This morning, I was at my kickboxing class and it was a blast. From the warmup where we ran laps in the gym to the main event where I kicked and punched my bag with purpose & passion – I loved it all. I was regaling my husband about it after the class, laughing about how when we ran laps that I was sprinting and racing other people in the class – and having fun doing it. While my husband thought it was amusing but he also had another observation about my story. Namely that if, two years ago, someone had told me that I would be happily running – and racing or sprinting – as part of my class I would have told them they were nuts.
Why? Because I did not run. More to the point, I believed I could NOT run. Not more than a few feet and definitely not without major effort or pain. Hell, walking most days was difficult let alone running. When any exercise incorporated running as part of it I vetoed the exercise or class. I could not run.
Reality? I could have probably run but with weak legs, ankles, knees and being overweight or obese I was risking injury and embarrassment. I remembered being mocked and bullied for my weight through the years and I was absolutely positive that running was out of the question for me. Power walk – maybe. Jog? No. Run? Are you crazy??!!
Back in my younger years, I played soccer and in my teens I made the all-star team so I ran back then. I have memories of me racing up the field playing left wing and scoring goal after goal. I remember having light feet and how effortlessly I could move back then. I haven’t felt that way in over twenty years – until now.
Now I run as part of every exercise class I take – it’s something I am used to and as crazy as it sound, I love it. I love that my body can run – run without my ankles throbbing, my knee hurting or me just feeling embarrased about what I look like running. When I run, jog or sprint now my legs feel strong, my body feels tight and I have confidence that I can go faster and longer than perhaps I have ever been able to. And that shit doesn’t get old – trust me. When I was limited for so long and it almost feels like I have been in a prison, being able to race and run with ease is awesome and exhilerating every time. Every. Damn. Time.
So this leads me to the main point. What holds us back? 99% of the time its what we believe about ourselves. It might not even be right. But it’s what we believe. Our minds are powerful things and when we believe something, it becomes fact. And it shapes our universe. It shapes what choices we make, what opportunities we explore and are open to – it shapes everything.
But things change and beliefs should be re-examined and challenged. Especially when you change because what may have been true before isn’t necessarily true now. We can do more than we think – its only our minds that box us in and tell us we can’t. Try saying you CAN do something. Say it over and over to yourself – then go out and try it. Maybe its running, maybe its something else but challenge yourself to at least try. You never know where it will take you and the impact it might have on your life.
For me, I have challenged myself alot over the last year and a half. Of the things that I thought I couldn’t do before, I can now say with confidence that I CAN run and it’s a beautiful thing.
I don’t pretend to be an expert but over the last 18 months, I have learned a lot about living a healthy & active lifestyle. I have come to accept that there are some very simple truths about successfully losing weight and getting in shape that I thought I would share with you. It’s not rocket science and some of it is going to seem logical. Hopefully a lot of it will seem like simple common sense. Other truths may surprise you – you may not be ready to hear them. It took me 30 years of yo-yo dieting to accept them all myself. And I am learning more everyday – I am going out of my way to learn more about how to fuel and nourish my body so that it can be as strong and fit as possible.
Truth #1: You need to Fuel – not Starve – your Body for Optimal Weightloss
Let that just sink in for a bit. Yes, I said FUEL your body. Crazy diets where you get between 1000 – 1200 calories a day are only setting you up to fail. Seriously. It’s one of the key reasons why so many people just get frustrated and quit. It’s too hard, no one can live that way and ultimately it hurts your body not strengthens it. It’s probably the KEY reason why I quit so many diets in the past. They were restrictive and unrealistic when it came to living that way longterm.
Think about it this way. If your body was a car and you expected it to run all day at an optimal level for you how can you expect it just to run on fumes? It can’t. It’s going to stall out and quit just when you need it to work the most.
Dieting is very similar to this analogy. They starve your body, make you tired, hungry and angry at everyone so that you – and everyone around you – is miserable. Dieting becomes like this short sprint and you go as fast and as hard as you can but ultimately, it’s not sustainable. Not only does this do harm internally to your body but it also can stall out your metabolism so when you do start eating the way you want to, your body just packs on the fat because it’s system is sluggish and slow. Even if you eat a normal amount after starving your body in a diet, you will gain a lot of weight. Your body doesn’t know what you are doing – it only knows that it is working to protect you as best it can by storing all the food you give it as fat stores.
Fueling your body instead, is the best way to approach fat loss and getting in shape. Consult with a fitness and nutrition expert (my personal trainer is a certified nutritionist) and set a reasonable daily caloric goal for yourself. There are also some good online calculators that can give you a good idea of how many calories you should be eating to fuel your body based on your age, activity levels etc. This means you customize a realistic caloric intake that will enable you to exercise, tone and strengthen your body so that you build muscle – not just lose weight – and support the new changes forever. Yes – forever – it’s not a 30 day thing … more on that later!
