*this post contains an affiliate link to Healthy Wage, where I am betting on my own weight loss. If you click and join, you get $40 and so do I! So if you do decide to take the leap and do it let me know so we can share our successes with each other!
“The Best Way to Lose Weight!”
“You cannot lose weight unless you do this.”
“Take this juice to curb your appetite!”
“You must combine your foods in exactly this way if you want optimum weight loss.”
“Weight loss is 80 percent diet, 20 percent exercise.”
And on and on and on.
I have friends and family with the perfect strategy. My connections on Linked In all have it figured out. Facebook friends have the exact approach. And my Instagram feed is filled with fitness gurus.
And I always think with each one I see: “don’t tell me how to live my life.”
You see, I’ve already figured it all out.
What is it? You want to know. What is the absolute best way to lose weight and feel great?
I’ve figured it all out.
Here it is: have fun.
What? Have fun? That’s it? Just, have fun?
Yes. That’s it. Have fun.
Here’s the thing about weight loss, about fitness, about health, about anything in life, really. If you don’t enjoy it, not only are you severely less likely to stick with it, but you are also not going to reap the maximum benefits from it.
Also, what the hell is the point? What is the point of killing yourself for months, maybe years, on end, for what? To have the perfect body? The perfect image? Is that really what will make you happy? Most likely, the answer is no.
A fit body, a healthy body that performs the way you want it to, will only make you happy if you are happy with how you got there and what it takes to stay there.
Because unless you are some rare breed who is dying to lose a ton of weight for a specific purpose, a wedding, let’s say, and then you plan to gain it all back, a temporary super diet and exercise plan is not going to do you any good in the long term. You have to plan to do whatever it is you are doing for the rest of your life.
Whatever diet and exercise plan will get you to where you want to be fitness-wise will have to fit into the rest of your life in order to keep you at that fitness level. And as you age, you will have to step it up a bit to maintain.
Otherwise, all that hard work you did to get into the shape of your life will be for nothing as you slip back into your old ways that got you to where you wanted to lose weight in the first place.
As with everything, you have to play the long game. See the big picture. How do you want to feel when you’re twenty years older than you are right now? How about forty years from now? You want to be fit enough to walk a flight of stairs, to lift heavy objects, to go for a run, swim, brisk walk, chase grandkids or pets around. You don’t want to be out of breath walking from your car to the early bird special at Denny’s.
Find some form of cardiovascular exercise that gets your heart rate up that you enjoy. Join a class at your community center. Join a walking club in your neighborhood. Do hot yoga. (Seriously. I did hot yoga four days ago, and I’m still sore.) Play a sport with a local rec team.
Go for a run.
For me, I enjoy running. Running makes me feel fit while I’m doing it, I get to listen to my music (not the Moana soundtrack) on my headphones, all by myself (bye kids!), and I burn enough calories that I can still enjoy a glass of wine or a few truffles at the end of the day without feeling like I’m overindulging.
I really enjoy running.
But that’s me.
This is not an essay to tell you how to live your life in exact measures. I love running. You may hate it. If you hate running: don’t run.
Running means freedom to me; it is invigorating and the effects are instantaneous. I make sure I run more than forty minutes, and I get an endorphin high for the rest of the day. Running for the four days I’m off carries that endorphin high through the three days I work and can’t run.
And guess what? When I don’t feel like running, I don’t. Sometimes it’s too hot. Sometimes the baby kept me up all night. Sometimes I just don’t feel like it. I know I love it, I know it’s good for me, and I do it when I can.
If I forced myself to run even when I really, really didn’t want to, I would end up hating it. And I don’t live my life that way.
I also do yoga because I know that stretching and supporting my body with elongating exercises is good not only for my heart and my body but also for my mind. I enjoy the hippie music, I like the language of yoga, and I like the community of love and peace in my yoga classes.
Fun. It’s all fun.
Yes, running is tough. Sometimes I have to stop and walk. Yoga pushes my limits. Sometimes I have to adapt my stretch, twist a different way, or just sit and try not to die for a second in child’s pose.
But it’s a good kind of hard work. I enjoy the kind of hard work that pays off, especially instantly. Running and yoga both make me feel good both while I’m doing them, and then for hours and sometimes days afterward.
And it’s never so hard that I feel like I simply can’t do it, like I’ll give up. I always set myself up with the knowledge and the comfort that if running becomes too strenuous, I’ll stop and walk. If yoga gets too intense for me, I’ll get up and leave. I have no shame. I want to enjoy my workout. I exercise for hours each week, and I have no intention of spending hours each week in misery or shame.
A big part of exercise for me is the secondary, often unexpected benefits.
In my Vinyasa yoga class the other day the teacher read aloud from the Tao Te Ching. She talked about patience and humanity as we stretched and held our warrior poses. She encouraged us to remember that “everyone is just trying to do their best in the world,” as we leaned farther into our pigeon poses. She reminded us that the only true way is no way at all.
And this is what I love about life, about exercise, about food, about love.
As soon as we adhere to something so rigidly that it becomes “the only way,” we lose sight of the actual way, which is to have fun. Once we tie ourselves down to this or that fitness routine, this or that diet, this or that supplement, we lose our chance to try new things, to head off the beaten path and explore new territory.
