Girl, Treat Yo Self

I guess I should start out this post by saying that I don’t really just love the term “cheat meal”. Mainly because, from the beginning of my weight loss journey, I have always fully intended on including more indulgent meals into my meal plan twice a week. I scheduled them deliberately, for many reasons that I’ll explain. So for me, and my plan, I wasn’t cheating. For me, they were “Mental Sanity Meals”, so from here on out, I’ll just call them MSM’s.

Last Saturday morning, I hit a new low weight! 137.2 pounds, a weight that I’ve not seen since probably 6th grade. And while I was excited to see that number on the scale, I knew it wasn’t going to last, because Saturdays for me, are a scheduled MSM day. And man, we did it right that day! img_0366I woke up, went to the gym, drank my protein shake, ate my normal breakfast, and then for lunch, we made a trip to Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. When you walk into a restaurant that sells chocolate bars wrapped up like butter in the lobby, that’s when you know you’ve hit the mother load of MSM’s.

As suspected, it was delicious. I’ll spare you the details, just in case this is not your MSM day, lest I cause you to drool. Normally, on a diet, this would’ve meant for me that I had failed. I blew it. I have no will power, and I’m weak. However, the more I researched about MSM’s, the more I realized how necessary they are for most people, and that there are actually some great scientific and mental benefits to scheduling them into your week.

First, let’s talk mental benefits. Most of the time, when we’re on a diet, we look at food as either “good” or “bad”. We’ve been told that to be successful, we need to be 100% consistent, and to really commit. So what normally happens, is that we do okay for a few weeks, depriving ourselves, normally at a large calorie deficit, and then something happens. Somebody brings food to work, or there’s a birthday party, or we just simply don’t have time to go home and get our meal prepped food. We’ve been in such a large calorie deficit for several weeks now, that inevitably, our body starts to rebel. Mentally, we can’t take it anymore. We finally cave, we stuff ourselves until we’re ready to explode, and then feel horrible. Guilt sets in and we feel like we have to fix it. So what do we do? A lot of times, we restrict ourselves even more to make up for overindulging. And then, we start the whole cycle over again. Restrict, binge, back and forth. But what if you didn’t start out a diet starving yourself? What if you started eating enough calories to still be in a deficit, but not feel like you could eat the paint off the walls? What if you could still work some of your favorite foods that you craved into your meal plan, and know that you only had to follow it for 4-5 days until you could have a scheduled MSM? Ahhh, so much better for my mental state, and so much easier to sustain long-term.

Mentally, the benefits are wonderful, but there’s also scientific reasons for why we mentally struggle. As I said in my previous post all about macros, I am not a doctor or nutritionist, this is just what I’ve learned by doing my own research on this topic and I want to share with you what I’ve learned.

Leptin, Gherlin, and Glycogen

Leptin is the appetite suppressing hormone. After being in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, leptin levels start to decrease. Which is why after being in a calorie deficit for a few weeks, your cravings are out of control. It’s not because you’re weak, or because your will power is horrible. It’s because your body is doing what God designed it to do, it’s trying to not let you starve. It’s telling you that your body is in a deficit, and it’s dropping your appetite suppressing hormones to scream, “EAT SOMETHING!”

At the same time our body is dropping leptin levels, it is rising our levels of ghrelin, the hunger stimulating hormone. While I can imagine both of these natural body processes are amazing if you’re a nomad, searching for food as your job everyday, when you’re actually trying to lose weight, they can be a real kick in the teeth.

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July 2016 to April 2018 

Glycogen, also discussed in a previous blog post, is how our body stores carbohydrates for energy in our liver. After eating a low carb diet, or being in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, our stored glycogen gets depleted. When this happens, we generally have low energy and feel sluggish, especially during workouts.

Looking at these 3 things, it’s easy to see how a MSM can be beneficial not only mentally, but biologically. When you eat a meal higher in carbs and calories, you’re signaling to your body that you’re not starving. The hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin stabilize, and glycogen stores are replenished. Which basically means, your cravings are in check, you’ve given your metabolism a little jolt, and you have more energy to keep moving forward with your meal plan for another 4-5 days until it’s time to replenish again.

MSM Guidelines

img_0491.jpgAs you can probably tell, I’m a firm believer in the MSM. I have allowed myself two a week, for the entire length of my weight loss journey, and have been able to keep losing weight steadily for the last 18 months, but I do have some general guidelines for them:

  1. They are scheduled meals, not spur of the moment, emotional decisions. I know my schedule for the week, and don’t justify moving my MSM unless it is absolutely necessary because of something out of my control.
  2. I have whatever I’m craving, which is usually carb-rich, fatty foods, like fajitas, pizza, or pasta.
  3. I don’t use it as an excuse to “Binge”. This one is still a challenge for me sometimes, especially if I’m eating at a restaurant with huge portions. Not only because I’m eating one of my favorite foods and I want to inhale it, but also because I don’t take home leftovers. Restaurant leftovers can quickly turn my one cheat meal into 2 or 3.
  4. This is a big one. VERY IMPORTANT! A MSM is ALWAYS a meal I didn’t have to cook. This is very key!
  5. I eat whatever I want on the menu, and then I forget about it, and go straight back to my meal plan until the next MSM.

What to Do After a MSM

After a MSM, the most important thing to do is to move on. Don’t worry that you’re not making progress or that you’ve set yourself back. All you’ve done, is tell you’re body that you’re not starving it, that you’re fine, and that when you start feeding it in a deficit again tomorrow, it’s okay to continue dropping body fat.img_0492 It is true that you’ll most likely gain a couple of pounds of water weight, but you won’t gain actual body fat. In my experience, the water weight from the increase in sodium usually goes away after a couple of days. After a MSM, one of the big things I do to help things along, is to just continue drinking lots of water to help flush things out. Other than that, I don’t restrict my diet, I just go back to eating my regularly planned out meals.

