How to Lose Weight/Get Healthy Without (Really) Trying
No dieting and no exercise needed.
As a young girl, my mom taught me to suck in my stomach and tighten my core so it didn’t look like I had a pudge. She would make comments about her own weight gain, and would rarely accept a compliment about her physical appearance.
At seven years old, she looked me and my sister up and down.
“My children have gotten fat. We’re going on a diet.”
I learned that white carbs were bad, and bread was a treat reserved only for holidays and special occasions. I went from eating chicken nuggets and french fries with sprite to sitting at the table until I finished my two spoonfuls of canned corn. (because that was “healthy”)
Also, I wasn’t an athletic kid.
My dad tried. He taught me to ride a bike and took me to the dirt trails behind our local park. He hauled me and my little sister to Stone Mountain where we climbed and complained, crying about how tired we were. Even the church soccer league led me to an inhaler with an “exercise induced asthma” diagnosis.
It wasn’t until fifteen, when I was introduced to CrossFit that I started to research and understand health and wellness on a different level, but the damage had been done. My foundation with food and fitness had been built on these ideas of self sacrifice and discomfort.
It took me another ten years to realize that health and fitness aren’t synonymous with diet and exercise.
Fitness doesn’t equate exercise.
Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People” discusses 9 principles of these long lived communities, one of the most impactful, in my opinion, being the principle of movement.
Rid yourself of these preconceived notions that fitness means spending an hour at “insert-kitschy-gym-type-here.” Forget these arbitrary daily step goals and measly 20 minute workouts. Do not convince yourself that a quick workout negates the rest of your 23 hours of desk sitting, couch lounging, sedentary lifestyle.
Does that mean you have to chain yourself to a gym? No!
Make movement a part of your daily experience. Develop a hobby that promotes daily movement like gardening, or utilize the easiest movement we learned when we were children: walking.
Do you like listening to podcasts/audiobooks/music? Go for a morning and evening walk listening to your favorite! Often hour long commutes and desk jobs can feel hopeless in the quest for more physical activity, but starting small and building habits can lead to long term lifestyle changes.
Don’t overcomplicate moving your body. Just start with one foot in front of the other.
Pro-Tip: Make movement a part of your every day thought process, and every time it crosses your mind, get up and walk across the room or to the other side of your house. Stand up and sit down a few times. Touch your toes. Do a 5 minute dance break. It doesn’t matter what the movement is. Just do it every single time it crosses your mind. Make it a consistent throughout-the-day practice.
Food is not the enemy.
I started binge eating to cope with emotional stress that I wasn’t dealing with. Reprieve in the way of frozen pizza, french bread and entire packages of cookie dough meant a fleeting desire for escapism and a lingering regret filled with shame and self-hatred, but the reality is that food is not the enemy.
Fast-paced fake food filled with artificial ingredients and nonexistent nutrient density is the problem, but it’s still not the enemy. Shift the way you think about food. Take a note from the Blue Zone communities.
Eat primarily plants.
When it comes to nutrition, place importance on fruits and vegetables, real ingredients that are bought fairly close to the way they came out of the ground. Instead of placing limitations on your food, creating this narrative that their are foods that are “good” or “bad,” prioritize the things you know are full of micronutrients like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Let yourself enjoy food for the delicious art that it can be.
Dabble in cooking. Find some exciting recipes. Try a dish from a culture you’ve never tried before. Explore and get excited about it. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you should definitely feel good about eating it.
It can be frustrating to read weight loss tips like this because (duh!) of course we should eat real food, but also that’s not practical advice for trying to stop myself eating like a human garbage disposal. I get that, but it’s still the most compelling portion of a weight loss/lifestyle change which is why it’s included.
If you’re looking for a real trick of the trade, focus on hydration.
Change nothing about your diet except ensuring you drink 1 gallon of water a day, and I bet you’ll see weight loss within 4 weeks. Hydration does all kinds of wonderful things for our bodies, but the biggest positive in focusing on hydration for weight loss is the distinction between hunger and thirst. Tap water, sparkling water and fruit infused water can all help make sure your body’s natural hunger signals are truly hunger and not thirst.
Pro-Tip: If you’re tired of plain ol’ tap water, try a fruit infused water recipe or sparkling water. Find a good caffeine free tea. There are so many ways to spice of your water so you can stay hydrated without drowning yourself in boring.
Sleep and spirituality really do matter.
The debate for how much an adult needs to sleep for optimal health is wide reaching and constantly varied, just like most pieces of scientific research, but there is overwhelming agreement in just how important sleep is.
Figure out what that optimal sleep time is for you, and commit to the nightly routine. Whether it’s six hours or nine hours, your body needs a consistent recharge, utilizing sleep to put your nervous system in a parasympathetic state, also known as rest and digest.
In a fast paced world with a constant fight or flight nervous response, our bodies crave sleep, allowing relaxation and bodily processes that were neglected during the high stress day.
If nothing else, understand this…
Stress - Sleep = Chronic Stress
Chronic Stress = Excessive Inflammation
Excessive Inflammation = Reduced Quality of Life
Along with prioritizing quality sleep, these Blue Zone communities have deeply rooted spiritual beliefs, giving them a sense of purpose and fulfillment which we all know if an integral facet to a positive human experience.
Look at the impact of Coronavirus lockdowns, independent of the economic impact on people’s lives. When forced into prolonged limbo without work or forward life progression, mental health plummets. Depression and anxiety soar, and it becomes more difficult to cope with life. No one wants to exist through life, and no matter what belief system you subscribe to, it needs to be something that resonates with you on a profound level.
Life purpose has long been accepted as a means to a happy life, and when you feel so resolute about your belief, your lifestyle habits and psychological resilience are better suited to withstand the speed bumps of life.
Pro-Tip: Spirituality doesn’t have to be a religion. (Although that’s great too.) Developing an understanding of your life purpose can be as simple or as complex as you’d like for it to be. Read self help books. Dive into yogic principles. Surround yourself with like minded people, and make sure to fuel your spiritual self on the daily.
Weight loss is a by-product of something far more important, developing a life that offers you fulfillment, joy and the drive to see what’s around the next corner. If a healthy lifestyle is your true goal, trust that the weight loss will come, but focus on the daily habits because those will propel you towards a better life.
About the Author: I’m Jordan, a recent Massage School Graduate, former CrossFit gym owner, 5+ years coaching experience, and overall 10+ years experience in health and fitness.
Buettner, D., & Skemp, S. (2016). Blue Zones. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 10(5), 318–321. doi: 10.1177/1559827616637066
Barclay, Eliza. “Eating To Break 100: Longevity Diet Tips From The Blue Zones.” NPR, NPR, 11 Apr. 2015, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/11/398325030/eating-to-break-100-longevity-diet-tips-from-the-blue-zones.