As a companion piece to my recent article on the First 90 Days of a Diet, I thought I would share some tips with you on how to handle some of what you will encounter in your own personal weight loss journey. These tips are adaptable solutions to problems or situations I have encountered. I sincerely hope you find them of use and they aid your journey.
It’s important to fully understand what you are in the process of doing. If you only have a few pounds to lose, then you are tweaking your current system. If, like me, you had hundreds of pounds to lose, then you are making a wholesale change to your lifestyle. Whether the changes are minor or major, both can be very difficult to master.
When you are making a change to your lifestyle, it isn’t just for “a little bit’ in order to lose some weight. If it is, and you go back to the way you were living previously, then you’ll end up in the same predicament. Lifestyle change is about a permanent adjust to the way you live. It’s about adopting healthier living habits on an ongoing basis.
Understanding that your changes are permanent helps you in successfully adopting a system that is sustainable for you – and will let you redefine your way of living to align with your future requirements. By necessity, this steers you away from fad diets, pills and gimmicks. As a result you make better, healthier, and sustainable choices for long term health.
Establish a Healthy Eating Plan:
You are in a great place when you have chosen to pursue better health. But to maintain it, you have to be able to eat healthy. So one of the first things you have done is looked at what you are eating and developed a new approach to what you will eat. As you build out a diet plan for yourself, and in a position to make decisions, consider these things:
- Think “Farm to Table”. Whatever is grown, can be cooked (if needed) and go straight on the table is, generally, a clean and healthy choice. These are things like vegetables, whole grains, fruits.
- Processing generally reduces the nutritional content of food and increases ingredients that your body doesn’t need like sodium and sugar.
- Making smart choices in your calorie intake is important. Move away from calorically dense foods. For instance, 100 calories of broccoli is much better for you than 100 calories of chocolate. The broccoli is more filling and nutritionally much better.
- Sugar drinks or sodas are empty calories. Prepackaged fruit juices also contain a lot of sugar. Diet sodas can contain aspartame or other artificial sweeteners which have adverse effects on the body’s systems. Avoid those and make sure you are drinking enough water.
- Snack Mindfully: Snacking can yield all kinds of bad results if we choose our snacks poorly. Be cognizant of that and choose snack items that are clean and healthy.
According to the CDC’s 2012 NHANES study, 35% of Americans are now classified as obese. With ever-present free soda refills and super-sized fries beckoning, its easy to see how our portion sizes have correspondingly increased over the last 20 years. It’s easy to let portion size get out of hand if we are surrounded by a standard that far exceeds our needs.
While we need to re-assert control over our portion sizes, I get that it isn’t instinctive. Yes it is a pain to weigh your food to ensure you are at the right portion size, but I would recommend doing it, at least to start, so you can get a sense of the physical size of x number of ounces or grams of a given food.
Alternatively, you can use the “hand” guide that I still employ. Here it is:
For each meal:
- For protein dense foods like meat, fish eggs, dairy or beans, etc: use a palm sized serving – or about 4 ounces.
- For vegetables like broccoli, carrots, peas, etc: use a fist-sized serving, or about
- For carbohydrate-dense foods, like grains, starches, fruits, etc: use your cupped hand to determine serving size.
- For fat-dense foods, like oils, butter, nut-butters, cheese, nuts or seeds, use your entire thumb to determine your serving size. It’s, roughly, 1 ounce for something like cheese.
Yes, everyone’s hand size is different, but it also, generally, correlates to your body size. Your own hand is a personalized, portable device for measuring food intake.
While I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I also won’t gloss over the truth. The truth is that nearly everything made in restaurants is very high calorie. Usually this is a result of cooking with vast quantities of butter, sugars or oils, etc. Yes, it tastes delicious but there is a reason for that: its 7 ga-jillion calories! So we need to hold ourselves responsible for being the arbiters of what we do and don’t eat.
There are a couple of tricks you can use to help control the fallout from eating out on the town.
- There ARE restaurants out there that focus on making healthy food. Crisp & Green comes to mind – they list the calories on everything. Educate yourself on healthy alternatives and choose wisely when picking a place to go. Don’t put yourself in the position of being tempted by the deep fat-fried sugar balls!
- Since portion sizes are creeping up across the board, ask for a to-go box when your meal arrives and put half of it in the to-go box before you start eating. That way you are physically controlling the portions that you eat. It may still be cooked in a way that elevates calories, but at least you aren’t eating 9 tons of it. (Or “tonnes” for my friends in the UK).
Meal Prep Helps:
I understand nobody likes hearing these words: meal prep. You get visions of slaving away in a kitchen for hours and hours, cutting up vegetables, weighing meats and pastas, pre-cooking mass amounts of food and portioning them out into small containers for each day. Yes, that’s a lot of work- and can consume a ton of time. It is also very effective in ensuring your meals are spot-on accurate. So I will acquiesce to the fact that it works.
