Deprivation Doesn’t Work: I Lost 30 Pounds in 6 Months with This *Realistic* Strategy
As the final days of 2021 approached, I decided to take a long, hard look at myself in the mirror (something I’d been avoiding more and more) and could barely recognize the woman looking back. I had struggled with my body image and weight for as long as I could remember, but the woman staring back at me in the reflection just hit differently. She wasn’t just overweight, and she wasn’t just exhausted: she was sad and angry. She was unrecognizable.
I was tired all the time. The fatigue I felt constantly led me to lose patience with my family because I just didn’t have the energy to play with my toddler. I was unhappy with my body and I was unhappy with myself for getting to this place. I was in pain inside and out. My sciatica was out of control; just walking a few steps had me doubled over. My physical pain led me to be a grouch no one really wanted to be around.
That day, when I truly saw myself in the mirror, I made a vow to do things differently. I wanted to make real change, not through fad diets, magic gut cleanses, or fasts. I knew I needed to make sure that any changes I made were those I could handle and actually maintain. I needed to make sure that I could be consistent. I knew that if I could just show up every day for myself, then I could truly make a difference and become a healthier person. My plan was simple: eat in a calorie deficit and move my body regularly.
Six months later, I am 30 pounds lighter. Here’s what helped me through this process:
1. Get to know yourself (and be honest about it)
If you want to do a full 180 in terms of your health and fitness, you need to get to know yourself first. You need to know your food triggers, your strengths, and your weaknesses. You need to make sure you’re creating a fitness and meal plan that will work for you. For example, I am a busy working mom of a toddler, and don’t have much time to myself during the day. So I knew that I needed to nail down some easy staple meals that were quick to make.
I could Google “healthy dinner recipes” all day, but the minute I had 20 ingredients and a 60-minute meal prep time, I was turning to GrubHub to order something. After finding a few meals that worked for me, I incorporated these new, healthier meals into my everyday eating plan. Some of my favorites include a lightened-up buffalo chicken salad, stuffed sweet potatoes, and a delicious fruit parfait that makes a wonderful, healthy dessert.
It’s also important to find a way to move your body that you actually like to do. Whether that’s taking walks, HIIT, or hopping on a stationary bike, if you’re enjoying the process of moving your body, you’ll be more inclined to keep doing it. (Extra tip: an amazing playlist with tons of upbeat music you enjoy is also a great motivator.)
2. Plan and pay attention
In the beginning of my new journey to a healthier life, I was adamant about tracking everything I ate. This wasn’t disordered thinking; I was just trying to get perspective on how many calories I was eating and how calorie-dense the foods I ate actually were. Once I figured out how many calories I should be eating in a day based on factors like my height, weight, age, and activity level, I could see which foods to incorporate into my diet and what foods I should limit.
When I started really looking at the numbers, I noticed that fruits and vegetables were low in calories (which may seem obvious) but can actually be really filling (which may be less so). This led me to make sure that at least a third of my plate at most meals was a fresh vegetable I enjoyed, like bell peppers or zucchini. I also came to realize just how important protein was in my diet. Lean meats like chicken breast and salmon became staples for me. Not only were they high in protein and low in fat, but they also could be thrown into a recipe in a ton of different ways so I never got bored.
Planning out my meals also came in handy when I knew I had an event or party coming up. If I wanted to be out with friends on a Friday night, I made sure I had enough room in my calorie deficit by planning out certain meals during the day.
3. Deprivation doesn’t work
The beauty of working with a calorie deficit is that it’s incredibly simple: you can essentially eat whatever you’d like as long as you are burning more calories than you’re taking in. Of course, there are certain foods and meals that make you feel fuller for longer, are more nutrient-dense, and will contribute to a healthier overall lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun every now and then.
For years — decades, even — I tried diets that demanded I cut out fried foods, sweets, and carbs completely. These kinds of diets led me to crave those foods even more, so I’d eventually give into the craving and go on a binge: an entire bag of potato chips later, and I was giving up healthy eating entirely and going back to my “old ways.”
This time, I decided to enjoy the cravings from the get-go. If I wanted to go out with my husband for a nice dinner, I’d order the steak and potatoes and just enjoy it. I’d share a scoop of ice cream with my little girl because she needs to know that it’s okay to eat ice cream and not feel guilty.
When I allowed myself to enjoy food that maybe didn’t qualify as “healthy” on paper, I actually found myself wanting these foods less and being able to maintain moderation. But in the past six months, I’ve eaten pizza, pasta, chocolate, donuts, and chicken wings — and I still lost 30 pounds.
4. Show up for yourself every single day
Another hard lesson to learn during this journey was that I needed to be consistent in my exercise (we’re talking “every single day” consistent). Now, that didn’t mean I was hitting the gym for an hour every day. It just meant that every single day, I was moving my body in some way. I was working to make healthier food choices when I could. Every day, I was showing up for myself and working towards a healthier me. And when I began to show up for myself, I realized that I was also showing up for my family.
Being 30 pounds lighter has not just lightened the load of my body, but it has also lightened my spirit and heart. I can go on long walks with my family and not feel out of breath and exhausted after a block. I can carry around my toddler on my hip without incident when she’s having a hard day. My sciatic pain has nearly gone away. I feel energized and awake. I feel happy. 30 pounds is just the tip of the iceberg for me, but to see how much this weight loss has improved my overall physical and mental health is enough reason to keep the healthy choices going.
Good food brings people together. So do good emails.