I used to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I never had a set breakfast, lunch, and dinner time because my life never ran on a regular schedule. I work as a shaman, and I am pulled toward the moon and the night, which is when I am my strongest—it is also the time when I perform ceremonies. Half a box of raisin bran, vanilla soy milk, watermelon, and some veggies? That sounds like a good anytime meal, right?
In retrospect, my strange eating and sleeping habits likely had a lot more to do with my undiagnosed polycystic-ovary syndrome (PCOS) and fibromyalgia than my work. For a long time, both conditions left me both completely fatigued or riddled with insomnia. I was constantly in pain, and I ate to curb it. Meanwhile, the doctors told me I was fine, and that it was all "in my head." I felt invalidated. Emotional eating gave me a fleeting calm.
I also thought being a vegan gave me the license to eat in excess and not gain weight. But looking back, I realise I often ate 4,500 calories per day. It wasn’t that what I was eating was all that bad. I just ate entirely too much.
Fortunately, in time, I did receive the diagnoses I needed, and once I gained control of my PCOS and fibromyalgia, I knew it was time to take on my weight. Since veganism hadn't been working for me, I decided to try out Warrior Dieting, which I had previously come across on YouTube. (I used to watch a lot of vegan-related videos, and Warrior Dieting just happened to come up in the related videos.)
Warrior Dieting is a way of eating that mirrors the eating habits of ancient warriors, who ate little during the day, consuming most of their food at night. Sounds pretty fitting for my nocturnal habits, right?
In May of 2016, I shifted to Warrior Dieting, which is really a form of intermittent fasting. During the daytime "undereating" phase, you can still eat fruits, vegetables, and small servings of protein, but the bulk of your food comes during your evening meal. The diet advocates sticking to whole foods and avoiding processed ones.
It also emphasised portion control. For example, even when "undereating" during the day, up to 170 grams of protein is allowed. So, to get my portions under control, I started using an app called Lose It!, which tracks the calories I'm eating.
When I first started my weight-loss journey, my goal was to lose one kilogram per week. To do this, the app suggested I stick to around 1,550 calories per day.
I started to eat on smaller plates and in smaller bowls with smaller utensils—even my cups were smaller. I measured out my portions in colorful little measuring cups and learned what different amounts of foods looked like on the plates and in the bowls I usually used. Eventually, I became a master at eyeballing food. Lose It! has thousands upon thousands of food entries and I could go to a specific food (such as chicken, thigh, cooked, with skin) and log 85 grams of it. Yes, my vegan days were officially behind me!
Every day, I would start my day by fasting, or I'd grab something very light like matcha tea with vanilla soy milk, or something with protein like a boiled egg, to help keep my blood sugar from dropping. Throughout the day, I would snack if needed on nuts, string cheese, grapes, cantaloupe, carrots, cucumbers, and pickles.
At night, I would eat about 60 to 80 percent of my calories for the day, as that is when I was at my most active. What I would eat varied, but I stayed within my overall daily caloric goals. I am a huge fan of Asian food, so I would often make kimchi, curries, sushi, or miso soup.
As I lost weight each month, the amount of calories suggested by Lose It! decreased. When I reached my goal weight of 67kgs in September of 2017, I was eating 1,200 daily calories.
Fitness was a massive part of my weight-loss plan. Sure, I watched my calories, but I was also clocking in anywhere from 10 to 17 hours of activity per week, even from the get-go. I used a FitBit to track my activity.
However, the activities I did throughout my weight-loss journey fluctuated. At first, I walked for seemingly eons around my neighborhood. I also did a lot of dancing. Eventually, I tried running... and I hated it. As I got fitter, I also tried some circuit training. But ultimately, walking and hiking for long stretches of time is the workout that I have stuck with. Over time, I've been able to kick up the pace and enjoy paths I couldn't have before.
As I lost weight, I found myself having to push harder, as a smaller body needs less calories to sustain itself. I had to make lifestyle changes during my day to get in extra walking outside of exercise as well, such as parking at the back of parking lots, not taking shortcuts in stores, walking through plazas where I shopped instead of driving to every store, etc. I also danced in my car to my favorite music while stuck in traffic instead of getting angry and stressed out. And instead of sitting on the couch for hours at a time when watching TV, I got up during commercials to tackle chores and integrate more movement.
STICKING WITH IT
When I feel like giving up, I look up at the skies and take a deep breath. I remember what an incredible gift bodies are, what an incredible gift humanity is. I realise I am part of everything and everything is a part of me. I realise that I am powerful.
My time in nature helps to fuel my fire. I often go outside and blast my music in my headphones or grab my drum and get lost for hours on end, listening to my heart and nature while also burning tons of calories. I'm lucky enough to have access to dozens of miles of walking trails not far from where I live, outside Atlanta.
The connections I have made through Lose It! have also been invaluable. There have been times when I would be in tears, utterly exhausted and feeling like I failed for the week because I had gained on the scale. And then, out of the blue, I would receive a badge because I had been logging for 16 weeks straight! Or I would receive a supportive message from someone in Lose It!. It showed me that even when I felt weak, I was strong and I still kicked tail.
I found that my PCOS symptoms started subsiding significantly around the 190-pound mark, which also happened to be the point where I went from being obese to being overweight. My mood swings were improving, I was getting used to having my sacred menstrual cycles again, and my acne breakouts were not as bad. My mood completely stabilised as I got into the 150s and neared my goal weight.
Losing the weight was me letting go of things I had buried in me for so long—things that I had been carrying around like baggage, like the emotional pain that came from mitigating health problems, an unsure future, an uncontrollable life, loneliness. I was an emotional eater who used food as a way to soothe a weary, beaten soul. As those kilograms shed, I felt my spirit become lighter.
On a lighter note, it was also a lot of fun to see a smaller face greet me in the mirror, to see tinier toes, and muscles develop under my skin. Going into a store and getting the first piece of clothing on the front of the rack was pretty surreal.
RAVEN'S NUMBER-ONE TIP
Nobody can help you if you aren’t willing to help yourself first, whatever your true needs may be. There is so much advice out in the world, but ultimately, you have to trust yourself and your spirit to find what works best for you.
Keep in mind, however, that improving your health will always be met with challenges. If you can find within yourself the power of creation we all possess, you can create change within your life and overcome any trial or tribulation, any obstacle of the mind or the fear of change itself. People can change—and change can be everlasting.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US