What were the steps you took to get yourself mentally ready for permanent weight loss? What made you decide to change your eating and exercise habits in the long run?
March 7, 2011 6:08 PM   Subscribe

What were the steps you took to get yourself mentally ready for permanent weight loss? What made you decide to change your eating and exercise habits in the long run?

I have lost weight before and I understand how to do it. I know how to cook, I know how to prepare and incorporate vegetables into my meals and how to track and control my food intake... but I can't seem to "get my head in the game" of eating healthy foods.

How did you become mentally committed to eating healthy foods (and exercising)? How did you come to enjoy it?

How did being healthy become a part of your self-identity?

What made you decide to kick the unhealthy habits and choose better ones?

Any personal anecdotes would be helpful. Or, perhaps you could suggest blogs/articles that deal with the psychological side of permanent healthy living.
posted by cranberrymonger to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
I found it much easier to stop myself from buying junk food at the grocery store than to avoid eating it once it's already in the house. If you change your habit to planning out meals in advance and grocery shopping once a week, you can quite easily force yourself into only buy healthy food at that time. That way if you really have a craving for something, you have to decide if the craving warrants a trip to go buy it.
posted by kthxbi at 6:12 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

For me, it was several different things that helped me get in that mindset. Perhaps the biggest was when I started doing Weight Watchers and I saw how many points were in the foods that I thought were harmless. It really helped to reframe what I should eat and what I shouldn't. That doesn't mean I don't indulge now and then, it's just that it is a now and then thing rather than a you might get hit by a bus tomorrow so have that eclair thing.
posted by Leezie at 6:14 PM on March 7, 2011

I read as much scientific and anecdotal information as I could find about type II diabetes, obesity, hypertension, tooth decay, chronic inflammatory bowel disorders and every other easily-preventable horror that people inflict on themselves through bad diet. Fear and revulsion are wonderful motivators.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:18 PM on March 7, 2011

Best answer: This may or may not be helpful to you but here it is: I've found that the only time I am losing weight and living healthfully is when I am say to myself, "Self, this is a great body you have. It has served you well, given you pleasure, taken you places. Don't you want to care for it properly?"

In other words, any time I've ever said, "Ugh, I hate my thighs. I HAVE to lose weight," I've never been able to maintain weight loss. It's only when I've been gentle with myself that I've been able to do it.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 6:18 PM on March 7, 2011 [16 favorites]

As per a recent post of mine, I have recently lost over 55lbs on my way to a total loss of 120. It all started with this thought.

"Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."
posted by adamfunman at 6:23 PM on March 7, 2011 [9 favorites]

What helped me the most was getting my head together and realizing that I was strong enough & motivated enough to be successful. It's hard to explain, but something had to snap into place in my brain for me to go from "I WISH I could be fitter" to "I AM getting fitter".

A second thing was figuring out my motivation. I started to think about losing weight after a nasty divorce and one of the "clicks" in my head was when I realized that my pudge was, for me, insulation against pain and hurt I experienced in a bad relationship. More than a year later I had a related realization: Being strong physically is a manifestation of a strength I feel inside me that says I will never be in a relationship with a man who hurts me again. I can AND I will overcome that.

Good luck to you!
posted by pointystick at 6:23 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did it in tiny, manageable steps. First I quit a multiple 20oz cokes a day habit. No soda at all. For years after I would dream about a cold coke. I can still taste it. Three years later I stopped eating at fast food places. A few months before my daughter was born I started a simple exercise routine. Stretches, situps, and 10 pushups every morning adding one on Sundays. Increasing the exercise gradually really helped me stick with it and kept it from being too onerous. Not needing any special equipment means I can do it no matter where I am. I still don't enjoy it, but I've done it long enough that it's become a havit and I feel wrong if I skip. I've lost ~60lbs for the third time in 15 years, but this is the first time I've managed to keep it off. I think approaching it gradually helped a lot, but also seeing my parent's health deteriorate and knowing I was headed down the same path, and wanting to be around for my daughters' as long as I could.
posted by roue at 6:26 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

How did you become mentally committed to eating healthy foods (and exercising)? How did you come to enjoy it?