Recently, I was in Monterey for the weekend; I love to run on the beach in Pacific Grove where we typically stay in the area. As I headed out on our first day in town, I turned on my music, popped my earbuds in, walked down Lighthouse Avenue, and planned to get in five or six miles of solid running along the highway, along the beach, and then up 17 Mile Drive. It’s a lovely run, strenuous but beautiful the whole way. And running in Monterey is awesome because the weather is never too hot.
But then I hit the beach, and I headed down a path toward the rocks, and on a whim I decide to rock climb, to jump from boulder to boulder, to get as close to the waves as I could without running in the sand.
I hate running in sand.
I “stopped” to “smell the roses.”
“But it’s not a real run, then.” You’ll say. “You didn’t actually get in a full five or six mile run. You spent two or three of those miles… frolicking!”
Yes, I did. I frolicked. I ran into other rock climbers. I chatted about hermit crabs. I climbed up boulders like I was a teenager again. And it felt great. Maybe I burned fewer calories than I would have. Hell, maybe I burned more!
What I know for sure is that I had fun. I’m only in Monterey a few times a year; I wanted to take full advantage of a different kind of workout.
You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating: there is no such thing as “going on a diet.”
A diet is what you eat. Period.
You are not “on a diet.”
Your diet is simply what you eat. You can have a crappy diet or a healthy diet or something in between. But you are never “on a diet,” and you always have some sort of diet.
Here’s another secret: eat what you want.
Seriously. You have to eat the food you enjoy eating.
If you are a serial overeater, that is an issue to deal with in therapy, through prayer (if you pray), through meditation, or some other way. The way to absolutely not deal with it is to deprive yourself of the things you like, and then shame yourself when you inevitably break down and splurge (and you will). It is unrealistic to go from someone who eats Jack in the Box every day all day to eating ice berg lettuce instead. For the rest of your life.
Your relationship to food may need to change. But that isn’t dieting, that’s looking at much deeper root causes that have nothing to do with physical health and fitness (at face value anyway.)
Most of us though, while we likely eat too much, can scale that back with little effort and no real loss of joy.
Learn to tell when you’re full. Learn to tell when to indulge, and when it’s just becoming a bad habit. Learn to eat in moderation, from all the food groups, even the Doritos one.
Yes. Doritos has its own food group. A well earned one at that.
Once you get yourself to a healthy relationship with food, eat whatever the hell you want. You will find yourself, like most moderately healthy eaters, eating lean proteins and veggies, whole grains and fruit, and occasionally indulging in Doritos. (Or Chocolate!)
Eat throughout the day. You need to keep your body fueled or you can’t expect much from it. And enjoy your food. Or, again, what is the point?
I just finished my first year postpartum with my second child. And it’s been two days since she’s been completely weaned off breast-feeding.
This little piece information means that now I am free to kick my fitness into high gear. The women in my family have a history of losing milk supply early into postpartum, and so I have always been careful to keep my calories up and not exercise too vigorously.
But, I want to have another child in a few years, and I’m almost forty.
I had gestational diabetes with my last pregnancy, and there’s a good chance that as a woman in my forties, I may struggle with it again.
I want to get down to a healthy BMI for my age and height long before I get pregnant again.
I found something called Healthy Wage. It is a company that will let you pay them each month, a small amount, as a wager for your own weight loss. The company then bets against you. You can play around with the numbers to see what works best for you, but you can end up with a return of well over one hundred percent.
I bet that I could get down to 125 pounds by August of 2018. That weight is right in the middle of a healthy BMI for me.
When I meet my goal I will get a return of over three hundred percent. Three hundred percent!
“You need to push yourself harder.” My brother tells me one day, just after I start really stepping up my game.
“Don’t tell me how to live my life.” I joke back at him.
My brother is a model for physical fitness. He has lost thirty pounds of extra weight from his body and become an amateur body builder, spending hours each day in our office/makeshift gym, lifting weights and running on the treadmill. He’s now in incredible shape.
But for him, this means eating a Cliff Bar for breakfast with a Red Bull, an english muffin and a V8 for lunch, and then a sensible dinner.
That diet would make me want to kill myself.
“You should come for a run with me.” I’ll tell him.
“Um. You run a 12 minute mile for five miles. That’s an hour of running. On the street. I hate running on the street. I run a 7 minute mile for three miles on the treadmill, and I’m done. Running with you would make me want to throw myself into oncoming traffic.”
So, you see?
We each have to do what works for us.
So, to the “diets” and fitness routines, the nutritional plans and weight machines, I say, if it works for you, and you want to spend the rest of your life doing it, great. Do it.
For me, if I can’t enjoy my life, sit here writing my essays while enjoying a Lindor truffle and a glass of milk (I am. And it’s so good.) and still lose the weight I plan to lose, then I’d rather not get there. I’d rather lose the bet to Healthy Wage.
Anything could happen at any time. I could drop dead tomorrow from lightning.
I am adamantly not going to spend any of my time suffering, especially causing my own suffering, for anything, anything at all. I love myself too much for that. And in the end, that is what it comes down to. Love yourself no matter what, thick or thin, fat or skinny. Love yourself running and love yourself sitting on the couch drinking wine and eating bon bons. Love yourself enough that you find exercise that is fun and that makes you feel great.
Every single precious moment of your life should be filled with joy to your utmost capability.
So pass the bon bons and meet me in yoga.