My birthday was last week and it really got me to thinking about what I wish I were able to tell my younger self. I am one year away from 40 and thankfully I don’t feel like it at all. I definitely feel and look better than I did in my 20s. I try not to focus on the past but if I were able to share these tips with my 20 year old self I know I would have felt so much better, had more confidence and probably enjoyed life a little more.
If I could go back in time, this is what I’d tell myself:
1. Processed “health foods” are not really healthy. I used to live on Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice meals and things like Snackwells cookies and Weight Watchers treats. Since they are touted as good for you and helpful for weight loss you would think I would have been thin and healthy eating those types of foods on a regular basis. But I wasn’t. I’d buy those little “healthy” cookies and instead of eating just a couple I’d end up eating the whole box. What I have since learned is that the overly processed, so called health foods are really not all that healthy. They have a gazillion ingredients (many that you can’t pronounce,) are full of salt, and don’t have the nutrients that you find in real/whole foods. (The box may tell you it’s full of nutrients but that would only be because the food processors have added back in the nutrients that have been stripped during processing. Those nutrients are not the same as those found naturally in real/whole foods.) So many of these types of foods actually encourage overeating because you just don’t feel satisfied after eating them. I find so much more fulfillment and satisfaction in the foods I eat now because I can eat so much more of them and I feel so much better after a meal. I actually find enjoyment in healthy home cooked meals so I am not as tempted to overeat. (I do realize that there are people out there that have found success in losing weight and feeling well eating those types of food. They just didn’t work for me. Remember, this is my personal experience.)
2. Give healthy, fresh foods a chance and learn to cook from scratch. There was a time that I wouldn’t have touched onions, spinach, tomatoes, avocados, peppers, brussels sprouts and much more. I thought I didn’t like them but the truth is that I never really ate them. So how would I have even known whether or not they were tasty? I would love to tell my younger self to be open to trying new things. And try them more than once. I know that it would have opened up a whole new world for me. Maybe it would have spurred a love of cooking and eating fresh/whole/real foods earlier in life. Instead, I spent my 20s eating fast food and way too many sweets. I also wish I had taken the time to learn to cook more naturally. Back then I used Bisquick, packaged cookie and muffin mixes, and spice packets full of MSG and artificial ingredients. There is no question for me now, foods cooked from scratch taste so much better and I know they are so much better for my body. And when my body feels better I am more likely to continue eating well and watching my portion sizes.
3. Change up your workouts. I’ve always enjoyed exercising. But I used to focus almost entirely on cardio. I would spend an hour on the cardio machines and convince myself that I didn’t need to do other forms of exercise because I needed to burn calories. I now know that I wasn’t burning as many calories as I would have if I had been doing more weight bearing exercises. These days I focus more on lifting weights and doing things I enjoy like PiYo and pilates type exercises. I still do cardio but it’s not my only focus. If you are exercising and trying to increase your weight loss potential consider adding weight lifting and/or classes or exercises that use your body weight to your routine. Like I said in this post, just increasing your activity level has many health benefits. So this advice is more for someone who has the time and is trying to lose weight. (I started a board on my Pinterest page with exercise tutorials and videos for anyone interested. When I can’t get to the gym I do many of these at home.)
4. You don’t need as much food as you think. I wish I had known that I was eating too much food. I didn’t really realize it at the time because my stomach had just grown accustomed to overeating so I felt I needed a certain amount of food to feel satisfied and keep from being hungry. But after losing weight and really paying attention to my body I realize now that I was eating way too much food. This is such a common issue for Americans because we live in the land of excess. One of the reasons I choose not to eat out very often is because I almost always eat too much when we eat out. It’s much easier to exercise portion control when you cook fresh healthy foods at home.
5. Focus on health, not weight-loss. This is easier said than done and I know I tried to focus on the health aspect more than once. The problem was that what I thought was healthy really wasn’t (see #1.) I was constantly counting calories and fat and trying to stick to an unrealistic goal. Instead I should have been focused on eating real/whole foods cooked at home. Foods that would nourish my body and make me feel better. There is nothing wrong with counting fat and calories. For many people this helps them stay on track and learn portion control. But I would suggest focusing on eating real whole foods first. Next, focus on listening to your body and learn to pay attention to how much you are eating and learn to stop before you are full. Then count calories and fat from there, if it’s helpful to you. The thing to understand is that the calories and fat from a candy bar are not the same as the calories and fat from an avocado. I know many people say a calorie is a calorie but for me that just isn’t true. I feel tired and sluggish after eating a candy bar and energized after eating things like avocados and other healthy foods.
So there you have it. Those are five things I wish I had known in my 20s. What tips would you tell your younger self if you could?
And if you’re curious, you can read a little more about my weight loss journey here.