Over the last few weeks I've received great letters from readers, not only encouraging my efforts to live healthier but also asking how they can do it, too. I've tried to answer each one personally, but since there are some common themes — How do I get started? What if I can't afford a gym? — I thought I'd try to address some of those questions in this column.
A big caveat: I'm not a doctor, nutritionist or fitness expert. I can only say what's worked for me. Before starting any significant dietary or exercise regimens, talk to your doctor.
That said, here are some tips I've found helpful.
Write it down
When I asked my trainer, Matt Sauerhoff, what he would recommend people get as one piece of fitness equipment if they can't join a gym, his answer was something we all probably have already: paper and a pen.
"There's something powerful about writing down your goals," he told me. "Think about where you are and where you want to be. You're more likely to reach for it if you literally spell it out."
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Paper and a pen are also important tools to help track your progress. For me, the number on the scale isn't necessarily the most important thing. Even if I'm not dropping pounds, I can tell I'm making progress by charting my other measurements (see below). That helps motivate me.
Other items Matt recommends are a heart rate monitor to make sure you're working at your target intensity, and a jump rope — an inexpensive piece of equipment that helps you get a full-body workout. (Next week, I'll pass along more of Matt's advice about ways to exercise at home.)
Start small, but get moving
As I mentioned at the beginning of this process, I was really intimidated about returning to a gym, and didn't have any kind of momentum or endurance. I found that the first step was to literally take steps: Get myself off the couch and start moving. If you're not currently exercising, start with a five-minute walk. Then increase to 10 minutes, then 15, and you'll be on your way. It's still chilly outside, but the weather should be improving over the next few weeks. Take advantage of spring — it's a great time of year to be outside.
In addition to walking (and eventually jogging and running), stairs are ready-made for exercise. I've spent quite a few weekends out of town, finalizing wedding plans in Boston (it's just over six weeks away — eek!) When I can't get to the gym, I run up and down the three flights of stairs in my mom's apartment building several times, with bonus points for holding makeshift weights in each hand (a 1-liter bottle of water is about two pounds, a bag of sugar weighs 5 pounds, etc.) By doing stairs, I'm not working as hard as I would in the gym, but at least I'm doing something.
Become a label reader
Nutrition labels on food packages aren't as easy to understand as they could be, and that's one reason why they're changing in the next few years. You should pay attention to not only calories, but also protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber and sodium.
Pay special attention to the serving size: If you're having an entire package of something but it's actually two servings or more, calculate the totals. Dividing the food or drink into individual portions has helped me keep from eating more than I should. Which leads me to...
If you're like me, most of your waking hours are spent at work, which can be a challenge when it comes to eating. I hadn't been working at Metro more than a week before the middle drawer of my desk became the snack drawer. It used to contain an assortment of chips, cookies, candy and other treats. Now it's like a desert — nothing but tea bags, leftover packets of red pepper flakes from a long-ago pizza order and a single bag of pretzel twists. Sorry, coworkers, I can't be a bad influence anymore.
I've done a pretty good job of bringing my lunch (and sometimes breakfast), allowing me to eat healthier and save money. But since I usually work a nine- or 10-hour day, I need more than a salad to keep me going. Picking healthier snacks (such as cut vegetables, fruit, nuts, hummus and things like that), measuring out individual servings and using small reusable containers has kept me from eating too much. When you're sitting at your desk all day it's easy to snack constantly; limiting what I have on hand helps with portion control.
Think fresh, not prepackaged
Protein bars, bottled smoothies, and snack-size packages are really convenient but can be deceptive. Again, read the fine print: A bottle of blended juice can have more than 400 calories, about a third of my daily calorie allowance. Drinking one probably isn't going to make me feel full, so it's really not worth it.
Water, water, everywhere
I can't recommend this enough: Drink a ton of water each day. The benchmark of eight 8-ounce glasses is a good start, but especially if you're exercising it may not be enough. I did some research and health experts recommend daily water intake to equal half of your body weight, so if you weight 200 pounds you should be drinking 100 ounces of water. Yes, it is possible to drink too much water, but it rarely happens. If you wait until you're thirsty, you may already be getting dehydrated. I have a 24-ounce cup on my desk at work that I refill all day long. If you find plain water boring, try adding lemon, lime, mint or other flavors to make it taste better.
The bottom line is thatI don't have all the answers (not even close) but I'm learning a lot through this process. If you have questions, call your doctor or talk to another health care professional. I'm pretty sure they'll cheer you on as much as I will.
After a slight snafu, my dress has arrived — made in my new measurements — and I love it! Can't wait to see how much more I'll need to have it taken in.
Starting Stats (as of Jan. 29)
Weight: 209.5 pounds
Body Mass Index (BMI): 36
Chest: 48 inches
Waist: 41 inches
Hips: 48.5 inches
Current Stats (as of March 17)
Weight: 191.5 (18 pounds)
BMI: 32.9 (just over three points)
Chest: 42.13 inches (nearly six inches)
Waist: 38.13 inches (nearly three inches)
Hips: 43.5 inches (five inches)
Amanda Art is Metro’s social media manager. Over the next few months, track her weight loss progress as she readies for her May 3 wedding. Follow Amanda on Twitter at @NYNewsgirl.