I hope to update some folks on this over time – but for now, I wanted to write the “initial” post about 1 month into my journey. I’m a bigger guy, and below I’ll write about how some of that came to be, but for now, I wanted to write about how things “started clicking” for me.
About 7 weeks ago, I was looking forward to a poconos trip with the guys. Lots of binge drinking, smoking cigarettes, and eating like kings. I was mentally ready to start my weight loss adventure, but really wanted to put things off until after the 4-day long trip. Typically, any weight loss plan you’re on with these types of adventures get derailed. Then, your friends ridicule you into submission and then you’re too hungover for days afterwards to even consider the treadmill. So, 3 weeks prior to this I was mentally getting prepared. During the adventure, I didn’t really over eat like is customary with this type of thing. Then….it began. Monday, Sept 29th. Smokes were gone. Healthy food was shopped for. Videos were queued up. Wait…videos?
I have been watching some fitness videos online. Some are REALLY good, some are ok, some are terrible. I prefer to watch some of the female videos just because a few of the male videos seemed to come of like “bro” videos with protein powders and supplements. Women like Heidi Somers and Jen Heward. Essentially, I wanted to know how people who were fit ate. How much? What tools did they use?
Let me start by saying I’ve lost weight before…a lot…several times. I used to be a decent athlete, so exercise (mostly) wasn’t too big of a problem. I understood micro/macro nutrients (mostly), and understood about calorie deficits. I have done low cal…low carb…low fat…starving myself for days on end…vegan…vegetarian…high intensity weight training…high intensity cardio…and I’ve lost, at different times…
67 pounds in 76 days…
40 pounds (twice)
25 pounds (twice)
10 pounds (at least 3 dozen times)
For me…ultimately these ended in failure. Usually there was a variety of reasons…but most of them had the nail in the coffin when you stop losing weight for a month despite being as strict as humanly possible with your diet. That moment you do a 4 mile run, eat a dinner according to your plan, and wake up the next day 3 pounds heavier is about the most crushing moment in any dieter’s journey. Then, you get looks from people. People close to you try to advise you on losing weight, ask politely if you’ve thought about a weight loss surgery, or even tell you that you don’t try hard enough. One of these conversations took place over drinks with one of my friends as I had just taken off 15 pounds over 6 weeks. It fucking demoralizes you when someone tries to talk to you about your weight loss, especially when you’re in the process of dieting.
It comes from a good place. They care about you.
To anyone right now who has a person in their life they wish to lose some weight because perhaps their weight might be too high, for the love of God, you have no idea what you do to them. For me, high weight has usually been a symptom of a lot of underlying factors in my life. I’m an emotional eater, and sometimes I’m asked to carry too much in my life. Rather than people asking me how my life is, and perhaps understanding what is causing the issues, they instead feel they need to tell you to lose weight, ignoring the obvious pain you’re in to then deliver an elbow to you to tell you that you aren’t good enough as you are.
Ask them if they want to go on a walk and talk…try out a new gym or smoothie place with you…share a new recipe you like that’s pretty healthy…ask them about some stressors in their life. Often times you might find that the person’s underlying stress (cause) is causing a lot of the weight issues (effect). In my case, I sometimes drown in the levels of stress and had reached for the phone to order a pizza to give myself a quick fix. Yes…in my case, bad food is almost like an alcoholic or drug addict. A beer or two in moderation every month is fine. To binge drink nightly is a symptom of something else. When you watch “intervention”, they treat the underlying causes that led the person to the addiction. Everyone understands alcoholism…they understand, to an extent, drug addiction…but what about food addiction?
To add insult to injury, I’ve also been a rather picky eater. I’ve mostly changed that over the last 2 years.
Something I read really caught my eye a few years back as well. It dealt with studies on gut flora. It talked about how certain foods feed certain bacteria and they flourish. When you deprive them, somehow your gut flora deal with your central nervous system to go get more. This perhaps can manifest itself into a literal physical food addiction. Then you talk about MSGs, which are like flavor enhancers. I’ve also read they also suppress the body’s ability to know when it’s full. It used to be Chinese restaurants used this, but now it’s in a LOT of things. So now between your literal food addiction and foods that artificially taste AMAZING coupled with your body’s inability to recognize it’s full….added to a nice spell of anxiety/stress and you now have a recipe for some weight gain.
Fast forward to today. When I watched the videos, I saw a lot of things in common with all of these fit people.
- They tried to eat healthy. Imagine that. So – I bought up more on the frozen veggies, but I also watched dozens of videos of what exactly they eat. I started reading lists of best foods to eat. I watched TONS of cooking videos. I can honestly say this is the healthiest and most balanced I’ve ever eaten in my life.
