When it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, you need to build yourself a fortress - a strong structure of support - around yourself. Your fortress consists of the many different things you can do to ensure that you can successfully fight and win the battle to lose weight permanently and to achieve better health.
I have a fascination with castles. When I was young, my Father was a teacher and took our family on sabbatical for 6 months to the British Isles. There I was able to see and explore many different kinds of castles - huge ones, small ones, fancy ones and strong ones. Some were obviously built more for show, whereas others, like fortresses, were build big and strong, able to withstand a serious enemy onslaught. I like comparing the support system for success we build around ourselves to a fortress.
Every day we are bombarded with temptations to make unhealthy food choices. Indulging here and there is fine, but little indulgences add up and over time we wonder how we got so out of shape. If we don't have strong defenses protecting us from these temptations, it is easy to let our guard down and our health suffers.
As I progressed in my own journey from fat to fit, I adopted many different tactics to ensure that I could continue to lose weight, and that the weight stayed off. These tactics are what I call my fortress, my strong defense against regaining weight and becoming unhealthy again. I didn't want to go to all this trouble just to see my results evaporate.
Your fortress won't look exactly like the one that I built. Everyone has a different journey towards fitness, and what works well for one person may not work for someone else. And don't make the mistake of trying to do too much at once. For me, the fortress was built over a long time, stone by stone. In this post I'll give many examples of what I've done, the individual stones that make up my fortress. If you have other suggestions, I welcome you to add them to the comments at the end.
Skip the random treats and cheat intentionally
My company caters our lunch every day. That's a great, very uncommon perk! But inevitably the caterer will bring a batch of desserts, like brownies or eclairs. I love brownies and eclairs. Being exposed to them every day is a big temptation. And now that I am fit, having a treat once in a while isn't a big deal. So why don't I indulge? I have chosen to have one "cheat meal" a week where I can eat any treat I want guilt-free. So when I choose not to eat the treats at the office, I tell myself "I could eat that, but I value my health and have chosen to indulge myself just once a week, so I'll wait."
Build a reputation
Let others know that you're committed to living healthier. Whether they are also committed doesn't matter, but if others around you are aware, you do feel awkward eating unhealthy food. They might also ask you what you're doing and you can become an inspiration to them.
Donate your old clothes. This was big for me. After I had lost around 30 pounds and my clothes were too baggy, I donated them to a local thrift shop and got some new, smaller clothes. When the bigger clothes are gone, you have nothing to wear if you gain weight. It adds incentive to maintain your weight loss along the way. And you're doing something good for others by donating your old clothes.
Get new clothes. Now that you've donated your old clothes, you'll need to buy new ones! If you still have a lot to lose, you might want to shop at the thrift store, or combine that with a few new clothes so you don't break your budget. New, slimmer clothes that show off your new, slimmer body will get comments from others and make you feel good about your progress.
Get excited about health. Read books and blogs, listen to podcasts, gather and digest information about good nutrition and fitness. I listen to podcasts every morning on my way to work. While I don't always agree with what they say, it's interesting to learn more and think about what my help with my journey.
Engage in positive self-talk
Don't beat yourself up about your weight or about slip-ups; instead, engage in positive self-talk. Being negative or feeling guilty is counterproductive. Talk to yourself in a positive manner, like a psychotherapist, not like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Track your progress
I'm not talking about just the scale. Take measurements, notice how your clothes are fitting, measure your body fat, take pictures - anything to show signs of progress. I did all of those things every couple of weeks. While it was hard to notice any change in the pictures over a couple of weeks, I could go back to my original pictures and see definite change. That was motivating to me.
They call it the most important meal of the day for a reason. In a survey, women who regularly ate breakfast were more successful with long-term weight loss than those who skipped the first meal of the day. It’s best to eat similar healthy choices regularly (think eggs, oatmeal, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, etc.) and always start out with a good breakfast to avoid splurging or overeating later in the day.
Enjoy healthy cooking
It's actually possible to cook food that is both healthy and tasty. There are plenty of great web sites out there with thousands of recipes, like cookinglight.com and eatingwell.com. And of course my Pinterest Boards. There are many versions of unhealthy food that you may have liked that have been upgraded with healthier ingredients. It starts to become a fun activity to see how to make healthy food that you and your loved ones will enjoy.
