“Omigod, Aunt Alia,” said my then 18-year-old niece, thumbing through my high school-era photo album. “Look how skinny you were!” The room fell instantly silent, as other members of my family waited in stunned silence for my reaction. (I think my husband actually ducked for cover.) Would my post-pregnancy hormones take over, sending me into some sort of “Exorcist”-worthy frenzy? Nope, I opted to take a deep breath, remind myself that her sweet little size-4 butt would one day be in the same predicament and laugh it off. Becasue, unfortunately, she had a point.
I have no delusions about getting back into the jeans I wore in high school. Back then I had all the time in the world to exercise and boasted a metabolism that should be cloned, bottled and sold when the technology becomes available. I’ve since given birth to three oversized babies and spent more time than I care to admit on the couch. For quite a while, I tried random diets but was met each time with disappointment. As much as I’d like to blame stagnant weight loss on some evil witch, the economy or fad diets, the true villain in my story was… me.
Talk about being your own worst enemy. Yes, I’d fallen victim to a very common dieting pitfall: self-sabotage. My guess is that if you’ve tried a diet, some of these excuses will sound eerily familiar (cue the “Twilight Zone” music)…
But… I deserve the occasional splurge. This is very, very true. Depriving yourself of everything you love to eat will wind up biting you in the butt you’re working so hard to shrink. If you’re dying for a brownie — have one. Just don’t eat half the pan, as is my instinct. Had a long day? Pour a small glass of wine instead of the whole bottle. Savor your treat slowly and it’ll do the trick without doing your diet in.
But… weekends are so hard — can’t I be good every other day? Monday through Friday, you’re the master of your own diet domain. You’re thisclose to tossing your slimming undergarments (who are we kidding — they’re girdles) in the trash next to the Little Debbie treats. Then Friday night rolls around and one happy-hour cocktail turns into six, followed by appetizers laden and/or stuffed with melted cheese and a bowl of pasta large enough to feed 12 teenage boys… topped off with a midnight trip to your local 24-hour waffle joint. Listen up, fellow dieting minions: I’m here to tell you that I’ve done all of those things. I can also tell you that bingeing like that will render your previous hard work null and void. So do your best to avoid temptation, or make smart choices when out and about.
But… if I eat too much at one meal, I’ll just skip the next to make up for it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and just about every doctor in the world) discourages this common practice. Skipping meals — even if you had a big one earlier — causes you to get far hungrier than you would otherwise, resulting in zealous meals that could put competitive eaters to shame.
But… I don’t have time to eat breakfast. On paper, it makes sense that skipping a meal would reduce the number of calories we take in, helping us lose weight faster. Research has shown about a million times that this is not the case, though. In fact, the CDC reports that on average, people who don’t eat breakfast weigh more than those who do. If time is an issue, get up a few minutes early for a bowl of bran cereal topped with nuts and pre-cut fruit. It’ll take all of ten minutes, start to finish. And yes, you will get used to the lack of sugary sweetness. I did!
But… I like to weigh myself (a lot). Everyone has a magic number. Although it’s very possible you might reach it with time and effort, it’s also not the end-all-be-all of a successful diet. If you focus on it too much, you’re sabotaging yourself because weight constantly fluctuates, thanks to hormones, water retention and other issues that are out of your control. So try to minimize the frequency of your weigh-ins, and opt to evaluate how your clothes fit. For more concrete proof of success you can keep a log of the measurements of your belly, hips, thighs and bust.
But… I want to lose weight really fast. Patience is a virtue of which I have very little. Try to summon some up when dieting, because super-fast weight loss is very unhealthy and unrealistic. The National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute estimates that humans should lose one or two pounds a week, max. And a diet that promises much more than that is probably either lying or unhealthy.
Can I ever get back to high-school skinny? Probably not, and I’m cool with that. Can I be healthier and fitter? Absolutely — I’m well on my way, thanks to a good nutrition and exercise plan. With a little realism, self-control and vision, you can be, too. Join me, won’t you?