Winter finally came to Iowa last night, with snow and sub zero temperatures for the first time this winter. I’m happy to stay inside this morning, as my phone is telling me it currently “feels like” -18 degrees outside with the wind chill.
It’s a perfect time for me to reflect on the last two years, because it has been almost exactly that long since I joined the weight loss challenge at my office and decided to employ a paleo strategy while I participated. I ended up losing 60 lbs in 2013, and I’ve talked about why I feel I succeeded that year, when I had failed so many times before (click here to read the article). For many people, the idea of going Paleo is ‘extreme’. I never really thought so, but I guess I was already in a pretty extreme place when I started. I was 29 and felt like I was dying. I knew something had to change because I could not conceive of feeling so uncomfortable for the rest of my life, however long that would be.
So I made a new years resolution. One that actually stuck. I would learn. I would make healthy choices. I would change. I would lose weight. And in doing so, I would get to a place where I was actually myself again – the girl I thought I was and had once been, and not just a shadow of her.
It wasn’t a straight line. And it didn’t happen over night, though really the weight did come off very quickly in the grand scheme of things. And I’ve kept it off, which looking back, is more triumphant than actually losing it.
So two years in with Paleo, and what can I say?
- Well first of all, I want everyone to know that I’m not perfect. I eat pizza sometimes, and sandwiches made with real bread, and at Christmas time I still like molasses cookies (my sister in-law makes the best!) and the cheesy potato casserole with crunchy cereal flake topping that my aunt makes to go with dinner before we open gifts. No, I am certainly not perfect when it comes to food or anything else. As in any facet of life, we can strive to be perfect, but it’s an unattainable ideal. Which brings me to number 2.
- Shaming myself for less than ideal choices is an addiction that needed to be broken just as desperately as any addiction I had to a specific food. I’ve learned that beating myself up about food choices is not the least bit productive. For some reason (I suspect because it gives the illusion of ‘doing something’), if I have a particularly bad meal or day, I used to think I had to beat myself up about it. I did this before I ever tried paleo, for many, many years actually… the toxic thought pattern of “I shouldn’t eat this, but I want to, oh I’m going to, it’s so good, I’m such a fat A$$, why did I do that, it was so stupid, I’m so stupid” and on and on it goes. This thought pattern accomplished only one thing: it allowed me to tear myself down. In a way I would never tear down another person, friend or enemy. I had to stop. I am human, I will not always make ideal choices. But I can always change my choices, make better choices, and I can do that at any point. No shame required.
- Planning is key, especially in the beginning. I get it, we’re all busy. Fast food restaurants, food counters in grocery stores and convenience items in the freezer section are all ways that the food industry takes advantage of our busy lives. They promise us a meal with little to no work required. They also ask us to give up control and trust that the things they are made of are ingredients we would actually want to put in our bodies. However, nearly 100 percent of the time, the food industry is motivated by profit and not a desire to give their customers physical health. To take back control, to manage your busy life and your health simultaneously, you need to plan. To do this, you might need to watch less TV. You might need to take 2 or 3 hours on a Sunday and prep food for the week. You might need to roast 2 chickens (one for dinner and one for tomorrow’s salads or to freeze) so you know what was done to them, or make soup from scratch so you know exactly what is in it. You might need to buy a 2nd slow cooker. You might need to do a lot of things and it will be hard in the beginning because change is never easy. But it will get easier, the longer you do it. The more you learn, the less you will have to think about what you’re doing and you’ll be able to improvise. But in the beginning, plan. Plan. PLAN.
