Five Lessons Learned While Losing 50 lbs in One Year
In October 2010, I was a male over forty with a slow metabolism. Worse, it seemed like my body was breaking down.
I could have spiraled into extreme obesity. I love to eat and my health was poor. My joints hurt, my back ached, my heart fluttered, and my cholesterol was high. Then something magical happened. Instead of gaining weight, I started losing it... and as I started losing weight, my life began improving. I even had more energy. Let me share with you what I learned in a year of personal transformation.
Starting weight: 265
Goal weight: 220
Current weight: 215
1. It doesn't cost money to lose weight.
I did not join a gym or a support group. I did not buy any special foods. I have nothing to sell you. I supplement with vitamins, but I don't think they helped me lose weight. Mainly, I changed the way I think about food and exercise. I lost one pound a week for a year. I did not live by the scales, but that was my average. I save money because I don't crave or binge . . . not to mention I don't need to take anything for joint or back pain anymore! Save your cash. Do a pushup. If you are as out of shape as I was, you'd be surprised how even a little activity will burn off one pound per week. In fact, my best advice would be, don't be afraid to lose weight slowly. It's better for you, easier to achieve, and ensures that you are making a lifestyle change, instead of just losing water weight or otherwise stressing your system.
So what was the first thing I did: I ate brown rice for a meal three times a week (thanks to my friend Jim March for the advice). That's all. That's what started the entire weight loss ball rolling and I only did that for the first month because once I got some momentum, I began to really look at my every day diet and why I was overweight.
2. Slow and steady wins the race.
I could only do 8 pushups when I first exercised and I didn't even try until I'd lost the first 20 lbs. Even now, I only exercise about fifteen minutes a day, but I have gone from overweight to average. Maybe I will never get to "athletic" again, but I am also a middle aged man, not an Olympic hopeful.
I really was not ready for even mild exercise a year ago. Now, six months after that first exercise attempt, I regularly do 130 pushups three days a week, in sets of 25 to 30. Maybe I'm not in shape by most standards, but I'm strong, and I'll take it for the time being.
In other words: your goals should be challenging, but also achievable!
I don't adhere to a strict schedule and I give myself plenty of rest, sometimes taking three days off and even more if I feel sore or injured. Situps can hurt my back, so I don't do them. I hate running so I don't do it. But I do regularly participate in the things I enjoy, such as pushups, nature hikes, and shooting hoops.
Remember when you were a kid and you played for sheer fun? Go play! Have some good clean fun!
I weigh a lot even when I am slimmer because I am 6'1" and broad shouldered. I still have a ways to go, but I am just trying to maintain a steady calorie intake, with smaller meals through the day and a regular amount of exercise. That's all it takes and I know you can do it! I was entrenched in my ways. I had no motivation. None! But the thing is: exercise makes you feel more energetic, not less.
And men, trust me, if you are single, you will get much more female attention if you can see your feet when you look down.
Let's say I have a stress headache from a long day at work. Well, the best thing for it is not an aspirin or a cocktail, but getting some blood flow to my neck and shoulders. This means light cardio. I don't even do heavy cardio, mainly because I was not in a hurry to lose weight. A half hour of light cardio is plenty and losing a pound a week was plenty fast enough for my needs. In a year, it added up to fifty pounds! Secondly, long distance runners are far skinnier than I'd like to be. My build looks best with some muscle on it and being super thin is not for everyone.
For some, a sustainable effort may be an evening walk around the neighborhood. For me, it was shooting hoops alone in my apartment complex. For everyone, the bottom line is lifestyle change, not fad dieting or radical exercise routines. I honestly don't push myself very hard at all. Hey, I was fat. It was obviously going to make a difference if I just got off the couch and cut down on sugars and carbs, but I was not ready to go on an extreme diet or an extreme exercise regimen.
You don't need to lose the weight in a month. Just make a STEADY effort and you will lose it over the course of time.
