At 31 years old, I weighed 411 pounds. I was exhausted, miserable, and burdened by that weight. It only took a single moment for me to realize that something had to give. I wasn’t living my life; I was just waiting to die.
I had watched my weight creep up year by year since a young age. A couple pounds here, another 10 there. I didn’t have the greatest eating habits, but they weren’t any worse than the kid next door; just more abundant.
You see, unlike him, I was also using food as comfort, coping, and a number of other things to deal with life and my emotions. That’s the other side no one really talks about when they tell you to “eat better.” I tried and failed at diet after diet until I learned one very important lesson: you can’t change everything; you’ve got to build success piece by piece, day by day.
I can honestly say to you that this time around wasn’t as difficult as all the diets that came before. I know it is because I have not felt deprived and I don’t deny myself whatever I want to have (it’s not just about eating salads!). My success has come from taking it slow (which actually goes faster than you might expect) and looking at the whole picture, not just the food on my plate.
I’ve lost more than a few pounds by making small shifts in my eating habits, small changes to my routine, and supporting those changes with emotional healing.
These are the things that will help me make this weight loss last a lifetime. In my experience, and confirmed by those experiences you’ve shared with me through this site, weight is as much an issue of psychology as biology.
So how did I get started? That’s the real question you want answered.
We’ve established that success begins in small increments. I didn’t force myself to conform to a list of “rules” that don’t work for me.
I took a hard look at my reality, and have been adjusting accordingly ever since to promote a healthier lifestyle. I am listing here 45 of the simple actions I took to start losing the weight. Pick one and get started on your own journey.
1. Eat real food.
Real food saved my life. I feel better, look better, and don’t feel “weighed” down after I eat. I cannot begin to stress enough how this one small action has made all the difference. Pick a few “convenience” foods and start switching them out for the real deal.
2. Use smaller dishes.
This is more a trick for your visual senses than anything else. The theory goes that when a proper portion size looks bigger on a smaller plate, you mind isn’t convinced you aren’t getting enough food. It works because it satisfies the senses and the tummy.
3. Measure your portions.
This is a big one, especially if you aren’t eating real food. Check the nutrition label for proper serving size. Most Americans are eating two to three times the serving size of foods. I did an unscientific study of this in my best friend’s kitchen—she thought she was eating a serving of her favorite cereal (1 cup), it was actually 3.5 servings. Between the milk and the cereal, this is a difference of around 400 calories every time.
4. Drink more water.
Water is awesome. I know we are used to our sodas, sweet teas and other high calorie beverages. Most people will say they don’t like water. But water cleanses and flushes the toxins out of your body. It is important. There are lots of benefits to drinking plenty of water. You just have to figure out what will help you drink more of it. For me, I drink more of it when I use a straw in my glass. Don’t ask me why it works, it just does.
5. Give up soda and fruit juice.
These bad boys are high in calories with very little nutritional value. It is just best to give them up. If you have to have that one coke a day, at least make it a regular. Fake sweetener and the staggering amount of sodium in diet sodas are far worse for your body than the empty calories you’re consuming.
6. Order your coffee black.
Black coffee has 0 calories. A mocha with 2% milk has 260. Make the switch in your daily routine and you’ll lose some weight this year.
7. Steer clear of fried foods.
Food, when dropped into a vat of grease, is terribly bad for you. Not only are you adding unnecessary calories, you are filling your body with disgusting grease. Try going grilled or going home to make something healthier for yourself.
8. Clear out the junk food.
If you are anything like I used to be, I am sure there are little pockets of junk foods all over your kitchen. The potato chips in the cabinet, the dips in the fridge, the ice cream in the freezer, the candy in the bowl on the counter—also known in my house as the easy traps. Clearing out the junk clears out the temptation. Take an hour and throw out or donate every last bit of it. If it isn’t around, you can’t eat it.
9. Go for a walk after dinner.
Exercise, even in small and short bursts, can change your life. Instead of sitting down to play on the computer or watch television, get outside and go for a walk.
10. Eat out less.
Restaurants are dangerous. Their menus are lined with calorie rich foods in ridiculous portion sizes. Refraining from eating out can save you many things—added pounds and money are the two biggest.
11. Locate your local farmer’s market.
Organic or not, real food is good. Farm fresh, locally grown is better. For no better reason than taste alone! Find your Farmer’s Market and you will come to realize why vegetables are amazing and delicious.
