How to turn a diet into a sustainable lifestyle

July 6, 2018

About two weeks ago, I posted an Instagram story with a poll asking if you guys would want to read more about my experience with weight loss and what I'm learning. It was a resounding 'yes,' with 96% of the votes going to 'heck yeah.' So here I am, writing some more about how I'm going about my weight loss, and how you can do it, too. I'll be posting every other Friday around 5 p.m. eastern time. 


Before I start this series of blog posts, I want to just say, it is your prerogative to change the way you live. You have the right to take control of your diet and exercise or not. Everybody is beautiful in their own way, but that doesn't mean that everybody is healthy. You have to be ready to make changes in order for them to stick. That was a lesson I learned the hard way throughout this process, and in some ways, I'm still learning. It's not easy, but it can be fun! And watching my body change over the last year or so has been pretty cool because that's what I wanted to see. I wanted to see my health affect the rest of me in a positive way. I feel like everyone deserves to have that feeling that goes along with improving your health, which is why I'm writing this now. 


So if you guys are ready to get started, I'm just going to jump right in. 


Building a diet is so much trial and error. My body HATES lactose and some citrus fruits, and some people thrive on those things. Your body needs catered to its specific needs. I'm going to tell you guys how I started out with my diet and how I balance it. 


First thing's first, I eat a lot of things that people may consider 'bad' for you or 'unhealthy.' Food is food. While I'm a pretty strong believer that processed food does nothing for you, and you shouldn't really eat it unless you're having a desperate craving or something (guilty of that!), things that are super calorie dense can make it into your diet plan, too! Nut butters? Count me in! Dark chocolate? Heck yeah! A month or so ago, I ate Pringles, because I was traveling and didn't want to go to a restaurant (to save my stomach... traveling and I don't agree), and the airport store didn't have crackers. So, Pringles. It happens. The important thing is to stick MOSTLY to healthy foods because they aid losing weight.


For those who want to improve their health, I will say this: Don't set weight goals. You might achieve them, and then think, well why am I still doing this? Then before you know it, you're back to your old habits and your weight is back up. Been there, done that. When I was sixteen I set a goal to be 115 pounds, which I met through unhealthy means, and by the time I graduated I was pushing 160. They just aren't sustainable. You can want to change your weight, that's all fine and dandy, just stick to what you're doing! Set health goals! Better posture, more stamina when running, going to the gym more, heavier weight-lifting, lower resting heart rate. Since I started my summer workout program (not so much a program, just me trying my best), my resting heart rate has gone down 6 bpm. How cool! Things like that are sustainable, adaptable goals that can help you longer in life than just over the span of time that you lose those last five pounds. 


Counting calories

Something that clickbait articles that say "Lose 20 pounds in 20 days!" or some other lie like that don't tell you is that weight loss is simple, but it's not as simple as taking a pill. It comes down to calories. I mentioned this in my last post, and I'll probably say it many, many more times. 


You should not restrict yourself, and counting calories doesn't mean that's what you're doing. It means that you're conscious and aware and actively trying to meet your goals. You also don't have to count your calories forever; you get pretty good at doing it in your head after a while. 


For me, on a given day during which I'm lightly active, I burn between 1,500 and 1,800 calories. Sometimes, if I spend a lot of time at the gym, I burn up to 2,300! If I don't do anything I burn about 1,500. So, my average caloric intake is about 1,400. I used to restrict myself to 1,200 when I first started, because I thought that was the right way to do it. I've since found that I would eat too much on weekends because I wasn't giving myself enough fuel during the week, which stuck me in a weight-lossless cycle. Now that I'm eating until I'm comfortably full, my average caloric intake has leveled out to about 1,400, and I'm constantly losing weight without straining my body and my mind.


What that means, even if I don't do anything for a week, I'm in a caloric deficit of (about) 100 calories per day, 700 calories per week. That means I'll lose a pound in five weeks. (A pound=3,500 calories.) That's not that extreme. If I exercise, the weight comes off quicker, which I'll discuss in another blog post down the road. 


There IS a science behind losing weight, and it's calorie counting. Focus on what you're putting into your body. It's the most important thing! You can go to the gym all you want and lift heavy, heavy weights and run a million miles a day (no you can't, but go with me here) but what you put in your body will ultimately determine your body composition and how much weight you end up losing. If you're working out 24/7 and still eating a calorie surplus, you're going to gain weight. Maybe muscle, but still weight.


