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"How did you do it?"

I've been getting this question a lot lately, so I thought it would be easiest to write a blog explaining what I've done so far as I've lost weight.  I am not saying this will work for you, and I don't even know what particular aspect of this has worked best for me.  I do believe some people simply have an easier time losing weight than others, but maybe some of these strategies might work for you.

My Stats and How I Got Started

I am 5'10".  I'm married with a two year old and a full-time job. 

A switch went off in my head one day, and I was motivated to make a change.  I joined the gym closest to my workplace with a mission to exchange lunch in the break room with workouts. Quickly I realized that to lose weight I'd need to get eating under control, so I sucked it up, weighed myself, and joined MFP. 

I started June 16, 2011.  Since then, I've lost 114.5 pounds.  I probably have 10-20 I want to lose but if I stay at my current weight forever, I can be happy with where I'm at.  

Calorie Intake

When I first started on MFP, I ate around 1800 calories a day.  Given that I had 100+ pounds to lose, I did not eat exercise calories; a large deficit was fine.  As I lost weight, MFP recalculated my goal.  Eventually it got as low as 1500 calories.  I never went below that number.  I did eat some exercise calories when I was hungry, and my intake ranged between 1500 and 1700 probably from September through December.  

After the new year, I began raising my calorie intake.  I learned the importance of eating at your BMR, so I increased my daily goal to 1700.   Since then, I've gradually increased my goal more and more.  Currently my goal is 2040, which is 20% above my BMR.  This is actually the sedentary maintenance level for my current weight.  If I don't exercise, I'll maintain - my deficit is 100% from exercise from here on out. 

You can read my blog entry here for more info on TDEE calorie calculation and eating your exercise calories:  http://www.myfitnesspal.com/blog/ShannonMpls/view/tdee-exercise-calories-an-alternate-way-to-customize-mfp-goals-238045

Food Choices

At the very beginning, I looked at nothing but calories.  Within a month or so, I closely examined my diet and realized that I was eating far too many refined carbohydrates.  I decided to set a personal limit for myself of 150g of carbs a day.  This would allow me to eat grains, fruit, and veggies without worrying, but would force me to make things like bagels and chips and pastries what they ought to be: occasional treats. 

I am a believer in whole foods, pastured meat and eggs, and home cooking.  I've eliminated most ultra-processed foods from my diet.  Though it's not new, we cook nearly all our food; I've never once logged a Lean Cuisine.  

I pay careful, close attention to portions.  If I say I ate one ounce of almonds or one serving of tortilla chips, I mean to the gram - I use a food scale religiously.  It's very easy to overestimate and it's important when it comes to high calorie foods (less important when it comes to, say, spinach...which I do not weigh).  

I keep protein high (100+g most of the time on MFP, 130+g now) and eat a lot of nuts, avocado, and other healthy fats.  I try to keep my sodium in check as well, which is pretty easy if you're not eating heavily processed foods.  I aim for 30+ grams of fiber a day. I drink a lot of water, though I do not track it.  I almost eliminated diet soda.  I still drink alcohol and eat treats (in moderation).  We go out to eat or get pizza a couple nights a month.

I pre-log my food the night before almost every day, especially weekdays.  My husband and I plan our menu and do all the shopping on weekends; sometimes I pre-log an entire week. My breakfast and snacks are virtually the same 5 days a week (again, my food diary is open if you want to check it out); lunches and dinners always vary.  

I am trying to live by two mottos:

"Eat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly Plants." - Michael Pollan

"Live the healthiest life you can enjoy." - Dr. Yoni Freedhoff

As a result of MY changes, my husband lost 30 pounds last summer and has kept it off.  Our whole household is healthier.

For the not so healthy: I take 2-3 days OFF from logging a month.  Let's call them indulgence days.  I took an entire week off in December while on vacation.   On these off days, I eat what I choose without counting calories.  The scale is invariably up 2-3 (or more!) pounds with water retention following these indulgence days, but it's quickly gone and I satisfy my cravings.  This works for me because I get right back on track the next day; your results may vary. 

Exercise

 Ahhh, I love exercise :)

I joined a gym I love and began seeing a trainer from day 1.  I have a session with my trainer every other week.  We do strength training for an hour, focusing on compound exercises, and I repeat that program three times a week until our next session.   I'm so glad I started early with strength training.  I'm now a regular in the free weight section of my gym and my body fat percentage is better than expected for my height/weight. My trainer has also really helped me stay motivated and dedicated. 

