Posts Tagged With: food

Taking the First Step

When talking to friends, family, and other acquaintances, as soon as the subject of weight loss comes up — which, I must say, happens almost daily in my life — I’m usually faced with the following confessions:

“My jeans are tight.”

“I haven’t been to the gym in weeks.”

“I eat too much take-out.”

“I work late and don’t have time to cook.”

“I finish the food off my kids’ plates.”

“I’m too tired to exercise.”

“I’m wearing my old maternity clothes.”

“I feel sluggish all the time.”

The conversation almost always ends the exact same way. After outlining the many causes of the extra pounds they’re carrying, the person will eventually mutter the phrase:

“I really have to do something about my weight.”

And that’s when I’m gripped with the overwhelming urge to reach out, shake their shoulders, and say:

“Then do it, already!”

But, instead, I offer them an understanding nod and change the subject. Because I know that beyond offering a few general tips and pointers about how to lose weight — you know, like eat less and move more — there’s absolutely nothing I can do to help them.

See, the thing is that I was that person once. In fact, I was that person for many years. And throughout all of the “my pants don’t fit” whining I did, nobody ever just looked me in the eye and said:

“Then just lose some weight.”

You know why? Well, for starters, that’s a surefire way to lose friends. But it’s also because I know from firsthand experience that nothing I can say or do can force someone else to take that first step on the path to a healthier lifestyle. None of the dozens of doctors, nutritionists, or physiologists I visited throughout my childhood and adolescence could make me lose weight, and even my parents’ and grandparents’ desperate pleas to stop eating everything in sight had no effect on me.

I gained over 100 pounds in five years, and it wasn’t until I woke up one morning and decided that I had to do something RIGHT NOW that I managed to take my first step: joining Weight Watchers.

You have to make the decision to change your life, and then you just have to take that first step. It’s that simple.

I know there are so many people who are desperate to reap the rewards of a healthier lifestyle, but they just can’t seem to figure out how to get started. For me, my “a-ha” moment occurred when I stepped on a scale and was slapped in the face by the cold, hard fact that I was well on my way to being 300 pounds. Other people begin their weight loss journey because they’re trying to get pregnant, or because they already have children who are starting to adopt poor eating habits. Some women do it to fit into their high school jeans or look svelte for an upcoming vacation or reunion, while others are motivated by a desire for more energy and fewer doctor’s appointments.

Whatever their motivation, when someone confides how miserable they’re feeling about their current weight, and talks about needing to do “something,” what I’d like to suggest is doing just ONE something. The first step will be enough to get you started, and it’ll make that next “something” so much easier.

Maybe that means trying to drink less soda and more water one week, then swapping one not-so-healthy snack per day with a banana or an apple the following week, and then gradually cutting back on microwave dinners and Chinese take-out. I recently advised a self-proclaimed “chocoholic” to limit her consumption to once or twice a week, and to swap Snickers bars for small portions of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate. I urged someone else to stop thinking she had to eat nothing but salads and grilled chicken to lose weight — instead, I told her to make healthier choices most of the time, and enjoy her favorite indulgences in moderation.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but the truth is that when it comes to beginning your weight loss journey, it really doesn’t have to be complicated. You make the decision to lose weight, you possibly set a goal (lose 40 pounds, wear a size 8), and from that point on, it’s all about baby steps. Take it one day at a time, and make the small changes that will help you uphold that commitment to yourself and ultimately reach your goal.

Even if you have 100+ pounds to lose like I did, it can be done. One step at a time.

Now, tell me — what was the “first step” on your personal weight loss journey?

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Become Your Own Cheerleader

When I first started losing weight, the compliments just kept on comin’. Friends and family — especially the ones who don’t see me every day — were constantly making a fuss about my shrinking body, showering me with “you look so great!” compliments and incredulously questioning: “how much weight have you lost?!”

But when my weight loss began to plateau, slowly but surely the compliments stopped. It’s only natural — everyone got used to seeing me at my current size, and really, how many times can you tell a person that he or she looks “amazing?”

To be perfectly honest, all of the attention made me a little uncomfortable at first. I wasn’t used to people ogling my body, and for the first time in my life, I was daring to show some skin in tank tops, (slightly) skimpier bathing suits, and — for the first time since I was old enough to buy my own clothes  — even girly little sundresses.

Still, when all of the excitement surrounding my drastic weight loss began to die down, I couldn’t help but admit to myself that I missed that adoration from others. Eating well and exercising had officially become just a regular part of my everyday life, and the pounds I had lost were old news.

I didn’t realize how much the constant praise from friends and family was truly motivating me to keep dropping pounds and look even better for the next time I saw them in person. Despite my headstrong, independent, “I don’t care what anyone else says” facade, I recently realized  just how much I do rely on others for validation — in my weight loss efforts, in my career, and in any new endeavor I take on…even kickboxing.

If an editor doesn’t call or e-mail to offer their accolades on how well-written my article was, I automatically assume it was a piece of garbage. If my Muay Thai instructors don’t say “nice kick” every five seconds,  I take that to mean I’m not progressing and and I’m undeserving of my next belt.

