I have never had problems with my weight. In my mind I will always be that skinny kid of 12 years old. Like a lot of guys, I never worried about how much or what I ate. Food was just this thing my body demanded. Likewise, I gave little attention to my physical shell, simply because it took care of itself. Youth bestows an effortless beauty and vigor, which most people appreciate only in retrospect. As Schopenhauer wrote, “Youth without beauty always has attraction; beauty without youth has none.”
As I approached my mid-twenties, my metabolism slowed down and my eating habits caught up with me. I woke up one day about a year ago and realized that I was overweight. I had tried to ignore the problem, but it was there in photos and in my ever expanding waistband. At my heaviest I weighed about 210 pounds. While this is not considered obese in a man over six feet tall, it was the heaviest I had ever been and it did not look good on me. I decided that I needed to do something because ignoring the problem wasn’t working. I tried several approaches but focused mainly on reducing input (calories consumed) and increasing output (energy expended). Eventually, I worked down to my current weight of just over 185 pounds for a difference of roughly 25 pounds. I’m working toward a goal weight of 170 pounds.
It was easy to lose the weight. The problem is deceptively simple. Weight gain is the result of consuming more than your body can expend. Our bodies are amazingly efficient and adaptive systems. If extra food is available, your body will store it as fat rather than waste it. This is how it should be. Add the relative physical ease of modern life with the high availability of nutritious food and you understand why obesity is such a problem. Fatty food is a quick phone call away.
During the course of my weight loss experience, I did not have to diet and everything was painless. As with most things, it just took some attention and time and is easier than most would have you believe. I will share what worked for me in case it can help you. I hope it does.
Measure it, Track it
I don’t advocate calorie counting because this is more work than anyone can be expected to do for the rest of their life, which is exactly how long you will need to maintain your ideal weight. However, until you measure something you cannot manage it.
I measure two things, the moving average of my daily weight (taken first thing in the morning) and everything I eat. I do not even know how to calculate a moving average. I just use the Google Fifteen Widget for the iGoogle homepage. It tracks and calculates everything for me and outputs a nice graph to show my progress. If the moving average trends down, I know I’m losing weight. If the trend moves up, I know I’m gaining weight. Some people will tell you that it is demotivating to weigh daily, however this helped me tremendously as I was able to adjust on the fly. As long as you recognize that your daily weight may fluctuate wildly and that the moving average is the key measurement, you will be fine.
I do not write down what I eat or keep a diet journal, but every time I sit down to eat I pause and consider what I’ve eaten that day. All I need to remember is what I’ve eaten that day. If I’ve had a couple slices of pizza or something similarly unhealthy, I will decide to eat a smaller portion or something with fewer calories.
Change the Way You Eat, Not What You Eat
Diets are stupid, conceptually. The idea is to motivate people by making them eat food they don’t like and banning foods they do like? This will not work. As Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided will not stand.” When you’re on a diet, you are at war with your sensual side. Your body doesn’t understand why it can’t have what it wants, it just wants it and knows when it’s not getting it. For example, I will never be a person who loves salad. That’s just not something I like. The solution is to trick your body into going along with the weight loss plan. There are a couple ways to do this.
Keep Eating Crappy Food, Just Eat Less of It
Many people will tell you fast food is bad for you. I imagine it’s no less healthy and probably more healthy than what you get at some of the places people like to eat. There’s no way Olive Garden, Chili’s, or Red Lobster is more healthy than McDonald’s. Most of the food in these places is larded up with fat and salt so you’re tempted to order Appletini’s or multiple glasses of overpriced ‘house’ wine because you’re artificially thirsty from all the added salt. Likewise, a tub of salad slathered in ranch dressing is NOT healthy. In general, any food you buy prepared sucks.
If you want a cheeseburger, knock yourself out. Just forgo the French fries and large carbonated beverage. You’ll spend less and eat less crap. Make compromises. Split a dinner portion and take half home for later. Always drink water with your meals. Never buy appetizers or eat all the chips and salsa on the table. At a fast food restaurant, the right portion size is available on the 99 cent menu. Get one small, cheap hamburger or whatever and call it a day. As someone once said, “The best exercise you can do is pushing yourself away from the table.’
