So I guess it’s a good time for me to write about my experience with weight loss. Over the past year I’ve lost 81.4 lbs. The pic of me is a before and almost after (that’s about 10 or 15 lbs ago). The after pic is at the finish line of a sprint-distance triathlon.
It’s been a long journey and it’s not over. In fact, it’ll never be over. (Well, I don’t mean that I’m going to keep losing weight until I disappear or anything, just that even when I hit my goal, I’ll be working to maintain a healthy weight from there on out.) I’ve learned so much from this experience (and plan on learning a lot more). Mostly, I’ve learned how all the bad habits I (and you, c’mon, let’s face it) have had in the past were recipes for failure when it came to weight loss.
Rather than list all 81.4 ways (though I bet I could), here are 4 that have made the most difference to me.
(1) Recipe for Failure: Restrict yourself from things
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is “What diet did you do?” Answer: none. I joined Weight Watchers. The rest of this is going to sound like the result of the brainwashing equal to that of our finest insane religious cults, but it’s all true. Weight Watchers is not a diet. “Diets” are restrictive, usually short-term because of the intensity of the restrictions, and typically provide short-term results. Weight Watchers is a lifestyle plan. The tent poles are journaling, education, healthy lifestyle habits and mutual support.
I can – and do – eat anything I want. Anything. An-y-thing. Last night we had barbecue, sweet potato pie and chocolate cake. A week or so ago we went to a concert and I had a soft pretzel and beer. The fact of the matter is this: if you restrict yourself, you’ll fail. Eventually you’ll give in to your cravings and slowly but surely break your good habits because you feel restricted.
So, I didn’t do a diet. And you don’t have to either. You don’t even have to join Weight Watchers…
(2) Recipe for Failure: Out of sight, out of mind
Usually, when we eat something once it’s gone, we don’t think about it anymore. The damage is done. Or even if it’s something healthy, we don’t think much about it because we focus all our energy on the delicious garbage that we love to hate.
That’s where the journaling helps sooooooo much. A study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who journaled their food six days a week lost twice as much as those who only journaled one day or less a week.
This is why I’m saying that you don’t necessarily need to join Weight Watchers to lose weight. If you journal your food, you’ll lose. Journaling makes you accountable for what you eat to the one person it matters to: yourself. It also helps you control the volume of food you eat (you’re more likely to pay attention to serving sizes when you write things down), and helps you develop and maintains healthy eating habits.
Journaling makes you more accountable to yourself, and that’s great. But what happens when you start cheating yourself? Well…
(3) Recipe for Failure: You don’t need anyone’s help
Sheer tyranny of will can be a very powerful thing. Unfortunately, most of us (unless you’re Mohandas Gandhi or Lance Armstrong or someone like that) don’t have it.
Having others’ support while you try to reach a goal or overcome an obstacle is another key to success, in my experience. I’ve taken advantage of others’ support in at least two ways: (1) I attend Weight Watchers meetings where others are going through the same thing I am, including our awesome meeting leader, Anita, who is also a member and fights the good fight every day, and (2) I share my successes, trials and tribulations with others through social media channels, where I get a great deal of advice and encouragement.
The encouragement and inspiration are definitely an important component of getting others’ support. But the real power of sharing with the community for me is the accountability. I built a habit of sharing my successes AND stumbles with my social circles regularly. On my weekly weigh-in days, I share the results, good, bad or indifferent. And as I go through my week I share things like my activity completions and unique or unusual places/things I eat.
Am I just trying to get people to stroke my ego? No. (Well, not JUST doing that.) I’m making myself accountable by creating passive peer pressure for me to do the right thing. I’ve had people message me when I haven’t posted activities for a while asking what’s going on; I’ve had people offer great support and encouragement even on those weeks when I gain a bit of weight; I have had people challenge my eating choices when they appear to be taking me off track. 3rd party perspective can be very powerful.
So what about those times when the needle on the scale moves clockwise or you eat a big slab of Zoe’s chocolate sheet cake (oh my God, is it worth it…)? Well, it’s not all about the scale…
Sure, I’ve lost quite a chunk of lbs. And it’s awesome, in aggregate. But look at this picture, it’s a chart showing my progress in terms of weight. It’s not one continuous, smooth, decline, is it? Not even a smooth, modest decline. Nope, it’s riddled with jagged edges that slope up and down every week for the last umpteen weeks (too lazy to count them now, and how often do you get to write the word ‘umpteen’ (which doesn’t set off spelling alarms, by the way… weird.)). Seeing the scale change is great, but it is not what it’s all about.
Even when my net weight goes up a touch or stays the same, there are so many other indicators of progress that I can – and do – celebrate. Clothes fitting better might be at the top of the list. Yesterday for the first time since maybe college or a little after, I was trying on jeans and pants with a 38 waist. Might sound big to you, but to me that’s pretty awesome. I’ve been wearing 44-46 for years now. And some of the 38s: too big! Clothes tell the tale. I’ve donated piles of my larger clothing to veterans via www.clothingdonations.org (free pickup! and they take other stuff, too!) and plan on donating more.
My fitness level is also a great indicator of success. I ran a triathlon. A TRIATHLON! How cool is that? Well, to me, it’s very cool. And not only that, I kicked a bit of ass in the swimming leg and biking leg (still working on my running). But it took time, patience and persistence to get to that point. I went from failing at running (my knees couldn’t take it) to walking to swimming to biking to adding back running.
So even on those weeks when I gain a pound or two, I still revel in the fact that I can fit into my clothes, run without dropping, swim 1000 yards non-stop (on my way to being able to swim a non-stop mile), bike 20 miles and feel good when I’m finished… And there’s also sitting comfortably in airplane or theater seats, walking up and down stairs without giving it a thought, walking between tables in a restaurant without turning sideways and shuffling through… All great.
I’ve got a lot more habits I’m thankful I’ve learned and lots more changes to my lifestyle and attitude that keep me going, but that’s a pretty good summary of some of the top things that have helped me get to where I am now. So, whether you are trying to lose weight, get fit, work smarter, finish a tough project or achieve a goal, I think all of those things can help.
- Don’t set yourself up for failure by restricting yourself from things that make life awesome. Good food, drink and fun are all important to keep you motivated and happy.
- Track and journal things to remain aware of what you’re doing that’s good, bad and indifferent.
- Share your experiences with others and let them help you, whether they realize they are helping or not.
- And don’t be a slave to the scale, whatever weight or measure you’re tracking against – look for success and progress in non-tangible or differently measurable ways. The motivation you seek doesn’t all have to come from one source.
What do you think? Anything else help you achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Look forward to hearing from you all!
EPILOGUE: Tonight was my weekly Weight Watchers meeting. I weighed in 1.2 lbs higher than last week (current wt loss 80.2 lbs). But no worries. Likely contributing factors include normal daily fluctuations (your weight can vary up to +/- 2 lbs in a given 24 hour period), balance between last week’s big 5 lb loss, and a possible adjustment to losing a Weight Watchers daily point because I passed another weight threshold. One week and one number won’t make or break me. Looking forward to plowing ahead! – CB)