I hope this helps you somewhat understand the reasoning and actual biological benefits to scheduling yourself some indulgent meals into your meal plan. It truly does help your body keep going, while in a deficit, for so much longer than if you just try to white knuckle it, dropping those leptin levels until you crack. Learning this information helped me be so much kinder to myself also, because I realized that if I was craving a MSM, it wasn’t because I was weak or because I didn’t have enough will power. My body was just doing what it is naturally designed to do in times of famine. My job is to reset my hormone and glycogen levels, and then get immediately back to work. As of this morning, a week after my big cheat meal with Paula Deen, I’m at 136.6 pounds! Long term weight loss, is about learning to work with your body’s natural processes, not against them.

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My Top 5 Weight Loss Excuses

I’ve really been enjoying sharing my thoughts on weight loss here and on my Instagram. Most weeks, I’ve been pretty good about writing my blog post toward the beginning of the week, giving myself plenty of time to edit and proofread before posting on Saturday. This week, it’s been full-blown procrastination. Working mom mode has been in full effect! It’s been a jam-packed week, full of Easter festivities, baseball,img_0202 work, and trying to squeeze in the gym and meal prep. I feel like I’ve been procrastinating all week, trying to think of what I want to write about, and searching for time to actually sit down and write it. So here I am, on Friday afternoon, trying to form some coherent thoughts while Tyson is squealing, watching his Pops working on his tractor behind our house. So what do you write about after a week of procrastination? I guess let’s talk about excuses and procrastination!

If there’s a support group out there like, Procrastinator’s Anonymous, I might need to lead a meeting. I am horrible about procrastinating. Most of the time I feel like I’m so overwhelmed with such a long to do list, that I just really don’t want to even start. The same was true when it came to weight loss. When I stopped taking Phentermine years ago, and slowly started seeing the scale creep back up, I knew I should nip it in the bud. I knew I shouldn’t let those 10 pounds become 100, but I put it off and put it off, and then got pregnant! I ignored it for so long, and I had some fantastic excuses! I thought I would share some of my top excuses with you, and share how I put the metaphorical duct tape over my mouth and decided to quit using them. I’ll share with you the mindset shifts that helped things click for me, and hopefully they can be helpful for you too! Here are my top 5 go to excuses in no particular order:

#1: This is Just My Body Type

My weight has fluctuated so much over the years, that sometimes it seems like there’s this imaginary set point, and that my body is just meant to be overweight. I love watching shows about obesity and weight loss. My 600 Lb Life, documentaries on Netflix, I love them all. One day I was watching a documentary, and they were pointing out, that all throughout history, obesity was never a huge issue until the last few decades, with the rise of processed and fast food.

Our bodies are amazing machines. God designed them so perfectly, everything working together to maintain homeostasis and keep us alive. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I truly don’t believe God designed any of us to be naturally overweight. Most of the time, our diet, lifestyle, and habits, are the only things leading us to struggle with our weight. This is good news though! For me, it gave me hope that if God designed my body perfectly, just like he designed everyone else’s, then if I did my part, and changed the parts that I controlled, that my body would do what it had been designed to do. While there are some hormonal imbalances and medication that can make it more difficult for some, that wasn’t the case for me, and I don’t believe it is for most. For me, it was completely related to lifestyle, which leads me to #2.

#2: I Don’t Want to Change My Lifestyle

As uncomfortable as I was in my body, I was very comfortable with my lifestyle. I liked spending my days off lying around pregnant on the couch while Levi was in school, and I liked laying around on the couch even more after I had been up all night with a newborn. I didn’t love cooking all the time, but I loved going out to eat for just about every meal.img_0337 Most of my physical activity was on the days I worked, and all that hard work was completely negated by what I ate while I was there. As soon as I walked in the door, put my stuff in my locker, and got report from the off going shift, I immediately went right back down the elevator to the in-house Starbucks to order my breakfast, a Venti White Mocha Frappuccino with almond flavoring added. Large Coffee milkshake please! Breakfast of champions! For lunch, tired of eating hospital chicken strips everyday, I would usually order out from anywhere that would deliver. By the time I got off work at 7 p.m., I was hungry again, and on the prowl for a drive thru.

I can see now, how it’s no surprise at all how I packed on the weight, but at the time, I was just stressed and doing what was easiest. I never thought I would actually be able to figure out a system for meal prep and exercise that I actually enjoyed. Because…

#3: I Hate Exercising

I truly did. As I’ve said before, I tried for quite a while to enjoy running, but for me, there was nothing enjoyable about it. I’ve always heard about this mysterious “Runner’s High”, but never actually experienced it for myself. I always got bored and tired of hearing my heart pounding in my head long before any euphoria could take over and make it even remotely pleasurable. And after the running was over, being as overweight as I was, my body hurt. My knees, hips, and back ached. Not my idea of a good time. I mean have you seen those people on The Biggest Loser? They look absolutely miserable.

I used to love watching The Biggest Loser back in the day, but honestly I think that it can give people unrealistic expectations when it comes to weight loss. img_7875I’m a firm believer that 90% of my personal weight loss success has come from my nutrition, not because of what I’ve done in the gym. Lately, whenever I’ve posted transformation pictures, I get a lot of compliments on my shoulders. Want to know a secret? I hardly work my shoulders, and I feel like they’re probably the weakest part of my body. The only reason my shoulder muscles are visible, is because my nutrition is geared toward fat loss, and that’s just a part of my body where the fat has chosen to come off of more than other parts, revealing the muscle underneath.