I'm not, in the sense of "This is how I will eat/behave for the next [long time period]." That kind of thing doesn't work for me. Instead, I do it day by day, or sometimes meal by meal. I try to keep items I'd rather not stay in the habit of eating at a distance or minimum (some dark chocolate in the house is fine; a big bag of cookies is not) so it's easier to eat more nutritious food than it is to leave the house for junk food. It helps that the more nutritious food I'm eating is stuff I like cooking and eating or is easy to experiment with, that I've been seeing results pretty clearly, and when I occasionally binge out (carbs/sugar), I feel really shitty the next day, so it's a good feedback loop.
posted by rtha at 6:28 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

honestly, once i saw what was actually in the food i was eating, i went cold turkey. so much of what i was eating was just absolutely disgusting. i still try to picture some of the disturbing images in my head when i start to fall off the wagon.

i also agree with not thinking in terms of "this is for the rest of my life" - forever is just too ominous. right now or today is a better way to think about it. i have this with smoking as well. i've even given myself permission to do/eat something wrong - but in the future. if i still NEED this thursday ... fine. that tends to break down the cravings long enough for me to get over whatever is setting me off.

you can retrain your brain to embrace all the things you're getting instead of all the things you're giving up. but it takes time and there are going to be bad days.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 6:33 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well... there's knowing how to cook... and actually enjoying it / discovering what you like best. For example, my vegetable intake became an instant habit after I learned how tasty peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and squash are when done up in the broiler with only the tiniest bit of seasoning. Before, I had the idea that all veggies had to be steamed or boiled, which just did NOT do it for me...

I also started eating better when I learned more about food, began visiting farmer's markets and the butcher shop, and ate at local, unique restaurants instead of big chains. Eating fresh and well-prepared food immediately cut a lot of garbage out of my diet without any withdrawal.

Once you learn how recipes and ingredients work, cooking becomes a fun game of "what interesting dish can I make from this..." And you'll find yourself eating healthier for it, too.
posted by Wossname at 6:40 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Every time I eat something I ask if it's making me better or pushing me further towards my goals.

Tip #2 is instead of trying to do health compromises on crappy things is to just drop them all together.

If you just eat good, clean, foods it will become a habit to do only that after a period as short as a month. So I guess that's how I came to enjoy it. Feel better, look better, tastes better, there isn't really much of a hold back. Don't mention beer and pizza though...can't quit you my friends
posted by zephyr_words at 7:01 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I started actually counting calories. Instead of feeling constantly guilty and always wondering if I should let myself eat X, I look it up on Sparkpeople and I KNOW what and how much it's okay for me to eat on a given day. This means that I don't actually have to give up on the delicious things I want to be eating -- I just have to plan for them, and I have to eat a reasonable amount of any given thing instead of just chowing down indiscriminately.

I found a form of exercise that I actually enjoy and can make myself do on a regular basis.

I accepted that, once I reach my goal weight, I have to keep counting calories to make sure that I stay there. It sucks, because it makes me feel like I'm on some perpetual diet. But then again, a maintenance diet is actually a totally reasonable amount of food that never leaves me hungry. And the minor annoyance of continuing to track what I'm eating is MORE THAN WORTH not having to restrict my calories again.

Basically, I just made a series of decisions that let me avoid as much guilt as possible, and made managing my diet a positive experience that left me feeling in control and awesome, as opposed to constantly fretting and feeling like a slob.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:31 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have a significant amount of weight left to to lose, so I am maybe not the best answerer of this question, but lately I am finding that the more things I can see a measurable difference in, the more motivated I am. For example, the scale hasn't moved much in the past few weeks, but I had my blood pressure taken yesterday, and it had dropped quite a bit from my "normal baseline." That totally got me out of a funk. I am sure there are other things that might work the same way: cholesterol levels, waist/hip ratio, etc.
posted by LyndsayMW at 7:42 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Waiting for mental preparedness is just procrastination. I never really feel a commitment to an eating and workout plan until I'm a few days into it.
posted by kitcat at 7:52 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would suggest switching to real (not instant, packaged) oatmeal for breakfast.

Reason being: Real oatmeal can be prepared in as little as 10 minutes. It is very low calorie for how filling it is- another trick, which oatmeal lives up to, is to eat as high-fiber food as possible. Fiber content is one of the greatest contributors to "fullness factor" of a food.

Oatmeal is also excellent because you can dress it up with different fruits on different days, which allows for variety and also a natural integration of "healthy" sugars. Apples in particular are excellent sources of fiber as well, which again aid the "fullness factor" of the oatmeal.

Breakfast is the one meal a day where we are accustomed to eating almost the same thing every day. It will amaze you how large a portion of oatmeal you can eat while still consuming less calories than you are used to. To put it in perspective: two pieces of toast are loaded with carbohydrates, and if buttered can exceed the number of calories of an enormous serving of oatmeal.

