Losing weight took a series of small changes

John and I visited his family in Chicago last summer. We had a great time and I enjoy the memories, but I also looked at photos around this time and noticed I looked heavier than I liked. Not fat, obviously, just straining the seams of my clothes.

John and I visited his family in Chicago last summer. We had a great time and I enjoy the memories, but I also looked at photos around this time and noticed I looked heavier than I liked. Not fat, obviously, just straining the seams of my clothes.

About a year ago, I looked at some photos of myself and thought, “When did my face get so fat?”

For several years, I’ve loosely governed my eating and exercise by setting a top weight — if I hit X, it’s time to rein it in. That upper limit used to be 130, then I’d casually bumped it to 140. Last summer, I’d passed that, too.

I rationalized the creep upward by noting I’m in my 40s and my metabolism isn’t what it used to be, many of my clothes still fit and my husband appreciated me being a little curvier.

But Facebook held up a mirror and I acknowledged that I’d gotten lax with my health. I was eating good food, but too much of it, without much exercise to balance it out.

I set a goal to lose 10 pounds by my birthday in March, a modest goal of shaving two pounds a month, allowing a little holiday backsliding. By early May, I was in the mid 120s, what I weighed when John and I started dating in the late 1990s.

With apologies to people knocking themselves out to lose weight, it wasn’t that hard to drop about 20 pounds. Here’s what worked for me:

1. John and I walk every morning and every evening. Sometimes if the weather is lousy or we’re pressed for time, it might just be around the block, but we still make it a priority to get out the door and move. When we have time, we often walk for 30 minutes or more. We’ve had an evening walking routine for most of our marriage but the morning walk was new, inspired by my dad’s brisk daily walks, so that burns extra calories every day.

Here’s a little video from a wintery walk in February:

2. John and I joined the YMCA. I used to belong to the gym at my office, but I quit my membership when I went part time, so I decided to fill that void. I signed up at the Y, which is about two blocks from our apartment — it almost couldn’t be more convenient. A few months later, John followed. Now we go together, which helps keep us from slacking. I do 30 minutes on a bike or elliptical machine two or three times a week, which still isn’t what the CDC recommends but it’s better.

By May, I'd shaved about 20 pounds. This is me with John at his art show opening at Long Island Bar in Brooklyn.

By May, I’d shaved about 20 pounds. This is me with John at his art show opening at Long Island Bar in Brooklyn.

3. I do crunches and lift weights every morning when I first get up. I don’t know that this small amount of exercise actually led to weight loss, but I think it helped fix my mindset for the day. Exercise is the first priority, not checking email.

4. I cut the calorie bombs in my diet: alcohol, fried food, creamy and fatty food, desserts. There are a million different approaches to diet and I’m not a nutritionist, but I know my body responds when I trim the big-calorie items. That’s not to say I never had a glass of wine or french fries, but I got more mindful and said no more often.

5. I starting paying more attention to portions. I love food. I love comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, I love a multi-course fine dining experience, I love salty snacks like olives and chips with guacamole. When something tastes good, it’s so tempting to pay more attention to the pleasure of the flavor than to whether I’m actually still hungry. I first made an effort not to clean my plate, even if it meant leaving one bite, to get out of the mindless habit of shoveling it in just because it’s there. Then I started thinking ahead to saving leftovers, but just because there’s not enough to save doesn’t mean it has to go in my face. If I’m no longer hungry, that’s enough. There will be more yummy food later.

I find it helpful to weigh myself each morning. This scale photo used under Creative Commons license, by Wader.

I find it helpful to weigh myself each morning. This scale photo used under Creative Commons license, by Wader.

6. I weigh myself every morning. Some experts argue you should stay off the scale, but I find it one piece of useful feedback, along with how I feel, how my clothes fit and what I know about my recent eating and exercise behavior. Back when I did health PR for University of Michigan, I interviewed a researcher who found patients with high blood pressure were more likely to take their prescribed medicine if they measured their blood pressure regularly. Since high blood pressure has no symptoms, it’s easy for people to convince themselves they don’t need their medicine, and getting feedback that it’s working helps motivate them to adhere to their doctor’s orders. Similarly, seeing the numbers encouraged me that my changes were working and motivated me to keep at it. If I see the number trend upward, I can quickly assess what’s changed and correct it.

Nothing I’ve done is innovative. Gaining weight is a simple math equation. If you burn more calories than you ingest, you lose weight. I took in fewer calories, I burned more through exercise, and it worked.

Related: a guest post from Lou Rosenfeld, sharing his experience with small changes that helped him get in better shape.

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Categories: health and well being

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11 replies

  1. Congrats! I love this post and Lou’s as well. As someone who has struggled with her weight for most of her life, the idea of doing a few small things over the long term is really smart. To that end, do you mind if I ask some more specific questions? For example, I know you did a cleanse, and I’m wondering how instrumental the cleanse was to the weight loss. Did it kick you off a plateau? I know you were weighing yourself every day, but with a small monthly goal (two pounds initially), was it frustrating that the needle didn’t move more? And did you do anything specific when the needle went the wrong way, if it ever did? I know you said you let yourself enjoy the holidays and the occasional handful of fries, so I’m just curious how/if that affected things and how you dealt with it. Maybe all this is enough for a follow-up post, haha.

    • All really good questions, Lara.
      I’m planning a whole separate post on the cleanse because it was such an instructive experience. The short answer, though, is I’d already hit my goal by the time we spent three weeks off alcohol, sugar, dairy, refined grains, etc. If I had it to do over again, I think that would have been a great way to get started toward my goal, because I lost weight and I reset my eating habits.
      I’m a numbers geek so although I would have loved to peel off all 10 pounds the first month, in my head I was pretty clear I wasn’t going to see much movement on the scale. I was purposely being modest with my goal so the changes felt sustainable, so I’d just watch for that one pound to melt off every so often.
      If I went in the other direction, I’d reflect on what I’d been doing — had I been indulging a lot the last few days or had I skipped the gym? — so I could correct course. I might make an extra trip to the gym or be extra cautious with my eating the next few days, but I’d also try to fix whatever behavior was moving me farther from my goal.
      I think part of what’s helpful for me is that small changes feel more reasonable in my life. I don’t want to have to say no to Rob’s ice cream or to a tasty cocktail. What I can do is get more exercise to burn off some of those treats, and be more restrained in how often I have treat and in what portion. Like Lou said, a few shards of chocolate can be enough to tame a sugar craving, I don’t need to eat more just because it’s there.

  2. Amazing how just following the oldest diet rule in the book, “pay attention to your diet and exercise” actually works.

    • Right? I mean, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know what we’re supposed to do in lots of areas of our lives — get eight hours of sleep, brush our teeth and see the dentist regularly, apologize when you hurt someone — and often the problem comes when we don’t do what we already know we should.

Trackbacks

  1. Lou Rosenfeld loses weight by making small changes « Newvine Growing
  2. Talk a walk, it’s good for your brain | Newvine Growing
  3. Resetting my eating habits with a cleanse | Newvine Growing
  4. Don’t get distracted by the shiny object – Newvine Growing
  5. A Guide to Dealing with Dissatisfaction with Ourselves: Reblog from Zen Habits – Newvine Growing

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