This is a long piece – but I wrote this for anyone struggling with their weight. This may hit many of you hard. If you need to reach out, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk to your doctor about any of the below items. What works for me may not work for you. But I think there’s so many people out there trying to sell you a program. I’m not. I do this for fun. Here is a summary of my 175 pound weight loss story. Near the end – I tell you about some of my struggles since I hit my goal, and how I’m fired up as hell again to crush it.
What inspired me to write this? I saw a mother on Twitter yesterday asking for help for her 400 pound son. She was talking about trying keto, but her pleas were a sign they don’t know where to go from here. I wanted to highlight some of my lessons learned in my 150 or so health writings that led to me losing 175 pounds. Note – as of this moment, I had gained about half of it back over 3.5 years but recently lost 21 pounds so back on track. Lessons learned with that too.
Lesson 1 – hunger is the ultimate problem. Solve that, and you will solve your root issue. I was eating some crazy calories near my peak at 372. And I could be starving by dinner time. How is it that I could have perhaps 200 pounds of fat on me and be hungry ALL the time? “Just cut back”. “Just put down the twinkies”. Hunger is controlled by hormones called leptin and ghrelin.
Lesson 2 – hunger hormones. Big picture with this, is the TYPE of foods you eat control this. If you have fats and proteins, they provide satiety. Carbs are for another chapter below, but if you have too much sugar, it spikes your insulin (a hormone). As your insulin then clears the glucose from the blood, your insulin levels crash – and on the other end of this can send hunger pangs. Also – I had read how msg added to food can block leptin signals, allowing you to eat more. Think getting stuffed on Chinese food. MSG is an additive and eating food you cook yourself can help this. I used to have plates of pasta with bread for dinner – virtually no protein in my diet, and I grew up in the 1990s where “low fat” everything was the key. Well, they just stripped the fat off and added sugar. Lower calories, but made you hungry and didn’t provide satiety. Lastly – I had read how zero calorie drinks can trick your body into thinking you had sweets – and with this you might get ghrelin signals sent to your body. When trying to lose weight and solve the hunger problem, stop everything but water. Trust me on this. You can add some back later, IF you understand the consequences of it.
Lesson 3 – balanced meals. I will discuss keto below, but virtually no one has the discipline to do it right for a long time without fixing their plate, first. Start with “40/30/30”. Meaning, 40% carbs, 30% fats, 30% protein. You do not need carbs to live, but you absolutely need fats (used to make hormones) and proteins to live. I’d do a LOT of chicken/broccoli/rice meals.
Lesson 4 – trainer. It is was imperative for me to hire a trainer at the local gym to help me. While I knew a ton about dieting, I had never 100% correctly put all of the pieces together. I think I’m going to try and do a YouTube talk with my former trainer. What she did was play 33% workout buddy, 33% nutritionist, and 33% psychologist. Going there weekly kept me dialed in and accountable. She tied together some of the loose ends for me I had not taken into account.
Lesson 5 – count calories. I used “MyFitnessPal” to do calories for meals. My mistake for SOOOOO many years came down to “being too good” at dieting, in a sense. Meaning – I would do calorie math. “If 3500 calories was one pound and I can eat 1200 calories a day, and I’m burning 4500, I can lose a pound a day!” I’m giving an example of how I would cut my calories, by a lot, and exercise myself to oblivion. This led to a lot of fatigue, and my meals were mostly carbs – so with the lack of protein, I would then get injured and set myself back. The 20 pounds or so I just lost, would come back on me within 1-2 weeks when I just reverted back to a 2000 or so calorie day. My trainer had me start at 2600 calories to eat and I think I lost 12 pounds the first month. She BEGGED me not to run. So the first year I lost like 75 pounds from 40/30/30 and once a week weight training. I would walk, moderately, but I was walking 4-5 miles a day before I went from 355 to 372 because I got back spasms and felt like I broke my foot. I was eating like 1400 calories a day.
Lesson 6 – cheat days. When I first started, I wasn’t ready to go “cold turkey” on everything. Cold turkey is what leads to the problems. When I started, I was eating 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, so out of 21 meals, I would have 3 “cheat meals”. It was whatever I wanted, but I needed to keep my calories in check. For example, pizza is my favorite. I could easily order a large pizza and eat 4 slices. What I did was go to the pizza shop and order 2 slices and fries, and before I went put down a quart of water. I may have skipped breakfast and for lunch have chicken, rice, broccoli and a protein shake. At the end of the day, I’d hit my 2400 or so goal then around 40/30/30. This allowed for me to mix in the really good food prep meals but also get taco bell or something if I was caught without a meal and on the way home. Over months, you start to FEEL the difference between your non-cheat days and your cheat days. I eventually drew it back to only Saturday evenings, and I’d then reward myself with whatever I wanted, but again – as long as I stayed within my calories for the day.
