In this series, this may be the most difficult post for me to write, probably because I haven’t lived this long enough to feel like I can coach others. If anything, I’ve struggled in this area for the better part of a decade and have only had recent success. I guess I’ll view it like I do the guitar. I can show rookie guitarists how I’ve learned and what I play, though I’m still so new at the instrument. Similarly, I can share what has worked for me not just to lose weight but to feel healthier and stronger. Here goes.
Before I offer my tips, though, I think it’s important first to emphasize that we live in a society that worships appearance and sexuality. We can’t determine our worth based on what we look like, because even if we achieve six-pack abs or the bikini body we see in magazines and on TV, age will catch up with us.
Peter is addressing women, but we men can heed his counsel as well:
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. —1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV
Our character and relationship with God and with others deserves a far superior focus. There is no denying, however, that our physical health also weighs on us spiritually—pardon the pun. Eating healthy and getting active honors the temple we are. As does quitting smoking and eliminating dependence on caffeine.
At just 5 foot 9, depending on how big my hair is on a given day, I weighed almost 190 pounds about a year ago. I haven’t lost a lot of weight, just 15 pounds, but I’ve put on more muscle than I’ve ever had, which isn’t saying much. I’m certain I could have done more in the past year, but I relaxed for weeks at a time after I reached mini-goals. My ultimate goal is about 10 more and to continue adding muscle. Here are some thoughts:
- Diet fads don’t usually work long term because you can’t normally sustain them. Changing the way you view food and what kinds of food you eat is more important than cutting out fat or carbs altogether. You can’t drink shakes for your meals for the rest of your life.
- Choose to live healthy, not just lose weight. Checking in on the scale regularly is important to monitor your progress, but health is determined by other things like cholesterol level and blood pressure.
- Exercise is good—most of us aren’t active enough—but it still comes down to food and drink choices. If you start exercising but don’t change what and how much you eat, then you’ll see little change.
- Start cutting out processed foods, eating as natural as possible. You’ll have to increase your food budget, because real food costs more. But you’ll make up for it in less medical costs. We’ve switched to brown rice and whole grain pasta, for instance, as these sustain longer.
- Don’t look at fast food restaurants as a regular option. Sure, it’s cheap, but it’s not good for you. Packing my lunch is the healthier and more economical way to go.
- Watch the documentary Food Inc. and you’ll develop a distaste for processed meat.
- Read labels, not just the nutrition facts but the ingredients too. This will make your grocery trips longer until you learn what foods are good to buy. The fewer ingredients and the less difficult they are to pronounce the better.
- Log your food and exercise. This isn’t for everybody, but everybody should try it. I use an app on my phone called LoseIt!, which syncs with their online version: loseit.com. I’ve come to view food like I do money. If I’m allotted about 2,300 calories a day and so much of it should come from fat, protein, and carbs, then I need to budget for it. This program has been instrumental in helping learn not just what I should eat but what foods are the best fuel for me. More protein and less sugars, for instance, are better for me. More nuts, less raisins. If you’d like, join me on loseit.com, where we can share our progress and encourage one another. Sign up then search my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Eat less, more often. Definitely don’t skip meals. I used to like larger meals three times a day. Now, dinner is still somewhat big, but I’ll eat less at lunch and supplement with 150-200 calorie snacks.
- Stay hydrated. Drink a lot of water. But watch alcoholic drinks, which are often high in calories.
- Set a reasonable workout schedule. I knew I couldn’t work out every day, so I went with four 60-minute workouts a week. I now work out about 75 minutes three times a week, and I don’t fret if I have to miss one of those days. Remember, what I choose to eat still trumps whether or not I exercise.
- Add strength training to your cardio workout. Read more about this in Jillian Michael’s Winning by Losing. My plan isn’t to look like a body builder, but I want to replace fat with muscle. I haven’t ventured into free weights or exercise balls much. I simply use the machines at the YMCA. I spend about 40% of my workout on the weight machines, or about 20 minutes. Don’t rest too long between sets; keep your heart rate up.
- Keep increasing your workout goals. Add more weight. Increase the resistance on the elliptical. Run faster. I’m thinking I may try a 5K this year, though I’m not much of a runner (not yet).
- Eat before and after you work out. You’ll need energy for your workout. Often, I’ll eat half a Clif Bar before my workout then the other half afterward.
By the way, my favorite exercise used to be playing tennis, but I haven’t played regularly in about a decade.
- Cut out artificial sweeteners. Part of being healthy is opting for natural foods. Too much of anything usually isn’t good. I love, utterly love Cherry Coke and can seldom pass it up when I can get it from a fountain. I look forward to trips to Target just for the Cherry Coke. But I only allow myself one or two, maybe three in a week—a far cry from the daily 44 oz Thirst Busters I threw back when I lived in Arizona. Opt for the regular soda over the diet. Most people who drink diet sodas are overweight and will stay that way. Drink real soda less often. Aspartame is bad news.
- As is high fructose corn syrup. (Another reason I limit my Cherry Cokes. I try to find those 12 oz glass bottles of Coca Cola that feature real sugar.) Check out the Stuff You Should Know podcast about high fructose corn syrup.
- As with anything, moderation is key. I still enjoy ice cream, just not every night. I particularly like Breyer’s Strawberry, made with real milk, sugar, and cream. I love the goodies at Panera but try to eat in one sitting only half of whatever I buy.