For the last few months people have been asking me for tips, what's worked for me, how I work out, etc. So I decided to share the highlights here - the good, the neurotic and the ridiculous. I will try and keep it brief but brevity has never been my strong suit. I'll aim for bullet points and see where we get. Please bear in mind these are things that worked for ME and may or may not work for you.
HIGHLIGHTS: What did I do that worked?
- I never treated it like a diet. It has truly been a change in my way of eating, thinking and living.
- I track using an iPhone app called Nutrition Menu. At the time WW eTools was pretty pricey and at $0.99 you couldn't really beat Nutrition Menu. It also came complete with a massive food database right in the app, meaning you didn't need WiFi or cell service to access points values. This also meant that I could use it with the iPod Touch... before I dropped it in the toilet and moved up to the iPhone. I wasn't into the little foldy tracker they give you at WW and the eTools app wasn't available in Canada so Nutrition Menu was my saviour.
- I go to Weight Watchers meetings. Not every meeting by any means. Before hitting Lifetime I went and weighed in every week, but to be perfectly honest I only stayed for about 30% of the meetings - usually if I needed a boost or if I knew I was going to get some sort of reward, like a gold star, a keychain charm, etc. The public recognition definitely helped!
- Speaking of recognition, another thing that worked (for me) was making it public. I blogged (obviously), I tweeted, and then I took it into my personal realm of Facebook. I talk to my friends about it and explain my food choices at restaurants, parties, etc.
- In the same vein, I went online. I followed people on Twitter that I found through the #weightwatchers hash tag. I got into online conversations about weight loss and I read the blogs of people going through similar journeys. It really helped to know I was not alone.
- I started cooking. I was never a chef by any stretch of the imagination but being the control freak I am, I had to start doing most of the cooking in our house to make sure I knew the points values.
- I plan ahead. If we were going to be out for a meal I would use Nutrition Menu and figure out what I was going to have. It's got a huge list of restaurants in the database and if something wasn't in there I could usually guesstimate or look it up online. Once I'd decided what I would be eating I didn't change the plan and get swayed to something that sounded delicious but cost me more points.
- I schedule my exercise. I make plans and stick to them. During the last school year I dropped the little man off at preschool on Mondays and Wednesdays and then went to the gym while he was there. On Fridays I go right after Weight Watchers. These were concrete times that I didn't change, and if I got an additional workout in during the week, great, but I knew I had three guaranteed. This schedule will obviously change when I go back to work next month, but I have already planned it so I know I'll still have three good workouts every week.
- I change up my exercise. Yes, I have a standard routine that I do most days, but I'll throw in a walk or a swim here and there to keep things interesting.
- I watch Biggest Loser. I'm not even kidding. It really does help motivate me. If they can do it, so can I. When I'm on the treadmill I can just hear Bob Harper yelling at me if I even THINK about putting my hands on the handles!
- I made a fantastic workout mix. There are certain songs that just make me work harder, no matter what. I've changed it up a bit over the months, but The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" and "When Love Takes Over" by David Guetta featuring Kelly Rowland are still motivating me nine months later.
FOOD: Some specifics
- I use the Weight Watchers in 20 Minutes cookbook at least once a week. I found some of their other books too involved, but these recipes are pretty simple and (duh - the title) pretty quick.
- I calculate other recipes. I took some of our previous favourites and figured out the points values. That way I could still have the dishes we loved, but in a portion that would work with my daily points allowance.
- Oroweat 100 Calorie Sandwich Thins. At 100 calories and 5 grams of fibre, these babies come out at one ONE POINT EACH. They unfortunately are not available in Canada, but through stockpiling and a few last minute "run for the border" shopping trips, I have kept myself in pretty consistent supply. I use them for breakfasts, sandwiches, burger buns...they are awesome!