12. Order your salad dressing on the side.
Dressing is high in calories. Keep it under control by ordering it on the side. You can either dip your fork or add a tablespoon to your salad. Either way, you keep it in check. Otherwise you are most likely getting a serving of about three to four tablespoons . . . an average of 300 extra calories if you ordered ranch.
13. Stop ordering appetizers.
These are the worst things on a restaurant menu. Don’t order them. Just don’t do it.
14. Stop ordering desserts.
These are the second worst things on a restaurant menu, made worse by the fact that you might not be sharing. Don’t order them. If you do, or you JUST have to have something sweet after the meal, take 3 bites and fully enjoy them guilt-free. Then shove the dessert to the other side of the table out of arms reach.
15. Watch your carbs.
How many times has bread come as a side to your pasta? How much larger could that roll on your sandwich be? Bread and pasta are high in calories and carbs. I used to eat a lot of it in a day. Try to limit yourself to one carb-eriffic item in your meals, and of course, watch that serving size.
16. Have fruit instead.
Man do I love dessert. Still do! So sweet, so yummy, so delicious. I also love to bake, which makes it even more dangerous. I started having fruit more often instead of always reaching for a sweet. Not only is it better for me, but the calories are lower. As you start reducing your sugar intake, the taste of fruit becomes even sweeter. Buy it from the farmer’s market and most times you won’t even miss that cupcake.
17. Buy a Wii Fit.
I am a gym member and worked with a personal trainer for a bit, but man do I love my Wii Fit because it is so much fun. If you do nothing else, a Wii Fit still gets you off the couch and moving around. At first, I weighed too much to use mine with the balance board. Now I can’t get enough of it. My favorite is the ski jump.
18. Get a good night’s sleep.
Your body needs you to rest. Get the right amount of sleep each night to ensure you feel rested, relaxed and ready to go in the morning. Being overly tired or cranky makes it really easy to start giving in to those old habits.
19. Eat before you’re really hungry.
Being too hungry can cause you to eat too fast and too much. Don’t put off eating until you are starving.
20. Carry snacks in your purse.
Our days are hectic; our schedules are full. It can be easy to forget to stop and eat. Then we’re starving, and the poor food choices multiply. Keep your days in check by carrying snacks with you at all times. It will save you from overeating later.
21. Snack when you need to.
The other day I was grocery shopping with my best friend when I realized I was quite hungry. A quick check of the clock revealed it had been four hours since I ate last. (I try to double check to ensure it is a physical and not mental hunger I am feeling.) I popped open my purse and had a granola bar. Now I could have waited the two hours until dinner, but it is far better to stave off physical hunger immediately than to force myself to wait. If you are physically hungry, eat. Hunger is the way your body tells you it needs food for fuel.
22. Start planning your meals.
A weekly menu is the best habit for keeping yourself in check. Not only does it offer the financial benefit of lower grocery bills, it also allows you to plan more veggies into your meals.
23. Keep healthy snacks within reach.
If hunger hits, and you are unprepared, bad choices will be made. 99% of things you’ll find in a gas station should not be eaten by anyone. Seriously. Nothing. Make sure you have good snacks in your house, and good food in your purse and car and computer bag and . . . you get the idea.
24. Eat smaller meals more often.
I eat five to six times a day, but I only prepare three meals. The other times are small snacks. This has several added benefits in that it controls my hunger, keeps my energy level up, and helps me maintain my calorie intake each day. The biggest benefit though comes from not starving by mealtime and overeating as a result.
25. Cook your own dinner.
Preparing your own meals is the best habit you could implement into your routine. Not only does it cost you far less than dining out, it continues to improve the quality of the foods you consume. You get to decide what does and does not make it onto your plate, how it is prepared, and where it comes from. You are in total control of your destiny.
26. Check the nutrition information.
When you eat, be aware of how much. Check the nutrition label, know the serving size, and make yourself accountable for how many calories you’re consuming even if you are not actively tracking them.
27. Give up cereal.
This should not be considered a food, let alone breakfast for an adult. There are so many better options for breakfast. Start trying to incorporate some of them into your days. Greek yogurt with fruit is just as easy, and far better for you.
