After giving birth to my son, I thought I’d never feel good about the way I looked again. I found myself close to 30 with a severely slowed metabolism, a closet full of clothes that didn’t fit and 40 pounds heavier than I’d ever been.
My journey back to a comfortable size has been challenging. I find that the advice of “just east less and exercise!” isn’t quite as useful as it once was. And I secretly side eye social media “fitness gurus” who are really just beautiful women with high metabolisms and incredible genes.
After 6 months of struggling, crying, fighting, giving up, trying again, of reforming my eating habits, my fitness habits and my very outlook on food, I’ve found some unconventional wisdom that helped me. Here it is;
1. Track your hormonal cycle over the course of the month
A fitness trainer once told me that many women have just one week a month where they’re at their base weight. Just one! That means the other 3 are registering a higher weight because of hormones, bloating and/or water retention. I gain 2 to 3 pounds when I’m PMSing, followed by an additional 2 to 5 during my actual period. It gradually comes off in the days following the end of my cycle. So that’s about 12 to 15 days per month that I’m at a higher weight. If you aren’t aware of this you might look at the scale and feel discouraged, like your healthy eating and working out are not paying off. You might even get frustrated and quit.
I now keep a calendar to track my hormonal movements throughout the month. I note when I start my pre-menstrual cycle, my actual cycle and when the bleeding stops. Being aware of the movements of my body helps me to put things in perspective and stay on track.
2. Make healthy eating as convenient as possible. The healthy option should always be the ‘low hanging fruit’ (pun intended ? )
There have been weeks when I went to the grocery store, bought a ton of healthy food, brought it home, and at the end of the week, it was mostly uneaten, while all the snack food was gone. That’s because when I’m working and I’m ‘in the zone’, it’s easier to run downstairs and grab some chips, than to chop up vegetables, cook rice or prepare meat.
To combat this, I’ve made Sunday my ‘food prep day’. It’s my day to cook rice, chop up vegetables, grate cheese, make soup and refrigerate it all. Food preparation is made as simple as possible so that during the week all I have to do is take out what I want, assemble it and warm it up. For example one of my favorite meals is jerk chicken pitas. On Sunday I buy the pitas and the chicken, marinate the chicken, roast it, take the flesh off the bone, chop it up and put it in a Tupperware container. When I’m hungry all I have to do is grab a pita pocket, stuff it with chicken, warm it up and eat.
Remember, buying healthy food is just the first step. Making it accessible to yourself and your family is what makes the difference.
3. Identify your emotional triggers — because you’re more likely to overeat and/or stop working out when they go off
So, I mentioned in point number 1 that I keep a calendar tracking my hormonal cycle. I also use it to keep track of anticipated times of stress — when my husband will be out of town for work, when my nanny will be gone, tax season (lol!), when my workload will increase. In times of stress I tend to eat more as a coping and/or ‘feel good’ mechanism. But if I enter those times aware, I’m less likely to slide into bad habits.
4. Try to prepare a few plant-based meals a week
Plant-based meals, on average, have waaaay less calories than meals that use meat and/or dairy. Challenge yourself to incorporate one plant-based meal a week, then see if you can go up to one a day. Soups are my favorite plant-based meal because they’re so easy to make. All you have to do is roast your favorite veggies until soft, toss the roasted veggies in with some chicken broth, boil, cool and blend. I’ve made soups out of green peppers and jalapenos, carrots and ginger, and cauliflower. Another easy way to do plant-based meals is homemade veggie pizza and veggies and rice.
5. Understand which food cravings are natural and which are the result of poor food choices
Many women get cravings during pregnancy and their menstrual cycles. Those are common and normal. But some cravings are a result of poor food choices. When I first started my post-pregnancy fitness journey I noticed that I often got intense sugar cravings in the early afternoon. Almost every day around 2 pm I would break from work, make a crepe or piece of french toast and eat it with maple syrup. When I brought this up to my trainer she told me that my intense sugar cravings in the afternoon were a direct result of not eating enough at breakfast. Sure enough, when I started eating a substantial breakfast, my afternoon sugar cravings disappeared.
6. Don’t be quick to jump on the smoothie/juicing train — It can be overrated
In my experience, smoothies and juices are a great and yummy way of incorporating nutrients into your diet. But they do not always have the nutritional fortitude to replace meals. Early in my fitness journey I would make these delicious and elaborate yogurt-based smoothies in the morning, only to be hungry by 11:00 a.m. And the juices I made were even less filling. After a while I just went back to making regular meals.
Also keep in mind that juicing fruits and veggies removes a LOT of their fiber content. In my experience, eating plants raw/barely cooked is a better option than smoothies and juicing. Dipping veggies in spicy hummus, and coating leafy greens in olive oil and a little salt has been my way of making them tasty enough to eat raw.
7. Do an exercise that is FUN for you and that you enjoy!
You are more likely to stick to an exercise if you’re doing something that you actually enjoy! Zumba, kickboxing, hiking, hip hop, salsa, ballet, weight lifting, bellydancing, pole dancing, volleyball, basketball, paddleboarding, surfing — there are many activities to explore. Try to find a class or club in your area. Even running can be fun if you join a runner’s group. Training for 5Ks, half marathons and obstacle races is another fun way to stay fit and meet new people.
Things To Remember
8. Progress takes time
One of my favorite pages to follow on Facebook is Black Women Losing Weight. Every day (sometimes multiple times a day) they post a new weight loss story. What I love is that most of the weight loss journeys take at least a year, and some have taken up to 5 years. We live in a culture that pushes us to lose weight as quickly as possible. In reality, it’s a journey that takes time, because you are getting rid of old habits and developing a new, healthier relationship with food, exercise and your body. And, as with any difficult journey, for every couple steps you take forward, you might take one back.
It took me 7 months to lose 15 pounds. That’s just 2 pounds a month! In the early days it seemed excruciatingly slow and frustrating, but now it’s the tempo I set for myself. If I want to lose 2 pounds, I know that I have to give myself at least 30 days to do so.
9. Your Palate WILL Adjust
One of the encouraging things about improving your diet is that your palate actually will develop an affinity for healthier foods! At the beginning of my fitness journey I could eat Chick-fil-A all day, every day. I would always got the spicy chicken sandwich with Polynesian sauce, waffles fries and a big cup of lemonade. A few weeks ago my husband and I went back to Chick-fil-A as a throwback. I was super excited and I ordered my usual, but after 3 bites, I couldn’t finish! It took me 5 hours to eat the whole thing, lol. My palate was used to lighter food, so the salt, sugar and sauce laden meal — though delicious — was not something my body could handle in one sitting.
10. Celebrate yourself in the midst of it all
Here’s the deal — in our childbearing years many of us are going to spend a lot of time being heavier than our ‘ideal weight’. We have to find ways to celebrate our bodies and have fun with beauty, in the midst of it all. I recently went from big coily hair to a buzz cut, and I just love it! I wasn’t at my weight goal at the time, but I felt so beautiful!
Months ago I marked the beginning of my weight loss journey with 3 new piercings (2 of which I’ve since removed) and some new lipstick. I wanted to make sure that I still felt good about my beauty and had fun with new looks, even though I wasn’t at my goal weight.
Ladies, how do you stay on track with your fitness journeys? What would you add to my list?