weight, because a lot of the things on the No-No List are my favourite snacks, like cheese puffs and ice cream, but you could easily gain weight on it as well. Neither potatoes nor bacon are outlawed, for instance. And anything with calories can add up to too many calories in a day. But because I was sticking so strictly to the rules, I was hyper aware of my eating choices; though I always ate enough to be full, that's where I'd stop. This was a big change, because I love overeating.
Weight loss concerns aside, the Whole 30 is extreme, and I'm not necessarily recommending extreme diets. For the vast majority of people, they can't be sustained for any length of time, and most gain back the weight they lose. If you aren't being careful, you could potentially make yourself sick. For me, at that time, it worked as a way to change my relationship to food, but I think there are lot of simpler ways to do the same thing. I'm recommending that you choose something and do it every day for 30 days.
In the past, I often made resolutions and gave up too quickly. I'd say, "This is me now! I only eat veggies and protein for dinner, forever! I work out every day, forever!" But forever kept being too long. It felt like a lot of hard work that didn't immediately produce results. When I was on the Whole 30, I knew it was only for 30 days, so I saw it through - and there was a real turning point that I'd never reached before. My pants fit looser. I started to get better at things at the gym that had seemed impossible before — I could jump rope longer, do deeper lunges, and for the first time, a burpee. These little accomplishments built up and made me want to stick with it even more.
Pick something. A push-up challenge, walking for a half hour a day, a change in your diet. You likely know what it is that needs to change. Sticking with something will show you what you're capable of and what the results can be. You will want to keep going.
Keep A Food Diary And Count Calories
Most of my weight loss came from dieting, but I wasn't that strict about how much I ate in the beginning, more what I ate. I found this to be a better way to think about it. I eventually shifted to counting my calories on an app, specifically one called Fat Secret. I realise this is an extremely rude name, but it helped me count macros when I spent another month (30 days!) doing the ketogenic diet.
Figuring out how you want to manage food is different for everyone; some people feel they quickly get obsessive when counting calories and it becomes an unhealthy focus. Some people find the work of writing down what they eat tedious, and prefer to have general rules. You know you. But here's what I got from both.
Writing down what I ate made me think about it a lot more. I would go through my day and consider what I'd eaten and when, which then made me consider if I'd eaten because I was hungry, stressed, sad, or just because it was in front of my face. Reviewing those habits made me more conscious of what I was doing, even if it didn't necessarily stop me from eating a family-size bag of chips. With calorie counting, it quite literally made me understand exactly how much I was eating every day. Which was a lot!
When I switched to keto for a month in early Spring, I needed to count calories to track my macros. Keto is very high fat and low carb. Your macros intake is basically how much fat, protein, and carbohydrates you're getting. It's complicated enough counting calories, but that was too much maths for my meals. An app really helped, and it was a very different way of looking at food intake.
It also made me realise how many calories were in certain foods I thought of as healthy. They still technically were - replacing cookies with a salad is probably much more nutritionally beneficial to you, but if you keep adding on extras, the calorie balance might end up being similar. You'll likely feel good, which is great, but not actually lose weight. Once I saw how many calories the food I was eating added up to, it got a lot easier to cut back on the emptier stuff in my meal plan, like snacks made from nuts or dried fruit. That stuff isn't bad in moderation, but there were times I'd house a bad of mango slices only to realise I'd eaten as many calories as I did at dinner. Just have make your decisions from a place of information rather than assumptions.
Don't Do Something That Makes You Miserable
OK, so diet is likely most of what will make you lose weight. But you should still exercise, because it makes you feel freaking great. Back to the 30 days thing: exercising regularly and not abandoning it after a week and half meant experiencing what exercise does besides make you painfully sore. It improved my mood, it made me feel like eating healthier, and it gave me energy throughout the day. And my thighs are also extremely toned.
