A few months ago, my best friend patiently explained to me over the phone that my leggings and sweatpants had not, in fact, shrunk. She had no proof, but in her words: “Alli, that’s not a thing.”
Sometimes best friends are the only ones who can impart hard truths, even when evidence is staring me straight in the face — or, in this case, squeezing just a little too tightly.
Throughout 2020, I’ve continued to exercise consistently. But smaller, daily movements like walking through parking lots, going in and out of my office and perusing stores have ceased. On top of this, my refrigerator is conveniently within sight of my new “desk” (i.e., the kitchen table). Cooking and cocktails are an especially engrossing and comforting pandemic hobby.
Slowly but surely, I’ve accrued extra fat.
I say that bluntly because that’s what it is, and I think it’s OK. Especially in Alaska’s coldest months, I’m not anti-fat. What I don’t want is for fat to slowly and mindlessly build over the years. So, like many at the start of a new year, I’m taking steps to shed some flub.
There are a million articles on weight loss out there, and I don’t fancy myself an expert. Still, Alaska’s a unique place where advice from the Lower 48 isn’t always especially useful. For those looking for a reset in 2021, here are my go-to hacks.
Set a positive goal
When I was a teenager, I tried shrinking. I grew up asthmatic and overweight, feeling that I stood out awkwardly among my peers. I thought if I could scale myself back, I’d fit in better.
I counted calories and started exercising. This identity consumed me for a while, but eventually I got sick of that. I lacked energy and inspiration.
Slowly, I moved into more. Running, hiking, backpacking, swimming and bicycling became new pursuits. Ultimately this translated into both a fitter, leaner me and a more expansive, engaged person.
Now, I try to learn from that younger self. Instead of focusing on weight loss, I focus on aspiration. Is there a race I want to train for and complete? Is there a big peak I want to summit, and how will I work up to that? Do I want to become a faster runner? Am I simply seeking a more consistent feeling of fitness, and if so how will I know when I get there? Is it going for hikes feeling strong and full of energy? Is it running long distances smoothly?
This aspiration is paired with my optimal number on a scale, but the why behind my number is the real motivator. This aspiration serves as a touchstone to keep going when I have a setback or feel unmotivated.
Don’t try to fool anyone
My mind is a powerful and, at times, devious little creature. I am the queen of coming up with elaborate rationales for why I should take a rest day or consume the rest of the ice cream.
My brain whispers something like: I’ll be better-rested for my workout tomorrow if I don’t work out today. Or: the wind was blowing hard during that hike — surely I burned 500 more calories than I accounted for, and it’s important to stay fueled.
If this sounds familiar, then congratulations. Welcome to the club where willpower is easily manipulated by laziness and desire.
I think that’s part of what it is to be human. Still, I know in my heart of hearts what sabotages versus what supports my effort.
For me, running after dinner is a no-go. Despite much advice out there to the contrary, running empty is my best mode (both for performance and weight loss — although for longer runs I do bring food). Sugar is addictive and difficult to moderate; if I “must” consume it, I try to eat it early or while active.
And, sadly, although it is cold outside and I know staying warm burns calories, I’m not exactly in survival mode in my cozy, warm home. I don’t need to consume extra cookies when safely back on my couch in order to live.
When I follow my own best advice, I tend to do well. When I come up with elaborate schemes to ignore it, I falter.
Build muscle and speed
This one is the hardest for me. I’m a slow and low girl. But I also have hypothyroidism (read: my metabolism is low; I’ve taken medication for it every day since I was 13). I have a heck of a time naturally losing weight, which is why it’s infuriating to watch my husband. He decides to run an extra mile and eat an extra egg, and he instantly loses a belt notch.
Still, I know that when I add strength exercises and speed workouts to my routine, it noticeably fires up my fat loss. I don’t have to skip my favored “slow and low” type exercises, like biking, running and walking. But at least two strength training workouts and one speed session a week kicks my body into a higher gear.
After weeks of these kinds of workouts, I feel an increased sense of strength and litheness. And this sense is what I’m after, and what I suspect many of us crave going into this new year.
After 2020, we deserve to feel strong and ready for anything. My mind and heart are on their way there, and I intend to bring my body along as well.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.