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How I Lost 30 Pounds

That was interesting — the division in reactions to my last post about commentary on weight loss.  To me, there is also a difference between an aquaintance saying something and a good friend or family member.  Friends are privy to the fact that I have changed the way I’ve been eating; aquaintances, beyond those who read this blog, are not.


How did I change the way I eat?

I really can’t imagine a post more boring than describing lettuce-eating.  I thought I’d spice this up by adding in zombies and a magical squirrel who will grant you 16 wishes and a pie I found that has NO CALORIES!  But… I don’t know… I am outlining this as much for the people who asked how I lost the weight as I am for me because let’s be honest: old habits die hard and there is no guarantee that this weight will still be off years from now.  I want to be able to look back on how I did this.

But there’s a really huge problem with weight loss posts in general, an elephant in the room that most people who create eating plans refuse to acknowledge: one solution does not fit all.  It doesn’t even fit some.  Like the one I did?  It sort of fits only one — me — the person who lost the weight.  I know this because I have tried to follow what other people have done numerous times before, and it has never worked.  I don’t believe in replication, but I believe in the gathering of ideas, so in the spirit of that, this is how I lost 30 pounds.

Starting Point

I started by passing up Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig and Whole30… pretty much every eating plan or healthy eating idea package.  Because packaged ideas don’t really work for me, though they obviously work for a lot of other people, hence their popularity.  I started with the idea that since there was no plan out there I felt comfortable following to a T, and the tweaks I’d need to make would affect the results, I should go with no plan at all.  It was like Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions chanting: “what are you gonna vote?” and my internal voice echoing back, “none of the above!”

And then I tried to figure out what I know about myself, since my personality seemed like it would be the hardest thing to change.  Eating habits, in other words, seemed more malleable than character traits, and I didn’t think it possible to change who I am.

I am someone inherently lazy.  I don’t like to move around too much.  I think best when I’m driving or taking a shower; not when I’m taking a long walk.  I will always opt for reading a book over exercising.  But if I do have to exercise, I like running.

I am incredibly stubborn.  I’m good at walking away from something if a door is firmly closed, but I have trouble letting go if there’s any chance that the door might open at some point.  I like sweet things over salty things.  I hate fried foods.  I won’t try anything just for the sake of trying something.  I have more foods on my will-not-eat list than I do on my foods-I-enjoy list.

I like to keep track of things.  I am a fan of to-do lists.  I like writing everything down, especially blogging.

Now would not be a good time to add anything else to my schedule because I already feel stretched too thin.

Um… that pretty much sums up what I came up with — all things I thought would add or subtract from my ability to eat healthy.

Now What?

So I took everything I realized about myself, and I started to see what was going to help me lose the weight and what was going to derail me.  Writing everything down seemed like a good starting point.  I began by downloading an app called My Fitness Pal.  Years ago, I had a lot of luck in gaining control of my eating habits with Weight Watchers.  Okay, so I was cheap and I didn’t really do Weight Watchers in the formal sense, but my friend taught me the general idea and I recorded everything I was eating.  My Fitness Pal is free and self-explanatory vs Weight Watchers which would require me to learn how to use that system, so I went with MFP.

I needed to change the way I ate before I added in exercise.  I think I needed to see some result first before I could talk myself into giving up more of my time or changing more of my habits.  So I waited until the first five or so pounds came off, and then I added in running.

And yoga.

I added in yoga because Lori likes yoga.  I signed up for two weeks of yoga and hated it on the first day.  But I had already paid for two weeks, so I went back again the next day and it was a little better.  And by the end of the fourth class, I had convinced myself that I could fit this into my life and do it religiously.  Do I love yoga — no.  If you told me tomorrow I never had to exercise again, I would take you up on that.  But in so far as exercise goes, yoga has been a good fit for me.  I like the vinyasa flow classes.

How Much is a Cup?

My friend turned me on to the recipes at Skinnytaste.  I like that she doesn’t use chemicals to cook; she just uses realistic portions and lower fat ingredients.  Uh… about those realistic portions.  A cup of pasta is much smaller than what I thought of as a cup of pasta.  I started using smaller plates and bowls and measuring my portions, writing down what I was really consuming.  So… yeah… if I took three servings of pasta I had to admit that I just ate three servings of pasta.  Which meant that I stopped eating three servings because eating that food meant that I couldn’t have other food later on.

The first few days of eating normal-sized portions were hard and I was hungry, but after about three days, I got over the hump and I started feeling satiated.  I also would take one portion and cut it in half, leaving part of it back in the pot so I could feel like I was having seconds even if all I was doing was having the other half a cup to make up the one cup portion.

