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At my wedding, in 2004, I said "I do" at my dream weight. I felt carefree, light, glowing, as if I could take on the world. Too bad that feeling didn't last a week. After a seven-day honeymoon in Los Cabos, Mexico, filled with nonstop eating and drinking (guacamole, margaritas, quesadillas -- olé!), I couldn't even zip up the yellow dress I'd worn on the night of my rehearsal dinner.
Then came seven years of continual restaurant dining and takeout and many nights out drinking, and I was 10 -- okay, 15 -- pounds past my wedding weight. No, I wasn't huge, but I felt self-conscious, bloated, and generally blah. Determined to stop piling on the pounds, I set out to change my mind-set and habits without changing my lifestyle. I would still go out and have fun; I'd just be smarter about it. "No excuses" became my mantra. I had some additional motivation: My 10-year high school reunion and the MORE/FITNESS Women's Half-Marathon were only months away. The good news is that I hit my goal weight while enjoying my social life, aced the race, and had a fabulous time with my classmates. Here are the top 10 lessons I learned while "mingling" away my middle.LESSON 1: Be a loudmouth.
I have a tendency not to share my goals, but this time I told my husband, friends, and family about my weight-loss targets and asked for encouragement. More than a few studies have found that making goals public boosts accountability, increasing your odds of success. Because declaring my objectives made me feel as if I had an "I'm trying to lose 10 pounds" sign around my neck, I found talking the talk made me walk the walk.LESSON 2: Stop yo-yoing.
Allison Vernon, the supportive personal trainer I started working with, told me, "Don't do anything today you can't maintain for the rest of your life." Consistency is key when getting healthy. For me that means don't drink four glasses of wine one day and then eat just 1,000 calories the next. Research has shown that one of the best ways to lose weight is to not skip meals. You have to find your happy medium to find your happy weight. Although it's mundane, I have the same breakfast (oatmeal plus a cup of berries) and lunch (grilled-chicken salad) pretty much every day and vary my dinners. When I know exactly what I'm going to eat, I'm less likely to miss a meal or slip up.LESSON 3: Log to lose.
I caved in to what those diet books say and started recording my meals and sweat sessions. I sent my photo food journal (taking iPhone pics keeps me from underestimating my portion sizes) and exercise log to Vernon so she could give me tips, like "You need more color on your plate" or "Try to cut down on sugar substitutes" or "That's a great choice for eating out!" Enlist a friend if you don't have a trainer. Studies have found that women who go on a weight-loss regimen with friends drop more pounds and are more likely to keep them off than those who do it solo. Also superimportant is sleep: The more shut-eye I get, the better choices I make. Skimping on zzz's can make you more apt to indulge in junk food, according to new research.
It sounds clichéd, but drinking tons of water really helps me feel satisfied, especially when I'm about to go to a party. When I took a look at my food journal, I realized I was much more apt to overindulge on days when I had skimped on H2O. You're also way less likely to overeat after you've had food with a high water content, like soup, according to a study from Pennsylvania State University in University Park. By experimenting with recipes, I've learned to enjoy filling foods that release sugar into the bloodstream slowly and have few calories, such as apples (microwave slices with cinnamon), yogurt (sweeten it with honey), and frozen vegetables (stir-fry them in olive oil).LESSON 5: Don't freak out over a plateau.
Sure, you'll have times when the scale doesn't budge. I discovered it was relatively easy for me to maintain my weight but difficult to lose pounds. So I decided to dedicate certain weeks to eating cleanly and having no more than three alcoholic drinks. I planned these times in advance so that I could mix some maintenance weeks, when I socialized and went out a lot, with some weight-loss weeks. But don't be too strict about it: I actually dropped four pounds the week of my sister's bachelorette weekend -- three days of cocktails and carbs galore!LESSON 6: Think about your next meal.
Previously, when I sat down to eat, I had an almost panicked feeling that it might be my last feast for a while, so I would eat until I was stuffed. Now I find that it helps to look forward to my next meal while I'm consuming my current one. For instance, if you're having an omelet in the morning, pause for a moment to plan your lunch so that you don't overdo it. But while you're eating, it's helpful to focus on every bite. One study found that people consumed 44 percent more food when they ate while mindlessly watching a late-night TV show.LESSON 7: Get a puppy.
When my husband and I first took home Elvis, our French bulldog, I barely sat down. Popping up to let him out -- not to mention walking him -- helped me burn mega calories. Incidental exercise definitely adds up; studies have shown that small spurts of regular exercise, even 10 minutes, can reduce stress and improve your overall fitness level. Research from Michigan State University in East Lansing found that women who own dogs and take them for walks were 34 percent more likely to exercise for the recommended 150 minutes a week. No pet? Fire up your metabolism by tidying up your house during TV commercial breaks, taking a lap around your office, or doing squats while you blow-dry your hair.LESSON 8: Lose weight, not your lifestyle.
Despite my initial worries, I learned that whittling my waist didn't mean missing fun gatherings. A new study even suggested that socializing can boost your body's ability to torch calories by triggering a process that changes fat from the type that stores energy to the kind that burns energy. I still go out just as much, but I make small tweaks, like choosing either wine, dessert or bread and ordering two appetizers instead of a big entrée. When you combine several little strategies, the cumulative effect can be huge, and you won't feel as if you've given up your life to be slim.LESSON 9: Don't high-five yourself with food.
My childhood memories of family vacays always involve celebratory splurges: huge burritos in San Antonio, a massive cheesecake in New York City; you get the picture. If you think about it, most holidays, birthdays, and social events treat food as a trophy. If you retrain your mind to look at food as fuel rather than as a confirmation that you're happy, you'll be able to eat less. Another surefire way to stay slim: Don't keep extra food in your house that you can use as treats. Other than microwaving oatmeal, I rarely cook. In fact, I used the oven in my last apartment to store beauty products. (Before you judge: I test products as if it's my job, because it is!) By picking up only what I need for the day, I'm not able to give in to late-night I-deserve-something-sweet cravings, and I eat fresher too.LESSON 10: Raise the bar.
Weight training helps your muscles burn fat even after you stop working out, so you'll still be sizzling calories when your butt is parked on the couch. Studies showed that a doing mere 11 minutes of this sort of workout three times a week is enough to reduce your body fat and raise your metabolism. Plus, a pound of muscle takes up about 20 percent less space in your body than a pound of fat, so you look a lot slimmer. A tip I learned from Vernon: Don't forget to exercise your posterior muscles, such as calves, hamstrings, glutes, and back muscles, which women often neglect. Getting these into shape is critical for preventing injuries and looking ultratoned. I mix in two days of strength training with three days of brisk walking and one or two Spinning classes a week at Flywheel Sports in New York City. One study showed that just 10 minutes of cycling can boost your mood and give you more energy.
Despite a few five-pound setbacks -- the result of boozy summer barbecues and the onslaught of holiday sweets -- I've kept off those pounds for more than a year now by mastering the delicate balance of how to eat and drink and not gain weight. It was so rewarding to look healthy and trim in my 30th-birthday party photos this year that I plan to stay fit and confident for the rest of my life. That's definitely cause for celebration!
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2012.