Many people have come to me within the past few months asking how I did it, how I lost the weight…especially after my latest guest post on my friend Macy’s blog (which you can read here) and the post I’d written previously on my blog (over here) . How did I get started? They are overwhelmed and don’t know how to even begin. And you know, I can certainly relate to those feelings. I often felt like I failed before I even started because I had NO IDEA what I was doing. There is so much conflicting information out there in the health world today…the “dos and don’ts” of dieting. What you should and shouldn’t eat. How you should exercise, etc. It’s no wonder people don’t know how to get started…they’re overwhelmed before the process even begins!
I remember being on a “hunt” to find something, some plan or technique that worked for somebody else and then copy it to a T. I was desperate, but this is dangerous. Why? Because we are all created so differently. Our bodies react differently and we each have a unique metabolism. This might not be what you want to hear….but you truly have to find what works for YOU—what works for YOUR lifestyle. It takes experimentation and commitment, though. Diets are temporary. Sure, you might be successful for a while, but what happens when you reach that goal you’ve been striving towards? Most often, people get comfortable. Old habits creep back into their lives unexpectedly, and before they know it, they’ve gained back half the weight they worked so hard to get off. And then they become so frustrated, disappointed, and ashamed that they just give up. Do you really want to be caught in that cycle of dieting again?
This was me. Happy–yes! Unhealthy, yes.
That’s why you need to find something that is realistic for LONG-TERM. In my opinion (as this whole blog post is), pills, shakes, wraps, frozen meals, fad diets, etc. are not realistic for long-term usage. Truth is, there IS no secret or shortcut to long-lasting weight loss…because it’s genuinely a lifestyle change. I know, nobody wants to hear that. You search every success story in hopes of finding the answers, the perfect “plan” that will work for you. Healthy eating and exercise, folks. The old-fashioned way. It won’t fail you if you are dedicated.
What is different this time around? Why was I successful this time? What’s going to stop me from the vicious cycle of losing then gaining again? Because this time, I’m not following what someone else did, I’ve found what works for me. I didn’t want restrictions from food; I wanted FREEDOM from food. And I’ve found that, thank you Lord.
Now, I do not claim to be any sort of expert. Please understand this is just from my limited experience, and everybody is different, of course. Please read this post with caution knowing I do not have all the answers. I am just writing to share a bit more of my journey and what has helped me. I share my journey not to highlight myself or boast in any way; I honestly want to help encourage and support others. I remember feeling hopeless and lost, but I want others to know that there IS HOPE! It is a topic I have become increasingly passionate about.
Disclaimer: I did not completely overhaul my lifestyle overnight. It has taken many, many baby steps (otherwise it would have been too much change at once, thus overwhelming me). It’s a process and called a journey for a reason.
Let’s Talk Food
Did you know that losing weight is estimated to be 80% about the food you eat and only 20% about the exercise you do? You can’t outrun a bad diet. That’s something I had a hard time accepting in the beginning. I was doing wonderful with the exercise portion, but I would still indulge all too often and not make healthy choices on a CONSISTENT basis. This doesn’t mean you should altogether skip the exercise, of course. It just means that nutrition is the biggest component in living a healthy lifestyle. You won’t see the results you’re wanting if you don’t fuel your body well!
“Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” 1 Corinthians 10:23 – Something to remind yourself of throughout this journey when facing temptations!
Before we begin, I must add this: most people see ‘healthy lifestyle’ and automatically assume that eating is not fun anymore, that there isn’t any joy in cooking/baking, etc. Let me tell you…this is not the case at all. You just become more creative and enjoy nourishing your body with foods/nutrients that God intended for us!
1. Water. So, so important. HYDRATE YOURSELF! I’ve never been a big soda/pop drinker, thankfully, so I didn’t have to break that habit (eek—sooooo many chemicals!!). But, I was still really terrible at making sure I drank enough water throughout the day. I almost never did until I became conscious of how vital is it in losing weight. I had weeks where I ate nearly perfectly yet didn’t drink enough water, and the scale refused to budge. The next week, I didn’t do anything differently besides drink more water, and voila—the scale reflected a loss! I’ve read that it is recommended to drink half of your body weight in water (oz.) each day. So, if you’re 160 pounds, you should be drinking approximately 80 oz. per day. Yes, that might seem like a lot, but once your body adjusts, it craves the water. I carry a giant Starbucks tumbler (24 oz.) with me wherever I go and refill as necessary. I try to drink at least 3 of these a day, but usually I drink 4. If you don’t like plain water, flavor it with some fresh lemon, mint, strawberries, whatever you wish that will help! Drinking the proper amount of water each day also deters hunger. Often people will think they are hungry when actually, they are dehydrated and need to drink more water.