Eat at Home, Eat Earlier
When’s the last time you made yourself an appetizer before dinner? When’s the last time you ate chips and salsa or a dessert with your meal at home? Seldom to never.
When you eat at home, you’re almost guaranteed to eat better and less, especially if you have a large family or live with a bunch of freeloading roommates who make you fight for that last taco.
In general, I like to eat around 6:30 or 7 at night. By the time I finish dinner, I know I’ll have 2-3 hours before I go to bed and then 8 or more hours on top of that until I eat again. This gives me over ten hours to burn the energy I just ate. Also, try to eat a modest dinner as it is the last meal of the day. Another easy-to-remember platitude: “Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for supper, and a pauper for dinner.”
Get a Gym Membership and Have Fun With It
I used to be against gym memberships because I’m a cheapskate. I had all sorts of reasons: it’s expensive, there’s a workout room in my apartment complex or at my office, I hate membership contracts, etc. The fact is, it is worth it to have a gym membership and it doesn’t have to suck. I work out at Lifetime Fitness where they at least don’t have contracts. It’s not bad at all.
The decision to get a gym membership was made easier when I admitted a few things to myself. Number one, I need to invest in my health and that investment (spending money every month) motivates me to get value out of it. Number two, free workout facilities suck. There is never enough equipment and I don’t want to work out with people I’ll see around the office or at the apartment complex.
I try to have fun when I go work out. When I first started going, I went every day, which was impossible to keep up. But, I did it for a reason. I wanted to create the habit of going until it was just part of my life. Now I keep a bag in my car and go every other day, at least three times a week. When I first started I would do 30-60 minutes on the elliptical or bike in addition to weights, then I discovered that this is not fun. Cardio is extremely boring and enjoyed by only the most dull or masochistic of people. I’m convinced that people stop working out because it’s not fun, even with an iPod.
How do you have fun at the gym? Instead of grinding out the cardio, I warm up by shooting hoops then I just lift weights until I’ve done my set for the day. If I’m taking my time, I’ll sit in the hot tub or wet sauna for 10-15 minutes when I’m done. If I go work out on my normally alternating days, I’ll do 30 minutes of cardio since I need to let my muscles repair from lifting weights. When you lift weight, make sure it is not too easy and not so difficult that you can’t do a set. To improve your muscles, you should lift to the point that the targeted muscles are exhausted. I’m convinced that lifting weights does more to burn fat than anything else. Unless you’re trying out for a marathon, why would you want to do cardio every time you work out?
Television by Appointment Only
It’s been a while since I’ve had cable, but Jody has it at her house and I’ve been amazed at how easy it is to get sucked in for hours at a time (I like Dirty Jobs, Man vs. Wild, and Cops). There is something going on in our brains when it comes to movement on a screen because television has the ability to maintain your attention like nothing else. In the past I have advocated against television, however since falling in love with Entourage on HBO, I am now advocating that you simply plan what you watch. Instead of plopping down and zoning out for several hours, look at what’s on and plan what you would like to see that week. Keep your total viewing to 2-3 hours a week. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the general improvement in your life. I read more, work more, go to sleep earlier, and get more done when I’m not tied to the TV.
Being overweight does not make you a bad person or unlikable. It’s just a problem of physical laws: too much input and not enough output. Personalizing a physical problem will not help you address it. Some of being overweight is genetic and part of who you are. If your parents are on the round side, you are likely to be on the round side. However, a distinction should be made between being thick muscled and being flabby. If you are barrel-chested or thick-shouldered, you will never be waif thin and that’s okay. However, if you’re muscled normally and covered with flab, this is a situation you can do something about. As important as it is to shed extra pounds, it’s equally important to shed negativity and try to help yourself. You can afford to be a little vain, as long as it helps you.
I’m curious what other experiences people have had. What has worked for you? What have you had trouble with?