10 Things to Think About When Deciding to Lose Weight
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I was planning to write something else today. I had a clear idea. But this morning, like almost every morning for the last six months, I stepped on the scale. But today, it finally displayed a result I?d been reaching for. I looked down, and here it was: I weighed 59.9kgs, right there under my 60kgs endgame. I?m aware most of you use the Imperial system, so that?s about 130 pounds. According to my estimations, that?s 18kgs or 40 pounds from my starting point.
I talk about estimations because, as you may have noticed, I only weighed for the last six months, even though I started seven months ago. The first month and a half, I didn?t even step on a scale. In fact, I hadn?t stepped on one in the year preceding that, and I?d only done it a couple times in the three years before. I didn?t want to know, and I didn?t think it should matter. Weight was a number. Why should I focus my time and energy on a number? What mattered was how I felt about my body, that was it. One measure didn?t tell the whole story. So my philosophy was not to weigh myself.
I?d also never been on a diet in my life. For most of it, I hadn?t needed to. And the last few years, I didn?t feel I needed to either. I knew ideally, I?d want to lose the weight. I kept my clothes that had become too tight ? and I?m fucking glad I did ? thinking I?d lose it later on. But I didn?t feel I needed to, or that I was fat. Most people wouldn?t have called me fat either. I was curvy, and I liked my body well enough.
But I was overweight, and I?d come around to that fact. I knew my weight approximately. I knew I?d accumulated it in a few years and I wanted it to stop. I could feel my clothes fitting me differently, or starting not to fit. So back in October, I decided when I?d finally leave my job and spend a lot of time at home, I?d start paying more attention. I?d try to control my appetite. I Googled a bunch of stuff for techniques to do that. To me, this was the key. I didn?t eat between meals much, but I ate big meals.
I began on November 3rd.
1. It?s a Bad Idea to Keep Drinking.
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My first week on a diet, I went to a bar, I drank three pints of strong beer, and I was wasted. I then proceeded to tell someone I barely knew ? but still would have to run into later ? about my rape. And I was hung over the next day, all day. Now, bad decisions happening while you?re drunk have nothing to do with the diet. As it happens, I also have a drinking problem.
But dieting makes it worse. It should come as no surprise that when you eat less, your system can?t handle your drinking as well. A week before, three pints would never have gotten me that drunk. I?d exercised my liver for years, I could handle my liquor fine. But I?d eaten a small meal that day, that was it. The hangover was hard.
I drastically limited my drinking after that. It was because of my diet, but it wasn?t even because of the high calorie-level of alcohol. Rather, as dangerous as my alcohol consumption was before, maintaining it while I was dieting was downright reckless.
I?m not saying you shouldn?t drink anything at all. I still do, sometimes, and I reduce my food intake when I do. But I don?t drink more than two portions. And I try not to drink more than once or twice a week. Of course, I sometimes break the rule, but the important thing is to drink consciously. If you can?t, it?s better not to drink at all ? trust me, I?ve been there.
2. If You Want to Follow Through, Measure Your Progress.
My weight loss curve, in kilograms
The strategies to cut my appetite worked, as did alcohol reduction. Three weeks in, I could feel my jeans weren?t as tight around the knees. Small changes. But, I didn?t know. You?re not gonna lose weight so fast that you?ll notice the changes day-to-day. Of course, now I do see it, but that?s because I lost 40 pounds. I can?t tell the difference between now and 4 pounds ago, though. And when you don?t know if what you?re doing is working, it?s difficult to find reasons to keep going.
I ended up buying a Bluetooth body composition scale before Christmas because I wanted to know if what I was doing worked. That?s why measuring helps. When you set goals, you need to be able to measure your progress towards achieving them. ?Feeling better about your body? is definitely a better goal than ?losing 40 pounds?, in theory. However, any marketer or business person will tell you investing your efforts in the second one will be more effective.
One reason being, you can know if what you?re doing works. As soon as you can conclude it doesn?t, you can try something else. And you get results on that, so you adjust until you find something that does work.
As a philosophy, it sucks. I still think one measure doesn?t tell the whole story. Luckily, my scale does several. Jokes aside, body composition scales are a bit more expensive, but they?re affordable these days. They?re not very accurate, but they?re accurate enough that you can relax when your weight goes up because of water retention. And it happens often enough. Also, the good old measuring tape is a nice option to follow your progress, and know where you?ve lost the weight. You shouldn?t do it more than once a month, but it?s also good data.
