The journey of weight loss is a hard and arduous journey. It is fraught with failure, disappointment, and years of guilt and self hatred. I know this because I have been on this journey. In 5th grade, I weighed 165Lb’s. That same year, the doctor wrote down my weight and told me I was overweight while circling really hard on his paper that stupid number. In middle school, I had weighed over 200Lb’s. High School, I had gotten better, weighing within the 180 to 190 range by starving myself and/or being on the swim team. But after that, it was all down hill. For a decade after high school I struggled with making a dent into my weight. I stayed within the 216 to 204Lb range and never really made any lasting progress. Within this decade of weight loss struggle, I would binge eat and feel disgusted with myself. I would attempt to eat less, but then quickly put it off until the next day, which became weeks, which became 10 years later. I would make some progress, celebrate, and then gain it all right back within the week. I felt like my eating was a monster I couldn’t control and I hated myself for it.
Today I wanted to share some tips that helped me to finally gain control. The overall advice I can give from my experience is to make your journey more visible to yourself so that you can connect your conscious efforts to lose weight with your daily life. Like me, most people have a disconnect between their efforts to lose weight and the rest of their lives. I had worked out like crazy, but I didn’t make sure to see the impact of my eating habits and what I was putting into my body. I may have gone into a day or week with the theme of “eat better” or “eat less,” but while that was something on my mind, actualizing it was a bit more difficult. I never thought about how that actually looks, and how I would measure that outcome. So thus, my overall advice is to make it visible.
Weigh yourself everyday at the same time
One thing I did which I avoided for years was to consistently weigh myself every day. I was once told that weighing yourself everyday was a bad idea because it would discourage you. But what I found was that weighing yourself everyday helped to keep me accountable. I weigh myself every morning before I consume anything because you are lightest when you wake up. The weight shown isn’t from added food during the day or liquid. You instantly see the result of your eating habits from the day before by weighing yourself everyday in the morning. When you step on that scale, you can see whether you ate too much or you successfully ate a calorie deficit (or below the amount you need to maintain your weight as is). This was crucial to helping me successfully track my food intake (calorie tracking). It was the ultimate judge on whether my perceived “eating better” was actually better.
A thing to be aware of though, is that if you eat salty food the day before, your weight may either stay the same or be slightly higher due to persistent water retention. Avoid super salty food and weigh yourself consistently for several days to see if that is the case. Another thing to be aware of is that if you are not regular in your bowel movements, that can also lead to a slow down of weight loss in the short term. Long term, you just need to push it out and you will see what you actually weigh, but when looking at the short term you may find yourself frustrated.
Overall, the tips above should not be used as an explanation for a failure of weight loss. If the weight gain or status quo persists for a week or more, it’s not the consideration above. You need to rethink your eating habits.
Get a Fitbit or a step tracker that estimates your calories burned
Another thing I did to help me lose weight was to have a Fitbit. I like the Fitbit because it tracks your steps as well as estimates your calorie burn. The reason having the Fitbit (or other step trackers) is to set and achieve a specific goal: 10,000 steps. For me, that was achievable especially since my Dogs always insist on getting their own steps in and I like to run at least 2 miles. On an average day with just the dog walks and the running, I average about 13000 steps in a day. On a day where I don’t run, I can get around 11000 steps. I work as a teacher and often don’t get to walk around a lot especially during Distance learning. If I do a lazy short walk with my dogs and nothing else, I will only average around 4000 to 6000 steps in that day.
I don’t mean to make everyone try for 10,000 steps as a must, but if you track the average amount of steps a day you do and its a very low number, start walking. Using 10,000 is just a goal post I recommend. The benefit of aiming for at least 10,000 steps a day is that it increases your calorie burn. Movement in general requires calories to do and walking is an easy way to move that is easy on the joints and gets you outside. Walking also reduces stress and can help with depression and anxiety. The Fitbit tracks these steps and gives you an estimate of your calorie burn while you’re at it.
There are some hacks that you can use to get these steps if you do have to stay inside and/or work. When I read or watch netflix from my phone, I will often walk around while doing that task. Not only am I getting to do a fun thing, I’m getting my steps in! When I go out to grocery shop or go to the bookstore, I park super far. This is a very oft repeated tip, but it’s a very good tip. When I go for a run or walk my dogs, I usually pick out podcasts or information on youtube to listen to, making the walk/run entertaining and productive. One thing I do while teaching via distance learning is that I use the farthest bathroom which is upstairs. It’s an easy way to get steps while staying active. I also use my goal of getting 10000 steps to volunteer more. My husband and I have joined street clean-up organizations that have us outside picking up garbage. Not only are we doing a civic good and making our streets look nicer, we’re getting our steps! Overall, find reasons to walk around the house to make it so that your everyday life is optimized to help you get steps in.
