Tag Archives: programs

6 Rules for a Healthy Lifestyle

It has occurred to me… or really, it slowly crept on me, that by logging my food every day and striving for the perfect calorie goal, I am simply trading one obsession for another. I either compulsively over-eat or I obsessively diet, accepting nothing but black and white. Logging works great for most people. Logging worked well for me initially.. I just wonder if maybe logging my food has caused a mental rift in my mind between “good” and “bad” foods and “good” or “bad” days.

It’s like I believe that my nature is inherently always gravitating to the “bad.” My knee jerk reaction is to make the days I don’t log the ones where I frantically, excitedly, guiltily scramble to fit in every “bad” food I have been missing over the past few weeks of meticulous calculating and logging everything I ingest.

I made the decision to learn to eat better without logging during this past week. I was having a conversation with my roommates at the dinner table about my habits, my likes, my dislikes, and my overeating issues. One of my roommates, who has always been able to think of just about anything objectively, suggested that I attempt to wean off of logging and look at food as just food. The suggestion was appalling at first; “Logging works,” I thought, “There’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken.”

His suggestion planted itself like a seed in my mind and grew until I realized that my goal was never to be so obsessed with losing weight. My goal was to learn healthy habits, to get to my goal weight, and to look the way I wanted. It occurred to me that my logging obsession is just as mentally unhealthy for me as overeating is for my body. An unhealthy mind cannot make a healthy body. My solution was to utilize something I learned from a class for adoptive and foster parents that I had to take for my job. In order to run an orderly household, parents need to make clear, concise, simple rules that govern the household, such as “be kind,” “be respectful,” and “be honest.” I needed to make rules like these for my lifestyle so that I could simplify it rather than over-complicating it with numbers and figures.

1.) Only eat when hungry. This is a habit that logging completely broke me of doing. I got into a groove with logging that led me to believe that I should eat every 2-3 hours on the dot and that I should eat only what fit into my macros. While this is effective for some, I lost some of my ability to recognize hunger signals and deal with hankerings for random food items by replacing them with healthier options. The result is that on days when I didn’t log, I ate whatever I damn well pleased because that’s what I felt like having. This does not lend to a healthy lifestyle throughout. I can’t only be healthy when I log; I need to be making healthier choices all the time. I’m trying to create a lifestyle, not a cage.

2.) Try to keep each meal under 500 calories (estimated). Eating smaller meals as a guideline helps with portion control and allows me to spread my calories out over a long day at work. Since I’ve been logging for so long, I know what most of the foods I have been eating lately contain as far as protein and calories. This also keeps me from trying to meet a calorie goal for each day and gives me some flexibility. I may only feel like eating 1,000 calories one day but feel like eating 2,300 the next day and have all the energy for a workout.

3.) Eliminate as much sugar as possible. I know that sugar is the enemy, you know that sugar is the enemy, but we still eat a lot of sugar in our coffee, in snacks, and in sauces because it’s freaking delicious. It also causes cravings and helps our bodies to retain fat, so it has to go. As I let go of the logging process, I want to try to replace sweet food items that I normally would have eaten, especially at the end of the day, with something just a bit less sweet but still satisfying. I’ve also been trying to steadily drink my coffee just a little bit darker each day so that I can eliminate the daily use of sugar in my coffee as well. Sugar is a trigger for me, and I have avoided eliminating its evil from my life for too long.

4.) Get a fruit or vegetable on every plate. This rule follows my sugar rule because fruits and veggies have fiber that help break down sugar more slowly and help with digestion. Not only that, but a fruit or veggie with each meal can help me feel full longer, give me essential nutrients, and gives me a reason to try new things. Whether I slap spinach on a turkey burger, avocado on my scrambled eggs, or replace pretzels with carrots, getting something colorful on each plate encourages healthier habits and a healthier body.

5.) Drink a lot of water. I carry a 32oz bottle of water with me all day long, drink about two of those, and then have another couple of glasses of water at dinner. Some days I drink more than others, especially if I’ve been sweating a lot in the gym. Water is the magical elixir of life. Just drink it.

