A Few Things I’ve Learned about Health, Nutrition and Weight Loss

Yesterday, I did my final weigh-in for the Weight Loss Challenge at my local gym, where I’ve been a member for the last 18 months.  When I joined the gym in September 2007, I weighed 305lbs – the most I’ve ever weighed in my life.  This morning, I weighed in at 242.2lb, and I’m still working my way toward my goal of 235lbs … what I weighed when I graduated high school.

This morning, I had breakfast with my beautiful wife and son at one of our favorite breakfast places.  I ordered a veggie omelette made with egg whites, vegetables, no oil, and no cheese.  It comes with hash browns, which I got dry (no oil used) and pancakes (which I got with blueberries at Faith’s request).  It’s almost impossible to get healthy pancakes at a restaurant (I make them with 110 calories and 1g of fat ech, but restaurant pancakes have 5x that much fat easily per pancake), so it was all about what she and John wanted, since I knew I wouldn’t be eating them.  Oh, and I had water to drink.  (Orange juice is 110 cal and a tiny bit of fat per 8oz glass, so if I don’t really want it, I don’t drink it – plus, I’ve learned to drink lots of water.)

I pushed away from the table having eaten about 2/3 of the omelette and hash browns, and thought I should write down a few things I’ve learned on this journey.  So, here I am.  I thought I’d share a few principles I’ve assimilated along the journey to being far more healthy.  None of this is rocket science, but it is worth talking about.  Knowledge is important, but discipline is by far the most important factor in doing almost anything hard … and if you’re like me, losing weight is VERY hard.

Lessons / Principles for Healthy Living and Weight Loss

1) You’re eating a lot more than you need.  Stop.
I discovered that I wasn’t just eating a little more than I should or “not watching portion control”.  I used to eat 3-4 times what I do now.  The omelette I had this morning would have been a 4 egg omelette (that’s just what they do). I had it with egg whites only, so it was probably double that.  Plus, a cup of hash browns.  Plus, three pancakes like 6″ in diameter.  A couple years ago, I would have eaten ALL of it, plus had a big glass of OJ, plus sampled others’ food at the table.  I know, I did that.  That’s just crazy!  One trick I like is to order a to-go container WITH your meal in restaurants.  The second your meal gets there, cut it in half and put half in the to-go container.  Your dollars stretch twice as far, and your pants stop stretching.

2) Your stomach / appetite will adjust to smaller portions.  Give it time.
Now that I’ve eaten less per meal for a while, my stomach and appetite have adjusted.  I was really too full after breakfast this morning, having eaten a third of what the “old me” would have eaten.  But you have to be patient.  In the beginning, you have to stop before your full.  But now, I don’t.

3) Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
Rather than giant meals that put you to sleep, eat small meals, and eat more of them.  I eat breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner.  Don’t snack at night though; it’s better to go to bed hungry.

Interesting Fact #1: Water actually fills you up.  If your hungry, drink a lot of water.  Not only will it put something in your stomach, but it will flush toxins out of your system.

4) Write down everything you eat, including calories and fat
This may be the single best thing I did to help with controlling what I eat.  I have a spreadsheet in which I write down every single thing that I eat, and I use online nutrition databases to estimate the number of calories and the amount of fat in each thing.  This means that you have to intentionally determine portion sizes, intentionally write things down, intentionally learn what the food you’re eating has in it, etc.  Notice that it’s all about intentionality, which is the close friend of discipline.

diet_journal_excerpt

5) Set limits on calorie and fat intake per day.
After writing down everything you eat, it’s easy to sum up what you ingested in calories and fat for the day.  Because I was a really big guy, I started with the “super sized” USDA limits of 2500 calories and 80g of fat per day.  As I’ve lost weight, I’ve shifted my limits to the normal-sized person limits of 2000 calories and 65g of fat per day.  My average for the last 2 months is about 1800 calories and 30g fat per day ….WAY less than the limits.  What I really try to target is about 1500 calories and 20g of fat, since I’m still working hard to lose weight.  I also try to watch the percentage of fat I take in.  1g of fat has 9 calories, so if you eat 1800 calories and 25g of fat, then 25*9 or 225 calories are from fat.  This is 12.5% of your caloric intake for the day … very good!  I generally want my fat intake to be less than 20% of total calories.  These simple limits have dramatically helped me to discipline myself and lose weight.

6) Ignore the stupid standards on weight and BMI
Two years ago, when I weighed 305, a doctor told me that the BMI (body mass index) charts dictated that I should weigh 185lbs.  I laughed and told him that my skeleton weighs 185lbs.  Those charts are absolutely ridiculous.  I’m running out of places to pinch now, and I’m still at about 240.  I can’t imagine losing ANOTHER 55lbs.  That’s crazy.  And I just crossed from “obese” to “overweight” on the BMI chart at 250lbs.  Crazy!  Every person is different.  I put about ZERO stake in these indices to indicate health.