Lesson 7 – water – I had no idea I needed so much water. At 372 pounds, the trainer recommended 5 quarts a day. So I would have my morning coffee, but I’d be drinking water all the time. Your body starts functioning SO much better with being hydrated. Turns out, for MANY years, I was drinking coffee in the morning and maybe 2-3 diet cokes a day. That’s it. My body was chronically dehydrated. When your body cannot get what it needs, you start craving things. For example, the body knows it can get magnesium in chocolate. So if your body is short on magnesium, you might get an urge for chocolate – like a carnal desire. This is why my body always craved pasta. Lots of water in the pasta. When I started drinking tons of water, a weird thing happened – a lot of my carnal cravings went away.
Lesson 8 – Food prep. I’d buy these compartmentalized containers – make up 5-10 pounds of chicken, a big pot of rice, and take a handful of frozen broccoli and make these containers up. Usually 2 cups of rice (about 400 calories), a cup of chicken (200+ calories), and some broccoli – maybe 20 calories. This meal became my favorite for lunches. On a Sunday, I may have spent 2 hours making up meals for the entire month – lunches and dinners. I rarely ever at breakfast and used coffee for it.
Lesson 9 – you cannot “outrun” a bad diet – I used to try and do calorie math in my head, and then say, “after dinner I’m going to run for a few hundred calories”. I’d eat a big plate of pasta to “carb up” for my massive exercise, and then the insulin spike hits, and as insulin comes down and blood sugar comes down, you get sleepy. So exercise you planned after your big pasta meal? Nope. Running for me was mental health, but at 300+ pounds, I had no business running. But the concept here was I thought sometimes I could eat a McDonald’s lunch and then ‘make up for it in the gym’ later. Don’t do that.
Lesson 10 – no running. I was a HS athlete, and always was active. I can tell you that at my weight at its peak, there’s probably 1% of the population in the world that was as “fat” as me and anywhere near as athletic. This speaks to item 1 above where I was consuming more than I put in, so it had a net result of weight gain. My body didn’t care I ran 2 miles, because I ate half a pizza for lunch. Net gain. So, even those who are or were peak athletes gain weight. But “running for weight loss” is a VERY bad idea, and falls into my lessons learned about gaining weight back. My trainer BEGGED me to not run, but I loved it. I still do, but over time, I created back problems and lost too much muscle. At my “peak” in 2019, I did a triathlon – my peak training had me bike 45 miles and run 8 miles in the same day to try and train for Olympic triathlons. I just did a Sprint Tri and wanted to spend the rest of my 40s doing it. My main issue is I went from 225 where I could bench 225 3 times to 197 where I could not bench 95 one time. I went wayyyy too hard with the cardio and sacrificed muscle mass. Muscle is your calorie burning machine.
Lesson 11 – workout once or twice a week. My trainer helped me dial back my insanity. Ask yourself how many times you hear someone say, “I’m going to join a gym”. JOINING a gym and GOING to the gym are two different things. My trainer told me that you only need to work our a muscle group once or twice a week for what I was doing. And – for 3 years, she was spot on. My “goal” was “weight loss”. I now labeled this series as “fat loss” because in those last 25 pounds, I believe I sacrificed years of lean body mass build up for a number on the scale. But she was correct. When you see those people with amazing bodies in the gym every day, maybe you think about that when you hit 185 on the scale. At 400 pounds, you want a “full body workout” once or twice a week for 30-60 minutes. My trainer did “muscle confusion” for me, which was a ton of different exercises week to week so I never got bored with the same routine. She’d get me at “time under tension” and my heart rate would go up, then perhaps when it went back down to 100, I was ready for the next exercise. I think for this it is worth the investment in a trainer at least for a few months so you do not “over lift” and hurt yourself. If you are an adult with a busy life, you see “gym bro science” on YouTube and you might see “Monday-push, Tuesday-pull, Weds-legs, Thursday-push, Friday-pull, Sat-legs, Sun-rest”. I think this is a VERY VERY VERY bad idea for a noob. If you are 185 and looking to look poster ready, THEN you do this. At 400 pounds, you need to work on mobility, reducing your body fat, cleaning up your bad habits, and getting your plate in order. You can do “Weds, 30 min push/pull/legs, Sat, push/pull/legs – Mon/Tue/Fri, 30 min walk. Sunday – 1 hour hike. Friday, rest”. That alone can help you lose 25 pounds in 3 months.
