4 Steps to a Healthier, Happier Me

Over the past 30 years, I have had the same battle with weight that I’m sure many people can relate to. Before I had children, I had time to work out, could eat whatever I wanted, and not worry about my weight. After children, however, it was a different story. As the years packed on, so did the weight. I was never obese, but I had rolls and bulge that made me feel uncomfortable, unattractive, and unhealthy. I found myself in the doctor’s office at 49 years old, begging him for a weight-loss pill because I was convinced that my metabolism slowed down too much to ever lose the weight that was affecting my health and ability to enjoy everyday activities. My doctor told me it wasn’t about my age or metabolism; it was, and always will be, about calories in and calories out, plain and simple. I didn’t like his answer. I wanted an excuse, and he didn’t give me one. I continued with a daily, superficial workout 3-4 times a week and didn’t lose much weight.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 and not only was I not losing weight, but I was gaining back the weight that I had lost 7 years before. During the 2015 spring semester, my students showed me how much they loved me by buying me a donut before every class. That, in combination with the winter and emotional eating I was doing, helped me pack on 15 extra pounds to the already 15 extra pounds I felt I had to lose to get to my target weight of 140 (health charts say that my weight should be between 133-147 for my height and frame). I didn’t understand why I had put on so much weight. I was walking or running at least a mile a day. Wasn’t that enough?

By late March, none of my clothes fit anymore. I asked my students to stop buying me donuts so I didn’t have so much for them to love.

I was uncomfortable at 155. At almost 170, I was a mess.

I decided to take my doctor’s advice and start tracking my calories in and out. That one step changed everything I did from that point on. Six months later, I am now 146 lbs, eating well, comfortable, and healthy.

These are the steps I took to get here:

#1Get Apps: I downloaded a few free apps on my phone to help me keep track of my exercise (calories out) and my food and drink (calories in). My Fitness Pal and Runkeeper apps sink together so that the addition/subtraction of calories happens without too much effort on my part. I also used Couch to 5K the first few months to help me get ready for my first 5K in June. I needed to set a short-range goal for myself to keep my motivation up.

Tracking my calories helped me see where the big-calorie food items were. I even recorded when I took a bite of a cookie or a handful of potato chips. It showed me how many calories I had to burn to stay within my plan, which was 1200 calories a day. For the first few months, I let myself eat back the calories I burned running/walking. So for example, I could eat 1200 calories on my plan, but I burned 200 calories on my run, so I could actually eat 1400 calories and still be within the limits of my plan. I did this mainly because I have a hard time denying myself. If I have a food craving, I have to eat it or I will eat everything I don’t want and then still eat what I wanted anyway. Truthfully, there were many days I went over that limit, but I didn’t let it get me down. I just went back to the plan the next day.

#2 Develop Good Habits: In order for any of this to work, I had to form the habit of exercise. I had to make my daily workout a priority. On the days I had to work earlier, I still worked out, but only for 5 minutes a day until I developed a daily habit. Once the habit was established, it was easier for me to wake up earlier to get a longer workout in. The more I worked out, the faster the results came.

Now, I can’t imagine starting my day without a workout first. The other motivation was that I didn’t want to shower twice in one day. I needed to get my workout done before my shower; otherwise, I wouldn’t work out at all that day.

The only exercise I did for the first few months was walking/running. I had to keep it simple until I developed that habit. I knew that if I signed up at a gym or had to drive somewhere to work out, I wouldn’t have done it. With walking/running, all I had to do was put my sneakers on and go outside. I didn’t add anything to that routine until I couldn’t imagine my day without exercise. The only change I made was walking in a different direction to have a variety in my perspective.

Once my walking/running routine was established, I added stretches, a few yoga moves, and sit-ups afterwards–not many, but enough to make sure I was kind to my muscles and core.

Some of the most beautiful things happened during these walks/runs. I was outside enjoying the beauty of nature. I learned to breathe and improve my posture, which actually strengthened my back and core–just standing up straighter and feeling the breath enter and leave my body turned into a type of meditation that I enjoyed with yoga. I started to feel connected to my body. That connection helped me listen to the aches and pains and go easy on myself when needed or push a little harder if I felt strong.

This connection also helped me listen to my nutritional needs. I could feel when I ate too much of something or an item that didn’t feed my body the right way. I no longer had to make the choice between Oreos and chips. I picked fruit when I wanted something sweet and nuts when I wanted something salty. Even without researching it, my body was telling me not all calories are created equally.

