Five Small Things I Did to Improve My Health and Lose 30 Pounds

Apple on plate Lose 30 Pounds

I managed to lose 30 pounds and got to the point where going up the stairs isn’t life-threatening.

I need to paint you a picture before we get into this thing here: I am not a small man. Nor am I particularly healthy. I am beer-centric. I cook with butter. A lot of butter. Like, Paula Deen called me up and whispered, “That’s too much butter.” I have a gym membership and I hope they’re all happy over there. Yet … I managed to lose 30 pounds and got to the point where going up and down the stairs isn’t life-threatening.

I didn’t do anything dramatic. Just five small things. You can do them too.

1. Put Your Mind to It

It sounds simple. Once you make the decision to be healthier, of course, your mind will be on board. But your mind is busy keeping track of “Game of Thrones” character arcs and coming up with devasting comebacks for that one jerk on [insert social media platform here]. Unless you give your mind a direct order then keep your mind on that task, the next time you think about your health will be as you finish a 48-oz shake.

You have to train your mind like you train your Pandora stations: constantly. I use a journal. I don’t make a big deal about it, there’s no real method. The important function of journaling is doing it. It trains your intention. I have a calendar in the front. I cross off days when I’m on track and circle days when I binge. Inside, I write a short entry that sums up my day. It really helps when I look back and see how many days I was on target. Here’s an example:

  • 4/13/18. Good. Had that Greek cucumber salad thing for lunch. Plain chicken and broccoli for supper. Walked the dog. Drank water. 4 out of 4. Boom!

But it’s just as helpful for those days when I fail.

  • 5/12/18. Suck. Realized on the way to the gym I hadn’t eaten all day. Went through the drive-thru. Swam two laps. Ended up sitting in the hot tub. Tomorrow­ I WILL KILL IT!

2. Get Help

I joined an online fitness program in a fit of ardor. Never even finished my profile. Canceled my membership the next day. But they never took me off their Facebook group. I started getting notices and ended up posting about how I couldn’t get back on track. The support and encouragement I got from the people in the group ON FACEBOOK were immediate, overwhelmingly positive, direct, and actionable. I went to the gym that day. I kept going. Lately, I read the famous Reddit group “Lose It” to stay inspired and sometimes reach out for a steadying hand. I also use it to get high fives. Report your milestones and the response is immediate applause. Standing ovations, even. Sometimes a deeply moving comment by someone who was inspired by you. There’s enduring value in this kind of relationship—even when it’s virtual.

3. Go to the Gym

No brainer, right? But I don’t mean set up an exercise routine that would make the Rock ask you to dial it back a little. I mean just go to the gym. For me, creating this habit was as important as any exercise I did there. It made the gym a part of my routine. Sure, I did different stuff every day. But eventually, I settled on three exercises I performed every visit, with random routines I picked up from magazines or online stuffed between them.

I could have put together a devasting workout, but I know myself well enough to know my biggest obstacle was getting there. If I had to also psyche myself up for killer Crossfit, I’d start making excuses or forgetting to go. So I just made my gym routine stupidly simple: go to the gym. I know you’re thinking, that’s stupid. You need a program. And yeah, you do. But you also don’t. Look, my gym’s four and a half miles away and I pay a premium to go there. If I make the effort to get in my car IN CHICAGO IN FEBRUARY and drive to my gym, I’m gonna do something when I get there. Or, maybe you don’t need a gym?

4. Eat Less, Move More

I hired a personal trainer to help me develop an exercise routine. I forgot everything he taught me and just swim laps most of the time, but he delivered a bon mot that stuck: You lose weight in the kitchen; you get fit in the gym. It’s a mindset. When you are putting together a meal, make it easy on yourself to eat less. Instead of mashed potatoes, eat mashed cauliflower. Drink your coffee black. Swap your morning juice for water. When you go to the store, park far away. Walk your dog one block further. Using an app will help. Most fitness apps will track your steps and your calories with minimal effort. Be honest and add in all the smoked salmon cream cheese you had for breakfast. Add in the grape you scavenged from the produce aisle. Add the diet coke. As you keep track of your stats, you develop better self-awareness, and the simple mindset of “eat less, move more” turns into a lifelong habit.

Does it work? Two tablespoons of half and half in your morning coffee adds up to 13,505 calories a year. That’s almost four pounds. Walking your dog an extra block adds up to 45 more miles a year. Yeah, it works.

5. Lose 30 Pounds — Give Up Beer

And wine. And martinis. And margaritas. This change almost made me cry, but it made a huge difference. Like any American man, I had between 9 and 13 alcoholic beverages every week. If they were all just beer, that would be 2,200 calories. That’s almost a pound. Dropping booze put me at 62 percent of my weekly goal of losing a single stupid pound. It hurt. I mean, it really, really hurt. My other job is writing about food and drink, which means I am offered a LOT of wine. Which I have to spit out. Which wounds my soul. But I also bought new khakis this week so TAKE THAT, BEER! PANTS!

Give Yourself a Break

You will fail. You will go off the wagon. You will drink that shake, and eat that pizza, and drive past the gym right into a drive-thru. You will. But you’re not in it for a week. You’re in it for 50 weeks. That’s 50 weeks of losing a single pound. And your body is crazy and won’t work right all the time and one week you’ll do everything exactly right, add an extra 10 thousand steps, and climb Everest yet you’ll gain a pound. Don’t freak out. Give yourself a break. It took you a long time to get out of shape. It’ll take a long time to get into shape. So relax and take a deep breath and do some kind of meditation or something, you maniac. You’re fine. Next week you’ll lose two.

And yeah, at the end of a solid year of going to the gym, and eating cauliflower, and drinking black coffee, and just looking at beer—after a year of making these small changes, you might only lose 30 pounds.

But you lost 30 pounds. Just imagine if this very moment was the end of your year and you were 30 pounds down. How motivated would you be to do it again?

In the comments below, tell me just one small change you’ll make for the next year.
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