As someone with a busy schedule, I never set aside time to lose weight.
While attending high school full time, I worked part-time and attended musical rehearsals after school. I added to my busy schedule by squeezing in workouts after I finished my shifts at Subway.
And I lost weight.
While enrolled in maximum college credits, I attended play rehearsals, worked full time and occasionally worked out in the morning.
I continued to lose weight.
After studying abroad, I traveled to three countries—the United States, Morocco and Spain—in 4 weeks. In those 4 weeks, I visited eight cities: Rabat, Marrakesh, Tangier, Madrid, Toledo, Valencia, Barcelona and Minneapolis.
Again, I still lost weight.
Figuring out how to lose weight is confusing. I tried for years. But once I understood it’s all about making small changes to my life, I began to shed pounds. That’s the secret to losing weight with a busy schedule: small changes.
Here are a few ways to alter your life to finally lose weight, even with a busy schedule.
It’s time to sweat the small stuff
When we want to lose weight, we tend to have an all-or-nothing mentality. We either begin a 1,000-calorie diet of salad and carrots or eat 5 pieces of chocolate cake. It’s challenging to find a balance.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, slight alterations to your diet can make a significant impact.
I first began losing weight with minor changes to my Subway sandwiches. I ate everything when I started working at Subway. I didn’t consider how healthy it was. I wanted to taste them all since I earned a free sub whenever I worked. Chicken-Bacon Ranch, Buffalo Chicken, Philly Cheesesteak—I left no sub untasted.
After a while I began wondering how healthy Subway was. The company marketed itself as healthy, but was it? I concluded that though some sandwiches could be healthier, it wasn’t healthy. I decided to change my ways.
I started out by switching from the white breads to the brown breads. I also stayed away from the premium subs that packed on the meat.
Next, I evaluated my sauces. Instead of chipotle southwest, I used red wine vinegar, mustard and sweet onion sauce. I opted for avocado instead of cheese.
These weren’t the only changes that helped me lose 70 pounds, though they were good places to start. They were simple to implement and encouraged me to keep going.
The minor changes I outline below won’t change your life overnight. On the other hand, they add up and eventually make an impact. Plus, they add time your busy schedule instead of taking time out.
Don’t be distracted when you eat
It can be tempting to eat and multitask. I used to do it all the time.
Texting, Snapchat, Instagramming, watching TV —I’ve done it all. Multitasking while eating made me feel productive. And it’s more fun to Instagram our dinner than focus on eating it.
Yet it doesn’t benefit your health or your waistline.
Until recently, I enjoyed watching TED talks on YouTube while I ate my lunch. They kept me company when my husband wasn’t around. Unfortunately, the YouTube videos encouraged me to overeat.
Paying attention to YouTube meant I wasn’t paying attention to my satiety. I was so focused on the TED talks that I wasn’t paying attention to how full I was getting. I automatically finished my plate without considering whether I needed all the food.
A second reason I overate was because I wanted to watch more videos. If I wasn’t eating, I needed to wash my dishes and resume work. I wasn’t supposed to be watching videos during work hours. ‘Naughty Sara’. I extended my YouTube time by making more food to eat.
Now, I focus on what I eat. I avoid listening to music, watching Snapchat and texting my mother at lunch. Eating time is for eating. In fact, when you’re focused on eating, you end up saving time. With the extra time, you can take a 10-minute break to watch a YouTube video or post your meal on Instagram.
Just add water
I used to hate it when my mom told me to drink water.
When I’d open up the refrigerator to grab food, that’s what she told me. “Why don’t you drink a glass of water instead?” I was hungry. Being hungry meant that I should eat, not drink.
Though my mom isn’t a weight-loss expert, she wasn’t wrong about everything. She had a point with the water.
Sometimes we think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty. Though it might seem silly to drink when you’re hungry, do it anyway. Drinking water or unsweetened tea won’t hurt you. It could help you by proving that you’re not hungry.
Here’s my 3-step plan to avoid snacking when I’m not hungry:
- Drink a cup or more of water (or tea)
- Wait 30 minutes
- Reassess your hunger
If I’m still hungry after 30 minutes, I eat a small bowl of oatmeal or a handful of cashews.
