Like many people entering middle age, I found myself carrying around some extra weight. It sneaked up on me; I didn’t know how I’d put it on, or even realize just how much weight I’d gained over the past few years until I was trying on a cute pair of stretchy capri leggings and looked in the dressing room mirror to see a couple of belly rolls peeking back out at me. That was the first of a couple of wake-up calls I had about my weight and health. The second was the result of a routine blood test during a check-up, that informed me I had high cholesterol.
With a family history of type II diabetes, heart problems, and some types of cancer, I knew I had to get my weight and eating habits under control if I wanted to be healthy and a good example to my kids. I tried a lot of diet and exercise programs over the next few months, with little effect, until I just decided to get as basic as possible. I made a few simple lifestyle changes that helped me get my health back on track. These same kinds of changes also worked for several of my friends and family members.
Cutting Out The Bad Stuff
I needed to face the facts: I had a junk food addiction, and it was the most important lifestyle change I needed to make if I wanted to see a difference in my health. Fast food, junk food, sweets, sodas – all of that is bad for the heart, clogs up your veins, and can cause many other types of health problems. I made a rule that I wouldn’t eat any food that “could come out of a window” – fast food, to be specific. I limited the amount of boxed and prepared foods I bought at the store and made meals from scratch whenever possible. I cut out all sodas and even juice (juice has lots of sugar), and drank either skim milk or water flavored with fresh lemon and mint. Just by cutting all the junk from my diet, I lost ten pounds in a month!
Did that mean I couldn’t ever indulge again with a burger or piece of chocolate cake? I still allow myself a treat once or twice a month – even once weekly if I’m careful the rest of the week. Everyone needs to indulge now and then.
To me, the real key to weight loss and regaining my health was knowing exactly how much I was eating. I went for weeks thinking I was eating great, but was still not losing weight, until I started keeping track of my calories. I joined an online site that gives members the option to add in every type of food under the sun, and keeps track of the calories, fat, carbs, and protein consumed. I was shocked at how quickly the calories add up – but once I’d balanced my protein with the necessary carbs and calories for energy, I found that I could eat far less and still feel full.
Counting calories isn’t for everyone. Some people do better with a plan based on a points system, or pre-portioned meals. What’s important is setting up a portion control program that you can work with, and sticking to it.
I didn’t start out exercising at first, but worked my way into it as I started to see results just from eating better. Exercising can be hard to fit into your busy day, but it helps to boost your energy, mood, and metabolism. For a while, I worked out at the gym at least five days a week, for up to two hours at a time. That soon became impractical, and these days I don’t get anywhere near as much exercise. Now, I mainly walk a few times a week, but I’m starting up a program that will gradually ease me into running. The most important part of getting your exercise is finding something you enjoy doing. It should be fun! Dance workouts, biking, skating, swimming, and even running are all activities that can be fun and don’t seem like the type of brutal or dull gym workout that many people dread.
Don’t Give Up
It’s been a few years since I decided to do something about my health. Because I fell off the wagon too many times, I still haven’t reached my goal weight. But a recent assessment of my goals and lifestyle have inspired me again to get myself into optimum health. And newer blood test results have shown that the simple changes I made a few years ago have made a positive difference in my cardiovascular health.
Lauren Hill writes for Cardiac Vascular & Thoracic Surgery Associates (CVTSA), a Virginia surgical group specializing in open heart, transplant and robotic surgeries.