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.
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.
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).