Hi, friends. I have been procrastinating writing this article for a while now. I have had a few friends ask me to write about my weight loss journey, but it is not a comfortable thing to talk about. This blog is about getting out of my comfort zone and being transparent, so here it goes. I hope that my journey can help you if you find yourself in a similar place that I was in about 18 months ago.
I was not one of those women that lost weight easily by breastfeeding after having a baby. Breastfeeding made me ravenous. My extra pounds stubbornly clung to me after having babies and the exhaustion of having 3 kids in 3 years left little room to think about diet and exercise. Food also became a source of comfort for me in times of stress. When my youngest was 18 months old, I finally got fed up with being overweight and tired all of the time and decided to get really honest with myself and make some changes.
I knew that this time had to be different, though. In the past, I've tried many different fad diets between pregnancies that worked for a time but just weren't sustainable. I have bought numerous programs, many of which were good for a time, but also, not sustainable for me (and were quite expensive). I thought that I had very little self-discipline and therefore NEEDED a strict program or diet in order to see results. When I started this time, I realized that that was a lie. I can develop self-control and healthy habits that lead to a sustainable healthy lifestyle without a diet or program.
1. I am not formally trained in any way, shape, or form to give nutrition or fitness advice, nor am I giving advice on how to lose weight. I am merely telling my story. Maybe what I say is helpful, maybe it's "totally wrong" in your opinion. Either way, it is my journey.
2. There are many conditions that truly make it much more difficult to lose weight. I do not have any of those conditions, so I was able to lose weight perhaps easier than some, this is just my story.
3. I have never struggled with an eating disorder, but have had people very close to me walk that tough road. If you are currently grappling with an eating disorder, I would lovingly encourage you to click away from this article.
4. Everyone is so different. What worked for me might sound unappealing to you. If you have found that Paleo, Keto, Whole30, Vegan, Atkins, Beachbody, or Trim Healthy Mama is your jam, that is awesome! This is simply what worked for me and what I have been able to maintain long term.
Where was I? Ok, This time had to be different. It couldn't be expensive and it couldn't be time-consuming to learn. It also had to be something I could maintain... which ruled out ANY type of fad diet or program that costs money. I WOULD NOT start a diet that excluded an entire food group. I would not start a program that had a high monthly cost. I boiled it down to the basics. I know it is super uncool these days to think about calories (gasp) when talking about what you eat. But, like it or not, the way you lose weight is decently simple. The calories in need to be less than calories out over a period of time. Losing weight boils down to math. Granted, the TYPE of calories you eat is important, too, but we will get to that in a moment. I think that the weight loss industry has really confused a lot of people by trying to make dieting way more complicated than it needs to be. You CAN do it without anything crazy or expensive. I hope that is encouraging and freeing for you.
I found a great app called My Fitness Pal. It is free and an incredible tool for tracking your food, weight, and progress. All this app requires is a little bit of self-discipline and it can immensely aid you on your weight loss journey. When you set up the app, simply enter your current weight and your goals. You can tell the app how much weight you want to lose and how quickly (it will only allow you to enter an amount that is within healthy limits) and the app will automatically give you a calorie goal and nutrition goals per day. After you are set up, you can start entering your meals. This sounds tedious, but the app has a barcode scanner and a massive database. Once you have learned how to enter your food, it becomes a very quick process. It also stores your frequent foods, which makes things even easier.
The main reason I love this app is that it gives protein, carb, and fat percentage goals (as well as many other nutrition categories) and automatically tracks all of that for you as you enter your food throughout the day. You don't have to guess about whether or not you are eating enough of the right types of calories or too much of the wrong types of calories. You can see through graphs and charts if you are hitting your nutrition goals. I am a data-loving person, so this is very fun and fulfilling for me. The best part is that you don't have to completely give up carbs, fat, or sugar. Stick to your daily allotment and you will see success. This process worked really well for me. Personally, learning how to eat a balanced diet with ALL of the food groups is a major victory. The app is also very encouraging because you can "submit" your journal at the end of the day with all of your meals, exercise, and water intake recorded and it will prompt, "if every day is like today, you will weigh ____ in 6 weeks." It really helped me to stay motivated. I am very self-motivated when I can see goals right in front of me. This app provided all of the accountability that I needed.
You will not have to use the app forever, though. The app helped me to become more mindful of portion sizes and foods that "give you the most bang for your buck" so to speak. After using it faithfully for a few months, I started to learn proper portion sizes and what the appropriate amount of food feels like for each meal. It helped me to become more in tune with my body. Now I can "feel" what the right amount of food/calories should feel like rather than having to record everything.