2. Start tracking what you’re eating. This may seem a bit obsessive to some, but it is eye-opening and helpful in figuring out how to eat a healthy, balanced diet (not to be confused with the term DIET as in fad diet..). I would recommend keeping a food diary either on your phone (Myfitnesspal or Lose It are great, free apps if you have a smart phone!) or in a small, pocket-sized journal. Be HONEST. Lying to yourself or sneaking food doesn’t help you whatsoever. If you snack it, track it! You might be surprised at what you are consuming, sometimes mindlessly. This will give you an idea of what foods you enjoy most, crave, etc., and sometimes you can even figure out what “trigger foods” can lead to migraines or stomach intolerances.
3. Grocery shopping—have a plan. Load up on fresh produce first; find the produce that is in the right season (sales!). DO NOT GO GROCERY SHOPPING HUNGRY (though I’m sure this is old news). You’ll end up spending a lot more money than intended and coming home with foods that weren’t the best choices! Stay towards the outside of the grocery store rather than perusing all the middle aisles (where most of the heavily processed foods are). Be aware of ‘diet’ or ‘fat free’ foods (or other labels intended to mislead people into thinking they are healthy). Read nutrition labels, but don’t just focus on the calories! Look at the ingredient list. If it’s really lengthy and you can’t pronounce some of them, you probably don’t want it in your body. Also…if you don’t buy the junk, you won’t eat the junk. Simple as that.
4. Planning meals/meal prep—Oy, I have never enjoyed meal planning, but I have come to appreciate its value. PREPARATION IS SO IMPORTANT! I can’t emphasize that enough. It is necessary to have your home stocked with healthy foods. I’m not going to lie—meal planning does take time and effort. But, it’s time you can save throughout the week not worrying about meal decisions, and you’ll be more likely to eat healthily throughout the week. If I’m being honest, we don’t ALWAYS do this, but that’s also due to the fact that it’s just me and my husband—not a house full of kids to worry about. Some people thrive on making meals ahead of time (such as cooking grilled chicken, veggies, etc.) and then heating them throughout the week. This would work well if you have a super busy schedule or are constantly on the go. My husband and I have come up with a list of healthy dinner ideas we enjoy, and we rotate through them. I would encourage you to come up with a list of ideas for snacks, lunches, breakfasts, desserts, etc. so you can refer to it when you feel stuck with ideas (which leads me to my point below about PINTEREST as an awesome resource!)
5. Fill your refrigerator, pantry, and body with whole foods such as plenty of fruits and veggies, nuts, whole grains, legumes, meat (if you eat it) and stay away from packaged foods. I still eat some processed/packaged foods because that’s what’s realistic for our lifestyle, but I do this A LOT less frequently. It is not realistic for me to eat completely clean 100% of the time, but I’d say I eat whole foods about 80% of the time.
Here are some examples of foods I eat on a regular basis:
- whole grain toast with avocado
- spaghetti squash
- smoothies (my ‘go to’ one is ¾ cup greek vanilla yogurt, a cup of spinach, a good amount of frozen mixed berries, a banana, and a splash of unsweetened vanilla almond milk—but I love trying new smoothie recipes)
- grilled chicken (for salads, taco bowls, or just about anything, honestly—many variations)
- frozen tilapia fillets
- turkey burgers
- bananas, apples, clementines
- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries…any berries! perfect for snacking & salad toppers
- greek vanilla yogurt (for smoothies, plain, mixed with fruit, dessert…the possibilities are endless)
- snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery
- whole grain tortillas, flatbread
- PB2 (powdered peanut butter without all the added fat & oils, you mix it with water—great for smoothies, baking, mixing with yogurt, or on its own…google it! SO GOOD)
- hummus veggie dip
- avocado in any form 🙂
- fat free pudding mix (great for a simple, easy to make dessert)
- unsweetened vanilla almond milk
- tuna (they have 100 calorie packets that are the perfect portion)
- Fiber One lemon bars
- Lite Cool Whip
- oats (I make variations of oatmeal or overnight oats)
This is NOT by any means an extensive list. From how random it is, you see that it’s just what came to my head first! Yes, I do still eat sweets occasionally, too…but I try to limit those and indulge in healthier versions. I haven’t cut out carbs or anything completely from my diet, but I crave carbs less and less and don’t eat them as often.