Thinking back, I can’t help but wonder if the sudden lack of “oohing” and “aahing” about my slimmer physique had something to do with my suddenly waning weight loss efforts.

It might explain why my perfectionist, Type A personality does so well in group exercise classes where there’s always the potential for positive feedback from instructors and classmates, and yet I often have a hard time motivating myself to hit the basement and crank out 100 crunches or lace up my sneakers and go for a run. For me, it’s a whole lot easier hearing a trainer at the gym tell me how fast I run than it is to congratulate myself for beating my own personal 5K time.

In fact, my boyfriend — who, thankfully, is never afraid to call me out on my issues — recently asked me why I care so much if other people think I’m good enough.

“Why can’t you ever just tell yourself that you’re doing a good job?” he asked.

Can we say…light bulb moment?

Why do I need someone else to tell me how great I look, how well I write, or how powerful my roundhouse kicks are? Why can’t I just look at myself in the mirror and confirm that I am, in fact, working really hard and — gasp! — acknowledge my own accomplishments?

So now I’m trying to become more aware of the negative thoughts that creep in when someone else doesn’t immediately pat me on the back for something I’m doing. Once I started tuning in to all the times I doubt myself or question my own abilities throughout any given day, I was amazed to discover just how often I’m making myself feel like a failure.

Instead of waiting for others to validate my efforts, I’m working on becoming my own cheerleader. I’m going to pat my own back, give myself a thumbs up, and root myself on as I hit the park for a run, make a healthy choice at a restaurant, or yank myself out of bed at 8am on a Saturday to go to Weight Watchers.

Don’t get me wrong — having the support of your friends and family is so important, and I will always owe a debt of gratitude to all of those who offered their encouragement along the way. But I also need to learn how to give myself credit and not rely solely on the passing compliments of others to boost me up.

I may not be at my goal weight (yet), and I may not be making big bucks as a freelance writer (yet), but what’s most important is that I am never, ever giving up…and I will get there.

Go me. 😀

What are some ways you act as your own “cheerleader?”

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The Winds of Change

(I thought this title was appropriate given the 55 mph gusts we’re experiencing here in New Jersey this morning).

Thanks to my efforts to acknowledge (and face) my fears, I’ve finally started making some changes that — believe it or not — may actually be making the scale move! I’m proud to report that I’ve lost 1.2 lbs at my weigh-in for the last two weeks in a row, after several weeks of gains or .4 pound losses. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but for me, it’s huge: I’m back down to a total loss of 86.4 pounds, and for the first time in over a year, I’m confident that I can (and will) reach my goal of losing 100 pounds. I’m determined to break out of my rut and do whatever it takes to realize this goal, and now I see just how easy this whole process could have been all along.

I needed to shake things up. It’s that simple.

Here’s how I’m doing it.

1.) I signed up for my first 5K. FINALLY! I have acknowledged my ability to run 3.1 miles, and am ready to prove to myself and to others that I can do this. Thinking of my treadmill sessions and runs in the park as “training” as opposed to “calorie burning” is truly motivating me to go faster and farther. Best of all, it’s a race to benefit childhood obesity, a cause that couldn’t be closer to my heart. The only problem is I hastily registered for the event (because I didn’t want to give myself time to change my mind!) before realizing that May 1st is the day I’ll be returning from a week-long vacation to celebrate my boyfriend’s 25th birthday in Vegas…on a flight that lands at 6am. Yikes. On the one hand, having a 5K looming over my conscience while I’m whooping it up on the Strip might just help keep me on track, but either way, I know that I’ll be exhausted and jet lagged upon my arrival home. Regardless, I have my mind made up to run this race, and I know that if my time isn’t that great…well, there’s always the next one!

2.) I switched my weigh-in day. I’ve been weighing-in on Sunday mornings at 8:30am since I started my weight loss journey in November 2007. I’d go out to dinner on Friday night and (usually) Saturday night, weigh in the following morning, and then make the remainder of Sunday my free-for-all day, chock full of mindless binge eating. Because, you know, I had the whole week ahead to make up for it. Well, no more. For the past two weeks I’ve weighed in on Saturday morning at 8:30, right before my Muy Thai Kickboxing class. And guess what? I’ve lost more than a pound both weeks. Guess what else? I’ve magically stopped feeling the need for a “cheat” day, and — brace yourselves — I’m even tracking all weekend! Yes, that’s right. Without that “end of the weekend” weigh-in day mentality, I’ve started looking at my Friday night dinner out with my boyfriend as my last chance to stay on track before my weigh-in, and the weekend has suddenly become just two regular on-plan days. Who knew something so simple would make such a huge difference in my mindset, and my ability to start tackling my weekend eating issues once and for all?