28. Pack your lunch for work.
A little preparation can go a long way. Not only will you be eating better food than anything you could “pick-up,” you are also less likely to skip lunch on busy days. It is a lot easier to walk to the fridge than to figure out what you want and head out to get it.
29. Deal with stress.
My career was highly stressful. I was constantly under pressure to get things done and be creative. A negative side to all that emotional overdrive was overeating. My nervous system was constantly on overdrive and my body was constantly hungry. If you have stressful things in your life, deal with them or change them. Stress is bad for your health and your weight.
30. Eat mindfully.
Focus on your food, and listen to your body. Stop rushing through meals, and make them a time of peace and enjoyment. Be aware of your choices and what passes your lips.
31. Stop eating on the go.
Sit down. Then eat. The only exception to this rule is a snack and even then, you should try to sit and focus while you eat it if possible.
32. Turn off the TV.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good dose of entertainment as much as the next guy. But television is ruining our lives. It is keeping us glued to the couch, mindlessly indulging in nonsense, and the food commercials—yep, they make you want to eat. Turn off the boob tube and go outside.
33. Try new foods.
Experimenting with new foods and recipes can make eating well more fun. Reach outside your comfort zone and try some new dishes! You never know what you’ll discover.
34. Join a gym.
Best thing I ever did. Even though it scared the poop out of me to do it. It gets me out of my house, releases stress and gives me quiet time alone to think. Walking around outside does the same if you are in an area where that is feasible.
35. Eat on a schedule.
Routine is a blessing in life. By setting up an eating schedule, you are more conscious of preparing ahead for your meals. It also helps maintain your metabolic rate, and your blood sugar remains consistent instead of spiking up and down. I eat about every three hours during the day. Just know the inner resistance to routine may come up, especially for us creative types. Ignore it because you will be OK and you will like having that structure.
36. Choose whole grain.
Whenever you can, choose whole grain over white. You will stay full longer, and be more satisfied. I was a lifetime white bread / white pasta / white rice kid, but I made the switch. It wasn’t nearly as hard as I told myself that it would be.
37. Keep a food diary.
I had no concept of how much I ate during the day. I never actually tracked my eating before I started changing my eating habits. But knowing what I know now, I am sure it was a ridiculous amount of food and calories. Keep a record, start being accountable for what you eat.
38. Park further from the door.
A little exercise you can easily incorporate into your days is far better than none at all. This is one of the first small changes I made last year.
39. Take the stairs instead.
Another simple shift you can make in the course of your day.
40. Don’t skip meals.
This should go without saying, but starving your body is never a good idea. Make sure you take time out from busy days to get your lunch or snack in. Today, I eat anywhere to ensure I don’t miss my snacks—including the grocery store and work meetings. Who cares what people think . . . this is about your health!
41. Eat less meat.
I am from the Midwest where meat and potatoes reign supreme. I used to down about 8 ounces at any given meal. No one needs that much meat. A two to four ounce serving is more than enough when combined with good grains and vegetables.
42. Make soup.
Not the kind from a can, which is loaded with a ridiculous amount of sodium and not much flavor. Make your own soup. At most thirty minutes of prep work, then leave to simmer. Soup is a great meal and so super delicious. Load it up with veggies and it keeps you quite full.
43. Eat Greek Yogurt instead.
I never knew how good this stuff could be. Mainly because there are some crappy versions lining the shelves of your local supermarket. Again, I am a real food eater so I don’t mess with the fat free junk. I eat Fage Total (sometimes 2% if that is all that is available) exclusively. So. Freaking. Good.
44. Buy really good cheeses.
Real cheese is unmatched. Yes, it is more expensive than the pre-shredded stuff in the bag. At least, that is what you may think at first. But you would be wrong. Why? Because real cheese has so much flavor that you use far less. Saving calories and money. Trust me. Pick up a wedge of real parmesan cheese and tell me if it isn’t a million times better.
45. Don’t bring it home.
And the moral to this entire story is if it ain’t there, you can’t eat it. The easiest way to shift your current eating habits, and incorporate better food into your life is to just leave the crappy stuff at the store. Bottom line: if it isn’t around, you can’t eat too much of it.
There you have it! 45 little shifts that created big changes for my life. Just do me and yourself a favor; don’t try to make them all at once.
Now that you’ve heard my story, I’d love to hear yours. Share your thoughts in the comments below. And don’t forget to share this list with your friends!