My current regular schedule:

M: 60 mins whole body strengh
T: Tabata or Zumba or outdoor run
W: 60 mins whole body strengh (currently a group class with 3 friends and my trainer)
Th:  Treadmill sprint intervals + elliptical steady-state (or an outdoor run)
F: 60 mins whole body strengh
Weekend:  Bodyflow class (yoga/pilates), outdoor running, walks, biking, hiking - whatever the weather will allow my family to do together.

I change things up all the time.  At the verrrrrry beginning, I did nothing but the elliptical on cardio days.  Then I gradually added new machines and got the courage to start classes.  I made friends in my gym which is so great for motivation and support.  In late January, I added running.  I'm still not a fast runner, but I can easily do a 3-4 5 mile run and that feels great; I ran a 7k race on St. Patrick's Day.  I was my gym's member of the month in March.  I LOVE being active.  

I also try to fit more activity into my daily life...we take a lot more leisurely walks, I'm on my feet more playing with my son, I don't mind parking far from the entrance, and I always take the stairs instead of an elevator/escalator when I have the chance. 

The Benefits

Well, obviously weight loss has been tremendous.   I have not plateaued (though I've gone just shy of two weeks with no movement on the scale, that's usually a result of my choices, not a metabolism issue).  Even now, as I'm getting close to my goal, my weight loss is consistent.  I have weeks with nothing, but I always seem to even out.

I have TONS of energy and a lot more courage to try new things. I fit into all my old clothes, I can go shopping wherever I want, and I'm actually excited to wear a bathing suit this summer. 

Because everyone loves before and after shots, this is me almost exactly a year ago with my cute son (and a goat):

And here is the most recent picture I have of myself:

 

My Advice to You

If what you're doing isn't working, first take a close hard HONEST look at your diet.  Can you improve it?  

- add more fresh vegetables and fruit
- cut the processed crap
- do more home cooking
- are you reliably measuring out your portions?
- are you eating out too often?

As for your exercise, it might be time to change up your routine, add intensity, add intervals, add weights.

Your body might be sensitive to carbs due to insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.  Try cutting them and see what happens.  Similarly, increase protein and see if that helps. 

The biggest thing, in my opinion, is to be honest about what you're eating and how much you're exercising.  I do believe it comes down to calories in/calories out (and the rest is just icing on the cake, excuse the pun).  If you're not reliably tracking the in or the out, you might not be in a deficit at all.

And please, please, PLEASE remember this:  scales measure more than fat.  They measure hydration, water retention, and lean body mass too.  You did not gain three pounds overnight, so don't you dare use that as an excuse to give up or binge.  Use your common sense, get back on the proverbial wagon, and do the work.  You will see results, whether they come in the form of weight on the scale, better body comp, a smaller clothing size, or better overall health and energy levels.  Those are all good ways to judge that your program is working.

If you're truly at a plateau, here is some excellent reading:

http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/adjusting-the-diet.html
http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/not-losing-fat-at-20-deficit-what-should-i-do-qa.html
http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/the-full-diet-break.html
(hint: you might not be eating enough)

Don't be afraid to see a doctor and make sure everything is functioning correctly too, especially your thyroid.

Alright, I think that's it - no secrets :)
Feel free to ask questions if you've got them.  I've gotten so much support and help from my MFP friends, I'll gladly help you accomplish your goals in any way I can.

Mother's Day photos, 100+ pounds difference

Mother's Day 2010 and 2012 - more than 100 pounds lost between these pictures.

It's really awesome to pose for full-length photos and not immediately delete them.  Even better?  This was taken right before we set out on a 14-mile bike ride, something that would have been very difficult for me before but now was a very easy ride. 

 

 

Quick little edit to add:  I did all this in a YEAR.  The only reason I didn't use a Mother's Day pic from last May is that I'm not sure I have one (I didn't love having pictures taken obviously!).  For those of you setting Christmas/Mother's Day goals, know that you CAN do this.  I've been pretty commited during the last year to healthy food and exercise but it was all a progression.  As I always say, just start and don't stop :)

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