Staying on Track (When You Feel Like You're Heading for Derailment)

I feel like I have struggled with my weight since my teens. To look at me in high school, you would never think that I was overweight, but according to the BMI chart (the one that every doctor seems to love to use to make you feel terrible about yourself), I was a few pounds overweight. I know a few pounds isn’t much, but my eating habits as an athletic high school student quickly became a problem when I transformed into a lazy, lethargic, college student.

Looking back, I can see where my issues were and how different I am about my eating habits now. I now know how to handle stressful weeks, even when staying on track doesn’t seem like an option. The difference between Adult Alyssa and Teenage Alyssa is that I know how to control my food issues and stop them before they become a problem.

My Attempts at Weight Loss

When it comes to losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, many people struggle with portion control. I know it’s my biggest weakness. Growing up, there was never really a focus on portion control. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just my family that had this issue; I think most families in the 90s didn’t really worry so much about it. 

Today, the media currently encourages healthy portions through programs like My Plate and other eating programs that are advertised on television. We have apps like MyFitnessPal that will help you count your calories so you stay within a healthy daily range based on your specific goals. Nutrition labels are in the process of changing so the serving size is the actual container instead of something like 2.5 servings in one bottle—  we all know we’re drinking the whole thing, so why not make the whole bottle one serving?

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In college I began to try several weight loss programs, jumping from one to the other. I tried SparkPeople on and off, but was very unsuccessful. It wasn’t the program that was the problem, it was me.

I had no control over my food intake. If I was at college, I was eating at a dining hall. If I was home, my mom was cooking. I tried for about a week to eat healthy at the dining hall and found it was a bigger challenge than expected, and for me, this program went straight in the garbage.

I tried Weight Watchers for the first time during the summer between my junior and senior year of college and managed to lose 12 pounds doing virtually nothing. I would lie on the couch reading for summer classes all day and my mom would make Weight Watcher approved meals for me for dinner. I was on my own for breakfast and lunch most of the time. I felt really good about doing this program, but when I got back to college, it quickly became a struggle again.

Just two years after graduating from college I was at my heaviest weight. Giving up had only made things worse. I was going out to dinner all the time and I wasn’t doing anything to be active. Frankly, I was disgusted with myself. I was self-conscious, depressed, and disappointed. I knew I needed to make a big change and I finally hit a breaking point.

I decided to change everything in order to make myself happy again. I broke up with the guy I was dating and a few days later I started Couch to 5K (C25K). I had tried running in the past, but I’d make it half a block before I felt like throwing up and would slowly home to cry on the couch with a bag of chips. This program was easier for me, though.

The C25K app trains you by intervals, alternating walking and running. In the beginning there is a lot more walking, which made this something I felt like I could manage. Before I knew it I was signing up for 5K races left and right.

I completed the Long Island State Parks Summer Run Series twice, which included 5-mile and 10K races. I even began to train for a half marathon. I never changed the way I ate (granted I was in my 20s so I was able to get away with this), I just ran and lost 25 pounds. This is when I realized how important activity actually was to my weight, diet, and overall well-being. 


Now that I’m in my 30s, I know how to eat properly and what I need to do to balance myself out if I plan on going out a few times in one week. I often have days where I want to go out to happy hour after work, order takeout, or eat a ton of sweets throughout the day due to a celebration of some sort. Guess what? It’s normal for stuff like that to happen. It took me a while to realize that if I have a slice of cheesecake at lunch, it’s not going to ruin my plan, but I’ve found ways to work around it and not feel bad about it.

To balance things out, I stay active. I can no longer run, but I do go to Zumba classes on occasion, though I’ve actually found that the best way to stay on track is by walking. On the days when I go to happy hour or have that slice of cake, I always make sure I do a little extra walking. If it’s nice out, I’ll walk home from work, which is about 2 miles. I try to walk home 2 or more times a week now. Even if I’m feeling tired, I’ll at least walk to the next furthest subway stop just to get a few extra blocks of walking in. 

This trick also comes in handy when vacationing. People always tend to gain weight on vacation and it’s always a worry. Now when I travel, I always make sure I do something active during the day, whether it be go for a hike, go stand up paddle boarding, or just walk into town. I try to choose healthier items on menus, but if there is something I really want to try and it’s “terrible” for me, I’m getting it anyway. I find that as long as I have a balance of activity with my eating, I’m going to be fine… or at least I won’t gain as much as I normally would.

Meal Planning

Meal prep has become a very trendy thing. I know for myself I can’t sit there on a Sunday and put all of my meals into containers for the week. I also can’t eat the same things over and over again every single day. Instead, I spend my Sundays filling in a chart that I made for each week.

This chart has a space for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Each space has a little bubble where you can put point values (if you follow Weight Watchers), or calories, or whatever else you track for the program you follow. As I figure out my meals, I also create a list on the bottom of the page of ingredients I need to buy for the week.

