Many people have asked me what my secret is to my weight loss and maintaining my health. I can honestly say that there is no easy answer to this, and it isn’t something that I can define specifically. I don’t have a degree in health science, yet I’ve been asked to speak at universities on the subject. Everything I know, I’ve learned from experience and simple trial and error. I learned about carbs, proteins, sugars through counting calories. By using an app to track how much I ate throughout the day, I had to force myself to budget my meals. Through this, I learned that some foods would keep me full for longer periods of time than others. I realized that a chicken breast, with roughly the same amount of calories as two slices of white bread, would better fill me up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as a result I had begun to focus more on proteins over carbohydrates.
Other factors I had to consider were my high blood pressure and pre-diabetes. According to my doctor, I had to cut back on the amount of salt and sugar in my diet. So, for months and months, my defining principles for eating were low salt and low-sugar, while working within the boundaries of a set amount of daily calories.
1. Get active and eat relative to your activity level!
While I was eating healthy, I began walking daily and increased this gradually over time. I went from walking five minutes in place to walking five miles outside every single morning. Eventually I got into cycling and then running. After eighteen months, I had lost 390 pounds, and my life has never been the same since.
For the last two years, I have gone away from calorie counting. I no longer budget myself, and I focus more on moderation and portion control. I have taught myself how to eat only when I’m hungry. I now eat relative to how active I am. Currently, I run five days per week, and depending on how much I run for that day, I allow myself to eat a bit more. On my long run days, I burn a lot of calories, therefore I am even more hungry. The last time I ran 13 miles, I burned 2400 calories. I was hungry the rest of the day! After runs like this, I allow myself more carbohydrates because of the energy that I go through on the run. Protein is also very important to help facilitate muscle recovery, so I tend to eat more protein these days as well.
2. Think of it as a lifelong journey
Currently, I do weight loss coaching with people one on one, and there is no single way to approach healthy eating. It is different for each individual. The one thing I’ve found that applies universally is a question that I ask everyone that I work with; “If you are going to make a change to your eating habits, are you prepared to do it for the rest of your life?”
This question is very important in that it makes you think about your own motives. Am I making this change so that I lose a certain amount of weight? Am I doing this for the right reasons? Weight loss should never be the goal. Healthy eating and exercise is a way of life, and weight loss is a side effect of that. It should never just be a means to an end. I have seen a lot of people lose weight and gain it back. This seems due to a bigger, underlying cause. My solution is introducing small, permanent, healthy changes slowly over time. Once these become habits, they turn into results, and these results can be maintained.
3. Have a strategy at the holiday buffet
I do have a few tricks that I use for navigating the holidays. Like many people, I struggle with portion control and overeating during this season. I tend to keep my exercise the same throughout, and I don’t let up. My running partner and I ran Thanksgiving morning, and it was business as usual. The only difference was that this time instead of talking about politics, we talked about turkey and stuffing, and which was better; pumpkin pie or apple pie.
When I go to holiday functions, I do have a trick to help me keep from overeating. I tend to drink a lot of water on these days. If I am going somewhere there is going to be a lot of food, like a buffet, I will have a small snack an hour or two before I go. A handful of nuts or seeds usually will do the trick. This way, I won’t have an empty stomach when I’m presented with the option to eat a lot of food. This helps me keep from making bad choices, and thinking that I need to eat more food than I actually do. I will continue to drink water while eating, and if I go back for seconds, I tend to limit it to the proteins (turkey, ham, etc.) instead of carbs (bread, stuffing, etc.) Using these small tricks, I get through the holidays without a problem.
4. Be kind to yourself
Now that I have been maintaining for a few years, my weight fluctuates up and down five pounds. Even the smallest amount of gain used to bother me, but now I know that it is natural. It’s OK to gain a little and still be happy. I have found a balance to my life, and I enjoy what I do. When you are going to have dinner with your family or friends this holiday season, remember that it is okay to enjoy yourself. It’s all about the balance.