I also halved every restaurant meal, immediately setting aside half of it to take home.  I started asking myself if I was eating because something tasted good or if I was eating because I was hungry.  If it was the first case, I stopped.  If it was the second case, I kept going.

No Cheat Days

I know that if I give myself an inch, I take a mile.  Or, more accurately, I found that when I tried to introduce the idea of ending my day with one Hershey kiss as a treat, I moved to two or three kisses on a bad day, and then two handfuls of kisses in the middle of the day… you get the point.  I know that about myself.  I know a lot of people suggest having a day of the week where you stop thinking about how you’re eating, but I can’t do that with myself and stay on track the rest of the time, in the same way that I can’t talk myself into the idea of skydiving.  Knowing this about my personality, I make myself stick to this way of eating and recording everything I eat in the app, even when I go on holiday or to a party.

Permission Days

On the other hand, there are days when I crave something or when I can’t control the food situation, and in those cases, I give myself permission to eat the food in front of me and be mindful about it.  I’ll have pizza for dinner, but I eat the rest of the day knowing that I’m having pizza for dinner and adjust accordingly.  I’ll exercise more or sometimes just suck it up and know that I consumed more calories than I need that day.  Afterwards, I set that hour or that day or that weekend aside and return to my normal meals.  Using MFP is great because I can look back and see a day when I stuck to my calorie count and then go back and replicate that day’s food in order to get back on track.

No Clothes in the Middle

I know some people use visual reminders — a picture of themselves at a weight they want to return to or buying clothes that they hope to fit into once the weight is off — but I also know that those tricks would derail me more than motivate me.  I waited to buy new clothes until the old clothes looked like clown pants.

Last Point, a Reiteration

My only real advice that you can take away from this post is to know yourself, because you will determine whether something does or doesn’t work for you.  You are going to be the one who derails things and you are going to be the one who holds fast to things.  I am working against myself at all times; there are aspects to my personality that keep me from being successful in eating healthy, and I need to acknowledge and own those traits because they are part of me.  To be fair, I also have personality traits that make eating healthy easy for me.  So I need to embrace those characteristics.

You can change the way you eat — you may not be thrilled with the new lessons, but you can do it.  But it is much harder to change who you are — you are stuck with yourself, both the good and the bad.  And knowing that, tailor your plan accordingly because you are the only person who knows what works (and doesn’t work) for you.

And that’s how I did it.  I would love to hear your tips too since I am always collecting more that I may or may not be able to incorporate into my life.


1 Tiara { 10.03.12 at 8:32 am }

I also came across MFP when I decided I needed to get more healthy. It has worked for me in a way that no other program or fad could ever have worked for me long term. Like you, I am lazy & if anything is “too hard” I lose interest & motivation quickly. MFP is easy enough & it also keeps me accountable. It has also opened an awareness for me. At the beginning, I’d plug in some food or beverage that I regularly had & was shocked to see how many calories it contained! How could I have been so naive! It also helped with portion size & knowing how much to eat along with what to eat. I also examined the whens & whys I eat because I became aware that often, I was eating out of boredom rather than hunger. Since I am a schedule person I made myself a schedule & ate at specific times, every 2 hours. This helped me not to feel hungry plus helped me keep within my allowed calories since I wasn’t mindlessly snacking. So far it’s working for me…now if I could just motivate myself to exercise!!

2 a { 10.03.12 at 8:49 am }

But I don’t wanna change the way I eat! Wah!

Actually, my current method of dealing with my eating habits is to eat a salad once in a while, and be relieved that I’m technically juuuuust under that “overweight” cutoff on the BMI charts. I know I have more fat and less muscle than I should and that I eat like crap. I just can’t bring myself to care for more than a moment or two. Sigh.

Anyway, congrats to you again – it sounds like you found a sensible, healthy-eating plan. That’s always better than some diet plan.

3 Jendeis { 10.03.12 at 9:58 am }

I’m so happy for you and proud of you. I think the key to all these things is figuring out how you are willing/able to approach fitness/weight loss/etc. You determined what was key for you, and that’s awesome.

4 Astral { 10.03.12 at 10:17 am }

I also use MFP. I changed my snacking, portion sizes and at dinner I don’t eat any carbs. I eat more fruits and veggies now. With the twins it’s hard sometimes to sit down and eat but I’ve been making a better effort. Also, if I need to I have protein shakes and bars. I drink iced green tea instead of plain water and I am taking a multi vitamin again. I do need to start exercising regularly. I wish we had cross fit by us.