I am not pro-diets (if you can’t already tell) and I honestly feel that too many of them are too restrictive when it comes to the amount of food they allow people to eat. If your only goal is short term weight loss there are lots of options you can throw your money away on. If you want to change your body and your life longterm, ditch the diet and fuel to nourish and strengthen your body instead.
Truth #2: It’s Going to take Time
Yes, I know that kind of truth could get me voted off the island but it’s the truth. You didn’t pack on all those extra pounds in a week or a month so it’s unrealistic to expect them to come off in a short span of time. At least not in a healthy way. Rapid weight loss is a huge shock to your body and often what you are losing is water and muscle mass to start. Not fat. So before you get all excited about losing 20 lbs in 30 days or some other crazy thing, have a clear idea of what it is exactly you are losing. Losing muscle mass is not cause for celebration and should not be a goal. Fat loss on the other hand is something that should be a goal and that comes slowly, over time, with a steady combination of good nutrition and plenty of exercise.
So yes, it’s going to take time. Time is what has helped me create the healthy habits I have today that keep me on track, on a daily basis. There is no finish line either. Living a healthy lifestyle is just that .. a lifestyle. It’s a longterm commitment and its an investment into your body so that it can support you through the rest of your life.
Truth #3: WHAT you Eat is just as Important as how MUCH you Eat
I have tried many of the diets out there. I ate processed ‘diet’ foods in past diets but didn’t realize I wasn’t helping nourish my body. I wondered why I was so hungry all the time and why diet food had to be so .. yucky. I didn’t think of what I ate – it was just a means to an end so I could finish the diet and get back to my life. No wonder I failed. Talk about a recipe for disaster!
This time around, I have made some pretty significant changes to the quality of food I eat. This goes back to fueling my body and I have worked hard to create an eating style that is both healthy and delicious. I meal plan, I food prep every Sunday and I make sure that I have healthy options to eat every day. I have cut back or cut out much of the following:
sugars (refined mostly)
I do indulge once in awhile in some of the above, but I can tell you once I cut those things from what I ate on a regular basis the change in how my body functioned was amazing. From an absence of the daily pounding headaches I would get from sugar lows or the lack of heartburn and tummy upset after meals … I could tell physically that I was on the right track. Now when I do indulge, its in small quantities and it’s just the odd time or meal. And my body does not like it when I indulge so I don’t do it often. When you change how you eat and really pay attention to how your body feels, you will be much better able to fuel and nourish it.
The other big change I made was to start tracking not just calories, but my macros. Of the food I eat everyday, 25% comes from carbohydrates, 35% comes from protein and 40% comes from fats. This helps me ensure that nutritionally, the food I am eating is helping me build lean muscle mass and keep my energy levels up so that I can get through my days without the crazy sugar crashes I used to have (mid afternoon munchies sound familiar?) and workout consistently four to five times a week. When I want to really focus on losing weight I don’t cut my calories – I adjust my macros and increase my activity. I want to say that again – I don’t cut my calories. I NEED them. My body needs them. Cutting back on calories, unless you are totally inactive, is not the right choice.
If you want some information on macros and how they can help you change your approach to food, check out:
People groan when I say this but exercise – consistent exercise – is the cornerstone of a healthy lifestle. I used to think I was too busy to exercise, I was afraid people would judge me cause everything jiggled when I ran and I thought I was as un-athletic as they came. These are all excuses, and they are all getting in the way of what a healthy lifestyle needs to include. Namely you getting good and sweaty 3+ times a week. So accept that you are going to jiggle. So are a lot of other people out there doing the same thing and trust me, no one is paying that much attention to what you are doing. They are focused on themselves, on not jiggling or screwing something up. So relax, the EFFORT is what matters to start. Build your fitness level from the basics and set reasonable, attainable goals .. and then achieve the hell out of them. Repeat. It’s a cycle that fuels & empowers you to be the best possible version of yourself.
There are a ton of articles on the health benefits or working out – just google it and I am sure billions will come up. The core of it is this: reglar exercise keeps your body working at an optimal level. Exercise builds lean muscle mass and lean muscle is what is going to help you lose fat over time. The more lean muscle mass you have, the more efficiently your body will work and the better chance that you will burn fat even when you are NOT exercising.
Beyond that, regular exercise is a great stress reliever and an excellent way to bolster your self esteem and self image. It makes you feel great. Like warrior princess great. I go to my kickboxing classes and come home feeling like I can take on the world. It’s empowering. It’s that period of time during which I put down all my stresses from work, home etc and just focus on me. On improving my body’s endurance and testing it’s capabilities. When you do that regularly, you see amazing progress and your whole self image can drastically change – for the better.
