There are a lot of reasons why I gained weight over a period of two years, and it’s hard to pinpoint a specific reason. Was it the new medication I was on? Was it a romantic relationship that I got too comfortable in? Was it the fact that I switched my active restaurant job for a sedentary office job? Was it the fact that I was using fast food not only as a reward, but also as an emotional bandage to deal with the existential dread of being a recent college graduate in a constantly shifting job market? I mean, who can say.
Regardless, I decided to lose some weight. I specifically say “lose weight” instead of “get healthy” because this idea of “getting healthy” is sometimes a convoluted game of mental switcheroo to pretend like we are eating boiled chicken breast and spinach smoothies to improve our blood pressure. I did want to be healthy, but for me personally that included losing weight. I wanted my clothes to fit better. I wanted to be able to swim faster and hold yoga poses for longer. I wanted to get rid of my sleep apnea. And, yeah, I wanted a sick revenge body after that comfortable relationship fell apart.
I started on the ketogenic diet at the end of January, and cut out pretty much all sugar and carbs from my life. (Farewell Taco Bell, I will remember you fondly). I had a couple of friends who had done it and loved it, so I wanted to give it a try. There are physical lessons I learned pretty quickly: when I put garbage into my body, I feel like garbage; when I put good stuff into my body, I feel good. I learned this before I lost what is essentially the mass of a medium-sized child, and it’s something that sticks with me now.
Then there are a couple of other things — financial, emotional, experiential, etc. — that I learned along the way that I am delighted to pass along to you, dear reader, should you decide to lose weight, get healthy, or whatever you decide to call it.
1. You don’t need the expensive gym.
I am by no means a nutritionist or physical trainer, but losing weight is basically about calories in versus calories out. You need to be (safely) consuming fewer calories than you are burning. You can be a member of the nicest, most expensive gym in the country, but if you aren’t eating correctly, then squats won’t do squat. Exercise doesn’t have to be expensive. Don’t tell your personal trainer, but for the first six months, I essentially lost 30 pounds without working out. I love to be active, though, so I’ve started incorporating inexpensive yoga classes, walks in the park, swimming at my local aquatic center, and workout videos from my favorite YouTube fitness personalities. All of these are either cheap or free, and don’t require a big commitment from an expensive and intimidating mega-gym.
2. Meal prepping can actually save you a lot of money…
First of all, you need to figure out what you are willing to cut out of your diet, and what you aren’t. Be realistic with yourself. Don’t meal prep for some idealistic version of who you think you should be. There is not any world in which I will be okay with eating a salad sans dressing everyday. If you aren’t realistic about what you can eat five or seven days in a row, that food will go uneaten, and you’ve just wasted a lot of money.
I don’t mind eating the same thing every day, and this is something I realized when I started meal prepping. I’m a big fan of casseroles. They’re super easy to make, cost me about $20-25, and last me for about seven or eight days, which averages out to about $2-3 per meal. They also reheat very well. I also eat some sort of vegetable with every meal. Not enough can be said about a simple vegetable with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and a ton of garlic (hell, put some parmesan on it too if you want!) roasted for 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees. Undercook them ever so slightly, and they keep well in the fridge or freezer and reheat well. Brussell sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower usually do best; zucchini and squash gets kind of mushy after 24 hours. Try meal prepping your dinner, too! I practice intermittent fasting, so I eat once at 1 PM, and then usually right when I get home at 7 PM. If I don’t have a meal waiting for me at home, then my mind will wander, and I will start imagining a romantic evening with every Chinese restaurant and pizza place in a 5-mile radius. Having something ready will keep you on track, help with portion control, and because you’re not eating out, you’ll save tons of money.
3. …which can go to Target/Nordstrom/Madewell if you’re not careful.
After losing 20 pounds, I immediately wanted to out and buy a new wardrobe. I still had plenty of clothes that fit, and some clothes that didn’t fit before, but did now. I maybe bought a pair of jeans and a new dress, but I tried to be practical. Now at 65 pounds, I’m finding that some of my favorite clothes are so big it’s kind of comical, and I’m having to make some hard choices. Sure, I’m saving money by meal prepping, but I’m trying to make sure that money is going towards an emergency fund, an investment account, or debt repayment.
