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Losing Weight the Safe & Sustainable Way: A Woman's Guide to Ditching Strict Diets, Calorie and Macro Counting; Oh, and Over-Exercising

Updated: Jan 9

Life's 40s+ bring new twists in women's bodies. Ugh, like we don't have enough twists already with our lovely monthly cycle! The decline in estrogen and muscle mass leads to a slower metabolism and maybe more belly fat. But if you listen to your body and work with it, you can absolutely get lean, strong, fit and healthy, shaking your hips like 💃🏽Shakira💃🏽 all the way into your 90s! Shake, shake, shake!

Here's your step-by-step “healthy habits” road map to a leaner, fitter, stronger, healthier YOU: 

1. BAN STRICT DIETS FROM YOUR LIFE - These are temporary diets that make you eat so little you’re always hungry and/or restrict a food group like carbs. You 100% need a calorie deficit but too much of one for too long will lead to your body storing fat instead of burning it. Why? Your brain doesn't care how you look in a bikini. It cares about keeping you alive. Its instinct for survival kicks in with the prolonged low calories and threat of starvation, so eventually it drives us to overeat. Just wear the bikini anyway👙. Life’s too short!

2. WRITE GOALS & YOUR WHY - Make sure to be realistic with expectations and include both short-term and long-term goals. For your why, write "I want to ____________________________________ so that_____________________________________________". I make my clients memorize it as a source of motivation, so write it somewhere where you can read it every day, until one day you have it memorized!

3. MAKE 7-8 HOURS OF SLEEP A NON-NEGOTIABLE - Stop letting screens win at bedtime! Lack of sleep makes you hangry(hungry and angry!), makes it hard to control cravings, zaps your energy, and messes with your hormones. Menopause can disrupt sleep with insomnia and hot flashes so change what you have control over.

Sleep Action Steps: Choose 3 of the following micro-habits that feel the most doable right now: turn screens off 1 hour before lights out, read a book, use meditation apps like "Insight Timer" for guided meditation to help you wind down, use your own covers, no caffeine after 12pm, no alcohol 4 hours before bed, black out blinds or eye mask, ear plugs, white noise machine, wash your face an hour before lights out, plug work phone outside of bedroom, work and TV outside the bedroom(sorry!), set bedroom temperature to 18 C, no pets in your room.

4. FOOD FREEDOM - Here’s your ultimate nutrition plan for safe and lasting weight loss so you improve your relationship with food and you know what to eat, how much, how and when - without counting calories, counting macros or restricting foods:

  • First, change your food story by keeping your language positive with any talk that has to do with food. If your brain(or your inner child😜) senses restriction - saying to yourself, “I can’t have ___________(fill in the blank), will only make you eventually crave it more. Instead find ways to keep your language positive, such as: “I CAN have pizza on Fridays, but I chose to half 1 or 2 slices”; or “I CAN have a treat every day, but I try to make it roughly 100-150 calories”; or “I CAN have the hamburger bun or bagel and I'll choose half.” Make sense?

  • Learn how to eat slowly and mindfully to 80% full (as seen in the Netflix documentary, “Live to 100”). Give yourself time to learn this habit, but it is soooo worth it. Print the info-graphic, Eat to 80% full, which describes in more detail this image:

  • Use the hand measurement system for portion control instead of counting calories or macros(fats, protein, carbs). Now remember, it’s just a guide so depending on the meal, you might eat a little bit more or less of any of the food groups. Pairing this with eating to 80% full is the key. Here's the Calorie Control Guide info-graphic for more details.

  • Follow the 80-20 rule to create balance and decrease cravings, never classifying a food as “good” or “bad” ever again. Learn how to categorize foods with this simple info-graphic: What Should I eat - meat eaters or What Should I Eat - plant-based/vegetarian eaters .  Nourish your body with real fresh wholesome foods from the "eat more" and "eat some" categories 80% of the time; and enjoy planned & comfort food or treats guilt-free from the "eat less" category,  20% of the time. You'll learn how to enjoy all carbs(from quinoa to pizza) and daily treats(yes, like cookies and chocolate), and still create a calorie deficit to lose and then eventually maintain your healthy weight. 

When you bring more balance into your diet with real whole foods and meet your bodies’ overall needs, you do start to see your cravings change naturally.

Action Steps: Print all info-graphics and post them in your kitchen where you see them daily. Place reminders in your kitchen and on your phone and set a 20 minute timer when eating, focusing on the textures and flavours of your food, and putting your fork down between bites. 