And trust me, no one is judging you when you go to the gym or you are struggling to make it through your first boot camp. No one is laughing at you. So don’t be embarassed and don’t let a fear of exercising in public stop you. Own your body, own where you are at and do your best. People will be impressed at your efforts, at your ability to get back up when you fall and to lend a hand when you need help. Trust me, I learned this at my own gym. I was terrified to work out but I did it. And I have met some amazing people there who encourage me, cheer me on and push me to try new things. It’s a great community and one that will support your healthy lifestyle and become a part of your life.
So there you have it, my simple truths that have changed my life. If you are struggling or looking for an answer to get healthier and in better shape, I hope this helps.
March is a pretty big month for me this year. You see it marks the first anniversary since I changed my lifestyle and decided to get healthy. Why is it a big deal? Because after more than 20 years of yo-yo dieting, I never stuck with any one diet or eating plan longer than a few months. I always gave up as none of the diets nourished me or provided a lifestyle I could adopt longterm. So a year is a big deal and I wanted to share some results and some changes that have made this my new normal.
Before I started eating cleaner and more mindfully, I did a lot of the following:
Ate a lot of processed and sugary foods
Ate A LOT of carbs
Enjoyed a lot of red wine
Lived a fairly sedentary life (definitely couch potato)
Ate out regularly at both restaurants and fast food places
Cooked rich foods & meals high in fat and low in nutritional value
As a result of these things, I was:
Out of shape and consistently exhausted even though I wasn’t physically active
Living on antacids and taking medication for high blood pressure
Depressed with a very poor body image
Limited in terms of activity with a bad knee and ankle
Not sleeping well
Facing some pretty serious health issues that would change my life – for the worse
Instead of going on a diet – which I was convinced I would fail – I did the following instead:
Started working out 4+ times a week (primarily aquafit as that was easier on my bad ankle and knee) so I could start strengthening and conditioning my body
Cut out processed foods, fast food and eating out almost entirely from my eating plan
Started meal planning for lunches and dinners
Prepped for those meals every weekend plus made healthy snacks
Focused on eating whole foods, making snacks and meals from scratch as much as possible
Drank lots of water
Researched all about eating clean, good nutrition, fitness and worked with a nutritionist/personal trainer and set a realistic daily nutiritional goal that focused both on calories and on a balanced macro plan that would help me build lean muscle mass and lose fat
Cut out the wine (I still have some on special occasions)
Ate alot of lean protein, good fats, good carbs (lots of veggies)
Focused on the quality of food just as much as the quantity
I am sure many would call this going on a diet because we as a society place so much value and emphasis on indulging ourselves through food. For me, the defining factor for me was not just that my daily caloric target was twice what I would have had on any other diet plan but the balance of macronutrients was essential to making this a lifestyle I could sustain. In previous diets I ate diet food – processed snacks and meals that were low in calories/fat and unsatisfying. I never had enough calories to consistently exercise so the diet was all about getting skinny – not getting healthy. I was hungry ALL the time. I still ate alot of sugar – processed and in carbs. I lived on a rollar coaster on these diets with extreme highs and lows, terrible headaches and just a general feeling of deprivation. If I went off them I felt terrible. This is why diets are not the answer. Who wants to live like that? Who can??? It’s a set up for failure and it stresses your body out!
Now, because I am very active, I have a daily caloric goal of just under 2,000 calories a day. Of those calories, I have nutrient goals that emphasize proteins and healthy fats over carbs and sugars. I eat lots of vegetables and lean protein but because I don’t have all the sugar and processed foods, I don’t live on a rollar coaster anymore. No more headaches. With the odd exception, I am happy and extremely satisfied with this balance of foods. By focusing not just on calories but on actual nutrients, I make sure my body gets exactly what it needs to be healthy and get stronger. It’s a game changer. And it’s what makes this a lifestyle as opposed to a diet.
This is what everyone wants to know right? A year later and what are the results?!! Well, drumroll please …..
Starting Stats: 255 lbs with a body fat ratio of 55% (yikes)
Current Stats: 183 lbs with a body fat ratio of 37%
I went from a size 22+ in clothing and am now wearing a size 12. I have lost 37″ in total (which is over 3′) and significantly increased my lean muscle mass. I have abs!!! Seriously – that is something I never thought I would have.