Get a meal tracker and measuring tools
Along with having a Fitbit to track your calorie burn, you also need a meal/calorie intake tracker. I use Myfitnesspal to track my food. It has a large database of food and can help fill in the details of the food you eat. Tracking what you eat helps you conceptualize how much is actually too much and what is just about right for weight loss. On my own journey, I noticed that the people around me, especially skinny people, ate what I thought was almost nothing. I used to think, “how are you not hungry after eating so little?” Turns out, there’s a reason why I was always struggling with my weight and my view on how little other people ate was a symptom of that. When I finally started tracking my average eating, I found I was going way above the calorie amount needed to maintain my current weight at the time which led to weight gain. When I attempted to measure my food down to what would be considered maintenance, the amount to just maintain was significantly lower than what I was used to. Having the meal tracker helps you to conceptualize your calorie amounts. The best way to use your meal tracker is to have measuring tools. You need the measuring spoons, cups and a food weight scale (with parchment paper to keep that surface clean). It’s hard to get an accurate reading of your food if you don’t actually measure out your ingredients.
Some tips to make this usable is to always look at the serving sizes of your ingredients when available either on the box or online. Try to stay within the serving sizes to be able to track accurately the calories. When you are thinking about meal planning or eating, look at using a lot of vegetables. For the amount of mass they provide, they are relatively low in calories. Annoyingly enough, good food like a donut or hot cheetos pack a crap ton of calories for a small amount of enjoyment. With time, I’ve been able to think about that delicious yummy scoop of ice cream in terms of whether I want to take on that amount of calories for how much actual enjoyment it would bring me. More often than not, I decided that I liked having my weight loss progress more than I wanted 5 minutes of pleasure. That’s not to say I don’t partake from time to time, but I’m more likely on average to stay within moderation limits than eating the whole tub of ice cream.
Create obvious reminders
One of the biggest tools I used that helped me to stay on track was to have a bright green sticky note on the fridge and the cupboard. My weakness is a spoon and jar of nutella. I will go to town on that jar which led to guilty mornings and self loathing. When I finally switched gears and started tracking more while having “no sweet days” I put a sticky note on the cupboard with the nutella that said “No nutella fat ass until Friday.” The first part, I don’t think really made that much of an impact. But the second part, the reminder of waiting until friday, kept me going. When I went to the cupboard because my cravings were tempting me to “just look at it” that note would remind me of how many days I would have to wait until friday. Then my spoonful of Nutella would have been earned and guilt free. I remember thinking to myself “I really want that nutella, but if I wait until Friday, I would have reached my weekly healthy goal while being able to eat it without feeling bad about it. Just 3 more days, you can do it”. Having that note made all the difference. So create an obvious reminder. I would even go so far as to linking it to a specific time frame goal. For me, I couldn’t eat sweets until Friday and Saturday. So having that reminder kept me look forward to those special days.
Write down your data
Now the biggest and most impactful thing you can do that will tie all of the above suggestions together and make them meaningful is to write it all down. I use a spreadsheet to track the numbers I get from the weight scale, the calorie burn number and the calorie intake tracker. I log my numbers in every day and will look at them to see if there is an average trend down in weight. This is extremely important because it’s a quality control on your own tracking. If you see a consistent number of eating below calories, but you seem to be gaining weight over a period of two weeks, you can see that you may have to recheck your meal tracking. The data tracker can also show you whether you are losing weight at a healthy pace or not. Common advice for a healthy amount of weight to lose in a week is around 1 to 2 pounds. That means if you are vastly above those two numbers of weight loss you need to eat more. You can also see that your weight loss journey is a decimal type weight loss rather than some magical number of 10Lb’s in one sitting. A funny thing that I have found about using a data tracker is that it shows when you also have a temporary weight gain or weight plateau. What I mean by this is, if you’ve ever had a super cheat day, the weight scale may look like you’ve gained three pounds in one day, but if you go back to being on track, you can see how quickly you lose that extra weight within a few days and then you’re back to the average range you were at before that super cheat day. Another thing that I’ve found that, when someone is plateauing or all of a sudden incrementally gaining weight in a matter of 2 days despite accurately tracking calorie deficits, you may not be having regular bowel movements (meaning you’re full of crap!!!!). Once that bowel movement has happened, you can see your real weight loss progress.
The only tip I have for the data tracking is that you need to account for inaccuracy. When you use all the tools above, over time you will be more and more accurate and be able to eye stuff yourself without using measuring tools. But there will always be some margin of error. The goal, however, is to make that margin of error small and in a direction that benefits you. Nothing is perfect, but 80% is better than 20%.