Lesson 12 – other exercises. I started with the weight training above, and you can gradually add these items. Swimming was great for me to start. I had a pool growing up, and loved the water. But I had never heard of a new type of swimming which does NOT require leg kicks. I’d go to my gym’s pool and be able to swim for 30 mins rather easily. Walking the dog for me became a top sport, which led to then hiking. Hiking for me also put me in a good place. I got good hiking boots, headphones, music – and started with the easy trails that were mostly flat with some inclines. When I got comfortable with them, I did the more challenging ones for perhaps 3-4 hours. It was not unheard of to look at my fitbit and see 1600 calories burned over 3 hours with decent inclines. I also did a lot of biking on flat “rail trails”. I started at 3 miles down, 3 miles back and it felt like it nearly killed me until I realized the tire pressure was too low, and that’s why it felt like I was riding in sand. I then eventually reached a point where I was biking 45 miles at a time, which leads to…
Lesson 13 – electrolytes. TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR!!! I believe the big deal with cardio issues and overweight people have to do with overexercising to the point you exhaust electrolytes and disrupt your ticker. Obviously, you can have a situation where you ate so bad for many years that you could have blockages. But look up what electrolytes are and you could see that if you have a sodium/potassium imbalance that this could lead to heart electrical issues. This is where I’d ensure you have enough electrolytes for your workout. Talk to your doctor before you do vigorous exercise for any duration of time. I was an athlete for many years and physically I knew I could do the workout – but if you don’t fuel your body properly and push yourself too far, that’s the bad situation I can imagine for those trying super hard to lose weight. People call them lazy, so they try to outwork you. And, they can get themselves in trouble with heart electrical stuff. While you are at it, check out magnesium vs calcium. Most people have TONS of calcium, but not a lot of magnesium. This can also be where you get the hardening of the arteries and plaque build up. Magnesium relaxes you. Calcium excites you. There are a few others – like phosphate, but the point is that perhaps you do a smoothie 2 hours before your workout and maybe have something like a banana or gatorade for afterwards (gatorade is sugar water, so don’t drink this LIKE water). I eat tons of green salads with chicken to ensure I have massive potassium in my diet. I also supplement with magnesium and take baths every now and then with the bath salts (magnesium) to relax.
Lesson 14 – Insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. I grew up on “food pyramid” as many did, and ate tons of cereals, grains, breads, and pastas as they were the base of the pyramid. Note. The food pyramid is probably the worst health disaster in the history of the world and led us to where we are today. Due to inflation in the 1970s, they pointed us to replace calories you may have gotten from expensive meats with cheaper substitutes – low cost grains/carbs. This replaced the calories needed, but completely changed the makeup of the human diet to where we are hungry and obese as a population because people used calorie math rather than hormones to understand nutrition. Most nutrition science today deals with the physics of calories rather than the hormonal impact of those calories. My mom got type 2 diabetes after years of eating sugary stuff, then a certain company took her money and told her she could eat ALL the fruit she wanted, AS A TYPE 2 DIABETIC, as long as she “lost weight”. This is insulin resistance, where your body needs to pump out more and more and more insulin to shuttle the glucose out of your blood, as the more you use it, the less impact the insulin has. This led to her getting stage 4 pancreatic cancer and dying 15 months later. I am more convinced than anything that the NATURE of our diets- that are HEAVILY focused on calories and processed foods/carbs focus on calorie content rather than what those specific types of calories do to your body.
Lesson 15 – Keto. I did STRICT keto for about a year. I do not recommend STRICT keto to anyone for any duration more than maybe 1-2 months. What I DO recommend is STRICT KETO then morphing into a RELAXED KETO that is a low carb diet. When I say low carb, today I’m probably at 50-125g of carbs a day. Fat and protein are DELICIOUS. Once every 3 weeks or so I schedule a “cheat day” where I am able to eat whatever I want, and it will kick me out of ketosis for a few days, then I’m back in. This allows me to circle on a calendar days that will be problematic and work around them. Keto is low carb, and for ME, my body responds well to this. I BELIEVE that my decades of eating pasta and breads created a situation where I had a form of metabolic disorder with insulin resistance. Many may see this as an elevated HBA1C and “pre-diabetes”. If someone has insulin resistance, why the F would you recommend they eat tons of grains, rice, oats? The 40/30/30 can start to reduce the insulin resistance problem and get someone understanding the macro nutrients of food. But if you don’t have that as a primer, you are almost doomed to fail keto. Keto doesn’t work because it is a magic bullet – keto has high fat, moderate protein, low carb – and with this, you solve that hunger problem. You tend to eat less calories on it. It does ultimately work due to calorie math – but only because it suppresses appetite. Note – you can go very wrong on keto by thinking that you can cheat the system with net carbs. The trick to keto is playing a semi-fasting game of seeing how little you can eat and not be hungry, NOT trying to fit as many calories into the 40g of carbs per day.
