On Monday, I mentioned that a few years ago, I lost close to 30lbs over the course of about eight months and some of you asked me to share how I did that. Now, I’m not an expert on health, fitness or nutrition, and your body is not my body, so what worked for me may not work for you. But I do have a few tips that might make working out and losing weight a bit easier by reshaping how you think about your resolution/workout plan.
Tipping the Scales. If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to buy a scale. It will tell you if you’re losing, at what pace you’re losing and help keep you accountable. However, don’t make an inanimate object your master. It’s a scale, it measures what you weigh, not who you are or what you’re capable of achieving with time.
Don’t weigh yourself every day. No one sees real, lasting results after a single day. Instead, weigh yourself on the same day of the week, at roughly the same time once per week. This way you can track your progress without torturing yourself. I recommend doing it in the morning, if you weigh yourself at night, you’ll weigh more.
Set Different Goals. Pounds are easy to calculate, but they don’t tell the whole story. I prefer to focus on inches, because losing inches means that you burned fat and gained muscle. A scale can’t tell the difference between muscle and fat, but a tape measurer can.
Also, think about setting fitness goals. Maybe you want to do 100 situps without stopping. Or you want to make it to yoga four times per week. Or you want to run five miles averaging a seven-minute mile. Those goals are more attainable than choosing an arbitrary number and saying, “I want to weigh 110lbs.” And I want Taylor Kitsch to join me for a lifetime of sun and surf in Fiji, but some things are just outside of our control.
Visuals Matter. When you start working out, staying motivated is key. It’s also difficult because you’re not seeing results yet. Sadly, some women fill this motivation gap with thoughts and images that may eventually backfire and cause them to feel hopeless and give up.
Go to Pinterest, and search for “Thinspo” (short for Thinspiration) and be prepared to be either mildly or completely horrified by a lot of what you see. Photos of super skinny models, body builders, women who work out for a living aka. actresses and quotes like “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” and “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
Women choose these images as a source of inspiration, but when you get discouraged, I’ve found that looking at these images can just deepen the despondency. Why? Because before you can be motivated by such an image, you must first accept that the size/shape/weight that you are is wrong and that the woman with the 24″ waist is right. And any source of “inspiration” built on a foundation of negative self-judgment will ultimately crumble, especially when not everyone woman is genetically built to look like Miranda Kerr.
Instead, focus on strength, fitness and discipline. Think about being a healthier and happier person and how working out can help you get there. Because in the words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
Stay Accountable. When I lost the weight, what kept me accountable was the fact that my clothes were so tight, it physically hurt me to wear them (and the two pair of Spanx that made wearing them possible). The knowledge that I could not afford to buy a whole new wardrobe kept me going. But most of you are probably in a different boat.
This time around, I set up an app called HabitForge that helps you stay accountable. I also set up my iPhone to remind me three times per night to go work out. If I can deny my electronic drill sergeant three times, then clearly, I am either too busy or too tired to get to the gym. Especially since the last reminder says, “Is getting off the couch right now really harder than obsessing all day tomorrow about how you should have worked out last night?”
Diet. Y’all are smart. You don’t need me to tell you that a spinach salad with vinaigrette and grilled chicken is better for you than a salad with iceberg lettuce, fried chicken pieces and bleu cheese. But I will offer you one tip:
If you’ve already eaten and you’re not physically hungry, but you find yourself in the kitchen rummaging through cabinets, ask yourself, “Why am I eating?” If you’re bored, grab a water and find something to occupy your mind. I recommend crossword puzzles and cleaning. If you’re emotional, grab an apple or some carrots and then, sit down and write out what you’re feeling. I like to write emails expressing my emotions, and then delete them. Or sometimes, save them in draft in case what I’ve written might need to be shared with somebody but I need to sleep on it before I hit send.