However, for me, I have never found it a good return on the time investment. Some may! And I don’t want to discourage those who truly enjoy meal prep. But for me, personally, I have a much greater love of cooking on the fly. I find joy in fan-chopping fresh herbs or onions. It makes me happy to sauté a mix of vegetables to golden perfection, or pulling roasted vegetables out of the oven as the kitchen fills with the aroma of toasted rosemary. I enjoy creating a meal that looks as good as it tastes, and creating something unique and healthy, each day. Maybe that is you too?
If you prefer to go a route other than meal prep, then teach yourself to work from a “tool box” of food choices so that you can be assured of building a good healthy meal with little work. Here are some examples:
- Buy a family pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or pork chops, or tilapia filets) and break them down into individual baggies. You’ll have one ready for each meal and a freeze them as needed.
- Use the Green Giant “steamers” boxed frozen vegetables. They contain a delicious, pre-made batch of veggies, often prepped in a sauce of some sort – and all you need to do is microwave them. Yes, fresh is better, but this is designed to get you eating healthier without a ton of work.
- Buy raw vegetables or things like potatoes in sizes that are close to what you would use in one meal. That way the potato, for example, doesn’t require any more prep than how you want to cook it and leftovers won’t be an issue. It makes storage, preparation and clean up much easier.
MyFitnessPal and Counting Calories:
I know that nobody like counting calories. But again, if you want to keep a firm handle on your intake this is one way to do it. The secret is finding a way to count calories such that it isn’t a huge time sink. The additional effort required for counting calories is one of the main reasons why people don’t continue doing it. Fortunately I have found a solution that has worked for me.
MyFitnessPal is an app that I use on my phone and it works great. There is a small learning curve – it’s not complex, but just learning your way around takes a small amount of practice. One you are up to speed, counting calories is pretty effortless. I also use it as a central clearinghouse to track physical activity, water consumption, and it provides a bevy of analytical functions to let me review progress. I have found it to be the best all-around solution for keeping track of calories in a way that doesn’t have a large impact on time. How successful is it? At the time I am writing this, I have been using the app for 898 consecutive days.
Scheduling and Prioritization:
Make sure you block out time to do what is necessary. Don’t use time as an excuse for approaching lifestyle change in a half-assed method. You got in this mess because you didn’t make time for doing the right things for your health. That’s a part of your former lifestyle that HAS to change. You have decided that this is now a priority, you have to treat it like one. So make the time to exercise, to cook right, and be healthy.
Multiple Success Barometers:
Sometimes it makes sense to NOT weigh! Diets, by their very nature are about give and take, and so there will be some natural fluctuations in your progress. If that’s likely to depress you, then perhaps less frequent weighing would be beneficial. I would say it also depends on how much you have to lose. If you have 20+ pounds to lose then I would consider weighing in weekly. If it’s less than that, then weekly weigh-ins may just induce more stress than it is worth and you could stretch it out to once every 2 weeks or farther.
In addition to weighing, I would also encourage you to measure area like your waist, chest, arms, thighs etc. Building lean muscle that displaces fat may cause you to reduce in physical size while increasing in weight. Muscle weighs more than fat by volume. So having an additional check-point in the diet process will help to clarify your results.
Don’t just stop with weighing and measuring – also seek other tangible goals that reinforce success. Like dropping a clothes size, or noting your physical capabilities increasing, or even when you become accustomed to healthier foods! Keep a diary on these “non-scale victories” so you can look back to see a track record of how far you’ve come. It’s easy to dismiss progress if we don’t keep track of it – and recognizing our victories is vital to long term success
Set Realistic and Attainable Goals:
Long term, you may know exactly what you want to accomplish. However, for many of us, long term goals are murky at best. Sure, you can envision “better health” or “a normal weight”…or “a killer beach-bod”. But none of those are specific and that last one, in particular, may be so idealistic that it is highly unlikely you could ever live up to your own expectations. In light of that, it’s best to augment your long term goals with short term, attainable goals.
Examples of attainable goals may be: “this month I want to lose 5 pounds.” Or perhaps “I want to be able to fit comfortably in that wool suit by winter”, or “by the end of summer I want to be able to out-bike my 15 year old son and teach the little bugger some humility!” However, in out-biking your son, while it helps to “up your bike game” I also recommend a complementary strategy: Cheat. It will teach the bugger humility and the wisdom that experience brings.
