If you’re struggling to lose weight, it might help to think about your motivations for losing, so that you can set up some milestones to celebrate!
How to stay motivated to lose weight
Congratulate me: as of yesterday morning, I have officially lost 50 pounds since last February! 50.7 pounds to be exact.
Now, that might seem like an arbitrary number, no more important that 49 or 51 pounds. But to me, it’s another exciting mile marker on this weight-loss marathon that’s helping to keep me motivated! I like round numbers.
It also means that after straddling the line between obese and overweight for a couple of months, I’m now squarely on the “overweight” side, according to my Body Mass Index. Which might seem like a dubious distinction (“Yay, I’m merely overweight!”), but during a pandemic when obese people appear to be suffering more, I’m happy to have moved myself into a different category.
Personally, I don’t think that the BMI charts mean much of anything for adults—they don’t take into account muscle mass or bone structure, for example (and for kids, I think BMI charts are incredibly harmful). Even the CDC says that BMI “is not diagnostic of the body fatness or health of an individual.” How I feel is a much better indicator of whether I’m at a healthy weight.
But there is growing evidence that being overweight makes Covid riskier and harder to treat, and when we went into lockdown in March, knowing that losing weight could have an impact on my health if I got Covid was definitely a motivator. So while the BMI number really is just a number, like how many pounds I weigh, it’s also an objective way to know that I’m moving in the right direction, another milestone to celebrate.
Breaking things down
When I set out eleven months ago to lose about a third of my body weight, I needed to not think about it that way too often. If I woke up every morning and said to myself, “I need to follow my Weight Watchers plan today so that I can lose seventy-five pounds” I probably would have gotten overwhelmed and quit.
Instead, I laid out smaller goals. Milestones that I could meet fairly frequently, so that I had concrete proof that I was making progress. And on my way to losing 50 pounds, the milestones have been piling up!
The milestone that got me started
I haven’t told anybody, not even my husband, why I started trying to lose weight again back in February. I’d done Weight Watchers two years before that, and lost 35 pounds. I took a break while on a two-week family vacation, and never got back on. Honestly I was just sick of measuring and weighing foods and keeping track. Sure, there were a lot of things I could eat without counting—the zero-point foods—but so much of what I ate had to be quantified first, and I wanted to be lazy.
I told myself that I would just move more and eat better and keep the weight off, but I’m completely incapable of just…doing that. Like, how do people just…live healthy? Without rules? If I don’t have rules, I go crazy, eating whatever I want and not exercising. So of course the weight came right back on, plus more.
My podcast co-host Andrea is a lifetime member of Weight Watchers, which basically means that she met her weight loss goals and kept the weight off. If it hadn’t been for her, I probably wouldn’t have tried WW again, but she happened to mention to me that they’d re-done their programs, splitting the plan that I’d been on two years ago into three different, more customized plans. And one of them had a whole lot more “free” foods that I wouldn’t have to count.
The way Weight Watchers works is, you get a certain number of points each day, plus some extra points to use anytime during the week. You can earn even more points from exercising (you can eat those points or not, it’s up to you). Foods are assigned points, and you’re supposed to stay within your points allotment in order to lose weight.
I told her I’d check it out, but then forgot all about it.
Until a couple of weeks later (and about a month after that picture above was taken of us at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas—that’s the closest thing I have to a “before” picture). It was a cold February day, and I really wanted to go get a pedicure. I usually get them every two or three weeks, but I sometimes slack off in the winter, since it means walking home in the cold in flip-flops. So, I did not want to go outside that day. But my toenails were getting long, so I grabbed the clippers and got on my bed.
It had been a long time since I had cut my own toenails, and I could barely do it!! If I put my foot in a comfortable position, all I could see was the bottom of my foot, not my nails. If I put my knee under my chin so that I could actually see my nails, I had to press my leg into my big stomach so hard in order to actually reach my toes, I could barely breathe. So basically, to get the job done I would hold my breath, cut a nail or two, and then take a break for a few seconds. Even though I was alone, I felt humiliated. I had gotten so big, I could barely take care of my own feet.
Later that day, I checked out the new WW plans Andrea had told me about. The next day, I signed up and started. And a couple months after that, the next time I had to cut my toenails, I didn’t have to hold my breath! (Little did I know that all these months later I’d still be cutting my own nails, thanks to the lockdown. Sigh. At least now I can breathe.)