6.) Forgive yourself and move on. If I had a particularly rough day with food choices, no one is going to know it but me, regardless of how fat, sluggish, and gross I feel. No one can tell that you just ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in 5 seconds flat just by looking at you. Put it behind you, make your next meal a healthy one, drink lots of water, and just get over it. Move on.

Maybe it’s just my recent interest in yoga talking, my nervous anticipation about being ridiculously busy with graduate school beginning this summer, or maybe I’m just having a moment of clarity, but this is what I have always wanted. I have always wanted to forget that food is the enemy and realize that food is power. Food is fuel, but food is not an emotional dam for my anxiety or disappointment. For the next couple of months, I expect to be more aware of my body and its signals. I don’t expect to lose a lot of weight. If I do, that’s great, but I think that the most important makeover that needs to happen for me is in my mind.

I am hoping that by forming a more friendly relationship with food and with my body that the rest will fall into line later. Here’s to hoping.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

For the month of April, I made a promise to myself that I’d make it through all the emotions and turmoil I knew I’d be surrounded by during the first anniversary of my dad’s death. I knew that the month would be hard and that emotional eating would be possible. I vowed to use my color coded calendar to track my eating and exercise habits. I wanted to make every single day of April green, meaning that I got all my exercise in and did not go over my calorie goal each day. Well, I DID IT. As an incentive, I put a deposit down to get a tattoo on the last day of the month as a reward for my dedication. I didn’t lose any weight during this period of time; in fact, I gained three pounds, but I did lose about half a pant size. I primarily lifted weights throughout the entire month and did heavier cardio if I wanted a treat but had to earn it. The month was a huge journey for me emotionally and physically. I made progress on my physique and fitness levels, which was surely my primary goal, but I also gained some perspective on how to deal with emotional eating and the language I use when I talk to myself about my fitness goals. I learned to use more positive language and a “can do” attitude when I self-talk internally. Instead of saying to myself, “I can’t…” I would say, “I don’t/won’t.” This changes my perspective from being deprived to being empowered by my food and exercise choices. Instead of saying, “I should… go run or lift,” I said, “I will.”

Yesterday, I got a tattoo that is important to me because it has been my mantra throughout my entire fitness journey. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I go to the gym twice a day more often than not, and I’m surrounded by a lot of different kinds of people there. Some are skinny, some are not. Some are fit, and some are not. I made an unhealthy habit of comparing myself and my journey to the physiques and lifestyles of people who had nothing in common with me except for one thing: the desire to be better today than we were yesterday. I would allow my envy for the girl who could run marathons or the guy who could do twenty unassisted pull ups to consume me with jealousy and poisonous anger, preventing me from fulfilling my ultimate goal of becoming better every time I hit the gym. We can’t choose the conditions or genetic pools into which we are born, but we CAN control how we respond to the hand we’ve been dealt. Resilience. Even though I’m nowhere close to where I’d like to be, I am stronger, faster, and healthier than I have ever been. The only person I should be competing with is me. 

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It is not yet finished because it was quite detailed and in a tender spot, so we’re finishing the color in about a month. Overall, I’m ecstatic about how it’s looking. It’s absolutely perfect, and he really captured what I was thinking when I asked him to design it.

I was completely unaware that when I set out to meet my goals consistently for the entire month that I would also gain so much understanding and self-reflective knowledge. I understand more thoroughly how I function under emotional stress, such as the anniversary of my dad’s death. I met all my health and fitness goals on that day. I got up early to work out, knowing that I would be going to his grave later in the day. I cried. I was upset, but I also learned to channel my sadness into both my workout and into creativity. I made a beautiful wreath to take to his grave.

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I really didn’t expect this month to be so emotionally and mentally rewarding. I was expecting to be miserable, worn out, and depressed. Instead, I feel empowered, strong, and capable. Resilience is a funny thing.