5 serenity { 10.03.12 at 10:21 am }

Yes, that’s exactly how I lost 25lbs as well. Smaller portions (really, it shocked me how small a cup really WAS. And a regular store-bought chicken breast? One serving is HALF. It’s nuts). I also had to eat a lot more; otherwise I would get too hungry and then overeat.

I also cannot have alcohol before eating; I get buzzed pretty quickly and lose my sense of what is a reasonable portion size and whether or not I’m actually FULL. I will have a glass of wine here and there, but I make sure it’s with my dinner.

Also, I found that eating until I was vaguely satisfied was best for me. That’s how I realized I have a very emotional association with being “full” – I feel better, emotionally, if I’m full. It took me a while to get used to the feeling of leaving the table with a vague sense of wanting more.

I was never able to halve my dinner at a restaurant and save it for later, so I got around that by ordering an appetizer for dinner. In a lot of cases, the appetizers at a restaurant are a perfect dinner portion for me. That gives me the ability to do girls nights and still feel like I splurged on dinner, but controls the portion enough.

Well, that and I LOVE LOVE LOVE running. It makes me happy – getting out for a short run in the afternoons when I want to snack instead means instead of stuffing my face, I’m burning more calories.


6 serenity { 10.03.12 at 10:22 am }

*Gah, I wish I could edit my comment: “I also had to eat a lot more” should include the word OFTEN. I had to eat more often, every couple of hours. Oops.

7 N { 10.03.12 at 10:42 am }

I’ve been losing weight, rather by accident, alas, and am having trouble pushing myself back into that area where I’m doing it intentionally. I mostly have trouble because I’m all-or-nothing, and then I inevitably fail. (rather, in my intentions. I’m good at having a bad day once a week or something like that, but I’m either Being Healthy or Being Horrid. I’m not good at General Being Healthy-ish, and then I gain back alllllllllllll the weight ever.)

But awesome for you! And good motivation. I need that.

8 loribeth { 10.03.12 at 10:53 am }

Good for you, Mel! I lost about 35 lbs on Weight Watchers, over a period of about nine months, 20 years ago — kept it off for a few years, & then 10-15 lbs gradually crept back on… and then I got pregnant when I was 37 & went through stillbirth & infertility, & it’s never really come off. I have gone back to WW, on & off, but I seem to keep gaining & losing the same damned 5 lbs, so I finally decided I wouldn’t go back (& keep spending money) until I was ready, really ready, to stick to the program.

I do think WW is one of the best programs out there. A lot of the stuff they emphasize are the same things you are doing — recording your food intake (I loved their e-tools, although I was never very consistent at using them — would start out on Monday with great intentions & by Thursday, it had all petered out, lol), watching your portions. Portion control is so important, particularly in these days of supersizing… I think our sense of proportion has gotten way out of whack. :p

I have to say, losing 35 lbs is a lot easier when you’re 30 than when you are 40 or 50. :p I did most of the same things I did then (& was & still am still doing some of them today), but it didn’t work for me in the same way. I lost the weight then without exercising — these days, I find I get better results (not miracles, mind you, but better results) when I exercise regularly — and that’s a hard one for me. :p

9 loribeth { 10.03.12 at 11:01 am }

Oh — and a few of my favourite tips:

* I used to stop at the local market on Sunday afternoon, & then spend an hour or so in the kitchen, washing & chopping & spinning dry a week’s worth of veggies & putting them into containers or Ziploc bags. If I have to stand & chop lettuce after a long, hard day’s work… we’re probably not going to have salad with dinner that night. ; ) I need to go back to doing this, I think.
* We do not keep pop in the house unless we are expecting company (or if it’s Oscar night — I get a small bottle of Coke specifically for that purpose, lol). I only have pop when we’re out for dinner on Saturday night, and even then, I will often just order mineral water.
* I have a microwave popcorn popper that lets you pop corn without oil (or just a very small amount). And you can get Becel spray that will give you a hint of that buttery flavour for very few calories. (My WW leader gave us that tip.)

10 Esperanza { 10.03.12 at 11:06 am }

I really love how your program was about YOU and what you need. That is a really important place to start something as major as overhauling the way you eat and exercise. Really good advice here. And congrats on your success!

11 Lacie { 10.03.12 at 11:40 am }

First of all, ” I waited to buy new clothes until the old clothes looked like clown pants.” Hilarious. I actually visualized you in huge clown pants wearing a squirting flower on your lapel.

