The Ever Elusive “Lifestyle Change”

What the heck does that even mean, “Lifestyle change?” Every legitimate fitness person ever, typically preaches the same general message when it comes to weight loss. These 2 simple words, are repeated over and over in top tips and tricks, magazine articles, and interviews…lifestyle change.

Two years ago, if you had asked me what lifestyle change meant, this is what I pictured: Everyday, for the rest of my life, I must wake up and do at least 15 minutes of morning yoga and meditation. img_1661.jpgNext, I will float into the kitchen, and whip up an Instagram worthy Acai bowl, complete with fresh slices of kiwi and perfectly placed strips of chia seeds. After I’ve nourished my body with a bounty of fruits and vegetables, I will go on a brief 6 mile run. I’ll be wearing a perfectly matched outfit, and I’ll end my run, looking like a goddess. Then, I will make my way home to stuff my face full of kale, quinoa, and green juice. I’ll have to repeat this routine day in, and day out for the rest of my life.  A perfect specimen of health and fitness.

It honestly sounded exhausting! I spent my days taking Levi to school with greasy hair, a newborn attached to me 24/7, pumping, sleeping, eating, and watching TV. I felt like it took everything in me, to just get through the week.IMG_8004 Between work and family, I was totally drained, and the only thing that the aforementioned lifestyle seemed like to me, was more work. I had no visions whatsoever of spending my mornings in the gym and my days eating steamed broccoli and boiled chicken. But I knew that I did have to start getting some of the weight off, if only to have more energy. I could still remember what my body had felt like at 150 lbs. That was the lowest weight I had been able to achieve after taking Phentermine, and even though I was far from healthy, just being at a lower weight, I remembered that I physically felt better.

That’s what I was trying to get back to, but this time, I really couldn’t muster the energy to go nuts from day one. I knew I wanted to do flexible dietingeventually, because I had dabbled in it before I had gained all of my weight back. A friend had made me a meal plan years before, but I knew in order to make long term progress, I was going to need to learn how to do it for myself. That being said, when I first started my weight loss journey, I wasn’t quite ready for flexible dieting yet. I needed to take it slow. I had a lot on my plate, and I felt like going hardcore right from the start, was just setting myself up for failure.

Taking Baby Steps

There were certain habits that I knew would have to change. Common sense things, that would need to be adjusted, if I wanted to reach my goal. One of those things was sweet tea. Whenever I would eat at a restaurant, when the waitress asked me what I wanted to drink, it was almost like a reflex. I couldn’t help it! Asking me what I wanted to drink, was like asking me my name. Auto response: Sweet Tea. I finally realized, that by drinking Sweet Tea with every meal, I was adding hundreds of calories into my day. Those were calories that I could’ve been eating that would’ve actually filled me up. I knew that was a pretty obvious habit that I would need to change. I knew I could still have it sometimes, like with a “cheat meal”. I just couldn’t have it all the time, and reach my goals.

One of the next things I did, was to start planning my meals ahead of time. Actually making a grocery list, doing meal prep, and eating the foods that were on my plan. This was a huge adjustment for me, img_0319-1and this was something I started practicing before I was actually tracking macros. I still couldn’t wrap my brain around macros, but I was just getting into the habit of doing meal prep and actually eating what I intended to. I had to practice every day. I had to practice NOT finishing my kid’s food that they left on their plate, not nibbling on their goldfish crackers, and not picking at all of the treats left around at work.

Looking at how I was eating before, it’s easy to see how these small changes alone, helped me to start seeing progress. I started losing weight, little by little. As my weight began to drop, I started to want more. If I had been able to see results from these small changes, I wanted to see what I was capable of when I really dialed in my food, and I started going to the gym.

That’s when I started really learning how to track my macros, and I decided that I would start working out at Planet Fitness. I knew several people who worked out there, and they all loved it. And let’s be honest, it was cheap and involved very little commitment, so if I flaked out again like I usually did, no harm no foul! I truly felt like this time was different though.

