Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. This reminds me of a tradition in our house for 15 years. Tacos. Well….it gets more intense than “tacos”. The corn tortilla is lightly fried in vegetable oil for 30 seconds, and stored on paper towels to drain. I’d say we’d have somewhere between 10-14 tacos. Then, later, it would be a ridiculous amount of ice cream in a banana split.
Last year, I made beef stew. It was phenomenal. This year I’m killing off the ice cream.
Much of my eating was learned behavior. Much of it was not recognizing portion control, in any way, shape, or form. Much of it was emotional eating, caused by a lot of ups and downs in life. “You did good on a report card??? Let’s celebrate with an all you can eat buffet. We had a family fight? Let me go to get your favorite cheese steaks at DJs to make you feel better”.
At some point, it stops being a parent’s fault and starts becoming YOUR fault. That being said, “un-learning behaviors” has been very difficult for me. But, it takes time, patience, and persistence. So far I’m down about 35 from my peak in May. I really started going at this about 3.5 months ago, and had some serious injury setbacks about 2 months ago.
I wanted to sort of put this all together in a bow and wrap it up for any of the readers. I don’t pretend to be an expert – but I want you to go through some of this with me. Whether it be a vanity 10 pounds you can never lose, or you have over 100 pounds. I think most of you can relate to a lot of this and hope some of it might help you. I think WHEN I reach my goal, I’m going to write a book about this and use a lot of this shit as chapters. I do have two graduate degrees, after all, I might be able to write a bit 🙂
- You cannot exercise alone to be “thin”. Get rid of the singular mind set of “the gym will cure all”. You need a balance of a few important things: exercise, diet, sleep, hydration, a plan, and the ability to execute the plan. I used to think that I exercised so much, that it didn’t matter what I ate. At some points when I was younger, this was true. Then came the office job, long commutes, terrible stress, and life in general.
- Diet. This is not “Jenny Craig”. This is how you want to live the rest of your life. I used to use the word “diet” as if it were a project. It would have a beginning and an end with some pauses in between. Whether it be zone, atkins, grapefruit diet, weight watchers – most of this will work for some weight, then you “cheat” and it’s hard to get back on your diet. You have one cheat day which goes to two, which extends to a week, and then you’re done. You will wait until “Monday” to get back to it. The best advice I heard was “have a cheat meal, not a cheat DAY”. Sometimes I extend this to two, maybe three at worst. But the concept of “cheat” doesn’t mean “all you can eat”. I still track my calories and macros like a bitch. If I want to eat that cheese steak on a Saturday night, I’m going to create a situation where I can plan out my breakfast and lunch(es) to accommodate.
- Food is proper fuel and maintenance for your body. I’ve never been good at “maintain”. But I am quite good at the concept of “migration” in my field, as well as planning and project planning. So before I have a beast mode day in the pool, I’ll have some oatmeal with honey and blueberries. It’s like rocket fuel for me. Maybe if you have a day with no cardio, you back off the carbs a little. I have to tell you a little secret. You can make some healthy foods taste really good with some education on the food network, magazines, youtube, etc. Generally speaking, a lot of the shitty foods you eat you can eat in smaller portions or you can substitute some things. There’s just no need to eat a whole pizza if you want to live past 45. Have a slice or two at the place. You will find that the shitty foods you eat show up in motivation, sleep problems, GI issues, or putrid workouts in the gym.
- Seek a trainer, if you can. Some trainers are better than others. My gym gives 3 free sessions, then it’s paid after that. I went through the free sessions and it was such a good experience, I signed up for the paid after that. This can get you a baseline and suggestions to start. For example finding your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) helps you target the correct number of calories you should be eating during the day. People who weigh 225 pounds of pure muscle have a LOT higher calorie needs to maintain their muscle than a 225 pounder who has high body fat percentage. If you take in too little calories – you assume you are burning fat, where you could actually be burning your muscle instead for glycogen. My trainer told me she wanted x number of calories hit. A trainer can also help you with proper form and introduce you to a whole slew of exercises you never considered.
