It’s a new year, and once again you resolutely put improved fitness and health down as one of your goals—never mind the countless jokes and memes that poke fun at individuals who join a gym on Jan. 1, and point out that by Jan. 31, the facilities are as empty as can be.
This time, though, you promise, things will be different. But how can you ensure that you’ll stick with it?
ABC correspondent Mara Schiavocampo has some tips for those who have struggled for years with broken resolution after broken resolution. She’s released a new book, THINspired: How I Lost 90 Pounds: My Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Self-Acceptance, just in time for the post-holiday-season fitness frenzy.
Her breaking point came about three years ago, after she gave birth to her daughter. She had 40 pounds of baby weight that she really wanted to lose, and she’d had enough.
“I didn’t want to stay there, and so I didn’t give myself any excuses,” she told The Root. “Sometimes we give ourselves a little bit of wiggle room—I didn’t give myself any wiggle room. I was like, ‘This weight has to come off. Period.’”
But she also had 50 more pounds of extra weight that she’d been carrying around since before the pregnancy, and she ended up tackling that, too. “So the goal was just to lose my baby weight, but then once that came off—and it came off pretty quickly—I thought, let me do 5 more pounds,” Schiavocampo said.
Every time she reached her new goal weight, she would encourage herself to aim for another 5 pounds—which soon added up to a whopping 50 pounds.
The 35-year-old journalist has had a complicated relationship with food. As a child, she was the subject of ridicule from a family member. In her 20s, Schiavocampo struggled with an eating disorder, which led to depression.
She started her journey to fitness by attacking her eating habits. Schiavocampo realized early on that for her to reach her goals, she had to change the way she saw food. She opted to do a complete reset, a 40-day detox, during which she gave up all her trigger foods.
To get through what she described as an “excruciating” time, she turned to her faith. “There were a lot of issues that were leading me to overeat and to abuse food. They were much bigger than me, and so the only way I could fight those was by getting an ally who was just as big as those issues—and that’s God,” Schiavocampo said. “So for the first time ever, I made it a spiritual task. I made a vow to God to abstain from certain foods, my trigger foods, foods that I abuse and foods that I consider to be my drug, and that’s what got me through.”
After her cleansing period, Schiavocampo ended up on vacation. Excited to have made it through the detox, she allowed herself to indulge. But after those 40 days, she noticed that something had changed. “I realized that it was extremely unsatisfying, in that my memory of how satisfying those foods were was not where I was at that time. So I ate all this stuff—pizza, ice cream, doughnuts, bagels—and it made me sick,” she said. “It did not make me feel good. It wasn’t fun at all. That was my motivation to keep going.”
Eventually, after Schiavocampo had lost 50 pounds, she introduced exercise into her regimen when a friend took her to a SoulCycle class and Schiavocampo fell in love with the workout: essentially pumped-up indoor cycling that includes choreography.
“For the first time in my life, [exercise] was a pleasure. It helped me really get in touch with my body and [connect] with it, and even my breath, really simple things,” she said. “I also realized it was huge for my mental health, stress relief. … The main reason I do that is not for the physical benefits but for the mental.” She now works out on average around eight to 10 times per week, with SoulCycle still a staple.
Schiavocampo’s advice to people looking for lasting success in their fitness journey is fairly simple and consists of three basic steps:
1. Set a really small goal. A big goal, such as losing 50 pounds, can seem pretty daunting, but if you put it in perspective and aim for 1.5 pounds within a certain time period, it becomes less intimidating.
2. Focus only on food initially. While working out definitely has its benefits, as Schiavocampo puts it, “If you don’t get your diet right, you’ll never achieve your health and fitness goals.”
3. Try not to be emotional about it. Let’s face it: The process gets tough. Sometimes it feels as if the scale is not budging, you’re not getting stronger—hell, sometimes even your clothes might be a bit more snug. But Schiavocampo encourages you to keep your eyes on the prize. “The only time you’re losing is if you give up. If you’re plateaued, losing slowly, even if you’re gaining, that’s not losing. You lose when you quit. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re still winning the battle,” she said.
At the end of the day, it comes down to holding yourself accountable, setting a higher standard for yourself and committing, Schiavocampo noted. “The benefits of changing your lifestyle trump the challenges. It’s hard, it’s painful; there are so many things about it [that are] uncomfortable … but if you hold on and fight that fight … you will never, ever regret. You’re talking about your body, your life and your health. There’s nothing more important. It’s worth the fight.”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.