Lately, lots of people (online and off) have been asking me to blog about my weight loss journey. The new year has brought resolutions to lose weight or get fit into the lives of nearly everyone I know. Rather than try to re-invent the wheel, I’ve decided to repost something I wrote for our community newspaper (the Rat Creek Press) in June 2010. I’ve since lost another 30 lbs since initially writing this and have reached a healthy weight. I’ve gone from barely being able to walk a few kms without being winded to being able to walk comfortably for hours. While I’d still like to lose another 10 vanity lbs, I don’t need to lose anymore in order to improve my health. My doctor says I’m extremely healthy for someone my age and with my previous sedentary/overweight lifestyle. I’ve been maintaining my current weight for a few months now and hope to continue doing so in the future.
Staring at a series of “bad” photos of myself on Facebook, while desperately removing the name tags from them, brought me face-to-face with my currently reality. I wasn’t the svelte lass I was in my late teens and early 20s. I no longer fit the description of “pleasantly plump”. Somehow, when I wasn’t paying attention, I’d gone well past fat and off to the land of obese.
Experts estimate that 10 to 25% of all teenagers and 20 to 50% of all adults in Canada have a weight problem. The increasing rise in obesity rates comes with a plethora of consequences to our health including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, musculoskeletal problems (joint pain and arthritis) and reproductive difficulties. You’ve likely seen the commercials on TV, where-in a teen describes the new reality, that we may be the first generation that doesn’t outlive our parents.
Me? I’ve decided I don’t want to be overweight for the rest of my life and decided to begin a “lifestyle change” in January (2010).
Want to lose weight and not sure where to start? Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
- Don’t go on a diet. Start a lifestyle change: Diets often fail because people take extreme measures. They drastically cut their food intake or deny themselves all the foods they love. The key is moderation and sustainability. If you love chocolate, find a way to work a few small pieces into your daily or weekly meal plans. Don’t try to do everything at once. Instead, change one thing a week. Add more veggies in your meals. Eat an extra piece of fruit a day. Go for a short walk after meals. Soon these things will become habit and you’ll start to see results.
- You didn’t gain the weight overnight… We live in a results oriented society. We want to see big drops in the number displayed on the scale or we feel like failures. It’s best to remember that weight loss is considered “safe” when it’s no more than 2lbs or 1% of your body weight (depending on which option is lower) per week. Nutritionists consider an individual to be successful if they can maintain a 10% loss for a minimum of 6 months.
- Eat more to lose more: A big mistake many “dieters” make is in drastically reducing their caloric intake. Over a long period of time this can result in medical issues due to lack of proper nutrition. Over a shorter period, it can result in a demoralizing spiral of binge eating, decreased metabolism, and weight gain. Unless under a doctor’s supervision, women over 21 should eat a minimum of 1200 calories a day while men need a minimum of 1500 calories to get the bare minimum nutrition while dieting. However, that doesn’t mean everyone should drop to the minimum calorie intake amount when dieting. 1200 is the minimum for a short, inactive, elderly woman. If you don’t fit into this category, or aren’t under a doctor or nutritionists direct care, chances are you should be eating a lot more.
Your body’s minimum needs will depend on your age, height, current weight, and activity level. Using a BMR (Basic Metabolic Rate) calculation can help you determine your caloric needs.
- Calories In < Calories Out: There’s no magic secret to sustainable weight loss. To lose 1lb a week, you need to take in 3500 calories less than your body uses each week. That’s just 500 calories less a day. Someone who’s stats indicates they burn 2000 calories would eat 1500 calories each day in order to lose a pound a week. To lose 2lbs a week, eat 7000 calories less each week. Remember not to go below 1200 (women) or 1500 (men) a day without the supervision of a doctor or nutritionist. Want to eat more? Add exercise. You can increase the amount you eat while maintaining a safe deficit by burning more calories through exercise.
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day: Our bodies are made of water. When dehydrated, our bodies store water. This can cause temporary weight gain and bloating. Drinking sufficient water each day can help “flush” stored water from our bodies and gets rid of “water weight”.
