Trust Me, You Need to Make a Change

I’ve gotten a similar reaction from several of my friends and co-workers and loved ones with regards to my blog, namely this:

I know, I know. I’m not that happy with my weight right now, but it’s not like I care about the numbers or the calories or whatever. And I just really don’t want to change anything. I guess I could be a little more active, but I don’t want to change what I eat or diet or anything like that.

You all know who you are, and I love you all dearly. This blog is for all of you, and I’m about to get mean.

Cut the crap and stop fooling yourselves.

I totally get it. Change sucks. A lot. It’s hard and scary and time consuming and it generally means things are about to get different. And we don’t like different. But you’re just going to have to suck it up and deal.

So here’s my beef. If you feel self-conscious about your soft middle, or your snug button downs, or your flabby arms, and if you can at least internally admit that you are not happy with your current weight (whatever the number is), then it’s pretty clear to me that you are not happy. And that, in my books, is what matters the most. (I will love you no matter what weight you are, honest, so long as you love yourself.)

First off, I cannot express enough that things like BMI or weight or measurements or calories don’t matter. At all. This is not about being a socially predetermined shape or size. I get that. Maybe I wasn’t all that clear in my earlier posts, but I don’t really care about that sort of thing either. I don’t have a golden number in my head that I have to hit. I just find that personally, setting achievable and measurable goals works better for me. For example, saying something like “I need to get more sleep” in Andrea world means it will never happen. But when I tell myself something like “I need to get 7 hours of sleep each night”, it’s something I can tabulate and work towards and it makes me more likely to a) try and b) achieve. But that’s just me. Maybe it’s just because I like being able to incessantly track numbers and write them down all over the place. Maybe it’s because I like being able to calculate where I’m at and how far I have to go. Maybe I’m just crazy. I don’t know. But that’s why I have a Weekly Weigh-In page and why I could tell you my BMI or my target weight or how many calories I ate yesterday. These things are not the be-all-end-all. These are not what matters. These are just a means to an end, and that end is to be happy with my body, and to live a little healthier, be a little more active, and to be satisfied with myself. If in however many months I hit my goal weight of 170 and feel like I’m still not happy, then I may push myself to drop that lower. Or maybe I’ll hit 175 and be thrilled to death and leave it at that. I don’t really care what the number is, and you shouldn’t either. That’s not my point.

If you don’t like numbers, than find something else to track by. Take selfies. Organize your pants into goal piles. Trace your silhouette on the wall in chalk. I don’t really care what you do. I just think that it’s really important to do something to track your progress. I strongly believe that it’s part of human nature to get discouraged. It’s just a thing that seems to happen to all of us. If you don’t have some concrete way to look back and see how far you’ve come, then when you get discouraged (and trust me, you will get discouraged at some point) you’re not going to be able to get ahead. It’s like potty training. It didn’t matter if you had a whoopsies, because you still got to look at all the other stickers you had in your book, and still got to look forward to getting the next sticker, even if today all you got was a pair of wet socks.

Secondly, admitting that you could maybe stand to lose a bit of weight is not enough. I mean, it’s a start, but it’s not enough. If you look long and hard and yourself in the mirror (preferably naked) and you are not happy with what you see, chances are *drum roll* you are going to have to change something in your life. And that something you need to change is not going to be your weight. Because here’s the deal, there is a reason why your body has that extra fat on it. It didn’t just miraculously wake up one morning and go for a stroll and decide BAM I feel like being chubby today. There is a reason why that extra fat is hanging out, and most of the time that reason is because of conscious decisions you have made. I mean, sometimes it’s a medical condition like, say, a thyroid problem, in which case you should go to your doctor, but generally, you can chalk fat up to two things: too little activity and poor eating habits. And here’s the shocker of the day: it is your own fault. I know, right? Crazy. You mean because you chose to not be active and because you chose to eat too much food, or food too high in fat or sugar or carbs or whatever, you gained weight? And that’s your own fault!?! Yeah. So, once your head has stopped exploding from that one, let’s move on, shall we?

