Dr. Allison Giles shares the lifestyle changes, resources and tips that helped her overcome a lifelong struggle with weight management
This article was edited in March 2022 to reflect that Dr. Giles has now lost 70lbs! (It was 50lbs at the time the article was written.)
I have spent the better part of my life trying to be skinny. I attended my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was in high school and have tried almost every popular diet since, including, but not limited to, the Zone, South Beach, Nutrisystem, SlimFast, Whole 30, Keto, and Intermittent Fasting. While I had the most success with Intermittent Fasting after gaining weight with my first pregnancy, I could not mange that diet after having my second baby in June of 2019. I needed to try something different. Plus, with two kids watching my every move, I wanted to model a healthy, balanced relationship with food, with exercise, and ultimately with myself.
This year, instead of trying to be skinnier, I decided to try to become healthier. This meant committing to exercise and trying to learn more about food – what is in it, how much I am eating, and how it affects me. I have learned from all the years of trying to find the “magic diet,” that health and weight loss do not have a one-size-fits-all solution. Therefore, this post is about what is currently working for me, and I am hopeful that you may find something in here that may be helpful to you.
Finding the Fun in Exercise
Around this time last year, we bought a Peloton Bike even though I was skeptical. In every live spin class I had ever been to, I usually just rolled my eyes and kept the resistance where it was rather than “cranking it up” at the urging of the instructor. I couldn’t imagine that my motivation would improve in the comfort of my own home with no one watching. I was wrong. Peloton brought world- class instructors into my home, and I found myself looking forward to my time with it every day. I was having fun exercising for the first time in my life.
If you have spent your life hating exercise, try to open your mind, and explore some new types of workouts. While options for going to the gym and doing group classes may be limited during the pandemic, there are plenty of at-home workouts that provide just as much fun and motivation (with added convenience of being able to do it while the kids are asleep/getting that much-needed screen time). Not to mention, a lot of gyms are livestreaming workout classes that you can do in your own living room. Whether it’s Peloton, YouTube classes, or doing your own routine while you watch your favorite show – you can find options that make you excited about exercising instead of dreading it.
Making Exercise Part of Your Routine
Once you find the fun in exercise and find a plan that motivates you, it’s a lot easier to make the lifestyle changes necessary to accommodate it. My plan was to go all in – to use the Peloton every single day of 2020. I knew I would have to make some lifestyle changes to be able to achieve that craziness. I am not a morning person, but to have time to myself to work out, I had to start getting up before my family. That means the alarm goes off at 5 am during the week and 6 am on weekends. Just like that, I’m a morning person.
Being part of a motivated community with scheduled classes can really help encourage you to stick with your new routine. I joined a training group that organizes a schedule of rides meant to improve endurance and cardiovascular fitness. I also started to incorporate yoga and strength classes. Eventually, we purchased the Peloton Tread, which comes with more group classes as part of the subscription. After finding fun and motivating ways to make exercise part of my new goal of staying healthy, I have not missed a day yet this year.
The other part of the health equation is nutrition. I started the year by doing what had worked for me in the past – intermittent fasting. After losing 40 pounds, I plateaued for about two months, even though I still needed to lose more weight to achieve a healthy body mass index (BMI). I found myself fasting during the day, but then overeating as soon as I got home to feed my kids dinner. I was powerless when it came to resisting the leftover pasta or bits of chicken nuggets they had left on their plates.
Through a Facebook group, I learned about a program called Stronger U. The idea behind their program is to teach you about the macronutrients in food (commonly referred to as protein, carbohydrates, and fat), that help you form a personal plan, and provide a supportive community to help you stick to it. It’s a paid program that assigns you a coach. Based on my goals, my coach has assigned me a daily amount of calories, protein, carbs, and fat to eat. Every day, I try to achieve but not exceed these goals. I log all of my food on the program app and I have weekly check-ins with my coach.
The Stronger U program helped me stay on track, but there are plenty of other options out there for nutrition programs and coaches who can help you create a healthy plan that is right for you. A simple Google search will help you find some options near you, and most offer free consultations so you can find a good personality fit. Look for someone who makes you feel empowered, not judged; but also, someone who will educate and challenge you vs. just being your cheerleader. A lot of gyms offer nutrition coaches or know of good ones they can recommend. VPFW also offers weight management consultations. There are plenty of nutrition apps you can try as well.
Tips I’ve Learned Along the Way
Finding the right combination of nutrition training and exercise has helped me experience continued weight loss and fitness gains. Of course, this is a work in progress, and I am trying to be patient. Here are some tips I’ve found helpful through my health and fitness journey:
Plan Your Workouts and Meals
I have found planning to be a crucial step for leading a healthy lifestyle. At the beginning of the week, I plan which fitness classes I will take. I also log all the food I plan to eat a day in advance. This helps me know if I have extra calories I can “spend” on Starbucks/Teddy Grams/dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Being able to check off boxes of the plan keeps me accountable.
Find a Supportive Community and/or Coach
For me, having outside support was a big reason for why I stuck with my new fitness and nutrition regimen. From my Peloton instructors to training groups to my nutrition coach, I love having someone else there to help me stay on track. It’s given me that push I needed to make healthy living my new lifestyle.
Celebrate Non-scale Victories
Weight loss is slow – at max speed, healthy weight loss is around one pound per week. This is hard to remember in a time defined by instant gratification. It helps to celebrate “NSVs,” or non-scale victories, on the journey to becoming healthier. This may mean being able to go on a hike and enjoying the scenery rather than worrying about how uncomfortable you feel. Maybe a pair of pants finally fit again. Maybe you can play with your kids without feeling winded. Celebrating how changes in your health and fitness routine improve different areas of your life will help you stay committed to this new lifestyle.
You’ve Heard My Story – Now It’s Your Turn!
I offer this story of personal experience about what finally seems to be sustainable for me (after years of searching!) in hopes that it helps you find a plan that will work for you. I know I am not alone in this battle to be healthier. You are not either! I hope that sharing what I’ve learned about myself on this journey will help to bring you similar success.
If you would like to schedule a weight management consultation at VPFW, please call us at 804-897-2100 or set an appointment online. Weight management consultations are subject to copays, deductibles, and/or co-insurance.