fitness, health, lifestyle

Weight Loss and Keeping Weight Off – What Worked (and Still Works) for Me 20+ lbs Later

The hardest part about losing weight and keeping it off is staying motivated and consistent throughout the process – wouldn’t you agree? In the past two years I’ve learned what works for me to both lose weight and keep it off. If you have lost weight in the past but always ended up gaining it back (like me, up until the beginning of last year when I started approaching things a little differently) please give this a read because we were both in the same boat at one point!

Ironically, I am starting to write this post after indulging in half a pint of Talenti Caramel Cookie Crunch Gelato, because successful weight loss also means TREATING YOSELF every once in a while. Balance is key!

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That being said, weight loss itself is a relatively simple formula (healthier foods + caloric deficit = weight loss), but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to stick to the formula all the time. Why? Because restricting calories feels, well, restrictive. And for the majority of people, myself included, telling ourselves “no carbs” and “less food” makes us very sad because carbs are friends AND food (in my head I said that in Bruce’s voice from Finding Nemo btw). But did you know that successful weight loss not only requires limiting your caloric intake? It also requires getting ENOUGH macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein, and fat – in your daily diet. Thinking about how you will hit macronutrient goals feels a lot less restrictive than constantly thinking about what foods you need to cut out of your diet. Specifically, trying to get enough protein requires some extra eating, which I happen to like very much!

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Increasing my Protein Intake Helped me Lean Out

According to this article from Yahoo Lifestyle, the minimum recommended daily allowance for protein is about 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight for women, but for successful weight loss that intake should be increased by 50% in order to promote lean muscle retention and control appetite. “0.54 to 0.68 grams [of protein] per [bodyweight] pound is about 70 to 90 grams per day for a 130-pound woman,” according to Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, and corporate dietician at Medifast.

I started tracking my protein intake at the beginning of 2017 and found that my body responded best to weight loss when I was taking in around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight or more. I seemed to look the leanest when I was taking in the most protein, so I started making it a priority to get enough of it!

Trying to make sure I was getting enough protein was more of an addition to my diet rather than a restriction which was kind of awesome, because for once I was trying to eat more so I could get enough protein to supplement my weight loss. Weird concept, right? But it worked. I was not only looking better, but my mentality about my diet was changing for the better too.

My thought process for my diet switched from thinking about restricting my food and focusing on (and thus, being sad about) what I SHOULDN’T eat to focusing on what I SHOULD eat to make sure I was getting my protein needs – and that was mentally liberating! For once I didn’t feel guilty about snacking during the day because eating more protein was helping me get closer to my weight loss and physique goals. To hit my protein goals, I added Greek Yogurt and either a Nugo Bar or Clif Bar as a mid-morning snack when I got hungry. This not only provided me with some protein to start my day/keep me full until lunch, but it also provided me with the necessary carbohydrates to support my lunch time workout sessions.

Once I finished my workout, I would go back to my desk at work, have a protein shake (here is a link to the brand/flavor I like best), and eat my lunch (I still follow this routine now). I read that it was important to consume protein after working out to help your muscles recover and build, and it was important to consume carbohydrates before working out to have the energy needed to fuel and get through your workout. I started following this method of food consumption and as a result, I started eating more for functionality than for pleasure and also stopped being “afraid” of carbs when dieting because I knew my body was using them efficiently.

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Eating for Function and Macro Tracking Kept my Nutrition in Check

When I started looking at food as an essential to fuel and recover from my workouts, it became much easier to make healthier food choices consistently. It was also a lot easier to do when I started tracking all of my macronutrients (aka “macros”) – protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Here is a link to some quick info about macronutrients and a macronutrient calculator on Bodybuilding.com if you want an overview or if you want to find out your macro needs based on your fitness goals.

Basically, tracking macros is another way of tracking food/caloric intake. I find it to be more helpful than tracking calories alone because it provides insight into the quality of the food I am eating. 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories, 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat = 9 calories. So by tracking macros you can also determine how many calories you are consuming. I have fun doing the math when I am trying to distract myself from doing other things J

I used/use an app on my iPhone called Macros to track my protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake. On the way to work (I take the bus) I would usually put in my planned snacks, lunch, and dinner for the day, which gave me some wiggle room for other snacks if I got hungry. Tracking food can seem like a daunting task for some people but since I was meal prepping my lunches for the work week every single week it was pretty easy to do.

 

Meal Prepping: A Game Changer

Around Fall 2016, my boyfriend and I moved in together and decided to start meal prepping our lunches for the work week to make things easier on ourselves and save money on buying lunch every day (that sh*t gets expensive!). There have maybe been two weeks between then and now when we decided not to meal prep out of laziness, and it was always those weeks that my diet would go to crap, so I decided it wasn’t worth it to skip meal prepping for an upcoming week

However, just because we have meal prepped consistently since then doesn’t mean that we always meal prepped successfully. The key to meal prepping successfully is making meals that you actually WANT to eat. I personally despise salads because I prefer cooked vegetables. But I also don’t want a mountain of cooked vegetables for lunch – ew.