Other NSV (Non-Scale Victories):
a. I have a pretty decent fitness level now! I am transitioning from aquafit and taking kickboxing, TRX and other cardio/strength classes now that I don’t have so much extra weight on me. I have strengthened my knee to the point where it doesn’t hurt at all and my ankle rarely hurts. I more than keep up in my classes and by being consistent, I am seeing very tangible results.
b. I sleep SO much better and aside from the odd time when a dish is too acidic, I don’t touch antacids at all.
c. I don’t have the same negative self image. I feel GOOD about my body and I love it’s newfound strength and endurance.
d. While my blood pressure is still a little elevated, it’s down significantly from this time last year. My doctor is so impressed with my results that she asked me for tips so that she can make them work for herself and her other patients!
My life is 100% better than it was before I changed my lifestyle. My husband kept taking destination trips off our bucket list because he knew I wouldn’t be able to walk long distances or enjoy myself. Now I more than keep up with him and he is adding all those trips back into our plans! Being overweight was like being in a prison and now I am free!
For me, this has and will continue to be, a life changing experience for the better. Looking ahead to year 2, I will continue to nourish and physically challenge my body so that I can get into the best shape of my life – and stay that way! It’s not a diet – it’s a way of life!
It’s funny how we go into new diets or health regimens with these unrealistic ideals about how we are going to look and what we are going to weigh when we are done. Some of it is based on what science or doctors tell us, and some of it’s all in our heads.
For example, when I was on herbal magic a few years ago, I thought for sure when I was done I would be 120 lbs and gloriously fit and slim. I was sure I would be maybe a size 2 (or smaller) and I would be super strong and healthy.
Reality: I have a large bone structure and it’s completely unrealistic to expect that I will morph into a stick figure thin woman. That isn’t about losing weight, that is about completely changing my body or maybe doing a body swap with someone else who happens to have that kind of figure. It’s unattainable. Additionally, because I was not exercising – not enough calories for that – I am not sure how I expected to be strong or fit. As a last note, I think I weighed 120 lbs for a glorious year in my teens and my family worried that I was starving myself. It really wasn’t an achievable goal.
When I decided to get fit and healthy last year, I questioned my ideals and really focused on creating acheivable goals. I didn’t want to repeat past mistakes and I didn’t want to focus on trying to achieve an ideal goal weight that wasn’t attainable. Instead, I created goals that I felt were achievable and while I do have a goal weight in my head, it’s negotiable. Yes – it might change. Right now it’s more of a guideline than a goal because this time around, I don’t want to focus on ideals – I want to be realistic about what is good for me and my life.
My goals include the following:
Making healthy choices for anything I eat and choosing foods that are predominantly fresh, whole foods.
Avoiding foods that are processed, labelled as ‘diet’, frozen or fast
Completing 3 – 4 hard workouts a week that include a combination of cardio, core and strength training elements
Drinking lots of water to stay hydrated
Focusing on my macros as well as making sure that I eat a healthy amount of calories every day – no more starving myself!!
Decreasing my overall body fat and increasing my lean muscle mass (I started at 55% body fat and want to get to 26-28%)
Ensuring I get enough sleep every night
Taking personal time for myself – even if it’s only 30 minutes – every single day
A lot of these goals are habit-based, not ideals based. I think I finally learned my lesson on that score. Do I track my weight? Sure. It’s a good guideline and indicator that things are moving in the right direction. It’s not the be all, end all thing to focus on however. In a video I was watching the other day by fitness trainer and expert, Mike Vicanti, he summed up what I have only just come to realize – that there is no ideal goal weight. Shocking right? Not really. In fact, it’s an essential thing to realize so that we can all set realistic individual goals that are attainable. Everyone is different and there shouldn’t be a cookie cutter approach to health and fitness. You should simply be trying to be the healthiest and fittest version of yourself.
So if you are working on improving your health and fitness like I am, take some time to examine your ideals and goals. I love goals. They are such good motivators that can effect positive change in your life. They just need to be realistic and we should be prepared that they may change. Maybe you will bulk up more and trying to lose lots of weight will impact your overall health & condition. Maybe you will feel great at a higher weight and still have a body fat percentage that is in the normal range. It may not be what you thought it might be and that’s okay. I tell myself that daily as well. It’s okay. As long as I keep working, keep strengthening my body and nourishing it, the end result may not be an ideal but it will be real. And it will be something I can maintain and enjoy for many years to come.
So keep it real everyone and don’t be afraid to set new goals, re-evaluate current ones and discard them if they just don’t fit. At the end of the day, effort, consistency and quality of life are what truly matters.
Previously, I discussed both growing up with diet mentality and the difference between a diet and a lifestyle change. I know I will always battle diet mentality but I hope that by following a healthy eating regime that focuses on strengthening my body, that at some point I will shake loose of that destructive way of thinking.
In some ways however I am grateful for those inner voices which pushed me to change my life. I might still be sitting on the couch if they hadn’t. I might still be trying to ignore and forget about the health risks I was facing and the various ailments I was suffering from.
