I started caring about what I ate in early 2010 at age 20. I was in college and wanted to get fit, add curves to my body, and be more confident. I read everything I could find on fitness and nutrition, specifically bodybuilding. I fell in love with the idea that my workouts and food I eat have the power to directly change my physique. I quickly became obsessed with the gym and eating clean. I meal prepped, measured and weighed all my food (even fruit), made my own dinners, and always ordered the healthiest thing on the menu. At 5'6 and 114lbs (52kg), I had abs but was underweight and overanalyzing and tracking every single workout and meal.
Today, almost eight years later, I happily maintain my weight between 125-130lbs (58-59kg). I've put on 10-15lbs of healthy weight and lean muscle and I'm healthier, more energetic, happier and stronger than I've ever been. I never measure anything and enjoy eating healthy while still indulging at my favorite restaurants. I weight train 3-4 times per week and no workout is over 60 minutes. It took nearly a decade to find the solutions and sustainable habits I can follow for the rest of my life to have the body and lifestyle I love while maintaining optimal health.
One of the reasons I'm so passionate about what I do is I never want someone to struggle like I did to be healthy and love their body. Life is too short to diet and feel deprived, to not be able to eat your favorite foods, go to bed hungry, track every calorie, feel the need to measure and weigh all your food and be perfect, or think about food all the time. Life is also too short to not take care of your body and health. My training goals changed from wanting to "tone up" to supporting a healthy body, to be strong for the things that matter in life, naturally prevent as much illness as I can and live a long healthy and happy life.
In 2013 I became frustrated with clean eating. I would try to eat perfectly but everyone else around me seemed to eat whatever they wanted and had it easy. I fell into a comparison trap and thought, why can't I be like everyone else? So that winter I "went with the flow" and conformed to those around me. I drank more alcohol and ate more bread, sugar, cheese, pasta, pizza, etc. While my weight on the scale barely changed, my energy levels slumped, my entire body became puffy and my waist was bloated several inches. I would even ask friends to take down pictures of me on Facebook. I felt awful not only physically but mentally. I went back to eating whole unprocessed foods and vegetables and never looked back. Eating healthy eventually becomes a habit, it's just what you do. Every day you choose to eat as many green vegetables that are available, you drink tons of water and are active and stretch in some capacity.
Here are all the things I wish I knew when I started my fitness journey.
The Ten Essentials to Lose Weight and Still Enjoy Life
1. Set goals. What do you want and why? The why is important, you need a strong why. Simply saying you don't want love handles or bingo wings is not going to motivate you. Wanting to lose 30lbs and get stronger to feel more confident in your career and set a good example for your children is motivating. Identify reasons that sit well with your values and keep you driven and excited to make healthy lifestyle changes.
2. Drink more water to flush the body, stay hydrated, and fight off cravings. How much water do you need? Read this post.
3. Sleep 8 hours. Make it a non-negotiable to be in bed by a specific time every night. I'm in bed by 10:30pm at the latest. Your performance and productivity at work and the gym suffers without sleep. So does your health. You will be a walking zombie. Trust me, just get in bed.
4. Eat more vegetables. Green vegetables are loaded with essential vitamins and micronutrients that keep you healthy, happy, energized, get rid of cravings, make your skin glow, promote good digestion and a flatter stomach. They are also basically a zero calorie or "free" food. Eat more salads, steamed vegetables, grilled vegetables, soups, green juices and smoothies. Experiment and find your favorite ways to prepare and eat a variety of vegetables.
5. Unsupportive family, friends and co-workers. Have a simple explanation for why you eat the way you do. If you are at a social event and someone asks why you aren't having the cake, pizza, etc., or a co-worker calls you out for having a salad instead of a sandwich, you can say "I'm not in the mood" or let them know about your weight loss journey, how excited you are about your new trainer, invite them to an exercise class, tell them about a new recipe you can't believe was so delicious, or just how good you feel. Then just let it be.
6. Social events. This is a tough one. So many people are "good" Monday through Thursday. Then Friday comes and it's pizza, cocktails, beer, etc. until Monday morning. Friday to Sunday is over 40% of the week. If you're lean you can get away with 20% flexibility. If you eat 3 meals a day, 20% works out to 4 meals throughout the week. If you have fat to lose, you will want to keep this down to 1 indulgent meal. I always bring something healthy to a party I know others will enjoy. I make homemade guacamole with veggies and organic corn chips, a big salad with something unexpected like berries, sliced almonds, freshly sliced Parmesan, and arugula, or a fruit salad.
7. Eat your favorite foods. Yes, eat pizza, burgers, tacos, wine, and ice-cream but be mindful. Make it something you really enjoy and make it social, not a nightly affair. Relax, savor each bite and get right back to eating healthy. The sooner you realize food is fuel and nourishment and practice portion control, the more effortless being lean and healthy will be.
8. Love your body the way it is today, and enjoy the process. Celebrate your wins along the way. If you can be your best self it will positively impact all those around you. Even your relationships will benefit and become stronger.
9. Don't diet or follow someone else's directive. The all or nothing approach doesn't work, neither does the "I will start on Monday". Forget fad dieting, program hopping, magic pills and potions. It's not sexy, but eating mostly vegetables, some fruit and lean protein when combined with a solid exercise program is what gets results. It's also sustainable for the rest of your life.
10. Have fun! Workouts don't just happen in the gym, you don't have to be a gym rat. Get outside, go for a swim, go hiking, walk the dog. Do something active for 30-60 minutes every single day.