3.) I’ve made protein my new best friend. I’ll be the first to admit that while I eat whole foods most of the time, before the PointsPlus program was launched, I was snacking on empty carbs just a bit too often. Who doesn’t love munching on baked chips with a sandwich, grabbing a handful of whole grain crackers on the go, or enjoying yummy whole wheat pasta dishes for dinner? I didn’t want to admit how much I relied on carbs — albeit “healthy” carbs — until the higher POINTS values forced me to start cutting back. Now I’m eating much smaller portions of cereal and brown rice, I won’t touch processed, ready-made meals with a ten-foot pole, and I’m committed to finding new ways to incorporate more lean protein, nuts, beans, and — of course — fruits and veggies into my diet. (Now I just wish I could learn a strategy to choke down fish without gagging). And you know what? I’m not feeling so hungry all the time, and I have more energy. I know I have some body fat to shed before I can truly admire some of these muscles I’ve been working so hard to build, and I think I finally figured out what has to be done.

4.) I fell in love with my new workout. I’ve already written about my Muy Thai Kickboxing class, but I cannot even express how much having a workout to look forward to — as opposed to mindlessly pounding the treadmill every day — has made all the difference. I leave that class three times each week feeling strong, powerful, and ready to take on the world. I’m torching major calories, I’m watching muscles sprout up everywhere, and I don’t even realize how hard I’m working out because I’m having so much fun. I’m now convinced that once you start looking at a physical activity as “training” as opposed to simply “exercising,” it really can boost your motivation to keep going to class and working towards your next goal (in this case, my yellow belt).

5.) I’m inspiring others. Okay, okay, so this last one doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a change I made, per se’…but I like to think I had some influence on my boyfriend, who recently started eating healthier and exercising 4+ times a week. Truth be told, his newfound commitment to eat well, work out, and, as he says, “not die in 10 years,” has had more of an impact on me than he knows. I’m beyond thrilled to have a workout partner (yes, he even joined my gym!), but even more importantly, it means so much to me that I’ve been able to inspire him on his journey to better health. I know he hasn’t been feeling so great about himself, and I’ve worried about his health for years. But in the last couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of watching him completely change his life — he’s eating fruits and vegetables, for crying out loud! — and I couldn’t be more proud. Plus, now I feel like I have to set a good example for him, so it motivates me to keep making the right choices. He has always pushed me to be my best, and now I’m so glad that I can do the same for him.

What are some of the things you’ve done to “shake things up” when the scale stalls? I’ll take all the ideas I can get!

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Fighting Fear

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to realize just how much fear has been holding me back. In my weight loss, in my career, in my relationships…in my life in general.

Last night I earned my orange belt in Muy Thai kickboxing. For two weeks I fretted about not being able to remember the form we had to memorize to “graduate” to the next belt, about not being able to throw a proper left hook or right elbow, and — most of all — I was terrified of failing to break a wooden board with a knee strike.

After it was all over and I was presented with my new belt, it occurred to me that I’ve become so used to doubting myself and assuming that I’m not good enough that I actually lost sleep over losing a battle with…a 16 inch piece of wood.

How did I let myself become so hard-wired for fear that even the most minor step I take out of my comfort zone causes such extreme anxiety? Why is it so difficult for me to tell myself that I can, in fact, accomplish something…and that I’m worth the effort?

For the past two years, I’ve allowed myself to fall into a rut in my writing career. I’m sitting back and letting the same editors come to me with assignments, because I’ve been too afraid to pitch the editors at my “dream” publications. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate my regular editors and I absolutely love working with them, but all this time I’ve been riddled with fear that editors at other publications will laugh at my ideas or tell me I’m not a good enough writer to contribute to their magazine. So I just haven’t bothered trying to introduce myself or to pitch them new ideas.

That’s why I recently signed up for an on-line course about generating new ideas and pitching magazines held by a very successful freelance writer, and a big part of the first week’s lesson focused on fear: how easy it is to let the fear that your ideas are “stupid” stand in the way of getting your writing published, landing new clients, and building a lucrative freelance career. Once I started tackling the class assignments — which actually required me to silence the “I won’t succeed, so why bother trying?” thoughts that are constantly rolling around in my mind — I realized that it all boils down to one word. Fear.

I now have a list of more than 300 potential article ideas, I have seven new queries in the works, and I’m getting ready to send them out to a few of the magazines I’ve always wanted to write for. Because, after all, what’s the worst that could happen? They don’t like my idea?  I’ll just try again.

For the past year and a half, I’ve gained and lost the five pounds over and over again, and let myself fall into the same eating and exercise routines. I’ve convinced myself that I simply “can’t” lose any more weight, and started to believe that I’d never reach my goal of losing 100 pounds. I’ve been trying to break this plateau for so long, but have I really been doing everything I absolutely can to get the scale to budge? In hindsight, I’m not so sure. I’m proud that I’ve been maintaining my weight loss, but for the most part, I’ve been afraid to radically change my eating habits or workout routines because…well…what if I still fail to lose any more weight?

