Getting into shape and living a healthier lifestyle can be seriously daunting.
That’s why BuzzFeed Life reached out to people who’ve been there to ask them to share their advice. For one guy, that meant learning a way to trick himself into using the spin bike more often. For another woman, that meant transforming her eating and fitness habits, losing over 150 pounds, and getting her diabetes and blood pressure under control.
Whether you’re looking to make a big change in your life or a few small ones, you can probably use some of the tips these former couch potatoes shared. And if you’ve made a healthy living change in your own life, share it with everyone in the comments!
1. Make it easy for yourself to work out in the mornings.
“I never exercised. Very rarely. I knew I needed to because I needed the outlet for stress, and I wasn’t sleeping well. But I also didn’t want to exercise after work, because I’d always want to go out with friends, or come home and relax and just watch TV. So I knew I needed to try morning exercises if I was going to fit it into my day.
Here’s how I do it: When I get home from work I lay out my exercise clothes. I fill a bottle of water and put it in the fridge. I pack the outfit I’m going to wear to work the next day. I pack everything — makeup, shoes, outfit — have it all ready to go, and then set my alarm for the next morning. I do everything I need to do before I start to unwind. This forces me to just get up and do it, and not have to take the time to find everything or make excuses for why I can’t.”
—Cat Fuentes, 28
2. Master the art of portion control.
“It hasn’t happened overnight, but in the past seven years or so I’ve lost over 70 pounds. I’m about to run in the New York City Marathon on Sunday — it’ll be my second marathon. Back 70 pounds ago, I never could’ve dreamed that.
Tricks for myself, in terms of weight loss: Portion control is huge when you’re trying to lose weight. I’ve never been someone who wants to cut something out completely, so I had to figure out a way to allow myself little indulgences. I still go to restaurants, but now I’m all about tapas-style dining, which allows me to try a little of everything. It’s something I’ve gotten myself into that allows me to eat better without sacrificing my lifestyle.
Another tip: I snack throughout the day to keep up my energy, so I keep healthy things by my desk. My trick is making sure the snacks are in reasonable portion sizes, so I’m not just mindlessly munching on them all day.”
—Emily Abbate, 26
3. Get enough sleep.
“I had a breast reduction a couple months after I graduated high school, and then moved to Chicago to start college. Once I was out on my own, I had to learn to cook, which is typically healthier than dining out. And because of my class schedule, I had a lot of time on my hands to work out. Now that I no longer had HUGE BOOBS, working out was easier/more fun.
My number one tip for living healthier is to get enough sleep every night. You cannot eat healthy or stay motivated if you’re really tired. Sleep is legitimately the basis of all my healthy decisions. I just set a bedtime and stuck to it. Also, setting the alarm on your phone is really good for creating a new bedtime routine. Like if you need to be in bed sleeping at 11 p.m., set an alarm for 10:15 to remind you to like… stop checking Facebook and go wash your face. And sort of related: Unplug before bed. I put my phone in airplane mode to sleep better.”
—Rachel Miller, 29
4. Don’t aim for perfection.
“In 2007 I lost about 80 pounds, and then in 2012 gained most of it back. I wanted to get back in shape, so I decided to try running every day. And I was maybe running half a mile, maybe a mile at the most — I wasn’t good at it. I gave up about three times, saying, “It’s not working out, I’m not good at it,” and just went back to doing nothing.
I had a friend who lost 100 pounds running. And she helped to hold me accountable. She would send me texts and Facebook messages saying, “You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to do it.” That became my motto. Every time I didn’t want to get up: “You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to do it.” So I started running every day.
I run probably three times a week now, I go to a simulated surfboard class three to four times a week, and I swim three to four times a week. And I’m so happy I do — I feel great.”
—Laura Prescott, 30
5. Find a workout you love — that way it doesn’t feel like a chore, and it’s something you’re excited to do.
“I was never active… at all. I had years of failed attempts at fitness that mostly included running on the treadmill and failing at the gym. After a doctor ordered me to quit drinking, I needed an outlet to keep me sober. I looked into hip-hop dancing but felt out of place and hated it.
I used to pass a Krav Maga school every day on the way to work. One day, I stopped in for a trial class and signed up for membership that day. Feeling empowered and excited, I went four times a week. I was hooked. Not long after I started, they invited me to join the instructor program. After weeks of grueling training, I completed it — an accomplishment my 220 pounds, 20-year-old self would never have imagined.”
—Ben Ronne, 34
6. Try to do some form of exercise for 30 minutes (or three miles) every day.
“I suffer from body dysmorphia, and consequently I really abused my body like crazy. Whether it was overeating, eating the wrong things, or eating to stuff my emotions down. I was also drinking a lot. Those habits didn’t go away when I became a trainer, and I felt like a humongous hypocrite. As time went on, I realized that I had a responsibility to my clients to walk the walk and talk the talk. I needed to make changes.