- Put the salt shaker down: Health Canada recommends that Canadians consume between 1600-2300mg of sodium a day. Most of us take in far more than that. It’s not unusual for the average Canadian to consume 4000mg or more of sodium each day. The excess sodium can cause high blood pressure, bloating, and water retention. Look for foods low in sodium and don’t add salt while cooking or at the table. Instead, consider using salt substitutes like fresh herbs and spices.
- Eat better to feel better: Feeling sluggish? Tired and cranky all the time? Your body might not be getting all the nutrients it needs. Cutting out the fast food meals and replacing them with fruits and vegetables can help you feel better. Frozen fruits and veggies are as nutritious as fresh and often cheaper if you’re on a budget.
- Avoid “Diet” foods: When you read the labels on these foods you might be shocked to discover that the sodium or sugar contents are higher than the normal versions of the food. That’s because manufacturers often substitute salt or sugar to lower fat foods in order to make them taste better. Whenever possible, stick to fresh or whole foods.
- Lose the scale: The one you weigh yourself on. The numbers can be frustrating if they’re not dropping as fast as you’d like. You may find yourself better motivated if you choose to pay attention to how you’re feeling and how your clothes fit. When they’re looser, you know you’re losing fat! If you are the type of person who needs to see the numbers in order to feel motivated, try weighing yourself once a week or once a month. Just remember to weigh yourself at the same time of day, wearing the same outfit (or nothing).
Your body weight can fluctuate by as much as five pounds depending on the time of day you’re weighing-in so it’s best to always weigh yourself around the same time of day every time.
- Weigh and measure your food: Portion sizes at restaurants are out of control. Many people, including myself at the beginning, don’t know what a proper portion size is supposed to look like. Weighing and measuring your food can help you re-learn how much you should be eating. If you are eating at a restaurant, split your portion in half and box up the other half to take home, share your meal with another person at the table, or order an appetizer.
- Be aware of what you’re eating: Keep a food journal. Write down everything you eat as you eat it. Seeing how much you’re eating (and when) can be an eye opener.
- Pre-package snacks: If you’re the type of person who likes to snack while watching TV or working at a computer, you may find it handy to pre-package your snacks into one serving sizes (zip lock bags and small Tupperware style containers work great for this). Only take one snack package at a time to help you avoid overeating.
- Bring a packed lunch: Packing your own lunch for work can save a lot of money and helps you maintain a nutritional balance. Packing your lunch and snacks for work helps you avoid the temptation of snack foods and fatty fast food meals.
- Learn to love exercise: Not everyone is ready to run a marathon immediately. Start small. Pick an activity that interests you and get moving. Don’t expect to be able to do it all at once – especially if you’ve led a sedentary lifestyle until now. I used to think I hated exercise until I started walking a few minutes each day in January and playing on the Wii Fit. I managed to walk a little bit longer and a little bit farther each day. Then I joined a gym and spliced that into my routine. After that it was lifting (small) weights and now I’m learning to run. I can’t imagine not doing something each day of the week. I use exercise as a stress reliever these days – instead of eating. It’s fabulous.
- So you’ve had a bad day: You over ate. You feel bad about yourself. You’re a failure so you might as well give up. Stop right there! Just because you ate too much one day doesn’t mean you’re attempt at a lifestyle change is over. Remember, you have to over eat by 3500 calories to gain a pound. Some people swear by cheat meals and plan an evening once a month where they can eat whatever they want. The important thing to remember is that tomorrow is another day. So, dust yourself off and start again.
Sure, you’ve heard it all before. Why should you listen to me? In my experience, motivation for losing weight needs to come from within. Like quitting smoking, you have to be ready and willing to take the next steps and actively work towards improving your health. No one can do it for you.
As for me, since January I’ve lost 50 lbs. I still have a long way to go to reach my overall weight loss goal, but I feel better about myself. The changes in my life are huge. After 10 years of horrific insomnia I now have little trouble sleeping at night. Before I could barely walk a half mile without feeling tired; I now routinely walk 2-5 miles a day. Best of all? I’m not embarrassed by how I look on photos my friends upload to Facebook!