I dreaded the launch of the new Weight Watchers PointsPlus, because it meant re-learning a new program and a different way of thinking about the food I eat. And, yes, it meant forcing myself to abandon some of my old ways (like snacking on baked chips all the time or eating heaping servings of brown rice at dinner). But guess what? I’m eating “cleaner” than ever; my entire family has stopped nuking processed meals for dinner on busy weekdays, and I’m no longer craving carbs all the time. In fact, I look forward to my 3pm banana break every day. Who knew?

It took every ounce of courage I could muster to walk into that karate studio and try something new. I was afraid I’d never be able to keep up, or that I wouldn’t fit in with the other students, or that the instructor would laugh at my pathetic excuse for a roundhouse kick. In fact, if a friend hadn’t given me a gift certificate to the karate studio, I might never have brought myself to sign up. It was new, it was scary, and — let’s face it — martial artists can be big and tough and intimidating.

But I did it. I’m having a blast, the scale is moving again (slightly), my muscles are tighter, I feel strong and powerful and confident, I’m actually going up to people and introducing myself…

And I can’t believe my fear almost stood in the way of it all.

In a few short weeks, my mantra has transformed from “I can’t” to “why not?” What the heck have I been so afraid of?

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Eat More to Lose More?

Is there anything more infuriating than stepping on the scale after what you thought was a perfect week on your diet and exercise plan…only to see the number move in the wrong direction?

On the other hand, how do you react when you end up dining out four nights in a row, weigh-in in the following morning, and discover that you’ve actually lost two pounds?

You start eating more. That’s what you do.

I’ve had more than a few comments posted here (thank you all!) about the possibility that the scale got stuck because I’m not eating enough. And as much as I advocate Weight Watchers’ traditional “everything in moderation” approach — and I’ve always eaten all of my daily allotment of POINTS — I still tend to get nervous when I’m in danger of exceeding my target value for the day, or when I start jonesing for something that’s not especially POINTS-friendly.

I’m hesitant to dip into my Activity POINTS unless I’m feeling famished, and all this time I’ve been hoarding my now 49 Weekly POINTS for my usual weekend shenanigans: a couple of dinners out, a glass or two of wine, and maybe even a shared dessert. Calories are much more difficult to count when you’re not the one preparing the food, but based on my rough POINT estimates, I assumed I’ve been maxing myself out.

It’s no secret to any of you that while I was able to successfully drop 90 pounds doing this, my system hasn’t exactly been working for me as of late. So then when I step on the scale and lose a significant amount of weight (for me) after eating far more than I normally do throughout the week — granted, I do make the healthiest choices possible while dining out, but still! — it makes me wonder if it might just be time to pull my head out of my rear and revaluate my current weight loss plan.

My activity levels have increased exponentially since I first began working out, so while I don’t see myself competing in the Olympics anytime soon, the fact that I can now run for miles without stopping and endure intense Thai Kickboxing workouts three times a week suggests that my inner athlete might just require a bit more fuel.

And now that I’m eating “cleaner” than ever thanks to the new Weight Watchers PointsPlus program, there’s absolutely no reason why I should feel guilty for eating a few more ounces of chicken at dinner (as I did when I was enjoying the delicious Santa Fe Chicken recipe HAMILTONMKA so graciously shared!), or, god forbid, grabbing an extra snack when I feel my energy levels waning at 3pm.

Maybe my two-pound loss on the scale this weekend was a fluke, or maybe it was a message from the weight loss gods telling me that I should stop trying to restrict myself so much during the week just so that I can whoop it up on Friday and Saturday nights. Not only is that mentality not getting me the results I want, but it’s only feeding into my dangerous habit of bingeing on the weekends.

I’ll keep you posted on how this week goes. Bon Appetit!

So, do you guys find that you lose more if you eat more?  Fellow Weight Watchers, do you typically “save” your extra POINTS for meals out or special treats, or do you dip into them throughout the week as needed?


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Committing to New Habits

We’re less than three weeks into the new year. Raise your hand if you’re already struggling to stick to your resolutions, and find yourself slipping back into some old habits.

(Me me me)!

The good news? I’ve already started accomplishing at least some of my goals for this year: I’ve found a new workout that I absolutely love. I signed a one-year contract at my local karate studio for Muy Thai kickboxing. And anyone who knows my tightwad ways knows there’s nothing that motivates me more than the thought of not getting “my money’s worth.” No matter, though — I’m already addicted. I think it’s a riot that this season of The Biggest Loser is incorporating two new trainers: one is a martial arts expert, and the other a professional boxer. As I’m watching the contestants release all their stress, anger, and frustration by punching and kicking and pretty much fighting their trainers to the death, I’m feeling more and more confident that I’ve found the workout for me.

I’m also completely obsessed with the Nike+ Sportband I got for Christmas (thanks, Mom!) You tuck a little sensor into your Nike+ sneakers, and then a watch displays your time, miles, calories, and pace. I finally have an idea of how far I’m running — and how fast I’m actually going — while I’m exercising outdoors.

The watch also features a removable USB you can plug into your computer, and then track and share that day’s running stats with others. I love, love, love it, and despite the frigid, wet, icy weather here in the Northeast, I’m opting to skip the boring treadmill and brave the outdoors at least twice a week. Well, when I’m not throwing elbows and performing roundhouse kicks, that is.