My big tip is consistency is key. The rule I set for myself (and that I set for my clients) is Thirty by Three: 30 minutes a day of some sort of exercise, whether that’s walking for 30 minutes, or five exercises that last about five minutes each with some breaks in between. OR you do three miles of something — three miles on a treadmill, elliptical, hiking. Sometimes an hour feels like just way too much, but 30 minutes always feels attainable.
For the past eight years, since I began focusing on my health, I’ve remained consistent — my body has stayed the same weight, I’m healthy, I’m a normal weight, I’m fit, and I’ve maintained it, and that’s what matters to me.”
—Kit Rich, 31
Kit Rich, an NASM certified personal trainer, is a Los Angeles-based celebrity pilates trainer. She’s been featured in Vogue, SHAPE, SELF, Women’s Health, Real Simple, US Weekly, and Pilates Style. She’s also made appearances on Access Hollywood, Access Hollywood LIVE!, E! News, E!Online, EXTRA, and The Today Show. She blogs regularly for Beautylish.com.
7. Focus on creating a sustainable healthy lifestyle, not temporarily following a fad diet.
“At my heaviest, I was over 350 pounds. I reached a tipping point when I realized that my weight had stopped me from living. I used to be this vibrant, sexy woman, but I didn’t want to go anywhere, I didn’t want to do anything. And I was on two types of blood pressure medicine, two types of diabetes medicine, acid reflux medicine, and water pills. Only you know when enough is enough. And I had enough.
In the past, I had tried all the diets — Weight Watchers, Atkins, counting carbs, fasts, things like that. I would get on these diets and lose a few pounds and then go back to eating the same way again. When I decided I needed to make a lasting change for good, I looked at every diet I’d ever been on and tried to figure out: What had I learned from these diets? And how could I eat in a way that actually worked with my lifestyle, so I would stick with it?
The turning point was learning how to make the food work for me. I read the labels on everything to be a lot more careful about knowing what I’m eating. I also still eat some of the things I love, like bacon, but just limit it. Once you start giving up everything it’s a done deal. Because you’re going to sit back and you’re going to be mad because you can’t have this or eat that. It’s all about moderation.
Once I lost 20 pounds, I started going to the gym every day. And I’ve gone from the treadmill at the slowest pace to lifting weights and going on the elliptical for 45 minutes at a time. I’ve lost over 150 pounds since I started, and I’m not on any of those medications anymore. ”
—Delores Curtis, 59
8. Make working out a social activity.
“Fitness was never a huge priority for me. After I graduated from college I joined a cheap gym that I’d go to once a week, but it was something like 20 bucks a month so I didn’t really feel guilty for not going… it wasn’t a crazy obligation.
But now I’m friends with someone else at work with the same gym membership as me and we both go. Now I go two to three times a week, and I also do classes there, and I’m willing to try anything. I’ve tried yoga and rock climbing, and this weekend I did my first 5K.
Sometimes going to the gym alone can make you feel like you’re sacrificing your social life — you have to choose between working out or hanging out — but if you go with a really good friend, especially if you’re in a class together, it’s the best of both worlds.”
—Julia Pugachevsky, 23
9. Distract yourself, if you need to.
“I never went to the gym at all until my friend Ricky turned me on to something he called the 24 Exercise Plan. You need an iPad, Season 1 of 24, and the discipline to only watch 24 while you’re on a bike at the gym. The idea is that 24 is so compelling, you’ll keep biking just to see how Jack Bauer gets himself out of this one. The best part about the 24 Exercise Plan is you don’t have to pick 24, this works with any compelling TV show (I actually gave up on 24 after Season 3, or approximately 52 hours at the gym).
The trick is picking the right show. Not all great shows make great gym shows. For instance, I found Friday Night Lights a bit too sad to bike to. You also want something where you can let your attention wander for a few seconds and not get lost, so I wouldn’t recommend The Wire. I found the most success with anything [Joss] Whedon — I watched all 12 seasons of Buffy + Angel on an exercise bike at the gym.”
—Jeff Rubin, 32
10. Learn to lift weights.
“I found myself gaining a lot of weight for no clear reason recently. After a lot of testing I received a tentative diagnosis for PCOS, a hormonal condition that can cause inexplicable weight gain. I wanted to get my weight under control and see if there was anything I could do to get more control over my health, so I started seeing a nutritionist and a personal trainer, and that’s where everything changed.
My personal trainer is pretty much the greatest thing that ever happened to me. He got me to start lifting. It’s completely changed my love of exercise. It’s changed my level of confidence. Now I don’t see exercise as a way to lose weight primarily; it’s more a way to gain — strength and confidence and power. When I can lift my weights, I’m like, This is totally worth it.”
—Mackenzie Kruvant, 24
11. Use social media to find cheerleaders and to hold yourself accountable.
“I’ve been in a wheelchair for 21 years, from a car accident from when I was 17. I’m paralyzed from all of my stomach down. I can’t suck in, I can’t use my stomach muscles, but I can use my arms, so that’s a blessing. I put on a lot of weight my first year of marriage, and then three boys later… Well, two years ago I was 240-ish pounds and in a wheelchair, and I was miserable. My hips were rubbing on the tires. I was having a hard time lifting myself out of the chair during transfers. I knew I needed to make a change, but I didn’t think I could do it on my own.