I think diet and exercise are both parts of a healthy lifestyle. However, most shows tend to focus so much on the exercise portion, I think, because it looks so much more dramatic than just watching overweight people eat healthy for an hour. Nobody would watch that!img_0335 What they will watch are overweight people killing themselves in the gym for six hours a day and losing 20 pounds in a week. Just enough drama and tears to make it interesting, but unrealistic enough to make it seem impossible for an ordinary person with a family and a full-time job. As a person with a family and a full time job, I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to kill yourself in the gym to start seeing results. Your results will be from your nutrition. It’s true what they say, “You can’t outwork a poor diet.” So just focus on that, and then as your body starts to feel better, you can gradually add in exercise that you actually enjoy.

#4: It’s Too Much to Think About

This one could also be phrased, I shouldn’t have to think about this. There’s a lot of disgruntled feelings surrounding weight loss, for a lot of people. Not only did I not want to have to think about what I ate all of the time, I was mad that I had to. If “Becky” can eat whatever she wants and not have to worry about her weight, img_0338then it’s not fair that I have to. I just wanted to be able to eat whenever, where ever, and whatever I felt like, just like Becky seemed to do. I don’t actually know a Becky, but for this example, just think of her as that super annoying person who always complains about how they struggle to put on weight.

I heard a great example about how to change your mindset around this: It’s just like when you were in school. When I was in school, I never struggled to make good grades in English. Reading and writing always came easy for me, and I enjoyed those classes. Math was another story, I could make decent enough grades in math, but I really had to work at it. Becky was a math whiz, but couldn’t write a paper above a fourth grade reading level to save her life! We all have strengths and weaknesses.  My struggle in life might be my weight, and while I roll my eyes every time Becky remarks about how she lost 5 pounds without trying last month, maybe Becky can’t ever seem to pay a bill on time, or screams at her kids every day for no reason? The point is we all have things we struggle with and it gets you no where wishing you had a different set of problems. You deal with your weight and let Becky deal with her temper. Okay, we’re done with Becky!

#5: I Don’t Have Time

Ew. This one stings a little. This is a big one. I think we’ve probably all said at one time or another, that we just don’t have the time to focus on losing weight. When we think about losing weight, I think we’ve been taught that to be “fully committed”, we need to be eating organic gourmet masterpieces for every meal, and slugging it out in the gym six or seven days a week. If this is what you’re envisioning when you think you don’t have time, you’re probably right. Who has time for that? People on The Biggest Loser, that’s who!

I truly believe that when you want to lose weight, you will find the time, but there are also some practical things you can do to save yourself some time. For grocery shopping, I highly recommend Kroger Clicklist, or I have also heard great things about Wal-Mart’s online ordering. This is a huge time saver when you’re struggling to get to the grocery store. The next thing I would suggest is doing meal prep.img_0319 Meal prep is a huge time and money saver. If I can spend a little bit of time cooking at the beginning of the week, it saves me so much time and energy for the rest of the week. I don’t have to worry about if my meals fit my macros, because I already know I have food cooked that will fit perfectly for the whole week. I know that by investing those couple of hours on Sunday, I’ve set myself up to be successful for the whole week. My only job after that is to eat the food. If you don’t even have a couple of hours for meal prep, I have a lot of meals that don’t even require cooking. I literally portion them into bowls and go about my business. There are ways to make it work when you truly want to.

And lastly, if you don’t have time or money to go to the gym, you can still make it work. Like I said, I truly believe 90% of weight loss is in the kitchen, not in the gym. If you feel so pressed for time that you can’t go to the gym, don’t even worry about it right now. We all have time to eat, and you can make awesome progress with just your food.

I really hope that by me sharing my top excuses, and how I pushed past them, that it can inspire you to do the same. Weight loss is such a mind game, and we use these excuses to sabotage ourselves all the time. But there’s something about really identifying our excuses, that really helps you be able to swat them away when they pop up in your brain. Stay mentally tough friends and have a great week!

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What Do You Mean, “Tracking Macros”?

Still to this day, when I’m asked, “How did you lose the weight?” There’s always this awkward pause, before I attempt to explain. I have a really hard time either simplifying it too much, or making it sound too complicated, because I think either extreme, too easy or too hard, can make it seem impossible. img_8079So there’s the anticipation building pause, and then I either say, “diet and exercise,” or, “tracking my macros.” The former to me sounds like condescending bull crap, and the latter, I feel, sounds like I’m speaking a foreign language. Maybe if I say it louder they’ll understand? I TRACKED MY MACROS!

In a lot of my previous posts, I’ve talked about how important mindset can be while you’re trying to lose weight. I can’t stress enough how much this can make or break your attempts at weight loss, but I also want to delve a little deeper and attempt to explain the theory behind tracking macros and flexible dieting without the awkward inhale, pause, “Um”.  I guess I should make a disclaimer here, I am not a nutritionist, just a regular gal who consumes a lot of nutrition information because it really interests me. So I’ll try the best I can to explain and simplify what I’ve learned and share it with you. However, I am not a doctor, dietician, or nutritionist. Okay, I said it!