Lesson 16 – sleep. Sleep helps clear out the stress hormone cortisol. I had heard studies of elevated levels of cortisol can store fat. Think back to caveman days. If you are running for your life from a tiger or struggling to find food, your body will store fat as long as it can to preserve you. Sleep and de-stressing are crucial to allowing your body to release fat. And, if you are killing it in the gym crushing it hard every day, your body is actually very stressed. You can easily lead yourself to exhaustion, which is what I feel happened to me a few times trying to lose weight.
Lesson 17 – Goals. Set big goals for a destination, but set daily and weekly goals. My END goal was to be 165 and doing half ironmans. I got to 197, and felt amazing, but life bitch slapped me. Daily goals would be like “I programmed in this food to eat today and to do this walk after dinner. Check. Weekly goal is 1.5 pounds of weight loss. Check. Monthly goal of 6 pounds. Check.” You find that little goals lead into bigger goals.
Lesson 18 – setbacks. Some setbacks can derail you for a day. Get back to it. Some setbacks can be devastating. I’ll cover some below. You know who you are, and sometimes you need to take a knee. You aren’t perfect. Your success is not determined by being perfect, but how well you deal with hourly and daily adversity. Try to be “95% good”. That’s a high bar, and if you make 85% you are a star. 95% good will get you the YouTube body. Strive for 95% as your ultimate benchmark. This means that, for example, you are on point 19 out of 20 days in a cycle. This means that one of those days, every 3 weeks, you can afford to have a bit of a lapse of judgement. Having a few more beers at a wedding reception after you ate a piece of cake. Get back to it the next day. Those people with hard bodies you see, they probably don’t have 4 kids, 60 hour weeks at the office, a lawn to mow, and mouths to feed. Their “job” is 2 hours a day in the gym, spending an hour putting on makeup, finding the right outfit, then taking pictures for an hour for the exact right light and most flattering pose so they get clicks and you pay their bills. IF you can do 17 of 20 days successful, you will achieve most of your goals. Shoot for 95%.
Lesson 19 – inflammation. Hard truth is that at 372 pounds, everything hurt, all the time. When I cleaned up the inflammation in my diet, my body felt better, and THAT allowed me to do a lot of exercise again. “vegetable oils” are not healthy. At all. They were made from industrial lubricants and turned out they were edible. No one saw serious heart issues until a decade or so after vegetable oil hit the US markets. Deep fried foods in this are highly inflammatory. Inflammation is hidden disease. Cholesterol is produced naturally by your body in great quantities. It helps you repair stuff. The source of your blockages are tons of tiny cracks you have from inflammation and the cholesterol is doing its part to spackle up the issue. Meaning, you need to stop the inflammation and let your body heal up. I believe this is why “high cholesterol” is bad – it’s your body detecting the remnants of cholesterol after it patched the fire. Not dietary cholesterol. Fix your inflammation, and it drives down your bad cholesterol and drives up your good cholesterol.
Lesson 20 – Omegas. Tying in with inflammation from above, Omega 6s are inflammation-oriented. Imagine you have a cut. You get inflammation and clotting happens so your body can heal. Omega 3s are “anti-inflammatory” and with this, balance out your inflammation. Our cavemen ancestors probably lived by water sources, so they could drink water. This potentially led a LOT of our ancestors to have an omega 3 rich diet with shellfish and fish. The human diet, I have read, should be like 4:1 Omega 6:3. Lots of meats, in the wild, are balanced with Omega 6:3. Cows that are grass fed/finished are 2:1. However, Walmart beef that is raised with corn/feed may be 20:1 or 24:1. Meaning – studies you read about red meat causing harm could all have been from people eating cows at 20:1 Omega 6:3 and not the grass fed/finished cows at 2:1. Farm salmon is garbage, and highly inflammatory as it has 3x as much omega 6s. Meaning – the American diet has little amounts of fish, and the meats we do eat may be highly inflammatory. Even the eggs we eat – most store bought eggs are yellow – as these chickens are raised on feed and not allowed to eat bugs and worms in the wild. Those free range eggs are more expensive, but are orange in color and are far, far better with the omega 6:3 ratios. This then goes much further into how you cook food.
Lesson 21 – Fat loss needs to be the goal and not “weight loss”. The Biggest Loser might have set “fat loss” back a generation with these people losing astounding amounts of weight every week. This is tricks of water loss, but it’s also a game of burning calories at all costs, which then eventually leads to them losing all muscle. When you have a lack of muscle, this significantly screws up your metabolism because muscle burns a lot more calories than fat. When I “lost weight” at the end, I destroyed my metabolism for a short term number on a scale. More on that with setbacks below.