My second suggestion would be to eat a smaller lunch. It is far easier to succeed at dieting if you allow for dinnertime to be your "splurge" meal. Too many people try to do ridiculous "six 300 calorie meals per day" diets, then find themselves out with their friends at a restaurant, and cannot bring themselves to enjoy a side salad and water while their friends chow down on cheeseburgers and beer. If they cave at this moment, they actually often end up consuming more calories than they were pre-diet, since they've already consumed so many during the day. Expecting to eat a tiny dinner is ridiculous, as our society is veritably built around the dinner table. In my experience you will find much more success by reducing your breakfast, lunch, and eliminating fiber-free snacks like potato chips/crisps.

The real name of the game is fiber, fiber, fiber. Oatmeal may not sound like a glorious breakfast, but if you have never made your own from rolled oats (it's cheap too!) you may be pleasantly surprised with how delicious it can be. Make a triple batch in twenty minutes and you can freeze the other two servings and enjoy breakfast for three days in less than thirty minutes of total prep time.
posted by Alcibiades. at 8:07 PM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I realize that the above recommendation is not "mental" in nature. I am trying to recommend practical things because the notion that you can "mentally prepare yourself for losing weight" is frankly not helpful.

You mentally prepare yourself for losing weight by resolving to lose weight. It sounds to me like you've done that already, and are now procrastinating. Eat less calories. Get more exercise.
posted by Alcibiades. at 8:12 PM on March 7, 2011

I've lost 36 pounds since August. I'm hoping this is permanent weight loss, but only time will tell. (My caution is not unjustified. I've lost significant amounts of weight before--once 50-some pounds and once 45 pounds--and slowly gained back all or almost all that had been lost. Research shows that this is more common than not.)

Here are things that I'm doing now or have done before that are working:

1. I felt ready. I wasn't feeling comfortable in my body, and I was willing to do the hard work of losing weight and getting fit. People who don't struggle with their weight don't understand (I don't think) how much energy and emotional work go into losing weight, but it's one of the hardest things I've ever done (harder than writing a dissertation and getting a Ph.D.). I needed to make a real commitment to it. Half-assing it would not work for me.

2. I told myself I have to exercise cardiovascularly five times a work for at least 30 minutes. No excuses. Giving myself a very specific rule works for me. I can be shockingly disciplined that way. When I lost weight the first time, I started walking and kept track of my pace; I tried each time improve my mile time. At a certain point, I started to run. The second time I lost weight and this time, I started running and kept going, also always trying to improve on my pace. I have mostly exercised consistently for 14 years, even when I was gaining weight; it's far easier for me to exercise than it is to watch what I'm eating. I do think it has given me a kind of baseline fitness that is fairly easy to return to even when I have taken breaks. I started running long before I read her blog, but I find Doctor Mama's advice about running to be incredibly useful and spot on. You don't have to already be thin to run. (I weigh more than many of you have even dreamed of and can run ten miles. And my doctor is happy with my numbers.)

3. I broke my sugar habit--somehow. I used to have sweets every day--sometimes twice a day. Since September, I have successfully (I think! Knock on wood!) broken the habit. I did so by drinking a lot of herbal tea (some of which I got from a Chinese herbalist/accupuncturist, whom I was seeing for something else) and by allowing myself to have salty snacks. I don't crave or even want salty snacks as much as I want sweets, so I wasn't worried that I was substituting one bad habit for another. I still let myself have sweets as an occasion--in a restaurant, for example, or for a celebration--and so haven't said "never again," which might provoke a panic attack. I probably have dessert once a week. But I know how easily I fall into or re-establish bad habits, so I am careful not to become too breezy about sugar. I don't have it at home or in my office. I can't even tell you how much of a big deal it is to me to have changed my habits with sugar. Oh--and I have let people know (but not, I hope, in annoying way--just a comment in passing) that I am watching my sweets consumption so that they don't keep offering me sweets. Most people are very respectful of this. And I have decided that if I do eat sweets, they have to be really good. I won't eat dessert just to be polite.

4. I do a weekly weigh-in with a friend who is also trying to lose weight. We email each other our actual weights (something else I never thought I'd do) every Tuesday morning. She did it first, and I was so impressed with her bravery that I followed suit. The accountability, even more than the support, has been very effective. (The second time I lost weight, I did Weight Watchers, which was also helpful. I didn't like what I thought was an encouragement of eating processed foods, but I hear that's changed some.)

5. I won't make any changes that I'm not willing to commit to my entire life. I'm not willing to go my whole life without eating bread, for example, so I haven't given up bread.

