Before I start, I just want to remind you that I am -NOT- a healthcare professional. Before you start any kind of nutrition or fitness plan, seek the help of a registered dietician, trainer and/or physician. They will be able to help you figure out what is right for your person much better than a stranger on the internet can!
I was raised in a household that loves to eat. I remember spending lots of time around my grandmother’s kitchen table as a child, watching her make meals for the family. My mother’s side of the family was from the south (Northwest Georgia, to be specific), and to California my grandmother brought with her a style and taste that most would envy — I certainly do! There are many comfort foods that I grew up with as dietary staples, my two favorites being “Milk n’ Bread” (cornbread crumbled in milk) and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. They don’t float everyone’s boat, but they sure float mine! She also made wonderful fried chicken, peach cobbler and banana pudding. It all tasted fantastic….but none of it was particularly healthy. In addition to lacking in the health department, we in my family also suffered from major portion distortion. Plates were always heaped with food and though we weren’t pressured to do so, we mostly cleaned them. Why? Because we like food!
Unfortunately, my grandmother came down with Alzheimer’s Disease and the household’s diet began to change. We didn’t typically cook in the house. Tons of ordering out–sometimes even multiple times a day. When we did cook it was usually something instant, or not very healthy. In addition to our nutrition-lacking meals, our diets were also often sprinkled with trips to 7-11 for junk food. You see, we not only love food…we use food. My family is a big bunch of emotional eaters. We eat when we’re happy, sad, angry or even just bored. It’s not a conscious thing, but it certainly is something that we do. During my teens my mom was the caregiver for both my grandmother and stepfather, both who were suffering from major health issues and living in our house. Home was always full of stress. I developed and was diagnosed with general and social anxiety disorders. My reliance on emotional eating as a self medicating device just became more and more severe and the weight kept piling on.
I was never happy about being obese, but had never really thought I had an option to be otherwise. I had always been this way. In my early 20s I made a few radical attempts to drop the weight, all involving extreme caloric deprivation. When I was 24, I even tried Medifast. It didn’t work, however. It just wasn’t something I could maintain. I mean, how could I? At 24 years old and a weight of 232 pounds, my BMR was somewhere in the ballpark of 1850 calories! This means that on Medifast I was expected to exercise and do my normal daily activities while eating half the calories that it would take just for me to rest in bed all day! It is no surprise that a person would fail on such a plan. I didn’t see it that way then, however. I saw myself as a failure. I had never felt more worthless in my life.
In June of 2007, a friend of mine introduced me to SparkPeople, a website dedicated to achieving healthy living. I was dubious at first, as I couldn’t possibly figure out why this would work when all else had failed. However, I decided that I really didn’t have anything to lose. I began using the website’s nutrition and fitness trackers to keep track of my caloric intake and output. I read fitness and nutrition articles and really began to learn how the body works and what it takes to succeed at weight loss. It wasn’t long before I was armed with the tools required for success and for the first time in my life, I thought I was actually getting somewhere. I was actually taking control. I was actually going to make it.
Not really sure why I never seem to be looking at the camera and my head is always tilted in license pictures…
For those of you who may’ve followed me here from SparkPeople, you already will be familiar with my story. I essentially ate 1200-1550 calories on most days and tried to get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week. In 2008, after one year on Spark, I had lost a whopping 70 lbs. Around this time I wrote a blog entry that was turned into a motivational article (“I Thought I’d Always Be Fat“) for the website. In another six months I had lost another 20 lbs. The lowest weight I achieved was 137. I maintained between 140-145 for about a year, then sometime last fall I started to fall off of the wagon a bit. Life got stressful. I got upset. The old emotional eating habits kicked in and you can guess what happened. I put about 15 lbs back on. This was devastating to me. First of all, I was terrified of gaining all of the weight back because I now recognized how miserable and sick I had felt back then. Secondly, I was feeling really bad as people on Spark were still reading my article and coming to my SparkPage (Spark’s form of a social networking page) to tell me how awesome I was. Awesome? I was gaining weight! I felt like such a fraud. They were asking me for THE answer. I had no answers. Pizza and beer, yes. Answers, no.
These days I’m working to get over that negativity about the gain. I’m only human, after all! I set impossible standards for myself that I would never hold anyone else to. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone falls down. The important thing to notice is who gets back up. I’m currently taking a sabbatical from the scale. In the past I have given that number way too much power over my life. Instead, I am working towards overall healthy living. Eating fresh food that tastes good and is good for me. I also am working towards non-weight related goals. Last year I learned how to swim, this year I’m working to become a better runner. These goals keep me working towards something positive, vs. beating myself up and self destructing. That’s just not who I want to be anymore–I want to be happy!
Hey, I look happy, right?
Six tips for achieving your weight loss/healthy living goals:
1) Drop the “all or nothing” mindset.
This isn’t about giving up everything you love or making a mistake and it ruining all of your work. There is always the next meal, the next choice to be made, the next day…whatever. You can always pick up right where you left off. One milkshake does not a healthy lifestyle destroy.
2) Start small.
Losing weight can be very overwhelming, especially if you have a long way to go. It can be emotionally, mentally and physically draining as well. If you find that the big picture is stressing you out, focus on just a few small things that you can build on. Examples might be packing your lunch instead of eating out. Drinking water instead of soda. Eating fruit instead of a sweet dessert or unsalted almonds instead of potato chips. Walking instead of driving. Using greek yogurt instead of sour cream. There are so many small gestures that could make a big difference. You may even find that you prefer the new healthy option!
3) Keep a food journal.
Keeping a food journal can be really helpful when trying to evaluate how you can do better, nutrition wise. You can use a tool like SparkPeople or even just a notebook is fine. It just helps to see the big picture. A handful of cookies here or bottle of soda there can really add up and cause a problem. It’s easier to correct a situation if you know it exists!
4) Don’t let the scale rule your life.
Really, it’s just a number. As hard as it is to come to terms with this fact, you need to stop and remember: Your weight can neither make you happy or sad; only you can do that.
5) Find a physical activity that you enjoy and do it often.
Some people like walking the dog. Playing basketball. Tennis. Working out at the gym. Running. Swimming. Badminton. Biking. Hiking. Football. Ultimate Frisbee. Whatever you like to do, get out there and do it. It’ll be easier to stick with a fitness routine if you don’t loathe it with every fiber of your being. Don’t be afraid to try new things, either…it may just be the right thing for you.
6) Don’t put life on hold until you lose the weight.
So many people say, “When I lose this weight, I’m going to _____”
Why wait? Life will not wait for you. It’s silly for you to let it pass you by. John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I say, “Put those plans into action! Don’t wait! Start today!”