I made a few simple substitutions that helped me lose weight without ever feeling deprived. I switched from soda to La Croix (not that I was a huge soda drinker before). I didn't love La Croix at first, but the more I detoxed from sugary and super flavorful drinks, the more I loved it. The bubbles feel like a treat. I switched to black coffee. I am not going to lie, this took some time. I started by cutting out creamer and only using Stevia in my coffee. I slowly weaned off the sweetener after that. Now I wouldn't have it any other way. I switched to Halo Top ice cream when I need a treat. Low calorie and high protein, yes, please! I also discovered Quest Bars, which have become my go-to breakfast for on-the-go days.
Getting enough of the appropriate nutrients doesn't have to be expensive. Whole foods are always a good buy. Proteins tend to be one of the harder "cheap" fixes. Here is a list of foods that I incorporate into my diet often that are healthy and won't break the bank.
- Eggs and omelets with veggies
Plain Greek Yogurt (usually with frozen blueberries and a sprinkle of Stevia)
- Tuna (on a salad, slice of whole wheat bread, or whole wheat crackers)
- Cottage Cheese
- Rice + Beans (together make a complete protein)
- Baked potato with a sunny side up egg on top
- Spinach, blueberry, greek yogurt smoothies
- Taco soup made with ground turkey, beans, tomatoes, and seasonings
December 2016 on the left. December 2017 on the right.
Now that we have talked about "calories in," let's talk about the "calories out" portion of the equation. For me, I prefer to think of food for weight and exercise for well-being. I would not stay motivated to work out if it was only for weight loss. What I have discovered, however, is that exercise is crucial for my quality of life. Exercise promotes better sleep, healthy stress relief, and greater mental health. I must get my blood pumping to stay balanced and healthy. Exercise also trains my mind to know that I can do hard things. It makes me a stronger person.
The key is to find a form of exercise that you love. For me, I have always been drawn to running. I ran track and cross country in high school and this feels like the most natural way to exercise. But I needed a fresh approach. I also needed a way that I could run at any hour without having to drive somewhere to run, which is time-consuming. A treadmill seemed like a dream. I begged my husband for one and we found a great one on Craigslist for pretty cheap. Now I can run during nap time or after bedtime. Score! Shortly after I got my treadmill, I came across another life-changing app.
Aaptiv is a fitness app that puts a personal trainer in your ear. It is amazing for running, but they have every type of exercise imaginable. For me, this is the only way I can stand to do treadmill workouts multiple times a week. The trainers are fantastic, encouraging, and come up with some of the most inventive and interesting treadmill workouts. The workouts are pre-recorded with perfectly paired playlists. I did virtually all of my half-marathon training on the treadmill with the app's half-marathon training program. The trainers teach form and technique throughout the run, which is so valuable. I have become a much better runner as a result. I have also done many of the outdoor running, yoga, strength, stretching, and ab workouts.
This app is a monthly subscription. When I signed up, it was $9.99 a month and that is still what I pay. I believe the price may have gone up a little since then, but it is 1000% worth it. I also have 10 guest passes that will give you a month for free if you would like to test the app. Let me know!
For me, the treadmill + app combo in my home has lead to a love of working out that is conducive to my busy mom lifestyle. I usually run/workout at home 4 times a week (usually 3 treadmill workouts and one full body strength workout) and then do a longer outdoor run once a week. That is a total of 5 days a week working out. I take 2 days off because rest is very important when you are a runner.
The proper gear can make a huge difference when you are ready to go to the next level with your workouts. Six months after I started working out regularly, I decided to get a watch that could track my fitness, which has been remarkably helpful. I love tracking my steps, sleep, and heart rate (remember my love for data, haha). I also got fitted for appropriate running shoes, which has been a definite game changer. Bluetooth headphones, the right socks, and a great pair of leggings make you feel on top of the world before you even start working out. I will link all of my favorites below for your convenience.
"Fewer calories in than out" is all well and good, but the third element in the equation is "over time." This has always been the hard part for me. I can eat healthily and exercise for a while, but would always give up and go back to my unhealthy (frequent fast food or using food for comfort) habits in the past. This time, I gave myself a couple of little mantras to keep in mind. The first was simply, "what if you don't give up?" I already knew what would happen if I did give up on making healthy choices. But I never knew what would happen if I committed long term. I decided that THIS was the time I would see what happened if I just kept making the right choices no matter what over time. That leads me to my second mantra, "what is the best choice I can make right now?" I think you always know in your gut what the right decision is for you at each juncture. Choosing to make the next best choice was always my aim. Don't get me wrong, sometimes choosing to eat the donut was the next right choice, but I knew that the second donut or a donut every day for a week, was not the best choice. Moderation is key.
By learning balance, moderation, and self-discipline, I lost about 38 pounds over 8 months. This is pretty dramatic for my small, 5'2" frame. I am very proud that I have been able to keep it off for about a year now. Exercise has been the key to maintenance for me, as well as continuing to make healthy choices with my diet. Remember, you can do hard things. What would happen if you didn't give up?