- Meal prep. One common issue I had over the years were the long commutes coupled with being really busy. You don’t have time to spend an hour a night in the kitchen. I got the meal prep containers they used and saw a LOT of ideas. If I’m in a hurry, I have a super healthy meal waiting for me at just about any time. These meals usually have like 4-8 ounces of protein, a starch, and a veggie. BAM. I used to try meal prep myself, but it might be after making a large thing of spaghetti and perhaps my containers were big and my meals weren’t balanced.
- Cheat meal. They all talk about it. All of them. The secret is it’s not a cheat DAY…and it’s not a cheat WEEKEND. They have zero fucks given about blowing a meal (within reason). I mean they aren’t going out there and gorging on a pizza like I would, but if they wanted to have 2 slices, they aren’t really sweating it.
- Cardio/weight training. They essentially said unless you are doing fitness shows, there’s no need for two a days. They advise 20-30 mins of cardio 3 times a week and a resistance plan to try and keep some muscle as you lose weight.
- EAT. See…here’s where some things clicked for me. Jen Heward had this video that sort of changed a lot for me. She talked about not going too low in calories. Meaning, you want to create a calorie deficit to lose weight. But TOO MUCH of a deficit starts a problem. The problem is you start to lose a lot of muscle more than fat. Your metabolism has a lot to do with how many calories your muscles burn to exist. With massive weight loss, muscle loss is inevitable, mostly, but to do drastic weight loss routines and severely restrict calories is a recipe for disaster. She even says after a month or so of it, your body will actually start to store fat because it seems like it’s in starvation mode. If you look up above at my weight loss numbers, and how many times I’ve lost weight….the common theme among all of them is I was not taking in a lot of calories…sometimes not even eating at all for a day or days on end. Yet, I would be running, biking, playing tennis for hours on end. I would imagine, some days of my life I may have burned between 5,000-6,000 calories with all of the sports I used to do (including what my body would have burned at a standstill). What has happened to me in ALL of those failures was at about the 1-2 month mark, I’d be down GREAT numbers…and then BAM. Stopped. The next 4-6 weeks no weight loss. In some cases, maybe another 3-4 months with no weight loss. People do not see your struggle behind the scenes, where you might be going months on end exhausted, eating 1600 calories, exercising, and still no weight coming off. People see you as lazy. Worthless. Useless. You are beat, exhausted, and have no answers. And life knocks you down a peg and insert cheeseburger into mouth receptacle.
The key above for me was number 5. They all recommended feeding your body. Some recommended MyFitnessPal. I had that from years before, but didn’t quite use it like I should have. This time, with 100% healthy food (with exception of one GLORIOUS cheat meal last week). I programmed in I wanted to lose 2 pounds a week. About 4 weeks in, I’m 10 pounds down. Today, I just probably had the best cardio workout on a treadmill in 5 years. Wednesday I biked 10 miles with great ease. I’m fueling my body properly. I’m walking a lot and getting in my steps, as my iPhone records my steps and puts it automatically into MyFitnessPal. I sat at my desk Weds morning a FELT relaxed, for the first time in probably 2 years (when I did vegan). Let me tell you all, rolled oats is a miracle food for easing blood pressure/anxiety.
I plan on writing about this maybe once a month or so…or maybe at another 10 pounds, who knows.
One important thing to note, is that I also just finished school in early August and was able to start de-cluttering my life with stress. It got to a point where things I thought used to be important to me, I now feel like are a “zero fucks” level. Part of this I would like to think is the oatmeal reducing the gunk in my bloodstream and lowering my BP.
Let me also tell you, a side effect of eating healthy is I have more energy to do things. Suddenly, waking up at 5:30 to run isn’t as bad as it used to be. Want me to walk the dog? Ok. I’m on it. Let’s do 2 laps around the development this time.
I don’t talk about my family much in this space, for good reason, but I have a young son that I want to be able to see grow up. It has always been important to me to be around for him, but now that I’ve been able to de-stress a lot, it’s come right back to the top of my life priorities.