What are “Macros”?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Calories, pesky calories. Calories in versus calories out, the basis for any weight loss attempt and every diet under the sun. But what the heck is a calorie actually? A calorie is basically how much energy is in a given food. It’s how much energy is required to raise 1g of water through 1 degree celsius. But I like to just think of it as, how much energy that food is providing to your body. How that actual number is determined, is by adding up the “macros” of that particular food. Macro is just a trendy gym rat way of saying macronutrients. As I’m typing this post, macronutrients is seriously underlined in that squiggly red spellcheck line, which lets me know that even my computer thinks I have no idea what I’m talking about. Anyhoo, there are three main macronutrients that are used to calculate how many calories are in a food: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. img_7804Each one of these “macros” has a certain number of calories per gram, and when you add them all together, you know how many calories are in the food, thus letting you know how much energy your body is getting from that food, and how much you should hate yourself after eating it.

When you’re losing weight, especially if you have a large amount of weight to lose, you can lose weight simply by being in a calorie deficit, or eating fewer calories than you burn. So why all the hoopla about macros? The hoopla, is because while it is true you can lose weight by just being in a deficit, learning how to track your macros is a great way of training yourself to eat a more balanced diet, and to really change your body composition. So while in theory, you could eat only a few donuts for any entire week and lose weight, tracking your macros helps you create a more balanced diet, so that all of your calories are not consisting of only a couple of the macronutrients and you can maximize the volume or amount of food you’re eating. Yay! More Food! When I don’t actively use macros to balance my diet, the majority of my calories tend to come from carbohydrates and fat, with very little protein. I think this is pretty typical these days for the Standard American Diet, but it’s not the best for reshaping your body.

Protein

Protein now makes up the largest portion of my diet. I know protein can be somewhat of a controversial thing as far as the amount we actually need or can digest, but I think everybody agrees we do need it. Protein is very important when you’re losing weight, because it helps your body retain the muscle that you have. It’s very hard to actually build muscle while you’re eating in a calorie deficit, which is why when body builders are trying to gain muscle they actually go into a “bulking” phase where they’re eating at a calorie range above their maintenance calories. But when losing weight, you at least want to try to retain the muscle you have, by eating an adequate amount of protein, because muscle is what turns you into a fat burning machine! img_8074When you’re in a calorie deficit, eating too little protein can cause your body to eventually start burning muscle for fuel along with carbs and fat. Which is why someone can be within a normal body weight range, but still have a high percentage of body fat. Focusing on body composition and lowering your body fat percentage, is what gives you the “toned” look that so many people are going for. All of the crunches and lunges in the world aren’t going to make you look “toned” if there’s that pesky layer of body fat still covering the muscle. So if protein is what supports and repairs my muscles, and my muscles are what actually give me the shape that I want…give me all the protein! Great sources of protein are things like chicken, fish, lean beef, turkey, pork tenderloin, eggs, protein shakes, protein bars, etc.

Carbohydrates

If the amount of protein we consume is controversial in the world of macros, carbs take it to a whole other level. Carbs are our bodies primary source of energy. When our body stores carbs in our liver, they’re referred to as glycogen. So if you’re eating carbs, when you start exercising, your body is going to burn through the stored up glycogen first, before it moves on to body fat and muscle.img_8075 The theory behind low carb diets, is that since your body doesn’t have as much stored glycogen to burn through first  (example: ketosis, or the “keto” diet), you can start burning body fat quicker. Sometimes this can also mean you feel like crap and have no energy, especially during your workouts. I’m not against low carb diets, I just haven’t found that I’ve needed to lower my carbs especially low up to this point, so I plan to keep eating them until I hit a plateau and then maybe consider gradually lowering them to see if I can get things moving again. I talked about my theory behind keeping tools like this for later in a previous blog post. So when I’m looking to add carbs to my meals, I go for things like rice, potatoes, some starchy vegetables like corn, granola or protein bars, crackers, tortillas, etc.

Fats

Fats. What an ugly word. Fats. img_8076Back in the day fats got a bad rap. Fat free, reduced fat, low-fat. Nobody likes fat, but we do still need some. Fats are important, especially for women, because they can really impact our hormones, skin, hair, etc. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on fats, but when I’m looking to add more fats to my meal plan, I usually go for things like avocado, olive oil, or cheese. Glorious Cheese.

Putting it All Together

I hope this gives you a broad overview of macronutrients and what each one of them does for your body and the theory behind tracking them. Many diet plans simply eliminate one macronutrient (usually carbs or fat), and slap a shiny new name on the book. Atkins, South Beach, Glycemic Index, Keto. They just remove a macronutrient and call it new earth-shattering science. The balance of all of the macronutrients is one of the many things I love about flexible dieting. No food group is off-limits, you just have to find a way of eating the correct portions so that you’re eating the optimal balance of all of them.

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October 2016 to March 2018

Tracking macros and flexible dieting really aren’t that complicated once you get the hang of it and start making a list of meals you like. However, I do think it’s interesting to know the theory behind flexible dieting and what macros actually are. Fingers crossed that this somewhat makes sense and I didn’t totally botch it! If you have any other questions, feel free to ask! I’ll answer them to the best of my non-nutritionist, but avid googler abilities! Now if only I can find a way to say all of this in a short three to five word response that is neither idiotically simple or pretentiously complex!

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Finding Balance: Being a Mom While Still Being Me

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a moment. I really wanted to express to my sons how much they mean to me, and I needed to write them a sort of love letter. img_7960I hope they always will know how much I am truly obsessed with them. With that said, today I wanted to address a different side of motherhood. Something that I’ve learned in my eight years of motherhood that I feel is extremely important and adds value to their lives, as well as mine.

