This is about my personal journey to a healthier lifestyle, which included losing extra weight (about 110 pounds over 1.5 years) and gaining health and strength.
This isn’t about weight loss, necessarily, though I suspect many people who are reading this are looking specifically for that. It’s also about weight gain, weigh sustaining, muscle gain, toning, or any other body changes that people may want or need to do to allow their body to be healthier and a nicer place to live.
There also won’t be a step-by-step guide on how to do what you need to do for yourself. I’ll detail my own journey, but your story will ultimately be written by you and those supporting you. I will have some steps that can be applied by nearly everyone, however, no matter what changes they are hoping to achieve.
First of all, my qualifications, and those I’m lacking. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a personal trainer. I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not a therapist. I’m just a mom with an autoimmune disease who had gotten unhealthfully large, and I was able to make changes in my life to start down a path to recovery. This was after multiple failed attempts in the past. I’ve documented my successes on facebook, and I’ve now had scores of people asking me, publically and privately, what I’ve been doing to change my lifestyle. After writing the same stuff over and over again, I’ve decided to make this post for easy distribution, and if it can help a stranger, then all the better.
I’ve lost 94 pounds over 15 months. There was no “secret” or crash diet… I’ve done those things that people have said over and over again. I’ve kept track of my food intake and I’ve gotten more exercise (basically just walking). But more importantly, I’ve found what was keeping me from being successful before, and now I want to share those tips with you. I haven’t just lost weight, of course – I’ve gained health. I sleep better, I can do more things now, such as going caving with my family. I’m more comfortable and my heart, blood pressure, and bloodwork look great. I’m on a good path to last longer on this Earth.
Step 1: Figure out why you’re stuck.
Are you sick? Are you sure? Do you have fatigue or pain? Are your organs and thyroid working properly?
Is your mental health keeping you from being able to make changes? Do you binge eat, avoid food, comfort eat, or eat thoughtlessly? Does your own body image keep you from being able to make changes?
I want you to take a hard look at yourself and answer these questions. See your doctor, and a therapist, and have them help you answer them, too. If your doctor says “No, you’re fine, you just need to lose/gain weight” then find a new doctor. If it were that “easy,” then you would have done it already.
There is SOMETHING that has put you where you are, and chances are excellent it wasn’t just laziness. (Lazy is a cop-out concept that people use when they don’t feel like finding an actual underlying cause, and it’s probably not what’s actually going on with you!) Find that something. Work on it first.
This is important… because if you don’t fix this, you’re going to start on your journey, trip and land back right where you are again.
I have rheumatoid arthritis, recurring flare-ups of Lyme disease, depression, and PCOS. These are all forces that work against me, and I’ve had to work closely with my doctors to come up with solutions and medications to reduce pain, fatigue, self-loathing and mental blocks. I had tried at least six times in the past to be a smaller person, but one small trip up and I was gaining all of my weight back, plus some, because I had not addressed these underlying problems.
Step 1 a: Be nice to yourself.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably human, and us humans are known for being… human. We make mistakes and we do weird things to ourselves and each other. If you’re busy hating yourself, you’re not going to be able to make good changes, because you’ll have hate words floating around in your brain all the time, and they will work against you. If you can’t stop being mean to yourself, please employ a therapist to help you.
Make your goals nice, too. Mine were/are things like “Be able to fit in roller coasters again.” “Don’t snore as much as night.” “Be able to keep up with the kids and husband.” Not “Fit into a size 10” or “Stop being obese.”
Step 1 b: Create a team of support.
Rally your friends and family to support you on your journey. Let them know what your goals are and ask them to give you positive reinforcements and gentle nudges when you need them.
If you have a person in your life who makes you feel bad, especially about your body size or health, cut them out as much as you can. You don’t need that crap, especially not now. They are not helpful. They can do way more harm than good.
Step 2: Get the tools you’ll need to help you.
No matter how you’re trying to change your health, food will probably be a factor. It has been very helpful to me to track what I’m eating every day – for better or for worse. I personally use My Fitness Pal because it’s free (always good), has a huge database of foods, will also track your nutrients and water intake as well as calories, can be synced with your exercise apps or step counters, and is easy/intuitive to use. There are other calorie counters out there that I’ve heard are also just as helpful.
- If fitness is part of your goal, joining a gym or having a personal trainer is a huge help. I especially recommend having a personal trainer if you want to start lifting weights – you can seriously injure yourself if you don’t know how much weight you should be lifting, or even how to lift correctly, correct your form, etc.
- A step counter has been a huge helper for me. I use a Fitbit that also tracks my heart rate and sleep patterns. It’s perfect for me because I tend to “gamify” things and am very self-competitive. I have friends and family who also love their Garmins, Apple watches, and Samsung devices. Talk to your friends and family and shop around to see what would be good for you.
- A “productivity app” can also be very helpful, especially if you’re trying to change several of your habits at once. I used Habitica for about six and it was instrumental in cementing some major daily and weekly changes I was making for myself.