If you decide that you will not, in fact, change anything, please be advised that this decision also includes the fact that you will continue to gain weight. Gain. That’s the important bit here. If you don’t change anything, you will not stay the weight you are at right this instant. You will just continue to get bigger, and tubbier, and flabbier, and whateverier. Let me demonstrate. The first year I got an office job, I gained maybe 15lbs. I was not necessarily eating worse than I was previously, but I was certainly less active than before. Being less active means, in fact, that I was now consuming more calories than I should have been given my lifestyle (because the more active you are, the more you burn in a day), so although I hadn’t changed my eating habits, I had gained weight. After the second year working as a cube monkey, I had gained another 15lbs. Because nothing had changed. I continued to eat too many calories a day, which meant that I continued to gain weight, which means that by the end of year 2, I was 30lbs heavier than I had been at the beginning of my job. Because nothing had changed. The state you are currently in is a state of weight gain. For whatever reason *ahem food and activity levels*, your body has been gaining weight. If you do not change anything at all, you will continue to gain weight at the same rate. Which means, if you gain 15lbs a year, by year 4 that’s 45lbs, 5 puts you at 60lbs, and in 6 and a half years, you will have gained 100lbs. Okay, so the science may be a little shaky behind that because I would imagine eventually your body would adapt to higher calories and you would maybe gain a bit less that 15lbs a year, but the basic principle is there. If you are in a state of weight gain and change nothing, you will remain in a state of weight gain. Whabam. Mind blown. Again. You’re welcome.

Now, if you decide to just change a little bit, that’s a way cool step in the right direction. But here’s the problem. If you change a little bit, you will perhaps change from a state of weight gain to a state of weight maintenance, but that is not going to be enough. Let me continue on with my example. After year 2, I was pretty bummed out and decided I should start being more active. So I made a change. I dropped off some weight (maybe like 5lbs overall), which was awesome, and things were pretty hunky-dory. But, I didn’t particularly care to change my eating. So all I made was a little change. So by the end of year 3, I was not particularly ahead, because instead of losing weight, I had merely maintained it. So if you don’t make a drastic enough change to lose weight, you will simply remain in the state you are at now. This is better, but still no good.

Losing weight means two things: a really big change and a little change. Follow? You absolutely 121% indubitably undeniably irrefutably indisputably unquestionably have to have to have to have to make a change. A big change. And then, a little change.

A big change: This is crucial. Generally speaking, this will be a series of little changes that incrementally build on one another to create a wonderful process of weight loss. Since your body will adapt to things like, lower calorie diets or higher activity levels, to successfully lose weight you need to take on a period of constant changes in order to further lose weight. All these changes add up in my mind to what I call a big change. This is the icky part. Trust me. But, it’s what you need to do. I don’t care what excuses you give yourself, or me, or your dog. You. Have. To. Change. Something. A lot. Albeit slowly. Pick a starting point and build up. For me, I started with calorie counting, which will hopefully lead to making better eating choices. And yoga, which will hopefully lead to running, which will hopefully lead to weight training.

[SPOLIER ALERT: I hope to post more on that sequence of choices in the coming weeks.]

A little change: Once you have hit a happy place, you need to maintain that happy place. Generally speaking, your body tends to find its groove and will settle in on something it feels is happy and healthy. But since we are coming off a big change, you will need to make a little change in order to stabilize. So, instead of being in a state of weight loss, we now want to be in a state of weight maintenance. This means you might have to add in some more calories, or scale back a smidge at the gym. This is the ultimate end point day-to-day life goal. Something that is consistently maintainable and realistically matches your desired lifestyle. Unfortunately, you can’t just jump into this state, because it just won’t be enough to get you to drop the weight you need. But once that initial weight is gone, it’s a great way to stay happy and healthy and to avoid regaining weight in the future. Because then you would just have to restart it all and that would really suck. And change is hard enough as it is, so we don’t want to have to do it all over again.

So really, I’m telling you not only do you have to change, but you have to change a lot, if you want to change your weight. Only change breeds change. So suck it up.

My final advice is to change now. Today. The older you get, the harder it is for your body to adjust and lose weight. Your metabolism slows down, things get comfortable and sag in all the right places (or wrong places) and don’t feel like moving. Kind of like, it’s best to get the popcorn before you start the movie because once you sit down on the couch and get all comfy you don’t want to get up at all. (Wait, maybe it’s a good idea to not get snacks first because then you’d be less inclined to eat them… but I digress). My point is, the older you get, the harder it will be to a) change your ingrained habits and b) lose weight and c) stay active. So do it. Do it now. In the words of Dr. Seuss:

The time has come,
The time is now.
Just go, go, go!
I don’t care how.

You got that, Marvin K. Mooney?

And please remember that if you decide to continue to not change, that’s fine by me because you’ll be the one living with the consequences. You’ll be the one that’s heavier, and that feels more blah, and that is less excited (and exciting) in the bedroom, and that is more likely to have health issues later on in life. Not me. You. So gripe and complain all you want about your weight and about not wanting to change to whomever else you know, but I don’t want to hear it. Tough cookies. At that point, it’s your own fault. I’ve done what I can to convince you otherwise. I hope.