Lesson 22 – Keep cardio exercises in check. I mentioned running above, but also wanted to expand this out. Building on the item above, I LOVED to run. Problem is, when you run at 230 pounds, a LOT, you can stress your body, a lot. At times, I was running 6-8 miles. I was biking 45 miles. Could swim and hour plus. I was an exercise fanatic. The problem is – this eats away your muscle mass. Long steady state cardio was my mental health. I miss it. However, I do want to do it again someday, but when I do get there, it’s going to be running those distances at 172 pounds with a decent amount of muscle.
Lesson 23 – Calorie math doesn’t work. While I wrote above to track calories – it’s a good idea to understand the nutritional components of what you eat and the energy in it. The physics side of this brings out the calculators and then tells you that you have to eat 2078.3 calories for 2 years, 1 month, 13 days, and 6 hours to achieve your goal. Throw it out the window. While on 40/30/30, I weighed every morsel of food for a year. I rarely ate out, so I could obsess about the calories in/out. Some questions start popping up. Precisely, EXACTLY, how many calories did I burn today at rest? You can ball park this by taking your weight and times it by 10. Then, you have to adjust for muscle. Fat. Then, add activity to it. How many calories does walking up a flight of stairs burn? Walking one hour and 13 minutes? What is the variation in calories you are putting into your body? I was precise, used an Excel sheet, and numbers never came close. I was using fancy scales at the gym to even give me my muscle mass. Calorie math is a good APPROXIMATION. But when you lift 205 pounds with a bench press 5 times, how many calories did that burn? Then you start getting into “at that moment, or what about the afterburn effect the next 24-36 hours?” Things get really wonky, really quickly. Ultimately, for me, 40/30/30 was a viable solution when I ate cleanly, but this is easy to go off of the rails. What “fixed me” ultimately was eating foods that didn’t trigger hunger pangs every 2 hours. With a typical “food pyramid” diet, you are setting up the hormones to trigger hunger, a lot. You essentially tell people to look at a number of calories they eat and go to bed hungry. This is not sustainable. You need to eat foods that produce satiety and NOT LOOK at calorie math. This takes a lot of understanding of food nutrition, hormones, the macros in your food – and understanding what causes hunger, for you. On keto, I was doing OMAD, “Fasting Fridays”, and a few 3 days fasts with relative ease. On a 40/30/30 I’d be ravenous every 4-5 hours. Food intake components massively affect hunger hormones. You cannot go to bed hungry every night and expect that diet to work.
Lesson 24 – Feeling “lighter”. I describe the setbacks below which put me in a really, really bad place mentally. Meaning, I needed my long duration exercise for mental health, and it was taken from me. Many of you do not know what it’s like living in a cloud or fog your whole life and when you start achieving your goals, your mind unlocks and you feel like you were a prisoner in your own body. That FREEDOM I had, I felt was taken back from me. But I remember the mental state. Buying clothing off the rack at Kohl’s was my favorite thing. At my peak I think I was in a 56 waist, but at my low I was wearing jeans in a size 34. When you start to look in the mirror and things “look good” you “feel lighter” and with this, a lot of years of trauma and bad things in your past just make you walk a lighter path. Once you feel this freedom, it’s hard to describe, but it is the goal I’m shooting for again now. It used to be a number on the scale, but now that I know what “feeling lighter” feels like, it’s my obsession to get back there.
Lesson 25 – Food science is a joke. While many doctors are well intentioned, Dr. Berry says that medical doctors get “about a half semester” of nutrition information in med school. Doctors have to follow treatment guidelines. If they are, to say, recommend something out of the norm, they can be sued. Gary Taubes writes books about sugar/carbs and what he uncovered about the industry of food science is absolutely disgusting. I had listened to doctors for 35 years and kept gaining weight. Only when I went down alternate rabbit holes and learned nutrition for myself did I see where the problem was. Mostly, doctors use a “physics-based” approach which deals with calories. I had to deal with a hormonal-based approach, which deals with solving hunger and providing nutrients your body needs. Meaning, you can go the rest of your life without taking in one more carb and you will live a very, very long life. So why did every doctor recommend the food pyramid for decades? Did you know the food pyramid was never actually tested to work? The idea was they were trying to feed a population with the same amount of calories, but cheaper to fight inflation. Well, they sort of screwed up everyone because all of their recommendations mostly led to people punishing themselves with insulin spikes to the system, which led to insulin resistance – which led to metabolic disorder and all of the fuckery we have today. Most of the “alternative food science” you find today focuses on the hormonal-based approach to nutrition. Meaning, if you aren’t hungry, ghrelin is not pumped into your system and you aren’t thinking about food. Eating the right types of food allow leptin to tell you when you have had enough. Sleeping properly clears out cortisol and your body doesn’t stubbornly hold on to weight. Ever wonder why everyone you know in their 40s and 50s looks like they have 10-20 pounds more than in their 20s? Insulin resistance is where I’d put my money. Why?
