By Rebecca Dunnavan:
The hardest part about changing your lifestyle isn’t saying no to a cupcake in the break room or telling your friends you’d rather meet up somewhere other than Red Robin (where even the salads will set you back for the week). The hardest part is accepting that you want a new lifestyle. The hard part is dealing with the fact that the internal battle that wages jihad against your willpower every time a waiter marches a mouthwatering hunk of gooey chocolate cake to the table next to you is just one day of resistance, one instance of exerting will power, one incredible effort that yields small and unnoticeable results. In your head, you know that these small unnoticeable results add up to incredible weight loss stories. You know that at the end of the day, opting for a light non-fat yogurt and a lap around the block will make you feel and look better than a piece of chocolate cake and an evening on the couch; but accepting that these choices will be the choices you’ll need to make for the rest of your life is a daunting thing to swallow.
In my experience, this is how “lifestyle changes” usually start:
It’s the day before you are to start your diet. You’re amped up. You can see the end, the chiseled figure, the boundless energy, shopping for clothes and everything fitting perfectly, the book deal… It all seems so easily attainable. Why hadn’t you done this before? It’s just a diet. Maybe it’ll take a few weeks to see your clothes fit better, but the weeks have been passing, anyway—how STUPID for not knowing how EASY it would be? Tomorrow will be a piece of cake. Speaking of which, you’d better cram your mouth full of it—and potato chips, and pizza, and all of those off-limits foods. It’s your last meal, after all. Diet starts in the morning! *so excited!!!1!* Better update Facebook.
And then you wake up, and it’s the BIG DAY. Your body has had a night to recover. Even though you gorged yourself on processed starches and sugars and sodium the night before, your body has had ample time to filter out these toxins enough that you are a clean slate. You are no longer addicted to sugar. It is you versus your habits. You will go grocery shopping for all of the healthy staples, and leave the Oreos and Lay’s out of the cart. Fresh produce, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, raw nuts, whole grain bread… You even switch to diet soda. You’ve basically created a cocoon of success right within your own kitchen. You’re excited to try these products that are now foreign to you in a world of fast-food lunches and take-out dinners. It is invigorating; all of these fresh foods, bright colors… it’s even exciting to the palate, all these new flavors. You even discover that there are dessert options that are low-fat and low-calorie that you can enjoy in moderation for a treat to keep from feeling deprived. You do some meal-planning, and tell all of your friends not to tempt you with bad options. Boom. For a few days, it’s easy.
Now it’s the weekend. You’ve packed healthy lunches, eaten egg whites for breakfast, and have prepared wholesome healthy dinners all week. You hit the gym a few times and can feel your muscles getting sore and tight—evidence of a hard day’s work and the kind of dedication you are (and should be) proud for having displayed. But it’s getting harder. You’re eating a little too much of your low-calorie dessert option. You had a cupcake to celebrate your co-worker’s birthday—it would have been rude not to participate, and you had forgotten to pack your afternoon almonds and string cheese. You had a beer at trivia night, even though you told your friends you wouldn’t do it. Maybe you stole a few fries from Sally’s plate. None of these are crimes—get back on the horse the next day, they say (and “they” are right). But you are feeling less motivated. Your body has had a taste of the SuperSugar, maltose, found in beer—the kind that goes straight to the belly—and is craving a bite of those cinnamon churro twists that Sally ordered to reward herself for answering the trivia question correctly that put you in second place. Suddenly, you find sugar on the mind at all times. You discover that although it’s easy to swap out restaurant side dishes for low-cal, unprocessed alternatives, it’s easier to just say nothing when you order lunch and act surprised when it comes out of the kitchen with French fries sharing the plate. By Sunday night, you’ve racked up some damage. You haven’t undermined your ability to succeed, and though you probably aren’t pounds slimmer, you probably haven’t gained any weight either. But your body has been reintroduced to some of its favorite chemicals, and it wants you to give in again. Now it is not only you versus your habits, but you’re now also fighting your body’s cravings and impulses. It’s two against one.
Eventually, Sally and the gang have forgotten about your diet. They don’t think twice when you order a salad with the dressing on the side and no croutons at Trivia Night, but they don’t think twice when you order the Reuben with fries the following week, either. Six months later, you’re pretty much back where you started—you’re juts more conscious of what you’re putting in your body, and that much more guilt-ridden for doing it. Your lifestyle change turned into a half-attempted diet. Even though you started out with the best of intentions, you slipped. What went wrong? Likely, these two things:
1) You weren’t realistic about your expectations
2) You lost your motivation
So let’s stop the cycle, eh?