I’m going to deal with setbacks. Life happens. However, I feel I now have most of the tools aligned to succeed mentally…and having energy is a big part of that. I don’t crave anything. In fact, one of the biggest problems I’m facing is heading into 6:30 at night and being 1,200 calories under. Years ago, I would have been happy with this. Then I would have woken up sore and lethargic the next day. Today, I try and plan better and eat some things that are healthy with higher calories to not only satiate me, but add healthy calories that are calorically dense to my diet. For example, greek plain yogurt with full fat in it. Add a half of a cup of that to a smoothie to help the texture and add protein and calories. I bought almonds and walnuts and store them in the fridge to eat an ounce or so at a time. Lots of micro nutrients. Avocado pasta. Alton Brown also suggested eating pasta once a week and fish 3 times. I tried a tilapia recipe I saw online with lemon pepper and I liked it! I’m going to try and find some decent salmon as well soon enough.
So where it all began “clicking” was with “you have to eat enough calories in a day”. It was the magic bullet that seemed to solve a lot of my previous issues. Furthermore, eating “right” has been a relative breeze. The meal prepping has helped a lot with that.
With that all being said, here’s my list of things I have done to help me succeed (this time, the final time)…
- Food scale. I’ve had one for years, but you really need to use this to see what portion sizes really are. What you find is you’re probably eating wayyyy too much cereal in the morning.
- MyFitnessPal. This is great. It’s not only tracking my foods, but macro AND micro nutrients. There’s even a bar code scan feature that’s amazing. It essentially tells you how many calories you need to eat daily in order to reach your goals. Try your best to not go under that too much, if at all. For a guy my size, you literally have no idea how much food I have to eat in a day. And my weight is going down, which is completely counter-intuitive. I have normally equivocated HUNGRY and STARVING with weight loss. This time, it’s nutrition and balance. Feed your body the material it needs to run like a Lamborghini, and it will.
- Stopped buying processed foods. With the above, the concept is to get your body good fuel. Many times part of my weight loss plans was to buy lunch meat or frozen dinners that were 300 calories. I just bought $100 worth of groceries the other day and was really astounded how little I went into the middle isles. The only real thing I needed in there was kashi cereal.
- Watched videos online of fitness pros. It’s like having your own trainer and personal coach
- Watched videos of cooking and meal prep.
- Exercised. Mix of cardio and resistance training. I take a rest day every 3rd or 4th day. I’m usually running 2 and biking one then one off day. My resistance training at the moment is 2 days…one day is chest/triceps, the other is biceps/back…and only have done a handful of exercises thus far. I’m also walking the dog a few times a day and this comes out to over a mile. Before I’m doing some exercise, I’m eating properly. After workouts, I’m eating proteins and potassium to help my muscles.
- Trying new things. Never thought a month ago I’d eat fish. Eaten it twice now. It’s pretty good.
- Fixed my brown rice problem. My brown rice was always kinda chewy. Flavor was there, but consistency bugged me a lot. Two things helped – 1) rinse the shit out of your rice for 3-4 minutes to remove all dust/starches on it and 2) use 2 cups of water to 1 cup of brown rice.
- Home gym. I realize many of you don’t have this, but let me give you some ideas:
- Bowflex Blaze. I like this a lot, but ultimately if I take all of my weight off, I’m going to get a serious, serious set here.
- Livestrong LS13.0T treadmill. For bigger people, you have to consider weight capacity. This one has been a work horse for me over the years.
- Dumbbell power blocks. No need to have a set of 30 or so dumbbells when you can have them in one block. Love it.
- De-stress. Finished school. Have a flexible work schedule to be able to do cardio/lift early in the morning or at lunch.
- Prepared. I did a LOT of studying before I just dove in. There was no “quick fix”. You watch the biggest loser and you see some dude lose 15 pounds in a week and your spouse then asks you why YOU can’t do that? Because it’s not possible for mere mortals with a job and responsibilities if you want long-lasting weight loss. Yes, I’ve cut a LOT of weight quickly, but see above for how that worked out. Slow and steady this time. I have mentally prepared myself for a 2-3 year journey, this is not trying to lose 100 pounds in 4 months. I want to live a long life, and I had to really prepare for the long haul mentally. Cleared my schedule after the poconos.
- Stopped going out to eat. I occasionally go out for lunch with the guys at work, but I’ve stopped doing it at home. I want to be able to control the food that goes into my body. I think for a “cheat meal” every now and then I’ll go out and eat reasonably, but seeing (and FEELING) the results I have so far, I don’t really want to go out at the moment. I will eventually have to work this into my schedule, but for now I’m good.
- Stopped smoking. This year, total, I think I smoked 2 months of it. This time around after the poconos, I don’t know what it was about it, but it was easy this time. I just stopped.
- Gave up booze. Once again, the poconos was a nice time for drinking, but I think it’s out of my system for quite some time. I’ve never really had a need to drink booze, and when you feel amazing like I do at the moment, the last thing you want to do is envision a hangover of sorts.
