My friend Shannon started an ambitious diet and exercise program a few months ago. She has been talking to me about her progress, and I thought that her experience making would be helpful to others making similar behavior changes.
She agreed to let me share her story (anonymously, since Shannon is not her real name).
Shannon is in her 30s and has two children. Like many women in this situation, she realized that she had not been focusing on her health in recent years.
While she didn’t need to lose a lot of weight, she did want to improve her diet and get fit. Her main goal is to feel better about herself by doing what I call remodeling — not really losing much weight but shedding fat and building muscle.
She started following an ambitious home exercise and nutrition program. Since this was an intense exercise program, she was smart and started off not pushing herself too much by doing only parts of the workouts and taking a few rest days early on. Over time she has been able to increase the amount she does, up to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise most days of the week.
Her diet has changed, too. She is eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking water instead of soda and eating out less, especially fast food.
This hasn’t been easy, given how convenient restaurant and takeout meals were for her family. But she has learned to make smarter choices when eating out and has found that eating a healthy snack before she goes out to eat can help her avoid overeating at a restaurant.
She has also learned that, even though making healthy decisions can be difficult, she can do it. She has been turning down offers to eat out and making healthier meals at home.
She is also exercising nearly every day, rarely missing more than one day at a time. Shannon also learned that backsliding isn’t something she needs to berate herself for; she just needs to work harder and not give up.
After a particularly bad day, Shannon told me, “Tomorrow is another day, and I’ll do better then.”
Shannon is starting to realize the benefits of her remodeling project.
Even before she saw any real changes, Shannon said that she felt better about herself than she had in years and really likes the fact that she is approaching weight loss in a healthy manner instead of just trying to lose weight by any means necessary.
She also learned that it takes time and hard work, and she has to really stick with it even when she wasn’t seeing results yet.
But Shannon is seeing results now. She has lost inches in some areas and can wear clothing that she couldn’t wear before, including one particular brand of jeans that she had never worn.
She is also receiving compliments from friends and coworkers. Perhaps the best measure of her success is the fact that she has recently heard some catty remarks from other women about how thin she looks!
So far, Shannon is doing everything right. She is making difficult decisions, dealing with stressful situations that interfere with her progress and changing her whole thought process about losing weight.
While at first she was focused on what to do, the details of the diet and exercise program, now she spends more time thinking about how to maintain the healthy habits she has been learning.
Because of this, I think Shannon’s remodeling project is off to a great start!
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior. He is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and is an ACSM certified clinical exercise specialist; his research focuses on physical activity in weight management and the impact of the environment on activity and diet.