- Track everything. The first time I ever tracked things was on spark people a bunch of years ago after I spoke with a nutritionist. Today, I have found it really easy and interesting to use MyFitnessPal. I used to do 50% carbs, 30% fat, 20% protein. My trainer requested me to bump up my protein to 30% and carbs down to 40%. I’ve noticed the difference in my strength training and core strength very soon after. The more accurately you can track things, the better off you are to plan your nutrition.
- Plan – You need to have a plan – or as I like to say, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. For many years, I ran into the “what are we having for dinner” problem at 5PM. Every. Goddamn. Night. We’d get into a fight, then end up at a drive thru. Or ordering pizza. I’d go through spells of trying to cook for us, but I’d take chicken out of the freezer on Tuesday, go to make it on Wednesday, only to hear “I’m not hungry for chicken tonight” at 5:15PM. 5 years I went through this. In September, I finally “divorced” myself from the situation. I make up a bunch of meals in meal prep, make up huge vats of beef vegetable soup, and have staples available at all times. By 7AM or so, I know what I’m planning to eat for the whole day. What is my spouse eating for dinner? Zero fucks given. It was only after this that I began to see some real progress on the eating side of things. And, she still has this problem every night at 5PM….and she still eats badly…..and it wasn’t my fault entirely. So I try and plan out for the week a rough idea of what I’m eating, what days I plan to do strength, cardio, etc.
- Prioritize. The plan above is ineffective if you do not prioritize your health. I think 6 months ago, if you said I’d be dead within 5 years, I wouldn’t be surprised. Once you hit 40, shit becomes real. People around you die. Health and time might be your most precious commodities. You start to put a premium on buying better food, taking care of yourself with rest or a warm bath….you start to see “me time” as a function of calming you to de-stress you. I now get into fights with the spouse because I am having a prepped meal for dinner and she’s SOL…or I want to hit the gym rather than go out to eat….or I want to talk/discuss health/food with her. My health and time have now become some of my biggest priorities – without me taking care of myself, I won’t be around for my son to grow up. Even if I do live past 50, it could be a miserable life of terrible health problems, diabetes, and thousands of dollars in procedures or cancer treatments. I’m now fighting for my life, and I prioritize this over a norm someone wants to saddle me with. Nope. Find someone else.
- Join a gym or do your best at home with some gym equipment. As stated above, you need to take care of the food that goes into your body. Many gyms are affordable and offer you access to strength training equipment and cardio equipment. I have a lot of equipment at home, but it serves as an emergency backup for me if time or weather is an issue in getting to the gym. Sometimes it might be a case of not necessarily finding the right gym for you.
- Set reasonable goals that can be achieved in a reasonable time. So I may never look like the guy who is on the cover of men’s health (although it is a lifelong goal someday!). If you look up body fat percentage pictures online, you can get a pretty good idea of what your goal looks like. I would enjoy life under 15% – for me. However, maybe the lowest I ever get is 18-20%. I’d like to be healthy. I’d like to eventually run 5k’s every month or do these races I see friends doing. Maybe a half marathon one day. I love to bike and swim as well, so maybe I do a sprint triathlon? So – goals are to be a healthy body fat percent and participate in fitness events every month for the rest of my life. I used to be an athlete, so the exercise portion of this I enjoy. What you need to do here is do “big picture”. Then – for me, I’m not aggressive with my timeline…I figure in 2-3 years I will be where I want to be. I can recall those conversations in my head, for years – one week I lost 5 pounds, so I then say “20 pounds per month…I can hit my goal in x months”. Then the next few weeks, no weight loss and there goes that shitty plan. Anyway – once you set your goals, and you set a timeline, and you have a plan in plan, and you prioritized – you now have a means of executing your plan. Mind you, you may have to make weekly adjustments, but still…do the work and you shall be rewarded.
- Don’t do this alone. I have you, or perhaps the 15-30 who might read this. I have my trainer. I tried to involve my SO, but it’s not working, and I have to take care of myself before her. I have my vlogs I watch now for motivation every day and new tips/tricks.
- Learn more about grains/seeds. I can honestly say, for so many years it was “fat free!!” and everything with fat in it was terrible for you. Then it was the atkins and carbs are bad for you. Carbs are not bad for you. They are fuel. I found this one pin on pinterest that was a graphic on how to cook grains. I now use: barley, brown rice, lentils, whole grain breads, rolled oats, and chia seeds religiously.