Lastly, a well known concept that I also believe in is having a "treat day" once a week or so where you indulge in something "bad" for you, like a half a pizza or a happy hour with friends! Not only does it help with the metabolic cycle, but it encourages the very important mindset of moderation. Also, by doing this, I discovered that heavy carbs have a wrecking effect on my blood sugar levels. After eating too many slices of pizza, my mouth actually gets dry, I feel bloated, and I get cranky and foggy after a couple of hours. I had no idea this was not normal before I got off the carb cycle. Again folks, I do not count carbs or calories, but I am finally conscious of what I put in my body.
YOU CAN DO IT!
3. Metabolic syndrome (perpetual obesity) is largely caused by a heavy carb diet.
At some point, you have to break the carb craving cycle if you want to lose weight. Maybe it is hard to imagine letting go of all those "comfort" foods, but I assure you, in a few short months (about three) I lost my taste for sugar, white bread, and even alcohol (for the most part). I eat nearly the same number of calories as before, but I don't binge because I time the calories according to my daily needs and I eat much differently at lunch than I do at breakfast. For example, I am a regular at the Tudor's Biscuit World on my way to work. Usually, I get a "Ron" (sausage, egg, and cheese on a large buttermilk biscuit) and a large coffee with two creams. Who knows how many calories that is, but let's just say that Tudor's fought tooth-and-nail to keep from having to post nutritional data on their menues. . .
I tell you this because it is proof you don't have to starve to lose weight. I can eat some "white bread" or starchy foods so long as I do it early in the day and follow it with either exercise or a lighter lunch. For me, lighter just means not fast food and not heavy on carbs. Anything else is acceptable, though somedays I do decide to go all veggie. After all, you can eat as many vegetables (potatoes aside) as you desire and it's always a diet.
I also drink water and hardly ever have a soda (once a month maybe?). Trust me, after a while, the fast food burger combo will seem gross to you. And I want to stress, I don't eat only a handful of almonds or one little can of tuna for lunch, lol. Who can do that? I eat as much as I like, but I eat healthy foods and, for me, healthy often means whole foods. I also do not succeed every single day. Like you, things come up and I have to eat what is available sometimes. Sometimes the company gives us free pizza at my office, or it's someone's birthday and we all go out together. That's okay. Enjoy it; just don't skip meals and always pay attention to how you feel after. Seriously. If you feel sleepy after carbs, you need to change your diet. Some people call this a low glycemic diet and you can read about it on the web, but in a nutshell, Americans are far too reliant on carbs for energy and the cycle this perpetuates is one of craving and crashing.
Once I started thinking about refined sugar as a treat instead of a staple, I was halfway to controlling my metablolism. (refined sugar is also a major contributor to joint inflammation and discomfort.). Artificial sweeteners are not much better. I am mortified that they actually include things like a sugar free brownie or a diet soda in some diet meals. Less food for more money and, even worse, it perpetuates the craving cycle! Forget all those premade meals. You don't need a dessert with every single meal and as hard as it is to imagine, if you can tackle this cycle, you really won't even want one. I seriously ate chocolate every day for 30 years or more. In 2011, I've had maybe three pieces of chocolate, even though it is in my house right in front of me!
Diet sodas, controlled portions, and diet desserts do not work for most folks. Instead, drink a glass of milk and eat some dates or some yogurt. Similarly, I don't recommend reduced fat foods. The point is to eat something that satisfies your hunger, or put differently to break the cycle of craving and binging. I eat fat and it helps control my appetite. I cook eggs in butter. I drink whole milk. I do this because I'm actually satiated afterwards, instead of craving and crashing and craving again.