6. I’m not a good cook; I’ll be the first to admit that. It’s not something that comes naturally to me or that I find enjoyable like many other women do (those lucky husbands!). So, I imagine this would be even more exciting for people who like to cook. But, if you’re like me and have always dreaded it, there is hope! I’ve come to appreciate finding new, healthy recipes via Pinterest and the internet. I don’t LOVE it by any means, but it’s interesting to try new things. You would be shocked at how many of your favorite recipes you can recreate in a healthier way! For instance, my husband and I LOVE spaghetti squash. There are many ways to cook it (we go the oven route), and it’s so easy. We use this as a substitute for pasta. You just shred the squash once it’s cooked, and it comes out like spaghetti noodles (hence the name). We use this for healthier chicken parm, spaghetti sauce & cheese, etc. It is seriously one of our favorite discoveries (and if my husband willingly gobbles it down, YOU KNOW IT’S GOOD! 😉 )
7. Adapting “regular” meals: This kind of goes with my last point in finding healthier recipes. I know many of you have families that you have to accommodate, so it’s important to find meal ideas that will make (nearly) everyone happy. My husband doesn’t always have the exact same meal as me, but we often have the same “type” of meal. For instance, tonight we did a sort of ‘taco’ dinner. He had tortillas, cheese, the fixings, and I stuck with loading up on lettuce, the seasoned taco chicken, black beans, chickpeas, 100 calorie pack of guacamole, salsa, and a bit of sour cream. Hers vs. his. (Sorry for the terrible quality of picture, it’s via my phone. Feel free to check out my Instagram for more ideas @mollyrunsforlife)
You can find ways to adapt your meals to your eating preferences.
8. Introduce one major goal per week, that is, if you feel ready to incorporate a change for that week. This goes with the baby steps concept. I didn’t introduce drinking the proper amount of water the same week as I set a goal to run 25 miles. No, I concentrated on one area at a time until I became comfortable with adding in another ‘improvement.’
9. ALWAYS carry a snack or two when you’re going out (and bring a water bottle!). You never know when hunger will strike. Compromise leads to compromise, and before you know it, you’ve eaten the rest of your day “off plan.” Some people will laugh at me, but my purse always has some sort of fruit (usually an apple or clementine), a snack-sized bag of almonds, a granola bar, etc. in it. Also, when we travel out of town, I make sure to pack some food. This saves money, encourages us to choose healthier food, and keeps us away from all those heavy-laden fast food places. Fail to plan; plan to fail. I guess I’ll just be extra prepared when I have kids 😉 This helps me tremendously, especially if I’m out running errands. I’m less tempted to go through a drive-thru or hit up Starbucks (but don’t get me wrong…I LOVE my Starbucks!)
10. Find something to turn to rather than food. Reading, painting your nails, writing, going on a walk, calling a friend, cleaning, doing a puzzle, anything. Food is merely a temporary satisfier, and often, comfort eating leaves you feeling emptier. Try to break out of the mindset that “oh, this day has been incredibly crappy, I deserve this giant brownie or xyz.” Of course, I’m not saying you should never have treats, but there is so much danger in comforting yourself with food. What your body DESERVES is healthy fuel. And it doesn’t have to taste bad, I promise!
