Years ago, I made the perfect New Year’s Resolution: “Make no more stupid New Year’s Resolutions I have no intention of keeping, anyway!” For a few years, that meant making no resolutions at all. Then, one year, armed with my Franklin Covey planner and a brand new year ahead of me, I decided to list out some of the things I really wanted to accomplish over the next year. The simple act of writing them down appeared to help. I revisited the list at the end of the year, thinking I hadn’t done all that much or even given a second thought to the list I’d made – so gung-ho to make the list at the first of the year – and was surprised to find that I did accomplish more than half of them without even giving it a lot of conscious thought.
Since then, I’ve learned that writing them down is only half the key to achieving your goals. The other half is really, truly wanting to achieve them. It means making a non-negotiable commitment to yourself. Not to anyone else – not for anyone else. And you have to believe that you are worth committing to. It doesn’t matter one tiny bit what anyone else thinks of your goals – whether they eagerly approve of them or think they’re silly. They are yours. I quit smoking in secret – I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband and children – that I had quit, and they didn’t even notice for two weeks! Part of the reason for secrecy was that I didn’t want their approval, because one of my “triggers” was rebellion, and I’d finally reached a point where I was only rebelling against myself. I remember dropping a cigarette from my purse, at work, one day – a coworker I didn’t even know blurted out, “You know those things are bad for your health!” and I had an overwhelming urge to stick three of them in my mouth at once and light up. Another part of the reason was that I didn’t want their disappointment if I failed – although failure wasn’t really a “fallback position,” I just wanted the freedom to pick myself up and dust myself off without fanfare or notice, and start anew.
Seems to me there are four schools of belief when it comes to weight loss:
- It’s hopeless because I am a failure
I’m a total loser; I just can’t seem to lose weight “no matter what I do”;
- It’s hopeless because have no control over it
It’s all someone else’s fault that I can’t lose weight (so, no, I’m not a total loser – it’s just pointless – let’s have more cake!);
- I just need to find the magic key
I really need to lose weight – I just haven’t found the right fad diet or weird trick that works for me – but by golly, I’ll keep trying (and spending a small fortune on diet aids);
- I’m committed, like The Little Engine That Could
I can, and I will, lose weight – in spite of whatever obstacles exist!
I think that most of us who have tried to lose weight, and failed to keep it off, experience some combination of these beliefs at various points. But getting stuck in any of the first three is a recipe for disaster.
As of this morning, I’m 1/8th of the way to my weight loss goal for the year. I weighed less, this morning, than at any point in the previous year. Yesterday, I had to take my belt in a notch. And I had to wear the belt to keep my pants from sagging. I had to dig deep into the memory banks for the last time I was really successful in any serious weight loss effort, trying to remember how I did it. In fact, I did it the same way I quit smoking.
I just settled down and made up my mind to do it.
No, really, it was that simple. I got the hell out of my own way, made a commitment to myself, focused some of my time, thought, and energy on it every damned day. As one friend said, years ago, “It feels like SparkPeople ate my brain!” Unfortunately, I have to reach that level of mild obsession with it – temporarily, at least – because one of my issues is “mindlessly nibbling at stuff without tasting it.” When I’m tired, bored, frustrated/impatient, I’ll eat anything that’s not nailed down. I’m not even conscious of the fact that I’ve scarfed down an entire bag of pretzels, when I get into that zone. It’s easier when I’m challenged, learning something new, fully engaged in doing or thinking about something – even if, ironically, that “something” is nutrition or exercise. So, like a good athlete “keeps their eye on the ball,” I have to keep some level of focus on my intention – which is to eat healthy, nutritious food, in the right amounts, and lose weight. Period. There is no “magic formula.” There’s no “system.” And there’s no instant, overnight cure for the pounds we slowly added over years.
Think I’m depriving or starving myself, to lose 11 lbs. since the holidays? Hardly. Here’s the week’s tracker:
We ate out, last night, meaning it’s harder to track – but I made an honest effort, and you can see that I’m not following someone else’s idea of a “diet”:
Might as well start plugging away today, right? A modest gain of ten pounds a year doesn’t sound like much, till you’re looking back, eight years later. Losing one or two pounds a week is doable, but takes focus – more than that and it’s either way too much focus and effort for those of us not getting paid to take a holiday on reality TV, or it’s just plain unhealthy–and doesn’t last, long term. The ultimate goal should be to keep it off so we don’t have to go through this ever again, right? Maintenance is tougher than losing, but if losing takes time, that also gives us time to develop better habits.
