Like hundreds of millions of Americans, I work at a desk job. And like hundreds of millions of Americans, I put on weight in my first sedentary year. Every job I had prior involved me at least being on my feet, if not being physically active. So for the first time in my life I was to be seated an extra forty hours a week.
When I first started my job in the summer of 2014, I meticulously counted calories, determined to maintain my svelte frame. And it worked, for the first few months. But then I got comfortable. Eating lunches out at restaurants with my new coworkers was a lot more appealing than eating the meal I made at home, alone. Going to happy hour with these new coworkers was definitely more alluring than the gym. And besides, after a couple months of maintaining my weight, that must mean I had a great metabolism, right?
So I stopped keeping track. And workouts became fewer and farther between.
On my one-year anniversary of my new career, I topped the scale at a whopping twelve pounds heavier than I had when I started. Now, twelve pounds doesn’t sound like that much. And many friends and family members to this day claim that they never noticed a weight gain. But I noticed. My clothes fit differently, and the tone in my arms and abs had basically disappeared. I felt bloated after every meal. And while twelve pounds doesn’t sound horrible, if I kept that trend up for the next year, two years, five years – who knows how much weight I would gain.
I knew I had to put a stop to the madness.
Eight months after hitting my peak weight, I am still vigorously working to get back to my ideal weight. I don’t want to lose all twelve pounds, because if I am honest with myself I was a little too thin when I started my job. I am, however, about two pounds away from where I want to be. It has taken a lot of work, a lot of discipline, and a lot of running, but I am finally back at a place where I am truly happy with my body and with myself. As I continue on my journey, I want to share with you some tips I have picked up along the way that have worked for me.
Track what you eat. Honestly. It has been proven time and time again that writing down (or digitally tracking – I prefer My Fitness Pal) what you eat can do wonders for your weight loss efforts. The first time you log a meal from Taco Bell (no offense, Taco Bell – I really do still love you) you will be amazed and horrified at how many calories you are consuming. Just knowing how many calories are in some of your fast food or restaurant staples will deter you from wanting to eat them. I love using My Fitness Pal because you can look up pretty much any menu item from any restaurant or fast food place and get the nutrition information beforehand. I like to do that on the rare occasion I do eat a meal out. Having a couple different low calorie options ahead of time to count on will prevent you from wanting to splurge on a burger, and fries, and dessert.
What do I mean by “honestly”? Be honest with yourself about exactly what you are consuming. Don’t do what I did the first few months I tried losing weight. I would track everything I ate for the day, until I got to my neighbor’s house and ate a piece of pizza and six pieces of candy from her candy jar. I would casually stop tracking my food once I hit my calorie goal for the day, and then wonder why I wasn’t losing weight faster. It wasn’t until a couple months ago that I started being honest about candy in general. I would think, “this little candy bar only has 45 calories, who cares if I don’t track it?” It’s not just the calories that you should be paying attention to, though; one little 45 calorie piece of candy has a lot of fat, sugar, and carbs.
In addition to making sure you are honestly assessing what you eat throughout the day, it’s important to do the same with portion sizes. Labels can sometimes trick you into thinking a snack has a lower calorie count than it actually does by the way they size portions. Make sure you check that nutrition label to see how many servings you are actually eating. Also, with things like cereal, milk, and other foods whose serving sizes are determined by measurements (one serving of Wheaties, for example, is 3/4 of a cup), literally measure out the proper serving size so you don’t consume too much. Or if you do eat more than a serving size, you can track it accordingly. When I first started counting calories I would literally measure out cereal in measuring cups until I got used to how much a proper serving size looked in my bowls. I don’t do it anymore because I have a good idea of what a serving size is of my go-to foods. But when you are first starting, you may be surprised at how much you thought a cup, ounce, or tablespoon should look like versus what it actually is.
I know this all sounds really tedious. And it was for me at first, too. But I promise you, tracking your calories alone will be your most beneficial weight loss tool, as long as you are doing it honestly and thoroughly. A lot of apps today have improved to make this task easier. A feature I love about My Fitness Pal is that it saves your recently logged foods so they are easily accessible. You can also log recipes if you cook a lot at home. (I am in no way affiliated with My Fitness Pal.)