As moms, it’s crazy how much of our days and our minds are constantly consumed by our babies. Even now, I’m scribbling away, trying to wrangle my thoughts, in between trying to feed my toddler macaroni and cheese that I’ve already had to reheat twice. If I seem like I’m a little all over the place, I probably am. Everyday, from the moment they open their little eyes, my brain is a never-ending, and never completed to do list. Change the baby, get Levi in the shower, take him to school, feed the baby breakfast, start a load of laundry, remember to put it in the dryer. What bills did I need to pay today? What did I need at the store? When was his dentist appointment? When was it I was supposed to send marshmallows to school? Do we have baseball practice tonight?img_7961 I’ll spare you more, but these are just some of the daily checklists that I go through before 9 a.m. Our mom brains are always going in a million directions, and we manage to control the overwhelm to the best of our ability, because of the massive amount of love we have for our kids.

I’ve been managing the mom chaos for over eight years now, and most days I still can’t believe I’m legally allowed to be in charge of other human beings. I’m absolutely positive that there are many, many things I still have yet to learn. I’m sure at this point, I’ve not seen the best or the worst of motherhood. But one thing I’m trying to remind myself of everyday, is that while it’s natural for my life to mostly revolve around my kids, it’s still important to remember that I’m a person, not just a mom.

Before those precious little boys came into this world, bloody and screaming, I was a real person. I had friends, and hobbies, and things that made me, me. I don’t know how it happened, but I suspect like most things, it was a slow erosion over time. At some point, I became so wrapped up in my new role, that I eventually just pushed the things that I liked to the side, because I just “didn’t have time.” Or I, “didn’t have the energy.” Or I felt guilty for not spending every possible second with my boys. Curse you mom guilt. The first time I realized that I was losing sight of who I was, was after my divorce. My days had been filled with Levi and work for the past 3 years.img_7959 During the week, Levi would go to be with his dad on the days I was working, since I worked twelve hour shifts, and then every other weekend. It was those weekends that were the worst! I had no idea what to do with myself. I would sit at home, by myself, in my quiet little apartment. For a while I would catch up on movies or scroll through Facebook, but after a few months, I was completely lost. I had forgotten in those short three years what I used to do for fun, and I was bored to tears.

I remember when I first started going to the gym, a few months after my almost 2 year old, Tyson, was born. I was going to Planet Fitness, which was the perfect price, but also meant no child care. That wasn’t a problem with Levi, because he was in school, but I had to find somebody to watch the little guy. Thank God for my mom during this time, or I don’t know how I ever would’ve made it. Even though my mom was happy to help, the inevitable mom guilt would still creep in from time to time. I would tell myself, “You’ve been at work for the past two days, you should really be home with him,” or, “you really don’t have time for this, you’ve got so much laundry to do when you get home.” Even though every other second of my day would revolve around someone needing their butt wiped, or someone screaming for milk, or someone chucking a ball at the side of my head, I still felt like taking this one hour out of my day for myself was somehow selfish.

I really had to train myself to look at things objectively and realistically. I had to remind myself over and over that I needed to have that time for myself, not only because I was obese and physically hurting my body, but also because I needed that mental reset to be a happier, less stressed out me for them. And really one hour out of twenty four is still pretty heavily in their favor.

I want my boys to grow up knowing that their mom as a real person, that I’m not just their mom. I want them to know that although they and their dad make me extremely happy, so do other things. I want them to know that I like watching funny movies, and movies based on true stories. I love writing, reading the classics and random personal development books. I love spending my free time going to the gym, img_7875and learning how to make things. I want them to see me accomplish things and set new goals, so that they can take that as permission to do the same when they grow up.

The further I get into motherhood, the busier life gets, and the more I have to make an actual conscious effort to make those things that make me happy a priority. If I don’t find a few minutes to go to the gym or learn about something I’m interested in, the day can so easily get away from me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about going out clubbing every weekend or getting plastered at a bar somewhere. I’m talking about making time for the things that you do by yourself, for yourself.

If you’ve found yourself just kind of slogging through the day, moving from one task to the next, until you throw your unwashed greasy head into bed at night, I totally get it. It amazes me how we can be so busy, stressed, devoted, and bored all at the same time. But I think it happens a lot. I really encourage you to figure out how to steal little bits of time for yourself. Whatever it is that makes you lose track of time, or forget to check your phone, do that! If it’s been so long you can’t even remember, maybe think about the things you enjoyed doing when you were a kid. For me it’s reading and writing. I loved reading when I was a little girl, and used to write little stories with illustrations for my mom to read. If I can remember correctly, mysteries were a favorite of mine to write. I also, like many other little girls, loved to color. Why do you think adult coloring books are so popular now? Even if you can only find twenty minutes to read a book while you’re sitting in the school pickup line, kudos to you for making time for being you!

Going to the gym has also become one of those things that helps me feel like myself. I go in with greasy hair, covered in someone else’s snot and slobber. But I put in my headphones, blast my non kid-friendly playlist,img_7962 and walk out feeling like Wonder Woman. Even though I’m still covered in oil and saliva, I convince myself it’s sweat and walk out of there like I’m The Rock. That is, if The Rock had a baby on his hip. Details.

So please by all means keep being the awesome mom and caregiver you are, but really try to find small moments to remember that you’re also a person, a woman, a friend, a writer, a reader, a painter, a poet, a knitter, a lifter, a yogi, a hiker, a photographer, a gardener, a baker, or a candlestick maker.

Baby Steps: How I Went From Couch Potato to Gym Rat

In my extensive weight loss attempt history, the thing I have always dreaded the most was exercise. I would watch shows like The Biggest Loser, and see all of these poor souls sweating, panting, looking like they were moments away from death.img_7883 Jumping around while a trainer screamed at them, like in one of those westerns where the gunslinger starts shooting at the feet of the local saloon loudmouth yelling, “DANCE!” This usually continued until they were in tears, while someone coaxed them into discussing their self-loathing and daddy issues. It looked awful, and I wanted no part of it. Staying chubby seemed like an okay option in comparison.

