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“How Did You Do It?” – Magic Pills, Silver Bullets, and Other Weight Loss Myths

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“How did you do it?”

It’s a question I get a lot these days. Usually when I run into someone I haven’t seen in awhile or I meet people who hear about my weight loss.

In most cases I think the question is merely polite and conversational, but I remember when I used to ask others the same thing it was laced with the futile hope for a silver bullet answer, a simple and quick solution to the extra 65 pounds that had plagued me for more than a dozen years. A desire for a pill you take and the weight just falls off with no extra work, without changing a thing. Or perhaps a new diet that involves some rare South American fruit that tastes delicious, fills your stomach, and again, (see the pattern here?) the pounds literally melt off. These days when I get the “how did you do it?” question I occasionally recognize that look, eyes that say they know that no such bullet exists, but desperation keeps the hope alive.

Now that I’m well on the weight loss road, I’m afraid my answer always disappoints. I lost the weight the old-fashioned way: consuming fewer and smarter calories, and exercising more.  I know, I know, what a bummer, huh? But it is the truth, a hard-won truth that most people don’t want to hear. When I’m asked that question and someone really does want to know the answer, I break my success down into three major categories.

Diet

I used to hate that word. “Die” with a “t” on the end. But I’ve come to embrace it. Not as the short-term, silver bullet type definition, but rather the “what I get to eat for the rest of my life” definition. Notice the use of “get to eat” rather than “am forced to eat” because it really is way more pleasant than I anticipated.

When I tried to lose weight before, my biggest fear was hunger. I really, really hate being hungry. I hate suffering in general, actually. But the funny part is, I haven’t had to go hungry at all. I eat more often instead of less often, every three hours, in fact.

In January I was struggling to lose each pound and I was hungry and pissed off pretty much all of the time. When I complained to a friend at the gym about how slow the loss was going, she asked me if I was “eating clean.” Huh? She gave me a copy of Oxygen Magazine and I was intrigued by the ripped woman on the cover.

Once I started reading, I found it so refreshing to find a magazine about women who were working to be strong instead of emaciated. Also, I had to admit, the so-called “clean” recipes looked delicious. And I was SO excited about the concept of eating every three hours.

Within a few weeks I’d read my way through all of Tosca Reno’s books, my favorite being Your Best Body Now: Look and Feel Fabulous at Any Age the Eat-Clean Way which is written for women of a certain age, like me. Really, the concept is nothing new or unique. Eating whole, unprocessed food, six times a day so your blood sugar stays stable – I had heard it before, but never in a way that I could see myself doing. It is written as if Tosca and I (see? We’re even on a first name basis! Well, not really…she has no idea who I am…) are sitting around drinking coffee. In other words, it reads like advice from a friend.

So now I eat good food, and I eat it often. I like that. Do I occasionally have a chocolate chip cookie? An elderflower martini? Hell yes! But the key word is “occasionally.” I really don’t miss them much. But when I do want them, I find if I don’t allow myself just a little, a petulant six-year-old starts stamping her feet inside my body and she makes me misbehave later on out of spite. But with the right food in my—here’s that word again—diet, I seem to be able to keep her under control. Besides, she likes the sassier clothes I’m able to wear now.

Counting Calories

The second key to my success has been that I started counting calories. I know what you’re saying: Will this broad stop being such a dang killjoy? Some people don’t need to count calories, but I’ve come to find that I do. It’s the only way to make sure the inner six-year-old doesn’t gain control.

I have always hated the idea, being a right-brain-allergic-to-numbers-creative-type, and if I had to look each thing up in a book and write it down, I would never do it. But technology makes it all very simple and even kind of fun. I use myfitnesspal through an app on my phone and on the net. There is a massive database of items with the calories already calculated and it does reporting for you. It takes all the work out of the process.

And oh my, the things I found out by counting calories! Like, damn, those lattes add up! That “healthy” granola bar? Has the calories of 1.5 Snickers bars! And if I spend 30 minutes on the elliptical I can eat more! Woo hoo! Suddenly it became a bartering game: saving up calories for birthday cake, realizing that for the same calories as that scone I can eat two chicken breasts…well, you get the picture. Eventually it becomes like a game, one I can’t help but win if I’m truthful with myself and myfitnesspal.

Maybe I won’t have to count calories forever, but I really don’t mind. It was and is…enlightening.

And Finally: Exercise

One day last week my Facebook status was “I’ve found the secret to a long and happy life: exercise every day. No excuses. No exceptions.” Boy, that went over like a lead balloon. Even people who don’t have weight to lose don’t want to hear that, but I’m afraid it’s true. The good news? You get to like it. Really. The most interesting thing that I learned? Ninety minutes on that treadmill won’t do nearly as much good as 30 minutes with some strength training added in.

You see, I was already doing cardio. Hours logged on that damn elliptical, struggling to keep from expiring from boredom, watching reality television with subtitles as Kanye West blared in my earbuds (the shows were WAY smarter that way, trust me). But it felt…futile. What I came to find out? It kind of is futile, cardio by itself, anyway. I knew there was more to exercise, but the other side of the gym, populated by sweaty, grunting men (some of them louder than others – is that screaming/groaning sound really necessary?), was just too intimidating. But the more I read, the more I came to accept that strength training builds muscles. More muscles burn more calories. It’s that simple. Plus, I love accessories and nothing makes a sleeveless dress rock more than a set of guns.

