Etched In Stone: Sustainable Lifestyle Changes

“I don’t work hard for temporary”~ Elizabeth Benton

Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of us do when we try to lose weight.  We do something extreme that we saw on tv or online, wherever the newest weight loss “edge” came from, and usually we are so thrilled to see we are losing weight, but then it starts to get hard.  It gets hard because we have to drink “superfood shakes” twice a day and have chicken and broccoli for dinner each night.  Believe me, doing that will make you lose weight (even if you’re not throwing up the shakes later- ugh!). Buuuuut- and we all know that was coming!- a week or so into this “superfood” diet, you really start hating the thought of choking down another protein shake, and the steamed chicken breast is giving you the dry heaves.  When foods you hate start sounding/ smelling good, you know this extreme eating plan isn’t workable long term.

This is why it took me a lifetime to learn to lose weight.  I confess, I haven’t done a lot of yo-yo dieting, because (as my friend says when confronting her own habits) “hello! I’ve met me!” My mom was always buying me diet books and diet programs and exercise equipment.  I usually stuck them somewhere on a shelf or the garage and left them there to collect dust.  It wasn’t that I wanted to stay unhealthy and out of shape; it was that after flipping through the table of contents and first few pages, I knew that it was something I wasn’t going to do.  “Week 1: Shakes for breakfast and shakes for lunch; healthy 400 cal dinner; Week 2: Shakes for breakfast; kale salad for lunch; healthy 400 cal dinner; etc” Yeah, right! I hate protein shakes; they seriously make me gag and feel nauseated.  Secondly, I really don’t like kale at all.  If I want to chew on a bush, there are other bushes I’d eat first.  Yuck! Also, I am not going to get up in the morning and blend me a shake.  I am so not a morning person: getting up, dressed and out the door is about the limit of my morning activity, at least until I get some caffeine in the blood.  And any kind of diet that requires me to eat “special foods” according to some weekly schedule is not going to work for me. The same with following a series of changing weekly workout schedules.  I’d get two or three weeks into either of those programs and then get really tired and irritated with it.  Nope! I’ve met me, and those are not me!

You would think my mom would have figured it out over the years, and her biggest concession was asking me beforehand if I wanted her to buy me the book/ program/ whatever, and I’d tell her no thanks, only to come home and find it on my doorstep.  (eye roll) One more for the shelf.  Even when I did try a weight loss program (I tried Nutra System), and even when it worked for me (eating their pre-packaged foods), I was still wondering how they were supposed to “transition” me from their stuff to real life foods.  They said they had a program in place, but I stopped before I got there because it was simply too expensive.  The food was not bad for pre-packaged diet food, but it wasn’t teaching me anything. If all I planned on doing for the rest of my life was eating pre-packaged diet food, I can do that at the local grocery store.

The bottom line was that I knew I had to do something, but it had to be something I could stick with and live with for the rest of my life without hating what I was eating.  This is where shows like “The Biggest Loser” really screw it up.  The contestants can’t be expected to live on starvation rations while exercising 8 hours a day for the rest of their lives.  Eventually, they have to go back to living like normal people and the show does not prepare them for that.  It teaches them nothing about how to make sustainable lifestyle changes. I realized that unless I make my changes permanent, any weight loss is not going to be permanent.  I’m with Elizabeth: I don’t work hard for temporary either!

That’s why before I chose to follow a Paleo eating plan, I actually researched it.  I read about it, looked it up online and asked some questions from some of my fitness friends.  What did they think about it? How does it work for them? What are some criticisms about it?  Then, I did something very important that a lot of people don’t do before they start a new diet/ weight loss program: is this something I can do for the rest of my life?  Believe me, it was a very serious question, because I was asking myself if I was ready to give up simple carbs long term: things like bread, pasta, crackers, white potatoes, cereals, rice- essentially, all the foods that made up about 75-80% of my diet (really! not kidding here!) It was that big a change for me.  Noodles were a major staple of my regular eating plan! So it was a serious question, and after giving it some thought, I started making changes in small, doable increments.  When I ran out of macaroni & cheese, I didn’t buy anymore and bought something clean instead.  When I ran out of bread, I replaced it with a whole food that I knew I would eat (mostly broccoli- a lot of broccoli- I’m surprised I haven’t turned green!) I kept making the changes in stages so it wasn’t overwhelming and I would have a chance to get used to them before I went on to the next stage.  It also gave me time to evaluate how this new lifestyle change was working for me.  Was I happy? Was I miserable? Was it too hard?  These are things I kept asking myself.

And something surprising happened: I lost weight! I’m not going to lie and say it was a walk in the park, because there were days I’d just be dying to have any kind of bread or crackers or simple carbohydrate.  I’d crave pasta, candy, bread, chips! I’d go to lunch with my family, have the salad bar with a big plate of veggies and protein and then stare a hole through the bread basket! Yeah, what was on my plate was yummy and good for me, but what I wanted was yummy and bad for me.  It wasn’t that I was going to die if I ate the bread, but it was a simple choice: eating the bread was not going to help me lose weight.  It wasn’t the end of the line, but it sure wasn’t helpful! So, I’d pass on the bread (although I pretty much had to staple my hands to my pockets!)

And then another surprising thing happened: the cravings went away! After not eating simple carbs for several weeks, I stopped wanting them.  I’d go out to the same restaurants and there would be the bread basket (the one with the hole in it- lol) and it’d just be in the way.  I’d ask if anyone wanted the bread, and if the answer was no, I’d ask the waitress to take it away (or I’d take it home for my dog, who eventually stopped eating it too, so I stopped taking it home).  I’d walk through the chips/ crackers aisle in the grocery store and not even be tempted.  I’d pass on things that I never thought I could say no to and I didn’t miss them. On a few occasions, I’d “treat” myself, only to find it wasn’t really a treat anymore, because it didn’t taste so yummy now.

That’s when I realized that I could actually lose weight, eating healthy stuff I like without being utterly miserable, and what a shock that was! And this is phenomenon is not unique to me- when you make the changes that work for you, you make long term progress.  Not only do you lose weight, but you become a healthier person overall. Other things that I never anticipated started happening- like sleeping through the night, like not being tired all the time, like being able to walk without pain, even my mood improved because I wasn’t tired and in pain and feeling generally lousy all day.  But the key is making changes that work for you.

As these changes become your new routine, they get easier to do and it gets easier to say no to the foods and behaviors that used to sabotage your healthy eating plan.  You put the salad on your grocery list because that’s what you normally have instead of the box of noodley stuff.  You ignore the cookies in the break room because last time you ate one, it tasted pretty stale and way too sweet. You grab your gym bag on Mondays because that’s the day you hit the water aerobics class on the way home from work.  It’s normal and even better, it’s fun! Not only are the long term benefits from this new healthy routine a far better payoff than your old lifestyle, but it’s becoming effortless! There is no payoff to going back to the “old way,” because it may have been “cheap and convenient” to eat a lot of fast food and simple carbs, but the aches and pains and tight clothes and huffing and puffing were sure as hell not convenient!

We all want the awesome payoff, but we trip ourselves up by wanting it NOW.  This is part of “convenience oriented” society.  We want instant gratification instantly! However real sustainable progress takes time and while being patient feels like it’s unbearable, we do start to see encouraging changes in a few weeks.  Even more encouraging is that these positive changes are PERMANENT! Because you keep going forward with your sustainable changes, you know that those ten pounds that came off are gone for good! Bit by bit, the weight comes off, the health returns, and it becomes the permanent condition. It’s like Michelangelo said: “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.”

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