What really pushed me to make some serious life changes however were the following:
My Family: I have 2 awesome boys, a wonderful and supportive husband and 6 cats (yes you heard that right). When I stopped to really assess my situation last year, I could see that I was letting them down in a big way. Not only was I setting a bad example through all the poor health choices I was making, I was also affecting their diet and health with the food I was making. Due to chronic pain in my knee and my ankle(s), I found myself more and more limited in terms of what we could do physically as a family and my husband kept taking places off our list for vacations as he was pretty sure I wasn’t mobile enough to manage them.
My Health: I had to face this last year however it’s still difficult to write down all the health issues I was either facing or suffering from. I was in denial – no question. From chronic pain, terrible indigestion, sleeplessness, stress, high blood pressure and facing diabetes and worse .. I was in rough shape. Sometimes it’s too hard to face what you need to face but in my case it was either I faced reality or I was going to have deal with worse.
Poor Life Satisfaction: I was pretty low last year. From work issues to health issues to just feeling stalled out, I think I was in a funk for a long time. I remember waking up one morning in the beginning of March last year and thinking … Is this it?? Is this the life I am meant to lead? Sad, sick and stressed? I wanted more from my life – from me – and I knew that how I was living my life had to change in order for that to happen. Some things were beyond my control but it was time I took responsibility for what was in my control to change.
So after spending some time reflecting on what it was I actually wanted to get out of my life I of course, being the all or nothing girl, I changed my lifestyle overnight. It’s not for everyone but it works for me. When I decide it’s time to make a change, I am not one to wait or sit around debating it to death. It’s action time. Time to go. Time to set some goals. Just making the decision to change lifted my spirits so much that I was able to transition fairly easily from couch potato to gym rat.
At 255 lbs I wasn’t thin or anywhere near being in shape but that didn’t stop me. I started working out 4+ times a week and I discovered that by getting regular exercise, not only was my body benefitting, but so did my mood. I was happier. More energetic. I found after workouts I was much less inclined to sit for any length of time and I wanted to be active and busy. My mind, so cluttered previously with sad and nasty thoughts, got clear and quiet. I liked myself again and it showed in everything I did and all the people I interacted with.
It’s January now, 10 months later, and I don’t regret my decision to get fit for a second. I continue my workout schedule of 4+ times a week and for the first time since my teens I consider myself an athlete. Yup, I said it. I am an ATHLETE. Working out saved me – it saved my sanity and it has strengthened my body. My husband has added all those vacation spots back onto our list and he no longer worries if I can manage them. Now he is working out with me to make sure he can keep up!
Let’s face it, all of us grow up with something that defines us. Poverty, neglect, abuse and more are all powerful forces and they all have the ability to shape our personalities and influence our core beliefs. I grew up with diet mentality and it’s something that defined how I saw myself and the thought processes that shaped my reality. It was – and is – a powerful influence on how I looked at food and viewed myself. To this day I catch myself sometimes, hearing those destructive voices pester me at inopportune moments and I recognize that while I might have changed my lifestyle, dregs of diet mentality may always chase me.
For those of you who don’t know what diet mentality is, let me explain. Diet mentality is when you live your life always thinking you need to lose weight. You are never good enough as you are and you always are self conscious about how you look. If you aren’t on a diet, you are thinking that you need to be on one. If you are on a diet then you are suffering through endless days of bland food, restricted calories and cravings for the way you used to eat. Diet mentality creates a whole other persona in your head – one that critisizes you constantly, makes you feel terrible for eating anything ‘not on program’ and chips away at your self esteem on a daily basis. It is a mentality that believes you have to restric calories for short bursts of time to achieve a goal weight .. and then revert back to how you ate prior to being on a diet. It is evil. It causes corresponding negative behaviours like binging and anorexia as a result of trying to be some kind of skinny ideal. It is responsible for the millions upon millions of people who spend billions of dollars every year on diets and diet products. I have known people of every shape and size who suffered from diet mentality – and who still do. This is a powerful force and it crosses every race and gender line, affecting millions of people globally.
When I think back, some of my earliest memories are of being told I was ‘heavy’ and that I should go on a diet. It’s how my mother grew up, it’s what she knew and it’s what she taught both myself and my sister as we grew up. I joined Weight Watchers when I was 11 or 12 and began that endless love/hate relationship with my body and food. I remember being told that the women in our family were large boned and tended to be heavier so I needed to be vigilant with my own weight. I was bullied throughout my school years by classmates who thought it was horribly funny to tease me about my weight and my hair (disaster poodle perm but that is a subject for another blog post lol). I had friends who were superbly slim and whom I idolized simply because they were able to achieve my ideal weight just because of good genes. I yo-yo’d dramatically throughout my teens and into my 20’s, putting on a lot of weight at university then taking a lot off in my early 20’s and then gaining weight when I got pregnant with my eldest at 25 … yup it was a cycle and I couldn’t get off the train.