It’s easy to make a resolution, it’s harder to keep it. The best thing you can hope for is steady progress, and to keep your focus there, you need to be at least as interested in the journey as you are in the results. If you have tips to share, leave them in the comments. Good luck with your resolutions.
I go old school with my tracking: I write how much I ran each day on my wall calendar in my room! It's fun to see the miles go up and then I tally them at the end of the week. If I did another exercise, I just say what I did and how long (e.g. spin 40min). It's great way to visual my progress and keep track of what I do!
giggling gourmand says:
I also love livestrong. It's easy to underestimate the calories in so many foods and it keeps you honest.
Thanks for providing realisitc, healthy advice on weight loss. I've always been disgusted by the “pro-Ana” websites promoting eating disorders and just reported a number of links on Pinterest for “actively promoting self harm.” I only hope that teens seeing these dont fall into the trap I did years ago, which was to think my only hope for self esteem was in losing more and more weight.
I've lost 15 pounds since November after I bought a fitbit and started becoming more aware of how active I was every day and how much I was eating in proportion to my activity. Seeing how sedentary I was at the office every day, the fitbit motivated me to start walking to meetings across town, taking the stairs or the escalator instead of the elevator, and walking further to grab lunch on my breaks. That, combined with writing down what I eat every day has meant it's been relatively painless to lose weight so far, and pretty fun to see my progress. You can enter what you eat and check your stats on your iphone, and it syncs to the really unobtrusive device you clip in your pocket. I'd highly recommend the fitbit for anyone looking for concrete numbers to help them along the way. (The Nike fuelband and jawbone up do similar things, but I find them kind of ugly.)
C. Michael says:
Parker - Boardroom Belles says:
I try to be very stringent during the week and then allow myself to eat what I wish on the weekends. I find that once I get to the weekend I have enough happy things going on that I don't need food to make me happy or feel warm (which isn't always the case during a strenous work day in a freezing office) so most of the time I don't pig out then, but I don't feel guilty about going to the steakhouse with friends either. I also found that being a work week vegetarian and staying away from processed foods and processed carbs as much as possible works well.
Great post. I recommend joining a gym with different classes to choose from. It definitely keeps me from getting bored.
Great advice, Belle! I've been on a healthy-living/weight loss campaign since the start of summer last year (I'm tired of being plus sized), and one thing that's really helped me is the MyPlate app from LiveStrong. It's pretty much a food journal, and it gives you your daily calorie allotment for what you want to do (lose, gain, maintain). Whenever you put in what you ate, it takes that amount of calories off the daily total.
Also, I get bored with repetitive exercise, and I've found that finding a class you like really helps out. I hated working out until I found a cardio kickboxing class through my gym — and then I couldn't wait to go! (And then my trainer left for a different gym and broke my heart. tear)
Music-driven classes are great if you need motivation– it's like a mini dance party. An energetic, charismatic instructor is key, though. I really love the barre and spinning classes at Biker Barre near the Hill.
Also– if you're trying to lose weight I cannot recommend the myfitnesspal app enough. It might seem tedious logging every single thing you eat, but it really helps with portion control and avoiding mindless snacking.
Perry T. says:
“losing inches means that you burned fat and gained muscle”
Not according to the medical community.
It is virtually impossible to lose only fat. If you are losing weight/inches through a calorie deficit, the most probably scenario is that you are losing both. If you are losing inches, it most likely means your net loss is mostly fat with some gain in muscle being built, but that is a tricky thing to do. Muscles take fuel to build – which a dietary calorie deficit alone will not give you.
I totally agree with not weighing yourself everyday while you are trying to lose weight, but I think it's different one you have gotten to a goal weight. I find that weighing myself everyday is essential in keeping myself accountable. It's too easy to put on five pounds without knowing. That being said, I know my weight can fluctuate one, even two pounds, day to day. But if I find it steadily creeping up day after day, I know I need to re-evaluate what I'm doing (or not doing).
