I recently achieved a major milestone in my quest to live a healthy life. I lost 97 lbs. It has truly been a transformative process. Most of the transformation happened within me, but it was visible on the outside in the weight I was losing.
Anyone who has ever tried to make a major change knows that you have to be in the right frame of mind. The question is, how do you get there? Here’s what it was for me:
1) Identify why I wanted to be healthy. This was the absolute most important step in the whole transformation and I come back to it all of the time to sustain my motivation. Two things really stand out about why I want to be healthy. First is my family. I have two small kids, 7 and 5 years old. I want more than anything for them to be healthy and free of the kinds of food issues I have struggled with and I want to be able to enjoy them well into my senior years. Though I prepared healthy meals for them and encouraged them to make good nutritional choices, I knew they were getting to an age where they would notice the difference between what I was telling them, and the choices I was making for myself. What we model for our children is incredible powerful in shaping their lives and I didn’t want to saddle them with the food and body image issues I have struggled with. That meant me doing the hard work to deal with these issues so they would end with me and not get passed along to the next generation of women in my family.
I also wanted to feel proud instead of ashamed. I want to feel healthy and strong and proud of that. I don’t want to feel ashamed of how the choices I have made look on me.
It was really important that I find motivation in things I could move forward to instead of away from. For example, I wanted to think about extra time with my kids at the end of my life instead of the fact that I might get diabetes and die early. Same thing, different way of thinking about it.
2) Think of obesity as a chronic condition to be managed for the rest of my life: intellectually I understood that losing this much weight meant a lifestyle change, but when I read about how obesity changes your body I really started to think about weight management akin to managing heart disease or diabetes — something I would need to do for the rest of my life.
I read that once you have been obese, your body will fight to put that weight back on. Our bodies are still somewhat primitive in how they are programmed to hold onto fat even though our society has evolved way past hunting/gathering. We have driven environmental changes that occur much faster than our bodies can evolve so our physiology doesn’t quite match things like the amount of food now available to us. One of the things researchers have found is that to maintain their weight, people who have been obese need to eat about 300 calories a day less than people who have never been overweight.
So, in being obese, I had actually changed how my body works. It’s tempting to give up here. To just think — well, now I’ve done it. I’ve made it impossible for myself. Instead, I looked to how others who have been successful have done it.The National Weight Control registry tracks people who have lost a significant amount of weight and have kept it off for a long period of time. There are common elements to their success:
- 78% eat breakfast every day.
- 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
- 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
- 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.
I thought , I can do that!
3) Pick a program that was right for me. This was a real learning thing for me. Before I had thought of some diets working and some diets not working. But this shifted my thinking to certain diets work for certain people but not others. The key was finding the one that was right for me. I am the kind of person who can put my head down and go once I make up my mind to do that. I can be very determined and disciplined. I don’t mind denying myself food if there’s another reward. At the same time, I have strong emotional triggers for overeating. And, I was feeling really daunted by the amount of weight I had to lose.
I had done Weight Watchers in the past and have seen people have great success using this program. For me, though, it allowed me to keep relying on my comfort foods to relieve stress. So, I was never really breaking the habit of stress eating. I knew that to be successful in the long-term, I would have to find another way of dealing with stress. I needed a program that would not accommodate my bagel and cream cheese no matter how much other food I shaved out of the rest of my day.
I also liked that the pace of weight loss was faster than some other diets. I could average 3-5 pounds lost per week according to the research. I knew this pace of weight loss would give me the positive reinforcement I needed to maintain the discipline I would need.
So, I just had to make sure it was healthy and all of the research I did reassured me that this was not a fly by night fad diet that would jeopardize my health as I was trying to improve it. More on this later.
4) Be optimistic. Instead of thinking “I am trying to lose 97 pounds,” I thought “I am going to lose 97 pounds.”
More from me about this journey — both the weight loss phase and what it means to sustain change.