Here is the caveat: do something fun. There are lots of philosophies about what the most efficient type of exercise is, what will make you lose weight or build muscle. My personal preference is to lift weights and mix in cardio with HIIT, when I'm keeping things simple. But your mind and emotions are a part of the physical experience. If you're doing something that bores you or makes you anxious, you won't want to keep going. Try different stuff. Groupon often has class deals so you can try out barre or pilates or a dance class. Try a bunch of different things until you find the thing that makes sweating down your butt crack worth it.
Go Somewhere Near Work Or Home For Exercise
I just said try a bunch of stuff, which implies exploration. I stand by that as an intro to getting your bod moving again, but I found that having a gym I could go to near my home made it so, so much easier. It was revelatory. Sometimes on tough days, I'd tell myself, "Just walk over there. You don't have to exercise, just go to the gym because it's two blocks away." And then I'd go and inevitably work out, at least a little. If you can avoid road blocks to exercise, like a long-arse subway ride, it will help with motivation.
Supplement Every Day Workouts With Special Stuff
When I first started working out consistently, I had a membership at an extremely cheap gym. They ran a special on half hour personal training sessions, so I bought a package that probably added up to what a more traditional gym would cost. Having a trainer I saw regularly helped focus my other workouts, and eventually pushed me to go to the gym on my no-trainer days, so I could keep up with him.
Having a regular, cheaper work out option and the occasional splurge of a trainer or class can help push you to the next level and provide motivation on a daily basis. Now I like to plan work outs with friends as a special treat, or go to a dance or spin class for variety. Yes, I have become a person who considers biking in the dark for an hour a "special treat."
Don't Make Hunger Your Diet Plan
Letting yourself get too hungry will kill all your best intentions. Our minds get exhausted making the "right" choice again and again, and feeling like an empty sack isn't the same thing as developing a nutritional diet with a calorie deficit for weight loss. Carry snacks. Throw some cashews in your bag, then in your mouth when you're feeling peckish. It will be cheaper than looking for stuff on-the-go, and you'll be less likely to cave and eat an ice cream burrito at midnight when you're exhausted and starving.
On that note, outside the month of Whole 30 and Keto, I mostly didn't commit to specific diets. They were both experiments for me, to break up the old food patterns in my life and see if I could feel better doing something else. They're pretty simple things - I order less when I go out, then wait and see if I want more; if I'm stressed I try to go for a walk or call someone before eating my feelings; I keep olives in the house so when I am having an insane salt craving I can eat a few instead of a bag of fries. In general, I think outlawing something you love to eat forever is a mistake. It makes it forbidden, and that much more tempting. But taking a break can be a good way to figure out the difference between what you want and what you need.
I find eating food with a high fat content and lower carb content makes me feel more full, especially if there are protein and fibrous vegetables involved. It can just be an oily dressing if you don't like dairy. Sometimes eating a salad is less exciting than an entire pizza, but if I tell myself, "Eat the salad first, then see if you want pizza," I often don't eat the pizza. And I've gotten my daily greens, too.
Treat Your Body Like You Love It Now
For a long time, I would wear pants that were too tight and shirts that were too big. The tight pants reminded me I was uncomfortable with my weight, the big shirts would hide my figure. Every once in a while, I would panic and try to lose weight through intense measures, which would always fail. Then I'd retreat even further. Wanting things to change all at once kept me from appreciating where I was at, but it's all a process. You should be there for yourself every step of the way.
Building body strength and making lifestyle changes in your diet takes a while. In the meantime, work on thinking nice things about yourself. Get clothes that fit and make you feel cute, including some stuff you like wearing to work out in. Taking care of your body is just a part of taking care of yourself, so make sure you believe you deserve that care. You do.
Don't Make It About Your Character
Similar to what's above, it's important to not make this a moral issue. It's not. For years, if I failed to stick with my resolutions, I used that failure as a way to berate or shame myself. That just made fitness a subject I wanted to avoid, because it brought on lots of negative emotions. We shift our energy around to different priorities. When you're ready to prioritise fitness, you will. Maybe you'll only make it two weeks of your 30 days, but if you keep trying throughout the year, those weeks will add up. Start a small good habit now and see how far it takes you.
This story has been updated since its original publication.