Basically, the program used boxed meals and shakes to help make managing the food intake better, while also encouraging us to reach a certain physical activity goal. The program's food mostly helped me with training my body to get used to smaller portions of food. I mentally told myself that this was a "fast" of good/real food, for a year or however long it took, but it wasn't forever. :)
I continually increased my physical activity throughout the year, trying all types of activities and times. Yoga with Dave on Saturdays, walking with friends at lunch, elliptical machine early before work, exercise DVDs, cardio kickboxing, Pilates once a week, etc.
By August of that year, I started adding vegetables and fruit as part of the "next phase" of the program and had also signed up for my first half marathon (which was to be held in October). My goal at that event was just to finish, and I had a training buddy who joined me in a program where we started out walking 2 min/running 1 min, walking 1 min/running 1 min and gradually running more and walking less. At that first event, I ran only the first three to four miles, and then speed-walked the rest. :)
Sometime during this process, I also read the book Thin for Life and realized that, perhaps, this was something more than what I "did for a year." (Big realization!) That said, I knew I needed to change my mindset, that living healthy wasn't just about restriction, but about enjoying life, finding things I enjoyed, and choosing to find fulfilling, fun aspects of this "healthy lifestyle."
By November of that year, I was still working to lose weight but eating 100% "normal" food, keeping a detailed journal of what I was eating, tracking the calories (using labels and/or calorieking.com to figure out calories), and comparing the calorie intake, physical activity "burn" and my weigh-ins from week to week, to monitor where I needed to be in order for me to lose and eventually maintain.
Toward the end of the year, I also finally started to enjoy exercise – up until that point, I HATED it. Yes, really, it took eight to nine months to get to the point that I enjoyed exercise and began to love running. (I definitely got the running "bug" by then and had signed up for a second half marathon, was regularly running 15 to 20 miles a week and worked with a personal trainer once a week for core/abs strengthening) Because my physical activity had become so intense, I realized I really needed to focus on not just keeping things low-calorie, but also making sure that I was taking in quality "fuel" - with an emphasis on a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, supplemented by healthy meats and whole grains.
I eventually got into a rhythm and pattern of eating and exercise that I know works for me. I weigh myself frequently and have a weight range that I watch. If I hover toward the higher end of that range, then I cut back on the eating and increase the exercise.
Most importantly, I love where I'm at (as much as I can – LOL), and I know I can do this. That’s how I "did" it. Not really a magical formula, but it is my story. :)
Dieting "tips" that worked for me:
- Measured portions. When I'm time crunched or otherwise distracted or stressed, I am not afraid to use foods that are portioned for me (boxed foods or frozen foods, snack packs) or self-portioned (don’t take the bag of pretzels, count out 16 pretzels into a bowl and grabbing those for snacks). Mindless eating is the hardest part about weight management.
- Volumetrics. It always help to find high-volume, low calorie foods (salads, broth soups) to fill up the empty body without packing in the calories.
- Exercise variety and frequency. I work to be cognizant about making choices that get me moving whenever possible. Some ideas: walking during conference calls or when meeting with friends, trying new classes (Pilates, yoga, kickboxing), parking farther away from the building/store, getting a variety of DVD workouts, doing sit-ups while watching TV, and generally trying to do something active (even for 10 minutes) every single day.
- Vegetables and low-calorie fruits as the first choice, always. If I have a choice of snacks, fresh fruits and veggies are selected first. Even the most caloric/sweet fruit will have fewer calories and more nutrients than the bag of pretzels and chips. To help with the convenience factor, I buy mini snack packs of baby carrots (yes more expensive, but always ready to grab) and get plenty of "convenient" fruits that I can grab and stick in my purse.
- Cautious use of other snacks. Snack "health" bars are a great alternative to more caloric desserts or a handy option when hunger strikes, so I like to have them on hand as an alternative. But I am careful to read the labels to find things that are lower calorie and have greater nutritious value. For a chocolate fix, I have a Clif Kids Zbar (Organic Chocolate Brownie). And I also love the Clif Nectar bars (Organic Cherry Pomegranate). Sometimes the local store has these on sale and I'll stock up. Or I can order large boxes of them from Amazon.com for less than I can get them at the store.
Other good lessons and observations for me:
- As you lose weight, you don’t burn as many calories. In the program, we were given a chart to measure and calculate the calories burned during exercise. You quickly learn that you can’t maintain (or continue to lose) weight with the same eating/activity level, because the less you weigh, the more you’d have to do (or the less you have to eat) to burn those calories at the same rate. DUH, right? Well, how many times do you go back to eating what you did before a "diet" because you were able to maintain your higher weight with those habits? Just doesn't work. ☺ Plus age is a factor, sadly, for those of us who are on the older end of the spectrum.
- Perseverance is key, which is why you have to REALLY want the change, more than anything else. Eating boxed meals (especially for someone like me, who loves to cook) was challenging and difficult. Exercise was a burden. Abstaining from things I loved during those early months was NOT pleasant, and it limited my social life, and was inconvenient at work, too. I didn’t really enjoy my "new" activities until nine months into the effort. Everyone has different motivators. For me, it was a milestone birthday and vanity. For others, it might be kids/family/noble causes. ☺
- The world is unfriendly to "fat" people, even fat people trying to exercise. Perhaps I'm overstating it, but it's extremely disturbing to me how differently I'm treated now, even though I feel exactly like the same person I was 15 months ago. Mentally, I'm the same person. I always had the same amount of self-discipline (I just was disciplined in other areas, NOT food! lol), and I always dressed well, even WHEN I was fat. But people treat me like I’m a magically transformed person. Sigh. Oh, and why is it nearly impossible to find decent exercise clothing for short, overweight people who WANT to exercise? ☺ Don’t even get me started on that one.
- Fitting exercise into your life means finding things you LIKE and LOVE to do. There are many other articles on this, but for me, if I didn't LOVE to run, I wouldn't do it. And even now, getting started with the run is the hardest part for me. I'll procrastinate with whatever I can find to distract me. But afterwards, I'm so glad I did it. Plus, I've found a gym that I really enjoy, for multiple, personal reasons (see my Yelp review). And, when I'm in the mood for something else (yoga, DVD, cardio kickboxing), I embrace the variety and even the "rest" days. It's taken a while to find a pattern that works for me, and I have to problem-solve sometimes. But now it's a normal part of life for me.