The bad thing about committing yourself to writing a post a day is that it inspires you to write about subjects that you might normally have the good sense to avoid, like weight loss. I know that this topic isn’t everyone’s thing. Joe, for example, stares at the nearest exit like someone trapped in a room filled with skunks (and spiders…and menacing clowns…that is also on fire) every time I bring up what he refers to as “weight loss chat.”
However, I have poured a tremendous amount of time and thought and energy into this subject over the years, which makes it easy post material for me, which means that it’s time to break out the weight loss chat here at casa Conversion Diary!
A while back I lost 30 pounds that I’d carried around since my first pregnancy, and I kept it off — not because I’m naturally skinny or I like to exercise or I have great self control, but because I made a huge push to get rid of the weight, and I learned a lot in the process. I studied and researched and kept journals and just about melted my phone from analyzing it all with a friend, and eventually I found a way to get it done that works for me. Now I have six kids under age ten and I weigh about what I did when I got married.
I can’t tell you what foods you should eat, what exercises you should do, or exactly what program will work for you. What I can offer is a brain dump of every lesson I learned on my own journey. I can share the general principles that helped me finally meet my fitness goals after years and years of trying.
If, like Joe, a piece of you dies every time someone starts on weight loss chat, I recommend perusing the writing of some of the other bloggers who are updating every day this week, like Heather. Oh, wait, she’s talking about weight loss too. Then maybe Kristen, who admits that she’s not really a Lent person, or Christy, who asks if being overwhelmed by the demands of family life makes her a bad friend.
But if you want to see a list of the ideas that helped one lazy nerd lose 30 pounds and feel better than ever, here you go:
24 weight loss lessons I learned the hard way
1. The ultimate goal should be freedom — freedom from foods that drag you down, freedom to be as fit as you want to be, freedom to love others more than you love a number on a scale. If you’re trying to lose weight just to fit into the cute pair of jeans in time for the high school reunion, it’s not likely to lead to lasting results.
2. But it’s fine to have mixed motives. If you’re mostly seeking freedom from attachments but can’t help but occasionally imagine doing an enthusiastic fist pump after slipping into that dress you haven’t been able to wear in 10 years, that’s okay. Few people can go into an endeavor like this with perfectly pure motives.
3. You have to start from a place of surrender. The more you approach the process from a place of complete openness to new habits and new information, the more successful you’ll be.
4. Get it into your head that this is possible. After years of failing to lose weight despite my best efforts, in the back of my mind I began to believe that this was impossible. Then I did a thought experiment in which I imagined being thrown into a forced labor camp and working all day while being given only a few morsels of food, and I realized that I would, in fact, lose weight. I still didn’t know if I’d be able to do it in my real life, but it was surprisingly refreshing to remember that it was physically possible.
5. If you’ve tried and failed to lose weight a whole bunch of times, chances are that you’re eating at least a few foods that are throwing your system out of whack, either by causing an addictive response or by making you feel bad.
6. Spend a couple of weeks keeping a daily food log that tracks what you ate along with two other factors: 1) how you felt physically, and 2) how much control you had over your eating (i.e. how easily you could stop when you began to feel full). Look out for food that make you feel bad and/or that your system reacts to like it’s crack cocaine. You will probably find this to be a revealing exercise.
7. When you give up foods you’re addicted to and/or don’t tolerate well, you don’t miss them. I once proclaimed that a life without fettuccine alfredo is not a life worth living, only to realize from keeping a food log that pasta is an addiction food for me. Now that it’s out of my diet altogether, I’m not even tempted by it. Seriously!
8. You’ll probably fall off the wagon a bunch of times as you attempt to give up foods that don’t work for you. Don’t beat yourself up about it; just take a moment to be mindful of how you feel. After the 836th time I noticed that having a huge sandwich and a Coke for lunch ruined my entire afternoon, I began to intimately associate that meal with feeling like a murderous sloth, and it became easier to make better choices.
9. You’re going to have to exercise. I assure you that I have tried to lose weight by restricting food alone, and the result was that I discovered that my body can miraculously maintain its weight if I eat more than 0.0005 calories per day if I’m not exercising.
10. Don’t worry about having an “active lifestyle.” I once read a weight loss story in a magazine where a woman said that the only way she could stay thin was by spending her free time biking, hiking, and kayaking. It struck terror into my heart when I imagined having to waste my life sweating on a bike in the woods. But luckily for me and all other aspiring brains in jars, I found that you don’t have to clock hours and hours of physical activity to get the job done — committing to thirty minutes of intense exercise five days a week is enough. You can go back to staring at your computer after that.