Second, “My only real advice that you can take away from this post is to know yourself, because you will determine whether something does or doesn’t work for you. You are going to be the one who derails things and you are going to be the one who holds fast to things.” Brilliant advice.

I really needed to read this post. It is perfect timing. I am a Weight Watchers repeat offender. The problem is, I keep putting the weight back on, over and over again. I hate that it is a business and I have to pay each week. I hate that I have to be chained to that weigh-in in order to hold myself accountable. I feel like I need to prove to myself that I can do it without the extra noise of the program, so that I CAN maintain the weight loss. I am downloading My Fitness Pal.

Thank you, Mel.
Let’s do this.

12 Sharon { 10.03.12 at 11:49 am }

I completely agree that what will work for weight loss is such an individual thing. I mean, yes, in order to lose weight, anyone needs to “eat less and move more” . . . but the particulars vary, and the devil is in the details.

I have successfully lost weight in the past (30+ lbs) using Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and South Beach. My only “tips” are to drink a lot of water and eat a lot more vegetables than usual; both those things have consistently helped me.

(My problem right now is that I don’t seem to be able to accomplish weight loss without exercise, no matter what I eat, and there just aren’t enough hours in the week currently for me to fit that in. But enough about me.)

13 B { 10.03.12 at 12:07 pm }

Hiya, I did something very similar to what you did and lost roughly 150 lbs. I based it entirely on me and where I was emotionally/mentally at any given time.

Controlling portion size was and still continues to be my hardest challenge. I have been losing over 6 years (hit a plateau over the last year) and know that my portion control is the key to going from 177 lbs to my goal, 160. I think I also have a lot of mental blocks that push me to abuse portion sizes and they need to be addressed, as well.

I use Live Strong and it’s on my iPhone, prior to that I used another calorie counter- but I’m like you: if I see it in b/w I can’t justify eating another 300 calories. Or if I do, I like to go into with my eyes wide open.

One of the areas I’m exploring right now is cutting alcohol out completely. DH and I just suffered a pregnancy loss and prior to the FET that got us pg, I’d been whooping it up. I stopped as we got closer to our FET and then of course during the 2 WW and the pregnancy. Not drinking, happily, during the time we were pregnant was wonderful, I loved trying to be healthy for our beans and I lost a little weight, healthfully. I also didn’t have those extra, empty 200-300 calories at night. Like you I don’t make healthy choices when buzzed and since I’m feeling vulnerable right now I don’t want a glass of red wine to become my coping mechanism. If I also lose weight because of it, bonus.

Thanks for sharing, it was the gentle push I needed to put myself first.

14 vablondie { 10.03.12 at 12:21 pm }

I love the fact that you started with food and then added in exercise! I may try that approach, because if I am not eating right the weight will not come off, no matter how much I exercise. And right now, I seem to be able to fit in either sleep or exercise but not both.

I am also on my fitness pal, and I love how you can customize the diet to fit you. I do better with more protein and fewer carbs, and you can do that.

You have inspired me to get back on the bandwagon! Breaking out the measuring cups now….

15 Ms. Fit { 10.03.12 at 1:16 pm }

HUGE congrats on your weight loss!! It’s very inspiring!!

I am just now starting to come off of a TWO YEAR weight loss plateau. Two years. During those two years, I ran, I did yoga, I tracked in My Fitness Pal, I measured, I weighed. I did all the things, and nothing happened. My weight stayed exactly the same for two years. (Which is not the worst possible outcome. Every time I would get frustrated, I would remind myself that if I weren’t working so hard, I probably would have gained 30 pounds during that time.)

Anyway, recently, my doctor asked me to lose 10 lbs, because I’m on medication for high blood pressure. And I was like, listen, lady. Let me tell you what I’ve been trying to do to lose weight. She referred me to a nutritionist, and for the first time in TWO YEARS, I am actually losing weight.

The thing that’s different is that I’m now following a plan that has been tailored to me. To my height and frame, to my age and metabolism, to my specific health goals. On the surface, I’m still doing the same things (running, yoga, my fitness pal), but my calorie goal is different. The way I track exercise in MFP is different. The way I structure my meals and snacks throughout the day is different. And I lost 5 lbs last month.

So, all of that is to say, you are absolutely right: nothing works for everyone. And what I’m doing works for me, and only me. And I’m really happy for you for your weight loss success, and I’m inspired to keep going. Thank you!

16 Another Dreamer { 10.03.12 at 5:34 pm }

That’s essentially the way I’ve tackled things- I figured out what I needed, what I was capable of, and made a plan. I know what works for me better than anyone else after all. Learning correct portion sizes has been the biggest challenge, but it’s the most amazing and helpful thing I’ve done. Knowing the calories in everything make a huge difference in how I make my meal decisions for the day.