Good luck! It's hard work, but I have seriously enjoyed feeling better in my own skin, feeling more in control of my body, watching my body change, and getting lots of compliments. It's been a slow rush!
posted by pittsburgher at 8:20 PM on March 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

Motivational preparation, in my case, lasted probably as long as I'm alive. I've had good intentions for at least a decade. I doubt very much I planned for any of my attempts in those years to fail, or be temporary. (It's possible though that I hit a critical mass of non-specialist reading about diet/s - the good ones are all the same.)

What made the difference for me (25 lbs' worth) is sheer habit. I lucked into two practices - both faddish - that made my body want to continue them.

1) Low glycemic index eating (aka 'South Beach'/'Mediterranean'/'Atkins' [when done right]/the Canadian Food Guide) suits me very well. I shoot for my 5-a-day, fill up on green things and lean proteins, and eat whole grain carbs. I try to keep portions relatively small but never skimp on proteins (these are what keep me happy). I do as kthxbi says - I simply don't keep anything in the house that would put my willpower to the test, in any way. I try to eat regularly enough so that I don't set myself up for a tearful run to the nearest Taco Bell. The planning bit's been hardest; I'm not so organized naturally.

2) I work out every day. Without question. I've dipped in and out of various programmes - have done dance classes, gone to the gym, done outdoorsy stuff. The cumulative effect of all these was to make me feel sort of good about doing stuff. The tipping point was Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred. It's not *such* a great DVD for joints (form is kind of an afterthought) - but her insistence on doing 30 minutes of some damn thing every day stuck. Not sure why. Maybe she hypnotized me.

(Btw - I'm very pro-DVDs - they're great for convenience, and cheaper than a gym membership. I always, always resented the sheer time taken up in going to the gym. With packing, changing, travelling, you've got to add on at least another hour to the workout, even at the nearest gym, even if you shower at home. Yuk.)

I do other things, mostly at home or outside, but that DVD is what made it feel easy.
posted by nelljie at 8:34 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

for me, treating your body well, i.e. exercising regularly and eating good food, is about self-love.

it's about treating yourself with respect and love, to say i've committed to being the healthiest i can be. this, of course, does not demand 110% perfection, but some understanding when there are many beers and tamales in a night. and then a green smoothie for breakfast the morning after.

i try to eat fairly low-carb, mostly proteins and veggies. only because that's how i feel best. i'm too poor for a gym membership right now, so i ride my bicycle everywhere. it's way faster and cheaper than public transit, good exercise and i love riding.
posted by chickadee at 8:43 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The change happened for me when I learned that what I had always believed was "healthy eating" really wasn't and was probably the reason why I gained the weight in the first place. Once I understood the actual science behind how and why we get fat, I found it far easier to make the right food choices. Knowledge is power!
posted by platinum at 10:32 PM on March 7, 2011

I started mostly by cutting out soda and fast food, but it helped reading about the benefits of healthier eating/evils of processed food to get myself away from junk food in general. The Omnivore's Dilemma is a good start.

I also just tried to find ways to fit *any* exercise into the day, like watching TV on an exercise bike or walking to the grocery store. Once you get the hang of that, you can ramp up to a more formal fitness program.
posted by tau_ceti at 10:36 PM on March 7, 2011

Seconding platinum. What really got me caring about my health and doing more to manage my body composition was two things:

1. Diagnosis of prehypertension
2. Learning about the evolutionary basis for nutrition

#1 got me serious about my health, and #2 made the theory of healthy eating so elegant that I couldn't help but get excited about it.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:11 PM on March 7, 2011

One semi-side note: if you're going to include exercise in your regimen, try to work up to something intense (lifting or intervals) as quickly as is safely possible. It's far more effective (see #2,3) than the traditional image of exercising by jogging on a treadmill for an hour.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:12 PM on March 7, 2011

How did you become mentally committed to eating healthy foods

Watching various documentaries on modern food production, eg. Food Inc, Jimmy's Food Factory, Super Size Me. And learning to cook.
posted by gakiko at 2:22 AM on March 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm currently using a commitment contract. You make a commitment to control eating and if you don't lose the weight you pay money. For instance, I joined the website stickk.com where I committed to lose 1 pound a week for 15 weeks. If I fail, I pay $100 to an anti-charity (a charity that I would never want to support which for me was a group that denies climate-change.)

It's funny but even though I can afford to lose $100 a week, it is extremely motivating for me and haven't lost once. I have lost 9 pounds in 6 weeks, therefore being 3 weeks "ahead" of schedule. Another trick is to do a maintenance contract after you get to your goal weight, where you commit to staying the same weight (plus a 5 pound buffer.) Otherwise people tend to gain it back, statistically speaking.

