I want to start by saying that I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian, and everything I’m sharing here is about my own personal experience.
Through my teenage and young adult years, I struggled with my weight. Any goal-setting session I sat down to, “Lose weight”, and “Get fit”, were my top goals – and it was through many years of trial and error that I learned how. (It’s valid to say perhaps these were not the best SMART goals!)
We’ve all heard of yo-yo dieting — On again, off again. I wouldn’t say I was significantly “on” enough to call myself a yo-yo dieter, but you get the idea.
I’d been working out consistently for years. I’d also spent those years exploring a lot of “healthy eating” options, and learning about a lot of diets. I tried out the Whole 30, I tried Weight Watchers, I tried going gluten-free and giving up soft drinks. At one time I went to a naturopath who prescribed a hardcore diet that did actually help me lose 10-15 pounds – but it was unsustainable and I gained the weight back.
It was a combination of inspirations that finally unlocked the secret for me. I was feeling particularly down about my weight after Easter one year, and decided to buy a Fitbit. Around the same time, my trainer thought it might be a good idea for me to enroll in Popeye’s “Total Transformation Challenge,” and the cash prize somehow incentivized me to do the work.
Before I share my exact plan that changed my life, I’d like for you to understand the two most important thoughts that helped me create this plan:
- Any one method could work for me – but whatever I do has to be sustainable and repeatable.
- I should be able to pick and choose the habits that resonate most with me, and discard the ones that don’t.
I made the decision to list out a series of simple, clear guidelines for myself that I would commit to long-term. Any one of these new habits was not a game-changer — but including them all together, long-term, was the ultimate solution.
Many of these were small pieces from other diets that were ultimately too extreme. I just borrowed the easy stuff. Some were ideas from experts or recommendations from friends that had been through similar journeys. I share these not so that you can copy my exact habits – but to inspire you to build your own system that is unique to you. Here are the top 10 rules I created for myself, that changed my life:
“Tim’s Healthy Eating Plan”
- Track my calorie intake via the Fitbit app every day, to compare to calories burned and ensure a calorie deficit.
- Every morning, weigh myself after waking up. (I love data and used this as a motivating factor. My graph after 3-4 years of this is insane.)
- Eat lots – load up on as many vegetables as possible, and as much protein as possible. Begin every meal with a bite of protein to start the metabolization process earlier. (As I’m vegetarian, I’m really in no danger of having too much protein.)
- When feeling snacky: drink water, tea, or coffee and wait a bit. If still hungry, pair a protein like nuts with a piece of fruit: the sugar helps satisfy the craving, while the protein slows the rise in insulin and helps me to feel full longer.
- The kitchen is for cooking – not lounging, watching netflix, or snacking.
- Don’t eat past 10pm. (Later, I changed this to “Don’t eat after dinnertime.”) Make a pot of tea instead, and go upstairs – stay out of the kitchen.
- Limit sugars and breads as much as possible. If I’m having them, it’s best to have them for breakfast as that will give me energy for the rest of the day. Bread metabolizes easier when it has been toasted. (Note I didn’t actually restrict these – just limited them.)
- Skip the cream – drink coffee black.
- “Snaccidents” and cheat days are acceptable as long as I get back on the horse the very next day. I’m not allowed to fall off the horse for more than 1 day in a row.
- If I’m feeling down about eating too much (ie: after Thanksgiving dinner) – get active rather than wallow in it. Going for a walk is simple and very powerful, way better than sitting on the couch upset with myself.
Alongside this list, I wrote out a list of ingredients I liked that I wanted to focus on buying & cooking. I also created rules and decided how I would navigate restaurants, hangouts with friends, parties, movie theatres, and road trips.
I was already fairly physically active (More on how I developed a daily workout habit in a future post). I simply understood now that I was getting nowhere without my nutrition being aligned with the workouts I was already doing. I kept up my physical activity. I started going to bed earlier, to get better quality sleep.
I also identified a few quotes to help inspire me:
- “Strive for average. Losing 20 pounds in a month isn’t a sustainable pattern.”
- “Kinda watching your diet won’t cut it if you want to lose the weight. You must start taking definitive and consistent action every single day in order to create change. If you aren’t “Fully In”, you are “Fully Out.”
- “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry. You’re just bored.”
Okay, okay, I set goal dates on the calendar as well. Nothing more than 2 pounds per week.
And that was that.
I stuck to my rules. I lost 30-40 pounds that Spring and Summer, then I revisited, adjusted, and continued – eventually losing 50 pounds, 60, 70. With consistency and sticking to habits that I personally found to be sustainable and easy to do.
I’m still on that journey. I’m grateful for what I’ve accomplished, and 4 years later I’ve been keeping the weight off but haven’t fully reached my goals yet. You do have to adjust. You do fall off the wagon and have to fight to get yourself back on. You do have bad months and lose progress.
You also have small victories, and days where you feel better than ever before.
I later explored ideas like intermittent fasting, tracking macronutrients, and the like . . . but that’s all designed to take me to the next level. If you’re getting started on a weight loss journey, my advice is to choose your own simple, clear guidelines that you feel you can commit to consistently. This will pave the way.