I’ve lost 50(ish) pounds twice so far in my life. I don’t recommend doing it if you can avoid it, because, to be honest, it’s a drag (though I’m glad I did it both times.) The first time, which is a long story that I’ll make irritatingly short, is that I used to struggle with Binge Eating Disorder, which interfered with my weight and health until I finally started getting professional help psychologically, nutritionally and physically.
The second time is just about now, as I finally get down to the last couple pounds of baby weight. It took me almost exactly a year to take it all off, which is, again, a drag, but at the same time, I’m not beating myself up over it. I gained the weight I gained and I took it off the way I took it off. Neither was very unhealthy or dramatic.
So here are the four tenets I’ve learned about being healthy and feeling good in my body, things that I would tell anyone because they don’t involve some level of psychotic compulsion or deprivation. I think these apply to just about anyone, regardless of size, age or general situation, because I think they’re that basic when it comes to doing your body a solid.
1.) Separate food and exercise. I used to do that thing, when I was a binger, where if I had a crappy eating day, I wouldn’t go to the gym, because what was the point anyway. And if I couldn’t go to the gym (or, more realistically, didn’t want to), I’d eat crappy because what was the point anyway. The only days I ate right were when I went to the gym and the only time I went to the gym were on the days I ate right. “Right” here describes a state of nutritional perfection that is devoid of joy and pretty unattainable. This, clearly, was an unhappy marriage. Once I started seeing my therapist, she had me do an experiment where I simply stopped going to the gym for a few weeks so I could focus on my eating without bringing exercise into the mix. In the years since, the days I don’t work out occur because it’s a rest day, or I’m not feeling well, or it’s logistically impossible. What I ate has nothing to do with it. And based on everything I’ve learned from my dealings with a nutritionist, nutritionally-focused psychologist, not to mention nine years working at a nutrition journal, I’ve learned that that food and exercise do totally different things to your body. Just because tinkering with them both may lead to physical change doesn’t mean that one is a replacement for the other.
2.) Just exercise in the morning. Just get it over with. Just do it enough times that it’s not that big a deal anymore. You get up early now? Get up earlier. You don’t have time to get to the gym or can’t afford a treadmill in your house? Get the dog or the baby or whomever and a mug of coffee and just go for a good brisk walk, maybe listening to the news or some good tunes on your Ipod or something. When you’re done you already feel like you’ve accomplished something and you haven’t even had a shower yet—good for you! Then at the end of the day you don’t need to fight your inertia. You have free time to go for drinks or whatever. I know, this isn’t practical for all but if it is remotely practical for you, it’s just ideal because there’s such a significantly lower of chance of blowing it off once you can get used to knocking it out in the morning. I am pretty sure there are studies out there too that show that exercising in the morning is better for you but even if you told me that exercising in the morning was 50% less effective than doing it in the evening I’d still do it. That’s how much getting it over with first thing in the morning means to me. To make it easier, I put my workout clothes in my bathroom the night before (so I’m not fumbling around in the dark) and I give myself 15 minutes to drink coffee and read Facebook before I get going, so that I feel somewhat human first.
3.) Whatever you do, do it for your butt. As I get older I realize how much I cherish my regularity. I’m sorry if that’s gross but it’s true. Having a funky system can affect your physical state and mood from a fundamental place—literally, you’re unhappy on the inside. Little things can help keep the pipes clear. Physical exercise is one (this is why I exercised a lot when I was pregnant.) Adding some sort of fruit or vegetable at every meal is another. Even if I’m going to eat the fattest, greasiest, cheesiest pizza on earth, I’m going to send some salad down there first as a sort of chaperone. I try to limit foods that we all know God did not intend us to eat too much of—which isn’t to say I won’t try a Taco Bell Doritos Loco taco, but maybe just one (or two.) And not eating too much of anything, too. An ice cream cone is one thing—a whole carton, I know I’m in trouble. Once again, this isn’t about calories: it’s about trying to think about how awful my tummy/butt will feel the next day.
4.) Don’t believe in dumb miracles. Just ask yourself, the next time you see one of those ads or hear one of those radio spots that asks if you want to lose “Up to 30 pounds or more” (a phrase whose meaninglessness I find delightful): When was the last time I spoke with an actual living human being whose life was changed in the long term due to Sensa or a Kardashian-endorsed product or some cookie that allegedly filled up your stomach? The answer is never, because you didn’t. Don’t waste your time and money with that stuff. You are too smart for that.
These tips will not probably miraculously change your body or make your friends jealous or give you 9 consistent hours of energy every day but this is why I make so little money off my weight loss schemes. And if you ever want to split a salad and a hamburger, I’m your girl.