I was thinking yesterday about how far I’ve come in my journey toward living a healthy lifestyle. When I was younger, I was never one of those really athletic kids… I was never fat, but I was never in shape, either. And gym class is probably the WORST motivator for setting up a lifetime of routine exercise. At least it was for me – when you’re the shy kid, and you’re constantly picked last for every team, and you’re constantly ridiculed for your less-than-stellar volleyball technique, all you want is to get away from that atmosphere and NEVER revisit it again.
But a few years after I graduated from high school, I realized that I could work out by MYSELF – no teams to choose, no humiliating attempts to hit a wayward volleyball, no one to laugh or point or whisper… it was just ME. So I started exercising – walking around my apartment complex, or doing Tae-Bo in my living room. I remember when I first started out, I didn’t even own any kind of “real” workout attire – I would just throw on a pair of cutoff shorts and an old t-shirt. Eventually, when it became enough of a habit that I knew I’d be exercising on a regular basis, I invested in some workout-appropriate clothing. And believe me, it’s much easier to go on a long walk in some nice, stretchy spandex pants than in a pair of old jeans…
But even with my decent exercise habits, my EATING habits were horrible. I think sometimes there’s an unconscious tendency to think, “if I work out, I can eat whatever I want.” And once you start getting into an exercise routine, you allow your eating routine to slip into “anything goes” territory. The truth (which took me years to figure out) is that exercise is GREAT – but it doesn’t burn a huge amount of calories, unless you’re training for an Ironman triathlon or something. It burns extra calories, yes – but not enough to eat a bag of cookies when you’re done and still expect to lose weight. And that was where I made my mistake – even though I exercised on a regular basis, I managed to gain about 30 pounds over a six or seven year period. I was eating too much “processed” food, going out to eat too often, and drinking too much soda and juice. I also had the horrible habit of snacking when I got up in the middle of the night to let Echo out – while she was outside, I would have a couple spoonfuls of ice cream, or pull a cookie out of the pantry. In the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. How horrible is that??
It was when we were living in New Jersey, around 2001, that I realized my size 12 jeans were starting to get tight. Size 12 is like the last “regular” size you can buy – after that, you get into “plus size.” There were a few moments of panic as I came to this realization, but then I made up my mind: there was NO WAY I was going to move up to a “plus size.” After a lot of reading and research, it became clear that the only way to drop pounds and KEEP them off was to PERMANENTLY change my lifestyle. All the myriad of “diets” out there don’t work, because people will only stick with them until they see some weight loss, at which point they go back to eating the way they USED to eat. And that’s the key – obviously if you weighed X-amount of pounds when you were eating the way you used to eat, you’ll go right BACK to weighing X-amount of pounds when you eat that way again. It’s really so simple, and yet we have an entire “diet” industry that has made it seem so complicated…
So, knowing that it would be much too difficult to drastically change my diet overnight, I started very simply – I began ordering water when I went out to eat instead of soda, and drank mostly water at home instead of soda or juice. I also stopped my ridiculous middle-of-the-night snacking. And that was it. Those two small changes resulted in a ten pound loss almost immediately. So by the time Rick and I moved back to Austin in 2002, I had thrown away all my size 12s and hoped to never see them again.
Over the next few years, I kept making small tweaks like that – nothing too radical, so it was never a chore to maintain my routine. Switching to 1 percent milk instead of 2 percent… using less butter or oil when I cooked… keeping ice cream and cookies out of the house to remove the temptation entirely… making an effort to eat more fruits and veggies… And eventually, I lost those 30 pounds I’d gained.
Lately, even though I’ve managed to keep that weight off, I’ve been making an effort to get into better shape – hence my smoothie obsession and newly-challenging workouts. That’s one thing I’ve noticed – even though exercise alone doesn’t necessarily help you lose weight, it DOES seem to encourage better eating. If I get through an hour-long treadmill workout, I usually find that I’m less likely to WANT an entire tub of ice cream or a bag of cookies – because why would I want to completely negate all of my hard work?
Well, speaking of smoothies, I need to go make one for lunch... which will hopefully will give me energy for this afternoon's workout. And you know what? I'm actually looking forward to it... :)