The Secret is That There is No Secret

I posted an updated progress photo to my Facebook as my profile picture recently, and along with the tsunami of likes and comments came a message from an acquaintance who attended my high school. She’s a really super sweet young girl who just had a baby and is trying to lose some weight. I understand that it can be difficult to lose weight after a baby, and I can read through the lines of text the desperation of her predicament. She’s unhappy with her weight, but now she has a little human to take care of and less time to take care of herself than ever before. She’s looking for an easy or quick way to get thin or healthy.

I get this question ALL the time. “What is your secret to weight loss?” It comes to me via message or comment nearly every other time I post a progress photo.

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I know what they’re hoping to hear. These fitspiring hopefuls want me to tell them that I ate only dark chocolate for a year or that I took a magic pill or made a wish to my fairy godmother and woke up skinny. We’re an instant gratification age; I get it. Really, I do. I want what I want when I want it. Now.

My response to questions like these get shorter every time, and not because I’m trying to be mean or spiteful but because it’s so hard to explain the changes I made and things I learned in 5 long years of changing my lifestyle. I used to write a novel and get excited that I’d inspired someone to be healthy, but now I realize that no one can convince any other person to make lasting changes. Just like an alcoholic can only change if they really want it for themselves, a person who is overweight and living an unhealthy lifestyle can only learn and change by doing it themselves and creating their own motivation. There is simply no way that I can convey to them all of the things I’ve changed and when I changed them over a 5 year span.

I began by logging, then walking, then running, then lifting, then eating clean and using bodybuilding workout programs on Bodyspace. It was such a gradual transition from pop, chips, and candy to water, greens, and lean protein. It has to be done gradually because it’s not a healthy transition any other way. It’s so difficult to see this question because I know I can’t do it justice. All I can do is give them a starting point and tell them to take off from there.

I wish her, and every other person who asks me for advice, the best of luck. I really hope that they learn to fuel their bodies and get healthy. It’s a wonderful thing! I just hope that they know that no one can do it for them, it’s hard, and that I spent hours in the gym and in the kitchen learning how to be a healthier person. I just never want to give anyone false hope that losing weight should be easy, but I do want them to know that it’s worth it.

10 Things You Probably Never Realize About the Formerly Fat Female in Your Life

I don’t mean to stroke my own ego, or maybe I do, but women who have made the choice to lose weight and be healthy are pretty special. We’re different than a lot of other women because we’ve fought a battle with ourselves that makes us stronger, healthier, and more confident; however, it’s important to remember that just because we met our goals we aren’t invincible or even half as confident as we put on. The truth about women who’ve lost a lot of weight is that we are fragile, sensitive, and hard on ourselves. It’s still a mental struggle for us every day to keep weight off or continue to lose it. Here’s what you might not realize is going on in your victoriously fit friend or other half’s brain:

1.) We wear colossal fat goggles. No matter how skinny or fit we feel, we still see a part of our old selves in the mirror. We can’t shake the idea that we should wear black all the time because it’s slimming or that we should wear baggy clothing to camouflage our now smaller or non-existent belly rolls. We’re always a memory away from reliving how we felt as bigger women.

2.) We have an inherent fear of “bad” foods or large amounts of foods. Holiday potlucks give us horrific lucid nightmares. Superbowl parties make us hyperventilate. Sometimes we’re convinced that one big party will make us fat forever.  We fear that eating one cupcake at a birthday party will set us off into a binge that will last for weeks, causing an insatiable lust for all things covered in chocolate or caramel sauce.

3.) We are perfectionists, and we’re our own worst critics. We check in the mirror to make sure that thinner, more svelte figure is still there. We can’t believe it. And even if we do, we’re checking for other imperfections. We look at our behinds to check for dimples, our outer thighs to check for saddle bags, and our waistbands to check for the slightest hint of a muffin top. I’ve even gone home to change in the middle of the workday before because I felt like my pants made me look a little too big.

4.) We need a lot of encouragement even if we put on a facade. We need meaningful validation that our hard work was worth it and that we truly are better than we were before. We don’t just want to hear, “Honey, you’re beautiful.” We want to hear, “I really love what _____ has done for you in  ______ area.” That is a lot easier to believe than a generic blanket statement about our overall appearance. Even then, we have a hard time accepting compliments and may brush it off as a joke.