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My Free Planet Fitness T-shirt, size small!

I really wanted to stick with it and see it all the way through. I was so sure, that I walked straight into that Planet Fitness at just over 200 pounds, and asked for a size small t-shirt. That girl working the desk and I, both knew that I wasn’t a small. But I knew I intended to be!

I started out doing the 30 minute workout at Planet Fitness, stalking other gym-goers to see what machines they used, and how they used them. Then I moved onto doing a workout plan from Jamie Eason, and eventually put together my own workout routines based on which exercises I enjoyed the most for each muscle group, and what I felt were the most effective. Eventually I switched to a larger gym that offered childcare, because after working out at Planet Fitness for a year, I knew that this was a habit I wanted to continue, and I wanted to be able to go without having to find someone to watch Tyson while I went.

Stacking Habits

As the weeks went on, and I kept stacking one new habit on top of the next, eventually those small changes here and there, have amounted to some big results. So here’s the part of the blog where I throw in a weird example. Hear me out!

When I was preparing to go back to work after maternity leave, I knew I was going to need to start pumping, so that I would have enough milk to send with Tyson on the days that I worked. I hadn’t made it very far into breastfeeding with Levi, so this time I was determined to make it work. So when Tyson was about 3 weeks old, I started pumping after each of his feedings. Day one of pumping began. I awkwardly strapped in, went into full dairy cow mode, and patiently waited. After 20 minutes, I looked down to inspect the fruits of my labor…one measly ounce. Not one ounce from each boob…one ounce total. This was not going to be easy. I was determined though, and stuck with it, pumping after each of his feedings for the rest of the day. The next time was the same, one ounce. Each time I pumped, I only was able to get one stinking ounce. But I kept adding ounce on ounce, until the end of the day I had one whole 4 ounce bottle. It seemed like it was going to take forever to get any kind of stash going! I kept with it though, and even though most days I could only pump 1-2 ounces after each feeding, by the time I went back to work a month later, I had 100 ounces in the freezer!

The point is, small things eventually add up to big things! Ounce by ounce, I stored up a good amount of milk, and it was the same with weight loss, I just kept collecting pound after pound making little changes here and there. Tweaking things as I went along, until now I’ve lost a total of 112 pounds.

Two short years later, my daily routine has completely changed from what it used to be, and it happened so gradually, that I didn’t even see it coming! It didn’t happen overnight, it happened one little habit change at a time. Two years ago, my typical morning involved taking Levi to school, taking care of Tyson, and eating and sleeping as much as possible throughout the day.camerarolltempimage That was all I felt like I could handle. Now I routinely hit the gym 3-4 days a week, immediately after taking Levi to school. I get groceries regularly, and meal prep every week. Sometimes, when people congratulate me on all of my hard work, I almost feel like a fraud. Intellectually, I know that losing 112 pounds with diet and exercise is not easy. I know that it takes dedication and discipline to form new habits. But because I did it gradually, and didn’t try to fix every one of my bad habits at the same time, it really doesn’t seem to me like it was all that difficult! I just let myself naturally progress at my own pace, as I craved results more and more. I knew what my ultimate goal was, but this time I wasn’t in a huge rush to get there. I knew scientifically that I would reach my goal in time, I just had to actually give my body the consistent nutrition and time to get there.

Lifestyle Change In a Nutshell

Now if you ask me what does “lifestyle change” mean I would explain it like this: It’s not about eating perfectly, or spending hours everyday in the gym for the rest of your life. It’s about forming new maintainable habits that support the body and life that you want to have outside of your fitness routine. Lifestyle change is about finding a balance between reaching your health and fitness goals, while still living your life.

How you truly change your lifestyle, is just by stacking one new habit on top of the next. You get there by continuing to build and add on new goals. Pushing a little farther and a little farther, as you feel like you’re ready for a new challenge. Now that I’m at a point where weight loss isn’t necessarily the goal anymore, I can continue to make progress with new goals.

