Everyone says “I want to lose weight.” But very few make the changes needed to accomplish their goals. Here’s my story.
I remember the moment I decided I needed to lose weight. I went to buy new jeans, and I hunted through the entire store looking for jeans that could fit me, as long as they were a 32 inch waist. I’ve been a 32 inch waist since high school, and this was important to me. I finally found a pair that were clearly mis-marked, but I was very happy. I bought them.
Fast forward a couple of months, and these jeans barely fit me. Getting my phone or my wallet out of the pockets took about a minute. We had gone to Manhattan, had dinner, met friends for drinks, and now we were getting pizza. I wasn’t actually hungry but pizza sounded so good, I couldn’t say no. This is an important lesson I learned about myself; whenever I’ve been drinking beer, I make terrible food choices and have no way of telling if I’m hungry or not, even if I’ve just eaten.
After that night, I went home and weighed myself. I was shocked by the number, and I knew it was time to change. That was my moment.
Deciding to change and actually changing are two different things. It’s been 3 and a half years since that night, but it took me some trial and error to really see the results I wanted. Here are the things that made the biggest impact on my life, and will undoubtedly help you too.
1. Start eating steamed veggies. Lots of them. Just steam and eat.
When I was heavier, I never ate vegetables. I ate salad. I figured if I had a big salad at lunch, and maybe a small salad with dinner, that should be good, right? Yes and no. We add salad dressing to make salad taste good (plus maybe bacon), then suddenly, it’s not good. Salad dressing is a LOT of calories. Even “just oil and vinegar!” still counts.
If you don’t believe me, do this. Buy some plain frozen veggies – string beans, broccoli, and peas. Even mixed veggies. Buy enough for 2 weeks, if you eat one cup per meal per day. (This includes breakfast.) Then, start eating them. It will be weird in the beginning (who eat veggies with breakfast?) but once you get used to it (egg whites with broccoli!) you’ll be really excited when you notice a difference on the scale.
When you make a meal, start by putting a generous serving of veggies on your plate, and then add your meat and starch accordingly. You’ll see a difference in no time.
2. Stop eating out.
You eat out way more than you probably realize. Lunch? Just grab a wrap. Or a salad. Or some sushi. Those are all healthy sounding options that really aren’t, simply because they’ve been prepared by someone else.
If you don’t believe me, do this. Don’t eat out for 2 weeks, and weigh yourself at the start and the end. (Not eating out is much harder than eating veggies.) Bring all your food to work or school. You can bring almost anything you want, as long as it’s not #3 …
3. Stop eating Prepared Foods.
Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s and Whole Foods know that people are busy. So they make prepared meals and have them in the frozen or refrigerated section, which works because it saves you time while still letting you do some of the cooking. Plus, these items have to be healthy, since they’re from Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s and Whole Foods, right?
Unfortunately, no. These foods taste really great and aren’t very healthy at all. I’d recommend slowly eliminating these prepared foods from your diet. Cooking does take longer, but the results will be well worth it.
4. Stop eating Processed Foods.
The supermarket is set up in an enticing way. Most of the aisles have food and drinks that no one should be eating. They put the vegetables on one side, they put the meat and eggs in the far back corner, and everything else is designed to jump out at you as you walk around.
Ignore all these foods: chips, cookies, frozen meals, canned foods, pastas, sauces, sodas, the list goes on and on. Stick to natural ingredients that you have to prepare yourself, and ignore the rest. Just walk the perimeter of the store and block out everything else.
I’m also not a huge fan of protein bars. I used to eat them daily, and although they are great in a pinch, real food is always going to be better.
5. Prepare all your own meals at once.
This idea sounds like a lot of work, but t’s not. Once you get started doing this, your life will actually become easier, because you’ll never have to think about “finding something” for lunch or dinner ever again.
Buy some food (and Tupperware if you don’t have any), then stay home one Sunday evening and cook. Make enough food for you to eat for 3 days – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then, divide up the food for each meal and put it in a Tupperware. The first time you do this, it will take a while. But after a few times, you’ll do it more quickly, and when you reach for a Tupperware and realize you’ve eaten all of them, you’ll be annoyed. As a result, you may try to go longer between cooking. (Hint: Don’t.)
When packing each Tupperware, put in your steamed veggies first with a generous portion (at least a cup, more is fine), then add a fist sized portion of meat and half a fist of starch. (You can do a fist sized amount of starch if you’re working out that day.)
Making these Tupperwares takes effort, but once you integrate it into your lifestyle, you’ll immediately notice how convenient it is. You’ll never be tempted to make a bad choice when you’re hungry because you’ll already have a Tupperware with you, ready to be eaten.
Now, on to the things that did NOT help me lose weight.
1. Working out.
I wish I could say that working out helped me lose weight, but the reality is that I often rationalized “I’m working out today, so I can eat whatever I want.” The truth is that “I’ll burn it off later” is very unlikely to happen for a variety of reasons. Ever have a day where you planned to work out and something else came up? If you already ate like you’re going to work out but then didn’t – it was a waste.
Working out is good in the sense that it can keep you focused on eating right. No sense wrecking a workout by eating badly afterwards, right? If you look around the gym, hopefully you see people who are eating right, and seeing their progress can be a great motivation.
2. Paleo/Atkins/Just eating lots of meat
I tried eating meat and salad, with no carbs. I ate a pound of bacon in 4 days. I had no energy and I was miserable. Any energy I had came from coffee. Maybe that works for some people, but not for me. I did not lose weight.
3. Carbs (mostly Sweet Potatoes)
Everyone says how great sweet potatoes are. When I realized there was a vegetable I could eat that doubled as a starch, I was excited. They are amazing for a variety of reasons. But they are not to be considered a vegetable, no matter how many you eat. They’re a starch and need to be treated as such.
4. Eating More To Lose Weight
I’ve heard a lot of people say you need to eat more to lose weight. Maybe that works for others (like college athletes), but since I sit at a desk a lot of the time, it didn’t help me. Eating more just made me weigh more.
I’m not a fitness expert. I’m not a personal trainer. I just kept trying things until I figured out where my problem was. In life, you have to sometimes closely examine exactly what you’re doing that’s keeping you from the results you want.
December is a great time to seriously evaluate your goals, and January 1st is a great time to implement them. Beach season is only 5 months away!
Before and After:
Want help implementing your own goals? My friend Joey Butacavoli is a personal trainer who designs custom meal plans for his clients. He helped me figure out exactly how many calories I should be eating and designed my meals around that. Visit his site for more info.