Blessed Lent to you all. Guest post here, from Mr. Mary Alice.
The topic is losing weight and getting healthier in the six weeks before Easter and beyond. I know there are some of you out there who are struggling to get started on a path to better health. I'm here to tell you that you're not alone. I've lost over 60 pounds in the last year. I want to share some things that worked for me, and I hope you'll get started and get healthy with me!
1. Look in the mirror and decide it's time. I'll spare you the details, but basically I saw a doctor and got scared straight. I realized I was eating myself to death. I made a decision -- a PROMISE to myself -- that I'd make a real, disciplined effort to fix my health.
If it would help you, I'd suggest you see your doctor, too, just to get a baseline sense of where your body is (blood tests, blood pressure, resting heart rate, etc.). Plus, before you start the sort of exercise I suggest below, it's not a bad idea to see a physician. BUT DON'T USE NOT SEEING THE DOCTOR AS AN EXCUSE NOT TO START.
2. Change what you eat, but do NOT go on a diet. This sounds strange, I know, but it has been a critical part of what I have done to not think of myself as "on a diet." Instead, I thought of myself as "living my entire life a different way," and what I was eating was just a part of that lifestyle change.
3. Don't eat food that is bad for you. Especially in the first six months of "living your entire life a different way", you've just got to stop eating bad stuff. Doughnuts = bad. Doritos = bad. Virtually anything that comes out of a can = bad (exception: tuna). Any drink that has more than 0 calories -- bad (exception: skim milk). I know many of these things taste good, but the taste is simply not worth the speed bumps these foods are putting on your road to better health. I promise, once you're running 10-15 miles a week, you can eat ice cream and drink beer again, but for the first six months or so, do yourself a favor and don't work against your goals.
***FOOD TIP*** Buy bananas in bulk and stuff your face with them. Have a banana with breakfast and lunch every day for a month. They give you tons of energy, they feel like dessert because they're so sweet, and they fill you up so you won't be hungry between meals. Basically, every time you open your mouth to eat something, you have to ask yourself, "Is this going to help me get healthy or is this going to get in my way?"
4. Exercise: the journey starts with one step. Ten months ago, I hated to exercise. Well, I can't really say that I hated to exercise because I never exercised, but I just knew I'd hate it. I started very easily, going out at lunchtime and walking in midtown Manhattan, 15 minutes in one direction and then 15 minutes back. By the time I got back to my office, I was out of breath. Then, I started walking to and from Penn Station every day. After about 4 weeks of this, I joined a gym.
5. The Gym: become a regular. Oh, man, my first day at the gym was a disaster. I didn't have a lock, so stuffed my suit in my gym bag and carried around with me. I could barely figure out how to work the treadmill. It was like I had a bulls eye on my back. My workout for the day was a weak 20-minute walk on the treadmill. I was winded, but I barely felt like I deserved the shower I took. But I survived, and I went back the second day, and so on.
Now, I know what you're thinking: "I don't have time for the gym." Sorry, I can't buy this one. I spend 3 hours and 20 minutes commuting on a train to NYC each day, I work at an extraordinarily demanding law firm, and I still take an hour 3-4 times most weeks to get to the gym. Find your sneakers and MAKE EXERCISE A PART OF YOUR ROUTINE.
6. Exercise: set attainable goals. Let's face it, you're out of shape. You're a long way from running 45 minutes on a treadmill, so get it out of your head. First, make it your goal to get to the gym. Second, walk for 30 minutes for a couple times a week for 2 weeks before you try anything more strenuous. Third, try the elliptical and get your heart rate to about 130-140 for 30 minutes. Do this for 4 weeks. You'll find over those 4 weeks that you have to work harder and harder to get your heart rate to 140 -- this means that your body's cardiovascular system is getting more efficient. Just last week, it took me to resistance level 15 (and a fast speed) on the elliptical to get to a heart rate of 140; it used to be that level 1 at only a moderate speed would get me to 145 and sweating bullets.
7. Use training programs. It's amazing how motivated you can be when you have a set plan. Here are a few that worked for me:
(a) the hundred pushups program (an amazing program that will get you from 0 to 100 consecutive pushups in just 6 weeks);
(b) the two hundred situps program (the cousin of the hundred pushups program, this will get you from 0 to 200 consecutive pushups in just 6 weeks);
(c) this couch-to-5K program will get you started in running; and
(d) this half-marathon program got me in great shape to run the Philly Half-Marathon last November.
8. Weigh yourself often. If you're eating better, drinking lots of water and working out for 30 minutes 3-4 times a week, you should be losing about 2 pounds a week. Make sure that you are. The reason why I say you should weigh yourself often is that any given weight reading is subject to variability for water retention and things you've eaten. I find that if I eat salty things, my weight is unusually high for a day or two (water retention, I think) because of it.
Weigh yourself naked, as soon as you get out of bed in the morning, then again as soon as you get out of the shower. Do this every day, and use the same scale. Write the numbers down or commit them to memory. In any event, your weight should be basically going down at a pace of about 2-3 pounds a week.
9. Tell your spouse and loved ones what you're doing. It helps immeasurably to have other people supporting you. Once your spouse knows that you're trying to eat better, you'll be amazed at the salads that show up for dinner. Goodbye, Mac-and-Cheese. Hello, grilled chicken and string beans! If you have kids, ask your friends and family to babysit for an hour so you can take walk or a run.
10. Keep your clothes tailored. Your clothes are going to get big on you in a matter of weeks. Wait until they really look ridiculously baggy (2 months or so) but then get them tailored or buy new clothes. You want your clothes to be snug and/or fit you well, so that you're not psychologically thinking "I can eat this doughnut, because my pants are so loose on me." I went from a size 42+ waist to a size 34. This morning, I put on a "slim fit" dress shirt for the first time ever!
Corollary to this rule -- keep one whole outfit of big clothes and try it on from time to time to see the progress you've made and to scare yourself from getting that big again. (I have a size 48R suit that really scares the crap out of me when I put it on now. "Was I really this big? Why didn't anyone tell me?" Answer: they did.)
Good luck! Again, a Blessed Lent, and here's to a slimmer you in the upcoming Easter Season!