I have been on many, many diets in my life. Whether in the form of Slim Fast shakes or “magic” fat-burning teas and pills, I’ve been dieting for as long as I can remember. In all of my previous battles of the bulge, I’d somehow manage to drop enough weight to shrink a dress size or two, only to give up and return right back to my old ways…and my old jeans.
Even Weight Watchers has failed me before; at age 11, I lost 25 pounds on the program, only to gain it back within a few months. At age 16, I once again relied on Weight Watchers to drop a whopping 60 pounds, but soon I was bursting (literally) out of my pants and heading right back to where I started. Oh, plus I tacked on an additional 40 pounds after that. Go me.
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why this time’s different. I’ve tried and failed so many times before – so how can I be sure that my 90-pound weight loss will stick this time around? Why am I so confident that not only will I proceed to shed the rest of the weight I need to lose, but that I’ll go on to maintain my new body for the rest of my life?
There are many reasons. Here are just a few.
1.) No more deadlines. Previously, losing weight was always a race to fit into a prom dress or a bathing suit. The moment I received an invitation for a social event of any kind, I’d immediately put myself “on a diet” and commence starving myself until the big day. With any luck, I’d have dropped a few pounds and be feeling slightly better about my appearance; more often than not, however, I’d get frustrated with less-than-stellar results on the scale and give up by the second week. There was always a deadline to meet, and if I didn’t make my quota of losing X pounds by X date, I’d feel even worse about myself and hit the ‘fridge harder than ever before.
I’m two-and-a-half years into my current – and final – weight loss journey. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t set any timed goals for myself along the way…like the one about reaching my goal weight by my 24th birthday (yeah, that didn’t happen). The difference is that while I try to avoid establishing weight loss deadlines for myself, if I do make the decision to set a goal, I don’t beat myself up – or, worse, throw in the towel – for not meeting it. I’ve taken a lot of pressure off my shoulders simply by realizing that this isn’t a race. It’s a long-term, forever lifestyle change. I’m in no rush.
2.) I eat fruits and vegetables. Yes, that’s right. This time around, I’m actually learning what it means to be healthy. I’m no longer in the business of slashing calories and eating as little as possible to get results; in fact, I think I eat just as often (and possibly even more food!) than I did before.
The difference is that I’ve taken the time to learn about nutrition and what my body needs to function on a daily basis. I’ve experimented with all the different kinds of foods that are good for me, and that make my body perform at its best. That means I’m scarfing down fresh spinach and grilled chicken instead of nutritionally-devoid Lean Cuisines and other frozen meals because they’re “low-fat.”
I used to eat broccoli only when it was smothered in a cheese sauce or floating in a bowl of cream of broccoli soup. My idea of meeting my daily vegetable quota was munching on the pickle that came on the side of a burger, or slipping lettuce and tomato on a tuna salad sandwich.
The same goes for fruit. I’d eat fresh strawberries only if they were covered in whipped cream. Apples were made for scooping globs of peanut butter straight from the jar. Carrots were the ideal utensil to shovel ranch dressing down my throat.
Now, I’d be hard pressed to find a fruit or vegetable I didn’t like, and that’s because since the very beginning, this journey has been all about learning how to take care of myself and eating properly – from healthy fats to lean protein to fiber. And, of course, lots and lots of fruits and veggies.
3.) I accept less than perfection. Raise your hand if you’ve ever said “I’ll start my diet on Monday.” Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever caught yourself with your head stuffed in a bag of Lays by Wednesday afternoon. Yeah, me too.
Slip ups happen, and I used to let them completely derail my progress. If I didn’t stick to my diet perfectly, I’d throw my hands in the air and give up entirely. It was always all or nothing. Either I was staying far, far away from anything I deemed “too fattening,” or I was devouring an entire box of Cheez-Its in one sitting. If I couldn’t quite find the willpower to order salad at a restaurant, I’d cave for the cheeseburger I really wanted and declare my diet over because “I blew it.” I’d just have to try again next Monday. Oh well.
In reality, I’ve learned that it’s all about balance…and doing the best you can. Nobody can eat perfectly at every meal, or exercise for exactly 60 minutes a day. Sometimes, there’s this little thing called life that gets in the way. Whether it’s in the form of your sister’s 21st birthday trip to Atlantic City (God help me), or you have too many errands to run after work to keep your date with the treadmill, sometimes we just have to do the absolute best we can in the current situation.
There’s always going to be restaurants and celebrations and stressful days at work. So when I do act like a human and make a not-so-healthy choice, all I can do is vow to get right back on track. And not on Monday – at my very next meal.
4.) Quitting is not an option. This one’s pretty self explanatory. Once I embraced the mindset that – no matter what – I was NEVER going back to the obese, miserable person I used to be, it really helped to put things in perspective. It helped me realize that watching what I eat and staying active was something that I’d have to do for the rest of my life.
This time, I was not going to allow myself the luxury of quitting when the scale didn’t want to cooperate or I didn’t feel like counting calories (or POINTS) anymore. Some days it’s easy to enjoy my turkey and reduced-fat cheese on a whole grain sandwich thin, and others I wish I could pull up to the McDonald’s drive-thru and order a Value Meal just like anyone else. Some days I can’t wait to go for a run or hit the gym, while other days working out feels like a chore. But no matter how hard things get, I refuse to let myself give in to my own excuses or allow my own mental roadblocks to stand in the way of my success.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you can’t make a half-hearted attempt to eat salad for a week only to binge on a sleeve of Oreos on day eight and call it quits. For me, it was about making a complete mental overhaul and understanding that there would be no going backwards. I was allowed to gain a pound or two after a bad week or a vacation, but I was not allowed to stop trying. I didn’t care if it took me ten years to finish losing this weight – there was no quitting, so I had no choice but to keep plugging away towards my weight loss goals.