11. Find an exercise that has a payoff for you other than burning calories — otherwise you’ll throw in the towel after about the third time you almost kill yourself with your workout only to see no change in your weight. As a sensitive introvert whose house is like an asylum for people who don’t know how to stop screaming, I value my jogging time for the fact that I can be alone and listen to my iPod in peace even more than I value it for the health component. An extrovert might find that meeting friends for classes at the gym has a similar non-health-related payoff.
12. You need to set aside a block of time where you can make weight loss your only big project. I recommend 12 weeks. When I finally hit my weight loss goal, I set aside 12 weeks where I was laser-focued on this pursuit. I still did normal stuff like updating my blog, schoolwork, and hanging out with the kids, but I did not work on the book during that time or undertake any other big challenges.
13. During your 12-week focus time, you need to keep a journal that tracks your progress. It doesn’t matter what you measure, as long as you’re measuring something. In my journal, I tracked weight; food intake; exercise; how I felt throughout the day; and what excuse I used if I didn’t exercise. I still refer to it often for insights about diet and fitness strategies.
14. Commit to keeping the progress journal updated no matter what happens with the scale. It will help you learn about what foods and exercise routines work best for you, which will give you an important sense of accomplishment even if you don’t hit your weight goal.
15. Examine your food intake goals on a monthly, not daily basis. The human body is built to handle fluctuations in calories consumed; a rhythm of feasting and fasting has always been a natural part of life.
16. Accept the fact that you’re probably not going to stick to calorie goals on feast days (birthday parties, holidays, etc.) Now accept the fact that when you add up every special day in your family’s life, there are probably a ton of them — I realized that, for us, we have some sort of feast day almost once a week. Incorporate this into your life by planning to eat a little less than you need to on a normal day, so that you can eat a little more on feast days.
17. While it’s good to give yourself permission to ease up on calorie counting on feast days, try to strictly avoid the foods you’ve identified that your system doesn’t tolerate well. Eating them will trigger addictive responses, blood sugar swings, and/or cravings that can take days to recover from. (See my forthcoming book titled How Eating One Cupcake at a Birthday Party Inspired Me to Live Off Doritos for Three Days.)
18. If you’re approaching it the right way, trying to lose weight will involve major spiritual warfare — not because holiness has anything to do with a number on a scale, but because you’re attempting to free yourself from attachments that drag you down. We Christians call the force behind this phenomenon evil, Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Whatever label you want to use, know that it is real and it is going to try to stop you.
19. For the period you’ve set aside to focus on this project, you have to get into “No Excuses” mode. If you planned to go jogging but you can’t find your shoes and there’s a downpour outside, do an exercise DVD in your house, do jumping jacks in your kitchen, or run barefoot in the rain. If Resistance sees that you’re willing to accept excuses to avoid doing your work, it will bombard you with them until you quit.
20. If you’re an American, you probably need to throw out everything you know about portion sizes. When I listened to my body instead of standard ideas about what constitutes a reasonable meal size, I found that I often felt best when I had no more food than could fit in 1 1/4 measuring cups — which makes sense since the human stomach is the size of a fist. Pay close attention to what quantities of food actually fill you up, not what quantities of food you think you should eat.
22. Ask yourself if there are any hidden reasons you might not want to lose weight. For example, a friend of mine who had physical abuse in her background realized that she was afraid of being thinner because she subconsciously felt like it would make her a target for abuse. If you uncover any issues like this, don’t hesitate to get therapy. (I saw a therapist for a while and it was a great experience.)
23. Be patient with yourself. Remember that every time you “fail,” you probably learned important lessons, too. Keep stockpiling those lessons — think of each failure as one more weapon in your arsenal of knowledge.
24. Look in the mirror. If you don’t see a beautiful person who is worthy of love no matter what size clothes she wears, forget about weight loss for a while. Spend some time talking with friends who build you up, praying, or even getting therapy to help you embrace your status as a beloved child of God. It’s not time to start trying to lose weight until you’re secure in the knowledge that your worth has nothing to do with a number on a scale.
. . .
BONUS – Here are the books I found most helpful:
- The Perfect Health Diet
- Real Food
- The War of Art
- Saving Dinner the Low Carb Way (which has a misleading title – the recipes are delicious, real food, not typical “low carb” diet food)
I’m writing seven posts in seven days this week. To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see the list here.