Milestones along the way
I’ve met lots of other milestones since then:
- Getting below 200 pounds
- Fitting into a succession of pants I never thought I’d wear again
- No longer huffing and puffing if I have to walk from the bottom floor of my house to the top floor (three flights of stairs)
- My knees no longer hurting
- Getting my body fat percentage under 40%
- Being able to have a conversation while walking fast, without gasping for breath
- Being able to jog again (I can now jog two-and-a-half miles without stopping!)
- And yesterday’s milestone, losing 50 pounds!
Some goals I’m still looking forward to:
- Wearing skirts without needing little shorts underneath to keep my thighs from rubbing together (I’m less than ten pounds away from that miracle)
- Getting my BMI under 25, so that I’ll no longer be categorized as “overweight”
- Getting my body fat percentage under 35%
- Running a 10-minute mile
- Running a 5K in 35 minutes
- Fitting into my wedding dress
So how am I doing it?
Having goals is great, but how did I actually meet those goals?
You’ll notice that all of my goals were results-oriented, not process-oriented. I did not have goals like “eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day” or “exercise three times per week.”
Why? Because Weight Watchers took care of the how. I just follow the Purple Plan, the one with the most “free” foods, which means less measuring and counting. In addition to almost all fruits and vegetables, eggs, a bunch of whole grains, and some chicken and fish items I don’t pay attention to (I’m a vegetarian), the free foods on my plan include wheat pasta, brown rice, and potatoes! I frequently cook entire dinners where the only things I have to measure and count are the butter, oil, and cheese.
I lost the first 25 pounds with pretty much no exercise. The first month that I was on WW, I was getting the normal amount of movement I always got, running errands, going up and down subway steps, etc. I was walking about three-quarters of a mile each way almost every day to my friend Kris’s house, where I was helping her build a shelf for my cookbooks. I was being somewhat active, even though I wasn’t doing any purposeful exercise, and that gave me a few extra “fit points” in the WW program, which meant that I could eat slightly more indulgent foods.
But then, one month and almost ten pounds later, my family (and most of NYC) went into lockdown. Errands stopped completely. Going to Kris’s house stopped completely (my shelf was trapped in her basement for almost six months!). I tried to get out and walk a few times a week, but in those early days we still didn’t really know how the virus was spreading, and we didn’t know that we should be wearing masks. As March turned to April and the weather got a bit warmer, the sidewalks got more crowded, and I stopped going outside. In fact, there was a solid month where I literally didn’t leave my house. There was no reason to! So I was barely moving at all. I went many, many days logging fewer than 1,000 steps on my Fitbit (which has been integral to my weight loss, by the way—it connects directly to the Weight Watchers app!).
Adding in exercise
Eventually, though, I needed some new motivation, and that motivation was food. I decided that I needed to start exercising again so that I would have more food points to play around with.
First, in June, I started taking exercise classes over Zoom three times a week. Nothing super heavy-duty, basically a combination of cardio, kickboxing, and martial arts, taught by my son’s former taekwondo teacher. Eventually I also added a weekly private session with the same teacher, for lifting weights.
Then, in late September, I added a couch-to-5k program, which was three days a week. So, I was basically exercising every day, and earning over 100 fit points a week, and I ate them all (for reference, I get about 20 points a day without exercising, so having an extra 100 points a week to eat is a big deal). That was a great six weeks, filled with lots of baked goods and cheese and pizza!
Whether I’m doing the Zoom classes or the running program, I’m done in under an hour, and that included trying to find clean workout clothes. I never feel like I’m spending a ridiculous amount of time exercising, and yet it still makes a huge difference in my points.
As the whether got colder I stopped wanting to run outside, so now I’m mostly just doing the Zoom classes again. But eating more is definitely a motivator. For example, a while back I wanted to make a super-rich banana bread filled with several kinds of chocolate and peanut butter, and I wanted to have more than just a few bites. So, I went for a jog, and then ate a big plate of the bread! And I don’t have to do hard exercise like jogging in order to earn extra points. I went for a slow walk with a couple of friends the other day, just a few times around the block, and even that got me five points.
Since the WW plan is integrated so well with exercise, I don’t really have to set exercise goals. If I want to eat more points, I move more. If I have a really busy week and exercise less, then I lean more on those zero-point foods. Either way, I’m never hungry, but exercise is the difference between snacking on fat-free cottage cheese, or chips and queso. Between a plain banana, or banana and peanut butter. Between having a sandwich on thin-sliced packaged bread, or big pieces of my own homemade white bread. It’s all good—I never eat foods I don’t like—but sometimes I want to indulge.
So that’s how I did it. Or really, how I’m still doing it. I’m two-thirds of the way to my final weight goal, and I know that those last pounds will be harder than the first ones. But I’m in no hurry.