Most of what you hear from the diet gurus is there to sell you something and the rest is impossible for the average person. I can't live off of salad for lunch every day and you probably can't either. I do, however, find that I like almonds, cottage cheese, tuna and turkey breast. I also celery and raw carrots. So, I eat as much of that as I want, often dipping it in sugar-free peanut butter. A contradiciton you say? Well, sugar-free is not "diet" because there are no artificial sweeteners. There are plenty of studies showing that artificial sweeteners are bad for your metabolism, but in short, you can't fool mother nature. Besides, I don't even like sweetened peanut butter after a year off the carb cycle!
I don't measure portions or worry if something is 250 vs. 300 calories. Also, there is plenty I don't like that you probably do (grapes, peaches, kiwi, etc.) so my advice is buy those healthy foods you like and pig out on them! Healthy, in my case simply means - less processed, more natural. Examples include: Whole milk. Bananas. Farmer's market meats and eggs. Yes, I do eat plenty of eggs. They are a great food, especially when straight from the farm. And unlike what you might expect, in moderation they are not a cholesterol risk. Sugar is actually the number one contributor to high-cholesterol. I am not a doctor, so if you disagree, just chalk it up to our differing experiences, but remember, I have nothing for sale. . .
In a similar vein, most people think that margarine is better than butter, but this does not work in my mindset. For me, nothing is better if it makes me crave more food. I am eating as I type this today. I have a whole can of cinnamon roasted almonds and a large orange juice my desk. You see, I eat what satisfies me, not what makes me ravenous for more and all I can say is that I don't feel like I am dieting, yet I lose weight, gain muscle and look and feel younger. Try it! What do you have to lose except diet soda!
4. Sleep is your friend.
Not only is dreaming free and almost indulgent in its luxury, but your body needs plenty of restful sleep to support blood glucose health and even to release important weight control catalysts like human growth hormone. This is my biggest personal weakness, but I am working on it! Insomnia is sort of like binging on sugar: it's hard to stop, but doing so can reap many rewards. This is actually the next frontier for me, and I will check back and let you know how it goes! You see, like you, I am a work in progress and like you, I need to improve on things one at a time. Wish me luck!
5. Take charge of your vices.
On March 1, 2011, I gave up alcohol (for three months). This was a big source of empty calories for me. Now, I do again drink alcohol, but I am down to once a week, usually on Fridays, and most importantly, I THINK about what I am doing. I don't drink on an empty stomach, I don't binge drink, and I don't keep drinking if I feel out-of-sorts in anyway. I highly recommend you revisit your personal habits, like drinking alcohol, and see if you can cut some empty calories here. Alcohol also interferes with nutrition absorbtion, etc. Like I said, I enjoy a beer, but I would be remiss if I did not point out the fact that just like white bread and chocolate cake, you need to limit alcohol consumption.
A word of encouragement . . .
Remember that I was extremely lazy for two decades. You might say I still am. I'm still no male model. But if a lazy couch potato lost fifty pounds, you can definitely meet your own weight loss goals.
I really haven't done that much. It wasn't amazing or some great challenge like they show on reality TV. Those people are trying to sell you supplements and t-shirts. Simply put, it was about a mindest and a simple lifetstyle change. Please, be encouraged and take heart; start with small goals. I should also mention that my intial weight loss was helped along by joining a Relay For Life contest to raise money for a worthy cause. Knowing I was competing against my office mates probably kept me from losing site of my goals early on. So, sure, if you can get a friend to join you on your journey, do it! Now, my own brother is following my lead, because he saw that I was successful and he knows that just like me, YOU CAN DO IT!
I'm into year two of this plan now. I started hiking up a local hill three times a week and I keep slowly, verly slowly, increasing the number of pushups I do. I also have a kettle bell I lift to build my arms up, etc. Nothing fancy, but the reason for this postscript is that I have stopped losing weight and it's an awesome thing!
Because I am changing my shape. My waist gets just a little smaller every month, and my shoulders, chest and arms get just a little bigger. I'm at 450 pushups a week now, and I hope to be at a 600 by spring. Again, very modest goals, but sustainable, achievable, reasonable . . .
I truly hope you find success in your own health and weigh management.