Work out, too. A lot of people who have a lot of weight to lose find it easy to start their weight loss journey with diet alone, especially if they are new to working out. Tracking food and eating healthy truly is a great way to start. However, in order to accomplish your goals, you will need to incorporate at least a little bit of working out into your routine. You do not have to run a half marathon to lose weight, and while I would love to see the whole world running, you do not have to run at all. Even a long walk a couple days a week will make a difference. Technology these days is making it easier than ever to accomplish fitness goals. Fitbit will track your steps, sleep, and even heart rate. That is just one type of fitness tracker. And with the internet at our fingertips at every waking moment, it’s extremely convenient to find fitness resources. Pinterest is one of my favorite places to look up workouts. Even today, as much of a gym rat as I am, I still look to Pinterest for inspiration. I will screenshot workouts to my iPad and bring it with me to the gym.
If you’re not comfortable or do not have the discipline to work out alone (no shame in this!), sign up at a gym that offers group training classes. Group training classes can be really inspiring and motivating. Do not worry about being the most out of shape person in the room – I promise you, most of the people in the class will be a little uncomfortable. Just focus on getting results instead of worrying if anyone is checking you out. They are honestly more worried about whether they are going to look like a doofus than if you do. 🙂
One thing I do love about fitness classes when I’m in a workout rut is that they give me structure. I love scheduling my workouts. I am currently training for a half marathon so I know in advance how many miles I will run and on what days. I check my schedule to make sure I don’t have any conflicts and if I do, I reschedule my workout. If I am not training for a race I schedule five workouts a week, whether it’s a class at the gym or a run. (Again, you do not need to work out this much if you are just starting out. This is just what works for me personally.) Carving out time in my schedule for the gym puts it on a high priority and I have a higher likelihood of sticking with it, rather than if I tried to wing it from week to week.
Not just cardio – strength train, as well. A lot of people tend to think that cardio is the end-all, be-all to weight loss, and to be frank, that just isn’t true. Cardio definitely helps with weight loss efforts, but strength training is your secret weapon. Women tend to shy away from the weights because they are afraid they will end up bulky. It is pretty difficult for women to build up a ton of muscle. The amount of calories and protein you must consume to get really bulky is astronomical, and if you are cutting your calories back, you will simply not bulk up. What you will do is create muscle tone. Muscles also burn metabolism faster than fat does, so a strength training session will keep your furnace burning longer than a cardio session will. Again, if you are uncomfortable with weights, I highly recommend looking up workouts on Pinterest or taking a strength training class at your gym. I try and lift weights twice a week to make my workout routine more holistic. When I’m not training for a race I will lift three times a week.
Weigh yourself, every day. This is definitely my personal preference. Some diet plans and workout gurus (Kayla Itsines, included) recommend against weighing yourself every day. The thought is that you may get discouraged with the number you see on the scale if it isn’t changing as quickly as you like. However, for me personally, I don’t stay disciplined when I skip several days of weighing in. What I have found that works best for me is weighing myself every day and tracking it on My Fitness Pal. I get extremely motivated by seeing my progress over the last week, month, three months, six months, or year. It also serves as a reality check if I have gained weight, a reminder to really hone in on my diet and exercise.
Cut back on the sugar intake. You can read more about this here. This is the last change I made to my diet but I truly believe it has made the most difference.
Increase veggies. You can count your calories down to the very last bite, but unless you are eating natural foods, you will not lose the weight you hope to. It’s so important to add vegetables to your diet, even more so than fruits. Fruits are good for you but have a lot of natural sugars. Vegetables have more nutrients and fewer calories than most fruits do. When I cook at home I try to find recipes that are at least half vegetables. I prefer one-pot or one-pan recipes, so that I can cook all my vegetables together with some kind of protein, and season it so it tastes delicious. (See my recipe for Rainbow Roasted Veggies and Steak here.) That way when it’s time to actually eat them I don’t have to put forth the effort to remember to eat vegetables, because I have already done that work in my meal prepping.
Unfortunately there is no shortcut to lasting weight loss. If there was I would have found it by now. Fad diets that tell you exactly what to eat and at what hour to eat it are fine temporarily, but when the 21-day, 17-day, or even 7-day period is over, you are left with no lasting habits and ultimately resort back to your old ways. Take baby steps. Make small changes here and there. Once you start seeing progress, that momentum will carry you forward and encourage you to make bigger changes.