Since giving birth to my daughter in December 2015, I’ve lost fifty pounds: an amount I never really thought I’d have to lose. I’ve spent much of my adult life battling the ten to twenty “extra” pounds I usually carry, and had thought it a huge triumph when I once lost twenty-five pounds in one go. Now, I can barely fathom that I’ve shed so much. Nursing is a big part of it. But I have to acknowledge some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past year or so, and apply them as I push forward, trying once again to shed the last ten to twenty pounds. (This may be the first of a multi-part post; new thoughts occur on this subject quite often.) And since it’s the diet and exercise season, I thought I’d share them with you.
- Exercise first, diet second. Which is not to say that I think it’s healthy to try to out-exercise a bad diet, or that I don’t think healthy food is important, or anything like that. What I mean is, you only have so much will power in a day. For me, making exercise a habitual thing and having that in place before I really started slashing calories helped me focus more willpower on the eating part of it. And whenever I slip, I find it helpful to climb back on the exercise bandwagon first, then pull the eating habits up behind me.
- Don’t be greedy. I have often been one to set two-pound-a-week weight loss goals, aiming to lose a large sum over several months, and getting my heart so set on that final goal that just a few bad dieting days not only makes my original goal a physical impossibility, but makes me lose all hope and can lead to a spiral that ends at the bottom of a bag of potato chips. To avoid this, I’ve started setting goals at about half the speed I’d really like to lose the weight, and then seeing if I can exceed them. That way, if I lose more than I set out to–hurray!–but if I have a few days, even weeks, of backsliding, I can generally recover.
- Fitness can be creative and it can be fun. This is not such a new idea to me. I remember, as a kid, conducting imaginary interviews with my future self (when I would inevitably be a movie star and as famous as famous can be), and asking, “So, Laura: How do you keep fit?” “I hate exercise,” I’d say, “Or at least, I hate working out. But I love dancing, I love walking, I love hearing a song on the radio and jumping around like a maniac.” One of my current favorite calorie burners is the every-afternoon dance party I have with my kids. Inevitably, at least once a day, my son will say, “Listen Hands Clap!” and so I put on the video for Fitz and the Tantrums’ “Handclap” and we go nuts. This leads to a few more songs by said group (officially my kids’ favorite), then a YouTube playlist of Elmo songs. This can last up to about a half an hour if we’ve got energy to burn, and my fitness tracker always asks me if I’ve been working out afterward. Even if I’ve mostly just been holding the baby and bouncing, I count it as dance. Which reminds me:
- Fitness trackers can be very helpful–if you’re also watching what you eat. Maybe you’ve seen some of those articles that say fitness trackers are actually leading us to gain weight. When I count my steps without counting calories, this is absolutely true. I have earned many steps by walking around my kitchen while eating chocolate cake, or taking extra trips to the kitchen for extra bites of snacks. At the very least, it’s a wash. But when I’m eating well, the number of steps has really helped me stay active, even when I’m too exhausted to jump on the treadmill in the morning, or it’s pouring outside, or the baby gets fussy about two minutes into my workout video and demands to be held. Knowing my moves are being tracked, I’m less likely to give up on the video and sit down–rather, I’ll bounce along while holding the baby. Each bounce registers, you know, and my darling is not exactly petite. In fact, I sometimes sweat more when trying to calm her than I do during actual “exercise.”
- Aspiration can be dangerous. Your body might not look the way you think it will at a certain weight goal, with a certain fitness level, even a certain set of measurements. That dress you bought to motivate yourself to get to a certain size? It might not be for you after all, and you might have maxed out the return policy by the time you get there, if you get there at all. Plus, looking at what you could be just makes you feel worse about what you are (for example, I used to post pictures of skinny women on my fridge to theoretically keep me from binge eating). You might be thinking, Duh! If you like what you are, why work toward changing it? That’s a fair point, but feeling too bad can lead to behaviors that make you feel worse. Like eating a cookie, which leads to six cookies, or a whole box of them. Like skipping a workout because you’re just too melancholy to do it, and then the next day it’s harder, so you don’t work out as long, or you don’t work out at all–you get my picture. Instead of imagining yourself looking like Gisele at the end of your efforts, look forward to being generally leaner and, more importantly, healthier.