One of the weight loss journies in my 20’s was pretty defining for me. I joined Weight Watchers because it was the one diet that had always worked pretty well for me. I worked like a demon, losing weight and for the first time ever – working out at a gym. I did kick boxing, cardio, strength training .. you name it. I fell in love with getting sweaty and initially I saw great results from it. However, as you lose weight on a diet, what happens? They restrict your food intake even more so without knowing it, I was hurting my body and killing my metabolism. I couldn’t figure out why, when I was doing all the right things that my progress would slow, I would be STARVING all the time and exhausted. It was a recipe for disaster and ultimately, I quit the process and slowly went back to eating as I always had before a diet. Which meant – you guessed it – the weight systematically slid right back into place.
My next big push came a few years after I had had my second child. I knew that I was heavy – heavier than I wanted to admit – and so I wanted to try something different. This time when I decided to lose weight I chose Herbal Magic as my diet dealer of choice. Looking back on it now, they had a lot of things right. They stressed whole foods over processed ones, focused on healthy, balanced meals but you had to buy their supplements and they restricted my caloric intake to about 1200 calories a day. I saw great progress on this plan – I lost A LOT of weight but ultimately, after my caloric intake was restricted to 1000 calories a day, I began to question the process. I was starving again. I didn’t have the energy to exercise (and obviously not the calories to support regular workouts). I was told that I had to buy more and more of their products to be successful and to me that just became a cash grab. It seemed greedy. I questioned what would happen when I reached my goal weight – would I be buying supplements forever? Would I be this miserable and hungry forever? Every way I looked at it, I couldn’t see a win for me – so again, I quit. And again, as the staff at Herbal Magic threatened when I said I was quitting, the weight slid right back into place.
Another part of this crazy puzzle that was my life is the fact that I love food. I sincerely hope that when I die, I go to this amazing place where I can cook & eat great food for a long time. Oh and it has to have cats – lots and lots of cats – but I digress. My point is I love food and nothing suits me better than watching the Food Network, trying out elaborate recipes and enjoying every yummy bite. So when I eat this for too long, my inner voices scream at me that I need to go on a diet or I am going to be out of control fat. Which means eating bland food, hating the fact that I have to eat bland food in restricted quantities while I long for the days when I ate things that tasted good. Hopefully, you can relate. It takes a long time for me to get to the point of needing to go on a diet. Not only does dieting take inordinate amounts of willpower and inner strength, but it affects every member of my family since I am the main cook. What I eat, they eat. When I lose or gain weight, they follow suit.
In early 2016, I began thinking that it was finally time to try again. I had had some health scares in 2015 and overall had been feeling very low and unhappy with every aspect of my body. I was tired of dieting however. I didn’t want to do this diet crash course of craziness only to ultimately fail – yet again. Which led me to a shocking thought, one that I had never really had before. I had never, not once, finished a diet. Never. From Weight Watchers to Herbal Magic to pills to meal replacement drinks .. I had quit them all. Which then led me to think, why? Why was I quitting? What was going on? Before I started anything, I needed to understand and pick apart my previous experiences.
I came to a few startling conclusions:
Diets are focused on losing weight – not being healthy. They make people focus on the pounds and getting skinny shouldn’t be the goal. Healthy should be the goal.
Exercise HAD to play a part in the process. My doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I had to get good and sweaty 3 times a week so that meant I had to be eating enough to sustain that.
Diets are short term plans. I was looking for lifestyle change – one that I could sustain forever, not just for a few months.
Diets aren’t about balance, they are crazy sprints to a finish line and then once you cross that, it’s right back to the old way of eating. Which means doing the cycle all over again. Diets set you up for failure. They do. It’s a billion dollar industry and if every person was successful then there would be no further need for all the diets and products out there. Right?!
I needed balance, sustainability and a whole new lifestyle. I needed to change my life forever so that this cycle of yo-yo’ing could go away.
With all this in mind, instead of focusing on a goal weight, I chose to focus on getting healthy. I re-joined my gym and worked out 4 – 5 times a week. I got sweaty and I loved every minute of it. I tracked all my food and made a point of choosing healthy whole foods over processed, frozen and typical ‘diet’ foods. I meal planned like a champ, made meals in advance on Sundays and read all I could about getting healthy – not skinny. I started working with a personal trainer who was also a nutritionist and I trusted his advice to INCREASE my daily caloric intake. Yes, I now eat just over 1900 calories a day – definitely not what I was used to in previous diets – and it’s helped me sustain this lifestyle for over 9 months! My weight has dropped 60 lbs and I have shaved off 14% of my body fat in that time frame. Truly, when I focused on getting healthy and strong and was consistent, my weight started to take care of itself.
