How to Lose 100 Pounds on a Crazy Schedule*

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I do not live in a perfect world where everything falls into place inside the boxes and lines of my day planner. Few of us do. So many of us can relate to the day-to-day chaos that requires quick decisions made in the heat of battle. I don’t keep the same schedule for more than 7 days at a time. Just as soon as I adjust to day shift, I rotate to midnight shift, then afternoons, then back again. It seems like I am always scrambling to adjust, to regain my balance only to have to adapt again.

Many of us can tell a similar story. Maybe you are someone constantly devoting your time to the care and nurture of others. Maybe you are on the road a lot. Every person has a unique set of challenges that seems to get in the way of their goals.

So how did I do it? How did I manage to overcome all of that, lose 100 pounds and train for a marathon? These are my top must-dos to gain traction on a demanding schedule.
  1. The first thing I had to do was to realize that, although I was in a tough situation, I still had control over some things. The key for me was to separate the things that I could not control from the things that I could, writing it out on paper if necessary to see it more clearly. That way I was not wasting energy wallowing in anxiety, and was able to focus on the things I did have control over. I had to identify windows of opportunity and then exploit them. If that window was only 15 minutes wide, then I could make it a good 15 minutes and pat myself on the back for a job well done. You can feel a lot of resentment toward work and life in general if you feel like you are totally controlled by your schedule. Focusing on what you CAN do rather than what you CAN’T will really help you gain a more positive mindset.

  2. Success in the insanity that is loosely defined as life is a matter of commitment over perfection. All or nothing has no place in losing weight and getting fit on a demanding schedule. Maintaining momentum is the most important thing. Momentum undergirds motivation. Without momentum, all the fitness equipment, gym memberships and other tools are null and void. Momentum is created by simple commitment. Don’t wait for a feeling before acting: it will never come.

  3. Goal cards – I used 4X6 index cards folded in half like a book. On the front I put my daily goals and on the inside my exercise and food log. Keeping a continual food diary is awesome, especially for troubleshooting problems, but keeping it on an individual card that I keep in my pocket and refer to often keeps my goals in the here and now. I ask myself: “What do I want this card to look like at the end of the day? What if someone were going to review it?” I look at it at the end of the day, pat myself on the back for a job well done or forgive the goof ups, then toss it. The day is over along with its successes or failures. I don’t dwell on yesterday’s failings: I focus on TODAY.

    Your long-term success depends on how you wind up at the end of the day, not 2 weeks from now and certainly not “someday”. Frustration results when what you are doing does not line up with the direction you feel you should be taking in your heart. Even if life gets in the way, making small steps toward what you feel is important is a big morale booster. Every day is another chance to get it right. By putting out small goals everyday, or as much as possible, and working toward them, you will feel more in control. The main thing is to keep the momentum going in the chaotic, rough patches that are sure to come.

  4. When I first started my weight loss journey, I had to make exercise feel like an easy option. If you don’t make it easy for yourself, you probably won’t do it. For example, when I was on my 7-midnight shifts, where I was in zombie mode, I got my workout clothes laid out and my bike or treadmill set up. All I had to do was just wander down the hall, slide into my clothes, and hop on. Doesn’t sound like much, but when your mind is a fuzzy mess, it makes all the difference in the world until your blood starts pumping and you can think again.

  5. I had to learn to expect the unexpected. It is a must to make a mental list of emergency go-to strategies that you can turn to when life gets in the way and you have to think on your feet. For the shift worker, that is almost all the time. It takes time to get in the routine of making consistently healthy choices in the face of life’s hurdles. Be patient with yourself and keep researching and experimenting. Only you can craft a plan that will fit you. Always research your options.

  6. Changing your dietary routine is a lot like jumping from one speeding train to another going in the opposite direction. From day 1, your decisions are typically made on the go. This is where consistency rules over perfection. There is no reasonable way you or I are going to undo years of bad choices or deprogram ourselves from an ingrained, unhealthy routine in just a few weeks or months any more than we can dump out a puzzle and have it fall together into the picture on the cover.

    What worked for me was to start with foods I was already familiar with and found ways to make them more healthy. I didn’t do anything too extreme or exotic. My plan wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start. For me, starting where I was and making healthier substitutions as I got more educated was the way to go. Nothing is more stressful than taking the core of your daily routine and turning it on its ear, especially when your schedule is not forgiving. Slow changes are far more lasting. It takes a lot of committed effort to hone your routine to a sharp, effective edge.

  7. I treat my exercise routine like a second job, not something that is done “in between the commercials” of life. At work, I punch in if I don’t feel like it, if I’m having a bad day, or am just sagging or dragging. My duty to my job isn’t up for negotiation, and neither is my exercise routine. It has to be that way for me to succeed. Exercise is survival, not a hobby. Treat it as such.

