I get the question all the time, what started all this, how did you get started? So, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and whether I have advice to give to others on how to start living a healthier lifestyle themselves. I think I do, but take all of this advice how it is offered, one person’s opinion.
1) Find your motivation – I think the first thing you have to do is think about your motivation. I had been thinking I should lose weight for years. I mean, of course I was, it’s not like I didn’t know I was overweight. I would even start an exercise routine, like swimming at the gym, but if something came up and I couldn’t get to the gym for a few days, or I got a cold, I would give up. I think the catalyst for me this time was some heart palpitations I had back in January. They never found anything wrong, but it got me really thinking about my health and just how sedentary I was, and how bad that was for me. Losing weight alone would help my heart, but I realized that what I really needed was to get moving. It wasn’t until about 2 months after I started exercising when I started seriously keeping track of my food intake. I think for me this was key. If your motivation is simply to lose weight, or get “thin”, or look good in your clothes, that could be a very distant goal. Depending on how much weight you need to lose, it could take a year or even more to get to that goal. If your goal is to feel more fit, to have more energy, you can accomplish that pretty fast by figuring out how to fit more exercise into your day. Just a bit of exercise most days of the week will have you feeling better and better within days, long before the weight is off. Plus, it is an ongoing motivation as you can continue to improve your strength and endurance. I enjoy exercise now because I can consistently surprise myself in how much I can do. It is so amazing to run around at the park with the kids and not end up winded. To hike up a hill with my fit friends, take the lead, and have them all huffing and puffing. There are so many rewards to fitness all along the way, even before you get to your goal weight. Cliche I know, but the hardest part is starting. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Start with a 1/2 hour walk 3 times a week. Build up from there.
2) Find an exercise you really like – I’d seen and heard about Zumba for years, but was scared about going into a class looking like I did. So, I bought an Xbox 360 with Kinect, and Zumba Fitness Rush. I started at the easiest setting, and discovered it was fun. I slowly built up to doing it about 3 times a week at the easiest setting until I was doing it 6 times a week at a moderate setting. That’s when I started branching out into other forms of exercise to see which ones I enjoyed. Try lots of different exercises. Some you will love; I now have Zumba, hiking with friends, and body sculpting classes, all of which I really enjoy. Some you will not enjoy; I gave jogging a good effort for a couple of months, even completing the Couch to 5K program, but finally decided it wasn’t the best choice for me. My clue was that I would find myself coming up with all these excuses about why I shouldn’t be doing it that day. There are so many different ways to get your exercise, many of which don’t need a gym: dance classes like Zumba, hip hop, tap, etc. (live classes or video), hiking, walking, jogging, swimming, kettlebell, kick-boxing, bicycling, playing sports, the list goes on and on. There is no one right way to get your exercise. Just try a bunch of things and find what you think is fun. It can be fun even if it is difficult–like body sculpting classes for me right now–and it will get easier the more you do it. Think about getting a pedometer, like the fitbit. You’ll be amazed at how much motivation you have to park farther from the store, or walk to a friend’s house instead of driving, just to get in your 10,000 steps for that day.
3) Change your eating habits – Don’t try a fad diet. Change your eating habits in such a way that you don’t feel deprived, or like you are missing out. Do what works for you. If you don’t already love them, develop a love of vegetables. Eat lots of different vegetables, cooked in lots of different ways. Eat from smaller plates. Make your food delicious, and take the time to enjoy every bite of it. If it can work for you, keep a log of your food–I use MyFitnessPal, but there are lots of different apps out there–and weigh and measure all your food, at least for awhile. You might be surprised how large the portions are that you’ve been eating. Find healthy substitutes for the unhealthy things you are currently eating. If you love chips and dip (which I do), try finding a substitute that can satisfy the same cravings. I came up with cucumber chips dipped in greek yogurt and green salsa. Same salty, crunchy, creamy sensations as potato chips and dip. My typical dessert now is some fruit and a small piece of dark chocolate. I savor every little bite of that dark chocolate. Consider eating smaller meals, and having snacks in between. Come up with snacks that taste good to you. I am never ever hungry, and if I am I eat. I eat a smaller breakfast and lunch with snacks between, and then a slightly bigger dinner. This is what works for me. Find what works for you.
4) Don’t make yourself crazy listening to advice – Yes, I know, funny thing to say when I’m giving advice. But as I wrote in a previous post, message boards and internet advice can make you crazy. For example, on MyFitnessPal there is a large contingent of people who say to keep track of how many calories you burn when you exercise, and always eat all of those calories back or you will not lose weight because you will slow down your metabolism. Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t anything to this idea, I think if someone seriously starves themselves that could happen. But I eat within a consistent range of calories–between 1300 and 1500 per day–and it has worked very well for me for months. My calories burned are logged on the MyFitnessPal site through my fitbit, however I don’t really pay much attention to that. Again, I eat when I’m hungry. If I’m hungrier one day, well I figure that means I should be eating more. This goes back to weighing and measuring portions, though. If I want to eat some nuts, which are wonderfully healthy, I need to weigh them. A serving of nuts is really a very small portion, but it satisfies for a long time. It seems like the end result of my change in lifestyle should be the ability to listen to my body and give it what it needs to be healthy. I also read that you couldn’t successfully get fit without strength training. That may be true, but I didn’t do any strength training for the first 4 months, simply because I didn’t want to. I was still feeling much more fit, and losing weight consistently. I started doing strength training because I finally really wanted to do it. Now I really enjoy the feeling of tired muscles, and look forward to my strength training sessions. However, it was important for me to wait until I was ready, and not let the fact that I didn’t want to do it keep me from making other positive changes.
5) Make small changes, one at a time – I have made gradual changes, and I’ve lived with each one for awhile before adding anything new. It started with Zumba, then using smaller plates, then eating a lot more vegetables, then logging my food, then adding more exercise… Each thing I did for awhile, and it made a positive impact. Don’t try to add vigorous exercise and logging all your food all at once. It will feel too overwhelming. Start with easy exercise, gradually increasing intensity. Start with small changes to how you are eating. Take it slow, because:
6) Realize that this is not temporary, it is forever – Anything you do, any change you make to your routine, make sure it is something you can keep doing for the rest of your life. This is not a temporary change, because your motivation is not just to lose weight, it is to be a healthier person. Healthier people exercise, and they eat a moderate amount each day. Sure, they splurge now and then, but day to day they are conscious of how much they are eating. Once you realize that you will find time for exercise forever, that there is no real finish line to your healthier eating, it can be very freeing (I suppose it can also be depressing, but I prefer to be an optimist). Getting to my goal weight will be terrific, but the journey doesn’t end there. At that point I will need to figure out the right level of exercise and calories to maintain my weight for the rest of my life. There are statistics out there that a majority of people who lose weight end up gaining it right back. I think that has all got to be about attitude. If your goal is to lose the weight, and then you think you are done when you get there, it seems pretty obvious that you will gain it back. If your goal is to be a healthier person who exercises and eats healthy food in appropriate quantities, then that will keep you fit for the rest of your life.
So, the overall theme of all of this advice? Do what works for you. Figure out what that is. There is no easy way to lose weight–from what I’ve heard about weight loss surgery, that seems a lot harder than what I am doing. However, it is worth it in the way you will feel about yourself. Not because you fit into society’s idea of what your body is supposed to look like, but because you will feel so much healthier, and have so much more energy. Isn’t that worth working for?