My new goals, are continuing to share my story and hopefully help others, to keep pushing myself with my level of fitness, to keep adding in more whole foods and vegetables into my day, and to get my Personal Training and Nutritionist certifications. Outside of fitness, my goals are to continue using my new body to experience life with my family. Enjoying days at the pool, trips to the beach, and hiking with my husband, and being able to fully enjoy those experiences without my body holding me back, because that’s what true lifestyle change is all about.

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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Why “Eat Less, Move More” is Crap

It sounds so simple, Eat less, move more. Any idiot can do it. So here’s my problem, if it’s this simple, why are there so many educated, intelligent people, still struggling with their weight?

First, a little back story. In the words of Sophia Petrillo, “picture it”, I’m nineteen years old, married, in school, and working at a small hospital. Like most people overwhelmed with the stress of school and work, I put on a little weight. Not a lot, but enough that my clothes were getting tight. img_7595-1So finally one day, I got up the courage to ask one of the dietitians that worked at the hospital, if she had any tips as to what I could do to lose those extra pounds. I figured if anybody knew, she would. Imagine my disgust when she, without even looking up from what she was doing, uttered those four nasty little words, “Eat less, move more.” You don’t say. Insert eye roll.

Now at this time in my life, I had no clue about flexible dieting, macros, or nutrition. However, even then, I distinctly recall having the immediate thought, “what a load of crap.”

Obviously I never asked again, and went on to go through years of the ups and downs of the diet/binge cycle. Thanks for the earth-shattering advice!

It’s Not That Simple

“Eat less, move more” is not the answer. It’s so much more complicated than that. When you hear those words, while they may be true in a very broad sense, they don’t even begin to address the real reasons why we can’t lose weight. Calories in versus calories out is only the tip of the iceberg.

The reason we don’t lose weight isn’t because we don’t know how. It’s pretty common knowledge these days, that to lose body fat, you have to burn more calories than you eat. We don’t have to get all reflective and mushy about the reasons why we gained weight necessarily. For me it was simply apathy and stress. The reason we can’t lose weight, is because we can’t keep our head in the game long enough for habit to take over. We haven’t decided to really commit to doing it.

The “Kinda” Zone

I was forever stuck in the “kinda” zone. I “kinda” need to eat better, I “kinda” need to lose weight, I “kinda” would like to look better. It took me a while of feeling horrible in my body and feeling embarrassed about how much I had let myself go. Finally, I made the choice to change my mindset and do what it took to change my body. img_7596

Our success starts and continues with our mindset. We have to decide that it doesn’t matter how long it takes, there are no deadlines. We need a true lifestyle change in order for this to be sustainable. Even if that means doing what seems like the harder thing, of not just following a diet plan, but learning how to make our own.

We women are unstoppable when we decide. Ask my husband, when I get something in my head, and I decide I want to do it, I’m freaking doing it. I obsess about it until it’s done. I’m sure people would say the same thing about you. We are powerful and capable when we move from “kinda” to actually truly deciding.

We’re More Powerful Than We Think

We’re way more complicated and powerful than “eat less, move more”. All that tells me, is that I’m an idiot for not being able to do this. img_7598Now go starve yourself and run on the treadmill. Both of these things sound horrible to me now, and sounded even worse when I was 100 pounds heavier. A dumbed down answer like that just doesn’t do it for me. If it was that simple, no one would struggle with their weight.

Taking Action

If you can be a sponge, figure out your why, and truly decide that this is something that you want to accomplish, then you can. You can decide that you’re going to figure this out for the last time. Let it be a process. Understand that it will be trial and error. But when the errors happen, you course correct and move on. I have said this before, but I’ll continue saying it, this is all a mental game. It’s not all about “looking better”. My true motivation this time around, has been to just physically feel better. img_7597What has been an unexpected surprise to me, is that while my confidence increased some from looking better, the main reason my confidence increased, was because I set a huge goal, and I accomplished it. I decided I was smarter and more complex than “eat less, move more” made me feel. I decided that I was going to look at this like a calculated, scientific experiment, and that I was going to do what I needed to do mentally, to keep going and see what would happen. I was going to eat and train smarter. So much can change in a year if you keep going. I’m nothing special. My body functions just like everybody else’s. Truly, if I can do this, you can do this. It all starts with your mindset and your decision.