Interesting Fact #2: Every pound of lean muscle mass you add to your body increases your resting metabolic rate by 50.  This means that your body will burn 50 calories more per day even if you’re asleep.

7) EXERCISE!!!!!
Here’s the part nobody wants to hear.  Just eating better alone will likely not get it done for you (although of course it’s a great thing).  You need to get your heart rate up and put on lean muscle, not just get rid of fat.  That doesn’t mean becoming a body builder, but it does mean burning more calories and making your body (muscles) work more.  That’s the way to be healthy, simple as that.  Here’s what I recommend as the minimum, then build from there.  Three times a week, do aerobic exercise.  Get your heart rate over 160 for 30 minutes.  That’s the bare minimum.  After that, add situps or crunches after your aerobic workout.  After that, add simple free weights on the off days.  You’re not becoming a body builder; you’re just toning muscle.  So, do 3 sets of 12-15 reps each.  Pick a weight that makes it hard for you to finish the 3rd set.  That’s it.  You don’t even have to join a gym.  Just get your activity up, focused on having an accelerated heart rate for a half hour and on a lot of reps.

8 ) Don’t skip meals.  Don’t starve yourself.  You’ll GAIN weight.
Here’s the deal.  When you just stop eating, your body will canibolize ANYTHING to get energy.  That includes muscle.  Actually, it will burn muscle before it burns fat, in many cases.  That’s not good.  Plus, when you stop eating, your body goes into conservation mode, slowing down your metabolism to save power.  Both these realities work against healthy weight loss.  Plus, as you loss muscle (remember our interesting fact about lean muscle mass), your body becomes generally less able to work *for* you in accomplishing your goals.

9) Be patient.  Metabolism takes a while to change.
I’ve noticed that everything I do has a delayed effect.  It takes about 30 days for my metabolism to change.  This means that if I stop exercising and slack off on my diet, I’ll continue to lose weight and burn calories at a decent clip for a couple weeks.  It also means that if I start from an “off the wagon” position and get strict again, it’ll take 30 days to see results.  Not only that, but I experienced a couple of significant plateaus in this process.  The bottom line is that losing weight takes the discipline to keep at it even when you’re not seeing immediate results.

Interesting Fact #3: Every pound of excess fat on your body is an extra mile of blood vessels through which your heart has to pump blood.

I thought I’d have ten, but I can’t think of another one, so I’m just going to stop.  If you’re reading this and working hard to lose weight, I applaud you.  You CAN do it!  Post a comment and let me know how your journey is going.  I’d be happy to encourage or offer advise.  Maybe I’ll post a before/after picture or two once I get to my target weight (only 7-8 pounds to go).

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About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Christ. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long journey, learning to swim with the current of God's love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
This entry was posted in Lifestyle, Health and Fitness and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to A Few Things I’ve Learned about Health, Nutrition and Weight Loss

  1. Congrats! It sounds like you’ve made a real effort and followed through.

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  2. Chris Arnold says:

    Jeff,
    Dude, as your bro-in-law, you are my hero, lol. You have done great and when I told Maria how much you have los from reading this we just couldn’t believe it. You have everything in your successes to be proud of. I myself being I believe 50 lbs over weight now, trully doubt that I can do as good. But fo you, I am very happy for you and I know Faith is extremely proud of you. Much love and God Bless.

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  3. Jeff Block says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, both of you. Chris, of course you can do it. Just get some accountability…

    In fact, there’s my 10th point. Because I was on a team at the gym and had a 8 sessions with a personal trainer, I was even more motivated. I didn’t want to show up every week for weigh-ins and workouts and be the weak link in the chain. As a result, I thought about that every time I was about to eat something or deciding whether or not to get another portion of something else. Etc.

    It’s training … you train by doing things today that you CAN currently do to accomplish tomorrow what you CAN’T currently do. That’s true in all things in life worth having … spiritual discipline, financial discipline, physical discipline, etc. And all of these are maximized when you have accountability and a plan.

    Let me know how I can encourage you on your quest to dump 50lbs. Wow, your heart would love to have 50 miles fewer blood vessels to work with, I’m sure!

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  4. Sue Thomas says:

    Congratulations Jeff!! I am so very proud of you. How wonderful you have done even with how busy you are with work and family.

    That “discipline” thing is very hard, and it sounds as though you have learned how to beat it. I try to have the discipline to eat healthy, and succeed most of the time, but I fall off the wagon every so often. My problem is I give in to family pressure. They usually make fun of me for trying to be healthy. I love to walk for exercise, which I do several times a week. But, I lack in the “good” aerobic exercise part for no other reason than for lack of discipline.

    Keep up the good work and I will try to use you as an inspiration to step up my own healthy life style.

    Love to You, Faith & John

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  6. Jennifer says:

    Wow! Good for you!!
    So any advice for someone who never eats there veggies cause they make her want to throw up??
    No, I am totally series…

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  8. Chris Miller says:

    Hey Jeff,

    Congrats on all you’ve accomplished so far, buddy. You’re looking fantastic and I’m sure you’re feeling a lot better too.