I know that in my past, I shamed calorie counting, and with my experiences with restrictive and disordered eating, I think I had a right to do that until I was mentally strong enough to handle counting calories again. If you're not ready, gage what you need to eat by eating until you're comfortably full, which means you've eaten as much as you need without feeling bloated, having stomach pain, or anything else like that. For me, that's most of a medium-sized salad and a small bowl of soup. If you're a habitual person, count your calories for each different day of eating, and eat that much everyday or every other day or whatever, and you'll know. 


MyFitnessPal is a good way to track your calories. Download it on to your phone, set reminders in the settings for each meal, log right after you eat. What you need to remember

is to log oils that you use to cook, added cheeses, liquid calories, dressings, and correct portion sizes. Measure things out the best you can. You'd be surprised what one tablespoon of peanut butter actually looks like. If you don't know what has liquid calories (sodas, alcohols, sports drinks, etc.) drink water, or iced tea (>5 cals) or coffee (>5 cals). I wouldn't recommend drinking diet sodas, although they do have 0 calories, they're addictive and water is better, anyways. Oils have a LOT of calories. That doesn't mean they're bad and you should never use them, but they're easy to cut out. Pam cooking spray does the trick and has 0 calories. Coconut oil, though great for you in many ways, has a ton of calories per serving! Many people disregard this because it's glorified as a health god, but it just adds calories to your daily intake, and you don't have the opportunity for more nutritiously-dense calories in the rest of your day. 


[Also, my friends, my family, my people, don't lie to yourself about what you're eating. I did that for a long, long, l o n g time, and it got me nowhere but Frustrated City. Now, I literally eat peanut butter out of measuring spoons so I know how much I'm eating. When I'm at Ben's (and when we move into our apartment... Noelle, Lauryn, Megan, I'm buying a food scale) I weigh my portions so I know exactly what's going into my meals.]


If you have a Fitbit, there is a Fitbit app, as I'm sure you've figured out by now, and you can track your food on there. It's not as straightforward as MyFitnessPal because the database is smaller, but if you set your goals within the app, it'll tell you how much to eat on a given day. 


If you have a ton of extra calories one day because you worked out or you hiked 10 miles or something, don't feel like you have to eat them. If you're hungry, eat. If you're just eating because you see an increased number, you might not have the right mindset. 


Consistency is key, but it doesn't mean you have to stop eating the things you love. You can work them into your calorie goals every once in a while without issue. 



Some people might argue me on this, but I don't believe in cutting everything out of your life just because you're eating better. I think the more you learn, the more you do end up cutting out, because most processed food is really gross, but to start, try following the 80/20 rule. When I started, I was eating toast and coffee in the morning, a salad or some turkey and veggies for lunch, and a turkey wrap with chips for dinner. I was losing weight because I fit all of that into my calorie goal, but I wasn't feeling satisfied, and I got bored quickly.


Come winter, I started eating oatmeal for breakfast. Granted I was eating the Quaker pre-packaged ones that were flavored, which I know now have a lot of added sugar, but the Apples & Cinnamon plus a tablespoon of peanut butter lasted me until 1 p.m. when I had a lunch break. Olivia and I would either go to the new dining hall on campus, where we would have salad (and sometimes a cookie), or to Greens to Go on campus and having a salad. For dinner I was usually having grilled chicken and a smaller salad. I felt better, was meeting my calorie goal, and some nights I had wiggle room for dessert.


When we would order pizza, I would try to make it the most nutrient-dense pizza I could, just to make the most out of those calories. (Thin crust, chicken and veggie, by the way.) If I knew we were doing that, I would eat less during the day, but I wouldn't starve myself, because that's not smart. There's no making (Americanized) Chinese food any better, but sometimes you just have to go for it. 


When you decide to eat something like dessert or a "guilty pleasure" meal, don't guilt trip yourself. Just move on with your life. A few hundred extra calories isn't going to matter in the grand scheme of things. It didn't set you back that much. If you decide that it made you feel sluggish, eat even healthier foods the next day. Drink a ton of water. Go for a run. Make sure you're feeling great all the time, and don't punish yourself for occasionally eating the foods you love. 


