How many diets and workout routines have I started in my life?
I can't give an exact number, but I can give an accurate answer: The same number of them I've quit.
I'm not alone in my history of lacking diet and exercise stick-to-itiveness. A 2013 study in the UK determined 2 in 5 dieters quit within a week. Another 1 in 5 adhere to a new diet for one month. Only 1 in 20 stick to the program for a year, according to a Daily Mail report of the study.
I'm also not alone in my need to improve my weight and health. With a body mass index of 35, I'm among the approximately 36.5 percent of obese Americans reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
My lifestyle carries the quadruple whammy of working a night shift plus working a desk job combined with poor eating habits and sedentary hobbies such as reading and writing.
In December, I stepped on the bathroom scale to see the depressing numeric palindrome of 232 pounds.
Five years and 80 pounds ago, I was wearing size 10 jeans. These days, I'm wearing size 20. The realization I was gaining about 16 pounds annually and going up an average of one pants size a year weighed on me (pun intended).
But the knowledge of past diet and exercise failures also sat heavy on my mind.
Throwing away the book
I've hit plenty of books in the past on my hunt for the right eating routine and workout system. Not to mention a handful of DVDs, a Pinterest fitness board and general weight management advice from my women's health physician.
While some of the routines and systems helped me make short-term progress, none were the right fit. For one reason or another, I eventually abandoned all of them.
Even so, the upward trend in my weight had to stop.
And to make that happen, I had to throw away the book(s).
Or, more accurately, take a page from this diet book over here and watch a snippet from that DVD workout over there and bookmark a 15-minute YouTube routine shared on Pinterest and build my own hodgepodge cookbook of low-calorie recipes compiled from a dozen different cookbooks ...
In other words, customize a plan to fit my lifestyle, preferences, abilities, needs and goals.
Weight for me
While prepackaged, outlined-to-a-T weight management plans can work for many, weight loss is still a personal endeavor. What works for one person may not be the right fit for others.
Building the right plan is the key to success in weight management.
In December, I stopped triyng to stick to prepackaged plans and began experimenting with a personalized weight loss plan. The first step was knowing myself and being honest about my situation and limitations. For example:
Situation: My eating habits consist of constant snacking, large meals and too much soda consumption. I also have a sedentary job and an inactive lifestyle.
Limitations: I have low tolerance for high-intensity workouts and, no matter how good my intentions are starting out, I won't stick to an intense workout routine.
Comparing my situation to my limitations, it was clear that exercise wasn't going to play the lead role in weight loss. Portion control was the better starting point, supplemented by moderate exercise. My doctor recommended going for 20-minute walks as a low-intensity aerobic activity.
I also had to be realistic about what caused diets to fail for me in the past.
The No. 1 factor to make me quit a diet was when I tried to go cold turkey on soft drinks, snacks and everything that falls under the umbrella of "unhealthy but delicious." I would last a week or two on salads, chicken and fruit, then cave in on a Mountain Dew and candy bar, and finally abandon the diet completely because I felt like a failure over grabbing a sugary snack.
To counteract that trend, I bargained with myself: I wouldn't cut anything out. Instead, I would start to cut back.
A personalized plan
With my situation and limitations in mind, it was time to come up with a plan.
The next step: Assessing how much weight I want to lose and how fast I can lose it. As tempting as it is to go to bed on Monday weighing 232 pounds and wake up Tuesday weighing 150, that wasn't going to happen.
With the help of the My Net Diary app, I plugged in the numbers for my weight goal and adjusted the dates for how fast I wanted to lose weight, which calculated how many calories I could consume a day.
I selected an 18-month plan that allots me 1,765 calories a day. The long-term wait to reach my target deflated me at first, but once again, I had to be realistic. The shorter the plan, the fewer calories I could allot myself. Being honest with myself, I know I'll want to cash in on the wiggle room for the occasional soda or an extra half-serving of mashed potatoes.
Plus, having a calorie budget on the higher end has a positive psychological effect. I feel good about myself on the days I stay under calories. Had I set my budget on the lower end, there's a good chance I'd often be depressed for going over my allotted calories.
A work in progress
As of April, I'm 20 pounds down in my goal to lose 80 pounds — a quarter of the way there.
In the coming months, I'll share my continued trial and error in building and refining a successful weight management plan. During the journey, I'll highlight techniques that lead me to both success and failure, as well as occasional exercise routines, low-calorie recipes, interviews with other people managing weight and general topics of interest.
The techniques and issues explored in this space will strive to be accessible to people of any waist size and income level, with particular emphasis on do-it-at-home, low-cost exercises and recipes.
However, Weight For Me isn't a step-by-step guide to tell you how to reach your ideal weight. Instead, it's a tool to help you find the right mindset and resources to customize your own plan.
While my main focus of Weight For Me is weight loss as I overcome obesity, this space isn't solely about weight loss. It's about working toward a healthy weight, whether a person is overweight, underweight or maintaining ideal weight.
Also keep in mind that my weight plan isn't a by-the-book model of healthy eating. I'm sure more than one dietitian will cringe to see my diet log hasn't eliminated sugary, carbonated beverages.
My routine is a work in progress, and my goal is to improve both diet and exercise along the way in small, deliberate steps.
I've made a few strides since December. Now I'm inviting you to join me on the journey.
Weight for you
If you've found a weight management plan that works well for you, feel free to share! I'd love to highlight others' journeys, routines and eating habits as well. The more information and inspiration, the merrier.
Julie Barichello is an assistant editor at The Times documenting her weight management and health improvement journey. To share your own weight management story, contact her at 815-431-4072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.