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17 Things That Actually Helped Me Lose 85 Pounds

Hi! I’m Arielle. Between May 2015 and now, I’ve lost 85 pounds, dropped five sizes, ran a 10K, and learned a ton about healthy lifestyle changes.

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Here’s an honest (and extremely vulnerable) account of the steps I took and the things that surprised me along the way.

1. First I signed up for Weight Watchers and started off slow.

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I’ve been yo-yo dieting all my life, and the two biggest mistakes I have made again and again are this:

  • Telling myself, “The diet starts tomorrow” and bingeing on all my favorite foods.
  • Giving things up cold turkey and depriving myself of foods I love.

The main reason I signed up for Weight Watchers is because it’s about an overall change beyond the scale, not just losing weight. The program is based on a points system that focuses on more than solely calories. Foods like fruits and vegetables are zero points, lean meats are very low points, and anything with added sugar is very high. Basically Weight Watchers encourages fresh, real food rather than processed crap — but you can still eat your pizza and drink your alcohol — the key is to do it all in moderation and find healthy substitutes.

2. I stopped the dangerous habit of restrictive calorie-counting (a road I have been down before) and focused on a healthy lifestyle.

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During my sophomore year of college, I lost 40 pounds. I looked great, I received endless compliments, I felt more confident than ever before — but in reality, I was miserable. I restricted myself to 400 calories a day, I did one hour on the elliptical seven days a week, and I popped diet pills like clockwork. I remember weighing myself every morning and being upset if I hadn’t lost a pound. In a DAY. I became so obsessed with limiting myself that I wasn’t actually living my life, and the pressure of it became so intense because of the attention it came with. Everyone was happy for me and impressed, not even second-guessing that my very rapid weight loss was the effect of a dangerously unhealthy diet.

It is no surprise that I gained it all back, plus more. That’s because I wasn’t focused on being healthy; I was focused on losing weight. Do I still get bummed if I gain? Of course, but I take it week by week and reflect on what I ate or how much I exercised and make small adjustments if need be. I also know that my body feels so much better because I am taking care of it. It’s important to look at the bigger picture, not just a number on a scale.

3. I followed the three most common pieces of advice when it comes to weight loss: tracking food, activity, and water intake.

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Tracking food: As I do follow Weight Watchers, the point is to track all your food — even the splurges you don’t want to admit to (everyone is assigned a weekly allowance for this purpose). It’s good to honestly track what’s actually going in your body so you can manage portion control and stay accountable. For a week, I also wrote down my level of hungriness every time I ate, which helped me control “boredom cravings.” If you are not with a program or using an app, you can also track your food with a journal or spreadsheet.

Tracking activity: Getting an Apple Watch is actually what kick-started my journey because I was finally taking note of how much I moved. Obviously devices like this and FitBit are expensive, but you can always use free apps to help you track your steps and other exercises.

Tracking water intake: Hydrating is so, so important! Often when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually just thirsty. I downloaded the Plant Nanny app, which prompts you to enter your body info and lets you plant cute flowers as you drink more water. It also has push notifications so you can always see how many glasses you have left to drink in the day.

4. I finally started eating legit breakfast, not just a piece of fruit.

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For most of my life, I never ate breakfast — I just drank a Diet Coke and maybe munched on a banana. I thought the less I ate, the more weight I would lose, but eating more has actually helped me. Having meals like an omelette with fruit keep me full longer, and I stopped snacking on random (bad) foods throughout the day.

5. I skipped the gym at first and opted for walking instead.

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I was not a gym person, and I knew that trying to eat healthy AND exercise heavily every day would be too much for me at once. Instead, I decided to move more by walking everywhere, which isn’t hard in NYC. I brought my sneakers to work in a backpack and changed into them — while wearing a dress — and walked 60-plus blocks home. The first time felt like an eternity, but the more I did it, and the easier the routes I discovered, I came to enjoy this (mostly) peaceful hour to myself.

And walking a lot is what helped me get into running later down the road. The baby steps count!