- You may choose to see a dietician. I’ve been personally considering this. This is essential if you have a condition that is diet-dependent, such as diabetes or fatty liver disease.
- Keep seeing your doctor and therapist.
- Take your prescribed meds.
Consider taking supplements – ask your doctor what might benefit you personally. Please don’t rely on multi-level marketing people to tell you what you need.
Step 3: Start easy – Have small goals in the beginning.
I know you want to jump into the deep end and get healthy as soon as you possibly can, but this can not only backfire but be downright dangerous. This is especially true if the reason your health was suffering was due to a physical sickness or a mental illness.
Have small goals when you’re first starting out so that you don’t overwhelm your brain and body. You’ve heard it before: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither were you.
If you have a new daily calorie goal, don’t go all the way to it in the first few weeks. Work your way up or down to the number gradually. Otherwise, your body and brain will both freak out on you.
If you have a new exercise goal, same thing. Start smaller and build up. Remember that this is truly a lifestyle change, not a crash course in body and health improvement. There won’t be a point when you’re “done,” just a point when you slow down and maintain.
On one of my failed attempts of weight loss I put on a new step counter, and it had come set to a daily goal of 10,000 steps. Having been basically bedbound for a couple years, I felt overwhelmed, but I did as much as I could for the first day. Well, turns out that was too much for my body, and I landed myself back in bed for several days. One step forward, two steps back.
The next time I tried using a step counter, I finally *allowed* myself to start with just 4,000 steps several times a week, and gradually worked up to a larger goal more times a week as my body let me know it was ok to do so. Now I can jog, and have even “run” a few 5-Ks, something I never in my life thought I’d be able to do.
Step 4: Look at the big picture, not the tiny (flawed) details
You’re not going to have a picture perfect day every day. You’re going to get sick and not be able to work out or eat the foods you’re “supposed to.” You’re going to go on vacation and eat a little more fast food than you really wanted to. Thanksgiving is going to happen, and you won’t want to disappoint your aunt by turning down that slice of pie she’s already prepped. You’re going to wake up hurting and not feel great about running… it’s really ok to put it off.
Your body won’t turn on you if you have a slip up now and again. Calories average out over weeks, so if you have a PMS-induced chip eating day, just take it a little easier in the following days to make up for it. If you are ill and just can’t stomach the calorie or protein-rich food you’re supposed to consume, give yourself a break and just make up those calories or nutrients over a week when you feel better.
Finally, I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating – Don’t weigh yourself every chance you get. It will just frustrate you. Your weight can fluctuate over four pounds in a single day. Clothing can also add pounds. Hormones fluctuate and can cause water retention. Traveling will make you swell up, even if you eat “perfectly” while out and about. Even drinking a glass of water, obviously good for you, can depress you if you hop on the scale right afterward. If you’re into weighing yourself for motivation, that’s fine, but aim for once a week, every two weeks, once a month, etc and look at the big picture – are the numbers still basically headed in the right direction?
I’ve had a new habit recently of *only* charting a new weight if that one is lower than the one before it. If it’s higher, or the same, I skip charting it. I know that I’m still doing what’s best for my body, and I don’t need to beat myself up for things that my body is doing without my consent.
Step 5: Listen to your body every day.
This is especially important if you are pregnant, chronically ill, or injured. Feeling “off” could be your body’s way of warning you of something that you don’t even know is wrong – blood pressure, blood sugar, impending flu, or injury.
I had a couple of weeks where I went from walking or jogging at least 12,000 steps every day to barely walking at all. My self-esteem was starting to take a beating – Was I falling off the wagon? Was this the end of my excellent progress? Would I regain everything I’d lost (or lose everything I’d gained, as the case may be?) One morning, I woke up and suddenly had the motivation to walk again, and did my usual routine. Later in the day, I got curious and checked to see where my heart rate had been during my walk. As I looked at it, I realized that my resting heart rate had been 10 beats per minute higher during the time of my supposed lack of motivation… So there was actually something going on with my body that I hadn’t even been aware of. The resting heart rate had just dropped back down the night before I felt like walking again. I still don’t know what exactly was going on, but it seems to have resolved itself.
Step 6: Treat yo-self.
Finally, give yourself some mini-goals along your journey, so that you can feel accomplished more often. Try to make your treats not about food, but definitely self-care related.
When you hit a mini-goal, do something nice for yourself. You’ve made some hard changes in your life, and you’ve earned it. Having a healthier body is nice and all, but so is a new tattoo, a mini vacation, or that piece of jewelry you’ve had your eye on. I personally have rewards for every ten pounds I’ve lost, with the rewards getting larger the lower I go. My next one is a “major clothes shopping trip.” I had a “minor clothes shopping trip” about 40 pounds ago. I’ve also had “pro haircut, spa day, rainbow dyed hair tips and a new piercing.”
Good luck on your journey, and always be kind to yourself, no matter what you look or feel like. Hit me up if you need a shoulder or a laugh. I’ll be your Fierce Mama.
If you’re curious to read about my personal journey toward a healthier me, please visit my next post.