I do recommend filling out a food diary(can be a notebook or app like MyFitnessPal) while you're trying to lose weight(even though it's something you will do temporarily), so that you can look back on any given week and understand what you ate - which resulted in fat loss, maintenance or a gain. Especially because it's too easy to forget about the BLT's(bites, tastes and licks) that happen throughout the day! It will build the habit of being effortlessly mindful of everything you eat, which will stick with you once you stop filling in the food diary. It's also a way to hold yourself accountable. If you do decide to use an app, don't bother paying too much attention to the calories, as again, you're trying to learn how to listen to what your body's telling you (hungry or full) instead of relying on an outside source (the number of calories).

5. SET INTENTIONS TO CONQUER STRESS - Start with this habit if the main reason you're overeating is due to stress. Stress triggers overeating as it can stimulate the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that can increase appetite, particularly for high-calorie, comfort foods. So it’s not really about willpower. Identifying emotional triggers for overeating can help you manage stress and reduce emotional eating. 

Action Steps: Shifting from stress eating to healthier stress reduction choices include setting aside time daily for relaxation techniques(try the meditation app called “Insight Timer”. It’s free.), incorporating physical activity into your routine, and seeking social support to share your feelings and experiences, ultimately mitigating the urge to turn to food for emotional comfort. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of taking a pause and taking 5 deep, deep breadths. As you add healthy stress relieving options to your day, it’s beneficial to also journal your emotions and eating triggers.

By identifying your triggers and choosing other forms of stress relief, you’ll eventually find yourself naturally turning to food less and less for that instant relief. You’ll be surprised how much healing there is in self-discovery as you journal your triggers and emotions.

6. EARN THE RIGHT TO SIT DOWN - Move 7,500+ steps a day or 30 minutes 5 days a week. You're not lazy, just out of "movement" practice! Research shows that physical activity can reduce the risk of over 25 chronic conditions including stroke, colon cancer, osteoporosis, hypertension, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease.

Action Steps: Choose 3 of the following micro-habits that feel the most doable right now. Go on an intentional walk, starting with 15 minutes, if that’s all you can do. Put it in your calendar. For ongoing movement throughout your day: get up from your desk every hour or so and walk around for a minute(go to the furthest bathroom from where you sit); when you talk on the phone, always walk and talk; park farther from any building entrance; go on walk ‘n talk work meetings; take short walks during breaks; pace while you watch your kids play sports; take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Always ask yourself, “can I walk there”, and just build in the extra time for movement.

7. STOP OVER EXERCISING AND STRESSING YOUR BODY - which can spike the stress hormone, cortisol. To build and tone your muscles(esp. your heart), you just need to complete 3 weekly 30-60 minute total body cardio + strength training workouts. Ideally, every other day to give your muscles rest and recovery. When you combine strength training exercises with active recovery exercises between sets (like marching, jumping jacks, etc.,) your heart rate has no choice but to be elevated. And as long as it stays elevated for a steady 20 minutes or more, that workout will be both a cardio and muscle toning workout - no treadmill or elliptical needed! How high does your heart rate need to go for it to be considered a "cardio" workout so you work the heart muscle?

Here’s the simple formula to figure it out:

220 - your age= 166 beats per minute (bpm) - your maximum heart rate

If you're starting an exercise program, you may want to set your target rate at 50% of maximum, and gradually increase the intensity of your workout until you reach 70% to 80%.

However, if you don't exercise regularly, you should check with your doctor before you set a target heart rate. Some medications — particularly beta blockers — can lower your heart rate. Your doctor can help you set realistic goals.

As long as you train the same muscle group 3x/week, you'll see progress and maintain your muscle gains in order to have a toned physique. Do whatever you like the most that works best for your schedule, but make sure it's total body as all that muscle will rev up your metabolism.

Body weight, dumbbells or bands? Personal trainer, YouTube workouts or at the gym? It doesn't matter (personal preference), as long as the workout contains the elements that make it effective and safe to tone all muscles. And yes, HIIT(high intensity interval training) workouts are awesome as they really help rev up your metabolism even more, so I recommend trying a few online or at a gym to see if you like them and can do them CONSISTENTLY. 

And remember that toning is visible only after you have lost the extra fat (with a calorie deficit), that is hiding the muscle.