- Found a rail trail. Many of you have these things near you. In my case, there’s a bike/walking trail that goes 20 miles south into Maryland. I haven’t biked that far down yet, but I got on the bike and took it out. One note: when you’re a bigger person, you need to ensure you have a bike that can handle your weight and also ensure the tires are inflated properly. Also – you feel every single degree of a gradient, so finding flat surfaces to bike is important.
- Stopped being a doormat. I don’t mean to suggest you’re all weak and spineless, but sometimes I was too accommodating to others and put others’ wants/desires/wishes on the plate that had overfilled. I just got to a point where I needed to clear the plate and take it back. Sorry if I pissed off any of you recently, but I figure you want me around for another 10-40 years to be pissed at me. Had I not taken control back of my own life, I’m certain I’d be dead within 5 years. That’s fucking scary.
- Took a moment to enjoy things. Much of my life has been fast paced with deadlines/traffic/shit I have to do coupled with DOWN TIME of “leave me the fuck alone to veg out and watch my TV”. Recently, when taking the dog for a walk, I decided to walk really slowly and enjoy the 75 degree day. I breathed in the air…and I realized that all too often I’m hurrying for a destination. It was so peaceful to take a bike ride last week when I just wanted to enjoy it and listen to my music.
- Recovery. It’s a real thing people. Ever watch “major league” and they are sitting it a hot tub to rest their aches and pains? Well…taking a hot bath 1-2 times a week with some music and Epson salts have helped my aches and pains be next to zero. I’m 40 years old. I’m doing more exercise now than I have in a decade and feeling younger as a result. Additionally, after my workouts, IMMEDIATELY I’m getting some high quality protein and potassium in me.
- Watch videos nightly – Yes, you see above I watch the videos, but it’s almost a nightly thing now in bed for me. It’s like checking in with a personal trainer every night to get you motivated for the next day.
- Variation of food. Anyone who has done Atkins knows that variation of food is a problem over time. Now, I am sort of not limited to anything, but choose to stay away from most processed foods. I’ve actually planned out my meals in advance for the week, and this has helped me with food shopping, variation, and ensuring I have the right nutrients on hand. It’s not really been any more expensive to eat healthy than it has been to eat to be a fat ass. If you take away every pizza and window-food order I was making, it’s probably a hell of a lot less per month overall. I would eat a LOT of chicken when I was eating healthy in my past. Now, I’m changing it up with pork, fish, eggs, shrimp, steak, turkeyburger, etc as a main protein.
- Read lists of foods to eat. Often, you see lists of what to avoid. Sometimes, you find lists that tell you some good things. Recently, I bought flax seeds to grind as well as chia seeds for the smoothies, and bought almonds and walnuts. I have made avocado pasta up and it’s kind of a favorite to have every now and then.
- Replaced most oil with olive oil spray. Replaced all butter with spray butter (all of the fitness people use it). My mom used to use it growing up and I made fun of her for it. She was a trailblazer! It works pretty well actually.
- Replaced all white bread with whole grain bread.
- Ensured I had kashi, rolled oats, and cage free eggs on hand at all times for a breakfast variety.
- Always, always walk around with my quart of water. I have a green water thing I’ve been drinking off of relentlessly for months. My wife convinced me last year to ditch all sodas, including diet sodas. Maybe once a month I have a soda now when I’m out. I stay away from juice mostly, as well.
- Music. For me, music always centered me. I spent time coming up with decent playlists and listen to it a lot when biking, running, or even when in the tub.
- Meal prep – like above, I’ve spent some time making up some really good dinners and freezing them. I have a big chest freezer which helps with this…
- Smoothies. I don’t drink them a ton, but getting frozen fruits over fresh helps here. I found a nice recipe with alton brown…
- 4 oz milk (I have also used almond milk for this at 15 calories)
- 4 oz fruit juice – probably grape or pomegranate
- 1 cup mango (frozen)
- 1 cup strawberry (or blueberries, or whatever, frozen)
- 4 oz greek yogurt
- (optional) 2 TBSP of chia seeds or ground flax seeds. If using chia seeds, they are good, just ensure you have floss on hand.
- SLEEEEEEP. I’m going to bed earlier. I like a lot of shows. I have DVR for everything. I watch it on MY time, not theirs. I will watch the shows with my morning or lunch workout.
- Socks. Do yourself a favor. Take all your damn white socks. All of them. Throw them out. Go buy 3-4 packs of new white socks, all the same type. Never deal with sock issues again, ever. This is a bonus tip I did 2 years ago.
Post script…how did all of this get so out of control?
