I Am That Girl Now

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

For those of you just starting out...

Indulge me for a moment here. I'm going to go all old-lady and ramble about the stuff I wish I'd known when I was just starting out on this crazy health-conscious thing. The new year is high tide for the diet biz, and even those of us who've been doing this for God only knows how long start to feel the lure of spending January berating ourselves for the sins of the prior year and swearing to stick to some fanatical routine. My Hub hangs out on a certain online forum, and it is suddenly sprouting newbies left and right, all of whom are plunging headlong into determined weight loss without quite knowing what they're doing. It makes me turn into my mother, hands flapping wildly as I try to figure out what I can do to help.

Take with a grain of salt, as ever.

First of all: read everything you can get your hands on. Don't believe that all you need to know about nutrition and exercise are in any one plan, because there is SO MUCH to know. You'll start to notice the similarities and patterns between all the warring information out there.

Second: the scale doesn't know as much as you think it does. The scale is a useful tool, but it's only one tool. Using the scale to guess how much fat you're losing is like using a pancake turner as a fork; it can be done, but it's clumsy and haphazard. The scale can't tell you if the two pounds you've lost or gained is water, or a meal that digested faster or slower than expected, or muscle mass, or fat. It's an excellent tool in its way-- definitely useful for keeping on track-- but don't mistake the day-to-day fluctuations as an indication of how you're doing. The scale is just not that smart.

Third: building muscle is the smartest thing you can do. Muscle burns calories. Muscle shapes the layers on top of it. Muscle is the absolute key to maintaining weight loss. And no, you won't get bulky and look like a 'roid monster, or a guy; women are not biologically designed to do that. Seriously, minute for minute, investing your exercise time in weight-lifting will give you the best long-term results.

A lot of weight-loss programs are practically designed to make you lose muscle tissue right along with the fat. Going under 1200 calories/day (aproximately 24 Points on WW) is one of the classic signs of a program that's endangering your muscle tissue. Losing muscle tissue means that you're burning fewer calories per day than you used to, which means that it's harder to lose weight, which means that you end up restricting your calories more, which means that you lose more muscle tissue and make it even harder to lose weight and hit a plateau and are hungry all the time and frustrated because you never get to eat the things you want and then, one night, you just give up and quit and decide that you're just meant to be fat, because clearly your metabolism is screwed up. And since your body has less muscle than when you started dieting, the fat comes back fast, and BOOM, you're bigger than before, and the next time you get fed up with your body and do the diet thing again, it's gonna be harder.

Trust me on this one. You need muscle. You need more than 1200 calories per day, and a good portion of it should be lean protein-- cottage cheese, fish, chicken breasts, eggs, etc.-- because that's what your body uses to make muscle. (Also, it's more filling and takes longer to digest.) Yeah, protein has calories in it, and there are things you'd rather be spending those calories on. I know. Better to eat more calories and get the protein and weight-lifting in, though, than to eat fewer calories and lose muscle.

Fourth: yes, it really is possible to be addicted to sugar. There are many people who can take it or leave it. I am one of the others, the ones who can spiral down to a place where the months of October through February are spent face-down in a candy bowl. And, yes, I have at times declared that a life without chocolate was not a life worth living; strangely, the past two months (in which I haven't had any chocolate, or any other kind of sugary sweet) have not been those times. And-- knock on wood-- my binge eating has disappeared. It's weird.

Fifth: pedometers are the best thing ever. If you're anything like me, it's easy to get obsessive about numbers. Pedometers give you numbers to obsess over in a good way, a good reason to take the scenic route, a good reason to take the long way back from the office bathroom, a good reason to walk to the store instead of driving, a good reason to take the stairs instead of the elevator. LOVE.

Sixth: engineered diet foods are the devil. Okay, maybe not the DEVIL, but still. There's no nutrition there. There's nothing that will satisfy you. A low-fat version will generally have more sugar than the normal version, a sugar-free version will generally have more fat than the normal version, and all of 'em have chemicals. Also, they're freakishly expensive. Do yourself a favor and start shifting over to real foods as soon as you can. You'll save money and your body will run better.

Seventh: learn your healthy flavor additives. The sad fact of modern life is that we've got our tastebuds trained by the fast-food and junk-food industries, both of whom use all the tricks in the book to make stuff taste BIGGER and MORE FLAVORFUL and BETTER and all that. They use the traditional additives for this-- sugar (more often, the insane mutant sugar that is high-fructose corn syrup), salt, and fat (much of which, to keep things shelf-stable, is of the really scary kinds of fat), as well as the brave new world's favorite additive, ARTIFICIAL FLAVORINGS. Seriously, if you think about it, it's like you're spending your whole life living in a neon-colored environment and going on a diet is like trying to live in pastels; it's going to take some getting used to, and in the meantime you just can't recognize the toned-down "normal" flavors as anything flavorful at all.

