When I finally decided to get my health under control, I had no idea where to start or what to do to get healthy. I was kind of feeling my way through the dark in unknown territory. Along with the physical aspects, there are so many mental shifts and emotion thrown into the weight loss process that I just was not prepared for. Here are 10 things I wish I knew about weight loss before I started. If you're on your own quest for better health, maybe some these things will resonate with you and help you feel a little more prepared not only physically, but emotionally.
1. Macronutrients & Micronutrients are more important than calories
In my beginning stages of weight loss, I solely tracked calories. I thought the fewer calories I ingested the better. And yes, when losing weight, burning more calories than you consume is important. But it became a goal of mine to eat less and less with each passing day. I assumed this was best for faster results, which isn't healthy by any means. I didn't care how many proteins, carbs or fats I was getting in on a given day as long as I was under my calorie goal (which seemed to get lower and lower as the weeks went by). If I was faced with deciding between 200 calories worth of grilled chicken or 100 calories worth of gummy bears, the gummy bears would win any day. Less calories = more healthy right? Wrong. Looking back, this is probably why I was always so hungry when I first started losing weight. I was spending my calories on less healthful foods that were doing nothing to satisfy my hunger. Food is fuel and it's important that you're body is given the proper nutrition to fuel your activity levels.
The truth is the amount of protein, carbs and fats you ingest COMBINED with calories and good quality ingredients are so much more important for overall health and well-being than calories alone. I noticed the biggest change in body composition when I was paying more attention to the makeup of macronutrients I was taking in. The picture below shows the difference after some consistent macro tracking. You can read about my experience with that in this post. In addition to the macro content, I now take a much closer look at the ingredients in my food. I aim to eat as much real whole food with as little ingredients as possible. That's just what makes MY body feel good. There are those that would argue that calories and macros are king and ingredients aren't important. While that may be true for fat loss, it doesn't necessarily equate to overall well-being in my experience. You can read about my first experience with trying out an ingredient focused approach with Whole30 here.
2. Strength Training Is Just as Important as Cardio
When I first started working out, I avoided lifting weights at all costs. I thought if it didn't make me super sweaty and out of breath, then it wasnt a good workout. I couldn't have been more wrong. And it's no wonder I wasn't getting in a good workout. My version of lifting weights was grabbing the teeniest dumbbell I could find to avoid "getting bulky". Inset eye roll here. Pick up those weights ladies! And the heavier the better! I saw a huge change in my body composition when I started lifting heavily on a regular basis. And when I was actually lifting a weight that was challenging, wouldn't you know it? The heavy breathing and sweat I was looking for followed. The fear I had of "getting bulky" was pretty irrational and mainly based on things I heard other people say. Bulking happens when you are trying to ADD muscle mass. To do so, you have to be eating in a caloric surplus over a steady amount of time. Most of us women aren't eating the excess calories needed to maintain something like that (especially when we are trying to lose weight). So fear not and grab those weights!
3. The Scale isn't EVERYTHING
I weighed myself religiously when I was starting out. I tried to keep it to only weekly but I often gave in and stepped on multiple times a week. I lived and breathed for changes on that scale and even when I had other evidence telling me I was making progress, if the scale didn't reflect it, I wasn't happy. When I weighed close to 300 pounds the last thing I wanted to do was take pictures of myself. I forced myself to take a few in the beginning but I so wish I had taken more to document my progress. When the scale isn't budging and you want to throw it out the window, a picture comparison can make all the difference. I also wished I had kept a few of my jeans from my heavier stages for comparison. These non scale victories can give you the motivation you need when you're trying to decide if you want to go workout, or sit on the couch with pizza and beer.
The other method of measuring success? Your workout performance. When I was able to run raster or further or lift heavier, it meant so much more to me than seeing a pound or two difference on that stupid scale! Just know that the scale isn't everything and there will be times it won't cooperate even when you're doing everything right. When this happens, look to other means to measure your progress.
4. It's Ok To Say "No"
Sometimes trying to lose weight sucks. I mean, let's be honest. Your friends are engaging in their normal behaviors and it seems like everyone around you can eat whatever they want and not gain weight while you are cursing your plate of grilled chicken and broccoli. In the beginning, you may not feel strong enough to be around the foods that normally trigger you. I definitely didn't. I knew if it was at my disposal, I didn't yet have the willpower to pass it up. That came much later.
There were times I just felt so frustrated and discouraged because I had to turn down invites out with friends. I felt so guilty and selfish saying no and often wondered if what I was doing was even worth it. The important thing to remember is you are doing this for YOU. You HAVE to be selfish when it comes to your health. You may go through that period of having to miss out on things but your real friends will truly support you and understand. If you normally hang out at happy hour, suggest spending time together doing things that don't revolve around food. Go on a hike, take a workout class together, go for coffee. What matters is the time you spend with friends, not the food on your plate.
