Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mind Over Matter: How Changing My Thoughts Helped Me Lose 20 Pounds

Mind Over Matter: How Changing My Thoughts Helped Me Lose 20 Pounds 
Editor's Note: This article was written by my best friend, Arlene Crews, of last year's 30 Day Yoga Challenge. I am so proud to share her story! xo, Mandy

When I announced to my family and friends that I would be moving to Poland this summer, one of the most common responses I got was, “What do they eat there – meat and potatoes?” I fought really hard to debunk that stereotype, but every menu I looked at, every Polish person I asked, every ex-pat article I read all said the same thing – meat and potatoes. With our upcoming move to Poland, and our knowledge that the local cuisine would be much heartier than we’re used to eating, my husband and I decided to make a drastic change in our diet. The combination of our new environment and decision to make a change led to a breakthrough that I never thought possible. After 3 months of living in chilly Eastern Europe, I lost 20 pounds! I would love to share a few tips on how I was able to accomplish this goal. *Spoiler alert – points 1 and 2 are great, but point 3 is the most important one!

Practicing my yoga headstand alongside the
Danube River in Eastern Europe, Summer 2013
1 – Eat fresh and locally

I am absolutely amazed by the amount of fresh and local produce that is available out here in Krakow. What I love most is that it’s “local and organic” without all of the bells and whistle, like in the States. There’s no extra charge for being organic – it just is! And because fresh produce is widely available, there is no rush to “stock up” on anything. The size of the average European refrigerator (aka, super tiny) represents a different lifestyle. There is no need to stockpile week’s worth of food in one refrigerator; there will always be more (and fresher!) food available tomorrow. 

By embracing this practice, we manage to only keep the freshest food in our refrigerator and don’t have room to let things sit forgotten in the back shelf. We are in turn eating cleaner and fresher food, with less preservatives in our diets, and wasting a lot less!

2 – Eat simply

If my former self were to read the menus on the restaurants in Poland, or look at the food that we now serve on our kitchen table, I would have scoffed at the boringness of it. Grilled chicken and broccoli.  Ham and eggs. Grapefruit and cottage cheese. BORING!....I would have said. Where is the hollandaise sauce? The parmesan cheesy sauce? Or the chantilly cream? I realized that the fancier the name, usually the more additives, sugars, fats, and of course, calories were present. We took the lead of many of the entrees we saw on the menus here and stuck to the major food groups – proteins, vegetables, fruits, and dairy. By sticking with basic and simple food items, we were able to ensure that less mystery fillers were being added to our food. When in doubt, I would look at a food item and ask myself “Can I pronounce every item on this list of ingredients? Moreover, do I know what that is?” I decided xanthan gum, sodium acid pyrophosphate, and hydrogenated soybean oil were ingredients that I could definitely live without.

3 – Let go

The simple truth is that you can eat fresh, locally, and simply and still not lose any weight at all. If your mind is not really made up to take the big leap of changing your dietary habits, you won’t ever get there. You’ll do what I’ve been doing for the past 5 years and make excuses and find loopholes for every deliciously unhealthy food item you want to eat. The bottom line is that YOU need to decide that losing weight and leading a better lifestyle is your choice, and then it’s only a matter of keeping yourself motivated and focused.

For me, my journey began in February 2013 when I finally admitted to myself that I had an unhealthy relationship with food. Traditionally, every Spring for Lent, I give up something that I really like for 40 days. Chocolate, meat, cheese – have you noticed all of my items are food? Not television, alcohol or shopping sprees – it was always food that would give me the greatest pleasure. This year I decided to give up something different – I gave up my emotional attachment to food. I forced myself to recognize the unhealthy relationship I had with food and eating. I would let food control my daily schedule and my emotions. I was one of those girls they described in the movie Mean Girls who would “eat their feelings.” I’m pretty sure the term hangry (hungry/angry) came about after someone saw me deprived of my dinner. Once I started recognizing all the signs in my life that proved this addiction, I realized that I didn’t want to be that kind of person. Letting any sort of physical attachment dominate my life was not inline with my religious or my yogic beliefs. 

Put simply, I had to let go.

I found that the mental process is a lot slower than the weight-losing process itself. I started my mental shift in February but couldn't find the motivation to apply that new belief system to my diet until July – 5 months later. The big move to Poland helped because I was able to adopt a new diet and lifestyle and leave my old habits behind – all at once. I still love food. Cooking with my husband, grocery shopping, and trying new restaurants are still among my favorite things to do. But now instead of food dominating my life, it compliments my life. I can enjoy a delicious meal for exactly what it is – a meal – not the ends and means to making my life worthwhile and satisfying.

Here I am at a party in London this past month.
Feeling so much lighter - physically and mentally!

I hate to pick the corny and obvious metaphor, but losing weight really is a marathon and not a sprint. Just like training for a big race, you have to condition your body, watch what you eat – and be committed mentally to the challenge. Another thing to remember is that what works for one person may not be the solution for the next. I’m really thankful to share my story, but I want to encourage anyone who is looking to make a change in their lifestyle to figure out what their personal roadblock is. Mine was making the commitment to detach emotions from food, for others it could be finding the time to cook healthy meals, or committing to an exercise schedule. At the end of the day, it's YOUR journey and you need to find out what roadblocks are standing in the way of you and your healthiest life. 

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