I’ve spent too much of my life thinking about how much I weigh. My weight bounced up and down in my 20s and 30s. I used food to celebrate and to escape. Food was my comfort and company.
I’ve always loved exercise, but I didn’t pay attention to what I ate. Eventually I learned that my weight had more to do with what was eating at me. The more my self-esteem went up, the more my weight went down.
The turning point
I’d look at fit women and wish I looked like them, but I was more talk than action when it came to actually changing my behavior. Then one day when I was in my 30s, I saw a picture of myself sitting on a beach in Cape Cod, and my face, arms and stomach looked huge. I cringed.
How I saw myself in my mind, and how I looked, didn’t match. This overweight girl staring back at me wasn’t who I wanted to be. The pain of staying the same was suddenly far worse than my fear of failing at losing weight. I immediately decided I at least had to try.
Now 45, I lost 40 pounds over the course of many years and am the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. As I learned to embrace a healthy lifestyle, I’ve gained a lot of hard-earned knowledge along the way:
1. Take up an exercise you love
I remember my first jog because it lasted about a minute. It was awful. I could barely breathe. I’d jog for a bit and then walk. What shocked me is how quickly I built up endurance (it took just a couple of months between that first run and a 5K).
Now I can run out the front door and keep running for an hour. I can’t live without running. When you are red-faced, dripping with sweat and you have a sense of exhilaration, there’s no doubt you just worked your body. And I love that feeling.
When you love an exercise, you don’t have to convince yourself to actually do it. Your love might be Zumba, yoga, stand-up paddle-boarding or biking. Try out different forms until you land on a form of exercise you can’t live without.
2. Hang around people who have similar goals
Surrounding myself with people who also want a healthy lifestyle makes keeping mine up so much easier. My husband is totally on board with clean eating. He wants healthy smoothies for breakfast and he watches his sugar intake. He’s a one-glass-of-wine kind of guy. His healthy habits help influence mine.
Our associations really do impact our behavior. I spend a lot of time with a friend and neighbor who is a total fitness enthusiast. We both wear fitness trackers and have a friendly competition about who takes more steps. We run races together, walk our dogs on the trails, and go to strength training classes twice a week.
3. Tell yourself you can have anything
Forget diets; diets are about deprivation. If I told myself I couldn't have donuts, do you know what I’d want? Yep, donuts. I tell myself I can have whatever I want, just not all the time. This quiets the impulsive, defiant side of me, and now I only eat a donut when I really, really want one. Indulgences are now planned instead of impulse-based.
4. Set rules you can follow
My guiding rule is to eat healthy most of the time. It’s an easy rule to follow. I center my family’s meals around veggies first and then lean proteins. I keep water nearby all day, every day. I give myself one day a week to skip working out. I plan a healthier dessert for an evening treat because that’s the time of day I like to snack the most. I relax all my rules on the weekends.
5. Make food prep fun
Being busy can be the downfall of healthy eating because it’s easy to eat without thinking or grab something quick when you don’t have anything planned.
Each weekend I schedule our meals for the week and shop for that meal plan. With Pinterest and healthy websites that promote clean eating, it’s easy to find new recipes to try. I often make breakfast (overnight oats) the night before so it’s ready to go. And I often make healthy salads that we can eat for a few days in a row. Planning our meals for the week opens us up to try new recipes, and it keeps us on course.
The best part about being fit and healthy is that I can stop my incessant thinking about my weight. My healthy behaviors have evolved into habits, and now I can spend more time thinking about what my body can do and less about what I look like or what I weigh.
A healthy lifestyle means freedom to me. I think about the long-term; perhaps the greatest benefit of my lifestyle, as I plan for the future, is that it will definitely increase my chances sticking around as long as possible to enjoy life with my twin daughters and my husband—and for that I am very thankful.