My Brief Exercise History

Never in my life did I think that I would be a person that enjoyed going to the gym. The first time I can remember actually “exercising”, was when I was a junior in high school. I wanted to lose a little weight before prom. So my strategy was to cut out fried foods, and to do this exercise video that I’m pretty sure was purchased by my mom before I was born. It was the perfect specimen of eighties fitness, complete with high cut leotards and sweat bands. It was a full body workout, including lots of marching in place and exercises for your facial muscles. Super attractive. It was enough for my speedy sixteen year old metabolism though, and I was able to drop about twenty pounds.

The next time I lost a significant amount of weight, was a few years after my first son was born. He had finally gotten to that sweet toddler age where I couldn’t use the excuse anymore, “I just had a baby.” I think once they’re potty trained you’ve milked it for as long as possible. This time though, I wasn’t sixteen anymore, and I wasn’t messing around. I was pulling out the big guns. I got myself a bottle of Phentermine and decided I was going to start running.img_7884.jpgI wasn’t looking forward to the idea, but I thought that’s what you had to do to lose weight fast, so I’d better learn to enjoy it. So per the usual, I created a whole secret Pinterest board dedicated to my new hobby, and subscribed to Runner’s World. I started eating next to nothing, because of the appetite suppressant, and downloaded Couch to 5K. It totally worked! The only problem was, I was eventually going to have to stop taking the medication. My appetite would return, and there was this other little issue, I hated running. I got so bored. Most of the time I would run outside at the park so that I would have some scenery or other runners to look at, but I couldn’t stay focused. My mind would wander, and I would end up walking out of pure boredom. I’m sure there are truly people in this world that love running. I’m sure it makes them feel on top of the world, like they can smash through walls and flip cars with their bare hands. I am not one of those people. Which sort of made me feel like I would always eventually fail at losing any significant amount of weight, because I didn’t enjoy the one activity I had always thought was the best thing for weight loss.

Thank God, one day I reconnected with a friend from high school. He was very into fitness, and was the first person to introduce me to the concepts of flexible dieting with a heavier emphasis on resistance training. I don’t know that I ever fessed up to him that I had been taking Phentermine, but regardless, I’m fairly certain he was appalled at how little I had been eating. He also explained to me why cardio wasn’t the end all be all for weight loss. Imagine my relief. I took his advice as a permission slip and stopped running pretty much immediately.

Back to Square One

I was just starting to really learn about strength training and nutrition, when life happened and I did a complete U-turn. I packed all of that weight back on that I had lost and was so stressed (even though it wasn’t a bad stress, just a lot of changes happening in my life), that I completely pushed that part of my life to the side so that I could focus on other things. When the fog finally lifted, I was shocked and embarrassed by how quickly I had swung in the other direction. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts like Mommy Fell Into the Wormhole , you kind of know what happened next. I had to figure out how to actually eat.

After I figured out the nutrition piece and dropped my first forty pounds or so, I started to make this shift where I actually craved something more.img_4215 I wanted to take things up a notch, but this time around I knew myself well enough to know that I wasn’t going to start running. Even though I had worked out a few times with my friend from high school years before, doing his workouts, I really had no idea how to begin to plan my own workouts. So I went back to the basics. I joined Planet Fitness and started doing their 30 minute workout. If you’ve never been to a Planet Fitness, they have an area, away from the main gym area, where they have several machines set up in a circle. The machines are numbered and there’s a timer that dings when it’s time to move to the next machine. I loved this when I first started because I could go to a less crowded area of the gym, fiddle with the machines without feeling like people could tell I had no clue what I was doing, and get a full body workout that I didn’t have to plan out for myself.

When I felt like I was ready to take it up another notch, I got on bodybuilding.com and started working my way through Jamie Eason’s Livefit Program . From there I just started tweaking things as I went along, figuring out which exercises I felt were the most effective for me on each muscle group. I just kept pushing myself little by little out of my comfort zone. I scheduled the gym into my day, and went even when I didn’t feel like it. One day, magically, I didn’t have to force myself to go anymore. I actually wanted to go, because I loved it. I loved having that time to myself, and I actually didn’t feel like I wanted to die when I finished. I felt strong and less stressed out.

Maybe most shockingly, even though I didn’t leave the gym in a puddle of sweat and tears, I was seeing great results, without doing any cardio or sobbing while doing a plank and addressing all of my innermost feelings.img_7875 People weren’t watching me, and nobody made me feel stupid. Everybody was there to try to take care of themselves, just like I was.  I know what you’re thinking, “Cardio is good for your heart health.” No argument there. From my experience though, weight training can also have many cardiac benefits. I can remember going to the doctor my whole life and always getting asked if I was nervous because my resting heart rate was always about 100 beats per minute. I wasn’t nervous, I was just chubby and out of shape. However, since starting resistance training, my resting heart rate is normally 50-60 beats per minute, and considered in the “fit” category. Who would’ve thought!