Best of all, I realized that I’ve actually been clocking a pretty respectable time while running at least a 5K all these months. I’m thisclose to being confident enough to enter a group race; I’m already looking around for 5K runs in my area.

In other news, I’m having some mixed feelings about Weight Watchers’ new PointsPlus program. On one hand, I absolutely adore the fact that it’s forcing me to stop obsessively counting calories, and instead evaluate a food in terms of its actual nutritional value. I love fruit, and now that it’s “free,” I’m eating pears, oranges, and grapes like it’s my job. Finally, I can eat bananas without worrying about “wasting” 2-4 POINTs! I’m still chipping away at my holiday weight gain, but nevertheless, I already feel lighter, less bloated, and more energized now that I’ve essentially banished many of the carb-heavy packaged snacks and processed foods from the house.

But does anyone else find themselves craving carbs even more? I never realized how much I relied on pasta and cereal and granola bars, and now that they count for a whole lot more (the POINTs for my Kashi GoLean Crunch have almost doubled), I’m reluctant to grab a Fiber One bar on my way out the door or snack on popcorn in front of the TV. I know I can still eat these foods, of course, and I do — it’s just more difficult to work them into my 29-POINT day, is all.

Meanwhile, I’m reading yet another writing book, The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen, and I started thinking about how the advice that’s meant to boost my success as a freelance writer (read: stop procrastinating) also applies to my somewhat lackluster approach to my continued weight loss. It lists some of the top productivity busters as: fear (yep); lack of short-term goals (correct); and perfectionism (is she writing about me, or what?)

I’m terrified of failing as a writer, and I’ve always been afraid of the unknown: life as a thin person. In my 25 years of life, I’ve never not been overweight. I stopped setting specific goals (like lose 15 pounds by my birthday) because I beat myself up if I don’t meet them, and my incessant need to be perfect is keeping me from sending article ideas to editors and leading to eating binges when I don’t adhere to every single aspect of the Weight Watchers program every single day.

Lately, that saying keeps rolling around in my head:

If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

I hate obnoxious cliches, but this one pretty much sums up every facet of my life that isn’t going the way I’d like it. I’m not making enough money as a freelance writer because I’m not actively seeking new outlets, and my weight loss has stalled because I’m not actively trying to change what I’m eat and the way I’m exercising.

It’s time to re-commit…to both my career and my weight loss efforts.

How are you all doing with your resolutions?

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2011 Resolutions

#1. To blog more.

Okay, so beyond my genuine promises to spend more time writing on this blog (and to update that two-year-old banner photo of myself once and for all), I’ve assembled a list of ambitious — yet, I think, still realistic — health and fitness goals for this year.

I recently posted a blog for CafeMom on this very topic, and I decided to heed my own advice when it comes to not declaring any more vague “lose weight” resolutions and calling it a year. I’ve been stuck at my current weight and my current fitness level for far too long, and now that Weight Watchers has rolled out it’s new PointsPlus program (more on that next time!), I’m determined to make this the year I finish what I started. It’s time to get to my goal weight, and tackle the following list of lofty health-related New Year’s Resolutions:

1.) Run a 5K. And I do mean “run.” This year I will prove to myself that somewhere deep down inside of me lies a real live runner who is more than capable of eking out 3.1 measly miles. I run almost every day — with the intention to burn calories and earn Activity POINTS, of course — but now I need to start making measurable time and distance goals…because I still have a hard time seeing myself as anything more than a fat girl in jogging tights. I have a feeling that the more I impress myself with my ability to run faster and farther, the more I’ll be motivated to improve — and, with any luck, I’ll finally develop the confidence I need to compete in a group race.

2.) Stop Binge Eating. I can almost guarantee that I routinely undo a week of hard work over the weekend, all thanks to my “I just weighed in this morning so now it’s time to gorge myself on pancakes, Chinese food, and Frappuccinos” attitude on Sundays. As much fun as it is to grant myself that one “cheat” day each week — for lack of a better term — I’m not doing myself any favors, and it has to stop. But instead of trying to quit my binge eating habit cold turkey (which clearly hasn’t worked for me yet), I’ll try planning for just one indulgence on Sundays: that way, I still get my “treat,” but I won’t completely ruin my progress that week and risk giving in to one of my oldest, most dangerous eating habits.

3.) Find New Workouts. A good friend of mine was kind enough to grant me a gift certificate for a month of kickboxing at my hometown karate studio for Christmas. I fully intend on using it for the Muy Thai kickboxing classes I tried a couple weeks ago. It’s an incredible workout, and what could possibly be more fun than releasing all that pent up frustration by punching the crap out of things? Just kidding. (Maybe). In other news, the YMCA I work for just opened a brand new, state-of-the-art wellness center and gym. It’s a huge facility, and I foresee spending lots of time testing out new equipment and getting back into spinning, yoga, step aerobics, and other classes I used to take when I first started losing weight.

