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Change has never come easily to me.

When I was five years old, my mother replaced the (absolutely horrible) red shag carpet in my bedroom with something much more reasonable. I was angry at her for weeks. Yes, WEEKS.

Nobody asked me if this change was alright with me. After all, it was my personal living space that was to be forever altered, and I wasn’t even consulted!

That should give you an idea of how easy change has ever felt for me. My logical adult brain recognizes how vital change is for growth and progress, though my inner five-year-old still feels fearful and resistant when a big change comes around.

My heart races, dread settles under my skin, and my default is to think of all the reasons it will be difficult and scary, and thus, to be avoided. Thankfully, adult Hayley has learned how to take her by the hand and gently guide her forward, with a few deep breaths.

I think that’s why I was so shocked to realize I was about 40 pounds overweight in the spring of 2018. A huge change had occurred in my body and, while I may have been aware of it on some level, I didn’t really realize it until I tried on my warmer seasonal clothes and they were all too tight.

I reluctantly stepped on a scale to find myself far heavier than I had hoped or realized. In and amongst the multitude of hurtful feelings that went along with that realization was the question, “What in my life has changed in order for this to have been the result, and when did it happen?” and “When did I concede to this?”.

I have so much compassion for that version of myself now. Of course it wasn’t a conscious decision at all, rather a change in lifestyle and habits that over time, resulted in weight gain. It’s normal, it happens to so many of us, and I wish it didn’t carry so much weight — no pun intended.

This isn’t an article about how I lost weight — for that story, see “My Slow Journey on the Fast Metabolism Diet” right here on Finding Your Bliss. It is also important to me that you know I don’t come at this from a place of ‘arrival’, nor from the stance of superiority when it comes to lifestyle. It’s a heartfelt update on my journey, and on how I’ve managed to keep 40+ pounds off two years later, which I actively chose to do.

Everything I have written about the Fast Metabolism Diet remains true — it’s a great program full of healthy, nutritious food, and following that plan made me feel and look my best. I do still follow many of its principles toward living a healthy, vibrant lifestyle, and I’m better for it. Once I reached my goal weight in the spring of 2019, I was ready to move into the ‘maintenance’ stage of the plan.

I had worked so hard to get there, carrying my cooler of phase-specific food around while I lived my busy life, always sticking to my plan. While I couldn’t argue with the science behind what I was being asked to do in the maintenance phase, I just knew deep down that I wouldn’t stick to it in the rigid way it was asking me to.

To lose the weight in the 10 month stretch that I did, the program asked that I avoid caffeine, dairy, wheat, soy, corn, refined sugar, processed foods of any kind, and alcohol completely. It asked that for the most part, to maintain my weight, that I live this way almost all of the time. I am very proud and a little astonished to say I did not budge on this for 10 straight months; stubbornness for the win!

Towards the end of that 10 months, though, my cravings for the occasional cheat food crept in, but I remained steadfast and I did not give in. Giving in felt like it would have been a failure of colossal proportions, as the diet had expressly told me I could not ‘cheat’ if I wanted it to work. However, I soon ate four blueberry cheesecake cupcakes in the span of 30 minutes at a friend’s wedding because I literally could not stop myself, and while they were delicious, the fact that I couldn’t stop eating them set off some major red flags in my mind.

I knew at this point that something needed to change, and it had little to do with my diet. While I had done my best to approach my weight loss healthily, my mental health was clearly suffering. I can remember the moment I embarked on this journey; that quiet, devastating feeling of failure, and subsequently, the result was that I mentally approached weight loss as a punishment.

Nobody should ever be made to feel that way, least of all by themselves. Yet, I know many women who relate to this train of thought. While the program I chose was nutritious and healthy in that sense, my stubbornness to stick to it no matter what or it would all be a failure was not healthy in the least.

I got curious about the FMD. Why was it that this had worked, and was there another way to move forward, without gaining the weight back while I rekindle my mental health? Could I have a cupcake or a glass of wine sometimes?

After a lot of research, I came to understand that yes, there was another way!

One of the best ways that I relax my mind is by watching my favourite YouTubers share “what I eat in a day” or “grocery store haul” videos. How entertainment has changed in the last 10 years! Some of these YouTubers are registered nutritionists, some are not, but are in search of the same answers many of us are — how can we maintain our weight without feeling like we’re giving up everything that makes life delicious and satisfying? How do we strike this mystical balance, and does it exist? Where does it exist? Do we have to ride a unicorn to get there? When we get there, will there be sparkling water and stevia? Will there ever be blueberry cheesecake cupcakes?

Over time I began to understand a few key concepts that I live by now, where I’m able strike a much healthier mental balance. I was grateful to watch videos by people who had done the work while being in search of the same answers I was. Remember, I am not a health professional by any stretch. I am simply a woman who, as we now know, can be incredibly stubborn when she decides to be.

And I had decided I wanted to be able to enjoy cake too.

Firstly, I began to fully grasp the concept of calorie density. Don’t panic, this isn’t the same as calorie counting, which I know can become a prison. It’s the general understanding of the number of calories per pound of the foods you enjoy. A quick Google search will show you exact numbers — in general, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are lowest in caloric density, and oil, butter, and processed foods are highest.

Using these principles has been a game changer for me in realizing that I don’t ever need to restrict the amount of food I eat. I can eat full, satisfying, healthy meals, without feeling like I’m missing anything. There are so many recipes online that will show you a less calorie dense, and equally delicious way to make your favourite pizza or pasta meal. To be clear, this does not mean I will never eat the foods of a higher caloric density category. I will certainly eat a cupcake at a party (or on a Tuesday), and I have a glass of wine a few times a week.

And I don’t worry about it, because I know that 90% of my diet consists of lower calorie dense foods which will help me to maintain my weight.

Finally, I have made fitness a habit. A steady fitness routine is what has kept me sane during the pandemic, and it has been a grounding force in my life for years before that as well. I’m fortunate to live a short walk from Lake Ontario, and going for walks and runs down by the lake almost daily has had such a grounding effect for me during this time. I happen to also really enjoy weight training at home, and dance classes. Even before COVID, I had made fitness a habit in my life to keep me feeling energized and centred.

While these are the practices I turn to, I will also say this — the right form of fitness for you is the one that you love and that you will stick to. I’m a water lover, and being by the lake is my happy place. This helps motivate me to get out to it. If you can find what that is for you, it is such a gift. Once exercise is a habit in your routine, I have found it becomes easier to do it than not to. It becomes muscle memory.

In conclusion, how have I kept the weight off? I eat mainly whole, unprocessed foods, and then I have the cake when I want to have the cake. Then I wake up and I run by the lake, because I want to do that too. I stick to foods lower on the calorie density index as best I can, and I do my best to structure my plate 50% vegetables, 25% starches, and 25% protein. I’d say I hit that exact combo maybe 60% of the time, and I don’t sweat it when I don’t hit those targets exactly. I don’t see an occasional piece of cake or a glass of wine as “cheating” anymore, because life is too short to feel that enjoying your food is a punishment.

When I’m craving something I love, I will find a way to make it, keeping these principles in mind, and I have really enjoyed exploring new recipes in this way. This has shown me that change can be not only bearable, but also enjoyable, when we can find the comfortable familiarity within it.

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