First things first. The progress picture. Now, this was not me at my heaviest–the before picture here is from my wedding day, in October 2013. The after is from a few days ago, April 2016.
Sorry for the annoying watermark. A lot of scams (diet pills, etc.) will steal people’s before-and-after pictures to advertise their products! I don’t want that to happen.
Also, obligatory disclaimer: I’m not your doctor. It is always a good idea to check with your doctor about your own diet and exercise program to see what is healthy for you.
With that out of the way… I’ve always been a “big girl.” As in, I’ve never been considered thin or fit. I’ve never been athletic. As long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my weight. And now, since I’ve started losing weight and getting in better shape, I’ve had dozens of people ask me: “What is your secret?” Well, it’s not much of a secret, but I decided to write a nice detailed summary of my methods so I can easily share. I’m not a trainer, or a dietitian, or anything like that. But when you find something that works, it kind of makes you want to shout it from the mountaintops.
But first, speaking of mountains, let me share this picture with you. It’s a little embarrassing. We were on a family trip, on top of a mountain in Colorado, having a great time. I was super happy that day, but when we got home, this picture seriously messed with my head. This is my true “before” picture.
Now, to be kind to myself, I had just had a baby five months ago. (See him hanging on daddy’s chest? <3) I was much more concerned about his weight and his health at that time than my own. We had just gone on a cave tour and were hiking around a lot. It’s not the best picture, in general. But, seeing this picture, I knew I had to make a change. The day we got home from this trip, I stepped on the scale and it read 199 lbs. At 5’7, that’s a BMI of 31.2. Clinically obese. Cue the dramatic music and a lot of tears.
I started surfing the web and doing some research and came across a trove of other folks’ progress pictures on a website called Reddit. (You can check out that community here!) When I read these people’s posts, almost all of them had one thing in common: they got to their “after” weight by monitoring their calorie intake. I was sold. I downloaded the free MyFitnessPal app and started trying to track my food intake.
So, there’s the big secret: calories in < calories out. But what does that mean, exactly?
Now, bear with me: I am not a scientist. But here are the basics. The first law of thermodynamics is the one that deals with the conservation of energy. Matter cannot be created or destroyed. How does that apply to your body? Basically, your body needs a certain amount of energy in order to function. Calories are a unit used to measure that energy. If you consume MORE calories than your body can use, it stores the extra energy as fat. If you consume LESS energy than your body uses, it will use that stored energy to power your body (read: burn fat).
To go a little more in depth… the number of calories your body needs every day is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, your TDEE. For me, when I started this journey, that number was 2,016, based on a “sedentary” lifestyle (read: not much exercise going on in here). Let’s round that to 2,000 for simplicity’s sake. At my highest weight, I needed to eat 2,000 calories a day in order to MAINTAIN my weight, not lose or gain.
In order to burn one pound of body fat, you need to create a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories. How to do that? Consumer fewer calories than your TDEE.
I set my daily calorie goal to 1,200 calories, which is the MINIMUM SAFE AMOUNT a woman of any size should consume daily. Your body needs that much to keep running. No unsafe crash dieting here! For men, it’s 1,500.
So, 2,000 – 1,200 leaves us with an 800 calorie deficit. Your body goes to your fat stores to make up that amount. Divide 3,500 by 800, and you will lose one pound every 4.5 days, give or take a little bit.
Now, let me say this: the science is not perfect. Our bodies are not flawless little calorie-burning machines. Metabolism, hormones, activity level… all of this can vary. However, as the saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good. The process doesn’t need to be perfect for you to see results. Based on the above numbers, you might lose that pound every four days, or every five days. AND THAT’S OKAY. Trial and error will allow you to find the numbers that work for you, your body, and your lifestyle.
Experts say a slower rate of loss is better for your body. So you don’t NEED to only eat 1,200 a day. If your TDEE is 2000, and you eat 1800 calories a day, you WILL lose weight, it will just be slower. 3500/200 = 17.5, so, a little less than two pounds a month. That’s 24 lbs a year! And if you are careful about your food choices, that is a LOT of food.
For the curious: here is the TDEE calculator I see recommended the most. Input your stats and you can see about how much energy your body uses every day.
