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It’s finally arrived: the day that many people start to act on their New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more and lose weight. (The new year may have started yesterday, but Jan. 1 is technically a holiday and some of us want one last day to savor the cookies and peanut brittle.)
If you’ve resolved to lose weight in the new year, you’re not alone. A YouGov poll reported that of the 31 percent of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution for 2021, about 48 percent, or as many as 38 million people, resolved to lose weight. It’s a great goal, but not always a practical one. The same poll indicated that 65 percent will fail at keeping all or any of their New Year’s resolutions.
That’s not the most inspiring thing to read if you’ve decided to buckle down and shape up. But if inspiration is what you’re seeking, I’ve got you covered. Today you get to read about how I lost 80 pounds.
Despite knowing that I was substantially overweight — I tipped the scales at well north of 200 pounds — I had no real plans of actually losing weight when I started walking daily in April 2019. I had long since gotten used to the idea that I was plus-sized, and that weight loss was out of reach for someone like me: severely mobility-impaired from 29 years of rheumatoid arthritis and unwilling to stick to a strict diet. My only goal was to improve my mobility and endurance.
My intent was political in nature. If I walked around the neighborhood as far as I could at a brisk pace every day, perhaps I would find myself in good enough shape to do door-to-door outreach for the candidates I intended to support in the 2020 election. When I calculated my distance after that first day of walking, I discovered that I’d walked two miles on my 18-year-old hip and knee replacements. I was stunned. The next day I went for two and a half and kept at it every following day.
It wasn’t until six weeks after I started walking for exercise that I even checked my weight. I’d gone to the doctor for a random issue and when they took my vitals, the number on the scale was 10 pounds lower than it had been only weeks before. It was a delightful surprise, and a welcome confirmation that I was doing something right.
By then, I had advanced from walking around the neighborhood to exercising at home, using a walk-in-place program from the loud and perky Leslie Sansone I’d originally found on YouTube. Feeling hungrier than ever and fearing that I would use exercise as an excuse to overeat, I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app on my smartphone and discovered that like many Americans, I already overate.
After plugging some numbers into the app and coming up with a daily calorie recommendation, I started logging my daily food intake on the app. One change led to another, and then another. By July, I’d lost 25 pounds. By September, it was 40.
Especially in light of my success with small but meaningful changes, I don’t endorse specialized weight loss plans. Frequently, they focus on an endgame and a specific path to get there, leaving no room for even a momentary stray from the regimen. While ketogenic diets have proved successful at achieving rapid weight loss, they’re extremely restrictive of the foods one can consume. Most will find it too harsh to follow long-term and are prone to gaining back all of the weight that is lost.
“Keto isn’t really a diet, it’s a lifestyle,” a friend once argued. A lifestyle where I have to say goodbye to my beloved Chick-fil-A waffle fries? Hard pass.
Without a rigid protocol in front of me, I was free to explore any technique I wanted. Logging my food on the MyFitnessPal app was surprisingly easy, and I liked how it showed me the breakdown of protein, carbohydrates and fat in the foods I ate each day. I was calorie-focused without being calorie-obsessed, making conscious choices about my nutrition. For the first time in my adult life, I felt like I was in control of my diet.
I continued exploring exercise as well, with an understanding that I had to choose an activity that worked for me. For me, that meant joining a gym was out of the question, as I didn’t want to be that clumsy awkward disabled girl standing out among a sea of tight, svelte, able-bodied warriors. Are gyms actually like that? I don’t know, but it’s how I picture them in my head, and I didn’t want to be told by well-meaning strongmen that I was an “inspiration” (we cripples hear that a lot).
So my living room became my gym, and streaming apps my apparatus. By March 2020, as fitness enthusiasts grappled with gym shutdowns, I was well-accustomed to home workouts. Having outgrown the walk-in-place program, I turned back to YouTube to sample kickboxing workouts from PopSugar Fitness and dance workouts with Shine Dance Fitness, led by a group of women in Idaho who seem to understand how challenging it can be to fit regular workouts into a hectic lifestyle — and how futile it is to attempt exercise if it isn’t enjoyable.
That’s perhaps the best out of all of the surprises I’ve experienced since starting my healthier lifestyle: Not just that it’s actually possible for someone with joint deformities and biting chronic pain to do high-intensity workouts, but that it’s actually fun. Even on the most painful of days, I find that I am happy to see on-screen the people who are ready to lead me through an intense workout. Together we do jabs, uppercuts, push kicks and dance to songs like Demi Lovato’s “OK Not to Be OK,” during which I whisper to myself, “You are actually quite okay.”
And I am quite okay. I have lost 80 pounds and maintained that weight loss for over a year while discovering that almost none of it had anything to do with numbers on a scale. It was about climbing stairs more easily, fitting into smaller clothes and glancing at myself in the mirror to admire the new contours on my pretty face while telling myself it wouldn’t kill me to go out on a few dates.
It became about reading the results of my blood tests and seeing that the markers used to measure inflammation were showing as normal for the first time in decades. It became about thanking God for my newfound good health right as the world became engulfed by a pandemic.
Weight loss was about finding joy where I’d previously never bothered to look. So if you’re going to make a New Year’s resolution about your health this year, I hope you won’t just resolve to lose weight, to eat better or to start working out. I hope you’ll resolve to explore possibilities and pursue opportunities; to find traits in yourself that you never knew you had but always knew you liked; and most importantly, to give yourself plenty to celebrate at the end of 2022. May you all have a very happy new year.
Althea Cole is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com