Great post Mel.

17 Stupid Stork { 10.03.12 at 8:02 pm }

Pretty sure we’re food twins.. I have much, much more on my ‘nope, won’t eat’ list than my ‘let’s try it’ list and the very idea of a packaged diet conjures up the foul taste of microwaved food in my mouth.

I lost I think 35-40 lbs… Admittedly half of it was easy because part of my problem was a never ending love for regular pepsi, so giving that up did a lot. Then I slowly tried to figure out how to make vegetables delicious (at first I would put 40 lbs of cheese and butter on it just so I could like the taste, then slowly started removing the cheese and butter).

18 Justine { 10.04.12 at 2:31 am }

I’ve heard lots of good things about MFP. But I’m not an app kind of girl … so I think you hit the nail on the head about finding what works for you and being true to yourself.

I’ve started eating more veggies. And drinking more water. But my downfall is the night eating, after everyone goes to bed. And that’s behavioral modification … I need to figure out what to replace that habit with, so I don’t always need something to munch on when I’m at the keyboard after hours.

30 lbs is AWESOME, though. Even if you don’t really like yoga in the end. 😉

19 frankiesoup { 10.04.12 at 4:14 am }

Thank you so much for sharing the only sensible post I’ve ever read about weight loss! 😀

20 luna { 10.04.12 at 5:26 pm }

so, wait. sounds like mainly portion control, plus exercise? both sound hard, btw, when you have unhealthy habits to break (like me).

you don’t explicitly state that there were things you simply stopped eating. like, cake or sugar or cheese, for instance.

I’m on day 4 of a no refined sugar or dairy for a month diet. honestly it’s been really hard. I miss cheese and dessert, esp chocolate. while I know I need to lose some weight, desperately, I’m also trying to resolve some digestive and skin issues.

bravo to you! the best part is you’re feeling so great.

21 jill { 10.04.12 at 10:44 pm }

I really think the food journal is key. I found that just the simple act of writing down what I eat has more power over me than the pint of ice cream in my freezer!

22 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.04.12 at 10:55 pm }

I’m so glad you tried yoga. I like that we have it in common 🙂

The tip you mention that works best for me is the one about dividing restaurant meals as soon as they are served. If it’s put away in a box, it’s easier to actually stop eating when I’m no longer hungry. For one thing, I stop to think whether or not I’m still hungry. Almost always I am not.

30 pounds is amazing. Kudos to you for finding what works and for working it all this time.

23 S.I.F. { 10.05.12 at 4:22 pm }

Good for you Mel! I’ve made some huge diet changes over the last few years, mostly in an effort to keep endo symptoms at bay. But the weight slowly came off with that as well. What is funny to me now is that the way I ate 3 years ago isn’t even appealing to me anymore, even though it was SO hard to change. I still have some “bad” foods I fall back on, but for the most part… the rest of it doesn’t even sound good anymore. So take heart, with time – you stop even realizing that anything is different.

24 Sally { 10.06.12 at 12:06 am }

Wow, uncanny timing. I am on my own weightloss journey,though I see it more as creating a more healthy lifestyle for myself. This is not a phase or heath kick, this is a new way of life and I’m tackling it almost EXACTLY the same way as you are. I sidestepped all the expensive diet plans, etc and just worked out what worked for me. And it has been great. Less in, but more of the good stuff. Moving more, but with taking dedicated and considered breaks, so as not to overdo it. I also write it all down. All of it. I have been doing this for the last month now and that alone has taken off the most weight, though the numbers on the scales are not the most important thing as my measurements are rapidly shrinking and I am feeling SO much better. The rewards on the scales are there, but I know I will get to my ultimate goal, another 10 or so kilograms away, I just have to be patient. There is no quick fix. I think that is what most want to read – how you did and how fast you did it. I have lost 10kg all up this year and I probably could have done it quicker, but I don’t think I would have sustained any of those practices.
Bottom line is I feel great, and when I feel great I want to move more, and when I move more I’m inspired to re-fuel my body with good foods, and when I eat good foods I feel great and we’re back to the start again.
I loved this post.

25 marwil { 10.07.12 at 7:16 am }

Congratulations on losing the weight, there are some great advice here. It’s so easy to get stuck in a system that doesn’t work and then give up instead because, well, it doesn’t work anyway so why bother. Or so we think. Keeping a food journal and also have weekly meal plans have helped me but the motivation is lacking a bit right know so have to work on that.

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