Over the course of the last year, I’ve changed my eating and fitness habits and, as a result, lost almost forty pounds. I’ve been back and forth about sharing my story. It’s a subject that feels weird and a tad uncomfortable to put out there.
I still don’t feel 100% confident in discussing it, but at the same time, I recognize that it’s an exciting and important story to tell – a story that, at the very least, might offer a bit of inspiration to those who are looking to make some improvements to their health this year, too.
If I’m being totally transparent, I kind of “fell off the wagon” sometime in late November and have gained a few pounds back over the holidays. But considering what I’m about to share, I don’t consider this a failure or a stumble to be mad about. It means I had a damn good time celebrating with family and friends and now I’m feeling all sorts of inspired to get back to it.
Before you read further, know that if you’re looking for a top secret lose-weight-fast plan, or magic drop-the-pounds pill, you won’t find it here. I have nothing innovative by way of dietary aids or tricks to offer. In fact, having tried one popular detox and diet after another is kind of what led me to the path I took this year. In trying diets like Dukan and Dr. Oz’s Two Week Rapid Weight Loss Plan, and various juice cleanses, I was always left feeling hungry and irritable, and ended up gaining any weight I did lose back (and then some) rather quickly.
A Little History
I’ve always been a sweets lover and a stress-eater. I became a vegetarian nearly ten years ago and, though I’ve always incorporated healthy foods into my diet, I incorporate even more sweets, pastas, and cheese. While I maintained about the same weight from my senior year of high school through my first year out of college, I started slowly putting on weight in my first years out of college and then gained the bulk of it when I took on my full-time office job.
I became convinced in the last couple of years that I had a thyroid condition or hormone imbalance due to not only my weight gain, but various other health issues – including my energy levels, emotional state, complexion, hair texture, fragile immune system, and a few other concerns.
What really led me to make a change was just how fatigued and lethargic I felt. I simply didn’t have the energy to do anything and was easily winded doing the most basic of tasks. This led to a pretty severe depression, which made it even harder to get back into the swing of things (and caused me to mindlessly eat even more!)
Sometime late last year (2014), I remember looking in the mirror and having this almost out-of-body experience where I just kept repeating to myself, “This isn’t you, this isn’t you, where are you?” – feeling trapped in and limited by my own body.
I’m all about body confidence and don’t ever dream of becoming stick thin, but I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t healthy.
Not only did I lose weight in 2015, I also shook off some of the other health issues I was having – simply by changing my eating habits and incorporating some physical activity into my life! My energy levels are high, I can move around comfortably and for long periods of time, my emotional state is better than it’s been in years, I haven’t been totally knocked out with a cold or the flu in over a year, and even my skin has begun to improve! So crazy.
Because they may be sensitive triggers for some readers, I’ll refrain from sharing my weights or sizes through the last year. However, I will share that I lost 38 pounds over the course of about ten months and have maintained my new weight (+/- 5 pounds) for the past two months. In that time, I also dropped about five pant/dress sizes. Here are some of the very basic steps I took that worked some serious magic for me:
1. Drink More Water
Before making some diet and fitness changes, I was experiencing the WORST headaches. Time and again, those close to me would ask if I’d been drinking enough fluids. Of course, I always said that I had – I mean, diet sodas, tea, coffee, lemonade, orange juice, bottled smoothies… they all count, right? I chalked the migraines up to stress, TMJ, and too much time in front of the computer at work.
While some of the tension I’d been experiencing may have come from those factors, the day I started incorporating more water (I aimed for 3 liters of plain water on top of whatever else I drank throughout the day), the headaches started lessening in intensity big time.
I also made it a point to reach for my water bottle when I had the urge to snack before opening a bag of chips or candy and, 90% of the time, felt totally satisfied after taking a few gulps. My daytime snacking cut down SO much just by doing this.
But let’s be honest: Water can be boring, especially if you’re rediscovering it after years of ignoring it. I often add a little boost of flavor by tossing in slices of lemon and lime, pineapple and strawberry, cucumber, watermelon, or blueberries.