11. Plan your treats. When I got really serious about living a healthy living, I knew I was never going to completely give up chocolate or my favorite foods anytime soon. So, I would have one planned ‘treat’ per week—whether that be going to get fro yo, having my favorite Starbucks drink, donuts, or eating dinner at a Mexican restaurant—whatever floats your boat (mine was always something sweet). It was something to look forward to and helped me turn down other treats throughout the week. I wasn’t depriving myself, but I also wasn’t giving into every craving or temptation for a treat. The longer I’ve been living this healthy lifestyle, though, the less and less I feel like I “need” these treats. My taste buds have adapted and I honestly CRAVE healthy foods. I don’t have a weekly planned treat, but it still certainly happens occasionally. Another difficult part to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is maintaining control in social situations. All of those parties you’re invited to, family gatherings, celebrations, dinners out, Bible studies, hang outs, etc.–have you ever thought about how much of our social situations revolve around food? For me, I have to remind myself of the decision making progress. Is that treat REALLY worth it? How will I feel about it in the morning? In nearly every situation, there is a way to approach it from a perspective of making healthy choices. Remember your commitment to this lifestyle and why you started. Indulge on occasion (of course I’ll enjoy the occasional dessert with friends) but also focus most on conversation and company. You’ll actually enjoy socializing more!
12. PORTION CONTROL. I feel like this one is pretty self-explanatory, but maybe it isn’t. You don’t have to banish your favorite foods for the rest of your life! I will ALWAYS enjoy ice cream…in moderation…and with a smaller portion. Once your body adapts, it won’t crave the same foods in the same quantities. One chocolate square satisfies me rather than eating the entire chocolate bar (or more). Learn to exercise this portion control.
13. GRACE. You will stumble; it’s part of the journey. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and KEEP GOING! Persistence! Get rid of the mindset that if you have a slip up, indulge in food you shouldn’t be eating, etc.—that it’s the end of the world. NO, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. But it also doesn’t mean that one brownie you had with your lunch gives you the ‘go ahead’ to blow the rest of the day just because you feel like you’ve already messed up that day. You cannot do that. EVERY choice is an opportunity for a fresh start. Don’t wait until next Monday or even the next day to ‘restart.’ Be gentle with yourself and love yourself NO MATTER where you are. Happiness is a choice and not something to be tied with your progress (or lack thereof).
Let’s Talk Fitness
1. Start simple and realistic—walks around the neighborhood, bike rides, or an old exercise video. If you have kids, pack them up in the stroller and take them for a walk or jog. Make it a family event. Walk the dog, or volunteer to walk the neighbor’s dog 🙂 A gym membership is not necessary to exercise, but some people prefer it. I mix up running outside with going to the gym. Mostly, I run outside (it’s my preference), but if the weather is really bad or I’m going for strength training, I’ll go to the gym ($10 a month!).
2. Find something you are interested in that doesn’t necessarily feel like a chore. Okay, that might be hard at first…it might ALL feel like a chore. But if you hate biking, don’t do the bike! If you hate exercise videos, then by golly find something else! (that would be me) However, DO explore your options. I never ever dreamed I’d grow to love running, but I’m thankful I gave it a chance. You might think you’ll have that spin class, but it might also become your new hobby. Maybe your community offers various fitness classes or clubs. Give it a try! Bottom line…just.get.moving!
3. Crushing boredom: Many people complain about disliking exercise because it’s “boring.” Yes, the treadmill can be veeeeerrrrry mind-numbing, especially when running distances of 6 miles or greater! Make a good playlist that will keep you pumped up (or if you’re like me, I enjoy listening to Pandora, Christian podcasts, or other Christian tunes). Or, watch your favorite tv series while exercising (if this is possible).
4. Commit to being active at least 5 minutes per hour. If you’re sitting at a desk all day for work, try to get up at least 5 minutes each hour to walk around. Maybe do some lunges or squats in the bathroom (without trying to look too silly ;)). Take 5 minute fitness breaks with your kids…jumping jacks, push ups, crunches, all of that. It’s a fun brain break, and you’ll be setting a good example for those around you!
5. Schedule your workouts/exercise—put them on your calendar. I get it. Most people are really stressed and really busy. But, you wouldn’t skip a work meeting, so why would you skip time for taking care of yourself? If you have a really busy schedule, it is even more important to SCHEDULE your workouts. Write them in your planner or record them on your phone. Figure out how many times per week you’d like to exercise, and do it. No excuses. Sometimes this means 5am gym sessions, sometimes it means working out at 10pm when your kids are in bed (there are great free workouts on Youtube). Right now, my workouts look a little different and my schedule is a bit more intense than normal because I’m training for my second half marathon. This means I work out 6 days a week with 1 rest day. My exercise includes cross training, strength training, and of course, lots of running.