I'm only 9 weeks in, so I can't speak to it's long term efficacy.

Just knowing about commitment contracts tells you a lot about yourself. When I first heard about them I scoffed at the idea. But I had to ask myself why wouldn't I do it? What does it tell you about your lack of desire for real change that you won't commit to putting your money where your mouth is?
posted by acheekymonkey at 4:54 AM on March 8, 2011

One important tool from a friend: realizing I deserved to be healthy. I deserved to spend time on feeding myself nourishing and healthy food. Health and the ease that comes with being lighter is a bigger treat than any ice cream cone - and I can still sometimes have ice cream, even With the health!

Also, I committed to flossing every day. There's something about an unrelated healthy habit that feeds positively into understanding that this isn't a diet, this is healthy eating habits for the rest of your life.
posted by ldthomps at 5:24 AM on March 8, 2011

Best answer: I've been going to the gym almost daily now, for the first time in my life, for over a month. That's not very long but it's the longest ever - and the easiest, least painful, most (dare I say it?) enjoyable - period of time I've ever been committed. Next up is shifting my food choices (though I already eat 80% healthy, there's room for improvement!).

For me, the answer was: stop thinking.

I know I need to lose weight. I know I need to get some good, quality exercise regularly. I know that I need to eat more vegetables and fewer Peeps. And I know how to do it, too.

But if I think about it, I talk myself out of all of it. I've been doing that for years, too. I can sustain an effort for a few days, at best, before I talk myself out of it. It's got nothing to do with a lack of willpower or desire or even motivation - it's that my brain is my enemy when it comes to making changes.

See, I rationalize my Peeps. I think, "I'll hit the gym tomorrow, instead." I demoralize myself by thinking of how much suffering I'll have to endure for SO LONG to see any difference. I shame myself into inaction - I'm fat now, so what's one more day of it in the grand scheme of things? I contemplate how looooooooong it takes to go to the gym, work out, shower.. and how icky I feel when I'm sweaty and ohgod, it's going to hurt and, oh, hey, the sofa looks good. And since I'm TOTALLY going to the gym tomorrow, it's okay if I eat this big bowl of [unhealthy food] because today I'm just being nice to myself and, after this, I'll NEVER eat it again. I rationalize that one unhealthy snack isn't going to have a major impact on my weight/cholesterol/whatever. When I build everything up into an unending awful experience, well, it's no wonder I don't want to do it.

My other stupid self-sabotage trick is to "get ready" forever. I'm going to join the gym and eat really well - so, first I need to spend weeks looking for the perfect pair of running shoes, for example, to avoid going to the gym "unprepared". Doesn't matter that the shoes I have already are just fine and dandy. Or I decide that I can't go to the gym until I've read a book about weight lifting. I can't start eating healthy until I fully understand the math, science and chemistry behind "good nutrition."

You said you can't get your head in the game - so take your head out. Auto-pilot this. Do not think - just call and join the gym and then go. Do not think - just grab the vegetables from the fridge and start chopping them. Don't think about how great Peeps taste - just grab the high fiber crackers at the store and get out. Act like an impatient parent at the grocery store and refuse to rationalize, justify or discuss it with yourself - just grab the heathy stuff and, later, just pick up the gym bag and go. Live in the moment - don't think of an hour from now - and make this very moment a healthy one.

My exercise routine isn't perfect - but it's exercise and it's happening regularly. My eating habits are not perfect - but it's far better than it has been in the past. Both will continue to improve, too. And my brain just has to shut the hell up and stay out of it. Maybe your brain needs to get out of the picture too?
posted by VioletU at 5:52 AM on March 8, 2011 [12 favorites]

I kept having these moments where I'd look at myself and almost get going. I'd go work out - start running, walk nightly, what have you - for a week. Then, my resolve would falter and I'd drop out of the routine again.

Then, a month later, I'd go "Man, if I'd just kept with it, I'd be in so much better shape now!"

What ended up working for me was actually shelling out the money to go to a "niche" gym to do something that I enjoy. It happens to be an RKC Kettlebells gym, which is hard work but whole-body, and each class is small so I get personal attention.

