Today marks ten months since I decided to embark on a weight loss journey that lead me to lose 30 pounds. I constantly get asked what my secret has been, and I always find it funny that people think there’s a “secret” to losing weight aside from the obvious eating healthy and being active, which is essentially what I did.
Some may disagree with me, but I find that diets are gimmicky and unsustainable, no matter how much Susan from Accounting claimed a beet-juice cleanse worked for her sister-in-law. The bottom line is I wasn’t looking for a diet, nor a quick fix. I was looking for a long-term improvement of myself.
So this post isn’t about what superfood vegetable I’m eating or how many calories I burn each day (although that could be a future post), and it’s definitely not about any diet fad that I followed from an Instagram influencer claiming a Peruvian bean made her lose 20 pounds in a week.
This post is about how I got over my lazy excuses and got my shit together. And I’m beginning to think that maybe that’s what people mean when they ask what my secret is.
Making the change
A friend of mine once told me that it often takes an “A-ha moment” for people to change. She is absolutely right. When it came to my decision to lose weight, I had a few of those A-ha moments myself.
Like when my favourite clothes wouldn’t fit me anymore. When I would feel uncomfortably bloated all the time. When I’d get disgusted by my back fat rolls every time I looked in the mirror. When I’d binge eat junk food after a stressful day and felt sick with myself afterwards. When my sincere and loving boyfriend would tell me I was beautiful, but I’d scoff and roll my eyes at him, followed by a teary “No, I’m not” weep.
All those moments made me realize one thing: I didn’t want to feel this way anymore.
A bit of history
Just like many, I’ve struggled with body image my entire life. I’ve ALWAYS been the chubby girl, and my classmates in junior high (and certain family members) made sure I knew that. I was constantly called “fat”, “grosse” (that means fat in French, so I got teased in both languages) or as one boy in my Grade 7 class put it, “short and stubby and a little bit chubby”.
Yet looking back at my pictures from that age, I totally was not! Kids (and certain family members) can be assholes.
My body image troubles pretty much started as soon as I became an early bloomer. I started developing breasts (and got my first period) when I was 10 years old. I still have a vivid memory of a group of boys snickering at me during my geography presentation, which I later found out they were laughing at my “perky boobs”. Some girls from the older grades once asked me if I stuffed my bra because there was “no way I’d already have boobs that big”.
None of the other girls in my class had sprouted yet, so those experiences made me incredibly self-conscious about a developing body that I had no idea how to cope with it other than be embarrassed and feel like shit about the way I looked. And keep in mind this was in the 90s, when very thin women were considered the ultimate beauty standard and curvy silhouettes were not yet embraced in popular culture.
As the years went on in high school, things got worse. I actually became overweight and incredibly insecure, and I got vulgarly accosted by male classmates about my “big tits and fat ass”. High school was not a fun time for me.
Eventually in University and throughout my twenties, I got in shape, gained some confidence and overall felt better about myself. Thanks to J.Lo who made big butts cool, I started appreciating the curves I was once teased about. Overall, I was generally healthy and happy in my skin, and even felt sexy for the first time in my life.
Although I felt more accepting of myself, I was never at the best that I knew I could be. I always felt like I was close to the finish line, but then lazily became comfortable with “good enough”. Whenever I reached a satisfactory level, I’d stop making an effort and eventually gained some weight back again. My weight loss journeys in the past always felt…”temporary”.
At 32, it was finally time for me to make permanent and sustainable changes to improve my health, my strength and to re-build the confidence I seemed to have lost along the way. Regardless of how loving and supportive my boyfriend, my family and my friends are, internal improvements are just that…internal.
In this post, I’m sharing 11 steps that helped me commit to my weight loss goal. My lifestyle and health background might be different than yours, but hopefully there are some steps that can serve as inspiration for whatever goal you’re trying to achieve.
