Wow, what a year! Life under lockdown has meant so many changes and challenges. I’m sure you’re as ready as I am to move forward.
One story that caught my eye recently was the one saying that Americans have gained 20 pounds over the last year. Yikes.
It’s not the first, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last, time I’ve found myself marching to a different drummer: I’m down 19 pounds.
So as we slowly emerge from lockdown, I thought it might help others if I wrote about how I managed to lose weight during this crazy year.
Move to Lose Weight
Fitness is a huge part of my lifestyle, not just for the physical-health benefits, but even more for the mental-health benefits. I just feel happier and more encouraged when I exercise. So it rarely feels like a chore. As some of you may recall, I haven’t been able to run since hurting my knee nearly two years ago. So I walk.
Before lockdown, I did a weekly mishmash of five-mile walks outdoors and 5Ks on the treadmill at the gym. Then when the gym in my building closed, I started to walk five miles per day outdoors, most days of the week, weather permitting, to help make up for all the incidental moving around from going out and about, shopping and socializing, that I was no longer doing. After some trial and error, I’d designed a route through my local community that includes lots of incline, for its cardio-boosting benefits. It’s a varied path, taking me through a cute retail area, then along a creek, and finally through a park before looping back home. The variety keeps things interesting, especially during spring and fall, when the gardens and the trees are changing every day. It’s also quality thinking time for me; I ponder everything from social plans to blog posts while I’m out walking.
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When the weather is poor, I do one or two routines from my favorite exercise DVDs. They’re varied too, mixing up aerobic dance (which I really enjoy), strength training (which I like), and floor exercises (oh, well). Bonus: Mastering the moves helps me feel more confident.
I also do a few minutes of calisthenics every morning, right after I make my bed, while I’m still in my nightie. I believe that style is less about what you wear than how you wear it, that the best fashion accessory you can have is a good figure with good carriage, and that exercises that use the body’s own weight help maintain good posture. So I tell Alexa what music I want to hear and then I stretch and hit the floor to do: 10 crunches, 10 pelvic tilts, 5 back extensions, and 4 burpees.
I use my fitbit to track not only steps walked but also calories burned. I don’t let myself sit down to write until I’ve reached the point where I’ll inevitably have burned at least 2,000 calories in a day. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to move around, even in my five-room, one-storey apartment: cooking, laundry, tidying/organizing, balcony gardening. There’s always some kind of house-keeping to do, so I do it when I need the calorie burn.
Take-away: Make exercise something you truly enjoy; then you won’t have to force yourself to do it.
Eat to Lose Weight
If you’re one of those people who can lose weight with exercise alone, you’re lucky. Movement helps keep me from packing on more pounds, but to take them off, I have to limit my eating. Specifically, I have to avoid refined carbs. Unfortunately, I love carbs. Fortunately, there are lots of other yummy foods, as well as ways to reduce the carbs in recipes.
When lockdown started, I resolved to make every at-home meal myself. I implemented a zero-tolerance policy for prepared-food delivery; I haven’t ordered a hot pizza, Chinese food, or even Five Guys once in more than a year. I did start using grocery delivery to help me plan meals, after food shopping made me feel like Martha from The Americans. I still had to plan around shortages, but I could do so from my living room. My favorite grocery-delivery services are Amazon Fresh and Instacart (for Wegmans). I also grow my own herbs so that I have varied fresh flavors to choose from.
I typically eat two or three meals in a day. Breakfast is usually late morning, after I’ve hit my calorie-burn quota. I make sure to eat protein because it reduces appetite. So a typical breakfast is some kind of sausage and one or two poached eggs with some cheese. If I’m wanting to vary things, I’ll do a modified Israeli breakfast, with a few pieces of cheese, one or two hard-boiled eggs, and some filling fruit like an apple.
If I have lunch, it’s more like a light snack: an avocado, a small Caprese salad, bell-pepper strips with cheese dip, or a glass of milk with protein powder.
Dinner is my big meal. I know that goes against all the conventional wisdom, but it works for me, for a couple reasons: One, I think eating light during the day with no simple carbs keeps my appetite down. Two, I like looking forward to the best meal of the day; I’m less likely to want to sneak in quick carbs if I know I have a yummy and satisfying meal coming up. I do keep the portions limited; one thing that really struck me years ago in Paris is how a small amount of varied, well prepared food is more satisfying than a plateful of monotonous mediocrity. So, dinner is usually meat-based, likely a small piece of chicken or beef, a dollop of low-carb vegetable like spaghetti squash, and my big splurge: one or two baby potatoes. Yes, they’re carb-y, but I’m convinced that the nutritional value of potatoes makes them the best choice for fixing my simple-carb cravings–so they’re a healthy splurge. Oh, and my other splurge is a glass or two of dry wine with dinner a few nights a week. And I’ve become positively addicted to a small serving of sugar-free pudding for dessert once or twice a week when my sweet tooth clamors for attention.
As you can see, this is hardly a deprivation diet. It minimizes my pitfall–refined carbs–and maximizes filling and nutritious foods I like. And, yes, there are days when I go off the rails and pop a frozen pizza in the oven or tuck in to a heaping helping of mac-and-cheese. But they’re rare days. If you stay disciplined in your daily lifestyle, you can indulge–occasionally, intentionally, and responsibly.
Take-away: Design your daily diet around healthy foods you enjoy; then you won’t feel deprived.
Drink to Lose Weight
No, sorry, not wine. Water. This was the game-changer I hit upon in July. Up to that point, I’d pretty much just tweaked my food and fitness to accommodate lockdown, and while I wasn’t gaining weight, I wasn’t losing much either. Then I hit upon the strategy of filling up with water almost by accident. To be precise, I drink six 16.9-ounce bottles per day, before a drop of wine, though I did allow myself to swap out one bottle of water for a mug of herbal tea on bone-chilling winter afternoons. And once I incorporated that lifestyle shift, the weight just began to drop off.
If you’re reading on for the part where I tell you how to make this one fun, sorry, not this time. It’s not fun. It’s a royal pain. And it’s only workable on days at home. But it’s totally worth it: My appetite is smaller; my tummy is flatter; my skin feels softer. After a lifetime of trying to keep my weight in check, drinking water is the single best tactic I’ve found.
Take-away: Do what works, even when it isn’t fun, as long as the results are worth it.
Want to Lose Weight
Attitude matters. If you’re trying to lose your lockdown-20 and you let it feel like a chore, you’re bound to fail. Adopt and adapt what I’ve written here to your own tastes and lifestyle, in the ways that are as practical and enjoyable as you can. And when you’re feeling crabby about exercising in the summer heat, or tempted to order a pizza instead of grilling a piece of chicken, or looking at that sixth bottle like it’s the real water torture, adjust your attitude. Don’t think about the heat; think about how much more pleasant it is to walk with a thigh gap. Don’t think about the pizza; think about how much more comfortable a flat tummy is. Don’t think about the water; think about feeling great in your favorite clothes again.
Take-away: Sometimes you have to sacrifice what you want for what you want more.