Okay, so there’s the science. Now, on to the really fun stuff… FOOD.
What did I eat to stay at 1,200 a day? How did I make tracking calories not so headache-inducing???
This handy-dandy little tool right here.
A kitchen scale. This is a picture of the model I use every day, by Homedics. On Amazon it’s listed with a price tag of about $62, but I paid less than $20 for it at Bed Bath & Beyond. There are a million different styles and sizes, but they all do the same thing. (Here is a comparable one for less than $20 on Amazon, if you’re like me and prefer to do all your shopping there.) I like this one because it’s simple, small, and thin, so it doesn’t take up a lot of counter space and is easy to store. The flat surface makes it super easy to clean, too. It weighs anything up to 11 lbs, in grams or ounces.
This is the indispensable tool that allowed me to accurately measure what I eat. For less than $20 I changed my life. It really is the little things. 😉
With the MyFitnessPal app or website, you can choose a calorie goal (or have the app calculate one for you based on your stats and goals). Then, you input your food into the app to keep track of your daily consumption.
For instance, if I have an egg and turkey sandwich for breakfast, it looks like this in my food diary on the app:
In this instance, the only thing that really needs to be weighed is the deli meat. 2 ounces or 56 grams is one 50 calorie serving.
The app has a recipe function in it that allows you to add in all your ingredients and input the number of servings. Since home-cooked meals tend to be much lower in calories than anything you would find eating out, it’s pretty much necessary to get familiar with that function in order to be successful.
Making lower-calorie choices in your day-to-day life is something that takes some getting used to, but it gets a lot easier with time. For instance, we switched to Sara Lee Delightful bread–45 calories a slice! That’s much better than the 80-100 in the bread we used before. I weaned myself off the coffee creamer I used to drink insane amounts of every morning. I was using easily 150 calories worth of it a day, probably more. Now I drink plain black coffee (which has a negligible calorie count–somewhere around 2 per cup). We eat more vegetables and use less cooking oil and butter. More greek yogurt, less ice cream. More home-cooked meals, less restaurant food.
Speaking of restaurant food. One of the unpleasant realities that I’ve encountered on this journey is that, before I started tracking my food, I had NO FREAKING IDEA how much food I was eating every day. I may not ever be able to walk into a Chinese buffet again. The numbers are kind of traumatic. Let’s put it this way: my intake before I started tracking was somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 A DAY. Every day. And I never felt like I was eating all that much food.
Now, I still eat ice cream, and chocolate. I still have wine and we go to the local Mexican restaurant and have fajitas about once a week. It’s all about better choices and moderation, not restriction and misery. 🙁
I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I limit carbs, or if I gave up sweets. The answer is a resounding no. Pasta is fine, cake is fine. But you have to be aware of the affect those things have on your body, and know that indulgence doesn’t have to mean eating half a cake or a whole block of cheese (can you tell I’m speaking from experience?).
For instance, I’ve found that I always feel like snacking before bed. Usually on sweets. So, for me, eating a smaller breakfast and lunch, a large dinner, and then being able to have a treat (or two) before bed kept me from feeling like I was denying myself anything. For some people, breakfast isn’t necessary and skipping it helps them stick to their goals. If I don’t eat breakfast, I’m a raging, hangry monster by 10am. If you prefer a bigger lunch, you can compensate with a lighter dinner. It’s all about balance and finding what works for you.
Friends, I think that’s about it. This is my “secret.” I eat fewer calories than I burn. Within the last few months, my husband and I have started a workout program that works for us and have set some personal goals for ourselves, but that’s another post entirely. Weight loss is 80% diet, at least. “You can’t outrun your fork” is a phrase that really stood out to me when I first started this journey. That was my mistake in my younger days: I would exhaust myself working out, be starving, and eat away all my hard work, then be depressed when I didn’t see results.
Once I had the knowledge, I was able to make meaningful changes to my lifestyle and improve my physical–and emotional–health through weight loss. I wake up feeling better each and every day. Playing with my kids is more fun. I have a strong desire to get out and DO THINGS that I didn’t before. I hope that, if this is something you struggle with, it empowers you and helps with your battle. If you have any questions, message or email me and I will do whatever I can to answer them.
Much love to you all,