- Stress. For me, this is the number one thing that led to seeking respite.
- Poor eating habits. Not really having a clue what portion sizes were. “Wait, you eat that size portion for dinner?” I’d be starving if I ate that. Well…no. I eat like 5-7 times a day. I’m eating all the time. The small portions of what you see are fine. It’s just your 6th meal of the day you are barely hungry for but you need the food in you to recover and not be too far under your weight.
- Poor eating habits – part deux. I grew up with a lot of arguing in the house. When times were tough, we’d get pizza, cheesesteaks, or go to the buffet. Ironically, we’d also “celebrate” birthdays, report cards, and general rewards with….pizza, chessesteaks, and buffets. So I learned when I’m sad, I eat THIS food. When I’m happy, I eat THIS food. What I’m finding is….really healthy food eating sort of mellows out the moods so you don’t have the highs or lows. It’s kind of interesting these days how I’m pretty relaxed about certain things.
- Long commutes. For what I do, you have to essentially work for LARGE corporations. There aren’t that many LARGE corporations around me. I can’t move. So I have to have LONG commutes. This is better the last 3 years, and have telework 3 days a week, so this has helped. A LOT. Nothing like waking up at 5AM, driving an hour and 45 minutes to be at work at 7:30 every day, to then work 10 hours straight and have to be home by 7:15. Every day. Maybe you throw food in you at lunch on your 18 minute break because the world is collapsing. More often, you skip lunch and eat a giant mcdonald’s meal on the way home. This then becomes…”Wendy’s, mcdonald’s, taco bell….what should I eat tonight”.
- Bad habits with weight loss. You see a friend drop 40 pounds in 2 months with atkins, you want to do it too. You are a PICKY eater, so it’s easier to eat a cheeseburger without the bun than to cook a meal of yucky veggies. You see people on the biggest loser drop 10 or 15 pounds in a week and your friends then think you should do that.
- Depression. I’m not “depressed” like hurling yourself off a building depressed. I’m a guy. We don’t talk about this shit because we’re supposed to be tough. Sometimes, life has its challenges and people just don’t give a fuck about your shit. Often, you feel out of control of your life and guess what. No one cares about that either. If you’re lucky, you have some really good nuclear family members that try and bring you around, and you might have a few friends as a sounding board who care a lot. I think most often depression can be linked to a form of loneliness where we yearn to belong with others who share our traits…wants…dreams. In the absence of that, depression can set in. Generally speaking, I think many people have shit go sideways in their life and sometimes it’s too much for someone to handle. If someone falls down the stairs, you can SEE the cast on the arm. If someone is going through a difficult life issue, you can’t SEE the toll it’s taking on them. Well, when someone gets to my size and exercises as much as I have in my life, it’s probably better to ask someone what’s up rather than try to advise them on the best way for them to lose weight.
- Not caring. Funny, I went through 4 years of my life eating whatever the fuck I wanted, and didn’t gain one pound. I also didn’t lose it either. I had a laissez faire attitude after this, as if that buffet will never catch up to me. It catches up with you, it always does. I own this shit. I was in a “let the good times roll” part of my life back then. I’m now a father, a husband. Companies rely on me to be upright and not pushing daisies.
- Crazy impulses. I’d say it’s fair to say that when I eat unhealthy, I had a severe impulse control problem. I’d have it in my mind to eat a healthy dinner with chicken and salad and my wife would suggest we order a pizza. When that thought went into my head, I could do nothing but think of that. Pizza ordered. When I’m eating healthy – I’m rarely hungry and I’m just not really tempted. This might have happened at least once or twice a week. Recently, it’s happened one time, but I’ve rationalized it as an “unplanned cheat meal”.
- Cravings. I just don’t have them at the moment. Not like I did. I feel strongly this goes back to the whole gut flora thing. I feel that after my first week of eating healthy, I really had no cravings at all. This is a weird, weird place to be. The absence of cravings is sort of freeing.
- Too little calories. As mentioned above, I could literally go months exercising up a storm, eating 1200-1600 calories a day and not losing anything…and in some cases gaining. Then you see a close friend ask someone out you’ve been close with…and you just lose your shit because you’re not good enough or look the right way – and it causes you to eat less calories, or even go a few days with no food…or binge and purge. Enter eating disorder here. It’s demoralizing. I think every person’s journey is their own, but I also think this is a lot easier for those who grew up with proper nutrition habits. I was a picky eater, so I can’t put this on my parents.
Food has owned my life…and it’s time I ate the right way – for me. I hope this was somewhat inspirational for some of you out there wondering how you can start your path for you.