Back in college when I was apartment hunting with friends, one amenity we got excited about was an on-site fitness center. We pledged to work out all the time and get ripped. Then we proceeded to visit said on-site fitness center about 10-15 times throughout our year-long lease. After college when I had a job, I looked into gym memberships with the thought that if I’m actually forking over money for a membership, then that would motivate me to go work out and get my money’s worth. In the end, the cost of a membership was too high for me to want to find out. Then I had a kid. What better motivation? If you’re not going to do it for yourself, do it for your children. Well, Cara was born and I found myself with a whole new set of responsibilities and once again, no time for working out.
As we all know, these are just excuses. With each annual checkup or random visit to the scale, I found myself creeping towards 200 pounds. I didn’t want to hit that number. It was time to do something. Anything! I turned to my friends, who all actually work out, for advice. After consulting with them, I finally found an exercise program that works for me. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Just walk.
I’m a big believer in setting smaller, more attainable goals than one large goal. Mentally, it’s a lot easier to set a goal of losing one pound each week than it is to lose 24 pounds in six months.
So while it’s easy to say, “Just walk,” here are the three steps I took for my first real attempt at getting healthier:
- Buy an activity tracker/pedometer
- Change my diet and log my calorie intake
If anything I’ve written so far sounds familiar and you’re looking for a way to get healthier, then maybe try this. I’m going to provide a pretty detailed account of how it all came together for me so you have a good idea of what to expect.
Do Activity Trackers Really Help?
Activity/fitness trackers are a hot item right now. From basic step counters to smart watches, there’s no shortage of options from companies like Fitbit, Garmin, Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung. I chose the Fitbit Charge for its simplicity.
Do activity trackers really motivate you to move? I’d say yes, but it’s a subtle type of motivation. Having the tracker doesn’t automatically make you want to give up your car and run everywhere. If you see a low number, it’s more eye-opening than anything else. That realization that you’re not moving is enough to make you want to get some steps in.
Since these devices are worn on your wrist, I’ve found that my steps aren’t properly tracked while I’m pushing a shopping cart since my arms are stationary. Conversely, when I’m moving my arms but mostly standing still, it’s counting steps. If you crave accuracy, then something like a Fitbit Zip may be a good fit. However, a few of my friends who have similar devices have told me that they often forget to wear it. So no matter which option you choose, there’s going to be some give and take.
The D-word: Diet
Changing my diet is where I really needed the help of my friends. Sure I could Google this stuff but there’s way too much information out there. Every site wants you to eat certain types of foods but it’s not cheap to buy all those healthy superfoods. I received some great advice from my friend. He basically said don’t try so hard to make big diet changes like that. Here are some of the subtle, yet still affordable, dietary changes I made to help me reach my goal.
- Reduce consumption of sugary drinks. It’s recommended to not drink your calories anyway. Watch out for soda and juices, especially orange juice. They taste good because they’re high in sugar. Water is your friend.
- Reduce consumption of foods high in saturated fat. Substitute ground turkey for ground beef, and watch out for creamy pasta sauces. Look for the “good” fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Avocados, anyone?
- Eat more protein for energy and to stay full longer. Costco/Kirkland brand beef jerky is a low-calorie snack that can get you going for under 200 calories. Just watch out for your daily sodium intake.
- Weigh and reduce portion size – Buy a food scale to accurately track your portion size. You may still feel hungry at first but let your meal settle. After a week or two, your stomach and brain will start to adjust to the new portion size and you’ll begin to feel satisfied with the smaller portions.
- Log meals and calorie intake in MyFitnessPal – MyFitnessPal (MFP) is an app that has a huge database of food and their nutritional information. From McDonald’s to Chinese food to Mediterranean food, you shouldn’t have any problem logging a comparative meal and tracking how many calories you consume each day. You can also adjust your serving size to compensate for eating more or less. If you can, try to only consume the serving size listed on the packaging. These last two bullet points definitely go hand-in-hand.
MFP is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. After you create your account, you’ll be asked a handful of questions that will enable MFP to build out your profile and calculate your daily calorie limit. It asks for your starting weight, how much weight you’d like to lose, your activity level, etc.
When you begin logging your food, you have the option of searching MFP’s vast food database, or simply scanning the barcode on the package with your mobile device. When I was first started, I was a stickler for logging my calories to their exact figures. Over time I learned to lighten up. It’s too hard to be exact. All you need is an approximation so you have a general awareness of what you’re putting into your body.
MFP syncs with a number of health and fitness apps, including Fitbit. Once you sync your Fitbit activity to the Fitbit app, those stats will sync with MFP. The calories you burn will be rewarded in the form of additional calories for your daily intake. It’s in your best interest to not reward yourself. It’s more wiggle room than cheat room. You should still try to stay around, or below, your daily goal.
Walk it Out
The general rule of walking is try and be active for at least 30 minutes or walk 10,000 steps each day. When I was active, I took a 15-minute walk in the morning, a 30-minute walk after lunch, and if time permitted, another 15-minute walk in the afternoon. Also, I walk at a moderately fast pace versus slow strolls. While I was definitely making an effort, it wasn’t always that easy to reach 10,000 steps. In my experience, my normal range was between 6,000 and 8,000 steps and that worked out fine for my weight loss.
Being able to track your steps with an activity tracker did make me want to get more steps in. When I went shopping, I found myself parking a little further out just to ensure I would get more steps. I also took routes that were not as direct, or took the stairs instead of the elevator, just to try and keep my activity level up.
I started off at 197.6 pounds. After my first week of walking and logging meals, I lost 4.6 pounds. In week 2, I lost 3.4 pounds. Eventually I leveled off to where I was either losing about half a pound to one pound each week, or staying the same. There were a few times where I lightened up on the routine and gave a couple of pounds back but once I got back on the program, the weight came right off. After five months, I lost 18.2 pounds, and I weighed 179.4.
Things were going great until I plateaued. I couldn’t get past 179 so I settled. I was still walking but my diet was changing. I was starting to buy more junk food again. I recently weighed myself and was back up to 187 pounds. It was a wake up call to get back on track. After a week, I was back down to 185.2.
With any fitness program, you’ll eventually plateau. When that happens, you’ll need to re-evaluate so you can effectively continue your journey. Since I hadn’t logged into MFP for awhile, it re-calculated my profile and knocked off about 80 calories from previous goal. I got a little nervous thinking those 80 calories would somehow make things different but I adjusted my thought process. If I didn’t want to let that reduction get in the way, then I would have to walk more and earn my wiggle room.
One of the biggest fears I had when adopting a new diet was having to give up the food that I enjoy. Don’t take away my potato chips! The reality TV weight loss shows really try to sensationalize this by showing the contestants eating ultra-healthy foods that still taste great. I didn’t start eating kale and quinoa to help me lose weight. I still ate potato chips but also added new snacks like crackers and hummus, or beef jerky. It’s possible to lose weight and still enjoy the occasional junk food! It’s like they say….everything in moderation, including moderation.
Disclaimer: This blog post is based purely off my own experience. I make no claims that this is a guaranteed way to lose weight.