Sunday, May 9, 2010

Plan and Prepare for Success

When I resolved once again at the beginning of 2009 to try to lose weight, I spent a lot of time thinking about how my past attempts at weight loss had gone, what I had done well, where I had failed, and how I could plan my next attempt in a way that would succeed. It was such a helpful exercise that I try to ask myself these questions on a regular basis: What do I need to do to succeed in my weight loss efforts? What should I do for the short term and for the long term? What challenges can I anticipate? How can I approach these challenges so that they don’t sabotage my efforts? What kind of support systems and habits can I build into my life that will help me lose weight and ultimately maintain a healthy lifestyle?

One of the first steps I took and one that I have to redo regularly is figure out what I will eat in the next week. I like to cook, and I want to do this eating “real” food not frozen diet meals or much processed food. I need to go to the grocery store regularly to ensure that my kitchen is stocked with healthy and appealing foods. I also make sure that my kitchen is not stocked with unhealthy choices and junk food. I never go to the grocery store hungry and make a grocery list before I leave home. I often do a rough meal plan for the week. One of the most helpful tools I’ve developed is my ability to do a mammoth day of cooking every couple months or so and freeze individual meals for later. For more details, see:

If I know of any upcoming larger meals or social/work events with plenty of eating opportunities in the next seven days, I may address how I can balance that with other meals during the week. I may plan to make a vegetarian meal, such as Cuban black beans and rice, or another very low-fat dish for part of that week. I may consider increasing my workouts. If the meal is at a restaurant, I’ll often look at the menu in advance to figure out what I will eat, how many calories the meal will likely have, and how much I’ll have to work to balance it elsewhere. Sometimes, I can order something that will stay in my calorie or point count for the day. Other times, I’ll choose to splurge on a higher calorie meal and balance it in another way. There are lots of strategies you can use to survive eating out.

I know that a potentially challenging time for me can be when I’m coming home from work tired and a little stressed. I often won’t want to cook supper then. If I don’t have something already prepared at home or something I can whip up very easily (cereal, anyone? – or my healthier turkey burgers), I will be very tempted to stop at any of the many fast food and casual dining restaurants at the metro stops near where I work and live. I’ve taken the time to figure out all the lower-calorie yet still appealing options there and will try to turn to those when I must get take out. A real treat for me is two tacos at Baja Fresh. One helpful Web site for finding good restaurant options is:

Working out regularly is a big part of my efforts to become a healthy writer. A lot of thought has gone into how I can make this a habit and how I can work it into my schedule. I already walk a fair amount with my daily commute. I spent time thinking about what other kind of exercise I like enough to do regularly, and I’m a gym class – step aerobics, zumba (Latin dance aerobics), weight lifting, pilates, yoga – kind of person. I joined a gym chain that allows me to go to any of their locations in the D.C. area. There are three locations 5-15 minutes from where I live, and I have the class schedule for each. I have a fairly regular workout pattern now. Getting to the point where you just do it and ask yourself how you can fit it in as opposed to whether you should go is extremely helpful to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I also use clothing as a tool to help me plan and prepare for success. As you start to lose enough weight that your clothes sizes change, I think it’s very important that you start to wear clothing that fits correctly. It makes you more aware of your body, and it’s a tangible way to show and measure how you are getting smaller. If the clothes are too loose, it gets too easy to cheat. A loose waist has a way to go before it gets tight. Also, looking at yourself in clothing that is too large may make you think you are still fatter than you really are and mess with your body image. I finally got new pajamas after my 30-pound loss because I found myself thinking I was still a whale whenever I saw myself in my old pajamas. I’ve also discovered that getting rid of the clothing that is now too large for me is a great incentive to keep me going with my efforts. If I went back to my old weight, I’d have to buy new clothes, and my frugal self hates that. See:

Wearing flattering clothes also makes you feel better about yourself. The reward of buying and wearing smaller sizes is a powerful motivator for me. I use outfits in a smaller size as a goal to work towards and as a way to measure my progress besides the scale. See:

As I’ve said before, I struggle with emotional eating. To help me plan and prepare for success, I think about what upcoming challenges may trigger negative thoughts and emotions that will weaken my ability to resist urges to eat too much. I brainstorm ways I can get through these challenges. I understand that managing my thoughts can help me manage my emotions. Changing my negative thoughts to more positive or optimistic ones can help prevent me from emotional eating or eating for reward. One of the ways I do this is to attend weekly WW meetings. To quote a guest blogger, it adjusts your fattitude. For another take on the value of these meetings, read the following two guest blog posts:


Weight Watchers does cost money. I like the program. I’ve found a meeting that I can work easily into my schedule, a leader whom I find inspiring, a group of regular attendees who motivate me and whom I can relate to, and a system that can work for me. It may not work for you or may be too expensive. Two other support groups you might want to consider are Overeaters Anonymous, which is free, or TOPS: Taking Off Pounds Sensibly, which has a nominal yearly fee. They tend to meet at churches and may be a great option for you.

