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I know I’m probably not alone when I say I’ve always struggled with my weight. Like many girls out there, I feel like I’ve been ‘dieting’ or watching what I eat ever since I was in middle school (yes, seriously). Growing up, because I felt heavier, I constantly found myself comparing my body to others – girls in the media, girls at school, and even my own friends. I had a habit of standing in front of the mirror, picking my body apart and dreaming of ways I could magically be skinny. I clearly struggled with my body image and the way I viewed myself. At one point or another, food ultimately became the enemy. Every time I sat down to eat, I’d wonder how the food I was putting into my body would translate into weight gain. After I would eat, I’d feel guilty. I hated I felt that way but there was no way to control it. Looking back now, it’s obvious how unhealthy my thinking was.
It really didn’t get any easier when I went to college, either. Those four years were definitely the most challenging when it came to my body image. I was living such an unhealthy lifestyle as a college student. I bought my own groceries and only grocery shopped every three weeks since I didn’t have a car on campus. Because of that, I had to be smart about how much I was spending and how much perishable food I got. This often led me to buying more packaged foods since they had a longer shelf life. At that time, I had no perspective to how bad processed foods are for your body. Couple that with binge drinking a few days a week and late night breadsticks at my favorite pizza place and it was quite a recipe for disaster.
It also didn’t really help that I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to work out and get my weight down. I was taking a full course load of classes, while working two part time jobs and an internship, along with having responsibilities with my professional groups and clubs on campus. Any extra free time I did have was spent on homework or sleeping. There were nights in college I actually avoided going out, not only because of pure exhaustion, but because I didn’t want to gain more weight from drinking empty calories. I was so envious of my friends that could go out and drink and eat as much as they wanted. They still stayed fit, despite not even going to the gym to workout. I knew I’d never be that girl, but I still dwelled in self-misery. I recognized that everyone’s body type and metabolism was different than mine, but still, I compared and felt terrible about myself.
After college, I truly disliked how much weight I was still carrying. I made a conscious effort to be healthier but it proved to be difficult. Working at an ad agency, there was constantly free food in and around the office. Due to being forced to work extremely long hours, my eating wasn’t the healthiest and my workouts were basically nonexistent. Over the next few years, I tried numerous diets and methods to lose weight, one of which included Herbalife meal replacement shakes. The shakes and corresponding recommended diet I did worked for me and I was finally able to shed that college weight (ten pounds, give or take) I so desperately wanted to lose. While I was thrilled with my results, I knew the diet wouldn’t be sustainable to keep the weight off.
After I got engaged to Adam, one of my immediate thoughts after the engagement glow wore off was how much weight I had to lose before the wedding. I knew I was going to need a method to not only help me lose weight, but also help me maintain it. I had to make some sort of lifestyle change and I vowed to myself in January 2016 that I would make that happen. Luckily, Adam was along for the ride and made that change with me! I introduced changes to the way we were eating and living, which ultimately led us to live healthier lives and helped me lose another ten to fifteen pounds for my September 2017 wedding. Not only did I look healthier, I also felt happier and more confident in myself.
These last two years have made me realize that yes, I’m always going to care about my weight, but the number on the scale does not define me. Women can be more confident, strong, and empowered by focusing more on how they feel, rather than the number they’re seeing on the scale. The few tried and true strategies I’ve put in place these last two years have really helped me achieve that mentality, as well as a healthier mind and body connection. I’m sharing my ten secrets below of what’s worked for me to have a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Stop Buying Unhealthy Foods
The first step of beginning my healthy diet and lifestyle two years ago started with what Adam and I had in the house to eat and drink. We finished what we had (no food goes wasted in our home) and mutually agree to stop buying some of the things we were buying. We stopped buying sugary drinks like juice and lemonade. After awhile, I didn’t even miss them and still to this day don’t really ever drink anything other than water now (okay, and coffee and wine…). We also stopped buying desserts like ice cream and cookies, processed foods like chips, crackers and breakfast bars, and heavy carbs such as bread, cereal and pasta. By no longer having these drinks or types of food in our apartment, we don’t have any looming temptation. Out of sight, out of mind, am I right? This especially helped me when we first started because it forced us to look for healthier options to replace the other foods we previously had purchased.
Plan & Prepare Your Own Meals
Adam and I make a conscious effort to plan out our meals a week or so in advance. This way, we know what exactly we need to get at the grocery shop when we go so we stick to healthier recipes. Because we are super busy too and don’t always have the time to cook, we sometimes get pre-made, healthy meals sent directly to our door from Freshly. All we have to do is heat them up and they are done in as little as four minutes. We have had such an amazing experience with the company and love how convenient it is, especially when we can see all the ingredients that have been put into our meals.
With the exception of Freshly, Adam and I prepare our meals way more than we did in the past. While we have never been the couple that always eats out at restaurants, we do it even less now than we used to. Dining at restaurants is great (especially in the city of Chicago), but it is so much harder to control what you’re eating because you don’t always 100% know what’s being added to your dishes or how your food is being prepared. Majority of the time, Adam and I want to make sure we’re eating the most healthy foods possible and the only way to guarantee this is by preparing our meals ourselves. The bonus? We’ve actually saved a LOT of money this way! Restaurants are expensive! It’s also made us appreciate all the amazing food we have in this city when we do get to go out together or with friends.