4.) Learn to Cook. No more relying on the microwave as my predominant cooking tool. The new Weight Watchers program frowns upon anything that comes in a bag, box, or can (carbs are now calculated for POINTS values, and we’re supposed to keep tabs on sodium). If I truly intend to commit to my healthy lifestyle for the long run, I can no longer rely on convenience foods — or, as is more often the case, getting someone else to cook for me. I’m a fairly intelligent person, I would say, so there’s absolutely no excuse not to invest in a few basic healthy cookbooks, or spend some time scouring weightwatchers.com for recipes, and teach myself some easy recipes and healthy cooking techniques. I know it’s what I need to do to jumpstart my weight loss again — and, more importantly, learn how to sustain my healthy habits for life.

5.) Be a Leader. A Weight Watchers leader, that is. I have a burning desire to help others take that first step on the road to weight loss. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for the Weight Watchers leaders and members who encouraged and pushed and inspired me along the way. I know there are so many people who feel the way I used to: completely hopeless and “destined” to be overweight and miserable. But I’m living proof that it can be done — and I want to do my part to help others realize that. Plus, I think Weight Watchers rocks.

So, what are some of your health and wellness resolutions for 2011? Please share!

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Redefining Myself

Over the weekend, I took the first of three trial classes of Muay Thai kickboxing at a local karate studio. I’ve been looking for ways to shake things up for quite some time — not only in an effort to get the scale to budge, but also to ensure that I never get bored enough with my running-and-strength-training-six-times-a-week routine to lose interest and stop exercising.

This is something I’ve wanted to try for awhile…and I had a blast. I can’t wait to do it again. In fact, I’m already stressing about how I might even begin to make room in my budget for more classes.

In my conversations with the kickboxing instructor after class, I realized that I still have not fully embraced my new body or what it can do.

He referred to me as an athlete. He marveled at my ability to effortlessly complete 75 push-ups and 200 crunches with the rest of the class. He even complimented my arms — the body part of which I’ve always been the most self-conscious, and as such, the one I spend the most time sculpting each time I hunker down in the basement with my resistance band, kettlebell, and free weights.

He also insisted that I must have done this before (I assured him that I most certainly have not, beyond some watered-down cardio kickboxing classes at the YMCA). The intimidating tough-as-nails woman I was practicing punching and kicking drills with in class said the same thing. She called me a natural, and said I was ready to try much more than what the instructor allows newbies to do.

It was all tough for me to swallow. Of course I was thrilled by the compliments — and I have to say I was pretty proud of myself for holding my own in a class full of black belts and women who had been training for years.

But then there was another part of me that had trouble believing any of it. When the instructor started talking about how he “loves turning athletes into martial artists,” I convinced myself that surely he wasn’t talking about me. He’s complimenting my form and how well I did in my first class, and I’m telling myself that he’s just trying to sell me on paying for more classes. It’s his job to say those things. Right?

I may wear smaller jeans now, but in my mind, I’m still obese. I’m still sedentary. It’s a perception of myself that I can’t seem to shake. I’ve always been fat, and I spent my entire life assuming that I always would be fat.

I know it’s the reason why I can’t give myself credit for any of the physical feats my body can now accomplish.

When I beat my own time for a mile — I can finally do it in just under 10 minutes — I ridicule my big fat thunder thighs for holding me back. And when a ripped martial arts instructor comments on how muscular my arms are, all I can think about as is how much my loose arm skin flaps when I throw a punch. I’m just a fattie who’s trying to lose weight.

Meanwhile, nothing brings me greater pleasure than working up a sweat, and I’m thrilled when I wake up with sore muscles from the previous day’s workout. I run 8.0 speed sprints on a treadmill on at least a 5.0 incline, I regularly go on 8+ mile bike rides, and I’ve more than doubled the weight I’m lifting on the machines at the gym since I started working out.

I’ve tackled nearly every type of group fitness class, from spinning to Zumba to yoga. I collect new workout moves from my countless fitness magazine subscriptions like it’s my job. I have muscles bulging in places I didn’t know could have muscles.

I pound the pavement or hit the gym six times a week. My Christmas list this year consists of medicine balls and gliding discs, and new sports bras, sneakers, and running gadgets that can track my distance, speed, and calories burned.

I go out of my way to research and eat the foods that will help me burn fat and build muscle more efficiently, and that won’t weigh me down before a workout.

But an athlete?  No, not me.

Not yet.

*I’m the new Biggest Loser blogger for CafeMom, and I’ll also be writing “Healthy Living” posts on weight loss for CafeMom’s blog, “The Stir.”  You can find my stuff here.

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Holiday Horrors

As we get closer and closer to Halloween, I find myself growing more and more afraid of something that has nothing to do with zombies, witches, or things that go bump in the night.

I’m afraid of the holidays.

Truth be told, this is my absolute favorite time of the year. Nothing is more invigorating to me than admiring gorgeous fall foliage or inhaling that crisp chill in the air. Fall is by far my favorite season, and as such, I’ve packed the last several weekends with apple picking, hayrides, and haunted houses. Besides, I’ll take tall leather boots and cashmere sweaters over shorts and tank tops anyday.

