Thursday, February 23, 2012

How I lost 20 pounds: Tips to keeping the weight off

It was February of 2011 when I decided I was done being overweight. My "normal" weight throughout my 20's was usually 135 lbs, I sometimes reached 140 lbs during the holiday season, but I always managed to lose the winter weight at the beginning of the new year. Well, after the birth of my daughter and a knee injury that limited my mobility for a few years, I gained about 15 lbs in my early 30's. Little by little, with physical therapy and exercise, I lost the limp and regained full mobility on that knee, but I didn't lose the extra weight. I was working from home at the time and the stress of meeting deadlines, caring for a toddler, and promoting my business led me to work 14 hour days, with very little time to care for myself, and many many sleepless nights. This continued for nearly five years, and during this time, I gained an additional 15 lbs. I didn't recognize myself in the mirror anymore and it bothered me to think that I weighed as much as I did when I was 9 months pregnant. I was in my mid 30's and 30 lbs above my normal weight, when I closed the doors to my design studio and accepted a full-time design position at a local establishment. I needed clothes for my new office environment, which made me a little depressed. I didn't want to buy big-girl clothes, but I did. Just a few items to get me through the first few months. Within a couple of weeks after starting my new job, I began to have more balance in my life. My daughter was now in school full time and I had a steady paycheck that required no overtime. I had more time to prepare healthy meals which led me to lose 5 lbs. I was happy about the slight weight loss, but the transformation didn't happen until the day, one year ago, that I decided to put my health at the top of my priorities and give myself the "me" time I had previously deprived myself of. I started by joining a gym.
This, my friends, was only the beginning. I made a few other changes in my daily routine that led me to lose a total of 20 pounds and keep it off. To my surprise, my journey to being "me" again, has been rather easy and fun!
Here are some of the changes I made:
  • I joined a gym AND I work out 2-3 times a week. A gym membership alone isn't going to do the trick. You have to put in the time and effort.
  • My workouts consist of strength training and cardio.
  • I often go for a 30 minute walk during my lunch hour.
  • I cut down on the amount of processed foods I consume and eat more natural foods. Processed foods are anything that comes out of a box, pre-made, and has a shelf life.
  • I started eating breakfast - every morning, no exceptions!
  • I started eating a different kind of breakfast as well.
    I drink protein shakes once or twice a week. I like to throw in a bit of oatmeal, nuts and/or fruit to make them more filling and to enhance the flavor. Sometimes, I grab one of my homemade protein bars and eat it along with a piece of fruit. I used to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but not anymore. Instead, I eat peanut butter and fresh fruit sandwiches. I substitute the jelly with bananas, strawberries or pears. Lately, I started skipping the bread all together. I slice up half a banana or a few strawberries and eat them with a spoon-full of peanut butter. Skipping the bread at breakfast, allows me to enjoy a nice piece of bread or a couple of tortillas during lunch or dinner - guilt free! I work close to a Pat & Oscar's restaurant, and I like to go every couple of weeks with my coworkers for a salad and freshly-made, garlicky, buttery, breadsticks. Hey, I might be 20 lbs lighter now, but I'm still human!
  • The more I exercise, the hungrier I get, so I listen to my body and eat when I am hungry. This has resulted in 5 mini-meals a day. I just pay attention to what my body is asking for and make the right choice. There are times when I clearly am craving protein, sometimes leafy greens, and other times fruits.
  • I keep food in the fridge at work, such as: hardboiled eggs, string cheese, deli meats, peanut butter, wheat crackers, veggies and fresh fruit. This ensures I always have healthy food available at the office for breakfast and snacks throughout the day. I’m telling you, the more I work out, the hungrier I get, and having these foods available prevents me from going into starvation mode (where your metabolism slows down) and keeps me from devouring those donuts and cookies often found next to the coffee station.
  • I practice portion control. I envision my meals being served on my bare hands. If it looks like it's too much to fit in my hands, then it's too much food for my belly. As a result, my meals are smaller and my snacks are a bit more substantial. I find that my body is now like clockwork, where I am genuinely hungry every 2-3 hours. Only then, when I'm hungry, is it that I consume a meal or snack.
  • I eat a protein rich diet. Protein helps muscle growth and makes you feel full longer.