I figured that if the 'free' options - running, calisthenics, etc - worked for me, I would already be doing them. Now, every time I go, I bring down the cost to go each time! It's more efficient! It's worked so well, I no longer need to bribe myself to go with rewards after X times.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:26 AM on March 8, 2011

I bought a blood glucose testing kit and checked my glucose levels for a couple weeks. Available in drugstores or more cheaply at Amazon ($20-$25). I didn't like the results which motivated me to change my lifestyle. Before that I didn't like the way I looked or what the scale told me, but the additional knowledge from the blood glucose test made the difference in finding the resolve.
posted by conrad53 at 7:35 AM on March 8, 2011

"In these bodies we will live/ in these bodies we will die/ where you invest your love/ you invest your life" - Mumford & Sons

Like many others in the thread, I've been working to change my attitude from 'this is a temporary diet punishing my fat butt' to an attitude of 'this is a lifestyle change so can do all the things I want to for as long as I care to do them.'. I also play little mind games with myself to incentivize behaviors until they become habit. Right now I am working to give up sugar aside from fruits and honey for my tea. Each day I manage to say no to cookies or cake at lunch (all very available at free food events around campus) I get points. I made up a points chart for easy goals like ten points for a new album off iTunes, etc. Each day I don't do something is stronger incentive not to do it the next day!

I've been treating calories like a monetary budget (using LiveStrong app and online calorie tracker). I have bills to pay in form of basic nutrition and some "fun money" calories I can spend as I want, but I'm finding this way I'd rather have three pieces of fruit rather 1/2 cup ice cream.

Finally, looking at food as fuel rather than a "treat" has been helpful. I carry around this chart when grocery shopping to remind myself I'm there to buy food. A few mantras of "not food, not food" when walking past temping items works for me!

As you can see, I'm in a similar place right now trying to make fundamental and lasting change in how I eat. Let's wish us both luck!
posted by nelleish at 7:35 AM on March 8, 2011

I agree with the folks above who emphasize positively about your body and loving yourself even if you're not totally where you want to be. When making personal changes, I consistently have to remind myself to be as nice and fair to myself as I would be with someone else experiencing the same problems. This helps me maintain realistic goals and prevents me from getting too discouraged when things don't proceed perfectly.

Also, I kind of use to scoff at this sort of thing because it just sounds like a gimick, but I've had good experiences with the short, 10-20 minute workout DVDs.
posted by sk932 at 8:47 AM on March 8, 2011

When I hit 300 lb. and had to get cardiac stents, I started to take weight loss seriously. For me, starvation or portion control doesn't really work. What has worked is to make substitutions, looking at each meal and finding ways to reduce volume and calories.

For example, at breakfast, I used to have a bowl of spoon-size shredded wheat plus a quarter cup of Grape-Nuts for crunch plus dried cranberries and nuts. It satisfied my appetite, but the calories added up fast. When I switched to two thin slices of sugar-free multi-grain heavy peasant bread with a very small amount of butter, I immediately stopped gaining. Don't forgo the small treat of real butter. Use a vegetable knife with fine serrations to slice it paper-thin.

At lunch and dinner, rather than dessert or even handful of nuts or fruit, I have a stalk of celery or a carrot.

Don't use potato chips to scoop up things or crackers to help with soup. Celery is perfect.

Substitute yogurt for 2/3 of any amount of mayonnaise you use.

Substitute flavored mustard for a lot of the mayo. I put a teaspoon of Edmon Fallot Walnut Dijon Mustard in chicken, tuna and egg salad, salad dressings and with yogurt over baked potatoes. A quarter of a teaspoon is magic in blah soups.

Put a teaspoon of tahini or a tablespoon of hummus on your plate to dip veggies into. It enriches the flavor and makes them more filling. I do the same with strong-flavored condiments -- thai fish sauce, Worchestershire sauce, soy sauce, a couple of drops of Angostura Bitters, Sassy Sea Salt and many more.

When I start to get hungry an hour after a meal, I suck on a CVS Sugar-Free Menthol Coughdrop, which stops the pangs.

Don't do anything else while you eat. No TV, no magazine or newspaper, not even radio. It's far to easy to let that distract you and just keep eating.

When you get the entree at a restaurant, immediately divide the serving in half with a table knife, slide one of them onto the salad plate and hide it behind the flowers to take home.

Use a salad fork and a teaspoon. Your mouth is a meter that counts the number of times it's filled, not the volume of each bite.

Stop before each bite and form a strong mental image of the look, smell and taste you're going to experience. This duplication of mental input makes you feel satisfied faster.

It's OK to fall off the wagon. A whole slab of baby back ribs or a pint of Haagen-Daz Dulce de Leche for dinner is part of the process.
posted by KRS at 9:22 AM on March 8, 2011

The biggest thing was doing tons and tons of upfront from-the-get-go research and planning before actually going in, so I was fully prepared and knew my shit and what to expect and all that, plus having that knowledge made me confident I wasn't wasting my time, I could be sure of myself. (This approach was how I quit smoking too--I did ass-tons of reading and whatnot to compare approaches, analyzed and reflected honestly on my own quirks and weaknesses, proclivities, and then made the best possible plan of attack given all that stewing. It made me feel I wasn't just flailing around trying whatever I thought of first, failing at it 'cause it wouldn't be tailored to me, and then feeling bad, starting a crappy cycle etc.) I analyzed what was lacking in my current diet (with the help of a good nutrient tracker, CRONometer in my case but there are lots, combined with data from places like nutritiondata), what foods realistically (as in, ingredients I could easily procure on a regular basis nearby and at an affordable price, that I would want to eat and knew how to prepare easily) would help me reach my targets, etc. I wrote down streamlined easy-to-follow general guidelines as patterns of what worked and what didn't emerged--now it's as basic as the following for me (not advice, just to give an illustration of the kind of thoroughly thought out but simplified thinking that's helped me day in and out):

I wanted 3 strong shots of protein a day, 5 full servings of non-starchy produce with an emphasis on veggies over fruit, and mindfulness about grains/carbs--they're not "forbidden" by any means, but I'm no longer going to just passively consume them as such a large default ratio of diet (not a fan of the food pyramid's take on carbs personally). Limit things that seem to mess me up insulin/appetite-wise, so no more than 2 cups of coffee a day and I never think to drink soda during the work week.

-Work day breakfast is just about always the same: whey protein and either milk or yogurt, plus a piece of fresh fruit or sometimes jicama or something weirder like that (yum green beans or snap peas in summertime!).

-Lunch and dinner are both a shot of protein (variety is good) with 2+ full servings vegetables, and I mean vegetables (usually a leafy salad plus some other often cooked veggie), not potatoes/french fries/some starch side people tend to think of as a "vegetable"/side. Default refreshment is water. If there's some starch, rice or bread or whatever in there sometimes that's ok (I just can't let myself be someone who refuses to eat bread with their "sandwich", I'm not quite that Atkins-ed out) but it's not some default essential the way the standard American diet makes it out to be.

-Snacks might include nuts, yogurt, cheese, an occasional glass of orange juice, a cocktail or glass of wine, or the occasional dessert/baked good. This isn't built in; I only snack when I feel like it, which frankly these days is maybe twice a week. It's just there to provide a cushion of not feeling deprived while stilling planning ahead on what kinds of snacks work best for me.

-Try to space out meals regularly to smooth insulin response/hunger/cravings (I try never to go more than 4-5 hours without eating something the first 12 hours up, after that I'm usually not hungry until breakfast the next day). Helps a ton, worth figuring out/scheduling if need be at first to get used to. People in modern life are so bad at forgetting to eat at regular intervals. I think it's bad news.

Built-in way not to feel like this is lifelong drudgery: weekends and holidays are no holds barred. We can go out to eat, go to a party and drink soda or alcohol, eat baked goods/cake/whatever, skip breakfast, etc.

These sort of general guidelines with built-in cushions (thought-out ideas of ok snacks, weekend laxness) and insurance (that ironclad work breakfast that helps me get enough protein no matter what) have kept me from feeling like I'm on a diet per se, so it feels sustainable to me. Personally if I'd made it about counting calories and nutrients and checking every label every single time I went to eat something I'd never make it for more than a little while. That just doesn't feel right/sane to me. It's about figuring out what feels ok to you to do for the rest of your life and what just would feel like too much/too weird/disordered/unsustainable.

I had exercise guidelines too but haven't been working out lately due to weather (tornado watches ho!), but that was a similar sort of thing where I did tons of research (best bang for your buck so to speak time-wise, efficient exercise--weights and HIIT) combined with honest self-evaluation (what would I realistically be motivated enough to do day in and out, what was affordable and flexible enough I could fit it in my schedule regularly, stuff like that).

So in short: tons of prep work in advance to help me feel everything I was doing had been carefully deliberated on and actively chosen. That helped me stay motivated, but I might just be a mental nerd weirdo so I don't know if that'd work for everybody.
posted by ifjuly at 10:18 AM on March 8, 2011

I love this question because I've definitely been where you are, having done everything right before but not being in the right mind frame to start again. But a month ago all of the sudden I started eating 1200 cal/day and weightlifting & running 4x a week. I have yet to lapse.

The biggest help I think has been being aware of the realities of my situation. I wasn't really convinced I had gained so much extra weight until I was humbled by some pictures I saw. It's crazy how unaware of that you can be, and how motivating coming to terms with it is. So I:

1. Took some undies-only pictures of myself (front, side, back) and put them up on my wall. There's no way I can deny what I see in the pictures. The motivation I get from it is less "you cow, look at all those awful flabs" than "oh wow, my stomach didn't used to look like that. I can do better."

2. Took all of my body measurements (neck, bicep, chest, waist, hip, thighs, calves) and put the list next to my pictures.

3. Started a journal that I use exclusively to write down what I eat, the day's total calorie intake (livestrong.com/myplate to calculate), what activities I did and how many calories they burned. Activities include all the activities you do throughout the day: for me running & weightlifting as well as my waitressing job and running errands.

4. Put up a year-long calendar a la Jerry Seinfeld. Whenever my cal intake is less than my cals burned, I put a giant red X through that day.

5. Whenever I reach a landmark (5 lbs lost, can fit into favorite jeans, etc) I get to take new pictures and re-measure myself.

I hope this helps, good luck!
posted by moons in june at 10:29 AM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a little contrarian, but...for me it's been realizing that there are people out there who don't evangelize. They just very quietly eat well and take good care of themselves. Not because they have a long term goal, but just for the simple enjoyment of it. It's opportunity for them, not deprivation.

I made a pact with myself that I would just become a person who does that, who thinks that. For a while, I wouldn't talk to other people about it. That helped me a lot. And I've stuck with it for longer than any other mindset has ever allowed.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:54 AM on March 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

I spent my whole life being seriously depressed and tired all the time (although I was very, very skinny, rather than overweight). I don't particularly like working out or eating healthy foods, but I DO like that fitness has given me energy and happiness. And it doesn't hurt that I look better than 90% of people my age, too.

Quit planning on it and do it. I used to spend a lot of time reading up on fitness via books or websites. Then one day I realized that, if I spent all that time actually exercising rather than reading and thinking about exercising, I'd already be fit.

As far as sticking with it, I've found that it's easier when you live a structured life. For example, I work in an office with a very regular schedule, so eating the same thing at the same time every day is pretty easy. I also have to wake up at about the same time every weekday, so waking up 45 minutes earlier and working out is easy. It was much more difficult to follow a fitness routine when my life didn't follow a routine.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:43 PM on March 8, 2011

I keep looking for, and paying attention to, the parts of what I'm doing that feel good and are enjoyable.

I don't run or jog. I don't find those activities enjoyable. But I love walking around my incredibly beautiful city, and I enjoy climbing up and down hills and staircases during those walks. I enjoy seeing and hearing birds while I'm out walking and climbing.

I used to get in all my exercise by walking, but then I began to shift things around a bit. So some days, now, I do HIIT sprints (funny - that's running, but I don't think of it as running - I think of it as quick sprints), which I enjoy because I get it over with fast. And I do weight lifting, listening to audio books and lectures, which makes THAT fun. I don't exactly look forward to the weight lifting, but I DO look forward to the next chapter in my book. (Hat tip to Neil Gaiman, who has been extolling the joys of audio books as exercise aids.)

Same with food. Instead of thinking, "Ugh, I know I'd RATHER have a cheeseburger than this bowl of lentils, sigh," I watch for healthy things I like and enjoy them for what they are. I hardly ever used to eat fruit or salads. Now, I look forward to melon. I look forward to the cucumbers and tomatoes in my lunch. I've always liked grapefruit, but now I'm paying attention to how much I like grapefruit, and when I'm finishing up my walk, I'm looking forward to enjoying some nice grapefruit with my breakfast.

Along those lines, I try to really pay attention when I'm eating. I cheat with breakfast and eat at my computer, but for lunch and dinner, there's no TV, no radio, and although conversation is permitted, it tends to peter out as I just enjoy the wonderful food I'm eating.

Mindfulness and attention to the healthy things that I enjoy - attention to what feels good - made it so much easier for me to shift to a healthier lifestyle.
posted by kristi at 10:09 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Being motivated to eat healthy is much easier if I'm exercising regularly. If I ran 3 miles this morning, I'm much less interested in undoing everything by eating an extra brownie.

I know that diet is probably more important than exercise when you're trying to lose weight, but for me exercise is the easier thing to control, and the diet tends to fall into place once I'm putting in the effort to work out.
posted by jpdoane at 11:50 AM on March 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thank-you everyone for your input. I've marked "best" what resonated with me the most, though there is plenty of excellent practical advice in this thread too.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:32 PM on March 11, 2011

« Older Just get me out of here!   |   Cheap desktop publishing program? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.