I was also listening to music while working out, which, ironically, helped me think clearer. I would get the best ideas for writing and teaching during these times. Music, fresh air, exercise, meditation, and the beauty of nature were a winning combination.

Honestly, if I had never progressed further than this, I would have been happy. I lost the winter/emotional/donut weight, and I was feeling better, even though I wasn’t at my goal weight. I was outside every day, soaking up vitamin D, enjoying nature, getting away from sitting at my computer, and becoming one with myself. I was already happier and healthier, which made me more attractive to myself–and that’s all that really matters anyway. But I wanted to prove to myself that I could get down to my goal weight, so I kept on finding new ways to break through the plateaus.

#3Treat Your Body Right: Even though I was recording everything I ate, I didn’t make different food choices until a few months into this habit. For me, this was a necessary step. I hate diets because I don’t like the restriction. If I want something to eat, I have to have it. That’s why I waited until my body started craving healthier foods.

I also started reading up on nutrition. Our bodies need protein, carbohydrates, and fat. We need to get them in the most natural state possible, with no added chemicals. I went back to using olive oil and butter, eating eggs and red meat, but I made sure it was high quality and organic. I now buy most of my food at Trader Joe’s and try to shop at farmer’s markets when possible.

I avoided anything labeled as “lite” or packaged as a diet product. I watched the documentary Fed Up on Netflix and it changed the way I looked at food–especially sugar–completely. Now, when I buy anything packaged, I look at the label for the percentage of sugar in the product. Anything with more than 2g of sugar added is too much (0g added is better). And natural cane sugar, honey, and pure maple syrup are better than any of the chemically created sugars or sweeteners.

I started drinking a lot of water. It can be challenging to drink 8 cups of water a day, but it changes everything. My mind is clearer, my skin is healthier, my hair has bounce, my nails aren’t brittle.

Above all, I was patient with myself and didn’t let my goals stop me from having fun. If I wanted to eat chicken wings and French fries with a beer when I was out, I let myself enjoy those things without guilt. I am eating healthy and exercising to have a higher quality life and be healthier for my son. The best thing I can do for Ian is take care of his mother–he deserves a healthy, happy mom.

#4: Variety is the spice of life: By July I was tracking my calories, establishing good habits, and treating my body right, but I could not get past the plateau I had encountered a few times in the past when I had tried to lose weight. I was weighing in at 150-152 lbs. It came down to the last 10 lbs again, and nothing I was doing seemed to push me passed it. I decided to add a kickboxing class on Wednesdays. If I had tried to add that class too soon, I might not have stayed with it. But this was the right time to change my routine. Adding that class made me feel all the body parts I was neglecting. I wanted more, so I added two more video workouts to my week. I was still going outside and walking/running at least a mile every day, but with a 60 minute kickboxing class and the 45 minute P90X Cardio workout twice a week, I finally made it to 149. I hadn’t seen that number in years!

I was on fire and started reading exercise and nutrition articles. One article that My Fitness Pal put out talked about burning 300-400 calories a day. I decided to make that my goal. Now I never burn less than 300 and frequently burn more than 400 calories a day. The important thing to remember with this step is that it didn’t happen until months down the road. I didn’t push myself too fast. I was patient with my progress.

The next thing I changed is running–and when I say running, I mean fast walking or slow jogging. I always run with my dog Chico (a 12-pound Chihuahua). He loves being outdoors, and he had gained a few extra pounds as well, so I was taking care of both of us with our daily runs. However, the longer I ran, the more upset he became with me. He was okay when I ran one mile; tolerated me when I ran two miles; but absolutely refused to run with me when I started running for three miles. When I put my sneakers on, Chico hid in his cage.

To accommodate him, at first I ran one mile, dropped him off at home, and then finished my run, but it didn’t feel the same being out on the road without him. That’s when I read this other article on My Fitness Pal that explained interval running to me.

Now, I still log 3 miles 2-3 times a week, but I walk for 30 seconds, jog for 20 seconds, and then “sprint” for 10 seconds. Chico loves this new routine. The article mentioned that interval training follows the running patterns of dogs, which is absolutely correct. I don’t need to keep track anymore. Chico tells me when to run and when to run fast. The other added benefit is that this type of running burns fat faster than a consistent pace does.

This is how I got down to 146. I’m no longer concerned with the numbers on the scale. If I get down to 140, that’s fine, but I’m more interested in tightening up and building some muscle now. I’ll let you know how the next stage goes.

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