1. Make it a priority
Every year I write a list of goals that I aim to accomplish on that given year. “Lose weight” has literally been on every single one of those lists, yet it has never been officially crossed off. The reason (i.e. the excuse?) is that I prioritized other things happening in my life: “Find a new job”, “Pay off debt”, “Travel”, “Save money to move out”, “Move out”, “Start a blog”, “Find a side hustle”, etc. These were all good goals to focus on and accomplish, but “Lose Weight” ended up being, like, #7 on my priority list.
Summer of 2018, I decided to move it up to #1. But “Lose weight” is such a broad goal. Where do I start? Sure, I’ve done it before but I’ve been so out of touch from a structured health and fitness routine that I needed a refresher to make it work with my current lifestyle. That’s where the second step comes in.
2. Change one thing at a time
The goals that I failed in the past have taught me one thing: take it easy. The old me used to bite off more than I can chew (no pun intended) which would overwhelm me because I’d pressure myself to accomplish so many things at once. The new me learned to improve my time management, be realistic and focus on each small step, rather than focus on crossing off a list as quickly as possible.
I started with reading materials from health blogs and articles to inspire new ideas and lifestyle habits, and then tried one thing that I could easily implement at a time. Whether it’s trying out new recipes like these quinoa bowls, buying meal planning containers, walking for an hour every day during my lunch break, or something as simple as substituting potato chips and chocolate with carrot sticks and hummus as a Netflix snack. All those small steps eventually grew into a more permanent routine.
Speaking of Netflix…
I feel like this needs a separate mention. Both my boyfriend and I got a little plump when we first moved in together, and Netflix was certainly to blame. Sure, binge-watching Brooklyn 99 every night for five hours was fun, but that got us into an unhealthy habit of sleeping really late and snacking and ordering in…a lot. So we established a new rule: we only watch one or two episodes per night instead of one or two seasons (don’t judge), and snacks or delivery are only for weekends. Reducing our daily Netflix intake has helped us keep up with a healthy routine, we sleep much better and we have more time to chill 🙂
3. Set a realistic goal
Managing expectations about your goal and timeline is probably the most important thing when it comes to accomplishing weight loss, or any goal for that matter. Wouldn’t we all love to achieve the most amount of success in the least amount of time? Well, it ain’t gonna happen and when it doesn’t happen, you’ll get discouraged and give up all together, when all you really needed to do was tweak your expectation.
In my case, my main goal was to lose 1 pound a week, and my end goal was to lose 15 pounds by Christmas. I ended up losing 18 pounds by November. When I saw that attaining my goal was “easier” than I thought, it made the journey so much more rewarding and it encouraged me to keep going.
4. Listen to your emotions
You know when you’ve had a bad day and you’re like “Man, I need a drink”? For me, my response to stress was more like “Man, I need poutine, an entire bag of chips and a cupcake”. I have always been an emotional eater, which explains why throughout being teased at school, exam stress, debt stress, breakups, shitty people, boredom or horrible work managers, my weight has kinda of been all over the place. I mean, the occasional pint of ice cream to soothe a heartache is okay…as long as turning to food for comfort doesn’t become a habit to cope with the common struggles of life. You might be doing it without knowing it, and more frequently than you think. Just like I was.
The biggest wake-up call on my emotional eating happened after another stressful day at my previous job. On my way home, while feeling so depleted and unappreciated for the third time that week, I picked up a large bag of Cheetos and a box of Toffifee. I sat on my couch, stuffing my face in silence as I zoned out and stared blankly at the wall, eating all of the Cheetos and all of the chocolate. All of it. When I looked down at my bright orange fingers and the empty bag of Cheetos that I just inhaled, I burst into tears at how much of slob I was, which made me even more sad about my job situation. It was not my proudest moment, guys. When I realized what was happening, I knew I had to, 1) leave that job, and 2) find a better way to deal with stress.
