Recently, I made a list of every time I had ever been successful in weight loss.
I made the list beginning when I had my first big change in deciding to get fit at 14 (which, at 28, was half my life ago and that feels ironic to me) to now. I listed any time I had ever felt really good about my body – reflected on the scale/photos/how my clothes fit and my overall confidence.
And sure enough, there was one unmistakable pattern. In each instance, I was happy.
I don’t mean, I was happy because I lost weight. I mean, that in each instance, there was some other focus in my life that was holding my attention, some other ray of sunshine that was making my whole world bright.
A job I was focused on, a new romance, a vacation or new experience that gave me new perspective or gratitude, or maybe I was just living in the moment and appreciating things like sunshine on my shoulders, the smell and sweat of a trail run or good times with friends.
Which now calls into question the correlation of WHY, I myself tend to gain weight or not feel good myself – and which really comes first?
The point of the exercise what of course to learn what worked for me before, and how i can use that to lead my life moving forward. The funny thing was, in any time I tried to be strict with myself – cut foods out, avoid social situations with “not approved” alcohol or treats, and obsess over every little detail from a fasted workout to meal prep – I GAINED even more weight.
On the contrary, the times I was loving life, I love how I looked, too. Once in a while I’d weight myself, and the scale/body fat percentage reflected that “lightness.”
Here’s one instance where this sounds so backwards it’s hilarious: I gain weight when I purposefully give up booze. It’s a restriction so laughable for me, since even when I give myself freedom I have 1-2 drinks, tops. I’d dress up, go out, have a drink, and dance all night or just have a great time with friends not worrying about anything at all, and feel great for days after.
But, when I get that anxious feeling that I NEED to lose fat, I will avoid social situations where I know there will be temptations for drinks or any food where I can’t measure the calories, just to sit on my couch in my sweatpants, and inevitably, eat too many “healthy junk food” snacks because I feel sorry for myself.
I lose weight on vacation – walking around, doing fun activities, basking in the sun – I find I’m not even thinking about what’s for dinner. If I don’t take the time to recharge because I don’t feel I’m “bikini ready” or because I feel guilty about dropping money on a flight, the burnout finds me.
I’ve lost weight at the beginning of romances and even during break-ups, mostly because even during the latter, my mind is off the every little detail of some new diet, or obsessing with my results.
A stressful day at work, and you know I’m eating some stupid protein bar just to “get me through the day.” Feeling worn down, and I’m grabbing extra snacks to keep my energy up. Dreading my to-do list, and I treat myself while I’m out. Even feeling guilty about ONE SLIGHTLY INDULGENT MEAL (potatoes at breakfast? HOW COULD I!?!?), and it sets me off for the day to eat super strict – which sets me up for a crash. I feel sorry for myself for whatever reason, and I’m bound to eat a little dessert.
Maybe you, like me, tend to get caught up in the cat and mouse chase: “I’ll be happy/get that reward when I lose weight/make more money/buy a bigger house.” You’ve heard the ending – that you instead of waiting to be happy, you need to make yourself happy right now. I can’t quit my job and move to a desert island, but I find the source of my stress and work to minimize it. I stay mindful and observant, so that when my shoulders get tense and my mind starts spinning, I can sit and take ten breaths to calm myself down. I schedule fun time and new experiences. I try to put aside any guilt and plan vacations, because I know that makes me happy. I make my workouts fun, and I set fitness goals to work for what I WANT, not what I think I should do.
It’s never perfect – it’s a task of balance, where I strive to achieve a medium between burnout and a one way ticket to nowhere, and not letting negativity determine how I fuel myself.
Maybe for you, this is also a story about how stressing about your diet and fitting your super-strict fitness program into your life is working against the results you actually want. (Stress- management as a weight-loss tool is a story for another time.) But maybe you’re not sure about the reason it doesn’t seem to workout.
If you have your hands in the air yelling “WHY OH WHY can’t I stick to this diet?”, maybe it’s time to make your own list, and find out what has worked for you and what won’t.
After all, weight-loss, fitness, nutrition – it’s personal. There are similar rules that send us success – eat real food, eat veggies, move your body. But while failure is universal, the way you fail and the personal relationship you have with your body, with food and exercise – it can look different from person to person. Some people like the same food every day, some people go crazy with boredom. Some can indulge once a week, some look at a candy bar and go sugar-crazy. Some find cooking soothing, some get stressed about the right recipes. Don’t tell me we are all the same, I’ve seen too much to agree with you.
Sitting down and making a list of what’s worked for you in the past is a powerful tool of “observation without judgement,” to really reflect and get to know yourself. Like looking over your budget to find out where you’ve been spending too much, it helps you to identify behaviors, so then you can decide what behaviors and outcomes are no longer acceptable. Find the correlation.
And that way, you can find your own “#1 weight-loss trick,” too.