Last year, I lost forty pounds by cleaning up my diet and exercising regularly. But here’s the thing: I wasn’t actually trying to lose weight.
I thought it would be nice to tone up for my wedding. But what I really wanted was to stop feeling so physically and mentally terrible. I wasn’t trying to fit into a specific size or look a certain way. I just didn’t want to take naps every day, pop antacids all the time, or feel perpetually bloated and depressed. Sure, the results were amazing, but looking back, I think the fact that I wasn’t obsessing about losing pounds or inches is exactly why I was so successful. Here’s why.
01. I made happiness and fun a priority.
Thinking of diet and exercise as a tool for weight loss seemed tortuous. I made it a point to avoid “diet foods.” Instead, I made healthier versions of the foods I loved. I refused to do workouts I hated just for the sake of working out. Instead, I discovered the type of exercise that makes me happiest: workout videos like Jillian Michaels for strength and running for cardio. Once I realized which foods and exercise I truly enjoyed, it wasn’t difficult for me to stick with them.
02. I didn’t count calories or macros.
In the past, I got myself caught in the trap of, “Well, I just ate X number of extra calories at lunch, so I better make sure I exercise for X minutes after work to make up for it.” This process of exercising to compensate for eating felt like a perpetual punishment. If I knew I had to run long enough to work off that éclair I ate in the morning, it became the longest run of my life. So I stopped thinking in those terms.
I focused on eating healthy portions of whole, unprocessed foods and getting regular exercise six days a week. When I ate the occasional slice of cake for a friend’s birthday, I didn’t feel like I needed to work out more to make up for it. I just enjoyed the slice of cake. By consistently sticking to a healthy diet (with lots of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats) and making exercise a priority, it became unnecessary to obsess over every little calorie coming in and out.
03. Instead of using exercise as a weight-loss tool, I used it as a stress-reduction tool.
Which scenario sounds more ideal to you?
You’re halfway through a crazy workday and thinking to yourself, “As soon as I’m done here, I have to go for a run so I can work off that pizza I had at lunch today. I don’t even feel like going for a run—today has been insane—but I ate that stupid pizza, so now I just have to.”
You’re halfway through a crazy workday and thinking to yourself, “As soon as I’m done here, I get to go for a run and be completely by myself with my own thoughts for an hour. No responsibilities, no dealing with anyone else’s needs, no worries, just me listening to my favorite music and sweating out all the stress of the day.”
When it comes to exercise, we always have a choice: View it as a vehicle for torture and watch as it becomes just that, or think of it as a tool for relieving the stress of a hectic day and watch as it becomes, well, just that.
04. I had fun in the kitchen.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t eat X, Y, or Z if you’re trying to eat healthily. I mean, sure, you probably shouldn’t eat cheese-stuffed, deep-fried potatoes wrapped with bacon and a side of Cheetos for every meal. But the idea that you have to give up flavor for health is false.
If you love chips, make your own by cutting a whole-wheat tortilla into triangles sprinkled with spices, and bake them in the oven. If you love cake, use whole-wheat flour and replace some of the sugar with pureed banana or apple. If you love lasagna, use whole-wheat or gluten-free noodles, and add a lot of flavorful veggies but just a little full-fat cheese.
There is space for grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta, and dessert in your healthy diet; you just have to get a little creative with how you prepare them. As someone who used to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible (just enough to microwave some mac ‘n’ cheese and not a second more), I’ve been surprised to fall in love with the process of cooking. Once I started experimenting with recipes for a few months, it became empowering to realize I could use spices and healthy ingredients to make food taste better than the processed and fast foods I was used to.
05. I found a community of people like me.
For me that community is Fit Girls, where I met other women through Instagram who were also interested in eating healthily, working out, and having fun in the process. This wasn’t a place where people obsessively counted their calories or berated themselves for not working out hard enough. This was a place where people shared fun recipes, new workout ideas, and encouraged each other. This was a place where, instead of focusing on working out for X hours and eating Y calories each day, we focused on collectively finding pictures of unicorns and dressing up for a themed 5K each week. This was a community of women who understood the same thing I did: By focusing on having fun and treating ourselves well instead of on losing weight, we created lasting healthy habits without torturing ourselves in the process.
06. I didn’t get on the scale.
If I were trying to lose weight, I would have thought it was vital to lose a certain number of pounds each week and I would have been frustrated with myself whenever it didn’t happen, which inevitably would have led to me feeling discouraged, getting derailed, and giving up.
But I didn’t give a second thought to how much I weighed. I focused on the state of my mental health. Was I happy? Did I feel stressed? Was I comfortable in my own skin? By using these as my gauges and adjusting my healthy habits whenever something felt off, I dropped the pounds without thinking about it. Lo and behold, when I got on a scale six months later, that weight was gone.
07. I made healthy living a lifestyle journey, not a destination.
There have been times (for example, the week before my honeymoon), when I really upped my workouts, watched what I ate, and let a fast-approaching deadline motivate me. For the most part, though, I didn’t let myself get swept up in the idea of deadlines. Telling yourself, “I just need to eat healthy for two weeks until X event, and then I can eat whatever I want,” is an invitation to then go on a binge when that false deadline passes. Rather, I told myself, “I’m going to eat healthily the majority of the time, I’m going to work out consistently, and I’m going to enjoy occasional treats without guilt or drama.” That’s what I did, and that’s what made all the difference.
By not focusing on losing weight, the ultimate prize will be your health and happiness. And that’s worth far more than any number.
Photo Credit: Britt Rene Photography