an Online Journal of Sorts

By Alyce Wilson

January 9, 2006 - Alyce's Weight Loss Tips

Alyce on New Year's Eve 2000 (left),
compared to New Year's Eve 2006 (right)

It's the beginning of a new year, and many people have made New Year's resolutions. For many of us, those resolutions involve getting in better shape. In my case, I am no longer striving for a weight loss goal but am simply working on toning up and staying in shape.

Since January of 2000, I've lost about 80 pounds and gone down about eight sizes, from a size 20-22 to a size 6-8 (depending on the garment). I am now in better shape than I was as a college undergrad, and it feels great!

It's been a gradual and rewarding journey. I'm a lot healthier than when I started: I can walk up stairs without getting winded, and I have a lot more energy. I'm sleeping better and feeling better. My blood pressure has decreased, and my body fat ratio has, too.

I often get asked, "How did you do it?" So for the next several days, I'll go into detail about how I achieved what I achieved.

CAUTION: Before embarking on any weight loss program, you must consult with your physician and make certain that you are starting a healthy program that's good for your specific needs. I have no medical training and bear no legal responsibility for the results of following any of my advice.

The most important thing I did in January 2000 was make a commitment to changing my life. I had to find a lifestyle that I could live with comfortably, not just for a short period of time but for the rest of my life. Before, I'd gone on periodic diets, lost weight and then returned to my own bad habits. This time, I knew that I had to be serious and make permanent changes.

I was in Colorado to visit my brother and his future wife to celebrate the dawning of the year 2000. Getting winded walking in the high altitude air, I complained to my sister about how miserable I was, how I wanted to lose some weight. My sister had previously been afraid to hurt my feelings, but now that I was asking for help, she was happy to assist.

Her first suggestion was to watch portion sizes. This was great advice and one of the most important tips for adopting a healthy lifestyle. For most people, it's not what they eat; it's how much of it. She told me that I ought to stop taking seconds and thirds and to avoid empty calories, such as a chocolate bar for a snack. Instead, if I'm hungry, I should opt for something that will give me better nutrition, such as an orange or a granola bar.

Meals Matter offers a great guide to portion sizes.

My next life change was to increase my activity. Fortunately, this was something I'd made a part of my life for a long time so it was easy to resume it. I'd been in various intramural sports and dance classes in grade school and high school, and in college I'd kept active in club activities, plus participated in aerobic classes and, in grad school, did martial arts.

But formal exercise is not the only way to increase activity. Later in the week, I'll be providing some easy tips for increasing activity in your everyday life.

It helped in 2000 that I was adopting a puppy. Our daily walks became a regular part of my exercise regimen. We have increased the length of our walks, and I'm now up to two 45-minute brisk walks a day.

Over the past several years, I've participated in everything from aerobic step classes, to aerobic kickboxing, to weight lifting, to yoga and Pilates, to at-home aerobics tapes, to weekend swimming and hiking, to belly dancing classes, just to name a few.

You can figure out how much you're burning from doing different exercises by consulting the Calories Per Hour site.

It's important to remember that when you're just starting out, adding just 15 minutes of activity a day will make a big difference. Consult your doctor to choose an activity that's appropriate for you.

Another important tip is to select an achievable goal. Initially, I set a very small, very achievable goal: to lose 10 percent of my weight, or roughly 22 pounds. I had read that if you're obese, you can reap health benefits by losing only 10 percent of your weight. Once I achieved that goal, I continually revised my goal downwards until I reached the top end of the BMI range.

However, BMI doesn't take muscle tone into account, and my body fat ratio, as determined by the Weight Watchers Electronic Body Fat Scale, at 28.2 last time I checked, is firmly within the healthy range for 18-39-year-old women, of 21-32 percent. I highly recommend the Weight Watchers Electronic Body Fat Scale, because it assesses body fat and hydration, which can be helpful to track, once you've started converting fat into muscle.

I've also been keeping track of my measurements (neck, bicep, chest, waist, hips and thigh), which can be encouraging on weeks that my weight might not change but my measurements do.

Generally speaking, stepping on the scale once a week is a good way to keep track of your progress. Checking any more frequently can be frustrating, because momentary changes such as retaining more water can cause your weight to fluctuate on a daily basis and cloud the overall picture. Pick a day of the week to weigh in, and make certain that you check at the same time of day, wearing similar clothing. That way you'll get a better sense of how you're really doing.