- Learn more about your proteins. All proteins are not created equal. That’s a whole separate paper, but I’m using some plant-based proteins in things like lentils (packed), chia seeds, beans, and legumes. But I’m also trying to get lean proteins in chicken, turkey, ham, seafood, ground turkey, pork loin, lean cuts of beef, etc. Be careful about sodium in some of that. Occasionally I use the beef for stew, ground chuck, or bacon, but those are rarer. I am now using a whey protein supplement, as it was extremely hard to get my protein to 30% without having my fat % go higher. I had to research the best ones, and on all ten lists I looked at, the ON Gold standard was on all of the lists and won 4 of them.
- Supplements. Look into what you need for supplements. I wrote a bit about them here. If you’re not doing the work, many of these won’t help you. The one I’m holding back on for now is creatine, which may hold up to 10 pounds of water on me. I think after I trim a lot of weight I’ll look back into that.
- Zone training. Look this up with the 5 zones. This has helped me sort of get a better idea about my cardio and fat burning activities. I did get a fitbit as well for this to track my activities and make it into a daily “game” of sorts to do better with.
- Cardio – change up your cardio. Things get boring otherwise. I do brisk walking for 2-3 miles, run 2 miles, bike 15 miles, or even things like the elliptical for warm up for 10 minutes or 30-45 minutes of laps in a pool. Since I got a stress fracture on my foot, I have since hit the pool and elliptical. The bike was great for me, and while I love running, I might want to reduce that until I have lost a lot more weight. So I proved I could run 3 miles at this weight….so what, I now have 2 months of aches/pains from it. Be smart with your cardio. you want to train yourself and burn some calories, you are NOT a professional athlete. Yet.
- Reduce your pastas. I’d say in my 20’s, I probably at large quantities of pasta 3-5 times a week. LOVED it. Still do. Heard Alton Brown talk about this and reducing pasta to one time a week. Wha??? Well, what else do people eat??? lol. It took a lot to think differently on this, but it opened me up to a lot more variety of food during the week.
- Meal prep – you see this in planning above, but this also then goes hand in hand with portion control. For me, I just saw “serving size” mostly as a way to count calories. When you do this several dozen times, you are then able to visualize a “proper” portion. Get a scale to weigh everything. Get measuring spoons/cups to measure everything else.
- Gear – make sure you have a few shorts, sweatpants, shirts, hoodies, shoes, etc. It’s really bad to do this when you only have a pair of running shorts and that’s it.
- Gadgets – from my fitbit to iTunes on my iPhone to the wireless headphones that are Bluetooth to my bike rack…you need the gadgets to support you. Hitting the gym after your warm up with “Rebel Yell” firing in your ears is surreal. Tracking your steps…analyzing your workouts for the week. As I have told people, I’m going to “science the shit out of this”.
- Failure. You will fail. Several times a week. You are human. Do better tomorrow. Learn from failures. Analyze what you can do better. Analyze the behaviors that got you there, and do YOUR part to not repeat them. If you attribute others for your shortcomings, either remove them from your life or minimize their involvement in your failures. Take accountability. Say NO.
- Reading. I read a lot about nutrition, exercise, etc. Start with a men’s health magazine or the like, then go down the rabbit hole of pinterest and meal prep. I bought a nutrition for dummies book to learn more about how food is digested at the cellular level. For me, this is a field I want to be involved with the rest of my life. I find it fascinating, and for all of the “experts” out there….no one can really honestly tell you how to lose weight “perfectly”. For example, you want to lose all fat and gain muscle? Yeah…ask people how to do that. Good luck. So you want to lose fat and minimize muscle loss? Maybe they can help with that. You want to eat 1200 calories a day and only lose fat? Good luck as well. I’ve lived a lot of these failures and got a lot of bad habits prior to the internet existing. Now, if you choose NOT to learn about this, with the plethora of information (and opinions) out there, you are kinda sorta ignorant.
- Cut out the sugar. Mostly in soft drinks. I went to only water about 18 months ago and occasionally (maybe once a month) have a diet coke or the like. You have no idea how soda is fucking you up. Even diet soda. Lookup how it still tricks your body into thinking it’s sugar. Scary shit.