This past summer, I was in the midst of a plateau and needed more motivation to keep trying. The main reason I started blogging at Healthy Writer was it would force me to think about and work out some of my negative thoughts and emotions. It also forces me to plan and prepare for success. I need to post weekly, and I often choose to write about whatever I’ve been struggling with the most lately or anticipate will be a challenge for me in the upcoming week. Furthermore, it extended my commitment to this journey to becoming a healthy writer. I'm amazed by what I've accomplished so far and look forward to seeing how far I can go. I'll continue to ask myself on a regular basis how I can plan and prepare for success.

How do you plan and prepare for success?

Photo Caption: My Weight Watchers buddies and I at a "bon voyage" party Saturday night for a friend who is going to England for a five-month temporary assignment for her job

Top Row left to right: Cheryl, me Bottom Row left to right: Helena, Meghan, Ken

Cheryl just lost her first ten pounds. I've lost 33 pounds so far. Helena has lost more than 100 pounds. Meghan has lost nearly 40 pounds and is almost at her goal weight. Ken has lost 83 pounds and is approaching his goal weight as well. I can't overstate how much support and help and opportunities for more fun in my life I've gotten from joining Weight Watchers this past time.

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at


Sally Kilpatrick on May 10, 2010 at 6:32 AM said...

Morning, Michelle--I think my biggest challenge is that I get tired of thinking ahead. I rebel against having to think ahead, particularly at stressful times like this past month when I was finishing my thesis, polishing a contest entry, finishing up my GRA work, attending end of year school programs, and trying to get both kids finished with school. I look at my messy kitchen, and I want to to do a mammoth amount of cooking right now about as much as I want to take up eating Brussel Sprouts. How do you get over the "constant vigilance" of having to watch everything you eat?

Problem number 2: I have less than $100 to get me to Friday. It seems that a lack of funds is always standing in my way when it comes to fixing meals ahead or joining Weight Watchers. Any thoughts on this, my other biggest chunk of cryptonite?

Anne MacFarlane on May 10, 2010 at 9:09 AM said...

Michelle, great post. I really like the idea of a monthly cooking session and I'm going to plan one within the next couple of weeks. I think the planning is the most important part of staying on program. Having the right food in the house, and none of the too tempting stuff. Keeping a regular exercise schedule so it just becomes part of the day.

Also, I laughed when I read one of your old posts you linking to. I had an old 1997 neon that I replaced a couple of years ago. I'm sure we must be twins from a past life.

Elise Hayes on May 10, 2010 at 9:49 AM said...

Hey Michelle,

What an inspiring picture--and what an amazing group!

I can imagine it would be incredibly helpful to have the support of a group of people going through similar journeys to your own. Thanks for sharing the photo!

Diane Gaston on May 10, 2010 at 11:58 AM said...

Way to go for you and your WW group! What achievements you've all made.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on May 10, 2010 at 10:03 PM said...

Michelle, I really needed to read this today, as you'll see from my post for tomorrow. I've been struggling lately.

Congrats to you and all your WW friends. All of your accomplishments are impressive.

Michelle Butler on May 13, 2010 at 1:41 PM said...

I'm out of town and can't access this blog daily right now.

Sally, I think learning to accept that you have to be aware of what you eat in order to maintain a healthy weight is part of the lifestyle change. Sad, but true. If I'm not conscious of what I'm eating, I tend to overeat. I'm not one of those "intuitive" eaters who just naturally eats only the amount I need to survive at a healthy weight.

I also think this mindfulness/awareness includes being conscious of my emotions, stresses and other stuff that would make me want to overeat to comfort myself, numb out emotions, avoid conflict, etc. I don't think there is any getting around this need for awareness. It's mentioned in almost all the literature I've read about losing weight, etc. There are times when it won't be difficult or challenging, but I'm not sure the need to be aware will go away. Accepting it and not fighting it may help.

Actually, I think mindfulness/awareness can be seen as a positive thing. It's in a lot of happiness books, big part of zen/buddhism, etc. It can contribute to living in the moment and less stress. So, perhaps looking at being conscious of what you are eating as part of a new, positive way of being more aware and present in your life may help.

Also, I notice that I don't enjoy stuff such as "treats"/overeating the 2nd, 3rd, etc. day. I'm at a work conference, and I'm eating way too much. It's making me not feel well, and I'm looking forward to eating better starting tomorrow. :)

Michelle Butler on May 13, 2010 at 1:43 PM said...

Re: Money

There are articles out there about eating healthy on little money. You may want to google some. Cooking a ton of food at once saves me $. Buying a whole chicken and breaking it into pieces can save $. Using lentils, beans, barley and other legumes can save $. I do think there are ways to do this. It may take some planning until it becomes second nature.

Michelle Butler on May 13, 2010 at 1:44 PM said...

Let me know if you like the marathon cooking. I found it so helpful. Yeah, planning is so important to my success too.

So fun about the neon! That little car served me well, but it got so beat up by the end. :)

Michelle Butler on May 13, 2010 at 1:46 PM said...

I learn so much from the supportive group. They're going through the same journey I am and have lots of helpful advice. It really can be strange when you look in the mirror and see a different person - when people start treating you very differently - etc. Really, you may ask: who am I now? How do I feel about my old self? new self? Am I uncomfortable with all this increased attention? If so, why? Talking to Ken last Saturday really helped me with some of these questions.

Michelle Butler on May 13, 2010 at 1:46 PM said...

Thanks, Diane and Trish!! Best wishes on your planning. :)

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