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Start working out and eating right and the pounds will melt off right? The truth is you can think you’re doing everything right, but still make missteps that can negatively affect your progress on your health and wellness journey.
Every day, members from our Start TODAY community reach out to me with questions about stalled progress, optimizing their routine or ways to make our fitness plans work for them. So I decided to do some virtual training IRL and meet some members in person by opening up their fridges, looking into their daily routines and finding opportunities for some healthy changes.
Meet Start TODAY member Kathy
Start TODAY member Kathy Woods contacted me because she was frustrated by the fact that she works out consistently and eats right, but her weight hasn’t changed in months. Plus, she gained 7 pounds over the holidays that has stuck around. While she’s isn’t overly focused on the number on the scale, she wanted help pushing past this plateau and to feel calmer and more content with her daily routine.
“I’ve probably been on some version of a diet since the first grade,” says Woods. “I finally came to a place of total acceptance of my body in my mid 40’s. Just about the same time perimenopause showed up. I was hot, randomly gaining weight and my blood pressure and A1C spiked.”
She remembers taking her health into her own hands. “I was fine being fat. I was NOT fine being uncomfortable or unhealthy. So, I joined a gym. Which turned into regular physicals, weight-loss surgery, better eating, a nutritionist, therapist…” she says. “I got super into healthy eating, making myself pretty food and working out.”
When she began her journey she was 242 pounds. She lost 70 pounds and continues to make her health a priority and maintain her weight loss with daily workouts and healthy eating. But this year she ran into some roadblocks — specifically holiday weight gain, stalled weight loss, stress and obsessive thoughts about her diet.
Her current fitness routine: “I hit the gym for an hour of walking or running on the treadmill almost every morning, often with a weighted vest. Sometimes I’ll swim if the pool isn’t too full,” she says.
Her current diet: Kathy starts every morning with 32 ounces of coffee with Splenda. She usually eats an egg, cheese and lunch meat wrap for breakfast, a salad or wrap for lunch, and a veggie and protein for dinner. She likes Greek yogurt parfaits and popcorn for snacks and has a habit of grazing and snacking after dinner until bedtime.
Her fitness goals: “I want a toner body,” says Kathy. “For me, it’s less about being a particular size. I’d just love to have fewer jiggly bits and while I feel like I’m doing everything right, I’m still stuck at this plateau. I need some help!”
Her lifestyle goals: Stress and sleep are two pain points for Kathy. “I’d love to find a room or a place in my house where I can just unwind and relax. I don’t really have that,” she says. “Right before bed I usually graze on junk food. Sometimes healthy stuff, sometimes not. I lay in bed and watch videos on my phone. I’d probably sleep better if I did less of that. I also worry that I eat too close to bedtime, too.”
7 small lifestyle changes to improve sleep, stress and encourage weight loss
I was able to meet up with Kathy in her home, take a good look at her daily routine and identify areas where we could make changes to improve her mental and physical health.
Here are the 7 strategies I encouraged her to implement:
1. Try a morning mindset reset
I encouraged Kathy to take some quiet time for herself in the family room — she says everyone else in her family can relax there, but she can’t! So in the peace and quiet of the morning, I want her to sit on her couch and focus on one word that describes how she wants to feel for the day. Setting an intention while taking a slow, deep breath can be a major reset mentally to remind Kathy that she is important. She takes care of everyone else, works and runs the household, so this early morning reset will help her prioritize herself.
2. Start the day with water, then enjoy a coffee
There’s nothing wrong with a morning coffee — but Kathy was guzzling 32 ounces! Before her (big!) cup of coffee, I encouraged Kathy to drink a glass of water. First thing in the morning, our bodies are often dehydrated, so she may be guzzling coffee out of thirst rather than simply enjoying the taste or caffeine effects. Plus, one of her goals is to reduce stress (which can also be a hindrance to weight loss) and consuming so much caffeine could be revving her up when she wants to be calming down.
3. Practice intuitive exercise
Kathy wakes up at 4 a.m., drinks her coffee and then hits the gym five days a week for an hour a day. She walks on an incline on the treadmill and even wears a weighted vest! Because Kathy is so high-strung, high-powered and pushes so much in her everyday life, my worry is that a hard workout will only put her body under more stress. Therefore, I recommend that a few times a week she replaces these workouts with more relaxing movement, like stretching, yoga, light strength training or Pilates. I encouraged her to listen to her body and practice “intuitive exercising,” slowing down when her body needs a rest.