5.) We can be overbearing and overzealous about our lifestyle. Sometimes we’re so passionate about the changes we’ve made and how much better we feel that we can’t help but blab about it. Sometimes that can be condescending or overwhelming for our friends and family because sometimes they just want to complain about how they’re feeling sluggish rather than have you fix it. We don’t mean to do it either. We’re sorry!

6.) We get really mad when people are lazy. We also hate when they complain about it. This happens to me all the time when someone asks me, “How did you do it?! What’s your secret?” Everyone knows that a secret doesn’t exist, but they’re hoping you’ll tell them that all you did was remove one ingredient from your diet or that you took a pill in order to see results. We know that it’s not that easy, so we get upset with people want to try and make it seem that easy. We know that there is no reward for laziness.

7.) We are not your personal nutrition and exercise encyclopedias. Yes, the occasional question about the healthiest way to cook or the recommended amount of exercise is okay. That makes us feel useful, and we love that you thought of us when you needed someone to ask! However, we don’t love when you think we’re going to customize a nutrition and exercise plan for you and you alone as a favor. That takes a lot of work, and we spent a long time enduring trial and error to find a sweet spot!

8.) We don’t want to watch reality TV shows about losing weight. We don’t want to listen to TV shows that use extreme measures to achieve unsustainable results. We also don’t want to hear about Dr. Oz and his miraculous Acai berries and green tea antioxidants. Anyone who lost weight the old fashioned way doesn’t have time for that kind of asinine crap. Likewise, if you ask us to give you our opinions on The Biggest Loser, get ready for a monologue that never ends.

9.) We still unintentionally bash naturally skinny people in our heads. We’re always going to be a little peeved that we couldn’t be part of that group of people who won the genetic lottery and inherited a super metabolism. Sorry, but we’re not sorry. It’s awesome for you, and you look great, but we secretly want to throttle you. Just know that it’s not personal.

10.) We struggle to love ourselves at any weight, any age, and in any setting. We are constantly striving for the perfection that doesn’t exist. We know that our battle with weight and unhealthy habits is a lifelong struggle, so we must be vigilant. We are always going to have something to work on, but women who have lost a lot of weight still have a hard time doing the most important thing to be healthy: to love themselves.

Food and Exercise Diary Flubbs: Deceptive Logging

You remember in school how the teacher would tell you that cheating gets you nowhere because it doesn’t help you learn? You cheat on your homework and when it is time for the test, you fail miserably because you failed to actually gain any knowledge while copying answers? I was the kid in school who always got copied.

Using a food and diary log is pretty much the same way. If you omit items from your diary in order to look better to your peers on My Fitness Pal or elsewhere, you’re only hurting yourself. You’re not accurately logging, and that will hurt you because you’re not going to see the results you want. You have to be honest. Likewise, overestimating calorie burns just because the automated form in My Fitness Pal estimates that you burned 1,200 calories cleaning your house for an hour and a half is going to hinder you in your goals.

I know that food is enticing, but we can’t enter false information and expect for these things to physically become a reality. If you enter that you burned 1,200 calories shoveling snow for an hour and you actually only burned about 400, you really only burned 400. That snow wasn’t tiny, extremely dense lead shavings. Sorry, folks, but putting it in your log doesn’t make it magically true.

The logging is your homework, the weigh in is the test, and you’re going to fail if you falsify that information. If what other people think about your diary bothers you, make it private. It’s not mandatory to have a public diary on My Fitness Pal. This is something that BLOWS my mind.

I don’t know where My Fitness Pal gets some of their information for estimating calorie burn, but you can pretty much be sure that you didn’t burn more than 10 calories a minute while exercising. Trust me, if you were burning more than 10 calories a minute, you’d be drenched in perspiration and your heart would be coming out of your chest.

I know it’s hard to put in real effort because you’ve been used to being lazy or maybe you’re uninspired, but you’re only going to be disappointed when the scale doesn’t reflect the “awesome dedication” that you allegedly put in over the week. There is no way around the fact that this is a numbers game. If you want to see results, you have to do the work and be honest with yourself about it.

