I was an overweight adolescent and young adult. By age 10 I was dieting and I continue to have to focus on managing my weight to this day, over 40 years later. I’m only 5’2” tall and never had a growth spurt, so while others were eating to their heart’s content and growing, I was plumping up, and told that I was overweight by my parents. I continued to gain weight until I was busier and more active and cooking for myself in medical school. I still fluctuate as much as 20 pounds and constantly have to self-correct to stay within my healthy range. You may not believe me, but I invite you to look in my closet. I wear black pants to work almost every day and own them in 4 different sizes.
I thought that I would share what I have learned over the years in my own efforts and in talking to my patients to try to motivate and encourage them on a daily basis. A combination of exercise and mindful eating works best for me. If I forbid myself to eat certain foods, I immediately want them and have a tendency to binge, so nothing is actually forbidden, just moderated. The South Beach Diet and Weight Watchers are both healthy ways of eating and I have used them and recommended them to my patients. I also find that my psychology affects my self-care. If I am having a good day and not feeling otherwise stressed, it’s much easier to pass up the donuts in the kitchen at work.
Here are the factors I consider during my own journey:
• Motivation: until I am motivated, I tend not to take care of myself (my latest motivation was an elevated cholesterol and the desire to avoid taking medications).
• Honestly, am I really trying?
• Self-compassion – don’t be too hard on myself if I slip up.
• Make it about health, not about size or about looks.
• If I do not meet my goals one day, just start over, at the next meal or the next day, don’t give up.
• Eat healthy more often than not, but leave room for treats., and eat home –cooked meals more often than at restaurants or take-out.
• Exercise—Here are my tricks. First of all, I love to be outside and to be active and I know that everyone does not feel the same way. Find an activity that appeals to you. I have a dog and he gets a 30 minute walk every AM, cold or heat, dark or light, so I call him my personal trainer (sorry Troy). I have a Saturday exercise group and a Sunday exercise group and look forward to socializing with my friends during and after exercise. I also meet a friend to go swimming once a week. The importance of exercise dates is emphasized by the fact that if one of us can’t meet for some reason, the other one almost never goes to swim alone. I bike to work about twice a week. (I am very lucky in that I have a very active job and am moving all day long. Also, I have no significant health issues which keep me from exercising.)
• Journaling: I document my weight and exercise every day and also note if I have binged or eaten something unusual, eaten out, been on vacation, etc. This serves the purpose of reminding me, if I gain weight, that I have been there before and I have gotten on track again and it also holds me accountable. Some people write down everything they eat and that has been shown to increase weight loss success and make people more mindful of what they are consuming.
• Note weight gain in the winter and plan to lose it over the spring and summer, so it won’t accumulate year after year (one of my friends tries to always be at about the same weight on her birthday).
• Non-food rewards (i.e. a new book or outfit) to motivate towards a weight or behavior change goal rather than rewarding myself with a piece of cake or cookie.
• Concentrate on drinking 8 glasses of water daily.
• Use a pedometer and try to get 10,000 steps daily.
• Planning is key. If I don’t plan my food during the day, I am usually wandering the office trying to find something to eat. I keep cans of tuna, nuts, and granola bars in my desk at work.
• Keep trigger foods out of the house (for me it’s cookies). I allow myself treats, but buy limited portions, and share.
• Eat frequent small meals to try to keep from getting too hungry.
• Eat breakfast.
• Snack on protein, which doesn’t give the sugar high and fall of simple carbohydrates.
• Make little changes that can be continued, rather than a radical lifestyle overhaul that will be really hard to maintain. When I speak to my patients, I try to concentrate on one change, i.e. getting a pedometer, drinking water, giving up soda, etc.
• Remember, it’s all a journey, with ups and downs!