I don?t like the idea of weighing myself every day, I don?t. But that?s what works best. As soon as I?m confident my weight is stable, I?ll go back to monitoring sometimes, but for now, it?s the smart thing to do.
3. Set Yourself A Healthy, Attainable Goal and Don?t Go Further.
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Another reason why ?losing 40 pounds? is a better goal when it comes to weight loss than ?feeling better about my body?: the latter is too subjective. Sure, that?s great if you can feel better about your body. And if you feel good enough that in the end the 40 pounds don?t matter to you that much and you stop before that, even better. But it?s the opposite scenario I?m worried about. How much will be enough? What if you lose the weight and don?t feel better about your body? What if you keep going indefinitely?
You need to set yourself a limit. I still have some fat I?d like to lose. I?ll try to do exercise ? which I haven?t done during the diet ? and burn some fat while adding a bit of muscle. But when I realised I would indeed get to my goal, I vowed not to go under 60kgs, and to maintain my weight there. It?s important to pick a weight that?s in your healthy range and stick to it. You can work on your body composition if you want to afterwards, but don?t go further down.
Sometimes you don?t feel good about your body, and weight is something you obsess about, but it?s not the real reason. I know it hasn?t resolved all of my issues. But I also know no matter how much weight I lose, it won?t.
Eating disorders are common enough that you can?t take that lightly. You need to realise going in that you?re going to obsess over your weight. I?m not kidding, you are. No matter how cool you?re taking it, how mentally stable you are, if you?re ambitious about your weight loss and you?re serious, you?re going to obsess over it. Chances are you won?t go crazy, but this will take an excessive amount of importance in your life and your mental space. So, consider the risks, and if you do decide to go ahead, your ultimate priority needs to be your physical and psychological health. It?s the single most important criteria.
4. Educate Yourself. Make Google Work For You.
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I could list you all the foods I ate, but the truth is, they?re not all recommendable, and we might not like the same things. Moreover, people don?t eat the same ways and enjoy the same foods in every part of the world. This is not about making lists and telling you what to do. There?s plenty of resources online that do that. What I?m trying to do here is give you insight into the overall process and give you advice for you to tailor your diet to your needs, if you want to.
In January and February, I sometimes spent entire days researching the web and reading about nutrition. I downloaded and tested a lot of apps before settling on a few. I considered several diets or techniques, I tried some of them. Some I kept, others didn?t work for me. Not necessarily in the sense that they weren?t effective, but sometimes I didn?t feel like following them.
Anyway, I spent an indecent amount of time reading posts like the one I?m writing now. More often, I went over lists of which foods to eat for fibre, or protein, or healthy fats etc. And then I wrote down those I thought I?d be willing to try. You don?t need to try all of them ? you shouldn?t. Read a bunch of them, write down what you think can work for you (consider the budget if needed, that was a thing for me, too). And next time you shop, experiment.
Finally, pick the methodology that suits you. I only did it in December and stuck with it afterwards when I read more about the options. I ended up doing a ?macro? or ?flexible? diet. I determined how much weight I wanted to lose each week, how many calories I?d eat on each day, how many proteins, carbs and fats. After that, I?d use a calorie-counting app with a macro breakdown (Lifesum, MyFitnessPal and FatSecret are all options I used for a while) to plan my day.
These are personal choices. I would recommend you my diet, and I do, but everyone?s different. It?s flexible, so that?s great. But flexibility means you?ve got to count everything to balance things out, and I get that some people don?t want to bother with it. So look up other things, and try them. There?s no one-size-fits-all approach.
5. Eat Plenty of Vegetables and Other Low-Calorie Foods.
I know, this one?s obvious. I knew I was supposed to eat vegetables to have a healthy diet. I knew that, everybody does. But I didn?t eat vegetables.
The truth is, I only realised how great vegetables and other foods were when I started paying attention to calories. I was opening a jar of green beans that my old roommate had left at the apartment long ago, and wondering if I should eat all of it. I looked at the label, and I was amazed. Shit, I could eat as much of this stuff as I wanted! The whole box, which filled a big plate (it?s supposed to be three normal portions), was only 120 calories. That?s somewhere between a tenth of your daily intake if you?re on a very restrictive diet, to a twentieth if you?re an average-sized guy. For a whole plate of food.