4. Add foods that make meals more filling
Kathy eats healthy, but snacks a lot, especially after dinner. So I asked her to add a couple of foods into her diet to help her feel more satiated and curb carb and sugar cravings. First, adding in a serving of healthy fats — like nuts, seeds, olive oil, 1/3 or ½ an avocado, or nut butters — can make her meals more filling. Then in the evenings to help her when cravings strike the most, I asked her to include a complex carbohydrate, like sweet potatoes, quinoa or brown rice, with her dinner. Hopefully this makes Kathy’s meal more satisfying and gives her a bit of the carbs that her body craves, so she doesn’t go looking for them in the pantry!
5. Put healthy foods front and center
Kathy does cook a lot of healthy foods, but sometimes she worries about eating the right portions, especially when she’s in a hurry. Pre-portioning foods like her morning homemade yogurt and nuts and leftovers is super helpful to make grab-and-go meals and snacks more accessible. When I saw Kathy’s kitchen counter, she had leftover pound cake and bags of chocolate front and center. She said she walks past them multiple times a day and has a bite and before she knows it, whatever she’s been nibbling on is gone! So I moved her fruit display from the dining table and put it on the kitchen counter, filled it with a bowl of mini tomatoes, fruit and single pre-portioned nuts, and put the junk food away in the cupboards.
6. Ditch the electronics in bed
Next, we went into Kathy’s bedroom. I saw why she doesn’t feel relaxed: She has so many electronics on her nightstand and her bed sheets and comforter were in disarray (like many of our beds are!). We all know that a cluttered space and having electronics in bed isn’t helpful for good quality sleep. I challenged Kathy to ask her husband to make the bed since he wakes up after her, move the electronics to her dresser, and keep one book on her nightstand table instead.
7. Create a relaxing nighttime routine to make bedtime “me time”
So, how do we get Kathy motivated to put down her phone and pick up her book? Kathy loves her beverages, specifically drinking out of her big coffee cups. So in the evenings I encouraged her to make herself a big cup of hot tea and bring it upstairs to her bedroom along with a square of dark chocolate. She’s going to place the chocolate on her pillow as if she is in a super fancy hotel with bedtime turndown service! Then, she gets to eat the chocolate only once she puts away her phone and starts reading her book. This is helping Kathy unwind and have a peaceful evening routine that promotes better sleep.
Kathy’s two-month check in: 5 pounds down!
I checked back in with Kathy to see how she was doing with implementing my suggestions. She finally was able to push past the plateau and has lost five pounds by making no other changes than the strategies I gave her.
“Honestly, the game changer for me has been in lowering stress (and therefore cortisol),” she says. “I wanted to work on how I felt more than how I look. I feel amazing. I’m well rested and calm most days. My clothes feel good on my body. The craving for junk food seems to magically disappear when I talk about it. I’m not eating in bed. Being less caffeinated means that I’m tired at night, but I go upstairs and just go to sleep.”
Here’s what other positive changes she’s made after my visit:
Her coffee habit: “I have a glass of water in the morning before coffee. That has resulted in me drinking less coffee overall, she says. “I’m drinking my coffee more slowly than usual. I have one cup of fully caffeinated coffee in the morning (enjoyed slowly). Every other beverage during the day is decaf or caffeine free.”
Her diet: “I’m ‘eating the rainbow’ and making colorful meals for myself,” she says.
Her workouts: “I changed up my gym schedule. Instead of rushing out the door at 5 a.m. five days a week, I’m doing more stretches and light weight training at home,” she says. “This allows me to start my day slowly, so I don’t feel like I’m running all day.”
Setting intentions: “I downloaded a diary on my phone. I started out doing a one-sentence intention for the day. I’m up to about five sentences now,” she says.
Giving up control and accepting help: “Instead of rushing around, I’m letting my family do more around the house. They don’t do things like I would, but I’m letting that go,” she says. “My husband has attempted to make the bed a couple of times. He’s not great at it. So instead of trying to get him to make it the way I like it, I just accept whatever version he calls ‘made.’ Instead of seeing how imperfectly he’s made the bed, I acknowledge to myself that he tried, and I let that be enough.”
Finding community: “I’m finding more safe spaces to talk about food/body image/exercise with people who are on the same journey,” she says. “It feels good be feel heard and not judged.”
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This article was originally published on TODAY.com