It was coming to terms with the fact that I have a genuine food addiction, but that as long as I keep moving forward, I can control the impulse to drown my emotions in snack cakes. It was throwing away my bigger clothes so I couldn’t take comfort in knowing they’d be there if I gained some weight back. If I saw a gain on the scale, then I had to deal with it and move on with my life.
Don’t get me wrong: I still have to remind myself every single day that I can do this. But taking the option of quitting off the table has been enough to keep me on track…and out of plus-size pants.
5.) I have realistic expectations. As much as we’d all like to drop 20 pounds in two months, it doesn’t always work that way (in fact, it rarely works that way). Since I had always been racing the clock to fit into a particular dress size or “look good” for a trip, I’d beat myself up for “only” losing 1-2 pounds in a week – even though that’s a healthy rate of weight loss. I didn’t gain my weight overnight, and this time, I knew I couldn’t expect to lose it that way. I set out on this journey knowing that I had a long, hard road ahead of me. And I fully embraced that challenge.
I also had to get a grip on reality. I had to learn that losing weight was not going to solve all of my life’s problems. I still grapple with many of the same insecurities and issues I had before – wearing smaller clothes hasn’t changed any of that. I went into this knowing that I would still have to work at building my confidence and regaining my sense of self, even as the pounds melted off. I learned that weight loss isn’t a magic cure for anything you’re going through, just as polishing off a chocolate milkshake every afternoon wouldn’t stop the kids from teasing me at school or bring my grandparents back to life.
The same goes for any expectations I had about the way my body would look when I was done. I had to come to terms with the fact that losing over 100 pounds wouldn’t leave me looking like a supermodel. Carrying that much extra weight around for so many years was bound to take its toll – and incessant yo-yo dieting certainly didn’t help my skin’s elasticity – so I knew I had to squash the dreams of prancing around in a teeny tiny two-piece to avoid disappointing myself later on. I had to develop a realistic vision of how I might look, even when I reached my “goal weight.” Although I’m not crazy about the droopy, saggy skin I’ve been blessed with, I haven’t let it get to me because I fully prepared myself for it. I look at it sort of as a battle scar now – it’s not attractive, but at the same time, it’s a constant visual reminder of just how far I’ve come.
6.) I work it out. At the gym, that is. Much like I’ve learned to love cauliflower, I’ve also learned to love the natural high I get from a good old-fashioned sweat session. I’m still a relative newbie to the world of physical fitness, but I can say with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t have made it this far without making an every day commitment to be active – whether it’s running and biking outdoors or heading to the gym for the elliptical, step machine, or strength training.
Remember how I mentioned losing significant amounts of weight as a child and adolescent? Well, believe it or not, I did it without exercise. I scaled my food intake down enough – and I suppose my youthful metabolism didn’t hurt – to shed pounds without burning additional calories via exercise. It was something that was so completely foreign to me; I spent my high school gym classes hiding behind the gymnastics mats and staying out of my gym teacher’s line of vision, and I’d scoff at anyone who participated in sports and spent their time running around and getting sweaty and dirty.
I now realize just how necessary physical exercise is to losing weight the right way, and it has become completely essential to my sanity – these days, running in the park has more than replaced gouging myself on Girl Scout cookies when I’m having a bad day, and I’ve discovered that there is absolutely no food in the world that can make me feel as energized and empowered as a session at the gym. I look good, I feel good, and I’m never going back to the lethargic, sedentary person I once was.
7.) I don’t go to extremes. I’m a Biggest Loser fan, and yet I have to say that I take the exact opposite approach to losing weight. These are people who spend eight hours a day at the gym subjecting themselves to grueling work outs, and practically starving themselves to see double-digit losses on the scale. Meanwhile, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t give in to any “lose weight quick” schemes or shortcuts (in reality, they don’t exist), because I didn’t want to do anything to lose this weight that I didn’t think I’d be able to do to maintain my loss forever. They’re competing for $250,000, while all I’m trying to do is be healthier…so I’ve never seen any reason to deprive or torture myself.
I want so badly for this time to stick. I can’t go back. So I know that trying to carve three hours of gym time into my day, or opting for a side salad for dinner every night, aren’t long-term habits I’m going to be able to rely on in the long run when I’m finished losing and need to maintain my progress. I’ve had to set achievable goals and do what works for me if I had any hopes of keeping the body I have now.
Nobody can commit to strictly munching carrots and celery for the rest of their lives, and yet so many people believe that’s what needs to be done to lose weight. Here’s my secret: I treat myself to not-so-healthy goodies all the time, and if I’m not feeling up to an intense workout, then I’ll dial it back a notch…or I may even skip it all together. I was never willing to go to extremes to lose this weight, because I’m not willing to go to extremes to keep it off. I’ve had to find what works for my body and with my schedule. That’s why Weight Watchers doesn’t feel like a “diet” to me. It just feels like life.
8.) I believe I deserve health and happiness. Enough said. 🙂