Hi everyone! I want to talk a little bit today about my own personal struggle with moderation (in terms of diet and exercise). As someone who has struggled their entire life with finding a healthy balance between eating and activity, I finally found what worked for me and made me successful.
I can vividly recall when I was a teenager going on the 3-day Military Diet that my mom was always really successful with. My mom has never been overweight, but she did struggle occasionally with a stubborn 5-10 pounds. We were never made to feel like we were fat or out of shape in our house, which I am thankful for because I’m sure my emotions wouldn’t have handled that well. However I was always mesmerized by how dedicated my mom could be for a short period of time, lose the weight, and then go back to eating all of the foods that she wanted to. She would repeat this cycle maybe once a year, and it just helped rid her of any unwanted weight gain.
My own foray with the 3 day military diet didn’t go over as well. By the end of the first day, I was starving. The goal of this diet plan is to severely restrict your caloric intake for 3 days, and only eat a set amount of food (think saltine crackers, tuna fish, steamed carrots). GROSS. By day two, I was off the wagon and eating everything like normal. This was NOT the diet for me, and SURPRISE, I didn’t lose any weight.
When I got older, I started adopting more of an 80/20 rule when it came to diet and exercise. 80% of the time I would eat healthy (or what I thought was healthy), and the other 20% of the time I would eat….whatever I wanted! I remember actually rewarding myself with a triple cheeseburger from Wendy’s after I spent a whole week eating less than 1000 calories per day. This was a very unhealthy cycle, and my body saw very few gains. And honestly, I felt AWFUL all of the time and had little energy. I had no idea what I was doing and the toll it was taking on my body.
We often hear how a calorie in is equal to a calorie out. Eat less than you burn and you will lose weight. So if your body burns on average 1600 calories a day through normal functions (breathing, sleeping, blinking) and exercise, then in order to lose weight you should only consume 11oo calories to have a caloric deficit. 500 calories a day equals 3500 calories a week which equals a pound lost. Woo!
Wrong. Calories are not created equal (that 500 calorie piece of cake is NOT equal to 500 calories worth of veggies), and eating anything less than 1200 calories a day puts you at risk of being in starvation mode. And what happens when your body goes into starvation mode? You store fat! Your body doesn’t want to think that it’s starving, it wants to know that more food is always coming and you can go ahead and burn all of the energy that you need. Eating MORE calories for weight loss allows you to burn your energy stores in the form of fat, rather than muscle, and you will lose weight.
Eating more makes you lose more? That doesn’t make sense. But it DOES! Our metabolisms are such delicate machines. The minute our body feels like it isn’t going to get enough food, it slows down to as not consume all of your energy stores. Eating more, and being more active in general, keeps your metabolism high and thus allows you to lose weight. (However, I should mention that you can’t just eat 2000 calories a day of cake and lose weight. You need to eat lots of vegetables, protein, fat and fruit. Limit your sugar to less than 25 grams a day. More on this below.)
So what happens when people stick to a low calorie diet for an extended period of time? Your organs fail to function properly, your body is depleted of essential vitamins and nutrients, and your metabolism doesn’t know how to function properly anymore. The minute you start to eat more than normal, you will gain weight. Your body soaks up those extra calories like a sponge to store for the next time you decide to starve yourself. It’s a vicious cycle.
Now you’re probably wondering “what does this have to do with moderation?” If you recall, eating healthy Monday-Friday and bingeing on a burger on Saturday was not the best route for me in order to gain control of my weight and my health. About two years ago, I got really serious about eating a Paleo diet after my cancer diagnosis. I started doing a lot of research into Ketogenic diets (where you limit carbohydrates and eat more fat and moderate protein) and no sugar, to help starve out the cancer cells. It worked! In addition to chemo (which I’m sure did a majority of the work), I was able to beat my stage 3 lymphoma. The best part was that I had minimal side effects while undergoing my chemo treatments. I felt great! I even continued to work out and eat a healthy diet. Aside from an upper respiratory infection and a case of mouth sores, I sailed through cancer with ease. Because I felt better, my mood was better, and I know that my positive attitude helped me beat cancer as well.
I have a very addictive personality, and in the past I had very little willpower when left to my own devices. Most people don’t have the willpower to eat healthy and workout like a professional athlete and that’s okay. They do it because that’s how they get paid. But what if we considered our bodies like a bank? Every good deposit that we made (eating healthy, getting in a workout, playing catch with your kids, dancing in your kitchen) started adding up to some big savings? Would it make a difference if it bought you another 10 years to be with your spouse? To see your kids get married and start families of their own? To take a dream vacation and be healthy enough to enjoy it? That’s how I had to start looking at my life. I am definitely living for today, but I am also making sure that I have enough life left in me in the future to continue living the way I want. So for me, eating that bread is not worth it, and that’s how I have had the success with sticking to my healthy lifestyle.
For many people, they have success with the 80/20 rule. They can eat healthy and work out most of the time, and they allow themselves a treat on the weekends. Again, I have never had great success with this plan. Have you tried this before and failed? It’s probably because, like me, the temptation to continue eating the “bad” for you food was too difficult to overcome. Monday would roll around and I (you) would just continue eating the junk. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s a vicious little cycle to break.
So what has worked for me? I’ve been able to maintain a steady weight for over two years now. Even with health setbacks (a deadly staph infection, my autoimmune disease, cancer), I stuck to my healthy way of eating. I never eat less than 1200 calories a day. Honestly, I don’t even count calories anymore, and the only reason I might is to make sure that I have enough! I work out at least 5 days a week doing moderate intensity activity (30-50 minutes a day) and try to stay active outside of my formal routines. I found exercise routines that I enjoy, and that makes me excited to do them again the next day.
I eat a diet that consists of protein, fat, vegetables and fruit. I do not consume dairy, and especially not grains! This includes wheat, barley, oats, and rice. I love finding new recipes and trying them out in my kitchen. I even got my husband on board with me and he has lost over 10 pounds in less than three weeks. The only way I can be successful with this way of eating is to remember WHY I’m doing it. Eating foods that make me tired, bloated, sick, and achy are NOT worth it. Eating foods that give me energy, make me feel clean inside, give me almost an euphoric high is what I’m all about. Knowing that I’m taking care of my body and putting good fuel into it makes me proud. I know that I’m going to be around for a long time to be with my husband, spend time with my niece and nephews, and take care of my parents as they get older. My stress is getting under control, I’m sleeping better at night, and I’m able to enjoy life like never before.
If you have tried and failed at the 80/20 rule, I really suggest dedicating yourself to a clean eating plan for a full 30 days and moderate exercise at least 5 days a week. Challenge yourself to be a better version of you. There are very few things in life in which we have control. Food and exercise are two things over which we have absolute power and control. Take back your life and give it a shot. What do you have to lose?