Last year I was at my highest non-pregnant weight ever. I didn’t own a scale, so I had no idea that pounds had slowly added up until I reached 182. I weighed a whopping 42 pounds heavier than when I got married in 2006. I knew my clothes weren’t fitting well—oddly every pair of my pants shrunk—but I didn’t know how much I stopped looking like myself until I saw this picture.
I resolved to change. For over a year I tried a variety of things to get healthy again. I tried waking up early to exercise (FAIL). I attempted to walk on my lunch hour, but something always got in the way. Dieting didn’t work for me, because I wasn’t disciplined. Food at the office was a major factor—bagels and cream cheese are always a temptation, vendors sometimes deliver warm chocolate chip cookies, and then there’s the popcorn machine with movie-style buttery, salty popcorn. Nothing seemed to work and I was frustrated. I didn’t feel like myself, I didn’t look like myself, and I was tired of complaining about it. Certainly, my husband was tired of hearing about it.
What finally moved the needle? I stopped whining about how hard it was to lose weight and I made a plan. I wrote down a list of small changes I could make and I stuck to it.
1. No weeknight cocktails. On any given night after work, I was in the habit of having a glass (or two) of wine with our meal or after the kids went to bed. When I thought about it, the extra calories weren’t really worth it. I switched to water or low calorie lemonade and looked forward to wine on the weekend. In the winter, I’ve been drinking hot water with lemon and honey before bed. It keeps me from snacking and it soothes my perpetual cold (someone is always sick in our house). I have wine or beer on the weekends, but I hardly ever have more than two glasses. Result: At least 250-500 fewer calories a day.
2. No snacking after dinner. I needed to kick another bad habit. When I was pregnant with my daughters, I grew accustomed to eating yogurt or cheese and crackers right before bed. If I had a little snack before bed, my nausea decreased. Well, our baby was two years old and I didn’t *need* the bedtime snack. This strategy was reinforced when I read an article about nighttime fasting helping with weight loss. Now I eat with my family at dinner and then I’m done for the night. Result: At least 100-300 fewer calories a day.
3. Avoid massive calorie attacks. For the most part, (I am human after all) I stopped indulging in the decadent office treats of bagels, dilly bars, and donuts. It’s hard, though. I will make an exception for a YoYo donut (key lime mini Bismarck, please!) or a Rustica Bakery almond Danish. I have a sheet of paper taped to my desk that helps me remember this simple rule: to burn off a bagel and cream cheese, I have to jump non-stop for 2 hours. Being a desk sitter, and not a trampoline addict, I don’t get to eat the bagel. Rats. Result: Sometimes 200-500 fewer calories a day.
4. Step on a scale. I don’t like having a scale in the house. It used to make me feel overly conscious about my weight and I preferred measuring my progress by how well the waistband on my pants fit. But without a scale, it was easy for me to ignore how my weight was slowly increasing, and easier still for me to imagine that somehow all my clothes shrunk in the laundry. Result: Truth. I couldn’t blame shrinking clothes, and I slowly started to see the numbers go down, pound by pound.
5. Exercise when possible. Before I had children I really didn’t think it would be difficult to find time to work out. Just plop the kids in a jogging stroller, right? For me, it didn’t work. I found ways to do sit ups while watching TV. I also tried to set a goal of waking up at 5:30 a.m. and using the elliptical for 30 minutes. But it was easy for this goal to slowly fade away. For example, my daughter sometimes woke up early, hunted me down in the basement, and wore me down to play. That got old and I just gave up. What works most of the time for me is to exercise 45 minutes on the elliptical on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Working out 2 days a week isn’t ideal, but it is all I can manage most weeks. Result: Between 300-400 calories burned a day.
6. Drink a smoothie for breakfast every morning. I was inconsistent about my breakfast choices. Sometimes I would have yogurt, a banana, and a hardboiled egg for breakfast and other days I would grab an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich on the way to work. Either way, I was snacking by 10:30 a.m. About a year ago I started making myself a strawberry banana smoothie for breakfast every morning. I blend frozen strawberries, 1 banana, about a cup of plain, non-fat yogurt, and 1 cup of skim milk. It’s delicious, it fills me up, and I get a few servings of fruit right at the beginning of the day. I bring an extra banana or an apple for my mid-morning snack. Result: A consistent, healthy breakfast is helping me maintain my weight and cut down on bad snack choices.
With these tactics, I lost 10 pounds over six months. It’s certainly not an earth shattering weight loss, but for me it was significant. My old clothes finally fit, I felt better, and I found hope that I could make progress.
But that’s not all! I added a few new ways to keep working toward my goal of weighing 150 by June.
On January 1, I weighed 172 pounds. Hooray! Progress! I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app for my iPhone. I set a new goal of reaching 160 by April, roughly the start of shorts and swimsuit season. (That’s wishful thinking in Minnesota, but a girl can dream). By being more disciplined I am seeing really great results.
7. Keep a daily food and exercise log. Using MyFitnessPal, I log everything I eat (often) and note every time I exercise (infrequent). The app is easy to use and I do my best to stay under 1,390 calories a day. Most days I reach my target calorie level and I don’t beat myself up too much if I go over every once in a while. The database has most of the foods I eat or I can use the barcode scanner to scan the SKU of a snack. I can record my daily weight, track my progress, and get daily or weekly summaries of my nutrition. More than anything, the app keeps me honest. It’s easy to see if I’m snacking too much and about to go over my daily calorie limit. Result: I’ve logged in every day and I’ve lost an additional 8 pounds. I’m now at 164 and pretty darn pleased.
8. Eat less than my husband. I liked the MyFitnessPal app and convinced my husband to use it too. I nearly fainted when he showed me that he needs 2,600 calories a day. That makes a lot of sense—he’s 6’5” and walks a lot at work. It was particularly stunning to me, because I realized that for the last six years I’ve been eating about the same amount of food as he did. No wonder I gained 40 pounds! I’m not a burly guy and I shouldn’t eat like one. Now I eat slightly smaller portions than he does and I typically don’t snack when he does. He needs all the extra calories he can get, I don’t. Result: It’s hard to say, but I bet that if I eat portions suited to me, not him, that I’ll be able to maintain my weight for a long time.
Check out my before and after pictures!
It’s March 11 and I’ve lost a total of 18 pounds so far. Everything I’m doing is easy for me to sustain. In fact, I’ve created new, healthier habits. I think I’ll make my goal of 160 by April and I will be delighted if I can reach 150 by June. I’ll need new jeans and it will feel so good to shop for skinny jeans. But what feels even better is to hear my five-year-old daughter say that she wants to be healthy like me when she grows up. I’m setting a good example for my daughters and that is priceless.