There are no shortcuts in losing weight. None.

5 Ways to Dine Out (Without Ruining Your Diet!)

One of the things I’ve always struggled with while trying to become a healthier individual and lose weight is eating at restaurants. We’ve never been particularly wealthy, so we don’t go out very often; dining out is special for us, and we like to make it count. We like to splurge when we go out because it’s something fun and different. I used to make date nights my “cheat meal” for the week, and that “cheat meal” turned in a disastrous cheat week.  I have cheat meals every once in a while now, but usually it’s a cheat item like a frozen yogurt with Reese’s and I just call it food, not a cheat. That’s a discussion for another post. My love and I are having a lunch date today, and it got me thinking about how to decide where to go and what to order.

There are many ways that I combat overeating and falling off the wagon at restaurants, but these five are pretty standard every time I go out.

1.) Decline the bread basket at the table. One of my favorite places to grab some grilled protein with veggies is Logan’s Roadhouse. Oh my gods. I love Logan’s. I also love their rolls a little too much. I’m from the South, and there’s probably nothing more delicious with dinner than a big ol’ buttered yeast roll. Logan’s knows what’s up. Anyway, I try to let the server know before I even eat that I don’t want any rolls on the table. Of course, they look at me like I’m possessed by a demon or something, but it’s effective. If you really want bread and it’s just going to make you feel like you missed out for the next week, take some bread, but don’t eat the whole loaf of sourdough with olive oil and herbs at Zio’s. A little, not a lot. You’re about to fill your tummy with the real deal! Leave some room.

2.) Look up the nutritional information and choose your entree before you arrive. Put the blinders on. You won’t even have to look at the menu and be enticed by all the pictures of non-edible items dressed up to look like delicious food. (Seriously, that’s why a Big Mac doesn’t look like a Big Mac when you get it at the window.) Before I go out to eat anywhere, I find a menu and as much nutritional information as possible to make a good decision. I look for meals high in protein and lower in carbs and saturated fats. Most chain restaurants are catering to those who want to change their lifestyles now by offering a low calorie menu or a portion of the menu affiliated with Weight Watchers.

3.) Don’t drink your calories. We add so many unnecessary calories, chemicals, and sugars to our meals by choosing soft drinks over water or tea at restaurants. I usually order unsweet tea and sweeten it myself so that I know how much sugar is actually in it. The same is true for alcoholic beverages; they contain an ungodly amount of sugar! Look up the nutritional value of your favorite drinks before you go and see what you can fit into your lifestyle. Just like the new, healthier entree options, most chains now offer “skinny” margaritas and cocktails. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

4.) If all of that falls through and you’re at the only joint in town that literally has no dish under 1,000 calories and doesn’t accommodate healthy eaters, don’t be afraid to order something that doesn’t exist on the menu. Order a la carte. Don’t be afraid to ask for something because you think you’ll be an inconvenience. You’re paying them to serve you great food! I’ve been known to go to Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants and order soup and a chicken taco with a corn tortilla, plus a side of black beans. The only person who can decide what you eat is you!

5.) Relax! Even if you find yourself with few options or if you have a misunderstanding and accidentally order and eat the wrong thing, you’ll be fine. Yeah, if you overeat at dinner you will probably weigh in a little heavier, but it’s likely that the weight is nothing but water retained by high sodium meals found at most restaurants. Just don’t let that mistake turn into a “screw it” mentality. Stressing leads to weight gain anyway. Live a little.

I’m considering sharing some of this information with my coworkers and colleagues in our next newsletter, but we’ll see. There are a few other ideas on the table.

By the way, if you’re one of the few people reading this and you’ve got a question I’ve never addressed, ask away! I’d love to start an FAQ from my personal experiences.

Happy Friday!