What in the World is Flexible Dieting?

Oh man. The things we put ourselves through to lose weight. I feel like we’ve all been guilty of wanting the quick fix. That instant gratification of taking a pill, drinking a tea, or getting a shot, and magically our body fat melts off and we see that weight drop consistently day after day.

The problem is, these things we do to ourselves, even if they work in the short term, don’t last. We get to the end of the challenge, end of the program, or end of the bottle, and we don’t know what to do next. So we just slowly go back to doing what we know. We eat whatever, and do whatever, until we feel so crappy that we’re searching around like crazy looking for the next miracle. And there we are, back in the cycle. I know this, because I’ve done exactly this. Over, and over, and over.

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Size 20 to Size 6

So after the birth of my second son, Tyson, I knew I had to do something. I was 247 pounds when he was born, and on my 5’5” frame, it was quickly taking a toll on me. I was overweight, I had a newborn who didn’t sleep through the night, I was breastfeeding, pumping, and working full time. All while taking care of the other three men of the house. I was exhausted. I felt like complete crap. I had created this life that I couldn’t keep up with, I believe, because of what I had done to my body. I had lost a significant amount of weight before, so I knew what it felt like to be a “normal” body weight. And then I gained it all back, plus a few extra. I knew to feel better, I had to get back to that.

I knew it was going to take a while, but having lost and gained back a significant amount of weight before and blowing it, I was going to make sure this time that I put in the work to never have to do it again. I wanted to learn how to eat, realistically. I didn’t want my success resting on anything except my knowledge, the foods I ate, and my hard work. I absolutely refused to spend anymore money on fads, gimmicks, or pills. I wanted to do it in what I considered to be the real way, no shortcuts.

So here’s where flexible dieting comes in. First it’s important to know that while it is called flexible dieting, it’s not a diet. This is a method. A method of teaching yourself how to eat a balanced diet. Eating the correct ratio of proteins, fats, and carbs to meet your body composition goals. This method works if you’re trying to lose body fat, gain muscle, or just maintain your weight. It’s not a meal plan, it teaches you how to create your own meal plan.img_6931 It teaches you how to realistically eat to change your body, and to not feel deprived in the process. It can seem overwhelming at first, especially when we’re all so used to the instant gratification of someone giving us an exact list of do’s and don’ts. I promise though, if you take a breath, invest in your knowledge, and figure this out, you’ll be so grateful you did. You don’t have to know everything about it day 1! This is a learning process! Take messy action and just get the ball rolling. My Fitness Pal is a great place to start figuring out what makes up a food.

Cheat meals are included! For my purposes though I would rather refer to them as mental sanity meals. Haha. I’m not “cheating”, because those meals are part of the plan, not a slip from it. There are scientific reasons for the MSM too, but the big reason for them, for me personally, is just to have a mental break. Having the “will power” to keep this going, is a lot easier when you break it up into chunks. 3 days on plan, 1 MSM, 2 more days on plan, 1 MSM. You get it? It’s not “falling off the wagon” if they’re part of the plan. Just go back to eating that meal prepped food the next day.

I get told a lot, “I wish I had your will power”. Will power is a lot easier when it’s a few days at a time, and you’re working in your favorite foods as part of the plan. I don’t feel like I have a ton of will power. I just learned a system that doesn’t make me feel deprived while still giving me the results I want. And it didn’t cost me a penny! Please feel free to follow me on Instagram @mommytracksmacros where I post daily motivation and tips about flexible dieting and what it takes to stay in the weight loss mindset. img_7711

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