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Do I ever deviate from my plan? Every single week, and that’s ok. If I didn’t have any plan, I would be more likely to order takeout or eat frozen meals every night. Having a plan helps me get back on track after I have those “not planned for” days. 

People seem to get overwhelmed by meal planning, but I find planning my meals to be relatively easy. I eat the same thing for breakfast Monday through Friday to make it even easier. I organized my refrigerator to make it easy to grab healthy things on the go. I have a breakfast bin that contains yogurts, bananas (they might turn brown in the fridge, but they’re perfectly good on the inside for much longer!), and string cheeses. I make my cold brew coffee the night before so I won’t end up buying some crazy high-calorie latte on the way to work. If you’re an oatmeal lover, you can also make some of my favorite overnight oats recipes.

With breakfast already done, all I have to do is plan my lunches and dinners. Well, guess what? That’s really easy too!

I eat my leftovers from dinner the next day for lunch, so really I just have to plan my dinners. About a year or so ago I organized all of my Pinterest recipes into boards based on what kind of food they were. If I’m in the mood for tacos, I know exactly where to look. I want seafood, but not sure what kind- I have a board for that too.

When something is a hit, it automatically goes on my “Go To Dinners” board. If I’m ever unsure about what to make, I go straight to that board to find something quick and easy that I know my husband and I both love. I pick 5 dinners, change the recipes to be 2-4 servings (depending on if I’m on my own that night or not), and then plan the same thing for lunch the next day. I immediately put my meals into containers after cooking so there is no temptation to eat seconds. I haven’t even missed seconds since I started doing this- it turns out I never needed them!

Two to three times a month, I also use home delivery meal kits. Believe it or not, these kits have forced me into making healthier choices on more than one occasion. These come in handy for weeks where you know you’re going to be busy and not have time for grocery shopping.

The meals are all relatively easy to make and are often things you wouldn’t have even thought to make in the first place. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had one that I didn’t like. Even better, after a few of these boxes, I realized if I substitute reduced fat/light items I already had in my fridge instead of the full-fat items, and by using spray oil instead of tablespoons of oil, every meal became the point values I needed to fit my plan. 

As a teacher, I just made it through my first full week of the school year. Wednesday night, we had our annual “Meet the Teacher Night,” where teachers need to stay at work until 7:30 p.m.. This has always thrown me for a loop and made it really difficult to function the rest of the week.

I woke up on Thursday feeling so exhausted. I remember thinking, “just one more day to get through and then you can sleep in.” But surprise! It was only Thursday. I came home from work feeling scatterbrained, drained, cranky, and lazy, and the last thing I wanted to do was cook. I knew it was a better choice than takeout, but I couldn’t muster up the energy.

I went back and forth for about an hour debating if I should order out or cook. I knew if I ordered takeout, I wouldn’t have any leftovers for lunch tomorrow and I’d have to order out for lunch, too. Ordering takeout one night with no backup plan quickly snowballs into a bigger problem and a chain of ordering out.

I finally decided to cook myself dinner because I had three meal kit meals delivered on Wednesday that were taking up space in the fridge. I ended up peeling myself out of bed and made one of the Home Chef meals. I decided to cut the rice out of the recipe so it only took ten minutes to prepare. I felt much better after I ate it, realizing that I had saved money and that I hadn’t let food that was waiting to be cooked go bad.

If none of these tricks are for you, I’ve found that another really easy way to stay on track is to cook up some skinless boneless chicken breasts (or shred it in the slow cooker) and have it ready to go in the fridge. I cut up veggies for salads and bag them each separately. This makes it really easy to put a salad together within minutes so you don’t have any excuses not to meal prep.

My 4 Keys to Staying on Track

To me, the four most important things for staying on track are:

- Portion Control
- Planning
- Added activity
- Getting back on track after a “slip-up”

I am currently following Weight Watchers again for a fourth time. The difference this time around is that I stuck with it and finally hit my goal. This program has taught me to do things like look at nutrition labels for sugar, serving sizes, and protein. I learned that I didn’t need to dump spoonful after spoonful of sugar into my coffee to enjoy it. I now always measure my food out as I cook and I often find myself using a food scale. When I cook dinner, I immediately put the rest into portioned out containers to enjoy for lunch the next day- no more going back for seconds unless they are planned.

I have found a few tricks to help myself stay on track to keep my lifetime Weight Watchers membership; losing that membership is not an option for me. Planning has helped keep me on track, even when I’d accidentally eat a pint of ice cream or went out for dinner two nights in a row. When those days happened, I didn’t feel bad about it, I got right back on track the next day and walked a little extra.

It’s important to identify what’s holding you back from being the best version of yourself. For me, I quickly identified that I had issues with portion control. I taught myself to cook and started measuring my food, and this is the healthiest I have felt in years.

Identify your weaknesses and figure out how to work around them. Plan for success and add a little more activity to your daily routines. You’d be surprised what a big difference it can make for you!

What are your keys to staying on track?
Share your comments at the bottom of the page.

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