Recently I joined a group of friends on Facebook whose common goal is to help each other stay fit and eat better. This blog post contains some of the tips I’ve learned over the past few years, which I finally had an excuse to write down and share. This is really addressed to myself, and is not intended to be a list of commandments. Take what works for you and ignore the rest.
1. Use My Fitness Pal to track calories. Be honest with yourself when setting your profile, and err on the side of laziness.
MFP will ask you how much you weigh and how active you are, so that it can correctly determine how many calories you need to cut every day. If you are dishonest about your settings, you are only cheating yourself! Choose “sedentary”, even if you are on your feet a fair amount. And tell the truth about how much you weigh, as painful as it might be to admit it. Denial is what got us into this mess, after all. It’s not going to help us get out of it.
2. Be diligent about entering your food intake for the day.
It takes a total of about ten minutes. If you go over your calorie limit for the day, be honest about it. Don’t try to make up for it the next day by starving yourself. Let the past stay in the past. There is only one day that matters, and that’s today.
3. Set reasonable, realistic goals for yourself.
Unrealistic goals are just another form of self-sabotage. Make your first weight loss goal something attainable. “I want to lose five pounds in the next six weeks,” for example. That’s a small amount, but small is good. It’s totally doable, it’s realistic, and once you hit that goal you can move on to the next goal rather than backslide and have to start over… or, worse yet, give up.
4. Remember that in the first several weeks of diet + exercise, you may actually gain weight.
This is because you are building muscle at the same time as you are losing fat. Muscle weighs A LOT more than fat. It can be very discouraging to have a great week of staying within your goals, hitting all your exercise targets, then stepping on the scale and seeing it’s gone up a few pounds. When that happens, just remind yourself that the scale can be a liar. A better measurement of your progress is the measuring tape. Measure your middle on Day 1, and measure it again every seven days after that. Don’t measure yourself every day, because things fluctuate. Measure yourself first thing in the morning, after using the bathroom, before eating breakfast.
5. You don’t have to exercise to lose weight.
I mention this not to dissuade you from exercising, but to remind you that if you don’t have time to exercise, you can still make progress, rather than feel discouraged and possibly not bother trying. Weight loss is really all about caloric intake versus caloric expenditure. If you make healthy food choices throughout the day, and you stay within your limit, you will lose weight. Exercise is definitely a good idea for its own reasons, but you can lose weight just as quickly without it.
6. Don’t let yourself get too HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired).
When it comes to addictions of various types, of which overeating is often one, HALT is actually a trigger for relapse. If you let yourself get too hungry, too angry, too lonely, or too tired, it brings up all kinds of emotional issues that cannot be ignored. These are very real, and you are at greater risk for backsliding. Since we are discussing food in particular, remember to eat something every hour or so throughout the day. Just make sure it’s a carrot, rather than a Snickers.
7. Don’t eat to satiation. Eat just enough to keep you going to the next snack.
This is a little trick I play on myself several times a day. My big trap is stuffing my face every time I eat, until I can’t eat any more. Humans are genetically programmed to do this. Far back in our history, we never knew when we might find food again, so when we stumbled across a mammoth carcass, we crammed ourselves as full as we could. We still have this instinct today when we come across a bag of Doritos in the wild. It can be overcome, but it requires some conscious effort. Remind yourself: I am not actually in danger of starving to death today. I can eat more later. Right now, I’m just going to eat enough to get me through the next hour, and only enough to allay my hunger pangs, not so much that I am completely full.
8. At mealtimes, wait fifteen minutes before taking a second helping.
Your body is programmed to tell you to keep eating. That hunger you’re feeling after one helping is real, not imaginary. But if you wait fifteen minutes before taking more, the signals sent to your brain will change, and you will not feel hungry any more. It’s like magic. If you do still feel hungry after 15 minutes, have the second helping. But chances are, you didn’t need it after all. If you are hungry again an hour after dinner, fine. See Step 7.
9. Willpower is not enough.
The idea of using willpower to improve yourself is a mental trap. You cannot bully yourself into losing weight. You have to change the way you think. This can take a very long time, and it’s hard to do on your own, which is why a support group is essential. Willpower may carry you through the first several weeks or even months, but eventually it will fade, and then it’s easy to get discouraged. You won’t succeed at this because you forced yourself to succeed. You will succeed because you changed the way you think about food, and you improved your ability to make smart decisions.
10. You are entirely capable of doing this, and much more besides.
Remember: you are a bad-ass! You are able to achieve great things. Great things take time. The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is today.