Anyway, when we first started meal prepping, we were making salads every week and every week I would make a big stink about how much I hated salad. Half the time I would end up throwing out my salad and getting something else during lunch because I couldn’t stand the thought of eating another salad for the fourth time that week! So I was wasting a lot of food and still eating more processed food than I should have been since I would end up buying something for lunch if I couldn’t bring myself to eat salad. Because I was such a brat about eating salad, we decided to change our meal prep approach and started cooking food I could get excited about instead of dread!

For the past year or so since we started prepping more balanced meals, our meal preps have always consisted of a protein (about 4oz), a cooked vegetable, and half the time, some sort of starchy carb. Some weeks we forgo the starchy carb depending on what the cooked vegetable is – for example, if we decide to make zucchini noodles (aka “zoodles”) we would generally skip the starchy carb since the zoodles feel enough like a replacement for the starch, especially if it’s drowned in meat sauce! If we do include a starchy carb in our meal preps, it is usually one that is gluten-free such as rice or potatoes. We usually stay away from pasta because it makes us want to fall asleep, which isn’t a good thing if you still have 4 hours left before you are done with work.

We started choosing to cook meals that we knew we would definitely enjoy but wouldn’t slow us down, because nothing’s worse than wanting to fall asleep at your desk after eating pasta or bread and still having four hours of work left. When my diet became more consistent through our meal preps, I found that I became increasingly aware of how certain foods physically affected me which helped me avoid them the majority of the time. For example, I noticed that after eating gluten-heavy items such as pasta or bread, I would get really hot, my brain would feel foggy, and the fatigue that came with it was unreal. So even though I loved sandwiches, the level of crappiness I felt after eating them simply wasn’t worth it anymore. It’s annoying to be sensitive to gluten because so many of my favorite things have gluten in it, but it also helps me stick to eating unprocessed food 90% of the time which ultimately keeps me on track with my nutrition. So in my head, it’s a good thing!

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Meal prepping our lunches also freed up my lunch hours at work – I would usually be spending my lunch hour driving somewhere to grab food otherwise. It was once we started meal prepping that I started making working out during lunch time a priority. At first I was only going for long power walks during my lunches, but eventually I decided to commit to getting a gym membership near my work location so I could also do a “real” workout after work. However, I ended up going to the gym during lunch to lift pretty regularly and made it a long-term habit! It was nice to get my workout done during the day so I could just go straight home after work.

 

Planning Workouts Ahead Made Me More Efficient

The gym I first decided to join was about an 8 minute drive from my office. That meant between the drive and changing in and out of clothes, I only had about 40 minutes of solid workout time to utilize during my lunch hour. That meant that when I went into the gym, I needed to know EXACTLY what I was going to get accomplished within that time in order to get an effective workout. That’s when I started planning my workouts ahead of time – either the day before, or at the beginning of the week so I had a game plan every time I stepped foot in the gym. Having a plan not only ensured that my workout would be effective, but it gave me something to look forward to and a solid structure to follow. I’ve shared all of my workouts from last week here if you’re looking for something new and want to check them out! My workouts generally consist of weightlifting and HIIT.

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Planning Dinner ALSO Made Me More Efficient

Speaking of planning (if maybe you couldn’t tell by now from reading this post) I’m the kind of person who is happiest and most successful following a planned structure. I freaking love routine. I THRIVE ON ROUTINE!!! *foams at mouth* Maybe that makes me boring, but I honestly hate it when my flow is disrupted – and needing to make game time dinner decisions disrupts my flow big time! On days when I didn’t know what I wanted to eat for dinner I would get stressed over making a decision that would be both satisfying and healthy, and then would eventually just give in to Chinese takeout – not the greatest choice. Realizing that this weekly routine of giving in to Chinese takeout for dinner might not get me any closer to my fitness goals, I started planning out what I wanted to cook for the week on Sundays when we did our weekly grocery shopping. This dictated the shopping list and helped ensure that minimal food would go to waste because I always knew what I’d be using it for. I’d find inspiration by looking up recipes that looked delicious but required minimal ingredients, because I didn’t want to commit to making a dinner that would be a two-hour long process. Once ya girl is hungry she needs to eat yesterday!

