Six tips to help you lose weight and regain a healthy body

After Christmas, I was in bad shape. I'd gained weight over the holidays, and I’d gained weight that fall too. In late January, the scale told me that I was 240 pounds — troubling even for my 6'1" frame, and I realized that I would need to buy new clothes soon if this continued.

I made sure that it didn't. I was already working out most days of the week, and I built on that by tracking my calories and challenging myself to eat better. I currently weigh 191 pounds, and I'm working towards reaching 170-185 pounds, which my doctor recommends according to my Body Mass Index (BMI), an imperfect measurement but a useful rule of thumb.

There are many ways to diet, and I’m not an expert, but I want to share what I've learned so far, and I hope that it helps you, too.

1. When it comes to hunger, push your limits.
I'd never been able to lose weight for very long. This time, I tried to spend a day without eating, thinking maybe I could fast once a week. I didn't last a whole day, but it reminded me that I didn't have to give in to my hunger impulses as quickly as I'd been doing. Over time, I started to strategize…

2. Track your calories.
The last time I tracked all of my eating was the only time I’d experienced sustained weight loss, so I did that again. I use an app called Lose It!, but there are others. Do your best to count your meal portions accurately, which is rarely perfect but improves with practice. You may have to uncomfortably record your meals on days when you overeat. Find the strength to push through that discomfort; losing weight is less about hitting a target every day, and more about going in the right general direction. Even gaining less weight than before is still a positive change!

3. Find healthy food that you're willing to eat, & that will also sate your hunger.
This is famously difficult. You can't just quit eating entirely, and it’s hard to moderate hunger! So try to eat just what you need, and experiment. I often get hungry before meals, or I have to go out for a trip and I get hungry. (Finding healthy takeout can be a challenge!) But I like apples, so now I usually bring an apple with me when I go out, or when I'm about to work on something for 45-60 minutes and won't have time to eat.

Find the healthy snacks you like, and eat what satisfies you. You can eat unhealthy snacks too, so long as you still usually hit your goals; I finished the ice cream in my freezer by eating one half-serving (1/3 cup) at a time.

A typical meal, from April. Pasta (whole grain is best) with chicken balls and tomato sauce, vegetables, and strawberries with sugar. About 376 calories.

4. Mix things up.
Have a variety of healthy food on hand—eat a rice cake with peanut butter if you're in the mood for that, or maybe a bag of snap peas. Controlling your diet is easier if you make your own meals and buy healthy snacks, though takeout works too so long as you can eat the right amount.

For meals, have reasonable meat portions, and tons of vegetables. Vegetables aren't filling unless you eat tons of them…so eat tons of them! A typical dinner for me is two chicken thighs covered in mustard, alongside literally two entire bunches of steamed, spiced asparagus, or 2-3 cups of mixed frozen vegetables, served with sparkling water. This meal is acceptable to me (only make what you want to eat), and usually gets me full enough for the night. That’s important, because food won't properly digest if you eat it before bed. I don't eat any food after 8pm now, and if I still get hungry, I go to sleep early and eat breakfast.

5. Exercise regularly.
No surprises here—you will lose weight faster if you burn off several dozen calories on most days. I started my diet with a 5-minute kettle bell workout alongside pushups and situps, burning about 80 calories a day, and I've started going on 6-kilometre walks to make sure I'm doing as much as possible. Muscles need to heal, so work out no more than 5 times a week, but walk as often as you want!

Stretch thoroughly after each exercise, holding your stretches for up to a minute if you can. I'm still struggling here—it’s hard to work for a while after I finish a workout. But last fall I was able to bike to and from work, an hour in each direction, and I was able to work then. So I'm optimistic that I'll be able to exercise before a future desk job, assuming this pandemic doesn’t change those.

6. Challenge yourself every day.
This is the most important advice I have to offer, and also the most difficult. Dieting is hard, and I think that will still be true once I've reached my goal weight and am trying to stabilize. Every week, you've got to find the nerve within yourself to work out, even though it's difficult; you have to usually say no to your favourite foods; and you're probably going to be hungry more often.

This time, I decided I was fed up with gaining a pound or two every year until I die, so I challenged myself to try harder. I also make plans—I’ll agree that I can eat two chicken thighs for dinner instead of three, and I often make that decision in the morning so I knew how much I could have for breakfast and lunch. It’s slowly become easier to eat satisfying food and eat healthy!

I still have a few pounds to lose, and I'm sure I'll have to keep challenging myself once I reach my goal weight, though it'll be nice to eat a burger more often again. But I want to succeed in this life, and losing weight makes it easier to achieve my goals. I don't fault anyone for struggling with this, but I know you all want the best for yourselves.

Do your best to channel that drive into your diet, because a healthy body makes it easier to do all the things you want to achieve. Sometimes I didn't think I had it in me, but I had that will to succeed. If you do too, try to devote that energy to weight loss. It won't happen overnight, but it could make all the difference.