Also, YouTube is the best for finding various workouts. I live in a rural area where the only gym is Snap Fitness. Good for machine based workouts, but doesn't give you the variety that classes do. But with YouTube and a few pieces of basic equipment (most if which I got used) and can get a variety of workouts for very, very cheap.
Great post – I also have found that different classes work really well for me because I don't get bored. It's also great once you become a regular in these classes to the point the the teacher recognizes you, and can (if they're good) help and challenge you more when they see you're using the wrong weight or doing an exercise incorrectly.
Youtube is also great for work travel because you can do a lot of the exercises in the safety of your hotel room before you have to be downstairs at a conference for 12 hours.
Great idea re: YouTube, M.
I recently changed my diet radically to help with severe GI issues I was having. Certainly, the cessation of those symptoms following the change was motivation to stay on the diet, but I would say that if you are even the least bit extroverted, go public with the diet. Blab about it on Facebook. Join support groups. Get on sites like LoseIt! and DailyMile that allow you to share information with people about how you are doing. Ask for help. Start a blog called “Diverticulitis Can Kiss My Ass.” (OK, maybe I should just keep that idea for myself.)
Had I not told everyone what I was doing, asked for advice from other people already on the diet, and asked my husband to help (by keeping bad foods out of the house, and by physically restraining me from eating those foods, if necessary), I would have struggled a lot more with the changes. Because I went public, I had the joy of attending a dinner party last week where the hostess (a fab cook) had fun preparing a special dish just for me. Happiness all around.
First: agree on Taylor Kitsch.
And, thank you for all of this well-founded advice.
Great ideas from Rachel and M on the YouTube. It's a fitness treasure trove for people who can't/don't feel like joining a gym. Women's Health Magazine online usually features workout instruction videos for free as well, and a lot of them require no equipment at all. Although I do belong to a gym, I often find myself on the matts anyway practicing something I learned there, especially their ab routines.
As for equipment, you can get it dirt cheap and brand new at Marshall's and T.J. Maxx, along with name brand workout clothes.
Aside from working out, I find that walking instead of driving or bussing somewhere is key. I lost 2 dress sizes after about 4 months of walking to work- 1.4 miles to and 1.4 back. From there I felt fit enough to run and do all the extra fancy stuff. And K- Thanks for the fitbit mention. That thing looks amazing!
Denise B says:
Belle, thank you for this. To me, inspiration is always easier found from those who have managed to put weight on and then actually motivate themselves to lose it. I actively avoid pinterest because I get so disgusted by the things that are posted there as inspiration and motivation. So when I hear you were able to lose those pesky 30 pounds, I'm WAY more tempted to go hit the gym.
The last time I was any good at dieting was before I turned 21 and could indulge in all of the privileges that come with that age marker. Now, even though I don't reach for a beer or cocktail often, I find that a drink or two is just enough to slow progress down, particularly because I feel like all young professionals do in DC are activities that involve drinking (happy hour, wine tastings, brunch, etc). Did you just politely decline, or drink non-alcoholic beverages? Any tips for how to indulge (every so often, at certain marks of progress, not at all)? And thank you again for sharing your experiences.
I too have gone on and off losing weight. 30 pounds off, 15 back on, 10 more off, 5 more back on, etc., etc., etc. Having that experience, I can confirm quite a few of your tips. Focus on attainable goals, and don't be afraid to change those goals. An all or nothing approach leads to one cookie becoming an entire evening of bingeing (just because you've already screwed over today with that one cookie). On the note of inspirational images, I recommend http://www.mybodygallery.com. It allows you to put in height, weight, shirt and pant size, and see images of real women who approximate those specifics. Thus you can see from a slightly more objective POV what your height/weight looks like, and have an idea of what your goal weight or size might look like on your height.
