Q: Hey, Erika! I have a question for Q and A Wednesday! I really want to work to lose this weight, but I am very nervous about this because it never goes well. Sooooooo, my question is this: what is the most important thing I can do to ensure my weight loss is a success this time?
Lots of people think the most important thing to do when it comes to losing weight is to “move more.” You know, the other part of the “eat less, move more” mantra that we hear so often?
I completely understand! It’s important to be active. There are benefits that both include and extend far beyond “weight loss” when it comes to active lifestyles. But, for the express purpose of weight loss, exercise isn’t the most important part. It’s food.
And, even as I say that, the most important part of your journey isn’t—at least, not in my mind—changing the way you eat, either. So many people immediately go cold turkey, dropping everything they eat now, tossing everything out of their fridge without knowing why they’re changing or even what they’re changing.
Knowledge is important. You need to know what you’re doing, why, and how you intend to ensure that the choice you make from this point forward is the right choice, not merely the choice you make out of habit or comfort. If you’re giving up your regular pot pie, do you know why you may need to give it up? That “why” is important, because it ensures that when you do finally find a replacement, that your replacement isn’t merely a nutritional duplicate of what you gave up. Lots of foods are marketed as being “healthy,” but are they the kind of “healthy” that will help you reach your goals? Likely not.
The most important thing you can do for your weight loss goals is document what and how you eat now, and when you eat it. Barring any medical complications (hormonal challenges, medications, and so on), the way you eat now is likely the largest contributor to your current weight. Without knowing exactly what you’re eating, when, and why, chances are high that you’ll buy replacement foods that aren’t as satisfying, aren’t as appealing, and aren’t any more nutritious than their predecessor.
Take note of whatever you put in your mouth. Take note of how you were feeling when you ate it. Take note of how much you ate. And do it each time you eat. This is the most important thing you can do, hands down.
Use an app like Lose It! or My Fitness Pal, which can give you the macronutrient totals for everything you’ve consumed that day and, for that matter, that week. This is why I’ve always been a proponent of calorie counting—not because I want people to develop an unhealthy obsession with numbers, but because I think people underestimate what they’re eating, how much they’re eating, how much sugar is in what they’re eating, and what “healthier meals” actually looks like and translates to on their plates.
It’s less about numbers, to me, and more about awareness. Are you aware of how much sugar is in your pot pie? Or that it’s actually supposed to be split in half and shared between two people? What about that small bag of chips you just grabbed as a “snack”—did you know that was supposed to be two servings?
What about that fast food you just picked up for lunch. Did you know that you ate 900 calories worth of food, and it didn’t even fill you up, leaving you “craving a snack” not even two hours later?
When you learn that you find yourself snacking a lot mid-day, that tells you that it’s time to change what you eat for lunch to something more filling. When you realize that your 1,000 calorie-but-its-two-servings-not-one-so-it’s-actually-2,000-calories pot pie is getting in the way of you achieving the goal you’ve set out for yourself, you make sure to find a replacement that’s filling within its one serving, not sneaking in two when you’re not looking,
The awareness has to come before the change. If it doesn’t, you’re merely changing because this is what you think you need to do. You’re traveling through an unknown neighborhood without a map.
Spend some time getting familiar with a calorie counting app or, if calorie calculation is too much for you, keep a simple composition notebook where you can dedicate a page to each day. That’ll show you where you’re going wrong and, at the same time, where to go and what to do to get right.