One of my main excuses for not shopping before was that the clothes that I wanted to wear didn’t fit. What happens when the clothes you love start loving you back? It’s much harder to resist temptation. Now, I either try to go to the thrift store or shop at discount stores like TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, and Saks Off Fifth (hey, between the Gucci and the Prada, you can actually find some good deals!) I also alter a lot of my existing clothes. I believe everyone should learn to sew, but if you can’t sew or don’t have access to a sewing machine, you can take them to a tailor. Just make sure taking clothes to the tailor doesn’t cost you as much as buying new wardrobe. Maybe ask friends if they have clothes they don’t want! We’ve all tried to sell clothes to Plato’s Closet only to feel the sting of rejection. (“What do you mean you don’t want this $90 Banana Republic blazer I wore once five years ago?!”) Organize a clothes swap! It’s fun, it’s cheap, and it’s an excuse to get together with friends, drink wine, and gossip (my favorite workout).
4. But you can definitely still celebrate your hard work.
Recently, I found an amazing deal for a Michael Kors leather motorcycle jacket on sale for $200 after originally running for $550 at ye olde Saks Off Fifth. (Told you they have good deals!) I thought about it for a week. I made a pros and cons list. I prayed about it…okay, I didn’t get that far, but I was close. It was perfect, and it was calling my name. It was a classic piece. When I was turning it over in my mind, I kept coming to the same conclusion that it was something I would wear all the time. It wouldn’t go out of style next year or the year after. I hadn’t been shopping in over a month. It was in my budget. I took the plunge, and it’s currently sitting in my closet awaiting the chill of fall.( I live in the South, though, so I probably won’t be able to wear it until November.) I worked hard, and I have gotten my reward. I have celebrated. There is no excuse to then buy a $150 pair of jeans next weekend. Don’t let self-love turn into some sort of self-raging-party. Respect yourself. Celebrate yourself. Just don’t let current you screw over future you.
5. If you feel hotter, you’ll be tempted to go out more. RESIST!
It’s not like I was some “Woe is me!” mess before I lost weight, but I definitely got a second wind. I felt good, and I looked good. (I mean, I looked good before, but you get it.) I wanted to go out and dance or party to show off my hard work! Resist! You’re cute, but you ain’t four-$10-glasses-of-wine-every-Friday-and-Saturday-and-Tuesday-night cute. Slow your roll. Invite friends over for one of those wine nights financial blogs are always telling you to do. Hell, even wear your new leather jacket and make all your friends compliment you, until they get tired and eventually leave your thirsty ass.
6. If you aren’t happy with your life, losing 65 pounds cannot magically fix that.
If you don’t like your thighs, there is no guarantee that losing 65 pounds will change that. If don’t pay your bills on time, 65 pounds isn’t going to change that. If you hate your job, 65 pounds isn’t going to change that. You know what changes when you lose 65 pounds? You are 65 pounds lighter. The fuzzy feelings, the confidence, the renewed vigor — it all comes from within. It’s something that you have to work at. I know it sounds like some self-love-hippy-dippy bullshit, but it’s true. I’ve been up the mountain, and I’m returning with the gospel.
Your weight will only tell you one thing: how much you weigh. It doesn’t tell you how confident you are, your blood pressure, how much you can bench press, how far you can run, how much you have saved in your 401K, how good of a friend you are, if you always meet your dealines, etc. I don’t judge anyone for wanting to lose weight. I also don’t judge anyone who doesn’t want to lose weight. You know your body better than I do! Live your life, girlfriend!
Just remember that if you aren’t happy with you, losing weight isn’t going to change that. So, learn to like you, cause I’m sure you’re pretty awesome.
Cherith Fuller is a writing and comedian living in Atlanta, GA.
Image via Unsplash