You might choose to work towards a weight-related goal, or you might choose a health-related goal based on body fat ratio (using the guidelines provided by the Weight Watchers Electronic Body Fat Scale) or the Body Mass Index. You can determine your BMI using the BMI Calculator provided by the Centers for Disease Control. When I started, I was in the obese range, and now I'm within the normal range.

Rather than following fad diets, I've always believed in the principle that if you eat less than your body needs to maintain your current weight, you will lose weight. You can calculate how many calories you need a day by using the Calorie Requirements Per Day Calculator.

You can lose up to a pound a week by eating 500 calories a day less than it takes to maintain. Don't, however, cut your calories more severely than that unless recommended to do so by a physician. When you're not eating enough food, your body goes into starvation mode, where you stop losing weight, because the body doesn't know when to expect more nutrition.

Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. Your body needs the fluids to stay hydrated. Otherwise, ironically, you can bloat up from retained fluids, as your body tries to hold onto whatever it takes in.

I've averaged about 20-25 pounds of weight loss a year, or about half a pound a week, which is not only a good, safe pace but also makes it easier for me to maintain my weight loss. Following a similar diet, The Gryphon lost 35 last year.

Keep a daily food journal where you write down everything you eat and how many calories it is. You'll soon learn what your problem habits are. And you'll also learn how to change your habits to enjoy your food while eating fewer fat and calories. Later in the week, I'll provide some tips on healthy eating and guilt-free snacking. I tend to follow a diet that's very similar to the USDA Food Pyramid. I do, however, allow guilt-free snacks and occasional splurges, as I'll detail later in the week.

There are other ways to keep track of your intake. The Weight Watchers plan, which I'm currently following, assigns a point value to foods based on calories, fat content and fiber content. Foods with higher fiber and lower fat are also fewer points to encourage healthy eating. The Weight Watchers system is also great because it provides support as well as tips for healthy living. You can join online if you don't have the time to attend regular meetings. Details are at the official site.

If you don't join an official program, seek out support from friends and family, as well as from your physician. Tell them what you're doing, and ask them to help keep you honest. It's particularly helpful if you have a friend or family member willing to embark on a healthy lifestyles program with you.

Initially, my sister was my main source of support. Later, The Invisible Man was a great source of support, encouraging me to increase my activity and applauding my weight loss. Today, The Gryphon and I have been getting in shape together for more than a year using the Weight Watchers plan. We motivate each other, console each other when necessary and celebrate when we're doing well.

One side note on such partnerships: be certain not to kick yourself on the weeks when your diet buddy is doing better than you. Instead, use it as extra motivation: s/he can do it, which means I can, too.

Setbacks are part of the process. Don't let setbacks get you down. Try as I might, for the past several years I've either hit a plateau or gained weight over the holidays, including this year. The most important thing is to get back on track and move on.

Celebrate milestones, say losing 10 pounds, losing an inch off your waist or bringing your body fat ratio down five percentage points, in a way that doesn't involve food. Treat yourself to some new clothing, buy yourself a CD, or go see a movie. When I reached my initial goal of 22 pounds of weight loss, I bought a subscription to the Fortean Times, one of my favorite magazines.

The most important thing, whatever you do, is to choose something that you can stick with long term. Keep in mind that, once you reach your goal, you'll increase the number of daily calories (or points) you're eating, but you'll stick to eating similar types of food and maintaining your activity levels. So pick activities you enjoy, and don't deprive yourself of your favorite foods.

An excellent guide for those just beginning a healthy lifestyles program is provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.

By making healthy changes to your lifestyle, you'll start to benefit. Gradual changes do add up. Take it from me!

More weight loss information:

January 10, 2006 - Healthy Foods, Guilt-Free Snacks

January 11, 2006 - Getting Active

January 12, 2006 - Getting Past Setbacks

January 13, 2006 - The Emotional Side of Fitness


Getting healthy is a long-term commitment, but the benefits last a lifetime.

Copyright 2005 by Alyce Wilson

Musings Index

What do you think? Share your thoughts
at Alyce's message board (left button):

          Alyce Wilson's writings