Learning to Get Out of My Own Way

One thing that I am still constantly having to remind myself of, is that things are never as hard or as scary as I build them up to be in my head. While I feel like I keep it together pretty well on the outside most of the time, on the inside I can sometimes feel like Bob Wiley from “What About Bob?”img_7885 “What if my heart stops beating? What if I’m looking for a bathroom, I can’t find it, and…my bladder explodes?” I just needed to find my inner Dr. Leo Marvin to tell me to take baby steps and quit being so dramatic. If you have your own inner Bob, let me be the one to stop you before you have to do some “explosion therapy”. I totally get how you feel. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing at the gym and it might as well have been tattooed on my forehead. After I went a few times though, I quickly realized no one was even paying attention to me. If you can step out of your comfort zone a little, I can’t tell you how much it does for you physically and mentally. For one whole hour, I get to feel like a real adult person. Nobody is pooping their pants or screaming at me to get them milk. I don’t have to think about what bills I need to pay or everything I need to do that day. My mind isn’t being pulled in a million different directions, and I can really take some time to unwind. Whenever you feel like you’re ready for more, I highly suggest you give it a shot!

Finding Your Willpower

Willpower, discipline, motivation. Call it what you want, willpower is a lot like money. We know we need it, we all wish we had more of it, but it always seems to disappear as soon as we get a taste of it. See ya tax return! If you have struggled with your weight at all, you have probably told yourself that you just don’t have enough of it. Most of the time, when we start a diet, we’re extremely motivated. Whatever it was that gave us that initial spark of determination, we run with it, gritting our teeth until we can’t stand one more freaking salad or piece of grilled chicken, and then we crack. In my last post, My Little Bag of Tricks , I talked about some practical things you could do to keep yourself from hitting plateaus and burn out. But this week I wanted to talk more in-depth about the discipline mindset, and how I’ve been able to keep myself moving in the right direction.

Motivation Never Lasts

Over the last year and a half, I have heard two things a lot when someone finds out how much weight I’ve been able to lose. “You’re so disciplined,” and “I wish I had your willpower.” One thing I want you to know, is that while I guess I was very motivated, or “disciplined” in the beginning, I don’t feel like I am now. The first few months into my weight loss, I was determined. I knew my body would lose weight if I learned how to make it, in a way that was sustainable and didn’t make me feel deprived. During those first few months, the biggest thing that could’ve thrown me off was the useless things that I loved to tell myself. “This is going to take forever,” “You don’t have time to deal with this right now,” “This is just the body type that you have so you might as well get used to it.” img_7772 In those moments, I did need the discipline to push those thoughts out of my head so that I could keep going. But willpower can only get us so far.

I heard a great quote on a Podcast one time that summed it up perfectly, it was from the book The One Thing by Gary Keller. He said, “Success is actually a short race- a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over.” Gary Keller is the founder of Keller Williams Realty, and although he was referring to business when he said this, I feel like this can apply to just about anything you’re trying to succeed in. Weight loss, business, leveling up on Candy Crush, if you can consistently keep your head in the game, just long enough for good habits to form, then your success is inevitable.

How I Knew My Habits Had Changed

I can’t recall exactly when it happened. I was just trucking along, meal prepping, experimenting, trying to find a gym routine that I liked. I was just taking it a week, a few pounds, or sometimes a few hours at a time. Pushing myself forward until my next mental sanity meal, watching my weight consistently follow the same pattern. Up one week, a big drop the next, back and forth. Then one day, something came up. I don’t remember if I got called in to work or what happened. All I know is that it was my meal prep day, and I was ticked off. Like in an actual teenage temper tantrum, “You’re ruining my life” kind of way. I, Melissa, the fast food-loving, excuse-finding, circumstance-blamer, was angry that I wasn’t going to be able to do my meal prep. I was so mad that I was determined to find a way to make it work anyway. Instead of throwing my hands up and calling that week a bust, I just found meals that were similar to what I would’ve meal prepped, and cooked my food the next possible day I could. That’s still what I do to this day if something comes up, because stuff will always randomly come up. That was my first little glimmer of hope that I was actually changing my lifestyle.

The next time I knew was similar, but had to do with the gym. A kid was sick, or my child care fell through. Something out of my control came up, and I wasn’t going to be able to go. Again, I was full-blown angry inside.img_7711 In the past I would’ve been happy to have any excuse to skip the gym, especially a legit good one! I honestly used to think that people who said they enjoyed going to the gym were full of crap or lying to themselves, but here I sat, mad and pouting because my whole routine was going to get thrown out of whack! I was irritated because this had become habitual, my routine, and it was being disrupted.

Find a Way To Keep Pushing

My advice is to just keep moving forward. Successful people aren’t successful because they’re smarter or better than you. They’re successful because they consistently pushed past their excuses when things got uncomfortable, and just did it anyway when other people would have quit.

For the first several months, your brain is going to be going crazy, trying to keep you in your comfort zone. We already know our normal, safe patterns of behavior. We go on a diet, something out of our control happens, we cave, and we go back to what we know. Look at this as an experiment and see what happens if you don’t. See what happens when you think outside of the box and make it work. It doesn’t matter if it takes you 6 months or a year to form new habits, because this is a lifestyle, not a diet. There are no deadlines or “goal dates”. If you can tell your brain to shut up for a while, habit will kick in and make this so much easier. I mean one day you may even wake up, eat your meal prepped breakfast, go to the gym, and realize you actually have some little shoulder muscles peeking through! Once it’s a habit, the time flies by! A year and a half later, I really don’t feel like I’m still “trying to lose weight”, but I am continuing to lose body fat and make progress because of habit, not because of willpower.

Never in my wildest chubby girl dreams, did I ever think that I would be the person I am right now. img_7659Sure, maybe I’ve faked it for short periods of time for the wrong reasons. I even subscribed to Runner’s World for a whole year once, trying to convince myself that I liked running. I thought that’s what you had to do to lose weight, so I better learn to like it! Imagine my relief when a good friend informed me otherwise. Mind-blowing.