6. Set a goal. Want to run or walk a 5k this summer? Sign up for one and work towards it The Couch 2 5k app is free on smart phones and a wonderful resources to go from not running to running a 5k distance (over a span of many weeks). Want to bike to the next town this summer? Start training. You get the picture. Set goals and achieve them.
7. Accountability. Find someone who will support you in your journey—whether it’s your best friend, roommate, colleague, spouse, kids, relative, etc. A support system is crucial in making lasting changes. Maybe you can even have a gym buddy. However, you want someone who will also PUSH you and encourage you along the way…not enable you to make poor choices. For me, I have found Instagram (as silly as that sounds) to be super motivating, inspirational, encouraging, and uplifting. The healthy lifestyle community on Instagram is amazingly supportive. I post on there to keep accountable with my food choices, exchange meal ideas, share my workouts and half marathon training, etc. I am thankful to have a community I can turn to for encouragement along this journey.
8. Change it up! I LOVE running, and for awhile, that is all I would do. Since incorporating other activities such as strength training (I love getting stronger/lifting!), stairmaster, bike, elliptical, walks, etc….I’ve noticed significant changes in my body. Don’t let your body grow used to what you are doing.
My favorite part about this journey has been celebrating non-scale victories (abbreviated as NSVs). The scale can be super discouraging, especially if you’ve hit a plateau. Remind yourself that the scale is only ONE form of measurement. If you’re still a numbers person, I’d encourage taking measurements of yourself. Most often, people lose inches faster than they lose pounds. I loved celebrating a smaller pant size, being able to run farther and/or faster, lifting heavier weights, turning down the opportunity for cake or some other temptation, etc. These NSVs have been such an encouragement throughout this journey—truthfully way more than the scale. My goal is not to be skinny (my body type will never support that), but I really want to be FIT. ALL of these examples (there are a million more!) are evidence to your commitment to a healthier lifestyle!
Lastly, one resource that has really made a lasting difference in my journey has been the book Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food by Lysa Terkeurst. Reading this book has been comparable to discovering the ‘missing link’ in why I’d failed so many times before. It takes this journey where you wish to improve your physical being and introduces it in the light of it really being a SPIRITUAL journey. Self discipline, self control, and prayer have truly made all the difference.
Here is the book description copied straight from Amazon:
“Made to Crave is the missing link between a woman’s desire to be healthy and the spiritual empowerment necessary to make that happen. The reality is we were made to crave. Craving isn’t a bad thing. But we must realize God created us to crave more of him. Many of us have misplaced that craving by overindulging in physical pleasures instead of lasting spiritual satisfaction. If you are struggling with unhealthy eating habits, you can break the ‘I’ll start again Monday’ cycle, and start feeling good about yourself today. Learn to stop beating yourself up over the numbers on the scale. Discover that your weight loss struggle isn’t a curse but rather a blessing in the making, and replace justifications that lead to diet failure with empowering go-to scripts that lead to victory. You can reach your healthy weight goal — and grow closer to God in the process. This is not a how-to book. This is not the latest and greatest dieting plan. This book is the necessary companion for you to use alongside whatever healthy lifestyle plan you choose. This is a book and Bible study to help you find the ‘want to’ in making healthy lifestyle choices.”
Seriously. Go read this book if you’re desiring to understand the Christian perspective behind living a healthy lifestyle. It just might change your life like it did mine.
What I will tell you is that this journey takes a whole lot of hard work, dedication, and commitment. I am not trying to scare you, but I am also not trying to deceive you. No one is perfect at this healthy lifestyle, but even small changes can lead to big improvements. You WILL have moments where you feel like you’re going nowhere, or worse, that you’re failing. It’s part of the journey.) You have only failed if you’ve quit trying. It’s a slow process, but quitting won’t speed it up. It’s a marathon and not a sprint, and that is how you HAVE to approach this journey. I cannot convey the rewards and benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. I have so much more energy and a brighter outlook on life. When the going gets hard, remind yourself of why you started.
If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate you. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I pray that you will not end reading this feeling discouraged but empowered and encouraged. If I can be of any further help or support, please don’t hesitate to contact me!