My favorite treat? Dark chocolate with peanut butter. How many times can I mention dark chocolate and peanut butter in one lifetime? I love peanut butter more than most things in this world. In a later blog post about grocery shopping for a healthy lifestyle on a budget, I'll get further into my obsessions with natural peanut butter, but for now, use your imagination. Just last week, I found (at Whole Foods) a 70% dark chocolate that has no added sugar and is sweetened with Stevia. Wow!! My favorite thing just got better! Little tweaks like that mean a lot to your body in the long run, so don't be afraid to make those choices.


I think it's important to recognize the reason eating healthy foods helps you lose weight. The cheeseburger that is pictured above probably had upwards of 1,500 calories for that whole meal. My mom and I split it, and definitely didn't finish it, but it's still a dense meal. It was a special occasion, but my body doesn't know that when I'm processing those calories. In comparison, my larger salads have 300-400 calories and are packed with veggies, beans, grains (and a little light dressing for moisture's sake.) I can hardly finish one of them, and I'm full for hours. That meal above was equal to five or more of those salads and didn't last me nearly as long. Healthy foods tend to have less calories, and they get the job done. Eating healthily (in correct portion sizes) will help you lose weight simply because you have to eat less to feel as full. Less calories in, just enough energy for your body, more weight off. If you can fit something into your calories and you want it, you'll be happy and losing weight. Body composition and eating enough protein to build muscle and stuff are all different things, but just losing weight is calories and balance is a big part of that. Don't make yourself miserable. 


Working out

I'm not going to lie in this part... I am not a model gym-goer. Looking up to me for workout advice probably wouldn't be the best move on your part. I do work out, probably more than the average American, if we're being honest, but I don't have a clue in the world what I'm doing for at least 50% of my gym experiences, and some days I don't even go without an excuse. I'm trying to get better at that, and I'll start writing about it when I do, but it just falls kind of low on my list. I do like to walk, though, which I guess counts. I walk with my dad most days that I'm in California, and my mom likes to take walks too, so I'll do that in Colorado, but that's not really giving me that muscular booty that every Instagram model has... just aiding my calorie deficit in a super minor way. More to come though, because I've been trying my best in the gym lately and I think it's going pretty well. 


Paying attention

To me, the biggest thing has just been paying attention to what I'm putting in my body. If I look at something and I'm like, wow!, that's going to make me feel awful later, I have a choice not to eat it. Sometimes I do eat it, and then I feel awful later. I did that to myself, but I didn't have to. Once you start counting calories, you learn quickly what is worth your calories and what isn't. You can look at the mound of dressing and croutons the person in front of you at the salad bar just added to their plate and think, no, I'm not going to be doing that. I can't make this up, my dad and I frequent a salad-bar-based restaurant that also has a bakery and soups and stuff. A few weeks ago, we went to one, and a woman got pickles, noodles and no veggies on her plate. I thought that was bazaar. Yesterday, I was behind a girl that got out of line and got back in line after she went to get bread. I eat the bread, too, but the only things on her plate were some kind of pasta in white sauce and three pieces of bread. Why would you even.... go to a salad bar.... if you're not going to.... eat salad? Just a thought. Now that that rant is over, let me get back to my point... I offer to cook for my family now, just because I know that many of them cook with things that don't do it for my body. People still use oils, which is fine for their lifestyles, but I try to avoid the best I can. If I can cook and use Pam, and nobody notices the difference, it's a little win for me. I know when I need to hit the gym by how I'm feeling. I know when I need to nap instead. Knowing your body and paying attention to how you're taking care of it is of utmost importance and should be your number one priority. 


Building a diet can be simple, as long as you find healthy foods in healthy portion sizes that work for you. I mean, you can eat "unhealthy" foods, just in the right portions. You get more out of healthy foods in quantity, which is why I'm encouraging it, but hey, to each his own. Enjoy what you're eating, and you won't have to have "cheat days" because you're already satisfying your hunger. Also, don't call them cheat days. You're just incorporating different foods into your already-healthy lifestyle. You're not cheating on anything. You shouldn't feel guilty. Make the most of what your body needs.


Small changes in your daily habits add up over time. Make sure to keep your calories and nutrition in check as best you can, and you'll see the results. 

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© 2017 by Cathryn and Lauryn- All photography credit to rightful owners​