Thirteen years ago, I made two decisions that changed my life: I quit smoking and started living a healthy lifestyle. One pregnancy and a million other life changes later, and I’m still doing it. This is the story of the New Year’s resolution that changed my life.
A Little Backstory
My generation may have been the last to have played outside until the street lights came on, so I was raised to be active. I kept it up through high school sports and regular sweat sessions with my college roommates, but the shift work I did in my early 20’s derailed me completely. It’s really hard to feel like working out when you’ve woken up at 2am and worked 16 hours of straight. And of course my smoking habit didn’t help.
At my worst, I’d have a cigarette first thing in the morning, often smoking over a pack a day to stay awake during early morning shifts and soothe the anxiety I felt at my tight financial situation. And then there was the food I was putting into my body. Because of how I’d been raised, I found ways to sneak healthy food into my $30-a-week grocery budget, usually buy loading up on whatever produce was on special. But I still often found myself short (thanks largely to my smoking habit), and often binged in break room donuts and candy. Time off was usually spent drinking beer or two buck chuck with friends, then feasting on nachos, mac n cheese, or other crap food.
By December of 2005, I was feeling like sluggish and insecure. I didn’t like how I looked, and I was constantly tired and hungry. I knew it was time for a change, but I needed a little push to make it happen. Fortunately, my best friend, Britta, was feeling exactly the same way.
Britta and I moved out to California together after college. We spent every weekend together, crashing on each others couches and borrowing clothes. We were broke and often texted each other things like “I have $1 in my checking account. Do you think a quarter tank of gas will last until Friday?” But that December, things started looking up for both of us. Britta got promoted to PR associate, and I had landed a job as a radio news producer. We’d finally made it and were having our respective Mary-Tyler-Moore-throwing-her-hat-in-the-air moments…except we felt like crap. We craved health and balance, so we hatched a plan.
The BFF Diet
While our finances were more comfortable than they had been, we still didn’t have the money for expensive exercise classes or weight loss plans. And truthfully, we didn’t really believe in those things anyway. We knew from the way we’d both been raised that we didn’t need a diet, we needed a lifestyle change. So we brainstormed lists of inexpensive, healthy ingredients and wrote meal plans around lean proteins, veggies, whole grains, and less sugar. We each joined a gym and made a pact to work out at least 3 weekdays and weekend replace day drinking and TV watching with runs, hikes, and donation-only yoga classes. Then we each picked an additional challenge: Britta signed up to run a marathon in Alaska, and I promised to quit smoking cold turkey. We agreed to check in via email every morning with an accountability report detailing what we’d eaten, our workout plan for the day, and how those things made us feel. With the holiday party season in full swing and the new year just a few weeks away, January 1 seemed like the most realistic and logical time for us to start. The BFF Diet was on.
What We Learned
Over the course of three months, Britta and I lost a combined 35 pounds, ran hundreds of miles, took dozens of yoga classes, and launched healthy habits we still maintain 13 years later. That’s not to say there weren’t any bumps in the road. Early on, we realized we had no idea what we were doing nutritionally. And I started to get the idea that the so-called experts didn’t either. In 2006, Atkins was all the rage, and misguided ideas about the evils of fat still persisted. It seemed like everything we bought was laced with Splenda and soy protein, and we were both constantly hungry, gassy, and bloated.
Fortunately, our close friendship and morning email routine enabled us to compare notes openly and honestly. We learned that the protein-fortified cereal we were eating every morning was the cause of our embarrassing flatulence at work. (Want a laugh? Google “Kashi Go Lean farts”.) And we also figured out that the sugar-free yogurts we were stocking up on (10 for $10 at Ralph’s!) made us crave sweets even more. We also realized that our bodies used food in different ways. For Britta, a whole grain bagel slathered in PB with a side of blueberries felt great after a morning run. Meanwhile, I felt best eating a scoop of Greek yogurt with antioxidant trail mix sprinkled on top.
By the end of March, we were both looking and feeling great. And most importantly, we had a newfound confidence in both our bodies and our maturity. This helped to create a myriad of positive outcomes in both our lives over the next year: Britta completed her marathon and got another promotion, we both took control of our finances and obliterated our credit card debt, I started dating Scott and got a big raise, and we both delved deeper into health and wellness. I teamed up with another bestie to do predawn cardio sessions, took yoga classes at an actual ashram, tried cleansing for the first time, and logged hundreds of miles on our beach cruisers going up and down the LA coastline from Malibu to Hermosa Beach. And while those bike rides occasionally did involve beer and Jell-O shots, I never picked up smoking agin.
Why It Worked
New Year’s resolutions are infamously temporary. But our story proves they don’t have to be. I think Britta and I were successful because:
We approached change holistically. Instead of simply going on a diet, we addressed every unhealthy aspect in our lives, from activity level, to diet, to lifestyle.
We were realistic. Instead of saying we’d work out every day and only eat kale, we made a plan that worked with our work and social schedules.
We set specific weekly goals. My goal was to stop smoking, work out 3 weekdays, and stick to the meal plan exactly 5 days a week. Britta’s goals were to do the same and complete her marathon. It felt really satisfying to tic off those check marks on a weekly basis!
We adjusted as we needed to. We weren’t afraid to buck the diet ethos of the day when our bodies demanded. Britta needed carbs for her marathon training, and my body thrives on fat. Eating intuitively enabled us to consistently make healthy choices, snack without guilt, and ultimately change our lives.
Our motivation was bigger than the scale. Sure, we both wanted to lose weight. But we were more concerned with how our overall health was being impacted by the choices we were making. We felt the negative consequences of those poor lifestyle choices every day. While I’d be lying if I said we weren’t discouraged when we had weeks where we didn’t lose weight, we felt so much better in our bodies! Focusing on that feeling – not the number on the scale – was what truly cemented our healthy habits.
Happy New Year!