I also decided to invest in two types of water bottles – a travel tumbler with a straw (great for adding in those flavor boosters) and a sports water bottle (great for keeping track of how many ounces/liters of you’ve had in a day.)
Side note: You’ll be running to the restroom every twenty minutes, especially in the first few weeks of doing this. Try to spread your water intake out evenly throughout the day (don’t down it all in the first few hours of the day or at bedtime) to help manage this!
2. Limit Dairy + Carbs
This one was toughest for me. I’m a vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love cheese and ice cream something fierce. I’ve never much cared for milk, so we always substitute ours for almond or coconut milk options.
What I aimed to do in the last year is limit my dairy intake to one to two servings per day, at most. Most days, this consists of one container of Greek Yogurt (I love Light & Fit’s vanilla option!) with lunch and that’s it.
On days where I allow myself two servings of dairy, I’ll have either one boiled egg, one serving of egg whites, or a small serving of cheese – usually feta or mozzarella – in addition to the yogurt. Cheese can pack in some MAJOR calories – even just one slice on an otherwise healthy sandwich, or a small handful atop a salad, contains more calories than I ever realized!
I also have a thing for bread and pasta and could eat both with every meal. I try to forego bread whenever possible – leaving buns off of veggie burgers, enjoying taco night without the tortillas, and passing up the complimentary rolls when eating out. I limit pasta to only one or two meals per week.
3. Cut Down on Soy
This is a step especially geared towards vegetarians looking to lose a little weight or balance hormones. Having been a vegetarian for about a decade now, it’s been exciting to see how many more options become available year after year – both in stores and at restaurants – for us. Many of these veggie-friendly options are made with soy.
Here’s the thing. While many studies have come out and said soy is the absolute worst, my opinion is that, like with many things, it’s fine in moderation. However, for years, I was loading up on soy products. Soy milk, soy protein powder, soy tofu, frozen veggie burgers/chicken tenders/beef crumbles made with soy, and so on. Seriously, it was pretty much a soy overdose with every meal.
When I started having some health issues that landed me in the doctor’s office, both he and I were convinced (as were many others) that I had a thyroid issue or hormone imbalance. After multiple tests at multiple offices, thyroid and hormone tests were coming back fine. Frustrating!
I did some research on my own and discovered a lot of people out there in the same boat as me, who discussed how they saw great improvements by making some changes to their diet, and soy consumption came up time and again.
I became much more mindful about looking at labels of my favorite veggie products and started opting for brands that used non-soy products to make them. Chickpea and mushroom protein are being incorporated into more and more products and – bonus! – this often results in FAR fewer calories. Win-win. As mentioned earlier, we also started ditching soy milk and drinking almond and coconut milk instead.
4. Learn Portion Control
This was a big one for me, especially in the first few months. I believe the step that has the most significant impact in any weight-loss success story is portion control. And if you think about it, most “fad” diets really boil down to this element alone. I went about familiarizing myself with healthy portion sizes in a few ways:
My heart sank a bit when I first realized the real portion size of a bowl of cereal. I lived my whole life thinking it was “fill to top of bowl, leaving a smidgen of room for milk.” Nope. Don’t prepare any bit of food or snack – especially dressings and nut butters – without first looking at the label or Googling what a portion size is. Once you do this so many times, especially with your favorite foods, you’ll be able to eyeball it. Until then, make friends with your measuring cups and spoons.
Eating the real portion sizes of your favorite foods might seem a little depressing and less-filling than before, especially if you’re using large plates and bowls to serve them in.
I almost always opt for the smaller salad-sized plates and tinier bowls when I can, to make it look like I’m eating way more than I am!
This is the one tip I’m kind of cringing at even offering up, but hear me out. I don’t encourage eating frozen meals on a regular basis, BUT… having a few of them on-hand in the early stages of eating better really can help you get a better understanding of portion sizes, too. On days where I’d come home famished and wanting to toss a frozen pizza in the oven, or make a big pot of spaghetti, I’d instead prepare a Lean Cuisine/Smart One/Weight Watchers frozen pizza or pasta option. After so many times of doing this, I became familiar with how much I should prepare and what ingredients I should use when making a similar meal on my own, so I didn’t overdo it.