- Sunrise Whole Wheat Pitas. My friend introduced me to these little (big) gems and with their nutritional breakdown they work out to be 4 points for a larger-than-dinner-plate pita. They make an absolutely fantastic pizza crust! I've also found a smaller version that are only 2 points, but these pitas are kind of hard to find anywhere so I take what I can get.
- Bananas on Thursdays. I said this post would include the neurotic and the ridiculous. I read (from several places, I swear) that the potassium in bananas helps draw out any retained water, so on Thursday evenings - the night before my weigh-in - I would make sure I ate a banana. Why take any chances?
- Also about Thursdays, we made Thursday "Salad Night." Why would I have a big heavy meal the night before a weigh-in?! We do regular old spinach salads (no, we don't eat old spinach), layered salads, warm chicken salads, taco salads, always changing it up but always having something a bit lighter that night.
- I found a good supply of 0-2 point snacks and I snack a lot. One cup of sliced strawberries is zero points! There are new Thinsations snack bars that are 1 point. One cup of Smart Food is two points. They're out there. You just have to find what works for you.
One of the most frequent questions I get is about my exercise routine. As I mentioned earlier, I do have a standard program that I do most days, especially when I'm pressed for time. It's a finely tuned (sort of) routine where I can pretty much get in and get out within 45 minutes.
When I first started working out I would do 15-30 minutes of cardio, then 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps each on my favourite weight machines, then some crunches, then stretching. The whole thing would take between an hour and an hour and a half.
I started reading the Biggest Loser Fitness Program book and it said that this was pretty much the least efficient workout I could be doing. Awesome. They explained that circuit training was the way to go for many reasons including EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Basically, you continue burning calories long after your workout is done. WIN! They also said if you keep your circuit training aerobic, any cardio you do on top of your circuits is a bonus. And the big difference to what I'd been doing before was that I should have been doing my cardio AFTER the circuit training. According to BL, your body has spent most of its stored carbohydrates (glycogen) after the circuits and then taps into its fat stores to help burn energy. Yay for fat burning!
I tried it a couple of times and found I really liked circuit training. For those that don't know (I didn't), you move from exercise to exercise in pretty quick succession. While I had been staying at the same machine for 2-3 sets, resting in between each one, I was now doing one set and moving on to the next machine pretty much immediately. It kept things interesting and kept my heart rate up.
I went and met with a trainer at my gym (I just go to the local rec centre, nothing fancy) and he confirmed that this new regime was a WAY better, way more efficient way to work out. He gave me a 5-10 minute warm-up to get my heart rate going that (God Forbid) included some squats and lunges. He was very sneaky about this, because I swore up and down I would never do either, but lo and behold there I was lunging and squatting. He modified them a bit from the hellish repetitions I'd been exposed to in the past, and believe it or not they're actually bearable.
He then showed me a new way to do the circuits that he recommended doing once a week. Instead of doing 12 reps at the same weight, he suggested starting lighter and doing five, moving up to my regular weight and doing another five, and then moving up again to a weight where I could ALMOST do three reps properly before completely tiring out my muscles. You then move on to the next machine and do the same thing. The best part is, if you do it right and really do tire out your muscles, you only have to do ONE CIRCUIT! Now that's efficient. I sometimes do this twice a week when I'm pressed for time and can't afford to do more than one circuit. Plus I really like it. I know, I'm sick.
I typically do the warm up for 10 minutes, the "super circuit" for 15 and then 15 minutes on the treadmill. That's it, that's all. The perfect workout for a mom with very little time!
If it's a nice day I might trade the treadmill for the 30 minute creekside trail walk beside the rec centre, or sometimes I'll get ambitious and go and swim 20 lengths in the pool. These are both obviously if I'm working with a little more time on my hands. It really does help to keep things fresh.
So, that's them in a nutshell. The secrets to my success. Some may help you. Some may not. I am not a doctor, a dietitian or a personal trainer. All I know is what works for me and if one of my not-so-brief bullet points triggers something for you, awesome.
Please comment and share what works for you, your tried and true tips, or if something here has inspired you!