So I started lifting those weights. I joined a fabulous group of women (and one very cool man) for a Saturday morning bootcamp. I hired the young, handsome bodybuilding trainer who, as it turns out, works so well with middle-aged women. All for less money than I used to spend on lattes and scones and fancy cocktails. I feel great and have more energy than I had at 20. Really, at 49 I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, and those guns? Well, they aren’t semi-automatic weapons yet, but they are getting there.

There is so much more I could say about these three tools, and will over the next few weeks, but they are, in essence, the answer to the “how did you do it?” question…for me. The weight isn’t falling off of me, but it is burning off slowly, steadily, and surely, at a rate of one to two pounds a week.

What works for me might not work for you. If you too are on this quest, you have to find the tools that speak to you. But promise me one thing: don’t rule out any option. If you’d told me a year ago I would be taking time to enter that brown rice cake into calorie counting software I would have chuckled ironically and then scuttled off to grab any nearby baked goods in shame. And enjoying exercise? I would have rather had a root canal…every day. But these things are part of my life now and have gotten me where I’ve wanted to go for a long time. You have to find what works for you, but keep an open mind in the discovery process.

The funny part is, if that short-cut-weight-loss pill is discovered? I won’t take it. Because when I zip up those jeans in yet a smaller size, it feels pretty damned good to know that no one gave it to me. I earned it. Besides, these guns don’t need silver bullets. Iron ones do just as well.

My weight ticker: 40 pounds down, 25 to go. 

 

Disclaimer:

What credentials do I have to be blogging about health and weight loss? Nada! Bupkis! I don’t know anything! But I find that I’m inspired by people’s stories and I’m hoping that, perhaps, I can inspire others with mine. All I can do is share my experiences, not give any answers. Hell, I’m barely in control of my own life and body; I’m certainly not going to tell you what you should do with yours. So, if you’re trying to lose weight and get healthy, for God’s sake, see your doctor! Make her your best friend! I’m sure she will not only be overjoyed at your desire to get healthy, but will help you do it in the safest way for you and your body. 

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • http://www.lunch.com/JSMaresca-Reviews-1-1.html Dr. Joseph S. Maresca

    The one sure way to rid yourself of pre-Diabetes is to make substitutions. You need to
    have more salads instead of carbs. Substitute soda with water, herbal teas, decaf coffee
    etc. Utilize stevia which can be bought in any health food store for about 7 cents per packet
    or less. Have more fruits/veggies. Substitute tuna fish and veggie burgers for fatty meats.
    These are some of the things to do in order to get the pancreas functioning well again.

    Lastly, you need to see an endocrinologist instead of a regular primary care physician.
    The endocrinologist does a lot of things that the primary care physician doesn’t do as
    thoroughly. The endocrinologist takes more sensitive blood screenings, examines the
    lower extremities for signs of diabetic manifestations like a pinkish hue color of the
    skin. In addition, the skin may not have a ruddy complexion. Instead, the skin color
    may be whitish like a ghost. Wounds don’t heal quickly. That’s another diabetic manifestation.
    Patients get red eye sometimes.

  • Molly Pease

    Yay, Annie! I have watched you and cheered for your success. Thank you for doing it selflessly and sharing your trials with all of us. You are a rockstar!

  • Ann Cardinal

    I hear you, Dr. Maresca. Luckily it seems to be a bullet I’ve dodged with the weight I’ve lost already, but I’ve been making the changes you suggest anyway.

    And Molly, thank you! It is the cheering of friends like you that make change possible!

  • Robin Ann Barron

    I love your blog, Ann. It is SO resonant and inspiring. I started walking, then running, in July after NOT running for at least 25 years. I run almost exclusively on gravel, not hard roads. I have new shoes that are VERY comfortable. The dog needs to run off his two-year-old energy. I need to exercise now that I’ve started baking seriously and almost professionally. And I feel great. I do exercise diligently every day. I’m not paying much attention to diet yet, although I do find that i’m less hungry and I eat better food. Thanks for writing!

  • Ann Cardinal

    Thanks for reading, Robin! Yes, baking and running go together nicely, ask Gesine Bullock-Prado! And most of the experts (including Tosca, my idol) agree, you don’t need to count calories if you’re eating the right things.

  • http://www.lunch.com/JSMaresca-Reviews-1-1.html Dr. Joseph S. Maresca

    The endocrinologist is the physician of choice because he/she can explain how the various organs cooperate like the liver, pancreas and kidneys. The A1C is the gold standard for the blood chemistry. People with a normal A1C level are more likely to have smaller amounts of weight to lose, if any weight at all. An exercise program is important, as well as 8 or more hours of sleep a night. People who sleep more-eat less.

  • Ann Cardinal

    Oh Dr. Maresca, the sleep issue is SO true. I was exhausted all the time when I had apnea. Now I recognize I need the 8 hours every night. Sleep is my drug of choice! :)

  • http://www.lunch.com/JSMaresca-Reviews-1-1.html Dr. Joseph S. Maresca

    Time spent sleeping is time not eating!

  • Jodi Paloni

    Dear Ann, Thanks for sharing your personal health process with such rollicking prose! I usually get about halfway through an article on health because I get bogged down with boredom. Now I’m headed out for the walk that was going to take before I read this which was right after I ate a bowl of ice cream instead of taking the walk. And so happy to hear that I have permission to sleep more!!! Here’s to twenty more! Jodi

  • Ann Cardinal

    Yay! thanks so much, Jodi! Enjoy your walk!