Also, I can't say enough about the three tips that nutritionists/dietitians continually say improve weight loss in both amount and keeping the weight off. Log your food (food diary either in writing, online, or a smartphone app), prepare your own food as much as humanly possible (avoid restaurants, fast food, convenience foods, etc.), and join a gym (or find some community, online or in person, to whom you're accountable for continuing to work out and make progress – even a yoga studio counts if you're going regularly).
And my tips: drink as much water as you can stand, and then drink some more; allow yourself a treat once a day (drink, cookie, etc.); and don't beat yourself up for not being the fittest person at the gym – you'll get there!
Denise B, I understand your issue with alcohol and losing weight. Sometimes when I am at events and I don't want to drink, nor do I want to answer questions about not drinking, I ask for a tonic or sparking water with lime in a cocktail glass.
Mel and Denise B – I do the club soda with a lime thing all the time, not necessarily for the weight loss reasons, but also because I work in an office that involves a lot of events with drinks and I don't want to be drunk/”that girl” around my superiors or clients, so after one G&T I switch to my fake one. I still got to indulge in a drink but only one, and it's a win win, I stay sober for business and don't gain weight.
Also, if you're a member of a gym a lot of them will determine your body fat percentage for you for free. I used this last year once a month while I lost 15 lbs over the course of the year. Seeing that percentage drop each month was the motivation to keep me working to my goal that my trainer help me set. Now I'm in the healthy range and not looking back!
How did you find the motivation/consistency to work out while on the Hill? I do comms for my boss, so in between the constantly different schedule because of media hits, switching from in session to out of session, and just being plain exhausted after I've had “one of those days”, I have -10% motivation to go to the gym (in my own building!) after I get home. Even more so, cooking a healthy meal seems like a feat after work, too. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!
JeanieMK- thanks for recommending mybodygallery.com. It was really helpful to see pictures of real women, and also to see that weight is to some extent really just a number…some women with my height/weight were very much in shape, even though I was hoping to lose about 10lbs before swim season. Goes to show that I should focus on getting back into running for the health benefits, and not the weight loss!
First time commenting – so first of all, thank you for this great blog, Belle!
K- what I do is on Sunday nights, or nights when I'm not too tired, I cook a larger meal than I need, and put the extra quantities (salad, fruits or entrees) in the refrigerator for the next day. I may end up eating the same thing twice, but it's better than processed foods.
If you have an oven, it's very easy to cook fish “en papillote” (that's how we call it in France): take a piece of fish (like salmon or cod), throw in some tomatoes/olive oil/schallots/herbs/whatever, wrap it in silver foil, put it in the oven for 15 minutes and you're done.
As for starters, soup or a salad of raw vegetables require very little preparation and still get you a lot of vitamins and fibers. For salads, just stay clear or “heavy” dressings (like blue cheese) and stick to olive oil and balsamic, with herbs or spices to give it some taste.
K—have you tried a slow cooker? If you set everything you need in the slow cooker dish on a Sunday, and then put the dish in the cooker and turn it on Monday morning, you can come back at night to a warm delicious meal (and some leftovers for lunches/dinner the rest of the week!). I'm also a big fan of chilis and homemade soups and stews; a lot of them actually taste better after sitting in the fridge for a day or two, as all the flavors meld together and develop.
Also, if you're short on time but still want to make your own food, take advantage of frozen and pre-cut veggies. They're more expensive, but they can also cut prep time in half.
(As far as the exercising goes—do you have a friend/neighbor that you can make a workout date with? I find that I'm much more likely to go if I have an appointment with a friend, and don't want to leave them alone!)
K: I make soup on the weekends, usually something all vegetable like squash soup, and then eat that during the week. Otherwise, I have granola and yogurt for dinner. I try to eat a big lunch instead of heavy dinners.
As for working out, I'm not a morning person, so it's easier for me to go after work. But on “those days” I either need to work out to burn off the steam but if I just can't do it, I give myself a break.
Alix, Anie, and Belle,
Thank you SO much for the recommendations. Looks like cooking on the weekends for the week will be the plan!