I love the spookiness of Halloween, the coziness of Thanksgiving, and the spirit of Christmas. And who isn’t thrilled by the idea of starting fresh in a brand new year (not to mention a legitimate excuse to party all night long)?

But this year I find myself truly torn between my excitement for the ten-week stretch that has come to be known simply as “the holidays,” and my commitment to reaching my goal weight. This is the time of year for sugar cookies and apple pies, and it also happens to be the time of year when I notoriously find myself falling off course and throwing the progress I’ve made all year out the window.

I did it last year, when I found myself forcing myself into my size 8 jeans come January 2nd. I did it the year before, when I gleefully scarfed down all of the homemade treats I could get my hands on. In fact, the only time that I managed not to gain several pounds between the months of October and January was the year 2007, when I was just a few weeks into my Weight Watchers membership and counting POINTS and weekly weigh-ins were still oh-so-exciting. I didn’t so much as let a bite of Stove Top stuffing pass my lips for fear of affecting what the scale said on Sunday morning. I was shedding pounds like crazy and reveling in the compliments, and that was far more exciting to me than partaking in weeks of holiday hooplah.

Oh, how I long for those days.

Right now, I am finally back on track. I screwed up royally over the summer, and am still chipping away at the several pounds I gained on my two-week Orlando vacation in August.

It’s endlessly frustrating that it often takes me a month to shed just a pound or two, despite my absolute best efforts to eat well and push myself harder at the gym. Meanwhile, it seems that all I have to do is to think about ice cream to send the scale skyrocketing in the wrong direction. Talk about life not being fair.

I want to lose the rest of this weight I gained, and then some. I want to reach my goal weight. I want to become a Lifetime Weight Watchers member. I want to be a leader someday. I want to finish what I started.

I want it all so very, very badly. But I’m worried that the festivities of the coming weeks will ultimately derail my progress once again, and I’ll end up right back where I was earlier this year – feeling discouraged and hopeless.

I’ve developed a love for baking and have spent the last several days with my head in magazines and my eyes scouring the Internet for fun, festive treats to make and share with friends and family on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  And guess what?  Very few of them are especially POINT-friendly. It will be the ultimate test of my willpower to indulge in (and track!) just one or two of my creations this year, but I feel I must challenge myself in this way because I refuse to let my weight issues keep me from doing the things that I enjoy…which pretty much sums up my life for the past 25 years.

I don’t want to hole myself up in my room to avoid attending holiday parties. I don’t want to nibble on celery while everyone else is devouring turkey. I don’t want to hide from the buffet and dessert tables. That’s not life.

The holidays are a part of life.  They’re not going anywhere.  And it’s time for me to figure out how to enjoy them without eating everything in sight.

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Fitness for Dummies

Recently I took advantage of a free personal training session being offered by a popular gym chain.  Though I’ve been working out 5-6 times per week for more than two years now, I’ve always been a solo act.  I began my weight loss journey by participating in group classes like kickboxing, step aerobics, and yoga at the local YMCA, and when those routines no longer challenged me physically, I stuck to working out on my own, gradually incorporating more strength training and now (still to my disbelief!) running nearly every day.

I’ve never worked out with a trainer, but since there seems to be no end to my current weight loss plateau in sight, I figured it couldn’t hurt to check in with a professional who has been trained in the delicate art of blasting fat and building muscle on the human body.

The first thing my trainer for the day did was weigh me and measure my body fat with this nifty little tool that sends electric pulses through the body and spits out a percentage (big surprise: I’m teetering right on the edge of “normal” and “overweight”).  Then we sat down to talk, and I relived 24 years of obesity and bragged about my recent success in losing 90 lbs.  I confided that my weight has been at a standstill for well over a year – I’m thrilled that I’m maintaining my loss, I said, but it still would be nice to reach my “goal weight” once and for all.  I told him all about my dedication to the Weight Watchers lifestyle, and filled him in on exactly what I’ve been doing in the gym.

It was then that he proceeded to tell me that while I may have my healthy eating regimen under control, I’ve been making just about every mistake you can make when it comes to getting results at the gym. So I thought I’d share four fitness tips he gave me with all of you, in case you’re making some of the same mistakes I am and, like me, can’t necessarily afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a trainer to correct them.

1.)  Weights First.  When I told the trainer that my gym routine typically consists of 30-40 minutes of cardio (running, biking, etc.) followed by 10-20 minutes of strength training, you would think that I just told him that I also devour a half gallon of Ben & Jerry’s every night and purge myself before bed.  He seemed utterly appalled that I would even think about doing cardio prior to lifting weights.

What I gleaned from his convoluted, rambling explanation as to why I must strength train before I run or hit the cross trainer is that, when working out, the body burns through protein, then carbohydrates, then fat.  So in order to sculpt lean muscle, he said, I should perform 30 minutes of weight training (before my muscles feel fatigued, and before cardio zaps all the stored protein my body needs to build new muscle) before proceeding to my usual cardio activity.