Action Steps: To increase chances of starting and sticking to 3 total body workouts a week, you need to find the time and workout that is the most convenient for your schedule, whether that’s before work, at lunch or after work or first thing on weekend mornings. Put it in your calendar as you're more likely to do it if it's scheduled like an appointment. Joining a gym that is not convenient to get to or trying to work out at home when you get easily distracted with other things you need to do, are things you want to think about as you decide where and when to work out. My advice if you hate working out or never stay consistent? Hire an online personal trainer(yup, like me😜). I would design a 30-60 minute total body workout that is right for YOU. 

Consistency is the key to workout success and remember that workouts are not great at helping short-term weight loss but are key in decreasing short-term weight gain and increasing long-term weight loss (think 10 lbs in a year).

8. BE NICE TO YOURSELF. ALWAYS. - Neuroscience and psychology research shows that treating yourself with kindness and understanding leads to improved mental health and well-being, which leads to a strong desire to become the strongest, fittest, healthiest version of yourself. Self-compassion can be challenging because many people have ingrained self-criticism and high standards. Society often promotes a culture of perfectionism, and people tend to be their own harshest critics. 

Additionally, self-compassion may be misconstrued as self-indulgence(hello fellow moms, I see you👀), when in reality, it's a vital component of self-care and mental well-being. Developing the habit of positive self-talk, as well as self-compassion and acceptance, means you'll expect imperfection today, tomorrow and always, so you forgive yourself for missteps. You'll learn to let go of any idea that you should feel shame or failure when you're not perfect. 

Action Steps: Put into Practice: The next time you find yourself being self-critical, practice self-compassion, grab a notebook and follow these 3 steps:

  1. Take a moment to notice your experience - Maybe you’re feeling anxiety, fear, frustration, sadness, or regret. Or maybe it’s physical pain or discomfort. Resist making a judgment about it, or creating a story around it. Just notice and name. What are you feeling right now? Write it down in your notebook.

  1. Take a moment to remind yourself that everyone experiences moments of suffering - Remembering that everyone experiences hardship and pain reduces the discomfort of feeling those things yourself, and reminds you that you’re not alone. Think of how your experience actually connects you to others, rather than separates you from them. How are you better able to relate to others now that you’ve experienced this suffering? Write it in your notebook.

  1. Practice showing love and kindness to yourself - Place your hand on your heart, your cheek, or wherever you can feel the warmth and support of your own touch. Alternatively, you can just make yourself extra comfy in your chair, or drape a blanket over your shoulders. Now, think about what you need from yourself: Forgiveness? Love? Strength? Acceptance? Write down what you need from yourself in your notebook.

9. USE THE SCALE AND GET CURIOUS NOT FURIOUS - Tracking your healthy weight loss journey and then weight maintenance, by hopping on the scale once a week with love and curiosity; instead of fury, shame and frustration; is one of the top things you can do for lasting weight loss, according to research. Brown University’s(USA) National Weight Control Registry 28-year-study shows (the study tracks people who successfully lose weight and keep it off) that when study participants weigh themselves about once a week, they give themselves the chance to make tweaks to their eating and exercise if their weight starts to creep up. A once a week weigh in, when done with a curious and non-judgmental attitude, can help you stay mindful of your weight and make necessary adjustments, especially after gatherings, birthdays, holidays, a stressful week, work travel or events where we tend to overeat or eat more dessert than normal. I like sweets so this is key in helping me scale back when I need to!

Action Step: Hop on the scale every Thursday morning before eating for #trackitthursdays, and focus on curiosity and self-love, not shame or guilt, no matter what the number shows. Sometimes you hop on and it’s down when you thought it should be up, and sometimes it’s up when you expect it to be down! That’s life and it’s ok! The number does not determine your self-worth.

BONUS: Using "Atomic Habits" Wisdom James Clear's "Atomic Habits" teaches us that small changes can lead to remarkable results. Apply this philosophy to each habit:

  • Start with small, achievable goals.

  • Make your micro-habits obvious, like placing your workout clothes where you'll see them.

  • Make bad habits unattractive by acknowledging their consequences.

  • Reward yourself for sticking to your habits, reinforcing positive behaviour(no food of course, so more like a night out with girl-friends, a massage, pedicure, etc.).

Start your road to freedom, take a deep breath, and dive into your journey of building healthy habits for today, tomorrow and years from now! 🌟💪

And if you need support and accountability in making all or any of these habits a reality in your life, that's what I do best! I’m a On-Stop-Shop Transformation Coach and a Master Healthy Habit Builder. 

Get in touch to see if I can help you!

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