I continue to plan my dinners for the week now – leaving at least two dinners out of the week for wiggle room, because of course, you don’t always feel motivated to cook every single day of the week. When we grocery shop, we usually aim for buying 4 packs of protein for our dinners (usually two chicken, a fish, and a beef or lamb product), 3-4 types of vegetables to have options to choose from (usually tomatoes, zucchinis, avocados, mangos as of lately, broccoli – pretty much whatever is available at Aldi), and starchy unprocessed food such as potatoes or sweet potatoes. I like keeping jasmine rice and pasta sauce in the house as well.

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I find that I’ve been able to keep my weight very consistent since losing 20+ lbs thanks to meal prepping, planning my workouts, and planning my dinners. Without a plan, I tend to go off the rails, so having a consistent plan each week keeps me in check. It also helps to have planned cheat meals (not full days of “cheating”) to keep my cravings at bay. I still like to go out to dinner at least once a week, but I’ve finally started making healthier choices dining out too because this past year, through meal prepping, working out, and eating relatively consistently, I’ve really learned to understand my body and how it responds to certain things that I never knew or noticed before I started my health and fitness journey.

 

Learning to Understand my Body: Weighing AND Measuring Changed My Relationship with the Scale

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Note: that is NOT me and I will probably never look like that girl and that’s okay!

This wouldn’t be a weight loss post if I didn’t bring up scales. I’d like to note that I definitely do not want to promote an unhealthy obsession with the scale, which I know many of us struggle with when we are trying to lose weight. I just want to share what I personally learned by making it a habit to weigh myself at least once a day, and also measure myself during my weight loss.

I’ve read a lot of articles that advise not to look at the scale daily as it can be discouraging and potentially unhealthy. I get that becoming obsessive over the scale numbers can be detrimental to your motivation if you’re not seeing the numbers move. But if you are weighing yourself daily, at the same time (I would suggest in the morning after using the bathroom) every single day, you will find that even when you are consistent with your diet, your weight is still going to fluctuate regardless, even if you have the same amount of fat and muscle as yesterday (because unfortunately that doesn’t change overnight). Learning that little bit of information and TRUSTING it really helped me stay sane throughout my weight loss and weight loss maintenance. For example, did you know that if your body feels like it’s not getting enough water, it ends up holding on to more? That’s right, dehydration is actually a cause of water retention (ironically), and thus causes higher numbers on the scale.  If it’s the week before your period, your body is going to start holding on to extra water (not sure what the science is behind pre-menstrual bloat but it sure is a motivation killer if you don’t realize that it’s happening and it seems like you gained 4lbs overnight).  And if you stayed within your set caloric intake, but you happened to eat potatoes or rice for dinner the night before, guess what? Your body is going to hold on to more water than if you had consumed starchy carbs earlier in the day when your body had more time to process them. As a result, the number on the scale will be higher in the morning – but that doesn’t mean you gained fat overnight. It just means your body is holding on to more water than it should. So keep that in mind!

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Weighing myself daily and buying a tape measure to measure myself every few days was one of the best things I did to keep myself motivated during weight loss. Because if my measurements were smaller, but the scale wasn’t going down, it really didn’t matter! What mattered was that my clothes fit better, and I liked how I looked in the mirror more than a few weeks or months ago. And if the scale went up, but my measurements stayed the same, it really didn’t matter either because my physique didn’t change. So if you have trouble staying motivated during weight loss because of the scale, I challenge you NOT to avoid it. I challenge you to weigh yourself daily but also measure yourself so you can see for yourself that the number on the scale ISN’T the single source of truth when it comes to your fitness.

 

Having a Support System Was the Most Significant Factor

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There is no way I would have been able to transform my health and fitness without having an amazing support system – at home, amongst friends, at work, even on social media. Having a loving partner who supports everything I choose to do and happens to be my live-in sous chef has been tremendously helpful in keeping up a healthy lifestyle. Having friends who have known me for years (before my health and fitness journey) and have told me how proud they are for seeing me take such big strides towards a healthier life adds fuel to the fire to keep going. Working full-time for a company that promotes health and fitness and provides a gym to their employees makes it easy to make exercise a routine part of my day. Without social media I would not have been able to connect to so many like-minded individuals who keep me inspired to continue a life of health, fitness, and balance. Having some sort of system in place that offers encouragement as you make big changes in your life is one of the biggest factors of success, and I am so appreciative of everyone that continues to support and show interest in what I have become so passionate about! If you are starting your fitness journey, I hope that you are surrounded with people who support your efforts, because it makes the biggest difference!

If you’ve been frustrated with your weight loss/ body transformation journey, I hope you consider incorporating some of these things into your plan. If you do, let me know how they work out for you!

Feel free to leave a comment or email me at cook2lean@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Click here to see a week’s worth of my workouts from last week if you’re looking for some ideas!

Click here to follow my food posts on Instagram – let me know if you see anything you’d like a recipe for!

My next blog post will likely be another step-by-step recipe, so stay tuned! Until next time.

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