I tried out for the show The Biggest Loser and didn’t get it. A year later I tried out to be on the show Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, and they also told me no. I was crushed. I thought I was never going to be able to do this on my own. I posted some sad face on Instagram and Facebook, and a lady who lived a couple towns over from me messaged me and said, “I want to help you for free, I’m a trainer and nutritionist.” I cried, I was so humbled. She came to my house the next day. We cleaned out my pantry, she told me what to eat, what not to eat. We talked about some exercises I could do with my arms.
She came up with the idea of starting a Facebook page [Wheelin’ Weightloss] that shows my progress. When I first started the page, I thought I might just have a few of my Facebook friends cheer me on. Now it’s over 5,000 people that see what I’m doing to lose weight, and what I’m eating, and my downfalls and my victories. Accountability is key for me. They keep me accountable, and I get to hopefully inspire and motivate them. There are a lot of people in wheelchairs who have reached out to me, and of course a lot of able-bodied people as well. That accountability has gotten me through.”
—Jamie Goodwin, 38
12. Build a solid foundation of good habits first, and then add to it slowly.
“I have four children, and I started my weight loss journey after the third child. I got pregnant again and had to start all over. The second time around I learned a lot more. The first time I tried to lose weight, I thought the best way to do it was go for a walk, count your calories, and eat whatever you want as long as you stay in your calorie range. But I was burning myself out, eating food that wasn’t good for me and wasn’t helping me. I successfully lost weight, but I wasn’t feeling good. After I had my fourth child, I decided to learn about clean eating. As I did that, I felt so much better. It was like night and day. The energy! I was able to train more efficiently, focusing on protein and healthy carbs, things of that nature.
What helped for me to make that change… I always talk about building a foundation. I didn’t just start eating completely clean overnight like flipping a light switch. For me, I cut out soda and I cut out fast food. Do one or two things that you can be successful at over a week or a couple of weeks. And once you get a groove going, then add another thing. Then add another thing. And finally you’re going to see that you’re doing more healthy things than unhealthy things, and you’re feeling great and you just want to keep building on that.”
—Josie Maurer, 41
13. Eat more fiber and lean protein.
“I wanted to join Officer Candidate School in the Marine Corps after I graduated from college, and I knew that I was going to have to get in much better shape. To join OCS you have to meet certain physical requirements — you have to do a three-mile run in under 24 minutes, you have to do at least 10 pull-ups in a row, and you have to do at least 80 crunches in two minutes. [Editor’s note: There’s more to it than this, but you get the idea.] I quickly realized that strength training wasn’t going to be enough — I needed to slim down so I could be faster with the run.
I started actively trying to eat more fiber. I’d have oatmeal for breakfast and salad for lunch or dinner. I told myself that I could eat whatever I wanted to, but I had to eat a big salad first. And the crazy thing was that I wasn’t hungry after. I’d eat the salad first and then my appetite would go down. I also made sure to eat good sources of protein, focusing on foods with high a protein-to-calories ratio, like tuna or turkey.
I ended up losing about 20 to 30 pounds, and then getting into OCS, basically in the best shape of my life.”
—Arjun Chandrasekaran, 29
14. Keep a food diary, if it helps you.
“I was in a car accident my senior year of high school. I had a number of injuries, but the biggest one was a stage three concussion, which gave me vertigo and recurring headaches for months. I was bedridden and ended up gaining about 45 pounds. When I finally fully recovered about seven months later, I wanted to get back in shape.
One of the biggest things for me was focusing on my diet. I eliminated soda completely. I replaced all sugary drinks with water, and drank more water throughout the day. I also started writing down everything I was eating during the week. You don’t realize sometimes how much you actually eat. Small things can feel like nothing at the time, but they all add up. When you write everything down, you might realize you do eat more than three or even four meals a day. Writing down what I was eating helped me stay honest with myself, and helped me check with myself if I was eating because I was hungry, or just because the food was there in front of me.”
15. Celebrate how exercise makes your body feel — and do things that make you feel sexy!
“I had gained a lot of weight in my first job out of college as a high school teacher, and I tried to go to the gym but I was just so exhausted I couldn’t ever motivate myself to go. Then one day I joined my boyfriend at a dance class — we were both musicians, and I was there to drum for the class. I was so intrigued by the women in the class… they were super sexy and had gorgeous bodies! I decided I wanted to try actually dancing. The music was sensual and it was a playful dance style. I was hooked. I started going to dance classes multiple times a week, and that inspired me to start eating better.
The things that helped me: Not only did I find a physical activity that I loved doing, but I also felt so sexy and beautiful while doing it. And there was a great community that I belonged to that held me accountable to keep showing up. I’ve been Samba dancing now for 14 years and loving it.”
—Theresa Stevens, 41
Theresa Stevens is now the owner and founder of ShakeYourBootyDance.com, where she offers dance classes, lessons on strength-training, and nutrition tips for people who want to get in shape, just like she did.
Note: All quotes in this story have been edited for space.
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