Skip the oil
I used oil in my meals in the past. I thought a dash of oil here and there is harmless. But it’s not.
I lost around 15-20 pounds when I first went vegan. I stopped losing weight when I became a fancy raw vegan and began using oil. I used oil in my salads. I used oil to marinate beet roots. Oil here and there. I used oil everywhere!
1 tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories. That doesn’t seem like too many extra calories. But imagine if you added 120 calories to each meal. That’s 360 extra calories per day.
If the 3,500 calorie rule is true, you could lose 1 pound in 10 days by simply removing 3 tablespoons of oil from your meals.
Don’t know what to replace oil with? Learn how to cook with vinegar instead.
Preparation is one characteristic that separates the successful from the unsuccessful. Stick with your weight loss goals by planning for success. Find solutions to potential problems before they happen.
Eating healthy loses its appeal when you’re forced to sit out of social gatherings. Yet eating out doesn’t have to ruin your weight loss goals or be a pity party.
I always research a restaurant before I arrive. Since we live in the 21st century, you can find most restaurant menus online.
I look at the menu options available and pick a few that are healthiest. Multiple options mean you can decide what to eat based on what you’re craving.
Restaurants don’t usually serve healthy food. But you can choose the best meal available if you take time to pick it out beforehand. It’s better to order the least-unhealthy option than to give up and eat the worst menu items.
One unhealthy meal doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
I preface my advice with this: The best way to avoid drunk eating and excess booze calories is to avoid alcohol. These tips are for those who can’t give up their drunken nights.
One problem with drinking is making the wrong choices. You get wasted off of too-sweet fruit cocktails instead of a few shots. I understand, the cocktails taste better. But they’re packing on the calories… and the pounds.
Learning how to order lower calorie drinks at bars will minimize excess calories.
Another problem with drinking is that it results in impaired judgement. Pizza and nachos are obviously bad ideas when you’re sober. You might not think so when you’re drunk.
Avoid eating excess calories during and after drinking. Eat beforehand to avoid snacking on peanuts at the bar. And promise yourself that you’re won’t eat out afterwards. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
Prepare on the weekends
You might think meal plans are lame. I used to think so until I tried them.
Before I started making meal plans, I used to be kinda prepared. I had a few types of legumes sprouting in the cabinet and I made my ultimate wheat recipe a few times per week. Yet I’d scramble to figure out what I should cook for lunch and dinner.
To make sure you’re eating healthy, schedule your meals in advance.
Now I write out my breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the next week. It helps me in 3 ways:
- I know what I need to buy from the market and grocery store. I’m never out of tortillas when preparing tacos.
- Making meals is fast and focused when I have a goal. I’ve already determined major components of my meal down to the veggies. I give myself freedom with herbs and spices.
- My meals are nutritionally complete. First I determine my starch and legume for the meal. Then I decide how to use orange and green veggies.
I used to do batch cooking regularly when I lived in Brisbane, Australia. I cooked pressure cookers full of brown rice. Having precooked brown rice in the fridge made meals quick and effortless.
What can I do with cooked brown rice? A few example dishes are:
If you don’t have time to cook every day, batch cooking is your new best friend.
You can also batch cook other grains and pseudo-grains such as barley, quinoa and millet.
ℹ️A pressure cooker makes it quick and easy to cook your own grains and legumes. I have one and I use it daily. ℹ️
Since I vary my grains, I don’t cook large batches of rice anymore. I still batch cook, though. Instead of grains, I now batch cook legumes. Right now, I have home-cooked white beans, black beans, chickpeas and split peas in my fridge. Since I eat legumes three times a day, it’s cheaper to batch cook legumes from dry.
If you struggle to eat healthy meals at night, try batch cooking. See how it goes. When you can’t motivate yourself to cook, a bowl of brown rice with soy sauce is healthier than McDonald’s.
We’re all busy sometimes. Not the type of busy that we can plan for. I’m talking about unprepared busyness.
Maybe your healthy restaurant dinner date fell through or you were caught up. In these situations, it’s beneficial to have a plan B.
That’s why I always have a can of diced tomatoes and a box of whole wheat pasta on hand. You can make a meal of pasta in 20 minutes or less by just adding water and Italian spice mix to those ingredients. While it’s not the most nutritious meal, it’s healthier than fast food.
