One Approach to Getting Thinner & Fitter (Part 2)

Last summer, I published a couple of posts about my weight-loss journey. I gave a little bit of my background, and a list of the eight simple steps I followed, here. Then I elaborated a bit on the first four steps here, promising at the time that I would elaborate on the final four “soon.”

Well, it's not soon, but here are my brief explanations of the other four steps I followed. Before reading this post, you might want to click on the links above to read the first two posts in this series.

5. Keep healthy snacks handy.

Everybody I know is busy. Most of us have multiple demands on our time – more things to do than we have time to get them done. When you're frazzled and running crazy, it can be easy to just grab whatever's handy to satisfy those hunger pangs. Unfortunately, too often what's handy is some nonfood junk item that might not even really be what we're hungry for. It's just there, so we shovel it down while we drive on an errand or work at our desk.

The way to combat this is to plan ahead. Keep healthy snacks handy — things that you like but that will contribute to health. I love fruits and vegetables, so I try to make sure I always have a couple of apples or bananas in my office, or some grapes or cherry tomatoes or a bowl of fresh blueberries. Whole wheat crackers and a bit of peanut butter or a slice of cheese can be satisfying. For “emergencies,” I usually have a couple of protein bars in my desk — not the perfect choice, but better than a Snickers bar. A handful of raw almonds or walnuts can stave off starvation until mealtime.
A little advance planning helps ensure that you've got something healthy at hand when life keeps you from a decent meal.

6. Start small, and increase gradually.
When I first made the decision to lose my excess weight, I had been a couch potato for years. I sat at a desk most days, and by the time I got home at the end of long stressful work days, all I wanted to do was drop on the couch and watch TV while I ate my dinner. So it would have been insanity for me to head out the door for a five-mile run first thing. I would have keeled over before I reached the end of my driveway. So I started with just ten minutes on the stationary bike. It wasn't much, but I made a commitment to myself to spend that ten minutes every day. After a week or so, I started adding a minute or two every few days. Without realizing it, I was getting stronger, and before long I was up to thirty minutes a day.

It didn't take me long to get bored with sitting on the bike every day, so I tried our treadmill. This was new for me, so I cut back to fifteen minutes of brisk walking. Over time I added a few minutes each day until I was up to thirty minutes a day of walking. Then, rather than add more time (because I had little time to devote to exercise), I amped up the speed, alternating a minute of jogging with five minutes of walking, and I increased the incline a little bit. Eventually I increased the jogging time and reduced the walking time, until I could jog thirty minutes at a stretch.

To add some variety, I decided to get adventuresome and take my “run” outside when the weather permitted. Of course, running outside on uneven ground is different from treadmill work, so I again readjusted my time and pace. I reverted to brisk walking, going only as far as I was sure that I could make it back home. At first I could only make it a half mile or so, but I again pushed myself a little each time, going a little farther, and then a little faster, until I had worked my way up to being able to jog as much as four miles at a time.

Too often in our determination to make a change, we push too hard, too fast. Baby steps might seem less effective, but you can sustain it over the long haul if you start slowly and increase gradually
7. Get help when you need it.
After a year of working on my own, walking/jogging almost daily and watching what I ate, I had lost about thirty pounds but then hit a plateau. No matter what, I simply couldn't get those last fifteen pounds or so to budge. I'd done enough reading to know that I needed to add another component to my program — strength training. Not only does building muscle help boost your metabolism so you burn more calories throughout the day, but strength training can help strengthen your bones (battling the onset of osteoporosis) and helps create the muscle definition that makes you look more toned and fit.

The problem was, I had no idea how to do any of that. After talking with a friend, I decided to seek professional help. I joined a gym and signed up for sessions with a personal trainer. My intent was to learn how to use the various machines and free weights so that I could do strength training on my own. It didn't take me long, though, to realize that I simply was too much of a weenie to make myself do that hard work by myself. So several years later, I still have regular sessions with my trainer at the gym. Besides helping me learn proper form and use of the equipment, Pasquale motivates me to try harder. I have accomplished more with his help and encouragement than I ever thought I was capable of.

Not everyone can afford the expense of a gym or a trainer, especially not on a long-term basis. But the principle still applies. If you need the encouragement of group accountability to stick to your healthy eating plan, then seek out a Weight Watchers group or other support system. Try just a few sessions with a trainer, either private or small group sessions. Talk to a nutritionist if you're not sure what you should be eating. Take a fit friend to lunch and ask her to share her secrets with you.

Don't be afraid to ask for help.

8. Take one day at a time.
Losing weight and getting healthy is a long-term, lifelong endeavor. It's not about going on a diet until you lose that ten pounds, or exercising for awhile so you'll look good for your class reunion. Long-term health requires long-term commitment.
That can make it seem overwhelming, though. If I thought that I could never eat another bowl of chocolate ice cream, I might just go crawl under my bed and cry. But although I always keep in the back of my mind that this is a lifetime choice, I focus on one day at a time. Today I'm going to go outside for a run. (Not, “I have to run every day for the rest of my life.”) Today I'm going to choose healthy foods. Today I'm going to remember to drink plenty of water.

Some days go better than others. Some days I'm hormonal or overstressed or tired. Some days I “slip” and overindulge in the treats I love. But rather than deciding it's hopeless, I simply give myself some grace for that day, and start over again on the next day.

So there you have it: the last of the eight key “rules” I've tried to live by on my journey toward getting to a healthy weight. What works for you? Leave a comment with your suggestions — or your questions.