Intrigued by his advice, I’ve conducted a lot of Internet research on the subject…and it seems the jury’s out on this one.  Some say cardio first, others day strength training first, and others say it doesn’t matter much either way.

Still, it can’t hurt to try something new – that’s what hiring a trainer is all about, right?

2.)  No More Machines.  I told him that while I know I should be exploring other forms of resistance training, I still rely heavily on weight machines at the gym.  They’re convenient and have given me decent results in the past.  Plus, once you become familiar with using them, I can breeze through a circuit quickly and efficiently.

He then essentially banned me from using the chest press and hip abductor ever again, explaining that you can only go so far when training your muscles with the help of a machine.  He said that using free weights and exercises that utilize your own body weight as resistance allow for a better range of motion and engage a wider range of muscles.

To prove his point, he lead me through a grueling circuit of leg, arm, and core exercises, including squats, tricep dips, and the dreaded plank position.  The only equipment we used were a Bosu Ball, a bench, a mat, and two 5-lb weights, and I was truly impressed by how great of a workout I had without so much as laying a finger on the gym’s wide array of weight lifting machines.

The bottom line is that after one 30-minute session with a personal trainer, sans weight lifting machines or cardio of any kind, my body ached more than it ever has.  I had trouble climbing stairs for a week after our session, and I suddenly started seeing muscles in my biceps that I didn’t know existed.  If I’m training myself every day and my muscles have never felt so fatigued, then clearly I’m not challenging them the way I should.

3.)  Ditch the Routine.  Once you’ve made going to the gym a consistent part of your daily life, it’s all too easy to fall into a routine while you’re there. I confessed that there are times when I more or less stick to the same exercises, in the same order, and at the same time every day, especially if I’m having a particularly busy week and don’t have as much time to dedicate to working out.

Needless to say, he was not happy.

While the trainer applauded my commitment to physical activity, he said the only way to increase my fitness level – and get the scale to budge – is to “shock” my system.  It’s crucial for me to leave my comfort zone in the dust and commit to finding new ways of challenging my body, burning fat, and building muscle.

I know he’s absolutely right.

4.)  Heart Rate Monitoring. When I go to the gym, I’m on a mission: to burn as many calories as I possibly can in as short amount of time as I possibly can.  I can typically only squeeze a 60-minute work-out session into my day, and if you know anything about Weight Watchers, you know that for every 100 calories burned you’re allotted 1 extra “Activity POINT” – which, on most days, I need to incorporate into my program just to stay within my daily POINTS target of 24.

The trainer, however, advised me to worry less about burning calories and more about lowering my body fat percentage.  I can keep my current weight right where it is, he said – all I have to do is replace the fat on my body with lean muscle.  That requires me to stop obsessing about calories burned on the treadmill and instead start thinking about strategically targeting certain muscle groups and training them to continue burning calories even while at rest.  Burning calories while parked in front of my laptop, or lounging on the couch watching Boy Meets World reruns?  Where do I sign up?

He encouraged me to make a concentrated effort to work out in my optimal “fat burning zone.”  As an almost-25-year-old-woman, my maximum heart rate to burn fat is a mere 156 BPM (beats per minute).  Trouble is, I regularly don a Polar F6 Heart Rate Monitor, and I can tell you that when I’m circling the park near my home and moving at what feels like nothing more than a slow jog, my heart is working at well over 156 BPM.  In fact, I often reach upwards of 165 or even 170 BPM on an average run.

Lately I’ve also been trying short bursts of high-intensity activity followed by periods of rest (yeah, yeah, like they do on The Biggest Loser) – and when I set the treadmill at an 8.0 speed and 5.0 incline for 60 seconds, I can promise you that I’m way beyond the “fat burning” zone the trainer was talking about.  (Of course, I’m always careful not to exceed my personal “cardiovascular training” zone, because, well, I’d rather not give myself a heart attack).

Again, the writer in me set out to research his claims – and, once again, I uncovered nothing but heated debates about this one all over the Internet.  I was unable to find any consensus about the benefits of maintaining a steady “fat burning” heart rate instead of picking up the pace to reach the limits of one’s “cardiovascular training” rate while exercising.

My consensus?  I was comforted by the trainer’s insistence that I worry less about shedding  pounds and lowering my current BMI (“a 250-pound body builder would be considered obese according to that silly chart,” he said), and inspired to stop obsessing so much about calories in and calories out.  I catch myself ogling the fit, athletic women pictured in my women’s health magazines all the time – I work out almost every day, and yet I still look nothing like they do.  I just want my body to appear as strong and powerful on the outside as I now feel on the inside.

Frankly, I’m tired of obsessing over what the scale says; I’m so proud of my weight loss success and my current dress size, and I’m extremely motivated to become even more fit and healthy than I am now.  I’m desperate to put my life-long struggle with obesity behind me, and all I want to do is continue eating well, exercising, and feeling energetic and alive.

I’m willing to try absolutely anything that will continue to motivate me to do just that.

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