What?s even more impressive is when you compare it to other things. It?s as many calories as two squares of chocolate. Eating vegetables compared to things like pasta or rice means you?re gonna eat at least 4 times fewer calories for the same size portion. And you won?t be 4 times more hungry, this stuff fills you. Not as much as the heavy stuff, but still, you?re fine.
People ? my old self included ? generally think of diets as something very restrictive, with tiny portions. I had the opposite approach. Whenever I did 500-calorie days (as part of the ?5/2 Intermittent Fasting? approach, which I followed for a time), my portions were huge. I made my salads big enough to fill a medium-sized bowl, and I?d eat it straight from there. I skipped the fatty dressings and spritzed lemon juice, pepper, sometimes a bit of soy sauce in there. Don?t limit yourself, it?s painful. Find stuff that is so light that you can eat huge portions of it and it doesn?t matter. However, don?t overdo it, use your common sense.
6. Drink Water ? Or a Zero-Calorie Drink.
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I?m one of these weird people that don?t like water. I know, it?s absurd. The thing has no taste, but that?s why I don?t like it. I?m not a complicated person, apart from that. I?ll eat almost anything, I?m French. I?ll drink water with my meal because I have food in my mouth already, and I definitely love water when it?s hot outside, and I buy a fresh bottle to drink from. But I?m pretty sure that?s survival instincts.
Outside meals, however, if I start to feel like I should drink something, it?s not gonna be water. I won?t like it. I used to drink orange juice ? I was hooked on orange juice. If I had to bet, I?d say the 40-pound intake in 5 years was booze primarily, and orange juice accounted for the rest. Except orange juice is too high in calories to drink just that.
When I started dieting, at first, I used tea. The thing was when I went out, Coke Zero was a more convenient choice. And in the end, I went with Coke Zero on a daily basis. I don?t recommend that. Tea is definitely a better and healthier option, but I was too lazy for the heating and cooling period. And Coke Zero does work for weight loss compared to other things that do contain sugar. So, it?s good enough for me.
My point is, we drink a lot during the day. And drinks can be very sweet, too. So, if you like water enough that you don?t mind drinking it, good, stick to water. If you don?t, it?s also fine. Find yourself a drink that will make it easy for you to restrict your sugar intake.
7. Find a Way to Incorporate Foods You Love.
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If you eat stuff you don?t enjoy eating, it?s gonna make it hard for you to stick to your diet. Eating is something we love to do. You can?t make it a chore, it?s depressing, and it?s not sustainable.
I never used to eat breakfast. However, going into the diet, I knew eating breakfast was important. I still had to figure out what to eat. I started with cereal, but in the end, I found it was too high in calories, and I didn?t like it so much. At some point, I bought a blender for smoothies, and I fell onto a Caramel Frappuccino Recipe. I?ve always loved caramel. I?m a fan of the Starbucks drink, except it costs a fortune and it?s not precisely diet-material. Now, I make one every morning for my breakfast. I looked up a diet version online, and I found no-sugar alternatives for the caramel flavour. I tweaked it over time, and now it?s a Diet Caramel Banana Frappuccino. And I love it.
It?s not the only example I have. But I made sure I loved the food I ate more than I did before dieting. Because cooking takes more time than heating up a frozen meal from the supermarket. So you have to make it worthwhile. It will take some time, but you?ll find healthy foods (even not-so-healthy ones from time to time) that you can incorporate in your diet. And every time you do, you?ll feel great. That?s a guilt-free meal you love you found.
You don?t even need to be good at cooking. I?m terrible at cooking. I got better because of the diet since I actually had to look up how to cook vegetables and like, chicken ? yeah, I was that bad. But see, you don?t need to be a good cook. You find the ingredients, look up recipes that look enticing to you (you might get ideas), buy everything you need, and try.
8. Plan Ahead For Social Events.
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Okay, I?ve got to be honest. The most challenging thing about dieting is all that happens when you?re around people. I like people, I love going out, but there?s no doubt it makes things complicated.
