Circa 2004 I was eating out two meals a day, not exercising, and hovering near 230 pounds. I would need a water break after walking up a flight of stairs. Today, I’m 160 pounds and have three triathlons under my belt and a marathon coming up soon.
Crap that sounds like the opening of a terrible infomercial.
But it’s true. Thing is, I don’t have any bullshit to sell you. Just how I did it, and how it might work for you.
Two sentence summary: Eat less, and journal everything you ingest. Exercise more, but don’t go overboard.
That’s it in a nutshell.
I didn’t use any crazy diets. Or insane workout regimens.
I didn’t starve myself.
I’m not measuring macros.
Hell, I don’t even know what a macro is.
I’m not walking around with a water jug all the time. Or wearing a fanny pack. Or concocting smoothies with kale and protein.
I just made sure my caloric intake stayed low, while my exercise stayed consistent.
The closest thing to a drastic change I made was dropping most meat from my diet. Which is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be.
My biggest advantage was my wife, who didn’t need to lose weight, but still took up the banner with me. She’s dropped a few pounds, and is amazing at finding great vegetarian recipes (no really, stalk her Pinterest food boards).
I still drink plenty of snobby beer and liquor. I have dessert when I want to. I still binge at the Brazilian meat place once a year. I’ve learned to maintain and adjust my lifestyle.
Here’s my breakdown.
I started getting chubby in high school, expanded in college, then went full blown fat in my first job with the local NBA team. I knew all the Dollar Menus well.
I lost twenty pounds, from 230 to 210, by writing down everything I ate in a notebook and manually tallying calories. But like the job, it became too much of a burden and I just disconnected. (I’ll talk about the job later.)
I worked out 3-4 times a week. But the routine was like 15 minutes on the elliptical, 15 minutes in the steamroom, cheeseburger on the way home. I would occasionally get to 200, but never able to move below it. 200 was a wall.
In 2010 I took up pilates and running. My weight consistently stayed between 200-205. But still, the wall.
I added swimming and biking, even ran two triathlons. No budging on the 200 wall.
MyFitnessPal, and Painful Truths About Food
In January 2015 I downloaded MyFitnessPal and began entering everything I ate into it.
My gigantic bowl of Fruity Pebbles? Over 400 calories. My snack, a couple handfuls of quinoa/black bean tortilla chips from Trader Joes? 420 calories. Lunch out, then dinner with seconds and thirds, plus whatever was left on the kids’ and Lori’s plates. Dessert. Couple beers.
Yeah, my portions were out of control.
The cool thing about MFP is it’s just between the program and you. It hurts to put some horrific meal in there, but it’s better to know and face it. Always. And no one else has to know, nor should they.
But you put it in, and you’re faced with the truth. And so you ask yourself if you really need seconds. If you really need to get the double cheeseburger. If your bowl of cereal needs to be that big.
Over time I found ways to remove calories. I traded the cereal for yogurt, or a microwaved egg with some shredded cheese. I packed up leftovers for lunch, and ditched tortilla chips for fruit. At dinner I limited myself to one serving.
But the biggest change for me was I began each meal with the mindset that what I would be given would be enough. Previously, I knew before I ordered that I would finish everything and more. It’s like forfeiting a game before you even play.
So I changed my mindset. I got uncomfortable, so to speak. And my brain followed suit. I was fine with one plate. I actually had some nights where I couldn’t finish even one plate.
The mindset helped a great deal, but first I needed to actually know what I was eating. I’m not paid to endorse MyFitnessPal, and the app isn’t perfect, but it’s better than not knowing.
Get a Partner
Every journey is easier with friends. Mine was made so much easier when Lori joined in around February 2015. She didn’t need to lose weight, but she saw the benefits or being more aware of intake.
As the primary food preparer in the house, having her following the same routine helped a great deal. (MFP allows you to enter recipes, whether ingredient-by-ingredient or by pointing it to a recipe’s URL, by the way.)
We jointly decided to cut out meat whenever possible. We’re not going to be the dorks that show up to the cookout with quinoa patties, but we just don’t cook meat at home (very often).
I’ll cover the vegetarian transition in a later post. But it helps weight loss so, so much. And I can have seconds of most meals, which satiates my weeping, suppressed inner fat kid.
Anyway, any endeavor that’s taking you out of your comfort zone is best done with a partner. It doesn’t have to be all about accountability. They don’t have to see your MyFitnessPal entries and shame you.
Just someone who’s supportive and knows what you’re wanting to accomplish can make all the difference in the world.
The Exercise Side of the Weight Loss Equation
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been working out regularly since 2010. I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to work out at lunch and eat at my desk. It would be infinitely harder if I had to wake up at 5am, or take time away from my family after work to exercise. I’ll confess that advantage.
I run three times a week and swim two. I take weekends off, but still burn a lot of calories doing yard work and hiking, or chasing the kids around.
You don’t have to do that much. You really don’t have to exercise much at all. It just makes weight loss so much easier.
I told MyFitnessPal I wanted to lose twenty pounds in six months. It gave me 1800 calories a day to deal with.
Any exercise I did is added on top of that. So most days I would have around 2200-2500 calories to ingest.
With a mostly vegetable diet and regular exercise, this meant I could still reasonably indulge in the finer things – beer, liquor, dessert, things covered in cheese, etc.
The more you workout, the less you have to worry about your calories. The better the combination of exercise and calorie control, the faster your results will come.
That’s really all there is to it.
I understand it’s different for everyone. Some people have disabilities, and the older you get the harder it is to shake weight off. I’m not trying to pretend this is some panacea.
But I do think it’s a start. If nothing else, use MyFitnessPal for a few days just to see what your intake is like. It may be higher than you think, or it may be lower. You may find you need more protein, or less sodium, or more vitamin C. Something in there is bound to help you.
It’s better to know than to wonder. Then you at least have the option of making a choice, or sticking with your usual.