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Calorie Chaos: Introduction

I am not that girl that obsesses over calories. No really. Well, maybe that one time. But mostly, I am pretty loose with keeping track of my eating. (Another bowl of ice cream you say? BRING IT!) Which is likely why I’m overweight to begin with. As much as knowing which PSL is the best can be useful, and setting a goal weight can be helpful, if you aren’t watching what goes into your mouth, you’re bound to keep packing on the pounds. I know most people realize this, but the key here is accepting what that really means. I’m not saying to never eat chocolate again, or stop eating pizza for a year, I’m saying that you need to accept that a) you are not eating well (because clearly if you were you would not be in this predicament in the first place) and b) if you are serious about losing weight, you will need to change (in part) what you eat.

So, take a deep breath and say this out loud with me:

I accept that I do not currently eat well and I accept that I need to eat better in order to lose weight and I accept that I will have to make changes to my diet to do so.

(Told you to take a deep breath.) There. That’s better.

Now what?

Enter the wonderful world of calories. Just like weight can be a useful way to track your progress, calories can be a great way to track what you are actually eating compared to how much you should be eating.

I’m going to get all sciencey with you here, so bear with me. Remember that whole Law of Conservation of Mass thing? Basically, mass can neither be created nor destroyed, just displaced. Which means, anything that you put into your body does not just magically disappear, it just gets reshuffled. Skipping the more complicated stuff, food is turned into calories (among other things but we are ignoring all that because it makes our heads hurt) and your body uses calories to do stuff (like make your head hurt). If you shove in more calories than your body uses, they get stored off to the side as fat (like that drawer full of random pens you have kicking around that just keeps growing and growing and really, who would ever need that many pens?) In order to lose weight, you need to make sure that the calories coming in are fewer than the calories being used (aka stop buying new pens and start using the ones you already have stashed away in your pen drawer).

If you want to delve deeper, check out the How Stuff Works’ article “When we lose weight, where does the lost weight go?”. I mean, yes this is also the website that has an article named “How zombies work” so I’m not entirely convinced of the article’s scientific accuracy, but the basic concept is there. And I mean, come on, it’s a pretty cool question to ask.

So how, exactly, do you track calories? I have no idea. But there’s an app for that! Actually, there are several apps for that.

As your beloved guinea pig, each month (or so) I will give a different calorie counting app a whirl and let you know what I liked, or didn’t like, or if I even actually stuck to using it, and I will post my reviews under the Calorie Chaos series for all of our benefits. You’re welcome.

This month’s contender will be MyFitnessPal. Boasting a ridiculous amount of add-ons and features like FB integration (um, no thank you?) and a private diary and a blog (yay blogs!), MyFitnessPal is totally free, takes about 5 minutes to set up, and will tell you, based on your height and age and weight and weight loss goal and magic, how many calories a day you should be taking in. You’re completely welcome to try it out with me this month so we can rant or rave about it together. High five! (Oh, wait, do the cool kids not do that anymore?) Fist pump! Yeah!

Account Created!

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BMI Be Gone?

Once you have hurdled the first step to weight loss, the next logical step is to figure out your weight loss goal. It is imperative that you chose something that is realistic, attainable, and specific. Don’t plan to drop your weight to 80lbs unless you’re a child or a dwarf. Don’t plan to lose 30lbs in 3 weeks, it’s just not going to happen unless you cut a leg off, which I would NOT recommend doing. Don’t plan to just “lose weight”, because without a concrete target your dedication will crumble.

I recommend shooting for a weight loss goal of 1lb per week, a healthy and sustainable weight loss, for as long as it takes to reach your target weight plus half of that. So, for example, if you want to lose 10lbs, plan on it taking at the very least 10 weeks, realistically 15 weeks (half of 10 is 5, so 10 plus 5 is 15). If you are a normal person with a desk job and a penchant for comfort food and lattes, there are definitely going to be weeks where you don’t lose anything, and likely weeks where you are going to gain weight. But don’t get too discouraged, this change is about a lifetime of skinny, not about a few weeks of being up a few pounds.

But how do you go about deciding what your target weight should be?