The voices in my head are quieter than they ever have been in my entire life. I wake up every day and I am happy – happy with my life in a way I never have been. I know that this is a lifestyle and it’s one that I plan on enjoying and working at indefinitely. For me, I am living beyond the diet, and it’s a place I hope that every person who has ever experienced diet mentality, can get to.
In my earlier post on diet mentality, I explained what it is and how it has affected me on a personal level. To some degree, I feel like I have been either on a diet or thinking about going on a diet my whole life. I guess I am not alone because according to current statistics 50% of women are on a diet at any given time and up to 90% of teens diet on a regular basis. Billions of dollars are spent on diets every year in North America and as food becomes even more processed, I am sure that number will climb.
I know that many of us feel that diets are the key to losing weight but I want you to honestly ask yourself when – if you have dieted – is the last time you saw lasting change from a diet? Did you finish the diet and reach a goal weight? Were you able to maintain that goal weight and for how long? You see I ask this because I think it’s important that we as a society start questioning the value that diets have in our lives. In fact, we should question the actual diets themselves. I asked that of myself last year when I was once again overweight, unhappy, and facing some pretty serious health risks. Dieting is tough and it puts a lot of stress on my body, zaps my energy and willpower and – in the past – has made me feel like a failure time and again when I didn’t reach my goal. Last year I had to decide between going on another diet or, crazily enough, scrapping that idea and changing my lifestyle altogether.
It’s not the same thing. Going on a diet is a different goal than changing your lifestyle. I actually think of it as home staging vs interior decorating situation – one is a short term fix and the other is a long term solution that you tailor to fit your life and your family. Short term committment vs a long term committment. There are different goals for both situations and while they might use the same general principles, they aren’t the same thing.
Diets have been shown to unequivocably show initial success but according to research, they aren’t successful in helping keep the weight off long term. Changing your approach food, changing the types and quality of food you eat and eating mindfully are key elements of doing an overall lifestyle shift. It’s the latter, mixed with consistent exercise that has been shown to be effective over the long haul so why then are we, as a society, so focused on dieting?
Based on my observations and experience, I would have to say that overall it’s because of a few key reasons.
We are Creatures of Habit: Seriously – not many of us like real change. We are comfortable eating the foods we know and love and many of us don’t ever want to give them up. We can’t believe – or won’t – that the foods we eat don’t provide us with the necessary nutrients we need to get through every day. We also find it hard to believe that we don’t need half as much as we eat in any given day so cutting back is always a major issue that causes our bodies a ton of stress.
We want Instant Gratification: How many times have you started a diet and after 2 – 3 days you are staring anxiously at the scale or in the mirror and looking for results? Totally guilty of that. In our society, we have become used to getting results and information right away. It’s not different with our expectations of our weight. We expect that when we start a diet that it will instantly melt the pounds off and make us slim. When it doesn’t, we give up. I don’t know if we as a society just lost the skill to persevere or whether with all the technology available at our finger tips that it’s just highlighted this issue. I do know that because of this, diets have an appeal that a longterm lifestyle doesn’t. They are touted as fast, easy and effective – which is all we have time for anyways right? So until we figure out that diets are just a cash cow for companies offering us those quick fixes, we will continue to spend billions of dollars every year trying to get skinnier.
We Value being Skinny over Being Healthy: While I do see some changes to this happening, overall the goal is to get skinny not healthy. When someone comments on my weight loss, invariably they will ask me what my goal weight is and how much longer I will be ‘doing this’. By that I take it to mean, being on a diet and as diets have end dates .. well at some point I have to be done with this painful process right? My answer always surprises people because I don’t have a specific goal weight in mind. I will be honest, my goal is to be strong and healthy – and this is normally what I say. The comical reactions I get from friends to complete strangers tell their own story. In our society, no one expects a diet to last more than a few months and you always, but always, are striving to be skinny over healthy. My hope is that through sharing current industry information and my own experiences that maybe we can try to change that ideology. Illusions of grandeur, I know. But I can hope that one day instead of focusing on losing weight to just be skinny, that we can learn how to live a healthy lifestyle that keeps our weight in check and keeps us strong & fit.
