... Because I do enjoy a good picture of an apple.
So here we are at the last, but maybe most important, installment of my "Before and After" post (find part one here, and part two here). This is the post that aims to answer the question I get most often, which is, "Rita, how the heck did you get so awesome?"*
*Okay, so maybe that's not the exact question, but whatever.
Anyway, it's long, but here it is - bullet-pointed for your reading pleasure. (You're welcome.) First, we'll start out with my dietary changes.
- I started out small. Like, really small. Like when we'd go out to dinner: I'd order my usual meal but with water instead of soda. Or I'd drink unsweetened tea instead of my favorite Southern-sweet style. Or I'd opt for the lunch portion instead of the double-sized dinner portion. At home, I would eat my toast without butter, for example - or if I thought I'd feel deprived not having butter, then I'd just spread on a little less than usual.
- I didn't give myself a strict timeline. There's nothing wrong with setting a goal, if you feel like it'll help motivate you - but make it, if anything, overly attainable. (Not impossible like, "I will lose forty pounds by the end of this month by eating only Advil and grapefruit juice.") I never labored under a deadline, instead choosing to make changes that were manageable to me. I'd love to say there's some magical quick fix, but substantial and lasting weight loss takes time and patience (neither of which I possess in spades). Like the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race.
- I admitted that it really was a "lifestyle change." I was always annoyed when people said, "It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle change" - but as much as I hate to admit it, that's exactly what it is. I mean, you can't be on a diet forever (I'm pretty sure that's what happens if you go to hell). A lifestyle change just means things you can live with, not a total deprivation of your favorite foods.
- I drink a lot of water. I hated water a couple of years ago. As in, if I were out of milk or sweet tea or juice, I would rather sit there parched with thirst than drink a glass of H20. ("Put a slice of lemon in it!" well-meaning water-lovers would suggest, but ... yuck. Lemon-flavored water? Only if it's sugared up and called "lemonade.") But I made myself drink water because I know it's good for me and good for weight loss, and now it's rare that I drink anything else.
- I ingest a lot of fiber. Yes, it makes me farty - or it did at first. Now my insides are pretty used to it unless I reeeeeally overdo it. But I once heard a dietician on TV say that if you eat tons of fiber, your body doesn't absorb fat as readily. Do I know if this is true? No. But I get a lot of fiber anyway, because it's healthy, even if the fat-absorption theory is wrong.
- I try to watch my sugar/processed carb intake. I'm not - by ANY means - one of those people who is all, "Oh I never eat white bread. I never eat sugar. I never drink soda." Because hello, those things are delicious (I never met a carb I didn't like). But I do try to keep my carb consumption in check. If I know I'm going to have some mashed potatoes or something like that later, I "save up" my carbs by going heavy on the protein for the first part of the day. And I trim the carbs in small ways, too. Like, I buy the Misson brand Carb Balance tortillas instead of the regular ones when I make fajitas. Or if I'm eating a hamburger, I'll get rid of half the bun and eat it like an open-faced sandwich. Little changes truly do add up.
- I try not to eat after 7 pm. Key word here: "try." I am a huge bedtime-snack fanatic (remember the cartoon I drew to illustrate my pre-bed cereal consumption?). I do not always succeed at keeping this policy, because I love me some munchies while watching some evening TV in those two or three quiet hours between the boys' bedtime and my own. But as a general rule, I try to steer clear of eating within a couple hours of calling it a night.
- I don't let myself get ravenously hungry. Namely because if I do, I tend to shovel in food like a stoned Sumo wrestler. I would rather "graze" on a light snack every couple of hours and keep my stomach from growling. Plus, if you eat regularly, you keep your metabolism stoked. Think of your metabolism as a fire: when you try to burn one huge log (i.e., a big meal), it doesn't work as well. But if you start the fire with a few twigs, and then keep consistently adding twigs, the fire burns much more effectively.
- I try to practice portion control. Again, this doesn't always work, but I do give it an admirable effort most of the time. This is probably the hardest for me (I even wrote this post about it) because, y'all? Mama can eat. The quantities of food I can put away would probably make an elephant jealous. But just because I can, definitely does not mean I should - so I try to watch how much of anything I'm eating. I don't go so far as to measure it or anything like that, but I'd like to think I have enough common sense to know what's a reasonable portion and what isn't. I tell myself it's either eat a little bit of something, or none at all ... and you know what I choose, every time!
- I never deprive myself of anything. If I want to bake cookies, I'll bake cookies - but then instead of eating
the wholehalf the batch myself, I'll save a few back and send the rest to work with Curtis. I don't miss out on birthday cakes, or barbecues, or Halloween candy ... I just try to eat less of it. To be honest, though, it doesn't always work - sometimes I totally go on a junk food binge - but I forgive myself and get back on track. Which leads me to my next point ...
- I look at the "big picture." You know that old saying, "You can't see the forest for the trees?" I think that's much of the reason why dieting fails. We start counting calories, we're a slave to the scale, we overanalyze every little food choice, we obsess about what we're putting in our mouths. And we become miserable. You may have lost twenty pounds overall, but you beat yourself up over the two or three or five pounds you gained back - not congratulate yourself for the fifteen you're still down. Yes, it's frustrating to have a setback, but it happens. I keep my eye on the grand scheme of things rather than the small details. If I pat myself on the back for staying on track 80% of the time, then I don't berate myself for the 20% of the time when I don't do so well.