So bring out the big guns of the healthy flavorings. Citrus juices. Citrus zest. Balsamic vinegar. Brown mustard. Frank's Red Hot. Fresh garlic. Fresh ginger. Fresh-ground spices. Fresh herbs. Pungent cheeses in small amounts (goat cheese, blue cheese, etc.). Olives. Soy sauce. You get the idea.

Eighth: if you don't like it cooked one way, try another way. I hated green beans until I tried the french-cut ones in balsamic vinegar that my Hub makes. I hated beets until I tried them in a slaw. I hated olives until I tried the ones that are stuffed with garlic. I hated sweet potatoes until I tried them roasted. If one cooking method makes you go "ew, gross!" then try another one.

Ninth: SLEEP, FOR GOD'S SAKE. This is still, by far, my biggest challenge. It's hard! There's stuff I want to do! If I had just five more minutes... except that way leads onto way, and I end up spending an extra hour awake. When I don't get enough sleep, it's harder to exercise, it's harder to concentrate, and my body craves calorie-dense foods because it needs more fuel. Bah. Also, there are a lot of studies showing what a good thing adequate sleep is for people in general and people who want to lose weight in particular; it makes it easier to learn things, it increases your ability to concentrate, it lowers your blood pressure, it helps regulate your appetite. Sleep is good. If anyone ever says anything negative about you getting enough sleep-- that somehow it makes you lazy-- then punch that fucker in the head.

Tenth: your self-esteem may well need as much exercise as your muscles. I've said it before and I'll say it again: talk to yourself as you would to a small child, encouraging, congratulating, praising, cajoling, and generally all done with a smile. This takes work, though, particularly if you're used to kicking yourself; you have to re-learn how to be kind to yourself. Stop thinking that you're thinking what other people would think about you, or saying awful things about yourself just because it feels like you're beating them to the punch. Practice. Exercise that self-esteem.

Above all, remember this: slow is better. It doesn't feel better, I know, but that's just the MUST HAVE INSTANT RESULTS NOW portion of your brain talking; there are other parts of you that find the slow pace a great deal more comfortable. It makes things easier on your body, but-- even more important, in a way-- it also makes things a lot easier on your mind. Do things that you'll be able to do always. I can't deal with the idea of tracking my food every day for the rest of my life, so I don't do it. I can't deal with the idea of exercising twice a day for the rest of my life, so I just go for once a day, preferably in the morning before all my excuses are in place.

Go slow. Fall down and get back up. Be kind to yourself. You can do this; you don't have to do everything at once. Go slow. Ease in. You can do this, you absolutely can.


  • You rock. Write a book, please. Or just keep writing here. Thank you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:03 AM  

  • As a veteran of the weight-loss war, I just want to say your suggestions are good for all of us, not just those starting out. We tend to get itchy or antsy or complacent or whatEVER after a while, and it's good to be reminded of the tried-and-true basics. Thanks!

    By Blogger Debbi, at 5:04 AM  

  • fab stuff, megster :)

    By Blogger Shauna, at 5:16 AM  

  • Brilliant.

    By Blogger M@rla, at 12:36 PM  

  • Brilliant, indeed! Thanks so much for this post, and big thanks to Shauna for linking this onto her site (so I could find you!).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:52 PM  

  • What a great post, Meg. You totally nailed it! I hope that everyone who reads this pays attention and follows through. Rock on!ana

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:53 AM  

  • This post rocks.

    By Blogger Sue, at 3:46 AM  

  • Awesome...great stuff!!!



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:36 AM  

  • Thanks, I needed to read that. I've been at this for about six months now, but I still consider myself a beginner in a lot of ways. Especially the part about calories. I recently learned that my body would burn more than 2000 calories each day even if I were lying prone in bed for 24 hours, and yet I've still been trying more or less to squeeze in under 1200 calories on most days. It's hard to make myself eat more, but I guess I need to.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:29 PM  

  • I just came across your site via Shauna's, and I got a lot out of this post--so thanks for writing it :). After reading this entry, I'm considering adding some basic strength training exercises into my routine, whereas before I had pretty much decided to put it off for awhile.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:27 PM  

  • Thanks so much. What you have written is what I fight with everyday. I have always believed that if I eat whole foods made with real food I am better off then eating the fat free calorie reduced food. I just cant have fried food and cream sauces every day. Thanks for reminding me that I am on the right track I just need more lean protein and exercise!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:48 AM  

  • Thank you, Meg. I really needed this too.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:39 PM  

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