5. Practice Mindful Eating
My Fitness Pal
I no longer utilize this tool on a regular basis, but let me tell you, it was a savior in my first few months of improving my eating habits!
The function I utilized most was the food journal. I recorded every single piece of food that I consumed and it counted the calories for me – and let me know how many I had left for the day. So long, mindless snacking!
Using this calculator, I set a goal of sticking to 1,200-1,600 per day and this tool helped hold me accountable. I try to average about three 300-400 calorie meals and two to three 100-200 calories snacks per day. Seriously guys, I feel like I’m never hungry!
I can’t count the number of meals I’ve eaten on-the-go, in front of the TV, with a large group of people, or while standing over the sink because FEED ME, ME HUNGRY NOW! Now, I enjoy almost all of my meals in complete silence at the dining room table. No TV, no phone, no distractions. Sure, I still enjoy sharing the table with other people and going out from time to time, but I’m now able to pace myself and hear my belly tell me it’s satisfied over the loud conversations taking place, whereas before, I’d mindlessly pick away at the last bits when I wasn’t even hungry out of boredom or anxiousness.
6. Spend Less Time in the Center Aisles at the Grocery
This was also a huge change-up in my routine. Because we live a very on-the-go lifestyle, I’ve always been prone to grabbing frozen dinners and veggies, canned soups, snack packs, you get the idea. While we still opt for some of these items, most of our groceries come from the perimeter of the store – that is, the refrigerated and produce sections.
This has saved me so much time in comparing brands, studying labels for sugar/calorie/carb information, and so on. Instead, we grab fresh foods that don’t need labels or branding to win us over.
I’ve swapped many of my pre-packaged daily snacks with fresh fruits and veggies. We’ve also tried a ton of new produce by doing this and have fun trying new fruits and vegetables as we come across them.
This has added a bit of extra time to preparing my snacks and lunches for the week. Instead of taking a protein bar and bag of chips to the office (or grabbing them from the vending machine) to snack on, I try to pack some carrots and hummus, celery and peanut butter, grapes and apples, or popcorn and raisins into small, snack size containers.
We’ve also been able to try out a lot of new recipes and avoid foreign ingredients by using fresh produce to make homemade soups, hearty salads, stir-frys, and more. Meal planning and Pinterest come in very handy here!
7. Plan Cheat Meals + Rewards
Okay, here’s my favorite part of this lifestyle change. Improving my eating habits does NOT mean I’ve cut out guilty pleasure foods and drinks! Could I have survived staying on track with eating well and losing weight without chocolate, cocktails, or pizza? HELL NO. In fact, I had many weeks where my weight didn’t drop at all, until the day after a “cheat day” because, as many have claimed, doing this is one way of kicking your metabolism back into gear.
What worked for and motivated me was allowing myself one to two cheat meals per week. Personally, I liked saving my cheat meals for the weekend – after work on Friday or a Saturday brunch. In all of the other changes I made, Jeremy and I cut down significantly on how much we ate out – from nearly four or five times a week to just once. So, this really made me think about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to savor the most throughout the week and we’d seriously get SO excited about our night out because it felt extra special. Ha!
Sometimes, a cheat meal would unexpectedly pop up here and there – work lunches out, a surprise visit from my mom, a last minute invitation – so some weeks I’d work around that, or simply order the healthiest option available wherever we ended up and practice portion control. If I went overboard, I’d count it as my cheat meal for the week and move on.
This is a tip I actually want to improve upon this year. Much like the cheat meals, I think non-food rewards can be great motivators. I granted myself a few, but am excited to try more this year. These can be based upon reaching a “milestone” weight or completing a challenge like “No soda for a week,” or “Walking a mile a day for a month” – it’s up to you. The rewards can be something as small as allowing yourself an evening to binge-watch your favorite show, a pedicure, a mini-shopping spree, or a small day-trip somewhere. Make sure you have someone to hold you accountable and also take your budget into consideration!
8. Get Moving
I’ll be honest: I started eating healthier in January and didn’t step foot in the gym until late May, a few weeks into my first weight-loss plateau. And I think that’s okay. If you’re making major changes to your diet and massively cutting down on portion sizes and sugar intake, you’re probably not going to feel up for running circles around the block right away.
