Weight loss is such an individual process – what works for one person won’t work for another, and sometimes you try something once without luck and then on the second go around, something just clicks. Having lost 80lbs, gained it all back (plus 20 pounds), and then lost it all again, I’ve run the gamut as far as weight loss tips and tricks goes. Finally, I’ve come out the other side and a little bit wiser, if I do say so myself. They say hindsight is 20/20 and I’d have to agree; I’d like to save you some time during your weight loss journey and offer some words of wisdom about the process that just might make the whole thing a little more pleasant. I’m going to share some mistakes I made that I’m hoping I can spare you from making, too!
Mistake #1: Using Self-Loathing As Motivation
Both times that I really committed to losing weight, it was because I simply couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I hated my body more than anything, and I was furious at myself for being fat. When I decided once (ok twice) and for all to lose weight, it was just because I literally couldn’t stand another day in my body.
All this might sound great, since it did result in me losing the weight. Four years removed from this process, though, I realize that I could have saved myself a lot of agony, tears, and frustration if I just approached weight loss from a place of self-love rather than self-hate. Of course, it’s hard to fake loving yourself when you really don’t feel the feelings, but it is somewhat easier to reframe weight loss as an act of self-care rather than an effort to distance yourself from a person you hate.
The reason I wish I had realized this sooner is that weight-loss is one of the greatest – and maybe only – experiments you’ll ever get to conduct on yourself. You get to try out different types of foods, different exercises, and making different choices, and you can adjust based on the results that you see. When I was 245 lbs and trying to lose weight, any day that the scale wasn’t down just a smidge was a total failure and a reflection on my self-worth….not the feedback that it really is. When you respect yourself and your decision to lose weight, you are able to semi-objectively gauge your results and use what you see to inform the decisions you make next.
Mistake #2: Cutting Too Many Calories Off The Bat
I never took the time to track my baseline calories when I started my weight-loss journey, so I really have no idea how much I was eating to get me to 245lbs. When I decided to drop the weight, I immediately cut my calories down to 1400 and then to 1200 and eventually, as low as 1000. I saw great results…until the numbers on the scale stopped dropping.
The body is such an incredible, adaptive, intelligent machine. If you cut yourself, it begins to heal almost immediately. If you do an exercise a few times, your body remembers and makes it a little easier for you each time. Weight loss is similar – your body learns to do what it needs to do on a certain number of calories a day, whether that number is 5000 (in which case it may be doing what it needs and then storing the rest, hence weight gain) or 800 (where you might be able to get by with basic functions but things like sleep, digestion, and complex thoughts might be compromised). When you decrease your calories dramatically from the start, your body will learn to operate efficiently using only that many calories. This means that once your body learns to run well on 1400 calories a day, for example, you will need to reduce again in order to get the weight loss going again. Rinse and repeat until you’re eating 700 calories a day and wondering why you can’t lose weight.
My advice? When you decide to lose weight, track your calories without modification for a few week and weekend days to see what your baseline is. Once you’ve established how much you’ve been eating to weigh what you do, begin by subtracting 250ish calories a day and monitor how your body reacts. Continue dropping in small decrements as needed – if I were doing it all again, I wouldn’t drop in intervals greater than 75 calories per day. Just saying ;)
Mistake #3: Only Doing Cardio
It’s not news that the key to incorporating exercise into your weight-loss program is to do both cardio and strength training. Still, when you’re 100lbs overweight and desperate to lose the weight as soon as possible, you tell yourself “I’ll just do some cardio to shake the first 20 or so pounds and then I’ll start lifting weights.” Then you see your weight dropping and you start to equate cardio with burning calories, which of course mean weight loss, right?
The problem here is both physiological and aesthetic. When you do only cardio, you start to compromise your lean muscle, which is what part of what keeps you running after your grandkids at 80 years old rather that wheeling yourself from the bingo table to your knitting club. You also end up with that ‘skinny fat’ you hear people talking about (unless genetically you are designed to hold muscle, which may be the case…lucky duck!), rather than looking lean and fit. To top it off, the more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate…which means you burn more calories doing your day to day things than if you were the same weight but mostly fat.
So there you have it. The 3 weight loss mistakes I would NOT make again if I could do it all over again.