Of issue – most of the people out there are pounding their face holes with grains/breads/oats and “healthy” sugars like fruit, not having a clue their body isn’t designed to process this many carbs in their lifetime. As people are in their 40s, I have heard over 60% have diabetes or pre-diabetes, and most don’t know it. Your pudge that is on you now is many people telling your metabolism is slowing down. Could be. Or, your body cannot process that extra piece of bread without tons more insulin – making you tired and spiking your insulin, and crashing and causing a ghrelin spike.
Lesson 26 – you become visible again. One thing that I noticed, which made me pretty uncomfortable. After many years of being massive, I was used to walking in places and no one making eye contact with me. So I didn’t make eye contact with others. It felt uncomfortable a lot to make eye contact with others. I felt this was some form of Asperger’s or something, and it may be some part of it, who knows. But when I was 197, dressed in sharp suits, confident, educated, and well off – I’d be in the grocery stores and up and down the isles women were looking at my eyes and smiling. This was NOT them hitting on me. Or maybe it was. I don’t know. But everywhere I went, suddenly I noticed people looking at me. I felt, “on display” of sorts. It was unsettling. Maybe I was 235 when I first started noticing this. People complimenting you all the time on the weight loss. You feel proud. But I spent 40 some years of my life rather invisible to the opposite sex. I never, ever, ever approached women. While I was rarely single, it wasn’t because I hit on people at bars. I did the old fashioned thing….gulp…we got to know each other. But this was different. All of the eyes on me, wherever I went, was uncomfortable. Had I been 22 and been single in that body – perhaps I would have aged differently? However, I wouldn’t trade one day of my life because of what I have now. But, you have to be aware that you become visible to others and be able to handle all kinds of attention appropriately.
Lesson 27 – write for you. When you are going through this, document what you do. Even if it’s a journal to yourself. Recording calories. Writing about what makes you hungry. I write for me. I don’t give a shit if anyone reads this, but somehow thousands of you do. I hope you get something from these. But when you are going through your journey – put your goals out there. Make yourself accountable.
Lesson 28 – targeted carbs. When I did low carb (graduated there after strict keto) I did a LOT of training. I mean, a LOT. When you train low carb, you can do zone two runs and bikes almost forever. You train your body to run on ketones. Prior to doing keto, I “bonked” at 22 miles riding a bike once. I then read a book about distance training on keto with Dr. Phinney and Dr. Volek on low carb. I was then able to bike 45 miles with literally zero carbs. Fun, huh? Well, the downside is that was flat and zone two. IF you are going to do more intense training like intervals, sprints, or elevation with running/biking – you will need to add some carbs. After you get used to low carb, your body is still really good at squirreling away carbs here and there to replenish your glycogen stores. This is glucose stored in your liver and muscles – and is an energy substrate needed for intense exercise. Biking 45 miles in zone two on flat ground – easy. Add hills? you can bonk pretty quickly. Before I would go on a more intense bike ride I’d have a smoothie maybe 2 hours before with a banana and strawberries. Maybe 50g of carbs. I’d take a gatorade with me. I might have had 125g of carbs that day but perhaps burn 2,000 calories in biking. So while you are not technically doing keto, your body never really leaves a low level of ketosis so you can use the fat stored on your body as the preferred substrate for long distance biking, and when hills come – you had just topped your glycogen tanks off with fuel so you have the ability to use glucose for intense biking. This is essentially how nature intended carb use for us. And, if you use carbs responsibly with intense exercise or even work (consider if you work with your hands) – you will not really gain weight. It’s when you screw up like I did and stop exercising almost overnight due to trauma/injury does your body then start packing carbs on your waist. My body needs to move IF I have carbs. Either I screwed myself up eating too many carbs when younger, or my genotype or something doesn’t work well with carbs and I gain weight. But low carb for me seems to be the best way I have ever found to control my weight. Period. This doesn’t mean you stuff yourself with bacon. It means that IF you have carbs, you need to target them around vigorous movements that allow your body to burn the carbs off. Eating 70+% carbs will not do your body well and most likely lead you to insulin resistance.
