THE BLOG
02/03/2014 02:39 pm ET Updated Apr 05, 2014

5 Things I Learned in the First Month of My Lifestyle Change

The day I decided to embark on this new lifestyle change of mine was probably an all-time low in terms of how I felt physically. The night before, aka New Year's Eve, was pretty standard -- lots of booze and carbs, not a lot of activity that didn't involve consuming the aforementioned items. And the month before, that 4-6 week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, was filled with daily Egg Nog Chai lattes (curse you, former boss, for introducing them to me), holiday party overindulgence, and a lack of activity brought on by the fact that winter in Seattle means the sun sets at 3:30 (this is only a slight exaggeration).

During particularly gruesome hangovers, I often joke to my friends that I can feel my liver going on strike -- but this year, I could feel the rest of my internal organs following suit. I'm almost 30, which isn't old by a longshot, but it's old enough to know better and to begin to treat my body like I know it is aging. So, while I would like to pretend my lifestyle change was spurred by entirely noble reasons, it wasn't. I felt terrible, and I knew I needed to change.

Change, as everyone knows, is really, really hard. As I chronicled here, walking past cases and cases filled with Coke proved challenging, and Lord knows how much I love a cupcake. But once I got into the habit of making good choices, rather than uninformed or just flat out terrible choices, it became a habit, and I also figured out that I kind of liked the way these new choices made me feel.

Neither Friend Nor Foe
Yo-yo dieters, un-tie! We all know that crash diets inflict pain and suffering rather than real change -- to keep up your weight loss, you take on an adversarial relationship with food that often ends up backfiring. You start punishing yourself, and then when faced with the food, you overindulge because you've been denying yourself for so long. Over the past few weeks, I've been able to walk past platters of cookies and cupcakes secure in the knowledge that I could have some of one if I really wanted to, and I don't need to think of them as my enemy, or consume them like it's my last meal on Earth. I've had to stop viewing food as comfort or as an adversary -- but rather as fuel that helps me get through my day. And that fuel needs to be of the high-octane sort, rather than the junk-y kind filled with additives that don't do anything for my health. My proudest moment happened when, during a fit of passion, I decided I really wanted a mini Chocolate Cream Pie from a local food truck. I felt a little bit guilty as I bought it, but told myself not to obsess over it as I walked back to my office. Once at my desk, I ate a couple bites, slowly, and realized I was full and my craving was gone. I didn't need to eat much of the pie, in fact, three quarters of it languished in a little box until I could find one of my human garbage disposal co-workers. By eating a little bit, I got my sugar hit, but I stopped long before I became overly full.

The Way You Make Me Feel
Probably the biggest lesson I've learned over the course of the past month is to listen to my body. Early on, I established that Sundays would be my cheat day -- a day where I could eat whatever I wanted, no matter how terrible, for one meal. This only lasted for two weeks because I loathed how I felt at the end of a heavy meal. I became accustomed to lighter fare, and the lead balloon of carbs that sat in my belly after attempting to eat a portion of French fries made me feel sluggish and terrible. So I stopped having a full-on cheat meal, and started incorporating little things -- a cupcake for dessert, or *gasp* white rice with my salmon, as tiny rewards.

Before You Cheat
A couple weeks ago, my job hosted a large conference, complete with daily breakfast and lunch buffets, and enormous, elaborate meals. There was a day where I sat about six feet from a tray of unmonitored breakfast potatoes, and it took more of my self-control than I'd like to admit to stay away from them. Later that same evening, I attended a work function with a three-course meal and an enormous dessert tray. I didn't want to be that girl on the diet who makes a huge fuss over things, but I also knew that eating my weight in mashed potatoes wouldn't do me any favors. So, I indulged, just a little bit. I thought about the portion sizes I'd seen in magazines -- a cassette tape (how old school) for protein, a fist-sized amount of vegetables, a palm-sized amount of carbs. And oddly enough, those carefully eyeballed servings got me through the dinner without feeling like a sad dieter, but also sated a desire for slightly naughty foods. I kind of cheated, but basically stayed on track. And I even managed to say no to an enormous passed dessert tray because after eating braised short ribs and mashed potatoes for dinner, I felt full and didn't even want dessert. Thinking through my choices has made all the difference in the world.

H2O, Yes

I read somewhere that your brain frequently thinks you're hungry when you're actually just super thirsty. So, when I'd get mid-morning stomach rumbles, I'd drink a glass of water. As strange as it sounds, that frequently helped satiate what I thought were hunger pangs. An awesome bi-product of that is my skin has returned to its former glory -- for years, I had perfect skin. I never washed off my makeup at night, never got a zit, and the only problems I ran into were occasional dryness in my t-zone. Around June of last year, my skin seemed to turn a corner, and every now and then, an angry zombie zit would crop up on my face. Since I added more water to my diet, I haven't had a single zit *knock on wood* and my skin has also responded nicely to an unusually cold winter in Seattle. Everyone wins!

Meal Planning
This was probably the biggest no-brainer of all, but sitting down on Saturday morning and planning out the next week's meals has been the biggest part of my lifestyle change success (in my opinion). I transfer buses across the street from a Whole Foods. And while Whole Foods is the purveyor of things like Palm Oil and Hemp Milk, they also have a pretty amazing prepared foods section and a buffet of mostly fried and carb heavy things. As a result, I spent a lot of summer/fall picking my way through a delightful assortment of things I shouldn't be eating and not touching a vegetable. But once I sit down and plan out entire meals and do the shopping for them, it's hard for me to justify picking up prepared foods. I can also control what goes into my food, and, I usually have leftovers that I can use for lunch the next day. The best part is that aside from a slight reduction in the size of my waistline, I've spent far less money dining out or ordering take out. My pants and bank account are pretty happy right now.

Lifestyle changes aren't easy, and this isn't to say that I don't occasionally have moments of weakness where I feel like I could devour a 10-piece bucket of chicken from KFC on my own, but I've learned, slowly but surely, a few key lessons that I hope will make this lifestyle change a permanent one.