I’m sharing my story here, and on my Instagram, not to brag, or get a pat on the back, but because I feel like there’s still so much misinformation out there about weight loss. I swear it’s like they’re trying to keep us fat! I want other women to know that it’s possible to do this. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that someone else couldn’t have done. I hardly ever eat salads and I loathe cardio! That being said, I feel like mindset and discipline are two of the hardest things to teach. Anyone can give you a meal plan and a workout routine, but it’s hard to get in someone’s head and get them to keep pushing. But if you can consistently have the mental strength to get past those thoughts of not caring, or wanting to quit, I promise one day you won’t have to. Keep going, keep planning meals and keep experimenting with exercise, even when you don’t feel like it. One day it won’t take willpower, because it will be just like brushing your teeth!

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My Little Bag of Tricks

In my last blog post, Why “Eat Less, Move More” is Crap, I talked about how stubborn and focused I can get when I set my mind to something. I guess obsessive would be the correct term, although that makes me sound slightly psychotic. I prefer driven. So when I decided to finally get my head out of my rear and lose weight, I wanted it done yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with harnessing that initial motivation while it’s there, but I wanted to address how to tackle plateaus, and set yourself up for long-term success.

Go Hard Or Go Home

Raise your hand if your weight loss efforts generally go something like this. The motivation strikes. Maybe your clothes were getting tight, or maybe somebody tagged you in a picture that made you want to delete your entire Facebook account. Can I just say, whoever created the approval feature for Facebook tagging, I’d like to kiss you on the mouth. Anything can generate that initial spark. So then you panic, you’ve got to do something now. You have to start tracking your calories, so you download an app to help.img_7643 You plug in all of your information, height, weight, activity level, goal weight. You press enter, and then gaze, horrified at the amount of calories this stupid app is telling you to eat. There has to be a mistake, you’ll never lose weight eating that much, and if you do, it’s going to take an eternity. Okay, now regroup. If this app is telling you to eat that many calories and you’ll lose 1-2 pounds a week, let’s see how quick you can lose it if you just go ahead and drop that sucker right down to 1,200 calories per day.

This was my exact thought process, every time I would try to lose weight in the past. Slow and steady is for losers! Go hard, or go home! 1,200 calories a day for some reason has become the set point for women when going on a diet, and for the life of me I still don’t know where that number came from.

Your Body is Trying to Keep You Alive

I don’t like slow and steady, but as I came to learn from experience, it really is the best way, but maybe not for the reason you might think. I’m not a terribly patient person when it comes to weight loss. However, in all of my extensive YouTube research, I finally came across a video that explained the reasoning behind it, in a way that made me stop kicking my feet, having a temper tantrum about it, and listen.

The reason you want to start your weight loss slow, at the highest possible calories, isn’t because you necessarily want the weight to come off slow. Who in their right mind wants that? You start slow, because if you start off losing weight eating 1,200 calories a day, 20g of carbs, and going crazy in the gym with cardio, eventually your body is going to rebel. Our bodies are naturally designed to keep us alive during times of famine. So when you’re putting your body through a self-induced famine, it’s going to try to protect itself. The dreaded “starvation mode”. Cravings, fatigue, mind games, and holding onto body fat, are just some of the ways your body will try to survive that stress you’re putting it through. This is why eventually, we all hit a plateau or completely go off the rails and go into binge mode.

Take It Easy

If we start out slow, eating the maximum amount of calories and carbs possible for us to see results, and limit our cardio, then we have some wiggle room to make adjustments. Adjustments would be things like, dropping our calories by 100 a day, maybe dropping our carbs slightly, or increasing our cardio as a last resort. I shudder to think. Basically, you just start making small adjustments to let your body know that it’s okay to keep letting go of body fat. img_7644“Mental Sanity Meals” are also important here, because while it may seem like you’re slowing your progress, they can actually be important for replenishing your glycogen (which is how our body stores carbs for energy), and telling your body that you’re not actually starving to death.

On the flip side, if we start a diet like a maniac, going all out, white knuckling from day one, there’s really no room to make adjustments. Are you going to be able to realistically drop your calories from 1,200 to 1,000 per day? I couldn’t! Or maybe you started out doing an hour of cardio 4 days a week. Are you going to be able to sustain that schedule or add another day or two? Heck no, don’t put me down for cardio!

Long Term Strategy

It can be so tempting to ride that motivation high and go crazy in the first few weeks of a diet, but it’s so important to think about the long-term strategy. You can lose weight consistently and steadily without going nuts in the process. Don’t back yourself into a corner by pulling out all the tricks on day one. Maybe try thinking about it like a relationship. Do you want the quick spark and then the atom bomb explosion where you bury your face in a tub of ice cream for a week? Or do you want the long-lasting steady flame? Keep your body guessing and keep some things in your back pocket for later! Start by experimenting with however many calories your app or calculator told you to eat to be in a caloric deficit. If you’re consistently seeing the scale drop 1-2 pounds a week, great! Keep eating that much until you start seeing your weight loss getting slower or stalling out for a few weeks. Then you can make small tweaks to get the ball rolling again.

One huge mindset shift we have to make, is not getting caught up in the length of time it takes to really make this a lifestyle change.img_6942 The things you do to get the weight off, will be the things you have to do to keep it off, so don’t do anything nutty. Even if it takes you 2 years to get to your goal, what’s 2 years in the grand scheme of your life? If it means slow, consistent weight loss, that sets you up to reach your goals in a way that’s maintainable and realistic, those 2 years will fly by. I would much rather spend one to two years, totally focused on creating lifestyle changes, than to look back 10 years from now and still be worrying about the same 40 to 50 pounds that I keep having to lose over and over. With the right strategy and mindset, we can teach our body to work with us, and not against us.

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