Hot tip: Cut calories for weight loss; exercise so things don’t jiggle when you succeed at it. You can scarf down so many calories at one meal that you couldn’t possibly exercise your way out of them – unless you devote three or four hours at the gym, daily. Exercise will give you strength, endurance, and toned muscles. It’s not really the key to weight loss, though.
Losers & Victims
I’m not a therapist. I won’t argue with individuals stuck in the “hopeless” mentality. But I will say this: I’m tired of reading articles that validate our temptation to blame something, anything (even if that one makes some useful points, it’s wrapped up in excuses and negativity and annoys me). I’m tired of endless articles bearing dire warnings about the dangers of “Frankenwheat” or “HFCS” or “being bombarded all day with yummy food advertising.” So what if it’s all true? So what if the deck is stacked against us? We’re stronger than that. This isn’t about blaming and shaming ourselves or others. I’m not talking about “willpower.” And I’m not talking about anyone with a diagnosed medical condition that truly hinders their weight loss efforts. I’m talking about figuring out what flips your switch and making your own “reasonable accommodations” to navigate life. It’s life. Live it or die trying. Here are a few strategies that have proved helpful for me:
- Turning off the TV and going for a walk, or working on a hobby or craft;
- Eating from a smaller plate, or filling the larger one with low-cal, nutrient-dense veggies;
- Making a “vision board” of pictures comparing what 2000 calories looks like when you cook at home vs. eating out – and stick it up somewhere you can see it every day;
- Substituting flavored (but unsweetened!) sparkling water for soda pop;
- Avoiding fast food (or using restaurants’ nutrition facts to help you make good choices);
- Avoiding easy, prepackaged, highly processed foods containing stuff you’d reasonably expect to find in a chemistry set instead of food (it costs more than the raw, unprocessed stuff, and isn’t always that much faster or easier to prepare);
- Avoiding high-fructose corn syrup if you want to (it’s sugar, so why not avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners, and rediscover the sweetness of, say, a raw kiwi fruit?);
- Playing my game: How many nutrients can I shove into how few calories? Or how much food can I eat within 1000 calories? (Higher bulk/lower calories wins, especially if it comes close to nutrition goals for the day – and bonus points for colorful and tasty!);
- Getting MapMyRun to suggest new routes for you to walk – discover your own neighborhood or venture further out and explore a new park;
- Enlisting the whole family. Instead of assuming you can’t eat healthy foods in the right proportions because…family, try discussing your ideas with them. Or just make up your mind to feed everyone healthy food, in the right portions, period. No discussion or debate needed. My husband has joined me – voluntarily! – in my efforts to cook and eat healthier. He saw me doing it and suggested it. It’s much more pleasant just to eat the same dinner together than to play short order cook or play the martyr – eating a small tossed salad while everyone else has steak or spaghetti. Why wouldn’t we want everyone to be healthy and fit?
- Getting and using a food scale. I own and use the OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display – have had mine for years, and I don’t think we’ve ever changed the battery. It measures in 1/8-oz (US) and 1-g (metric) increments, up to 11 lbs., and it is perfect for measuring portions and tracking your food daily. I only wish they made a little purse sized version to take to restaurants. Think tracking your food is too much trouble? Here are some of the benefits to tracking food daily. For those who like to blame advertising and depictions of unrealistic portion sizes, measuring and weighing your food is a good way to retrain your brain to recognize the right portion sizes, and makes it easier to stick to your goals and still eat out now and then.
- Remembering that your body is not a garbage disposal; if you cook at home, you can fix just the right amount. If you eat out, there’s a tendency to flash back on sayings like, “Waste not, want not” and feel obligated to eat everything that’s put in front of you. After all, you paid for it – and there are “starving children” somewhere. Cambodia, Africa…hell, whatever town you live in probably has its share of poor, hungry, and homeless people. Assuage your privileged guilt by donating to the local food pantry, not shoveling food in your mouth that won’t ever go into theirs, anyway.