  8. When training for an athletic event on a demanding schedule, consider this. Divide your training into blocks. Identify blocks of time that you can devote to training and make it happen. Don’t condemn yourself for lapses in time that are beyond your control. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible for a shift worker to follow every square on a training schedule. Like the picture on a frozen dinner that says “serving suggestion”, I had to take my training schedule and treat it as a basic outline and do the best I could. It doesn’t pay to put yourself through the anxious thoughts of, “Oh my goodness, I missed week 3, day 2 of training. What will I do?”

    If you are on a 12-week running program, give yourself more than 12 weeks before your event just in case you experience a life-induced lapse. Don’t ever double up on training or do extra miles, etc. There is no making up for lost time. That is the fast track to injury. On days you miss a scheduled training session, focus on diet. Every time you sit down to eat, you are training. You always have control over what you put in your mouth. To get good nutrition is just as important as getting in that long run. Healthy eating IS training and you can do that on any shift. That helped me eliminate a lot of the frustration over an irregular training schedule.
Hopefully, the strategies that worked for me can help you on your road to weight loss and fitness. If I could do it on my insane schedule, I know you can, too. This is your life, and it might be crazy, but you do have some control. With a little bit of planning and a lot of motivation to get you through the speed bumps, those goals are in your reach: just jump up and grab them!

*Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program. 

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I really like what you say about making exercise like your job. I am really trying to incorporate this idea. It can be so easy just to say "oh well, I just feel like exercising today" but once you lose that momentum its really hard to get back on track! Thanks for a great article! Report
Thank you for the thoughtful and educational post. Treating exercise as a second job gives it the status it deserves. Your health should be that important. Report
This post really struck a chord with me and has inspired me on an emotional level I haven't felt before. Beautifully written and very inspiring! While I only have 10 lbs. or so to lose I haven't had much success, but that's going to change - starting today! Thanks Robert! Report
This is a wonderful post! My absolute favorite sentence "Every time you sit down to eat, you are training. You always have control over what you put in your mouth." I paused after reading that sentence and read it again...twice! Kind of like an "aha" moment! Thanks for posting and thinking out loud. Report
"only YOU can craft a plan that will fit YOU."

Excellent! Very helpful advice. Report
who is this guy? he is awesome! This is by far and away the best blog I have ever read...not just on SP, but anywhere!! I saved this blog to my SP favorites. Good wisdom and good advise! Report
Absolutely one of the best, most helpful boots I've ever read on SparkPeople! And that's saying a lot!!! Report
Here are what I find the most useful in this lovely article..
1. exercise is not a hobby.. it's like a second job.
2. check your goal on daily basis.
3. start by what you know and try to improve it.. maybe it's not a perfect plan but a good start.

Thanks :) Report
Great blog, Robert! THANKS Report
How inspiring! I'm also surprised by the poll results, I had no idea so many other people had problems with inconsistent motivation. Especially now that I'm maintaining I find that I'm not as motivated as I was when I was trying to lose. Report
Reading your blog was great! Some of your tips are wonderful, and I am going to incorporate them into my life. I work in a hospital, and my shift varies from week to week. You are so right about focusing on what you can do. I also liked the concept of treating your exercise routine like a second job. I have been having trouble with keeping my motivation, and I found your ideas very helpful! Thanks for writing this blog!. Report
This is a wonderful blog. I will take a lot of these tips and incorporate them into my life. My fav is the goal card. Thanks! Report
"Every time you sit down to eat you are training". I really enjoyed your article but this struck me particularly as a really useful attitude to adopt. I too have over 100 pounds to lose and feel quite optimistic at this point. Last night I even found myself entertaining the notion of eventually taking part in a triathlon! This is a new thought but I reckon it's doable. Thanks again Robert! Report
very good encouragement for those of us who have 101 excuses! Report
"Exercise is survival, not a hobby. Treat it as such."

This is my new mantra!

Nice blog! Thanks for sharing some great ideas!!!

I admire your courage - 100 pounds to lose must have been daunting! Yes fitness is a job - it's as simple as that. Report
"Exercise as a job" - that can have a strange impact on people.

There are those who LOVE their job...this idea will work well for them.

If your job is a drudgery, a hated daily event...then think of exercise as your *escape* from work!

I have often done shift work and you made some points that made tons of sense to me. I need to find a way to come back to this blog entry. Report
LOVE the index card idea. Will be getting some tomorrow. Thank you! Report
This was what I needed to hear! Thank you. Report
Great advice. Thanks for sharing. Report
Thank you Robert for the great tips and inspiration. I have been using my crazy work schedule as an excuse for too long. I switch back and forth with days and afternoon shifts and rotating weekend days. Not as extreme as your shift changes yet you managed to lose 100 pounds. I no longer have my excuses. Here is to a better on track week. Report
Great blog Robert with lots of helpful ideas!

I like the idea of treating exercise like a job. I describe exercise as my "prescription". It's non-negotiable and necessary. Sure, life gets in the way (no shift work though!) but I can usually juggle things around and catch up eventually.

