Nighttime always used to be the most difficult time of day for me. After I would put my kids to bed, I would find myself on the couch, usually in tears. There I was, in the midst of “blissful” motherhood; that spot of time where women are told to be eternally happy and at peace with themselves. And yet, so often, all I felt was shame.
I was blessed with a healthy 2-year-old and 6-month-old, but I found myself so consumed with thoughts of hatred about my body. So much so, that I would alternate between binging and desperately searching for the next best diet that was going to take the weight off quickly.
Like many women, I have spent over two decades dieting, exercising, binging, gaining, losing, and feeling defeated. You name it, I’ve tried it; and each time I had success, failure was always right around the corner.
Depression and anxiety quickly set in, as I tried desperately to find the next quick fix; the one diet that was going to finally be the answer. The one I would start on Monday.
I was eight weeks pregnant with my first child when my dad died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Just one week before his death, I shared this exciting news with him; that his only daughter was going to be a mom.
And then he was gone.
Up until that point, he had been the most important man in my life — I had no idea how to go on without him. And so, food became the way I coped while I was pregnant; I never allowed myself to grieve his death. This habit became a lifestyle as I continued to neglect my health and gain weight.
Six months after I gave birth to my second child, I found myself facing the same fate as my dad: A routine physical showed high cholesterol levels that warranted medication and a weight of 205 pounds that put me in the obese column.
I was stunned. How could I have let myself get to this place?
What I finally realized was that I had been spending years following diets that had been written by people who had never actually been overweight. Of course they didn’t work for me; how could someone who has never spent years hiding underneath layers of clothing or being out of breath from walking up a set of stairs possibly understand what it was like to be in my shoes?
That night, I made a promise to my dad to always put my health first. It was time to direct my journey towards a new way of living.
I’ll be honest, though — those first few weeks of exercise were painful; not just physically, but also emotionally. I struggled every day to find the courage and confidence to make it to the gym. I was so uncomfortable in my body, but I wanted desperately to feel better and gain control over my health.
Over the next year, I would continue to put one foot in front of the other; to make small, but meaningful changes. And I would go on to lose 75 lbs., which I’ve kept off for five years now. Here were my rules to live by:
1. I told myself it’s about a lifestyle, not a diet.
There is no start date and end date. Ditch the diet mentality and embrace the small daily changes that will lead to permanent weight loss. Losing weight this way takes patience and consistency.
2. I followed the 80/20 rule — and still do.
Eighty-percent of my day is filled with “clean” whole foods and 20% is whatever I want. There are times when that 20% would make most health critics cringe, but this method allows me to have flexibility and eat the same foods as my family.
Here’s a typical weekday breakfast for me:
And a typical dinner:
3. I didn’t make anything off limits.
I have learned through years of dieting, that the moment I put a food in time-out, the more I want it. It’s all about moderation. So if your plan has a designated “cheat day” — during which you can binge on all your favorite foods — that’s no good, either. That’s not a lifestyle change; it’s a fad diet.
4. I ate according to my own personal needs; which may not be the same as yours.
I said goodbye to all of those 1200-calories-or-less-diets when I quickly realized there is no one-size-fits-all, “magic” number for us all. Your body needs fuel, and without it, you will not lose weight. There are many online tools that will help you calculate your caloric needs based on your activity level (like this one, from the Mayo Clinic). Once you figure out your base level, you can reduce calories from that number.
5. I cooked on Sundays to prep meals for the week.
Trust me; this one is key. Invest in some good food storage containers and divide up meals to grab. Keep Ziploc bags individually packed with carrots, pea pods, strawberries, and grapes. Cook 3-4 core meals that can be divided up for lunch and quick dinners, and your week will go a lot smoother.
6. I made sure I was getting enough protein at every meal, every day.
Not many people know that protein requirements change depending on your body weight. In fact, they range from 0.8 to 1.6 grams per kilogram bodyweight per day. The US Department of Agriculture recommends that all men and women over the age of 19 should get at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (or 0.37 grams per pound). That means a woman who is 160 lbs. should get at least 58 grams of protein. (If you’re looking for a handy protein calculator, here’s one. And if you’re looking for cheat sheet high-protein foods, here’s one of those too.)
7. I got into an exercise routine that I actually liked.
Repeat after me: Fitness needs to be fun. If you don’t enjoy it, find something else. There is something for everyone; it just takes creativity. The only way weight loss becomes permanent is to incorporate fitness. My workouts consist of 5-6 days of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and Pilates. It is recommended that you exercise 60 minutes/day most days of the week.
The weight came off slowly at first; I told myself that it would take time and I needed to be patient. Once I established a routine and began enjoying fitness again, the weight came off quicker. About three months into my plan, I started taking fitness classes like spin, Pilates, and yoga, and my weight loss began to average anywhere between 1-3 pounds per week.
8. Tracking and journaling your food intake will keep you accountable.
Using an app on your phone or journaling your meals in a small notebook can help you figure out what you are eating and where you might be low on individual nutrients. It can also show you more clearly where you may be going wrong, or need to make improvements. I found that the Lose It! app worked best for me, but MyFitnessPal is also another great app for tracking calories, weight loss, and exercise.
Even now, 75 lbs. lighter than I used to be, there are still days when I struggle with the image I see in the mirror. It’s funny how challenging it can be to get to a place of acceptance when you started from a place of shame. On those days that seem to be the hardest, I always remind myself that this is my journey, with no beginning and no end. The speed at which I travel does not matter; I will get there when I get there.More On