Magic Bullet Dieters
Dieters and writers have a lot in common. If you’re a writer, reading this, raise your hand if you’ve ever bought any of the following “talismans” thinking they’d magically inspire great writing:
- A “blank book” with a cover that looked and felt so beautiful you were ashamed to mar the pages inside;
- A new pen;
- An adorable little figurine for your desk;
- Office supplies (that you have yet to use).
Fortunately for me, my one foray into diet aids led to heart palpitations, nausea, and a killer headache that were mostly cured by…lunch. Tempting as it is to be lured into the “Lose 10 lbs. in your sleep!” mentality, I’m smarter than that. Read the fine print: “Results shown here are not typical.” You are literally flushing away hundreds of dollars – for maybe, what, a loss of “4 lbs., on average, when combined with a healthy meal plan and exercise”? Why not just follow the healthy meal plan and exercise!?
As for those prepacked meal deals, I’ve always been well aware that I could do the same thing at home – on my own – with a little planning, commitment, and effort – for a fraction of the cost. And I know me – I’d probably eat double the calories, because I’d be arguing with the ads, saying, “No, I don’t feel full and satisfied! I want ice cream!” What’s the point?
Then again, I’m not judging – I’m still paying monthly for a 24 Hour Fitness membership I’ve used only twice in three years. And I have a thing for fountain pens, purple ink, and blank books with pristine pages. I have a baby dragon resin figurine or two that keep me company while I write. So I get it. And frankly, the gym membership would be helpful – if only I’d drive my lazy butt down the street and use it. There’s that.
Commit to yourself. If you want to lose weight, you can do it. Be in it for the long haul. I don’t expect to reach my goal until the end of this year. That’s killing the little part of me that wants instant gratification in all things, but to think I could lose 70 lbs. by the end of March is flat-out stupid. Don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself, or decide to fail before you start. A good starting point is to figure out an appropriate calorie range for your body’s actual needs, and your weight loss goals. I love that SparkPeople refuses to play along, if you want to set your goal to something like “eat no more than 500 calories a day.” (Personally, I consider Weight Watchers and SparkPeople (tell ’em HEALTHYWRITER sent you!) to be safe, reputable organizations that promote healthy weight loss. The latter is free. I highly recommend either of them, if you want tools and support along the way.) I’m also happy to see that sites like Fitbit.com, MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal, and SparkPeople all communicate with each other to some degree. I use my Fitbit, and it gives me more credit for moving than I’d give myself – and tracks it on all of the above sites so I don’t have to.
Along the way, there will be temptations. Don’t get stuck in the clean-slate mentality – if you have a splurge and drop the ball, fine. Just pick it up where it fell and keep working towards the goal. Move on, start anew, right here and now. I deliberately chose 2 PM on a weekday afternoon to quit smoking, to specifically avoid the “well, shoot, I smoked today, so I’ll think about quitting, tomorrow” mentality. The hardest part about quitting? Driving home, that first day, from the office. I was in a habit of lighting up the minute I started the car, and my car smelled of smoke. But I made it, and that small, early success is something I’m still proud of.
Remember that the clock was a human invention. It is not a real division in terms of the goals you set to achieve in your life, like losing weight, or quitting smoking. It’s only useful for specific, civilized group activities – like school or work or playing in a tennis match. Screwed up with a piece of yummy chocolate cake? How is throwing in the towel and having a second slice going to help?
Don’t worry about all the folks who insist that you must do it their way, or that you must stop doing something you truly love to do. I’m getting tired of those articles, as well. It’s all about making good choices, and we’re the only ones who get to decide what that means. We just need to admit to ourselves that sometimes, the choices we make are in conflict with what we say we want most. It’s a signal to re-evaluate our priorities and figure out why we’d sabotage our own (supposed) wants and needs with “bad” choices. Maybe we really want that cake more than we want to be thinner. Or, maybe, we want that one indulgence now, and we’re willing to add a week to the time it’ll take to reach our goal weight. We’re in charge; we’re in control. We only “fail” in our resolutions when we’re not fully committed to them – or to ourselves.