I’m not a health expert. I’m not a fitness professional, a personal trainer, or an aspiring Instagram model. What I am is a working, married 23-year-old who’s trying to improve her health. I haven’t lost a lot of weight or gained years of experience. I’m just starting this lifelong process and I want to share with you the few important things I’ve learned this far.
Start Small and Build
Many friends and family members that I talk to are overwhelmed at the thought of getting back into shape or improving their health. They think they have to cut out sugar forever or go hard at the gym six days a week. They build it up in their mind to this insurmountable mountain and give up before they even try. “I don’t have the self-control,” they say, or “I could never eat like that.” The good news is you don’t have to do everything at once! The key is to start small, and then build on that foundation.
Back in January, I was eating whatever was around for breakfast; toast, hash browns, bagels, pancakes, and so on… Not only that but some mornings I would be so indecisive that by the time I settled on something, I was ravenous! Something had to change, so I decided my first step was to incorporate protein. I started eating two scrambled eggs on an English muffin every morning. The consistency was great because it eliminated the decision paralysis that eventually lead to me overeating. Once I got used to that breakfast, I decided to cut some calories. So I stopped buttering the muffin–for a day. It was disgusting! I switched tactics and starting scrambling one egg and one egg white. A few weeks later, I decided to focus on real ingredients, so I switched to Ezekiel 4:9 bread. This all happened over the course of about four months. If I had gone from pancakes to one egg and one egg white on flourless bread, I would have never made it! But because it happened slowly over the course of a few months, it didn’t phase me, and I was able to make it stick.
Nothing Is Off-Limits
I’m not an extreme person, therefore, extreme health changes don’t work for me. I can’t quit sugar forever, or skip the popcorn at the movies. And I don’t want to! Food is fun and enjoyable, and crucial to socialization in our culture. So I decided that nothing was off-limits, but everything was in to be had in moderation. While this slowed down my progress, having the option to still eat my favorite foods helped me feel more comfortable about eating healthier because it wasn’t restrictive. It also helped me realize that self-control is like a muscle; the more you use it the stronger it is. If I know I’m going out to a movie with friends, I’ll eat less (and fewer carbs, specifically) during the day to make room for the popcorn at night.
Not only do these decisions become easier, they become necessary. Jordan and I were eating very healthy for about a month; we had homemade meals and never ate out. We decided to splurge for Valentine’s Day and order Chinese food. Just a few bites in and we were feeling so sick! The greasy, fried foods were upsetting our stomachs and we couldn’t even enjoy the meal. As your mind gets used to healthy, whole foods, so will your body, and it won’t want to go back.
Knowledge is Power
I love reading, and when I decided to improve my health, I realized that the best way to make it stick was to learn why. Why I had to eat certain things, how they affected my body, what to look for on labels, and so on. Knowledge is power, and informed decisions are easier to make than uninformed ones. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find general nutrition books–most of the books I found were diet books or books demonizing an entire food family (wheat, fats, sugar, etc). I asked a couple health-conscious friends and Googled some booklists, and came up with a few suggestions!
Even more important than reading nutrition books is reading nutrition labels. Learn the sneaky ways that companies disguise sugar (Huffington Post has a great list), and if you don’t know what an ingredient is, don’t ingest it! Not only that but learn what’s in the foods you eat every day. For example, there were so many weird and unnecessary ingredients in my English muffins that caused me to switch to the wholesome Ezekiel bread. Another example is the popular fruit smoothie Naked. Naked has pure ingredients but is a very high-calorie drink because fruits are high in sugar. Now, if your goal is to cut processed foods, then Naked is a totally fine choice. But if your goal is to cut calories, then Naked should be avoided. Know your goals when reading labels to help direct you to make smarter choices.
Invest in an Activity Tracker
For months, I had wanted a Fitbit, but I could never justify the cost. To help lessen my desire for one, I convinced myself that it wouldn’t be effective anyway. I reasoned that if I couldn’t motivate myself to make health changes now, something on my wrist wouldn’t change that. While there is some truth to that, I was wrong.
For Christmas, I was finally able to order one. It was a game-changer. Instead of being a mystery, my activity levels and goals were right there in front of me, beautifully designed and easy to understand. For once, I could finally see how many calories I was actually burning and how much more I needed to burn. Logging my workouts was motivating and helped me reflect and make the next workout even better. Seeing all this information was empowering because it helped me realize I could do something about it! Whether it’s a Fitbit, Jawbone, Apple Watch, or even the Health app on your iPhone, investing in a device to get you on track is definitely something to consider.
A Few More…
Get rid of the junk food–out of sight, out of mind. Clean out your fridge and pantry of the foods you’re trying to avoid.
Prepare–food prepping is important so you avoid spending money when you’re out. This includes whole meals along with portioning out snacks to take on the go (a lifesaver for me).
80/20 rule–eat well 80% of the time, eat what you want 20% of the time. Follow this as much as you can!
Bounce back–just because you had an unhealthy meal, day, or even week doesn’t mean it’s all over. Just redirect yourself as soon as you can and keep going. Don’t sweat it!
In the grand scheme of things, losing ten pounds isn’t a big deal. I did not start at an extreme weight (155) and I did not lose it fast (5 months). But it’s a big deal to me. I feel like I can do anything, like I have already done so much. In addition, I feel wonderfully normal. There were no fad diets, intense fasting, rigorous exercise, or strict regimens. The progress wasn’t linear, it was up and down with setbacks and breakthroughs. I changed little by little and watched it slowly add up to 10 pounds, and I’ll keep watching it change my body even more. I’ve learned a lot, but I’m even more excited to keep learning.