Convenience is Key: While this reflects some of the same points as being creatures of habits, it does merit its own mention. Food is scary. If you do any kind of research into how the food industry has changed both how much food we eat and the actual chemical make-up of our favourite foods, it’s frightening. It’s easier to keep on eating what we have always eaten rather than changing the types of food we eat. Processed foods, frozen foods, diet foods, fast foods – they are all eaten way in excess of fresh, whole foods because of two key reasons. Convenience & Habit. We live crazy, busy lives. We can’t be expected to actually cook using whole foods right? If the food was good enough for us before, why isn’t it good now? We don’t see that the food we are eating isn’t real food anymore. That chemicals – which our bodies don’t know how to process properly – make up a frightening amount of the foods many of us rely on. We don’t have time to research it, so we ignore it. So convenience, while seemingly vital to our everyday lives, is essentially the main reason why we diet yet never change.
We Idolize Food: Psychologically, food is more than fuel – it’s comfort. It creates an emotional response in our bodies and its the star of every party and celebration. Food is glamorized on TV where chefs prepare an endless array of delightful dishes. Food IS life. Giving it up – even parts of it – are all most of us can do for short periods of time. We crave it, we love how it makes us feel and like any drug – we are always thinking about when we are eating next and what will be starring on our plates. This is why diets are so painful for most. They change what and how much we eat, they restrict calories and they ultimately cheat us of pleasure. Most of us can only do this for short sprints so it makes sense then why diets are a staple of our society. Many people can’t, or won’t see, that eating a healthy, balanced diet longterm is feasible. It’s too hard and we are giving up too much. If you follow Chef Jamie Oliver at all – and I do – then you know the impact that food and obesity is having on our society today. He is a huge advocate for a healthy lifestyle but the majority of us tune him out. He says plainly that diet related diseases account for 60% of deaths – but no one talks about it. In order for us to start really embracing the concept of living a healthy lifestyle I think we need to examine the role that food plays in our lives and find other – healthier – options to get the pleasure and fulfillment that we need (how about exercise??? talk about a natural high!).
These are all reasons – that I see – as being the factors to why we as a society favor diets over living a healthy lifestyle and I am sure there are more but essentially, these are the reasons I see why billions of dollars are spent on diets every year in North America. These are also the reasons why I believe they will never bring about the lasting changes so many of us desperately want.
If you are truly interested in achieving longterm health and fitness goals then I believe it starts with more than just going on a diet. It starts with a committment to yourself, your body and to finding a new way to live your life longterm. It’s a life I have committed to and I will be sharing more about that in future posts.
In my last post, I mentioned that Chef Jamie Oliver is a passionate advocate for living a healthy lifestyle. If you have never seen what he says about the obesity epidemic then I invite you to view it here. He shines the spotlight on the disturbing trends our society have today in terms of how much we eat, what we eat and the lack of education we are providing to our children. It’s very impactful.
I am on a journey to eat healthier, to get stronger and I am always reading articles and watching videos that relate to these interests. With years of failed dieting and consistent weight gain, I have known all too well the impact that food has played in my life and how it has affected my overall health.
Today I just wanted to say that we need to start paying better attention to the foods we eat. If we don’t, then I can foresee that food will be the instrument of our destruction. Yes, doom and gloom. I know. But think about it. Our population is exploding and nature is always striving to find a balance in life. There are countless shows and movies out there about plagues and contagions but what if the thing that does us in is the thing that we trust and find comfort in the most? Crazy. And we will probably never see it coming.
So many of us eat an over abundance of processed foods (or food-like options), fast foods and chemicals that we have changed forever the expectations we have of our meals. It has to taste great. It has to make us groan with contentment. It has to give us pleasure and comfort with every meal. Food is our drug of choice and it’s glamorized on TV and in magazines everywhere. It’s the star of any get together and the thing that people rely on when times get tough. It is the essence of our society.
So we eat food-like things, we eat way too much of them, we are addicted to sugar … and it’s a rollar coaster we need to get off of. Diets don’t address this problem because they are just quick fixes before we go back to ‘regular eating’. It’s the food itself that is the issue.
It’s time for a food revolution. Seriously. It’s time.
If we are going to truly make a change for the better, we need to address all of the following:
Food Labeling: We need to make big companies be responsible for accurately labelling the foods they sell
Stopping the Production of Processed Foods: Convenience can’t be king anymore folks – sorry. Processed foods have hardly any nutrients and contain far more chemicals than anything else. Time to go back to cooking with whole foods!
Educating Ourselves and Our Kids: This means taking cooking classes, teaching our kids about food basics and meal prep so that they can take these important life skills with them. This alone will allow them to live longer and healthier lives.
Focus on Lifestyle not on Diet: We as a society need to focus on eating to nourish our bodies, not punish them. By changing our approach to food, advocating mindful eating and throwing out the ideal of being skinny – I know this could happen. It’s just a matter of whether we care enough to change.
So that is my rant for the day and I hope – if any of this strikes a chord – that you will start implementing some of these steps in your own life today.