Tuesday, December 14, 2010

So You Want to Lose Weight...

I lost over 100 pounds over two years, carefully and slowly and under the care of a regular doctor at the time. This is the really simple version of what I learned.

1) You must actually want to lose weight, not think that maybe sorta you oughta shed a few pounds. You must have the desire and willpower to see it through. If you haven't got this, you haven't got anything.

2) Start by writing down everything you eat, and every physical activity that you do for more than five minutes. This will give you a baseline, and it may also reveal some habits you didn't know you had. With this baseline you can work on a program that will work for you.

To lose weight, you must use more calories than you take in. Period. End of story. There are no good calories or bad calories in weight loss itself. A calorie is a calorie. Therefore, your only goal is to make the IN calories less than the USED calories. There are two methods to do this, and a combination of both is by far the best:

METHOD A: Eat less. Reduce the amount of calories you bring in.
METHOD B: Exercise more. Increase the amount of calories you use.

3) Stop drinking calories. Your body thinks of solid foods as calories, and therefore drinking stuff with calories will not make you feel full even if it has a ton of calories. Stop drinking soft drinks, that alone will improve a lot of figures.

Switch to water, either plain or flavored. I prefer a touch of True Lemon in my water, and herbal tea in the winter. In addition to not having calories, water helps your body to flush out toxins and, yes, excess fat (in a very non-technical sense). So, switch to water. I no longer miss pop, and trying to drink one usually results in me gagging on the sweetness.

4) Reduce portion sizes. If you make your own food, put half of it away for leftovers. If you go to a restaurant, use a doggy bag for the same purpose. Most of us eat WAY too much. Consider investing in smaller plates, it apparently helps. But eat less in each sitting.

5) Walk whenever possible. If you have your mobility, use it. Walk whenever you can. Park on the far side of the parking lot, or at least not close to the entrance. Walk to the library or store. A little walking goes a long way. If you can't walk, find another activity such as swimming, and indulge in it at least once or twice a week. Seriously, that's all you need to make huge improvements. More exercise will yield better results, but even two hours a week will make a difference.

6) Form good habits. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice in many ways. The other stuff will help you lose weight, sure, but unless you make them into habits you aren't ever going to keep the weight off. Good habits are just like bad habits, they are hard to break. So harness the power of habit and make it work for you. Get in the habit of exercising and drinking water, and you'll find it harder to backslide.

7) Get support, but not advice, from those around you. One thing you really need is the support of the people who you deal with on a regular basis, particularly those who you eat with, such as family, close friends, and co-workers. They must be aware that you are altering your diet, so they know to not sabotage it.

As for advice, everyone has their own way to lose weight, and what works for one person may not work for everyone. I'm being intentionally vague about the specific methods I used only because counting calories is not something that everyone wants to do. It worked for me, but it might not work for you. Just like any advice you get from those around you: you have to adapt it to your own needs.

8) Set goals and keep track. I weighed myself every morning, put it into a graph, and watched the line go down. You might have a pair of pants you want to fit in, or the ability to walk a certain amount. Whatever it is, you need to set realistic short-term goals, as well as your long-term goal, and keep track of your progress. Reward yourself when you reach a goal. Not with food.

A note on keeping track. You will almost always hit a plateau where you simply will not lose weight. This is natural, and can continue for weeks. It's frustrating, and can drive you batty. But it's important. What's usually happening during those plateaus is your body is adjusting to the new reality by redistributing fat, tightening up your skin, and converting fat to muscle. A plateau is often a sign that you are succeeding dramatically. While it doesn't always work, a couple of days in a row of exercise can often kickstart weight loss again if you are on a long plateau.

9) If you mess up, don't panic. Allow for disaster days. A disaster day is when everything goes wrong with the plan, and you end up eating too much or not getting exercise. In the United States, Thanksgiving Day is automatically declared a disaster day no matter what your plans are. Our natural instinct when we mess up a diet is to abandon it, but instead you need to shrug, say, "Disaster Day!" and get back on the wagon for the next day. If you do not allow yourself room to make mistakes, you will never have enough room to succeed.

10) Vegetables are your friends. Eat lots of veggies if you are having trouble staying full. Eat a bowl of veggies and drink a glass of water every time you get hunger pangs, even between meals. I assure you that veggies will fill you up with very little calories. Add a glass of water, and you should find yourself good for another hour or two at the minimum.

11) Do not go hungry. Seriously. If you are hungry, eat. Just be careful about what you eat. If you start to get really hungry you'll end up bingeing, so plan ahead and bring small or healthy snacks with you where ever you go. If you suddenly get hungry, don't hit a vending machine, use the snacks you have AND drink a cup of water. The water is important. Drink it.

12) Stick with it. It's entirely too easy to give up, lose hope, get a few pounds off and celebrate with a big meal. Don't. Just keep it up for awhile. I kept it up for about three years, and only recently had a slide back into heavier weights. I'm losing again, but it's a case of getting back into my good habits and remembering what I did the first time. It would have been much easier if I'd just stuck to my original plan the entire time. Fortunately, many of the habits stayed with me, like my water-drinking, that I don't have as far to go.

Anyway, that's my diet book. I hope it helps someone. In the meantime, I think I'll try again to follow my own advice and get back to where I was in 2008, which was when I was at my lowest weight level.