Sweating your Ass Off: A Beginner’s Guide to Exercise

So, yesterday I told you guys about how people will often ask me what I do to lose weight. Part of the answer is, of course, exercising. They ask what the best ways are to burn fat, how to lose weight in their stomachs, how to build muscle, etc. There is one truth in my health and fitness career that I have found to be inescapable: you cannot lose weight in just one spot. You can lose weight all over and eventually that trouble spot will improve, but there is really no one exercise that is going to magically zap all of the pudge from my lower belly. It just doesn’t work that way. I do, however, hear that some body builders are skilled enough that they can lift and improve single muscles at a time. I’ve never seen it done, but I’ve heard about it. Now, if you’re reading all those magazines at the grocery store check-out line (you know, the ones always telling you that you’re not skinny, pretty, or sexy enough) they’ll be advertising many things.

“Be an animal in the sack and please your guy!”

“Eat this superfood to lose 100lbs!”

“Do this one exercise to lose belly fat!”

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While Julianne Hough is a beautiful woman, we know she didn’t get those abs in 3 minutes. She got them from her active dancing lifestyle. Let’s talk about how to work out and improve the health, endurance,stamina, and appearance of your entire body. Here are some of my favorite programs and people for just that purpose: 

1.) Jillian Michaels:

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I have tried 30 Day Shred and Ripped in 30. This woman is a superstar of the weight loss world, and her videos are really great for people who have very little time but want a big burn and big results in a practical way. She always has a hard and easy version on the screen with two assistants behind her, and she knows how to direct you for proper form. If you don’t like the yapping, turn the video on mute and plug into Pandora. Jillian is a go-to gal for me. 

2.) FitnessBlender (Daniel and Kelli): 

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This married couple creates workouts, records themselves actually performing these workouts, and puts them on YouTube (FREE) for everyone to use! I seriously hit FitnessBlender’s page at least 3 times a week. They have everything you can every think of in any video length from 10 minutes to an hour and a half. They teach proper form, and you can see that they’re real people struggling right along with you. I have seen great results with them. In fact, from their YouTube channel, you can follow a link to their website where you can buy fitness/meal plans pretty cheaply that will most definitely achieve results if you stick to it. 

The New Rules of Lifting: 

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The New Rules of Lifting is a book, or series of books, which describes how to lower body fat, build muscle, and promote general healthy by lifting weights. I bought the copy pictured above, The New Rules of Lifting for Women. Inside are honest reflections from personal trainers, workout plans, and information on how much to eat, as well as what kind of foods to eat. WARNING: you can gain weight with this program and its tools because you are building muscle. Understand that you can lose fat, lose inches, and gain weight or remain the same weight. The best thing about following this book is that it made me feel strong! 

For those who can afford it, or for those whose gyms supply this service, I wholeheartedly recommend using a trainer. Not only will using a trainer keep you from getting bored or not knowing what kind of exercise to do, a trainer will keep you accountable and will push you to your limits. I know it’s not a possibility for everyone. 

There is one group of programs that I recommend, but not to everyone and not to beginners. 

INSANITY (BeachBody workouts in general): 

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Everyone has heard of INSANITY or P90X, along with many other BeachBody workouts. With INSANITY, I offer a small disclaimer. Please see a doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to do INSANITY. I first tried INSANITY at 216 lbs, and I was in such bad shape for these workouts that I had to take breaks quite often. I got grumpy, fatigued, and just plan worn out on this program. In order to complete INSANITY, you really should have a fitness base to build upon. This is not really for beginners. In order to see this plan work successfully, you must eat enough, eat right, and drink a TON of water. I also recommend first getting a heart rate monitor before beginning this program so that you can keep your heart rate in the correct zone or simply keep yourself from dropping onto the floor in cardiac arrest. For already fit people, this will really take you to the next level if you do it right. 

I will never, EVER tell anyone that there is a one size fits all exercise to make you into a supermodel. Every person is different. We all begin at different levels of fitness with various bad habits and bad attitudes. We all have pre-existing injuries that prevent us from doing certain types of exercises. We all have hangups. 

Do what works for you, and do something you can stand to do. No one is going to hand you a DVD that will solve all your life problems. 

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Get out there, and get sweaty!