I found this very helpful and encouraging - thank you! Report
This is fantastic advice. Thank you. Report
This is one of the first blogs I've read, and I'm so glad I picked yours. EXCELLENT! Extremely well written, incredibly motivational, and packed full of many useful tools for my personal journey. Being a diagnosed perfectionist and a self-admitted food addict, I struggle with living in an "all or nothing" world, especially when it comes to losing weight and getting fit. On those days I succumb to a food binge, I feel horribly guilty, beat myself up, abandon hope and lose all motivation, certainly for the rest of the day and often for much longer. Your comment that "Success = commitment over perfection" spoke to me so loudly it nearly screamed my name. :) The idea of keeping a food journal on a card that you tear up and throw away at the end of the day, signalling a fresh start the next day, is excellent -- no more wasting multiple days beating myself up before mustering up the motivation to get back on the band wagon. I love it! Identifying the things you can and cannot control and then focusing on those things you can control -- brilliant. Common sense, but I definitely benefitted from being reminded of this. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I LOVED your blog. THANK YOU for taking the time to share!!! Report
exercise as a job?? NO.... it has to be fun and so it must be something i like to do just like a hobby... Report
I like the idea of thinking of exercise as a job. I am going to keep that in mind.

I always seem to get double-whammied with my exercise goals. Over the past several years, I have struggled through bouts of low motivation, then have gotten myself back into a consistent exercise mode only to be completely sidelined by an illness or physical injury (unrelated to any exercise). This puts me into a non-exercise mode which then leads to low motivation. And so it starts all over.

I am currently recovering from pneumonia, so can only THINK about exercising for now, as I am still weak and need to recover my strength just to return to work. I want to and need to return to exercising, but resting is much more important for now. Report
Thanks once again, Robert, for those words of wisdom. I'm printing them out and already have my 3x5's ready for this next week. Report
Great blog.Having trouble staying motivated,trying to look at the big picture. Report
One of the best blogs I have read. It hit home not only motivation, but also consistency. Thank you for the time to write about your experience and helping others along the way. Report
Wow! What a great read! You said some really important stuff in here! I hope that by commenting I will have access to re-read this message as needed! Thanks for sharing! Blessings! Report
Thanks for this, some things that I needed to hear! Report
This is 'food for thought' and action too. I see I need to be much more committed to exercise. Report
I love the idea of exercise as a second job. I will be "punching the time-clock" with exercise and my "paycheck" will be a healthier ME. Thank you for the blog post and giving me a new way to get motivated! Report
Robert, this article is AWESOME. Thanks for taking the time to share it! It really hit home with me and the timing is PERFECT. Report
Like others, I appreciated the idea of treating fitness like a job. However, the comment that moved me most was "momentum is created by simple commitment." It's frustrating when people you support insist on waiting for that perfect time to get started. The perfect time is NOW! Report
My other is that I have a plan for timing for getting everything done. (meals, their's and mine, exercise, laundry, housework). But then a family member needs something. This week has been bad for that. Everyday since Wednesday it has been something. Report
I work shift work as well and keeping to a consistent workout schedule has been tricky. I find that making my schedule out 2-3 weeks in advance helps a lot. I don't always stick to it because of life throwing the occasional curve ball, but the scale and tape measure say I'm doing something right. Report
That was a great blog. After reading the comments sent by others, your message is one that will be imprinted in each of us. I got a mental image of punching a time clock for exercise and the paycheck for doing this will be better health. Thanks for your inspiration and continued success to you. Report
Very nice plan and very motovational. Some things like a food diary, I had forgotten what a great tool that can be. Thanks for the reminder:) Report
Thank you for sharing your ideas so clearly. I will try the index card method to help me stay focused. Report
Loved the "treat it like a second job". Absolutely! Report
thank you for a great blog! I know that you are right about putting the things i need to do for myself first and taking control over the things I can is very important for me. I am going to try your suggestion and put exercise and tracking on my schedule just like a job. Report
I will now treat exercise as a job if only for 10 minutes . Thanks Report
Awesome Blog. Thank You for the great ideas and suggustions. Will have put some of them to work. Way To Go. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week. Report
Thanks for a great blog. These suggestions were very helpful. i Report
I work straight nights and have trouble with motivation and when to eat. Found blog was helpful to my situation. Gave me ideas Report
I work steady nights - at 2 jobs. I am a paramedic in a large city so I basically live in an ambulance for 12 hours a day / 6-7 nights a week. Add in 90 mins drive each way means I generally live in 'zombie mode'!

I totally hear what you are saying! Report
Thank you so much for writing this! You have some great ideas, and you leave no room for excuses. We have to start where we are. I especially liked what you said about the gradual food changes and the index cards. I'm experiencing anxiety over changing my diet,but it seems what I really need to focus on is not a complete overhall, but just making smarter choices. Thanks again! Report