Anyone cooking for you is a hassle because they have no idea what you?re used to. My mom knows I?m on a diet, but she?s so into the social aspect of eating she?ll always try to make me eat stuff. She?d still insist on offering smoothies, because ?It?s only fruit?. It?s a way she connects with people. Food is a huge deal for many people. Alcohol is, too.
So you need to plan ahead. You need to think before you go. Think of the steps you?re gonna take to avoid emptying a bag of crisps when you get hungry. You may need to pack something healthy to eat or eat before you leave. You need to take a soft drink because you might be the only one not drinking booze. If you do plan to drink a little alcohol, figure out how much beforehand so you don?t overdo it. And still, pack a soft alternative, so you?re not tempted to drink more.
There?s a lot of thinking to do because you can?t find something you can eat on the spot, or at least you can?t do that on a regular basis. So if you go out often, you?ve got to figure out a system that works well enough.
9. Don?t Be Too Rigid Either.
It?s okay to let go of the diet once in a while, especially on vacation. Oh, I Googled the hell out of ?how to diet on vacation? and alternative queries. I went on (short) vacations three times during those seven months. I went to Brussels for New Year?s, I went to Rome in March, and I travelled to the South of France a few weeks ago. For Brussels, I didn?t worry too much because it was the holidays. I knew it wasn?t gonna be the best time to be serious about dieting. Plus, I hadn?t entered my serious phase. For Rome however, I was in the middle of it. But, what was I supposed to do, not eat delicious Italian food on my vacation? Yep, that wasn?t going to happen.
I ended up pausing my diet every time. Of course, I still was careful. It wasn?t like I ate whatever I wanted and filled up on pasta and pizza. But I did eat reasonable amounts, and I didn?t count. I also drank some, but not too much. And I did the same thing during my last vacation. I tried to eat healthy as often as I could, but I I allowed myself to eat regular meals and to drink more often than I would at home.
And you know what? I lost weight in Rome. Yep, I didn?t take public transportation once while I was there and all the walking ? we walked A LOT ? made the difference. Back when I was in the South of France, I didn?t lose weight, but I didn?t gain any either. In Brussels, I did gain weight (at first, about 5 pounds), but it turned out to be water retention for the most part. In a week I was back to my weight before going. So, don?t panic, and enjoy yourself once in a while. If it?s part of your routine, you need to be careful, but for special occasions, just let it go a little. Don?t overdo it, but let it go.
10. Make It Sustainable.
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People always ask me which diet I?m doing. I never know how to answer. I generally say I eat a bit of everything, but less of it, and I count all of it. Last week, someone followed up and said Weight Watchers? No, I?m not following a program. People absolutely want to follow one. Even though from what I know, Weight Watchers is a good one, I don?t see weight loss as a program. It?s the start of a lifestyle change.
It?s important to realise that except if you only want to lose the four kilos you gained because you binge-drank all summer long, serious weight loss isn?t about finding a magic program that will work and then you?ll be ?back to normal?. You won?t. To begin with, you won?t be back to your ?normal? of when you were heavier, because you?ll need to eat less to maintain a lower weight level. But you?ll also need to eat less than you did when you were the weight you want to go back to.
My next month is gonna be pretty much the same as the month that came. Except I?ll be eating a bit more and I?ll try to figure out what my new normal needs to be to maintain the weight. I?ll need to measure what I eat for a bit and monitor the results, and adapt. But I?m not gonna stop eating salad and vegetables. Or my Caramel-Banana Frappuccino.
So whatever you choose your diet to be, don?t do something so drastic that you can?t sustain it after you?ve lost the weight. Or if you do, have a set plan for when you lose it. It goes back to the Educate Yourself part. It?s also important because knowing about nutrition means you?ll be able to apply that to your everyday life even after you?ve done.
That?s why whenever someone tells me about a product, or a program, or a diet where you don?t eat carbs, I?m like ?Mmh yeah but like when you do eat carbs again, what happens??. Now, some people don?t eat carbs again, and they?re fine with it. But if you do want to eat carbs again at some point, it might not be great to do a long, and serious diet based on not eating carbs. At least, have a plan for when you come back to carbs, and read about that thoroughly. Your dieting period is not something difficult to get over with, it?s something to start with and build on from there.
That being said, there?s a celebratory kebab waiting for me right now. The same way I?ve promised myself I?d get there, I also promised myself a treat when I would. And damn, it?s been a long time coming.