  • I drink lots of water during the day. I guess I'm lucky - I love water! I keep a glass on my desk and refill it about 4-5 times in a work day. I’ve noticed now that I keep myself well hydrated how much better I feel. I don’t feel tired, my lips aren’t dry all the time and my face has cleared up. This is the closest I've ever been to having clear skin! I rarely drink soda or fruit juice. I never really liked soda anyway, but when it comes to fruit juice, I much rather get the fiber and all the nutrients from eating a whole piece of fruit. Personally, if I'm going to consume 90 sugary calories, I prefer them in the form of chocolate, not store bought fruit juice. In other words, I'd rather eat my calories, not drink them. Oh, but wait a minute, I have a confession to make! I do drink beer and wine. Not all the time, maybe once a week or every couple of weeks. I like to drink a glass of chardonnay while I cook or craft. How about some pizza and beer? Anyone? Yes, please! As long as I eat a salad as my main course, a slice of pizza on the side and a nice glass of cold is good.
  • I cook more, but I keep it fast and easy. If it takes too long to prepare, it's probably not as fresh or healthy of a meal. So homemade, fast and easy usually results in a healthy, fresh, less processed meal.
  • I fell in love with Zumba! It's a type of exercise that is based on a variety of Latin rhythms. I just LOVE the music. I'm Latina, so attending a Zumba class is like being at a family party! I love how the music keeps me moving, even if I'm feeling tired. I go to Zumba 1-2 times a week. Not only has my body seen the benefits, but it really does make me happy! It's a total mood enhancer. In fact, I love it so much that I recently became a licensed Zumba instructor! I’ll have to dedicate an entire blog post to this topic, but I can tell you now, getting licensed is the easy part. Creating your own choreography is where the challenge and the fun begins.
  • I report my progress or fitness activities to two of my coworkers who are also very much into fitness. It really does help to talk to someone who understands your commitment to your health. They can encourage you to keep going and share some of their strategies and stories that'll keep you strong and inspired through your journey to better health.
  • I don’t like math so trying to figure out how many calories I'm consuming is kind of a drag for me, especially because I make a lot of my meals from scratch. However, I do read more labels now and I try to use common sense. If it's fried, cheesy, in the form of bread, or if it’s sugary, then it's probably not good for me. I don't deprive myself, but I don't eat carelessly. Portion control is key, as well as eating only when I’m hungry. Never eat just because you’re bored.
  • I wear a pedometer. My iPod Nano has a built-in pedometer and I use it just about every day! It tracks the number of steps I walk in a day and calculates my calories burned. It motivates me to beat my own record and keeps me aware of the amount of movement I've had in a day. The more you move, the more calories you burn.
  • I sleep more. Ever heard that lack of sleep prevents you from losing weight? I don't know why, but I’m living proof that it does. I was sleep deprived for many years, sleeping only 3-5 hours a night. Coincidentally, this was during my heaviest years. I didn't have the energy to exercise, and even if I did, it seemed like my metabolism was much slower than it is now and I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I now sleep between 7-8 hours and I feel so much better!
  • I play with my daughter. She's 7 years old and loves going to the park. An hour or so of chasing her around, playing Frisbee, pushing her on the swings, is an hour that I am moving my body, burning calories and bonding with the most important person in my life. It's a win-win!
  • You will eventually hit a plateau. That’s where I’m at right now, and it’s where I’ve been for several weeks. I know I’d be more fit, toned, slimmer and stronger if I just tried a little bit harder, but like I said before – I’m only human! I don't want to stop eating breadsticks. I like butter in my popcorn. I like pizza and beer. I also know that I do want to get rid of the remaining belly fat and that I'd like to wear a two-piece bikini in the near future. For now, I am enjoying the recent changes in my body, while mentally preparing for the next step. For me, that next step is more strength training, running a half-marathon this year, preparing to teach Zumba classes and enjoying those unhealthy foods I like so much more sparingly.
So there you go. No magic pill, no magic formula. Just common sense, a little bit of discipline, portion control, less sitting around, less internet, less TV, and more time walking, dancing, playing at the park, doing chores – doing anything that “moves” me. I have to say that losing 20 lbs wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I believe anyone can do it, you just have to find the inspiration and motivation, then make the commitment to keep your body in motion, moving towards a healthier, thinner, happier you!

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