Thankfully, my current work environment is peaceful and has a much more laid-back culture. I’m barely ever stressed at work now, and as a result, my emotional eating habit went away. On the odd occasion where I am having a challenging day, a 40-minute spin class makes all my worries disappear (more on fitness later). PMS on the other hand…that always gets a pass for ice cream.
5. Listen to your body
When certain foods started bothering me or when I’d constantly feel bloated or sluggish, I knew I had to step back and re-evaluate what I was eating (or didn’t eat enough of) that made me feel so…heavy. For two weeks I tracked everything I ate and noted when I’d get an upset stomach, cramping or bloating. I consulted my doctor, did an allergy test and eventually adjusted what I was eating based on what triggered me to feel bad.
In my specific case, my bloating and cramping was caused by an excess of dairy and carbs. I didn’t need to cut it off completely but I did reduce my intake by almost 60%. For example, I used to have bread and cheese every single day when I got home as a pre-dinner snack. I also used to have yogurt every day, and a bagel and cream cheese was a common breakfast choice for me. Now, I only have one serving of bread and cheese, two to three times per week. Those small adjustments dramatically reduced my bloating and cramps, and I just feel so much better and lighter (while still enjoying the occasional pizza without any consequences).
6. Track your caloric intake (and adjust accordingly)
Now that I narrowed down what I should and shouldn’t be eating, the next step for me was to modify how much I should be eating. I have never counted calories before so this was a HUGE eye-opener for me. Being more self-aware of my calorie intake explained where I went wrong all these past years. Having a visual representation of how much I should be consuming VS. burning just made it easier for me to stay on track.
The calorie tracker I use is MyFitnessPal app. The most encouraging part about this app is that whenever I stay on track with my calories/activity and submit my entry for the day, the app gives me an estimated forecast of my progress:
I’d then realize, “Today was actually easy. I can totally repeat today”. So I do. And repeating good eating habits is easy when you…(see next step)…
7. Meal Prep
I’m not gonna lie, I was a little overwhelmed by this concept when I first started it because I thought it meant I had to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole week. Luckily, this helpful blog post from Organize Yourself Skinny gave me reassurance and inspired me to view meal planning as just a way to stay organized. And let’s not even talk about the money you save!
So what do I normally meal prep? Hard-boiled eggs, carrots and nuts for snacks, and I’ll pack quinoa bowls or salads with protein for my lunches. We’ll also wash and chop all our vegetables in clear containers so that they’re ready to throw in a baking sheet or into hearty salads or bowls for dinner. When there’s a good deal on meat, my boyfriend will season and slow-cook a turkey, chicken or pork roast that we use for fajitas or salad toppings for the week.
I also “meal prep” at the office. I keep a container of oatmeal in the office kitchen for my breakfast, keep a few apples and hummus in the office fridge. Knowing that I have a healthy breakfast and snack ready at the office prevents me from picking up a croissant when I grab my morning coffee. On the days I do allow myself a beautiful, flaky, buttery croissant…I’ll usually split it in half with a colleague, which brings me to my next step.
8. Portion control
For someone who always used to eat until I felt really full, eating less was probably the most challenging part of this journey for me, but ultimately the most effective (obviously). It took almost a 3 to 4 weeks for my stomach to get used to eating smaller portions, which was (again) a big wake-up call for me realizing how much I was actually eating.
When it comes to cheat meals, I definitely still enjoy them but I’ve cut back on portion and frequency, as per the croissant example. Portion controlling my cheat meals has helped with making weight loss not only more successful, but more enjoyable too. More on that later!
9. Find an enjoyable workout that fits with your life
In recent years, staying active was tough to stick to in my busy schedule, especially when I used to commute an hour and a half each way, every day. Moving downtown has definitely enabled a better work-life balance and active lifestyle by providing a multitude of options to stay active without going to the gym (I am just not a gym person, and that’s okay).
