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.
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.
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.
Categories: health and well being