Adjust your expectations. First and foremost, never expect a lifestyle change to be easy. It won’t be. Set rules and boundaries for yourself beforehand about what you will and will not do. When offered cupcakes at the office, instead of looking sadly at them and saying weakly, “I can’t…” take charge, smile, and say, “Oh, I don’t. Thanks for offering!” And turn around. Nip it in the bud. If you are feeling deprived, set a goal for yourself, and reward yourself for reaching it. It doesn’t have to be a weight loss goal, either. For example, “If I go to the gym four times this week, I can get frozen yogurt with Sally on Friday.” That way, you know that you can turn town this cupcake because you’ll get your sweet treat at the end of the week. Or even better, “If I do this, I can treat myself to a pedicure with Sally on Friday.” Non-food goals reinforce that food is fuel for your body, not entertainment. Plus a little pampering can help you feel great about your body. Set realistic goals and expectations, and meet them by rewarding yourself and making it enticing to reach your goals.
Get motivated—cells first. This is the real reason I’m hoping you’ll read this today. Motivation comes not only from our mental and emotional readiness or our support systems—it also comes from our bodies. When we are addicted to sugar and accustomed to receiving the sugars, salts, fats, and chemicals that we are used to consuming, it doesn’t matter how mentally and emotionally motivated we are, because we are fighting an uphill battle. Like the trainer who gained and then lost over 70lbs to gain some perspective and better serve his clients can attest, when your body is allowed to be sluggish, it wants to stay that way—and it can happen to any and all of us, and we have to change our minds and our cells. It would be setting ourselves up to crash if we forget about this speed bump and try to go at our diets at 100mph. We have to adjust our bodies to match our adjusted mindsets.
Give me three days, and I’ll get you started. Whether you want to jump start your physical motivation and start a diet, give your current lifestyle a boost, or just give this whole health and fitness thing a shot without making any sort of long-term commitment, I have a solution for you. Give me three days.
The rules. Go to bed one night, and from the morning you wake up until you go to sleep on the third night, drink nothing but water. No coffee, no tea, no diet soda, no milk, no fruit juices. No caffeine. No sugar. Eat only lean proteins, lots of vegetables, low-fat dairy, fruit (cut out high sugar fruits like mangoes), and raw nuts. No bread, crackers, rice, potatoes, corn or starches. There is no limit to how much you can eat, as long as you avoid starches and processed sugars and comprise your diet of mostly vegetables and lean protein. The point of this three days is not to lose weight or drastically detox your body, but to get your body motivated—show it what it’s been missing, wean it from the sugars and high levels of sodium, cut out the foods that turn to sugar in your body—and give you fuel, energy, and the ability to finally have your body on your side. After three days, you may resume eating however you want to. Those are the rules.
Why it’s a good idea. Getting started is the hardest part. The reason this eating plan permits you to dive head first into a vat of frosting after three days and fall completely off the wagon is because I don’t believe you will want to. After just three days of following these rules myself, I feel energetic, my digestive system is back in order, and my cravings for sweets (which have always been crippling) have all but vanished. Mentally, I still WANT “bad” foods, but because my body is on my side, I don’t cave in. My body prefers the healthy food now, even if my eyes and emotions don’t. But my mental and physical sides are on the same team, and after three days of this eating plan, yours might just be, too. Where you go from there is your choice, but if you have the mental and emotional motivation to survive these three days, you will have all of the tools to succeed once your body is rooting for health and weight maintenance, too. The first day is the hardest, and you will likely have headaches from caffeine withdrawal, but it’s downhill from there. And of course you’ll want to start adding in other food choices to allow you variety and excitement (and complete nutrition) in your diet and stick to a fitness plan, but if this three day “trick” works for you, you will always have this to turn to if you find yourself adding too many things back into your diet and addicted to sugars and chemicals again. You just have to stick with it for three days, know that it’s worth it, and recognize that beating the cravings is the hardest part. Once you’ve done that, you won’t be so susceptible to being Debbie Dieter and caving in at Trivia Night. You will have the tools to successfully undergo a lifestyle change, and to do it right. Just remember that you can do anything in three days. And you can do this. 🙂
Becca is one of my closest friends and continually keeps me motivated and on track. I had to ask her to send me a pic of her progress thus far and of COURSE she made the coolest weight-loss photo EVER! Her transformation is beyond incredible.Thanks for writing this, Becca! You are an inspiration to many!