6. I didn’t give up on myself when times got rough.

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A little less than two months into my journey, I found myself crying hysterically on a subway train. I was wearing a nice dress, my hair was curled, and I was carrying flowers and boxes. A man offered me his seat, which I figured was because a) I was a woman and he was being nice, or b) I was carrying a lot of stuff and he was being nice. I smiled at the gesture until he said, “You should sit since you’re pregnant.” It was my birthday.

To know that your weight has inconvenienced you in so many areas in your life — whether it’s struggling to fit in a theater seat, hoping your seatbelt will close on an airplane, or not doing fun activities that depend on a weight limit — and then to hear strangers point it out in this subtle, good-intentioned way, is heartbreaking. It was just another reminder of the shame I carried from my unhealthy habits. But instead of sobbing into a pint of ice cream, I called my mom and cooked dinner. I took the blow and moved on. It took an enormous amount of effort, but it also made me stronger.

On another note: PEOPLE, ***NEVER*** ASSUME A WOMAN IS PREGNANT.

7. I stopped ordering Seamless and forced myself to learn how to cook my favorite foods with healthy substitutes.

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This was a huge change for me; I used to order delivery three to five times per week, I always ate lunch out, and my extent of “cooking” was heating up soup on the stove top. I did not even know how to chop vegetables.

I started off simple and watched a ton of videos on how to cook very basic things like Brussels sprouts and shrimp. I even YouTubed how to properly cut apples. Now I cook every day, bring my own lunch to work, and experiment with healthy swaps. I was surprised to see how easy and satisfying it was to replace pasta with zoodles and spaghetti squash, burgers with turkey burgers, and rice and potatoes with cauliflower. And once I discovered PB2, I was pretty much ruined for life (in the best way possible). Also, just to be clear, I definitely still eat rice, pasta, and potatoes. I just look at the swaps as a different meal option.

8. I did my research and learned that added sugar is the goddamn devil.

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While this may seem obvious to many people, I was not aware how horrible added sugar actually is. To believe that you can cut all added sugar is bullshit in my opinion (it is literally in everything), but lowering the intake has so many benefits. I no longer crave cheesecakes and brownies, I don’t feel like I need a dessert with every meal, and my constant headaches have stopped (though I do not know if this is a direct correlation).

According to the American Heart Association, women should eat a max of 30 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. The average American eats about 100 grams (20 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. There are 39 grams of sugar in ONE CAN OF COKE ALONE. If you haven’t already, cut soda. Your body will thank you.

Anyway, added sugar is unavoidable, but if you lower your intake and focus more on natural sugar — such as fruits, honey, and milk — that is better for you.

9. And I learned that protein is the sweet, sweet angel.

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Protein keeps you full, so I look for foods that have a high protein content and low sugar content. While people tend to associate protein with meat, you can also get a healthy dose from beans, yogurt, eggs, cheese, nuts, and seeds.

10. I learned to celebrate non-scale victories.

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While it’s definitely a motivator to see the scale move down, it’s really about the other victories that make the lifestyle change so much more worth it. Things like being able to run a 10K, reaching ONEderland, finally shopping at places other than Lane Bryant; those little things are incredible measures of success.

11. About four months into my lifestyle change, I quit drinking — but not intentionally.

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This is actually one of the hardest parts of my weight loss journey, but not because I miss alcohol; it’s because people will NOT LEAVE ME ALONE ABOUT IT.

I never set out to quit because of calories or points, I just slowed down and noticed how much better my body felt without booze. It’s a real bummer to see how much my social life revolves around drinking, but I have just as much fun when I’m not taking shots at the bar. People are absolutely convinced that I am not having fun or that I’m being too restrictive because I won’t have a beer. This is a personal choice, and I promise that I am enjoying myself. (Especially because it’s cheaper and there are no hangovers!)

So if you are thinking about quitting drinking, just remember that you are doing this for you and not other people! And if you do want to continue drinking, that is OK too! You are allowed to enjoy life the way you want to — just be smart about it.

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