Lesson 29 – you will have to do the work. Others can support you, but you are driving the bus and doing the work. You will fall down. Get back up. You are the one writing your story, not someone else. As much as you feel trapped in someone else’s body, you are now armed with a lot of information here to approach your problem in a different way.
Lesson 30 – we aren’t right in the head with food. Much like an alcoholic, many of us many have strong dependencies on food. Maybe it’s food security. Maybe you have image issues. Maybe you used food to comfort you in bad times. Maybe you used food to celebrate? Maybe you were taught a lot of bad food habits as a kid.
I’m going to talk about some setbacks below, and how it affected me – but I wanted to do a follow up on item 25 above. The items below significantly impacted my mental and physical health. A first thought many might have with me gaining weight back is “he’s weak”. “He’s lazy”. The problem is, when you gain weight back, you are embarrassed. You are ashamed. You become invisible again. You become trapped in someone else’s body again. And, like someone framed for another crime – you feel like you didn’t overeat like you were supposed to in order to gain the weight back. You are again sentenced to live life in someone else’s body. You want to avoid pictures. You remove yourself socially from calendars of others because all of the people who complimented you about weight loss go silent and now are judging you for being a weak person again. All of those women at the grocery store making eye contact with you, once again avoid eye contact with you. Man, I have a great book in this someday when I retire. However, setbacks are real for people who lose a lot of weight. In this, I think it’s important to take stock of where I am, take the punches that hit me, and get right back up again. Luckily – as mentioned, I’m down 21 pounds the last few months from my recent highs and not exposing myself to injury. Taking it easy. Working the plan.
But let’s talk about setbacks – and how you go from losing 175 pounds to gaining nearly 100 back.
In my world, I had a lot going on. I was successful in taking off 175 pounds. Bought all kinds of clothing off the rack. I had been HIGHLY motivated for a period of time – where I was working to try and get into the military and had an interview with US Cybercom. At the same time I was denied, my wife became pregnant (circa August 2019), and with this – I kind of hung up the idea – right after I completed my first sprint tri. But around the same time also was the last 12 weeks or so of my mother’s life. I had hit 197 just before my birthday, and about 3 weeks later she died. I had spent a lot of the last week or two over there taking shifts caring for her. The lack of sleep was stunning. Was grabbing coffee and something to eat at 2:30AM on my way to work from her house – 2+ hours away. Looking back on it, I had no idea what FMLA was and how I could have used some of it to care for her.
At her funeral, I was 218 pounds on Dec 18th. That was a 21 pound gain in 2 weeks. This can happen when you go off of low carb diets for a sustained period of time, but this wasn’t that. This was 1000% stress hormones, lack of sleep. At the same time leading up to her passing, I had been running all the time to try and clear my mind, and I started to develop chronic back pains, which felt like pinching of discs/nerves. I had developed shoulder issues, and went to rehab for that starting Jan/Feb 2020, so I couldn’t even bench anymore. I went through that for about 2 months – as I could not even lift my arm up above shoulder height.
Not only could I no longer run, I couldn’t work out either and sleeping was even difficult. I couldn’t even go on moderate walks due to the pinching pain in the lower back. Feb 20th of 2020, I was in the poconos with my then 11 year old and weighed 225. 28 pound gain in 2 months. And, I literally had not changed one thing about my diet. The only thing that changed was that my exercise dropped off a cliff.
COVID hit March 2020. I had been eating one meal a day for years at this point and in the office 5 days a week – no lunches. Suddenly, I’m home every day with my wife and she’s asking me what I wanted to eat with her for lunch. It started with a few eggs, then built up to maybe 600-700 calories. Whenever I was feeling any better, I ‘d start to run and hurt my back all over again for weeks. When I did want to try biking, my wife told me I wasn’t allowed to go anymore (understandable, I’m not blaming her) – I used to go for 2-3 hour bikes and 2-3 hour hikes every day of the weekends – with a long run Sunday AM. She was having complications with pregnancy, and with this, I sat my ass on the couch. As my son was born with a semi-emergency C section, he was in the NICU for 10 days, which added to a lot more stress. He was blue when born, and oxygen levels were a concern. Not knowing minute by minute if your baby is going to die. Not good. June 4th he was born, and I weighed myself June 10th at 245 pounds. In almost 3 years since that date, it’s been another 50 pounds. So the first 50 was in high stress times, and the last 50 was in 3 years. That’s about 17 pounds a year. Or, a third of a pound a week. That’s 1200 calories a week over. Or, 170 calories per day surplus. When you think of someone gaining massive weight, you stereotype this with gluttony. Donuts. 2 liters of cokes. Eating whole pizzas. The truth is, I was not eating as much as before, but I actually was no longer averaging 500 calories a day in exercise. Let that sink in. My food intake was lower than before – but my exercise was WAY DOWN. I had also killed all of my muscle to get to 197.
