I’m a Weight Loss Success Story

I recently realized that I’m a weight loss success story. I once was on a trajectory to look like the woman in the red dress, not the woman in the blue.

My freshman year in college I gained 18 pounds, from 118 lbs to 136 lbs. Perhaps half was maturing, girl body becoming woman body. But some was fat I didn’t need. If I continued gaining 9 pounds per year I would weigh over 300 lbs now.

from a Women’s Health Magazine story
Me, this year.

The summer after my freshman year I visited my aunt and she greeted me, adding: “You put on some weight!” I didn’t like her comment, but she was right. I didn’t like her comment because she was right. I thought hard. When I returned to college in the fall, I didn’t clear my plate of the large serving portions served by the cafeteria staff; I stopped eating just shy of feeling full. I limited dessert to just a couple bites. I started bicycling regularly. All of these changes were maintainable and none were drastic. I figured if it took me 9 months to gain it I should expect a few months to lose it; I was patient. And it worked. I lost the excess 10 lbs, gained muscle mass, and increased my metabolism.

Two decades and three babies later, I still weigh 125 lbs.

Studies are coming out to support my undramatic approach. Indeed, dramatic weight loss regimens may do more long-term harm than good. For example, the New York Times looked at former contestants of “The Biggest Loser” and found that the dramatic weight loss also lead to decreased metabolism. After their drastic diets, the biggest losers’ bodies responded as if they’d been through a starvation cycle: their bodies adjusted to use fewer calories. And while the government still promotes reducing fat and once put carbohydrates at the base of its food pyramid, more recent studies implicate sugar and simple carbohydrates as drivers of obesity.

Here’s my approach:

  • Sustainably change your diet. Don’t do starvation cycles that kick your body into fat-conserving mode. Set a long-term goal to eat sensibly: Not too much, not so little that you go binge later.
  • Eat mindfully. Think about your meal in the context of that week’s nutrition: Is this your first dessert or your 10th? Have you eaten enough protein? Enough vegetables? Can you savor two bites of dessert instead of gulping down ten? It’s like looking before crossing the street: Just a quick check whether it’s ok to go. And be kind to yourself: If you haven’t been eating well, don’t berate yourself; take note and in that moment choose better.
  • Learn your body’s hunger cues and stop eating just shy of feeling satiated, not when your plate is empty. Don’t eat because you’re bored or stressed; find other ways to resolve those negative feelings.
  • Exercise is not all equal when it comes to weight loss. For cardiovascular health, walking 30 minutes per day makes a dramatic difference. For weight loss, you need to increase your metabolism, which means you need to build muscle because muscle burns more calories than fat. That requires weight training or intense exercise. ( This blog post has a nice section entitled “The Right Way to Exercise for Weight Loss”.)
  • Avoid added sugar and remember “naturally occurring sugar” is sugar, too. Don’t avoid fat in whole foods like whole milk and avocados. Notice that many reduced fat foods contain a lot more sugar that less processed full-fat versions.

This story is duplicated on my old blog.

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