Dried fruit or nuts are easily stored in your purse for an emergency meal or snack. Save them for real emergencies and don’t eat them when you’re bored or mildly hungry.
Dried fruit should be free of added sugar and oil. Nuts and seeds should be salt- and oil-free. Here are my favorites:
Are you that busy?
It’s tempting to say healthy eating for busy people is impossible. We don’t have enough time to cook or exercise.
But are you that busy to begin with? Usually, we’re not as busy as we believe we are.
One hobby that may be sucking up your time is gaming. I prefer games on my phone, but maybe you’re an Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo person. Whatever your console, your virtual life could be draining the life from your actual life.
Games here and there are fun. They can be time wasters, too. Oftentimes, we’re not aware how much time we spend on them.
Not long ago I decided to ditch my game apps. I was playing games rather than working towards long-term goals. So one by one I deleted the apps. I started off with games that were on-going. The last game I deleted was Words with Friends, after I finished my last open game.
It’s easy to see how much time you spend on each application if you have an iPhone. Go to settings, scroll down to battery and finally wait for the battery percentage for each app to load. You can view the amount of time you spend in the app by clicking on the clock to the right of the time spans
Facebook and other social networks can be time sucks, too. They allow us to share our lives and interests with other people, but they can lead to hours of wasted time.
Facebook eats up time because of the endless options available. There are groups to join, pictures to view, statuses to read, games to play and more. The endless news feed scrolling makes it easy to forget how long you’ve been on.
Facebook can distract you in a heartbeat. Even if you only intend to check one thing, you’re distracted by the news feed and notifications. I get sidetracked when I open Facebook to share a post on my Facebook page. So, you’re not the only one with a problem.
It’s nice to keep in touch with friends and share your life. Yet Facebook shouldn’t substitute person-to-person interactions. And don’t let Facebook distract you from making a healthy dinner or shopping for groceries.
Gaming and social media take away time from your day. Why not add apps and habits to your life to stretch your time further?
The best way to avoid phone gaming is to delete the apps on your phone. For those with actual game consoles, you can set a limit for how much time you’ll spend each day on gaming. You’ll stick to your time if you set an annoying alarm away from arm’s reach. If you’re truly dedicated, you can sell some games or sell your console altogether.
I avoid Facebook distractions with a Chrome extension called News Feed Eradicator for Facebook. It prevents a news feed from showing up on my Facebook homepage. It doesn’t mean I’m never distracted, but I get distracted a lot less with it.
If you’re a student, stretch your time by purchasing audio versions of your textbooks. Instead of spending hours reading, you can listen to the information while you walk to classes or workout.
Another way I stretch my time is grocery delivery. You might think you can’t afford grocery delivery if you’re a broke college student. I consider the delivery cost worth the convenience and ease of getting groceries. Paying $5 extra for grocery delivery is better than spending the same amount for takeout.
Set time goals for yourself á la Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” So if you allot yourself 30 minutes to outline an essay, it’ll take 30 minutes. If you set out to complete your outline without a deadline, it might take you more than 45 minutes to complete. Even if you can’t stick to your deadline, you’ll push yourself to work efficiently to finish it ASAP.
Remember, don’t stretch your eating time by multitasking. You’ll eat more than you need to.
No time to lose weight? No problem
Here’s a quick summary of how you can start to lose weight even when you’re busy:
- Change small things. Cook without oil, eat mindfully and drink enough water.
- Be prepared. Research restaurant options, schedule your meals and batch cook.
- Use your time wisely. Cut out time wasters and maximize your precious time.
Minor tweaks won’t yield the same results as a 1,500 calorie diet or an intense exercise program. But you won’t get fed up with small changes either. Instead of turning your life upside down, small changes are easily integrated into your schedule. Making gradual changes that you can stick to is better than a hardcore plan you only stick to for 5 days.
It’s not impossible to lose weight on a busy schedule. Losing weight is about making yourself and your health a priority.
Here’s my challenge to you: Pick out one suggestion I mentioned and add it to your life (I recommend mindful eating). Once you’ve integrated the change in your life, add another.
You won’t see instant results, but I promise you will see them. If you need help making small changes, send me a message to schedule your nutrition consultation with me.