- You need to be ruthless is social situations, especially in the beginning. Eating out will be hard. You might purge your house of all the things you need to avoid, but in public you will be surrounded by temptations. Foods that are familiar and comforting and full of traditions and memories. You may have some good meaning family or friends who will say things like “You are doing such a good job, you can reward yourself!” or “We always used to do this, surely we still can!” or “Order something fun, you’re making me feel guilty!” Don’t listen to them. It’s true, you can and should reward yourself, but only you should decide when and how that happens. Old habits will have to change; some traditions will not be able to stand. And it’s not your job to make them feel better about the choices they are making. If they ask for advice, give it. If they don’t take it, that’s not something you can control. You might have to tell them that you cannot meet them for dinner at the old favorite place, but would love to go for a walk with them or meet them for coffee. You might have to offer to cook dinner at your house instead. You might need to bring your own food to gatherings, so you know there will be something you can eat and assure them that you are sure that thing they made is yummy but you just can’t try it right now because it doesn’t fit your plan. This doesn’t make you rude or inconsiderate or neurotic. For many of us, food temptations are a slippery slope, and if we give an inch, we end up a mile off course. Learn to say no. You are simply taking responsibility for your choices and doing what it best for you. The people that love you will understand that, especially when they start seeing positive changes. Eventually, when you in a place of maintenance, you won’t have to be so strict. But in the beginning, be ruthless.
- The fitness component to your health cannot be over looked. While I have talked in other articles about how important it is to not change too many things at once, how I succeeded by focusing on food first and adding workouts later, and I have talked about the many different things I’ve tried in terms of physical fitness, it all boils down to this: you need to do it. You need to move your body. Find something that you enjoy and stick with it. My mom loves to walk. She has walked at least 2 miles, at least 4 times a week for roughly the last 30 years.*** This works for her. My dad (when he works out) would probably choose biking before a walk. Fine. I like to walk when the weather is nice, but I also like to lift, especially in the winter because I hate treadmills. I can see myself lifting for much of my life. I have a co-worker who loves to work out a 5:30 am. (I secretly think this is insane, but she loves it!) Other friends of mine play in a volleyball league. My point is this: find something you like and do it, and keep doing it, regularly. The scary thing is when you stop moving your body and for most of us, we’re already trapped in offices not moving a majority of the time.
- The scale cannot (always) tell you if you are succeeding. Here’s the deal. I wrote an article last fall about why I decided to put my scale away until after January 1st, 2015. (Click here to read.) Well, January 2nd, I got my scale out and weighed myself for the first time in over 3 months. Let me tell you what I thought the scale would say: “You have gained at least 10 lbs. Possibly 15.” I thought this because over the course of the fall I had gotten lazy, gone to the gym very infrequently, and had eaten many less than ideal things over the holidays. Also, my pants had become noticeably tight in my stomach, thighs and butt. I was dreading stepping on the damn thing. Guess what the scale actually said: “You have maybe gained 2 lbs. Or maybe you’re retaining water. Either way, no big difference.” I was surprised. But here’s the thing – my pants are still tight. I still don’t feel super great after eating some sugary, starchy crap for the last 6 weeks. So what does the number matter? In the end, it doesn’t. The scale can’t tell me what is muscle and what’s fat on my body, or if my blood sugar is through the roof, or if I’m able to get a decent nights sleep, have sleep apnea, if my skin is clear or my digestive tract is functioning like it’s supposed to. If you have a lot of weight to lose (read more than 50 lbs, like I did), and you change you’re eating habits… then yes, the scale should go down. But don’t kid yourself into thinking that number tells you whether you are winning the war. It doesn’t.
- The work never ends. Maybe that’s a terrible thing to tell you, but it’s true. There isn’t a finish line. You don’t do the work and then get to the place you wanted to go and then say “Yes! I can now go back to eating drive thru food 5 days a week!” I’m almost tempted to say “Don’t bother starting if that’s what you want to do.” But I’m also inclined to tell you to start anyway… because I hope that once you experience how amazing you can feel when you eat clean food and move your body and make sustainable changes, that there is no way in hell you would ever want to go back. If you do the work the right way, it changes you on the inside as much as it does in the mirror. You reach one goal, only to discover 5 more that you want to accomplish. Hopefully you learn, like I did, that it isn’t a number on a scale that you want. It’s a way of life that is fulfilling, joyful, and full of freedom that comes with good physical and mental health. Sustaining that takes effort. It’s 100 percent worth the effort, but it’s effort. You keep working at it, and you never stop learning.
*** After reading this article, my mother requested I make a correction. She estimates that she has walked 3-4 miles a day, 5 days per week for the last 30 years. Wouldn’t want to sell you short mom! 🙂