Mostly, what happened was 10-20 hours of exercise per week was replaced with….nothing. And, tons of stress.
April of 2022 I started to see my grocery bills go vertical with inflation pressures, so I decided to do 40/30/30 again with 2200 calories. It worked well, on paper, for awhile – but going off of low carb had me gaining weight quickly as my body didn’t process carbs very well. Slowly, some of the wheels started coming off.
In the last three years, since the initial 48 pounds gained, I put on another 50 or so in 3 years. However, 30 or so of that was in a 3 month window in mid-late 2022 where the wheels really came off. Why? For 3-4 years of low carb, I never had to count a calorie. With 40/30/30, you have to be EXTREMELY militant to count calories. I did not, and suddenly some days that were bad turned into “I’ll do better tomorrow”. So above – of the 50 pound gain, it was like 20 pounds in 2 years, and 30 pounds in a few months. DAYUM!
But overall, you start to withdraw from society. You tell yourself “when I get back to where I was, I will get back out there!” and then the weight continues on. It’s not fun, I’ll tell you that. So I kind of isolated myself. I don’t go out. I do go hiking and the like – but I don’t go out to dinner, I don’t make an effort to be sociable with my friends – which is also a byproduct of the COVID era. I need to re-focus on myself and continue my current plan.
I have done some exercise, but nothing like I did do. My soon to be 3 year old is now growing up, and with this, I feel more comfortable with getting back to my training. Late January of this year, I went back to my low carb and down 21 pounds. But, what would I do differently?
I feel that I still have lots of goals of triathlons. But this time around, I’m focusing more on “fat loss” than “weight loss”. Meaning, this time is more focused on walking, hiking, and lifting weights for a 1-1.5 pound fat loss per week while trying to have a relatively higher protein content. With the last time, I did a decent amount of fasting. I kind of liked OMAD for simplicity, and now back in the office 3 days a week, I like the idea of OMAD those days and having a big salad for dinner. I did “fasting Fridays” a lot, which weren’t terrible, but I think that, over time, took muscle mass off. I like the concept to do it from time to time for autophagy purposes – same with OMAD. I’d feel around 4PM where a switch is “flipped” where my glucose tanks were empty and it sort of then hits your backup generator. That would be at about 20 hours of fasting.
I plan on documenting my journey back down to 197 and below. However, the BIG lesson from getting to 197 at all costs was that I not only sacrificed a ton of muscle mass, but when doing so wiped my calorie burning machine and left me open to back injuries for 2-3 years. It’s now been a good 8 months since I’ve had the back pain, and now that I’m low carb again I’m feeling a lot better and feeling less inflammation.
So, steady as she goes here. The idea is when I get to 197, I will have a good portion of the muscle I want and this will allow me to then carve off my last 25 or so pounds in the gym. I have been “heavy lifting” and making a lot of progress with strength which is helping my calorie burning machine.
I want to run again, but I think I have to wait until I’m in a much better place with muscle and a lower weight. I like the calorie burn from running, but running is my mental health. I think late summer starting to train for a 5k in October isn’t out of bounds, and I can keep the training distances to maybe 2 miles. I think I started to run into the back problems with the 4-5 mile Sunday runs with the occasional 6-7 mile run. I plan for the next 3-4 months to continue to hike, but increase elevation and time, as well as getting back on the bike for 1-2 hour bikes. I’ll keep the 3-4 hour bike rides for 2024.
I’m a ways from where I want to be, but I think this time next year I’ll be around my 200 mark I want to be to then focus more intense training.
I also plan on doing some YouTube videos with my former trainer – we’ll start with one in a few weeks and see where it goes. I want to open up the discussion on the mindset of those who want to lose weight, who are losing weight, those who hit their goals – and even those who gained weight back.
May 9, 2023 at 2:37 pm
I suspect the poor average quality of the food on the shelves of supermarkets in America has no small part in the obesity epidemic. You can find isles and isles of boxed, prepared food and sugar water of any flavor at my local supermarket, but the variety of basic ingredients is pitiful. Ninety-nine out of one hundred items in your average convenience store will kill if you consume them often enough. I think it would do wonders for public health to ban the sale of bottled drinks. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be able to make them yourself or buy some powder and mix it, but that supermarkets and convenience stores should be prohibited from selling them in a ready-to-drink form. It’s a travesty that the coca cola company and so many others make a fortune selling unhealthy beverages and polluting the environment with plastic bottles in the process.