I walk to work, an average of 3-5 km per day. I could take the streetcar to work, but I choose to walk because it’s just such an easy way balance out sitting down at a desk for 8 hours. I also walk for getting around in general like picking-up groceries, running errands or meeting up with friends. Aside from it being a daily way of getting around, I just really love walking. Thankfully, so do my boyfriend, my friends and my brother, so whenever the weather is nice I know I’ve got some good walking buddies.
Walking along the lake, passing by cool neighbourhoods or hiking during the changing of seasons makes a physical activity feel like a serene outing. It’s also a perfect setting for a shutterbug like me.
Although doing a physical activity with a partner or friend is a good encouragement to stay active, I personally think it’s beneficial to also find a workout that you enjoy doing on your own, and on your own time. Something where you can really push yourself and give it your absolute all. For me that was spinning, and thankfully there’s a good studio conveniently located beside my work.
Spinning is a place where I literally sweat my ass off while getting lost in a song. After each spin class, I feel ten times stronger and incredibly accomplished. It wasn’t like that in the beginning though. During my first few classes, I felt like I was actually going to die (sometimes I still do, ha!) but after a few classes, I got hooked on that endorphin high and just kept coming back for more. I’ve now been an avid rider for almost a year and I’m not gonna lie, my butt has shaped up pretty nicely, too.
10. Enjoy your cheat meals
Someone once asked me if I still have cheat meals and I laughed. I love food too much, so damn right I still enjoy the occasional pizza, bacon cheeseburger, french fries, Doritos, that chewy chocolate chip cookie from Le Gourmand or McCain’s Deep & Delicious chocolate cake (not in one sitting, of course.). You gotta enjoy life! And life is yummy, delicious, indulgent food, especially when you share it amongst people you love. You shouldn’t have to feel deprived. That’s why portion control on cheat meals is what can make weight loss more manageable.
So yes, I still have pizza but instead of four slices (yup, four was my number. Okay, sometimes it was five), I’ll have two small slices or one medium slice. And instead of having pizza every weekend, we’ll have pizza once a month. Yes, I’ll still have the occasional fast food, but I’ll order only a burger and I’ll skip fries and pop (always skip pop. Sugary drinks are the worst, but you should already know that). If I do get fries, I’ll share them instead of having the full amount to myself. Bottom line: yes, I still have the occasional junk food, just in smaller amounts and not as frequently as I used to.
But on those days where I say fuck it, and grab that extra slice of pizza or have that whole Le Gourmand cookie to myself, I just let it happen. I let it happen because I know I’m not gonna ruin months of hard work with just a slice of pizza. I’ll be sure to spin harder the next day or eat clean for the remainder of the week. It’s okay to indulge once in a while. It really is all about balance, and not deprivation.
11. Be patient
This was another one of my challenges. In my twenties, I’d see results much quicker but this time around, the progress was a little slower to show. It took almost three months for me to actually see results. It got frustrating because I was spinning my butt off and staying below my calorie count, yet my waistline wasn’t reducing. But I didn’t give up, and eventually my time came. While buying new jeans, I picked up the size I thought I was, but to my shock when I tried it in the change room, that size was too large on me. That was my true moment of victory, and I may have cried a little tear of accomplished joy in that H&M change room.
As for the number on the scale, I’ll typically weight myself once a week in the morning just to keep track of my progress (or my set-back!) but when it comes to a specific number, I couldn’t care less. All I care about is how I feel. How I feel when I fit in my clothes, and how I feel in my naked skin. And thankfully, I haven’t felt this good since, well, ever.
My health journey doesn’t just end here with this blog post. My next goal is to tone my arms and stomach, and I want to try different meal-prepping recipes. The point is, I’m not done. And I don’t think we’re ever really “done” when it comes to improving ourselves.
After seeing what I was able to accomplish, I wanna see what else I can do. And I don’t just mean about fitness or weight loss. I’m talking about anything else in my life that I want to try to accomplish, that I never thought I would.
I’m finally happy to say: