I’ve failed a lot at losing weight before I figured out what I should be doing.
You can learn from my mistakes and discover how I finally kept the pounds off with my top ten weight loss tricks:
Exercise for Fun, Not for Weight Loss
I used to think exercise had to be a sweaty, agony-filled, hellish experience.
I tried to get into it, but every time I lasted a couple of weeks (at most) and quit, hating the entire experience.
Then, I tried something new.
I put on my running shoes and track pants, and I got outdoors. I went to the park. And I just walked.
It was literally a walk in the park. I loved it. I looked forward to it every day.
I would stroll around with the sunshine warming my skin, watch the squirrels play, and listen to the birds chirp in the trees.
It was easy to walk a couple of miles in this environment, even when I was out of shape.
Eventually, I started jogging. Just 30 seconds at a time. When I got tired, I stopped jogging, and just walked for a while.
There were no goals, no pressure, no expectations to live up to. The only commitment I made was to get outside and walk around for a bit.
As time went on, I found it easier to jog longer distances – and then to jog the entire time.
You don’t have to jog. Your form of exercise could be anything – joining a local soccer group, riding a bicycle, going for a swim, or taking martial arts classes.
When you find something you love doing, it’s easy to do it every day – because you look forward to it every day. The best part of my days are spent walking / jogging through the park.
I’m just like you – I used to hate exercise, but now it’s what I daydream about doing when I’m at work.
Find something you love that just happens to get you up and moving, and start doing it every day.
Portion Sizes Are All In Your Head
The next time you get a chance, watch someone eat – preferably a big, calorie-rich meal.
You can do this when you go out to lunch with a friend, or even by observing a stranger at another table (just don’t get creepy).
It’s in our biological nature to associate food with happiness, but carefully observe how happy that person looks while eating their food.
If you’re like me, you’ll notice something interesting.
People tend to look very happy taking their first bite of food, and the same with their last bite of food.
The bites in between are just filler.
Food always sounds better before we eat it than it actually is. This realization alone can be enough to change the way you think about food.
Two bites of a Big Mac can provide enough calories to qualify as an adequate lunch, and you still get the best parts – the first bite and the last bite.
Avoid Arbitrary Goals
Saying “I’m going to eat less” or “It’s time to eat healthier” is a good place to start, but it’s not a plan – it’s an arbitrary goal.
If you’re not working with data, then who’s to say if you actually ate less at the end of the day? You might feel like you ate healthy, but you could be easily fooling yourself.
A real plan is specific, leaves no room for interpretation, and is something you can reference every day to assess a pass / fail grade to yourself.
An example might be:
“I will write down all foods I eat. I will eat no more than 1,500 calories per day, 50% of which must come from protein. I will add up all calories as I go to make sure I’m sticking to my goal. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will go for a 20 minute jog at lunch.”
That is a real goal.
You know if you’re doing it right. You’re not exercising “more often”, you’re doing a specific amount of jogging on specific days.
When your efforts fall short (and they will – nobody is perfect), you know immediately, and you can make changes to your approach to ensure you stick to your goal.
When you get specific and hold yourself accountable, you will start seeing results.
I encourage you to clearly define your plan, start immediately, and don’t let anything stand in your way.
It’s Not Going to Be Easy
And if it is, you probably aren’t doing it right.
Exercise burns. Eating less is going to make you feel hungry. Diet-friendly food doesn’t taste as good.
And there’s nothing you can do about it.
You can either embrace these challenges, work through them, and allow your body time to get used to them, or you can stay where you’re at right now.
Anyone who says they have a trick to avoid this reality is lying – and probably trying to sell you something. There are no shortcuts.
The biggest mistake you can make is thinking this process will be easy going into it.
Mindsets like that lead to quitting.
A more positive, realistic mindset is:
“This is going to be challenging, but I can do it. There will be tough days, but I will keep going, because I’m no longer a quitter. I will do it because it’s worth it. I’ll live longer, I’ll feel better, and I’ll look damn fine at the end. I will focus on rocking this day, and tomorrow I’ll do the same.”
Write that down. Read it every day.
When you fail to stick to your goal, read it again. Make it a part of who you are, and – even though it’s not easy – don’t stop for anyone.
Beware the What-the-Hell Effect
The “What-the-Hell Effect” (also called counter-regulatory eating) is something most of us experience.
It’s when you have started a diet, you’ve been doing well, but then you go out to dinner with some friends.
You order an entree, thinking maybe you’ll take half of it home. Then you don’t. So you decide, what the hell, I’ll have dessert – and maybe a couple cocktails.
Why not? I’ve already blown my diet anyway.
Then you get home, and decide, “Maybe I’ll make a sandwich”. It sounds good, and my diet is already out the window for today.
Maybe your original failure would have cost you an extra 300 calories – but at the end of the day, you’ve had an extra 1,500 calories.
The first mistake would have been manageable, but you’ve turned it into something that is devastating to your waistline –all because you said “what the hell”.
Moral of the story: Don’t say “what the hell”. Stay positive.
There will be times when you catch yourself slipping up. Don’t burn the house down just because you lit a candle.
It’s easy to think that, since you already messed up, additional food won’t really “count”. Trust me, it does.
One night of “what the hell” eating can take days of strict diet and exercise to make up for – putting you further and further from your goal.
Eat to Feel Full
If it doesn’t help you feel full, it’s a wasted calorie.
Butter doesn’t help you feel full – neither do ranch dressing or soda.
Sure, they taste good – but that’s just the lizard part of your brain demanding calories. This is the left over part of our brains from the caveman era that believes food is scarce and we need every calorie we can get in order to survive.
Another, much more beautiful, part of our brains is neuroplasticity – that means our brains can adjust to new situations and habits.
The idea of not putting butter on your toast might sound insane at first. It’s what you’re used to, and how could you eat dry toast with a meal?
Personally, I’ll sometimes eat one slice of toast (never two) and, instead of butter, I’ll use garlic powder or seasoned salt.
I might feel weird the first or second time you do it, but then your brain adjusts and it feels as normal as buttered toast.
There are probably some foods you hated as a child that you now enjoy. Your brain has already changed to enjoy new and different flavors, and it still has that same capacity for change when it comes to eating healthier.
As you cut out empty calories and instead choose foods that help fill your stomach and ward off hunger, you will adjust. The hardest part is the first day. After that, it gets easier and easier – but you have to do it every day for this to happen.
Alcohol is Dangerous
It’s dangerous to your body and to your diet.
Three pints of beer contains 600 calories and at least 52 grams of carbs, but alcohol can sabotage your weight loss efforts in more ways than that.
Alcohol increases the level of estrogen in your body, encourages fat storage and even inhibits muscle growth. [More]
It’s best to avoid alcohol all together, but if you must partake, limit both frequency and quantity. Two glasses of wine on Friday nights would be acceptable. More than that, and you could fail to see weight loss results even if you follow a good diet and exercise plan.
There are three sources of calories: Protein, carbs, fat, and alcohol. If you must have alcohol, it’s best to reduce calories from the other groups (namely carbs). The ideal alcoholic drink is some type of liquor mixed with a zero-calorie mixer.
Vodka and club soda with lime is an ideal choice, since it cuts out the carbs that would be included with a typical cocktail or beer.
“Three Square Meals” is Silly
“Three square meals a day” was a foreign concept prior to the industrial revolution.
It was during these times that three meals came into play so that workers could eat before, in the middle of, and after their work shifts.
Three daily meals is a part of our culture, not something your body demands.
Play around to see what works best for you. I’ve seen results from skipping lunch or from skipping breakfast – as long as you don’t eat more at your other meals to “make up” for that lost food.
The feeling of being a little hungry during the day can be very positive if you embrace it. It reminds me that I’m sticking to my plan and am making progress towards my goals.
A healthy dinner is then even more enjoyable after a day of looking forward to it.
You might also see results by eating 5 or 6 very small meals during the day. Although eating more often doesn’t actually raise your metabolism, it can help you feel less hungry and can help keep your blood sugar stable – although it’s often more work on the meal preparation side of things.
Meal frequency is something you should play around with. Do what works best for you.
Set Goals You Will Actually Follow
When you start a weight loss regimen, you probably want results as fast as possible. I know I do.
I used to try to lose as many pounds per week as I could, and that meant following an exceedingly harsh exercise schedule and eating (what felt like) next to nothing.
Of course, I grew tired of this really fast, and this approach was responsible for a lot of my failed dieting attempts in the past.
The plan that will cause you to lose weight the fastest is not necessarily the perfect plan on paper, because we’re all human.
Aiming to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week through reasonable lifestyle changes will result in more weight loss in the long run than an aggressive plan that you give up on.
After all, weight loss is a lifestyle change. Diets don’t work, because as soon as you quit dieting, you gain the weight back.
If you’re overweight, you’re probably wired differently from naturally thin people. You will have to exercise and watch what you eat for the rest of your life. Don’t make it harder on yourself than necessary.
Don’t Wing It
Create meals that are on your “approved meals list” and buy groceries accordingly.
By working from a list of pre-planned meals, you can stop yourself from getting lazy and just ordering a pizza because you don’t know what to make.
Grab a sheet of paper and write down 3-4 meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between. Buy only the ingredients needed to make those specific foods, and stick to them until you’ve reached your goals.
Try to plan meals that are:
- High in protein and healthy fats. These nutrients take longer to break down and help you feel full longer.
- Limited in carbs. A few carbs are necessary to help keep your energy level up, but aim for complex carbohydrates and limit their quantity.
- Full of fiber. Vegetable fiber and whole grains help fill you up, without adding many calories.
- Easy to cook without butter or oil. These hidden fats add a ton of calories, so try to bake meats in the oven and cook in non-stick cookware to keep calories down.
- Easy to season. Try to use herbs and spices to add flavor, not fat. You’d be surprised what the right seasoning profile can do to bland, “diet-friendly” food.
Hopefully these tips help you succeed in reaching your goals.
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