Losing weight is a lot simpler than it may seem
We all like to look our best. When we’re dating, looking our best gives us confidence and helps us to attract a partner. When we’re in a relationship, looking our best helps keep our partner’s eyes on us and our sex life spicy. But friend of mine recently posted a link to a new women’s fitness magazine, asking us to ‘like’ their Facebook page. While I usually ‘like’ generously on Facebook, this request stopped me in my tracks. A new women’s fitness magazine? Really? For goodness’ sake why? With all the health, fitness and weight loss paraphernalia out there – everything from books to magazines, TV shows to infomercials, personal trainers to online programs, and so on – I wondered: How many different ways can one possibly say, ‘Eat less and exercise more’?
I don’t mean to discount all the people in the weight loss industry who are doing great work. I’m all for sports, gyms, exercise equipment, activewear, personal trainers, nutritious food and quality resources. But for the majority of us who aren’t athletes and simply want to make an effort to lead a healthy lifestyle, it’s not rocket science. In fact, I dare say everything you need to know could be reduced to a single page of information – with room for a picture or two.
The weight loss industry has a tendency to overcomplicate things: Cardio Vs resistance, sets Vs reps, high intensity Vs low intensity, carbs Vs sugar, animal protein Vs vegetarianism or veganism, morning workouts Vs evening workouts, supplements Vs chemical-free/organic… let’s call the whole thing off! These days, it’s not good enough just to eat your veggies – they have to be raw. And it’s not good enough just to go for a jog – you have to incorporate sprints. Honestly, we might all have to quit our jobs so that we can worry about this full-time.
Losing weight isn’t particularly glamorous or fun
The weight loss industry also has a tendency to sugarcoat (with stevia) the realities of leading a healthy lifestyle. It’s no where near as exhilarating as it looks in the glossy magazines or movie montages. The truth is, for the majority of the human population, it’s dull, as it requires focus, discipline, discomfort, consistency and patience – for the rest of your life. Being conscious of each and every morsel you put in your mouth, and exercising regularly, can be excruciating to maintain for those of us who just want to flop in front of the TV with a tub of gelato or a packet of chips (or both).
Steve Martin said it best when he hosted the Oscars one year. If memory serves, Brad Pitt was in Fight Club shape (swoon!) and Steve commented, ‘I would do anything to look like him, except eat right and exercise.’ Touche! Everyone wants to look hot without having to do the work or make the sacrifices required to achieve said hotness. It’s a little easier when you’re young. But as you age, putting in the hard yards is crucial if you want to look as youthful on the outside as you feel on the inside. (The older I get, the more I agree that youth is, indeed, wasted on the young.) When Dawn French, an English comedian famous for her sense of humour and (ahem) portliness, lost a stack of weight, an interviewer asked her how she did it. Her response? Two words: ‘Joyless eating.’ That’s not to say you can’t enjoy delicious food when you’re watching your weight, but I agree there’s definitely an element of joylessness to it. You can’t dive head-first into a bowl of wedges with sweet chilli sauce and sour cream at your local pub. You have to order a salad, perhaps with grilled fish. And even if you do have a wedge or two, you can’t get carried away. Humph.
If you’re active on social media, hardly a day will go by where you won’t be confronted by a motivational meme. And if you’re anything like me, the only way it’s likely to help you lose weight is by making you puke. Corny, clichéd and lame are a few words I’d use to describe these ‘profound’ pearls of wisdom. However, as with any rule, there are always a few exceptions. Here’s my favourite: ‘Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.’ I like it because it’s true. If you fail to make those small efforts (doing that workout, resisting that chocolate bar, choosing a salad over a meat pie for dinner, and so on) day in and day out, you won’t see results. It’s that simple.
So, in my completely unprofessional opinion, but with years of trial and error to back me up, here’s pretty much everything you need to know to get and stay in shape. (To be fair, I had my doctor look over it just to make sure I wasn’t leading you astray.) However, I’ll concede that while it’s straightforward and succinct, it’s easier said than done…
1. Drink plenty of water
Not only is it good for you, but it’ll help stave off cravings. Fun fact: Sometimes when you feel hungry, what you really are is thirsty. Drink up to keep your weight down.
2. ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’
This now famous quote from health expert, Michael Pollan, pretty much sums it up. I don’t want to get into an argument over food. If there are things you can’t eat, or don’t want to eat, that’s fine. Just do your research and make sure you have a healthy diet. Perhaps enlist the services of a doctor, dietician, nutritionist, or health coach to guide you, or invest in some really good books and/or courses. If you start to feel overwhelmed, think back to that original quote. If something seems too complicated or a bit ridiculous (diet shakes, anyone?), it probably is.
3. Eat only when you’re truly hungry
This is much easier said than done, as there are so many foods you’ll want to eat simply because they’re yummy and not necessarily because you’re famished. Do your best. You’ll figure it out.
4. Exercise five days per week
I say five because six (or seven) can be difficult for the average mortal to maintain, but if you slip back to four, three or fewer, you won’t get results. As for the exercise itself, it doesn’t really matter as long as: a) it’s challenging, and b) you do it. Don’t search forever for an activity that’s ‘fun’. When you’re doing something so regularly, it’s bound to get boring, especially when it’s uncomfortable, as being out of breath tends to be. If you enjoy a particular sport or activity, such as tennis, dance classes, or surfing, incorporate it into your weekly routine. But unless you’re an athlete in training, you’ll probably still need to do workouts that are designed purely for your health, fitness and weight loss / maintenance goals. Schedule them like an appointment and, as Nike so brilliantly said, ‘Just do it.’
5. Don’t aim for a particular weight or clothing size. Aim for a healthy lifestyle you can maintain and then make the most of what you’ve got.
If you start depriving yourself of food, or exercising more than you’d like to, other parts of your life will suffer. There’s no point in being buff and grumpy. Nor is it advisable to neglect your work, love life or interests. Do your best and accept the rest. Once you’ve got your healthy lifestyle in place, this is where flattering clothing, sneaky undergarments (such as shapewear) and, perhaps, cosmetic enhancements come into play. Do as much or as little as you want to do to look your best, but don’t strive for perfection. It’s unattainable.
6. Take the emphasis off your appearance
At the end of the day, you are not your appearance. What you look like is only one small part of who you are. Like a gift, pretty packaging is nice, but it’s what’s inside that counts. Attractive qualities, such as intelligence, a sense of humour, kindness, loyalty, generosity, and having a passion (or passions!) in life, are so much more important. If you ever find yourself in a flap over last night’s binge, or the number on the scales, or the fact that you’ve barely moved your body in two weeks, stop. Take a deep breath. Look at yourself in the mirror and repeat after me: ‘I am not my appearance. I am not my appearance. I am not my appearance…’ Put things into perspective, get back on track, and move forward.
Yep, that’s pretty much it
Okay, this piece is a little tongue-in-cheek, so don’t get me wrong. I realise there’s more to it sometimes. But as a general rule, you’ll have trouble finding the secret or magic bullet or revolutionary way to get and stay in the kind of shape that would make you want to go swimsuit shopping every weekend, so I suggest you call off the search. If you know absolutely nothing about diet and exercise, or you just want to start off on the right foot, go to your doctor for a check-up. He or she can then refer you to a dietician who will arm you with information and help you with your meal plans. And an experienced personal trainer should be able to design a fitness program tailored to your needs. If a buddy system would help, organise to meet a friend at the gym, or join an outdoor fitness group. But if you’re self-sufficient, working out alone is ideal, as it tends to be quicker, more convenient, and you don’t have to rely on anyone. I mostly exercise at home in front of the TV.
Unfortunately, losing weight and keeping it off is not all fun and games and being happy to switch the remote for the treadmill or a bowl of French fries for a bowl of green beans. It can be a sweaty-exercising, yummy-food-depriving, patience-testing siege. But we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t worth it, right? There’s nothing quite like that feeling of looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing you look ravishing. And if, say, a women’s fitness magazine helps you do what needs to be done then bring it on! In fact, I’ll confess, not only did I ‘like’ my aforementioned friend’s Facebook page, it turns out I genuinely like it.
When it comes to weight loss and looking and feeling your best, what has worked for you? Leave a comment below and let’s chat!