    I appreciate you sharing your insights on healthy living. You’ve obviously put a lot of thought and research time into discovering these realities. And, though I never thought the two of us would EVER have a nutrition conversation, I’ve got a few questions for you on your insights. Maybe you can further elaborate to help a dude who’s trying to take a similar journey:

    1. Why count fat grams? In my own pursuit of healthy eating and weight loss, I’ve been keeping a journal similar to yours and I also record fat to keep it at a minimum. But what’s the science there? I understand controlling calorie intake. I also understand controlling dangerous components like cholesterol (vessel clogging) and for some people salt (blood pressure elevating). I might even be able to see why controlling specific TYPES of fat (i.e. saturated) can be beneficial. But why is 100 calories of fat worse than 100 calories of carbs/sugar or 100 calories of protein? Doesn’t is just come down to more calories burned than consumed = weight loss?

    2. Why no snack after dinner? I’ve heard partial explanations of that before related to your metabolism slowing down around bedtime, but I’ve never been 100% satisified with that explanation. Again, it seems like it should come down to total calories consumed during the day being less than total calories expended during the day. What’s the reason for not going to bed with food in your stomach?

    3. You had mentioned to me that your trainer taught you some specific exercises to target the areas you were working (like abs). Sometime when you have time, it would be awesome if you’d be willing to share those kind of exercise-specific details.

    Keep up the good work, amigo. Good luck on the final few pounds and on the switch to maintenance mode. Maybe you can share a few “Lessons Learned from Maintenance Mode” once you’ve learned them. 🙂

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  9. Becca says:

    You are doing such a great job to make changes for your health, Jeff! My only comment is be careful getting focused on calories and fat as that can be unhealthy. Where it is true you want to watch what kinds of foods you put in your body, paying attention to calories and fat often times can permit you put very unhealthy foods in your body and still meet your daily requirement without realizing the effect it has on your health.

    Diets should be rich in vegetables but honestly also in fats…the good fats. We NEED fat in order for our bodies to function…in order for brains cells to work, etc. Cells cannot replenish if we aren’t feeding them whether it is fat or any other nutrient God built our body to need. Tons of people and even doctors and nutritionists get stuck on reducing fats and cholesterol, but it is quite detrimental to ones health to do so. If what they mean by reducing fats means only stop eating McDonald’s, then by all means I agree whole heartedly. Unfortunately they include other healthy fat because it is called “fat”.

    The way to keep a fat body in check is not to avoid fat, but to avoid refined sugar and simple carbs. Insulin resistance and a more acidic body causes people to be fat and people to be more susceptible to disease. Does this mean choose “diet” instead? Only if you want the health problems associated with choosing the unhealthy alternative to unhealthy. Aspartame is poison and is often joked about as the fat person substance (you see lots of overweight and obese people with a diet coke in hand). It breaks down to form formaldehyde as well as other toxic substances at 98 degrees and given your body temp should be around 98.6…you get the picture. It causes sugar/carb cravings and has been proven to promote diabetes. There are tons of neurological disorders related to it as well. There are even some neurologists who report seeing patients coming in with a certain set of symptoms and the first question asked is do they drink diet soda or crystal light. Of course some of the damage is irreversible.

    You want to avoid food with chemicals, additives, colors and bad fat, but you need natural foods, and fats such as olive oil, and coconut oil as well as a good molecularly distilled fish oil supplement. Smart balance with flax oil is a fabulous tasting alternative to butter, but even butter is not bad for you. I use both butter and smart balance. I personally avoid anything labeled “low-fat” because it is “processed” or chemicalized (my own term of course) in order to make it low fat. Avoid Frankenfood!

    Also don’t forget to pamper your digestion. If you aren’t digesting food, then your body isn’t utilizing it in the way it should which will skew everything. It is essential to be on a good full spectrum digestive enzyme to ensure you are getting the nutrients from your diet. You’d be amazed at the change it can make in how you feel. It’s even extremely beneficial for children too!

    I agree with you about the BMI charts. They of course do not account for muscle mass, which makes a huge difference. Muscle does weigh more than fat. So in order to get a true BMI number you have to do the fat pinching and plug that into the math equation.

    Good luck on losing your final pounds. I wish you the best in health!

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  10. aphreal says:

    Hey Jeff,
    Great to hear about the positive changes you’re making and that you’re seeing such fantastic results! I’ve actually been on a similar path, although I started close to 10 months ago, not 18. Thus far, I’ve lost about 45 pounds and completely changed the way I think about food, mostly in that I’m actually consciously thinking about it instead of just eating it.

    Overall, I agree with the lessons you’ve learned through this process, especially about being intentional and honest with yourself about what you’re eating and limiting to what you actually need to eat to sustain your body.

    Keep up the great work, and I’ll second the request to hear your thoughts on the maintainance process also, once you get there.
    Neva

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