My weight loss process went a little something like this: I started on June 1, 2005 and joined the YMCA, spent the summer just following my own path of exercising daily- taking group fitness classes, using the cardio equipment, jogging or walking with my best friend- and trying to eat well. I lost about 40 lbs in those three months of summer. I returned to college that fall and continued to eat healthier but stopped exercising almost entirely. Mind you, the college lifestyle didn’t always mesh with health so I tried not to be restrictive with my diet. I just wanted to live in the moment and enjoy eating the pizzas, the nachos, and drinking the beers and rums. Let’s put it this way: my college town of Amherst, Massachusetts opened up a burger joint called Fatzo’s that sold cheese smothered tater tots and one particularly juicy “Cowboy Burger” that involved smoky hickory barbecue sauce, onion rings, and Monterey jack cheese. Yours truly supports local business.
But burgers aside, in many ways I was successful at genuinely loving the way I was living and feeling more moderate about my eating than ever before. My weight loss slowed and I might have lost 10 lbs during the first few months back at school. Realizing that I still had a long way to go (about 80ish lbs), that November 1st I decided to join Weight Watchers. I’d heard so many people in my life praise that program as the best and most “liveable” plan. After the first meeting, I knew it was for me. I’m a very meticulous person, with a love of structure, planning, and goals. Weight Watchers felt very comfortable almost immediately, although I’ll admit I only went to two meetings. Much of my following it was done solo. Between that November and January, I probably lost another 15 lbs.
Then I left the country. I moved to Italy to study Italian language and cinema for the semester. In Rome, I was reborn as a lover of fresh, richly flavorful food, an enthusiast of fine taste, and a cook. I befriended the local farmers and their vibrant carts of fruits and vegetables, traveled to 11 cities in Italy in search of the best pizza, gnocchi, gelato, and pasta bolognese (for the record, I found all of them), I walked and I walked and I walked some more. I climbed to the top of Vesuvius. Actually, “I ate Italy” (and the 5 other European countries that I visited) is what I should rename my experience abroad. I think the key there was that I realized more than ever that portions mattered and that gelato, unlike Coldstone, doesn’t come in “Like It, Love It, Gotta Have It.” I ate well and experimented with cooking fresh meals that involved the foods I’d pick up on my way home from class. I’d still play drinking games , but with wine. A very bad idea for those of you who are wondering. Very very bad.
I also started running in Italy, much to the distress of my beloved Italians. I jogged daily along the Tiber River. By the time I left Rome after my four month love affair, I had lost 40 more pounds. I did not know that I had lost this number until I returned to the States. In Italy I never had a scale, I never tracked the progress that I was making and never relied on the lowering number to feel successful and accomplished. This may have been a blessing. I just exercised and ate well, so if I did hit a plateau where the weight stopped coming off, I didn’t know it.
I think the success I had in Italy and the months prior, was due in part to keeping a food journal. In an effort to use the valuable tools I had gained from Weight Watchers, I tried to become aware of what I was eating. It’s amazing the things you learn from this process of tracking your meals and snacks. One hundred pounds ago, the page might have included a snapshot of McDonald’s Dollar Menu. I was able to find a beautiful balance of eating healthfully and eating decadently. Salad and spaghetti, tomatoes and tiramisu. Keeping a food diary also meant that I had a written account of the incredible eating journey I had as I tasted my way through Europe. A food memoir of sorts.
Keeping a food journal at least for a short time was unbelievably beneficial to me. I think it can be so helpful in creating not only awareness, but also portions and balance. It also taught me to not beat myself up for anything I ate. Yes I wanted to lose weight and not be morbidly obese, but I also wanted to seize every opportunity and if that meant churros in Spain, that meant churros in Spain. In the grand scheme of things, the meals that you think negate your healthy lifestyle, do not.
I also think that daily exercise, anything from walking to running to group fitness classes, is not only a key to losing weight, but more importantly a key to motivation. Start acting and the motivation will follow. The strength that you gain, emotionally and physically, from challenging yourself and finding activities you love to do everyday is unparalleled. If it does nothing else, exercising will make you feel so good that you will be inspired to eat well.
I believe that if you just keep at it, keep striving to live well, eat well, and exercise, your body will eventually relinquish the pounds. I think that maybe there are temporary slows, temporary stoppages, but that if you stick it out when these things occur, you will continue to lose once again. I have read a million and one articles about “breaking past a plateau” and they usually involve exercising harder, eating slightly less, and so on. But I don’t really know that doing those things would have ever made me happy overall. If I had hit a plateau during my days of running on the Tiber, eating fresh vegetables and pasta in moderation while still licking a cone of gelato, I don’t know that I would have restricted anything in order to force the scale down. If you know that you are living a life full of movement, real, healthy food, and an abundance of fun, that may be enough.