Often, this is when people turn to the body mass index (BMI). In the simplest terms, BMI is a height to weight ratio. First determined by the mathematician Adolphe Quetelet in the 1800s (yeah, totally relevant, right?), BMI was designed to determine the most ideal adult proportions. It has been tweaked a bit over the years, but roughly, a BMI of 30 and up indicates that you are obese, 25 to 29.9 indicates that you are overweight, 18.5 to 24.9 indicates that you are average (or “ideal”), and less than 18.5 indicates that you are underweight. For the mathematically inclined, you can calculate your own BMI by using the following formula:

BMI= weight(kg)/(height(m))2

OR

BMI= [weight(lb)/(height(in))2 ]x 703

For the non-mathematically inclined (myself included), a 2 second Google search will give you thousands of BMI calculators, like this one, where all you need is your height and weight. There are also countless BMI charts that neatly map out height and weight into colour coded bands of obese, overweight, average, and underweight. This seems beautifully convenient, right? But BMI has come under fire quite a bit for not taking into account individual body types. My family doctor, Dr. O, politely explained that everyone has a different frame and a different bone structure, so a weight to height ratio (or BMI) is not always the most accurate judge of health. Someone with broader shoulders or denser bones will come in heavier than someone with a narrow or frail build, but still be medically healthier. But if you can’t count on BMI, what can you use to determine an ideal weight?

According to Dr. O, the most important ratio to keep in mind is the waist to hip ratio (WHR). Although commonly considered a measure of attractiveness, WHR is also generally considered a more accurate indication of health risk/obesity. Women under 0.80 and men under 0.95 are considered low risk, women between 0.81 and 0.85 and men between 0.96 and 1.0 are considered moderate risk and women over 0.85 or men over 1.0 are considered high risk. From a more aesthetic perspective, attractive (or “ideal”) women trend between 0.60 and 0.70. Calculating your WHR is significantly less complicated than calculating your BMI. Measure the circumference of your waist (the narrowest point, often between your last rib and your belly button) and your hips (the widest point across your hips and buttocks) in inches. Divide your waist by your hips, and voilà!

But even the ever cautious Dr. O turned to BMI to tell me (less politely this time) that I am overweight, coming in at the higher end of the overweight spectrum with a BMI of 27.4. Her ultimate advice to determining a target weight?

If your pants are too big, that’s a good thing. You’re on the right track. 

Which does not exactly serve the purposes of this blog. I find that achieving a set weight is a lot more of a tangible concept than, say, losing a set number of inches off your waist, or getting into a specific pant size. (Although I have this super cute pair of size 8 jeans that I would LOVE to wear again…) And since my WHR is within the low risk range (a lovely 0.77, which means that I have successfully gained weight evenly enough across my body to maintain a reasonable WHR), in order to determine my ultimate weight loss goal, I cautiously considered the BMI chart. For someone who is 5’10” like myself, the BMI chart gives me an average range of 130 to 170lbs. Now, when I was at my skinniest (that is to say, when I was still 16 and an A cup), I weighed a solid 170lbs. Give or take. My memory is pretty rusty. So, as much as I may dream of being only 130lbs, I highly doubt I could ever realistically sustain that weight. So let’s stick with 170lbs as a goal, plus or minus 5lbs (plus or minus a now C cup). According to the BMI chart, that would put me at the very top end of the “average” range.

A more uncouth weight loss measure is your mirror. As much as we all want to fit into an ideal range or ratio or box, everyone is different. The only person that can really say if you are skinny is yourself. So strip down, spread your arms out, and take a good long look in the mirror. Turn to the side. Repeat. If you are happy with your weight, go away. If you are not so happy with your weight, try to picture what you would want to look like. Guesstimate how much gut would have to disappear for that to happen. Keep in mind where your frame ends and your weight begins, since you’re stuck with the bones and build you’ve got. For a point of reference, every pant size is approximately 10lbs. This may not be completely accurate, but it is the best gauge. As you begin to, and continue to, lose weight, return to the mirror and check your progress. Readjust your goals as required.

Taking into consideration my BMI, WHR, and –most importantly– my mirror, I would like to lose 20lbs, which will take a whopping 30 weeks (7 and a half months). Provided I actually manage to lose 1lb a week. (Although, to be honest I’m not entirely convinced I will be successful at that.) That’s not so bad…right?

So, for all intents and purposes, weight can be a very useful tool to track progress, and helpful at outlining ultimate fitness goals, but don’t become obsessed with the number in your head, or the often not-so-realistic number dictated by BMI. So what if you don’t quite hit your target weight? It’s just a number. As long as you have found something that is sustainable and comfortable, I would recommend you stick with it. Not everyone is built for flamingo-like thigh gaps or 12inch waists. Be honest with yourself, take your build into consideration when calculating your BMI, and be willing to change your goals as you go along.

thighgaps

Based on the above, how long is it going to take you to reach your target weight?

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