Keep setting goals
Make sure you have goals, and a plan to achieve them. If you just say "I want to lose weight," that is nice, but it isn't specific enough and you'll soon give up. Use the SMART goal principles, where your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Once you're down to a more healthy weight, keep challenging yourself in different ways by setting new goals and striving for new achievements. Perhaps run a 5k or even a half marathon. Make a goal to hike with your family, or swim laps at the pool. The possibilities are endless.
Join online communities
I'm enjoying Fitocracy, and there is also the 52 Day Challenge on the Men's Health forums (for both men and women). Sparkpeople, Weight Watchers and a number of other online health, fitness and weight-loss oriented communities with people just like you there to help you and support you.
Build more lean muscle. Maintain, or even increase, your metabolism by continuing to build lean muscle. Muscle has a higher metabolism than fat does. If you don't yet train with weights, add this type of exercise to your overall program now. If you do, increase the amount of weight you're working with to keep yourself challenged. If you're a woman and feel like weightlifting will give you bulky muscles, forget it. The most it will do is make you look more fit and toned. How does this help build your fortress? The more progress you make, the more dedicated you feel. I can guarantee you if you have just come back from a lifting session and then see a twinkie on the counter, you'll think two or three times before blowing what you just accomplished.
Start a blog. That's what I did. And I'm not just doing it for you, dear readers, but for myself as well. I love to learn and enjoy putting together articles about different health and fitness topics. Also, if I profess to be good at helping others achieve their fitness goals, it stands to reason that I should be achieving my own. You could do the same thing, but a word from the wise: do it as a labor of love, not as a way to make lots of money. You can quickly and easily start up a free blog using sits like Weebly and Wordpress. If doing something similar to what I'm doing doesn't appeal to you, you can just make a personal blog more like a journal where you can record your thoughts, feelings and activities related to fitness. Let your friends and family know, and they can follow your progress and offer encouragement along the way.
Change up your exercise routine. If you do the same exercise routine every week, you can get bored. Change them up every month, try new things. Challenge yourself without overdoing it. Go outside, go swimming with the kids, plan fun and active activities. Try a group fitness class, try a YouTube fitness video. Recently I joined a spin class at my local rec center. I'm not really into group fitness, but I enjoyed it and have attended regularly since.
Keep up daily activity, including formal exercise as well as sports, physical work or recreational activity. Exercise an average of 60 minutes per day, 5 times a week. Most successful losers are walking 11,000-12,000 steps, or the equivalent of 5.5-6 miles per day. Workout with family or friends. If you exercise with others, it's more difficult to back out. Plus you can help motivate each other.
Hang in there. There will be good days, there will be not-so-good days. That's life. Appreciate the good days and tolerate the bad days. Don't let the bad days become stumbling blocks towards your goals. You've probably had periods of time where nothing seems to be happening. You're eating well and exercising, but the weight isn't coming off. Remember that much of the joy is in the journey, and as long as your goals are sound and you're being diligent, you will achieve them. The weight didn't come on overnight, and however long it takes to come off, it is worth it.
Make it a routine. I've said it many times, but you have to put some planning into exercise and eating so that it doesn't have to become an every day question - "what should I eat?" and "how should I work out?". The more that these become just daily habits, the easier it will be to achieve your goals. And if health and fitness become a habit, then that is probably the best thing you can do to build a strong fortress.
Reward yourself. Each time you reach a small milestone, reward yourself. Hopefully not with junk food! Perhaps some new workout clothes or music for your playlist. Building in rewards along the way help you stick to your goals, which strengthens your resolve to be fit.
Make lasting changes
I said it recently in a blog post, but if you are looking for temporary, quick and easy things to do in order to lose weight you are headed towards disaster. Your fortress will be more like a small decorative palace. Once the onslaught of temptation arrives, or you get sick, or any number of problems or trials come your way, the palace crumbles and your results disappear. Don't subscribe to popular diets or fitness plans that guarantee results in 90 days or your money back. Whatever you do, be sure that you adopt changes that you can live with for the rest of your life. If the changes you make aren't permanent, then the results won't be either.
Build your fortress
I listed many of the things that I did to strengthen myself and to ensure that I didn't lose the progress I made along the way. Almost anyone can stick to anything for a short term, but health and fitness isn't a short term project, it is a life-long project. Stone by stone you are building up a strong fortress of support that can weather temptation, trials, sickness and whatever life brings. Be creative, have fun and enjoy your journey.
(fortress painting credit: Clara Parati) If you enjoy this post, please add your comments below or contact me. Also click on ads to help support my efforts.