Once you’ve got the energy, though, and especially if you’ve stopped losing weight but still have pounds to shed, I highly recommend upping your physical activity.
Start small. In fact, DON’T sign up for a gym membership if you know you won’t be dedicated to it after a few weeks. Start by taking a twenty minute walk outside, or ten minutes of jumping rope, or a few minutes of joining in the kids’ living room dance party. Just move in any way you can that your body isn’t used to a few days a week to start strengthening those lungs.
When I started at the gym, I was doing about 20 minutes on the elliptical, three days a week. And I was winded. And my legs hated me. And I dreaded it.
After a few weeks though, I was craving it. I couldn’t wait to clock out of work and into the gym. Perhaps it wasn’t me, guys. Perhaps I was abducted and replaced with a fitness-loving alien because I never in my life appreciated nor looked forward to a workout full of sweat and burning muscles and furrowed brows but somewhere between that first day on the elliptical and the middle of June, I was putting in about 30 minutes on the elliptical, 30 minutes on the treadmill, and a round of weight lifting and ab work. WTF.
Anyway, doing this and keeping at it with my improved eating habits, I lost a few more pounds. What’s more, though, is I started noticing definition – primarily in my stomach and legs. This was also the period of time in which friends and family finally began noticing and commenting on the change in my appearance.
I haven’t hit the gym in a couple of months now, but reflecting back on this, I am SO excited to start it up again!
9. Anticipate Hurdles
As you’ve probably noticed, my journey this past year wasn’t all smooth sailing.
Birthday parties will inevitably present you with birthday cake. Nights out will present you with drinks and half-off appetizers. Vacations will offer up new and exciting places to eat. Sometimes, rainy days and to-do lists will make going to the gym seem too daunting. Friends and family will, from time to time, tell you to just indulge a little and fill up your glass or plate for you. The scale will refuse to budge past a certain number after a period of time.
Through all this, though, don’t give up.
I dealt with several instances, some which came after a food-filled weekend and others that resulted from a weeks-long plateau, when I felt like throwing my hands up in the air and saying, “This is as good as it’s going to get. It’s been fun. Back to my old ways!”
And sometimes I’d do just that. But after a few days of going back, I’d start feeling miserable – bloated, irritable, tired, guilty… and the moment I realized that I could snap out of it and start feeling good again, the choice was easy.
10. Acknowledge + Celebrate Your Successes
When I first started this journey, I was so focused on the numbers on the scale. I’d be so stoked about losing three pounds in a week, and so bummed that the next week I only lost half a pound.
A few months in, I decided to only weigh myself once a week (on the same day at the same time) and instead focus on how my clothes were fitting, how I felt physically and mentally, and where my energy and endurance levels were.
Also note that people may not notice the change in your appearance right away, so it’s important to be kind to yourself and acknowledge your successes as YOU notice them. It took about five months for friends, family, and coworkers to notice I’d lost weight (and by that time I was nearly 30 pounds lighter), even though I could notice just a few weeks in!
Don’t worry about anyone else’s thoughts about you on this adventure, or measure your success based on compliments from them. Focus on yourself and how you’re feeling physically and emotionally and others will notice in time.
I’ve made a ton of progress in the last year, and encountered several setbacks, too. But I have every intention of continuing to move nowhere but forward in 2016.
One year ago, I had a specific weight goal set for myself. Today, I realize that that number is not the end-all-be-all. I want to maintain all of the additional health benefits that have resulted from this, work on my endurance levels, and continue to challenge myself physically, graciously accepting whatever additional weight loss may come with it.
I’m finally feeling like myself again for the first time in years and I can’t wait to see how that continues to improve in 2016. Are you ready to join me?!
P.S. – I (and our readers) would love to hear about your health/weight loss/fitness successes or tips. I’ll also gladly do my best to answer any questions you may have!
Please note that we at Beard + Bloom are NOT health professionals and these opinions and results are solely our own. We recommend you consult with your primary physician before making any major lifestyle adjustments.