How I Finally Learned to Stop the Roller Coaster Dieting
Let’s just say that if I had a dollar for every pound I’ve lost and regained over my adult life, I’d have plenty of cash for the proverbial rainy day. But after two decades on the roller coaster, I was weary of the ride. My always-messy closet, stuffed with clothes to fit my body anywhere along a 30-pound spectrum, was bumming me out. And more important, as a mom wading into my 40s, not facing the potential health implications of being overweight felt increasingly irresponsible. Anxiety about high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart disease gnawed at my brain. My son and daughter—9 and 6— are my world, and I want to be around for them for as long as possible. Bottom line: It was time to break the cycle. So this is the story of how I finally learned to stop dieting.
In February 2013 I loaded up a suitcase with T-shirts, sweats, socks, sneakers and every sports bra I owned, bound for the Biggest Loser Resort Niagara. My hope was that a week at a hard- core fitness camp would jump-start some weight loss and put the brakes on two decades of yo-yo dieting. (Click here for that story.) It was the first time I’d been away from my kids (then 8 and 5) for more than 24 hours, and initially I was distracted, worried, like a fish out of water.
Soon though, that anxiety gave way to what can only be described as euphoria, courtesy of mega endorphins from the workouts and the fact that I was relieved of all household to-do’s—no cooking, cleaning, homework-checking. It was awesome. But in hindsight, I was living a little too much in the moment and not focusing on how I would lose weight and live healthfully at home. The trainers talked about it—a lot—but instead of truly listening, I was reveling in my freedom from everyday responsibilities. Yes, even exercising 5 hours a day, it felt like a luxury vacation. Despite arriving home optimistic, after a month or two, I was back to my old eating habits. As for exercise, it was sporadic. At best.
In the end, I was disappointed that I didn’t make more of that stay. So when I was unexpectedly offered a chance to check out the newest Biggest Loser Resort, in Chicago, I went for it—vowing that instead of letting history repeat itself, I’d come away with doable long- term strategies.
Going in with that mind-set made all the difference. Thanks to the guidance from BLR Chicago’s first-rate trainers and staff, I’ve made more than a few changes in my day-to-day. Some are surprisingly easy and cheap. Others require more commitment and cash. Combined, they’ve helped me take off 10 pounds and counting at press time, and keep to a reasonably consistent exercise schedule. If you too have had it up to here with dieting, by all means benefit from my hard-won experience.
Little Changes, Big Result
Wake up, drink up. I’d heard downing lots of H20 is a must for weight loss a million times. Unfortunately, I don’t like water, so this advice went in one ear and out the other. A trainer suggested I drink a big glassful before doing anything else in the morning. This single new habit has upped my overall consumption considerably and makes me feel like I’m starting the day on a positive note. And since I’m not fully awake, I find the water less objectionable. I still enjoy an a.m. java, but not first thing. New ritual: Stumble out of bed, plug in coffee, drink a glass of water, then carry on as usual.
Get serious about exercise. My fitness plan hinged on working out at night, “right after everything at home is squared away.” Despite good intentions, it rarely happened. The earliest I ever achieved “squared away” status was around 9 p.m. Exercise, after a nonstop 14-hour day? Yeah, right. At Biggest Loser Chicago, there’s a mandatory cardio class at 6 every morning. Sounds tough, and it was initially. But then it dawned on me—the beauty of that hour is that nothing is likely to get in the way. Result: Twice-weekly 6 a.m. workouts. In my wildest dreams I would not have imagined forcing myself out of bed at that hour for a sweat session. Which is not to say it’s easy—truth be told, some days I have to drag myself out from under the covers. And by 9 that night, I’m totally beat. Even so, the major mental lift I get from crossing exercise off my list first thing is worth the effort.