5. Results Won't Happen Overnight
I've been dieting since Monday! Why aren't I skinny yet?! Not quite how things work. It took me years to gain my weight and happened over a lifetime of unhealthy habits. Why would I expect that I should achieve dramatic results in just a few weeks? I started my weight loss journey in 2012. It's been 5 and a half years and I'm still plugging away. I lost 85 pounds over the span of 4 years. Be patient. It's going to take some time to get where you want to be. Sure you could crash diet and lose 30 lbs in two months but what happens when you go back to living your life normally? You end up even further back from where you started. If you want the results to be sustainable, slow and steady is where it's at. Throughout my process there have been losses and gains and highs and lows and that's just life. Which brings me to my next point:
6. Consistency is Key
In the beginning stages, I would step on the scale week after week and there were continuous drops in the right direction. It was so motivating to see! Because the changes were so new, that is to be expected. My body was shocked into responding. But then my body adapted and the progress stalled and with that came frustration. After spending a week doing everything right, I would see that the scale stayed the same or worse, went up. It's SO hard to maintain your motivation when that happens. I get it. I had my fair share of temper tantrums and rebellions that consisted of me binge eating everything in sight. I mean, it's obviously not working I might as well eat whatever I want right? It took me a while to realize if I just stayed consistent and trusted the process, things would eventually come together. And if they didn't, that was my cue to re-evaluate my technique and switch things up a bit.
7. Always Be Prepared
I started meal prepping about a year into my journey and I wish I had started sooner. Making sure I'm prepared for the week has been vital to my weight loss success. Not to mention, it has saved me so much time during the week at the expense of a few hours on a Sunday. Meal prep does not have to be complicated or fancy. Instead of prepping every meal, you can just prep the ingredients so they're easier to throw together when it's time to cook. Or just prep lunches so navigating through lunchtime at work is easier and you don't fall victim to the fast food call of convenience when hunger strikes. Or at the very least, write down what you plan to eat throughout the week so you have some structure to follow. It doesn't matter what YOUR meal prep looks like as long as it's functional and works for you.
8. What works for (Insert chick from social media here) may not work for you.
Oh social media! It has taught me so much and given me so much inspiration but it has also given me a lot of misinformation, anxiety and unrealistic expectations. I first started my instagram account because I wanted to hold myself accountable and document my progress. I had lost a good chunk of my weight but had gained some back over the holidays and needed the extra motivation. I was impressionable so when I saw all these people on Instagram trying the X, Y, or Z diet and having some success, I thought for sure this is what I needed. This was the answer to my problems! Turns out everyone is different and needs different things. Imagine that! I have now learned to take things with a grain of salt and to do my own research before making decisions or changes to my routine. I also had to remind myself that it was ok that my body didn't look like all the fit models I was following. Everyone's situation is different and if that was causing me to feel bad about myself and question the personal path I was on, then I didn't need to be following that anymore. Find out what works for you and be flexible, because your thoughts or feelings about certain methods may change (mind definitely have!) and that's OK.
9. You Don't Have To Be Perfect
You won't be successful during your journey at all times. That's normal. It's life. Success is not linear and there will be ups and downs. Anytime I went through a low period where my eating was off track and I was skipping workouts and gaining weight, I felt like a complete failure. I used to beat myself up over the smallest things. (OMG I only worked out 3 days this week! I've ruined everything!) I've learned how important it is to cut myself some slack and give myself a break from working out or tracking every morsel that goes in my mouth. I use these times as learning experiences. Weight loss is trial and error and unfortunately, there's usually more error involved than people are comfortable with or expect. But that's how we learn and grow and find what's right for us as individuals. All the times I "failed" have helped to shape me into the person I am now. To be honest, I've learned so much more from my past failures than my successes.
10. Losing Weight Won't Make You Happy
This one is important. I'm STILL wrapping my head around this concept. I assumed that once I reached a certain weight, my life would be better. Once I weighed under 200 pounds, I would be happier. The skies would be bluer and the sun would shine more brightly. All I needed was to lose weight and then my REAL life could start. I could take that trip or try out that thing I've always wanted to do. As the weight came off, I kept telling myself "ok, once I reach 10 more pounds, 20, 30"...etc. It was never good enough. And the reason was because I didn't think I was good enough. And that had nothing to do with my weight and everything to do with what I was saying to myself. I know a lot of my self-esteem issues stem from being obese for the majority of my life. You spend a lot of time thinking you're "less than" others. But losing weight was not the answer. The truth is, even when you reach your "goal weight", if you don't like yourself as a person or recognize your worth beyond the physical, you STILL won't be happy.
Something I had to do was take a long hard look at the reasons I wanted to lose weight. Once I figured out that my happiness should be independent of my weight and physical appearance, things changed. Working on my health versus trying to get my body to look a certain way because I was ashamed of it was a huge mental shift. Once I lost 85 pounds and I was STILL unhappy with my body, that was a real eye opener for me. If you don't love yourself now, you won't 100 pounds from now. So live your life and treat yourself well. One of my favorite quotes is, "don't waste 95% of your life to weigh 5% less". Health and happiness should reign supreme over physical appearance any day. I am still reminding myself of this daily. I will never again let my weight hold my back from going after what I want in life. And neither should you!
And there you have it, the 10 things I wish I knew about weight loss!