Drink Plenty of Water
As I mentioned already, water is basically the only beverage I drink. The minute I wake up in the morning, I grab for my water bottle and drink a full cup. It’s a great way to start the day. The bonus to drinking water too is you flush out your body’s toxins, you hydrate yourself, and your skin ends up becoming clearer too. If I could sponsor water in some way, I would – it’s SO good for you! Ditch the sodas, the juices, the sugary smoothies and pick up a glass of water instead. If you’re like my mom and don’t really like the taste of water on its own, you can always add lemon or cucumber to give it some extra flavor.
Make Breakfast a Priority
Breakfast is so important because it really helps set you up for the day on the right foot. I typically always have a bowl of old fashioned oats (no pre-packaged oatmeal!) with a spoonful of natural peanut butter (Smucker’s is my fave) and a cut up banana or strawberries. During the summer, I will instead make natural smoothies with my Nutribullet filled with spinach, kale, chia seeds, banana, strawberries, peanut butter, and a scoop of protein powder. Both of these breakfasts keep me full all the way up to lunchtime and I couldn’t recommend them more. On days where I have a little bit more time, I’ll opt for an omelet with spinach and a bit of cheese with some turkey sausage and avocado on the side! Making healthier choices for breakfast helps me stay on track for the rest of the day and definitely was one of the biggest reasons I lost weight and have been able to maintain it.
Add Fruits & Veggies Whenever Possible
Every time I go for my physical with my doctor each year, she asks me how many servings of fruits and veggies I have in an average day. I’m always so proud when I answer her because I consciously make an effort to include them in my every day diet. My breakfast smoothie has four alone! I usually have a snack between breakfast and lunch and tend to turn towards baby carrots or cut up cucumber. Lately, I’ve been on a kick of making my own ranch dip with the Hidden Valley ranch packet and light sour cream. Obviously not the best thing I could be eating, but it makes me want to eat more veggies, so that’s a win in my eyes!
Most days for lunch, Adam and I are making salads to bring to work. I joke how sad my salads are because they only really consist of lettuce, avocado and tomatoes. I need to do a better job of adding more to my salads to get even more veggies in them and so I enjoy them a little more! For dinner, we’re typically having a protein with some sort of veggie on the side, such as fresh sauteed spinach, grilled zucchini and squash, or even frozen veggies like green beans or broccoli. Gotta get those power foods mixed in with your healthy diet!
Avoid Bread When Possible
The only bread Adam and I typically ever buy is garlic bread and it’s rarity that we eat it for dinner. I made a choice to stop buying bread and making sandwiches back in 2016 and I honestly haven’t looked back since. I really don’t miss bread at all (except when I’m at Italian restaurants – I’ll definitely splurge then). I’ve noticed when I do eat more bread, I tend to be more bloated and feel more heavy. I think by limiting it from my diet, I’ve been able to maintain my weight a lot easier these last two years.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, Kelly, are you serious right now? I get it, I love my wine just as much as the next girl. However, when looking back on my time in college where I was drinking the most I ever have in my life, I’ve seen a correlation to that and my weight gain. Because of that, I have really tried to limit my alcohol intake over the last few years. I love, love, love my beer but I’ve really phased it out of my life except for special occasions like perfect summertime Chi days. If I’m going to have any hard liquor, I tend to opt solely for vodka water limes so I’m at least getting some water thrown in there. It’s all about balance, ladies!
My drink of choice is and always will be red wine though. And I mean, duh – it has health benefits and one glass is equal to an hour at the gym (or so I’ve read). You may think I’m a grandma, but I really try to not drink more than once a week nowadays and usually no more than two glasses of wine. It’s helped me keep my weight down and I’m still able to enjoy myself and have fun without alcohol. It’s not to say I’ve totallllly given up my binge drinking ways (my friends can unfortunately attest to this), but they just happen far less nowadays and I’m better for it.
Avoid Eating Late
I’ve personally made a rule to not eat anything after 8pm, especially on weeknights. This time will vary depending on when you go to sleep. I figure that I usually go to bed at around 11pm on most nights (although lately I’ve really been stretching that) and I don’t want to be eating anything less than three hours before I go to sleep. Otherwise, it doesn’t have enough time to properly digest. It’s not going to make you feel good and it can be a culprit for weight gain. If I do end up getting a little hungry after 8pm, I instead turn to my trusty water bottle and take some swigs to help fill my stomach. Sometimes hunger pains can actually be because you’re thirsty, believe it or not. If that still doesn’t work and I’m desperate, I’ll reach for something that is still healthy and not super heavy, like an apple and some peanut butter. Either way, my late nights of eating breadsticks are long gone 🙂
Make Time to Exercise
While what you eat is 80% of having a healthy diet and lifestyle, you can’t forget about that other 20%! Not only is exercise going to help you reach your fitness goals, it’s going to help with your overall lifestyle too. As I mentioned in my post about ways to find happiness, I actually found different forms of exercise I’ve come to love over the last few years. I stopped doing a lot of cardio because I have pretty bad knees and also because I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I dreaded my workouts and hated my life when I was at my cardio classes. Instead, I’ve turned to barre and pilates which has not only done wonders to making my body more strong and lean, it’s also helped with my overall confidence in how I feel. Find a gym or studio that works best for you that you can get excited about. Once you have that, you’ll be more inclined to stick to your routine, and in turn will have more endorphins, which will make you an overall happier person!
Have Cheat Days
Part of my lifestyle change was to not heavily diet because I didn’t want to be miserable and deprive myself of things I enjoy eating. There’s balance in eating healthy and exercising and having cheat days. Typically what Adam and I do is eat super healthy during the week and we’ll then splurge in our own ways on the weekends. This helps keep us balanced and happy. Know that it’s perfectly okay to eat that donut or that big bowl of pasta every once in awhile. Enjoy it and savor it because you earned it, girl!
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.