Crunch the numbers. Math is not my strong suit, but sustainable weight loss requires reading food labels and doing basic calculations. The Biggest Loser healthy eating prescription calls for a 30/30/40 split of daily calories among protein, fat and carbs. It also suggests 25 grams of fiber per day for women, less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium and water, water, water throughout the day—though not so much during meals, because it can interfere with digestive enzymes doing their thing. Realistically, aim for a 90/10 split—meaning 90% of the time you’re eating nutritionally sound, balanced meals. The remaining 10% is flexible, for special occasions and indulging cravings to prevent feelings of deprivation.
Hit the hay sooner, not later. As a working mom, it’s hard to resist the lure of staying up till the wee hours in order to get stuff done. The house is quiet, and there’s always a floor to sweep, laundry to fold, papers to sort. In a session at BLRC, I experienced this aha moment: The later I putter, the likelier I am to end up in the pantry, foraging for sweets. Not out of hunger, but from a mix of boredom and a sense of entitlement. After all, if I’m up this late, surely I deserve a treat. My nights now consist of a few reasonably quick tasks, then retreating to bed (far from the kitchen) with a book or magazine until lights-out.
Train for less. Nobody will kick your butt better than a personal trainer, but the cost can be tough to stomach. Make it more affordable by recruiting a couple of like-minded friends, then finding a fitness pro willing to train you together. This suggestion has been a boon for me and two buddies—we do new moves each week under trainer John Barry’s watchful eye, but at a third of the price of a session. And by agreeing to pay our share regardless, we hold one another accountable to show up.
Short-Circuit a sugar rush. Cake, cookies, candy, ice cream. Yes, please! My brain and sweet tooth duke it out often, and usually my sweet tooth wins. Unfortunately, a few bites of something sugary can often snowball into blowing off an entire day of otherwise healthy eating. BLRC nutritionist Jennifer Vimbor’s suggested fix is a protein-and-carb combo. Three easy options: 1 to 2 ounces of turkey breast on a slice of whole-grain bread, plain Greek yogurt with a serving of fruit or 1/3 to 1/2 cup of high-fiber cereal, or tuna with a few whole-grain crackers. These easy-do pairings quickly stabilize blood sugar and provide that little pause you need to take a breath, refocus and get back on track (see more Biggest Loser recipes).
Look past the scale. When the number isn’t moving downward quickly enough, it’s all too tempting to throw in the towel—or munch miserably through half a box of doughnuts. At BLRC, it was ingrained in my brain to make a conscious effort to seek other tangible signs of progress. Clothes getting noticeably looser, for instance, or being able to do more reps of a challenging exercise can speak just as loudly as the number on the scale. I just have to listen.
Wear a tracker. Even as activity monitors became increasingly popular, I resisted. (In retrospect, I’m sure I just didn’t want inarguable proof of how little I was moving some days.) BLRC trainers are big advocates of the information and accountability these devices provide, and I finally caved. On nights that my number of steps taken is pathetic (like, sub-4,000), I grab my iPod and go for a walk after my husband gets home. There are tons of options on the market. Personally, I like the sleek look and functionality of the waterproof Misfit Wearables Shine (misfitwearables.com, $120). The leather band is an awesome upgrade, and they make socks, a necklace and a T-shirt that house the device as an alternative to wearing it on your wrist. (See how we rated a variety of fitness trackers at familycircle.com/fittrack.)
Resist "Magic Monday" syndrome. How tempting it is to say, “I’ll start over on Monday.” It’s the first day of the work week—seems ideal, right? Wrong. Any day is good to start (or recommit to) eating well and exercising. Don’t let one junk-food-laden party or skipped workout derail you for days. Think of it this way: If your car suddenly started skidding, you wouldn’t wait until Monday to do something—you’d take corrective action right away. Apply that principle here. As soon as you perceive a skid, grasp your mental steering wheel firmly with both hands and turn decisively in the direction you want to go.
Chicago is the latest addition to the roster of Biggest Loser Resorts around the US. The boot-camp-style program runs within the Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes Resort, which boasts indoor and outdoor pools, a gorgeous golf course, a luxury spa and more. For details and rates, go to biggestloserresort.com/chicago.