- Again: I started small. My Wii Fit was the best investment ever. I used their cute little games and broke a tiny sweat a few times a week. Then I got a step platform-riser thingy for it (like this one) and upped my intensity a little bit. While my kids were napping, I'd turn on some trashy reality show and step up and down for half an hour. Outside of my Wii workouts, I took baby steps to be more active around the house ... like squatting to pick up toys instead of bending over, to give my legs a workout. Or playing tag with my kids (so what if I could only last two minutes before becoming all wheezy and winded?).
- I kept moving. I am not exaggerating one teeny iota when I tell you that at the beginning of all this, at my heaviest, even thinking about exercise made me so tired I couldn't get up. Seriously. I'd think about being sweaty and I'd be all, "Ugh!" But it's one of those things that I had to force myself to do. And once I had been making myself exercise for about a week or two, I found that it was becoming less of a hassle. Movement begets movement: just get up and move, no matter how little you start out, and you'll gain the momentum to do it more often.
- I found something I liked to do. Though the elliptical machine, exercise bike, treadmill etc. are great cardio workouts, I find them to be a total snooze-fest. Even when I'm thumbing through a magazine and pretending to be interested, my eyes keep sneaking glances at the clock, which never seems to move fast enough. For me, the only thing that keeps me motivated is group fitness. I joined the YMCA (which is a GREAT organization, by the way) and have really enjoyed the exercise classes there - especially Zumba. There are a variety of different classes available every day of the week, and not only do I get a good workout, but I've made a lot of good friends ... which is one of the most valuable benefits! My advice is to find something you like, even if it isn't a traditional workout. As long as you're moving and getting your heart rate up, it doesn't matter if you're breakdancing in your living room or playing bongos naked a la Matthew McConaughey.
- I have workout buddies. Never underestimate the value of having someone to work out with. After all, it was my neighbor Nicki who first convinced me to go to a Zumba class. She and I have been working out together a couple of times a week ever since then. One of my Zumba instructors, Lindsey, has helped me to branch out into other classes (like BodyPump ... you'll read about that next!) - and has become a good friend of mine in the process. When you work out with friends, you can help motivate one another, and it always makes it more fun.
- I added weight training. This is a relatively new development, but one that I think is pretty important. One of the classes I take at the Y is BodyPump, which is basically light weightlifting. It's just for toning purposes, and I noticed a difference in my arms almost immediately after starting. I'm not in there hefting 100-pound barbells, y'all, but you'd be surprised what even little five-pound weights can do for your physique if you hoist 'em up on the regular. Plus, bigger muscles mean more calorie burn. WIN.
- I listen to my body. Now that I work out regularly, believe it or not, it's rare that I don't feel like doing it. But on the occasion when I do feel like I'm dragging, I ask myself why. If it's because I'm just feeling lazy, that "I'd-rather-be-on-the-couch-in-a-Snuggie-eating-ice-cream-and-watching-reruns-of-Teen-Mom" feeling, I make myself anyway (and am always glad I did). But if it's because I feel ill, or am extra tired due to a lack of sleep, I don't force myself. Or I do something short, or really low-impact.
- I make working out a priority. I had soooo many excuses for not working out. Not enough time, it takes time away from my kids, blah blah blah blah. But going to the gym for an hour is not a selfish pursuit; it's an investment in my own wellbeing, and consequently, the wellbeing of my family (because if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy). It helps to have a supportive spouse, or someone else who doesn't mind staying with the kids - but even if you don't, most gyms have a daycare.
- I invest in my looks, even if it's not much. I'm not saying I buy a new wardrobe each season; hell, I buy about one new item of clothing every three months, and always at Target or TJMaxx or some similarly cheap store. But the point is, I don't entirely forego buying things for myself just because the kids need stuff (I used to do that, terribly). And I've realized that little things go a long way. Like, a while ago when I saw in a magazine that "Greige" was the new hot trend in nail color, I went out and spent like four bucks on a bottle of nail polish - and was actually amazed at how "trendy" I felt.
- I make an effort to beautify. I try to keep my hands and feet manicured and pedicured - or at the very least, groomed and filed. I keep my eyebrows waxed. I keep my beard plucked (I'm totally serious ... hehe). I exfoliate regularly and use my very favorite beauty tip of all, the aspirin mask. As much as I wish I could afford to get all this shiz done at a salon, I do it all myself because I have three money-sucking children and am a freelance writer with a (very) sporadic income. But it's fun, and even though at first it felt useless and futile (again: polishing a turd), it has become a time I look forward to. In fact, I often replace my evening snack with a beauty treatment while I'm watching TV. See my post about DIY de-frumping for some fun tips.
- I get dressed. Seriously, this may sound like a no-brainer to some of you, but stay-at-home and work-at-home moms, I know you feel me on this one. When you're at home for most of the day, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of hanging out braless in your loungy pants. But don't. Get yourself dressed. Nobody's saying you've gotta wear slacks and a blouse, but a bra and jeans would be nice. Even if it is going to be spit up on or smeared with snot or poop or peanut butter within an hour of putting it on. The effort makes all the difference, I swear.