Anyhow, I digress. My point is this: By reinforcing your efforts with a series of successes, you help foster a positive mental attitude. Fueled by these successes, this facilitates (more than any one thing) long term success. Let me restate that again – it is THAT important. By achieving short term goals you create the positive mental attitude you need to achieve long term goals.
Diet is 80% of the equation, and no amount of rationalization changes that. If you cheat on your diet, then you can expect there to be consequences. Don’t beat yourself up, simply accept it and move on. Being consistent over time is what will lead to progress. But you are human too (well…most of you…) and you can’t expect perfection. This isn’t a race. It’s about remodeling how you live.
Take A Starting Picture:
I have always been very reluctant to have pictures of myself. A big part of that is just embarrassment and confronting myself with what I really look like. I’m sure that, at some point, I learned to rationalize my extreme weight somehow and repress what the visual image meant. But this isn’t about making you feel bad about yourself, it is about documenting your progress! So take a picture of yourself when you start!
In all likelihood, your brain will not fully comprehend the progress you have made as you lose weight. One way in which to help you understand it is to see a visual reference. If you periodically take pictures of yourself during your weight loss journey – even if they are candid photos- you will find that they tell a story that can help you Brian comprehend the weight you have lost.
This also serves to reinforce, through positive imagery that your system is working, you are losing weight, and it IS a long term commitment. Images like that can refresh your dedication to your goals and breathe new life into your flagging resolve.
Use Quotes as Motivation:
I have found that a few simple quotes have powered me through some very tough spots in my journey. They serve as a simple affirmation or confirmation about what I need to do. As a mantra, they can be repeated to yourself so you know that you are on the right track. Words are like magic, and for each person they mean something different. Some words simply resonate more for one person than another. So each of you will find your own quotes that work best for you. Here’s a few of mine:
- “Just keep moving”: This one has been a staple for me during my whole journey. Credit for it goes to Wahbon Spears, who said this to me in reference to just keeping active. She didn’t mean to spend all your time in the gym, she meant to just be up and active. Choose the stairs over an elevator. Don’t spend all your free time sitting …get up and move! It is pure gold and I go back to it very often.
- “Eat like you train”: This is one that reminds me not to cut corners in my meals and start introducing calorie dense foods. Natalie Shafer posted this quote with a great picture that illustrated her point. Simple, clean, foods. It’s a vital bit of advice that I plan to hang on to.
- “Weight is lost in the kitchen and muscle is built in the gym”: This great quote comes from Robin Belfry. I know it has been used by many, but I heard it from her first. This one also makes me step back and look at the big picture. It reinforces the fact that every choice I make about what I am going to eat can have repercussions when I climb on the scale. It also serves to underline that if I am seeking muscular definition, not just weight loss, that gym time is required too. It’s a double-whammy!
- “The hard days are what make you stronger” -Aly Raisman. This one is very true. When you approach a difficult day and you manage to conquer it, you feel on top of the world. Next time, you think back to the difficult day and you know that you can do it again.
- “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe. Not all of us have high end gyms right next door or access to other resources that facilitate a healthy lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. We use the tools at our disposal and we dig in. We make all the changes that we can and we move forward. Even one change today is better than no changes.
- “Life is about challenges and how we face up to them.” -Martina Navratilova. The weight loss journey is a long one. It’s an undertaking unlike anything else …except that it challenges us and tests our resolve in, perhaps, the most personal way. How you choose to answer that challenge speaks volumes about your character.
- “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it” -Margaret Thatcher. Maggie had a good point. Changing lifestyles often takes several attempts until we achieve success. Be determined and don’t give up. Change strategies as needed and forge ahead. Continuing to fight this battle until you have won it also speaks directly to your character.
- “Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out.” -Robert Collier. It is making the smart decision in the moment, setting up healthy habits that recur daily, and keeping our focus on doing all the little things that will contribute to success.
- “The journey of 1000 miles begins with 1 step.” -Sun Tzu. You will get nowhere unless you decide to take the first step. Behind that, there is another. And another. Eventually, you arrive at the destination.
Surround yourself with a supportive team:
Weight loss journeys are not for the weak. And they are best accomplished with the help of others. My own network of support has been amazing and I learn on them heavily. Lani Weaver, and Linnea Forsberg Harju get special shout-outs here because they are both amazing and hold me accountable.
Make sure to surround yourself with people that believe in you. Build a team that can support you, hold you accountable and pick you up when you are down. Workout buddies, cooking experts, people that know you and love you – all of them are going to be needed.
There is no roadmap that can take you from point A to point B …you have to find your own way there. You will run into a lot of hurdles. Navigating by each hurdle will take time and effort. Be patient with it. You have a process and a system …trust it.
The road, as ever, remains unplowed for all of us. At the unplowedroad.com we try to put blade to drift and clear a little of the road for you. Drive safe, friends.