Two and a half years ago, I returned from an amazing five-month voyage around the world. I stayed in California briefly before taking two months to live on the Big Island of Hawaii, then traveled to Australia for another two months to visit friends and family, from Sydney up the east coast to Townsville. It was nothing short of epic, and delightfully — even though I was exercising about the same amount and eating what I considered moderately — I easily lost seven pounds over that time period, literally without trying. 


Since I've returned, I've gained that weight back (albeit really slowly, it took more than two years), plus a couple of  extra pounds. I had a very, very stressful year as I moved into freelance writing from office jobs, and something in the combination of working even more hours, seriously stressing over money for about six months (I had several creditors suggest that maybe I should get "another job," as if I wasn't working enough), caused a five-pound gain quickly (I know that the stress hormone cortisol can encourage weight gain, so I'm guessing that has something to do with it). More recently, my usually active boyfriend has been on his back dealing with a spinal injury. So time spent with him has involved watching a lot of TV, and trying to get him to eat, since he is naturally very slim and has been losing weight when not active, instead of gaining (of course!). And so this summer, for the first time ever, I haven't "naturally" lost that 3-4 pounds I usually do when the weather warms up. 


Since I have several trips lined up for this fall and winter, and my financial crisis seems to be (mostly) behind me, I am refocusing my efforts on my health, because if I gain another five pounds, I will cross the BMI scale (yes, I know it's an imperfect system, but for me it's fairly accurate) into "overweight" territory. Been there, done that in my mid-20s. At 35, I don't want to cross that line again, because I know it will only get harder to lose weight as I age. I know that healthy weight loss is slow, and I also know what to do, and that being healthy is about permanent changes. Here's what I'm committing to: 


Eat a salad every day: It's easy to keep salad makings in the fridge, and I still have a few weeks left to enjoy goodies from my garden too (especially green beans, tomatoes and snap peas). Greens are incredibly healthy for the digestive tract, and contain all sorts of heart-, liver- and kidney-beneficial compounds. I love vegetables, these foods are filling, and salads can be different every day. If I'm hungrier, I can add an egg or beans; less hungry and I will go all-vegetable. A salad a day is an easy way to get the recommended serving of produce (which is a whopping 8-10 servings a day, ideally). 


Avoid processed sugar: I'm not a big believer in cutting out food groups all together, but I can certainly cut cookies, cakes and bakery goods. (I think I may have eaten more of these than I realized.) For sweets, I'll stick to fruit: Over the next months there will be great local peaches and plums and blueberries (now), apples, and more apples (I live in New England) — good thing I love apples. I also will occasionally enjoy some of my fave alternatively sweetened, dairy-free desserts like Cashewtopia and Coconut Bliss when I really want a treat. Dark chocolate is also in. 


Alcohol only 3 days per week: During stressful times, I definitely admit to turning to alcohol to relax. It's not like I'm going out and getting trashed, but a couple (or three) glasses of wine is not unusual, and it's a habit I slipped into when I was dealing with financial issues too stressful for me to deal with in more healthy way. I'm not as stressed anymore, but the habit is still around. I think a delicious cocktail or a great glass of wine is part of the enjoyment of life — but I can enjoy it a couple days a week, not every night, and cut out serious calories while I'm at it. 


Enjoy spicy foods: I love horseradish, ginger, pepper and chilies, and spicy foods do encourage a bit more calorie burning, as well as leading to a greater feeling of satiety. It's the triple bonus of something I enjoy, along with a metabolism increase and feeling full, longer. 


Keep the exercise up: Motivation to exercise isn't a huge problem for me. I love swimming, trail running, spinning and even going to the gym. It releases stress and makes me feel great while I'm doing it, not to mention when I'm done. At the suggestion of a couple of friends, I'm going to try some interval training, using the METS system, which is supposed to burn more fat. I'm also going to make sure I'm diligent about weight training, which has dropped off in favor of what I see as more fun cardio workouts. But muscle burns more than fat at rest, so I want to build some extra muscles again. 


Meditate daily: When I meditate on most days, I make better decisions about my life overall, from what I eat, to making sure I get my sneakers on and go for a run. And lowering my overall stress levels will help me make healthier decisions in other areas too. 


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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

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