I hate posting about weight loss here. It’s embarrassing. However, in case there’s other folks out there like me, I wanted to post my experience around diets and exercise, because it look me a long time to find what works for me. So if you’re not having a hard time losing weight, skip this post. If you are, read on….
How it all started: I’ve never been a skinny person. When I was in elementary school I was a little soft. When I hit high school, grew tall, rowed crew, rode bikes everywhere, etc… I became very fit. I was 6’2″ and about 180 lbs. As I matured, build more muscle, I went up to 200 lbs, and was very fit and looked good in my opinion. I’m not a bean pole, I have broad shoulders, strong bones, and am a big guy (not big round, but big big).
Eventually I moved across the country and settled down with my now-wife. I wasn’t going dancing at clubs, I wasn’t skipping meals due to my crazy schedule, I wasn’t walking around the city. I was mostly sitting in my chair working, or eating great rich meals with my wife. It’s more fun to cook for two, so instead of eating cereal or a burrito, we’d have bread, salad, chicken pesto pockets, and something for desert. Also, my wife is amazing baker of pies. And she likes to nurture and show affection through cooking. So over the next four years the combined factors of less activity, more food, and growing older I went from 200 lbs to 265-270 lbs. It happened gradually, and I could still do the things I did just fine. I was still strong. But I was often tired, and I know it wasn’t good for my health. So I tried a number of things to lose weight and get in better shape.
Before we go any further I’d like to define two separate concepts:
- Being overweight: having excess body fat
- Being out-of-shape: lacking in muscle mass or cardio-vascular fitness
They are two very different things. Neither is good, but they have to be identified separately and attacked differently. There are tons of out-of-shape skinny people, and tons of overweight people with amazing strength and in some cases good cardio fitness. In ancient Rome gladiators regularly would eat a diet designed to build an inch or three of fat over their muscles. The fat would take a sword wound without bleeding much and without impairing the function of the muscle below it. Think natural armor.
For now I’m going to talk about losing weight, solving the being overweight issue. I will get to the being out-of-shape problem in a bit, but I think people push the two together way too much, and I’ll talk about that a little later as well.
I tried a number of things to lose weight.
Diet Pills: These work in that they reduce your appetite and probably increase your metabolism, however they made me very irritable, unpleasant to be around, and I dislike the idea of messing with my natural metabolism like that (I don’t consume much caffeine normally). I may have lasted one or two weeks before I realized I was snapping at my wife and I didn’t want that to be something I did.
Macrobiotic Diet: I hated the food. I’m a little picky it’s true, but I just hated 99% of the food. I was hungry and unsatisfied most of the time. I think I lasted a week on this before I had to quit.
Atkins Diet: I love starch. I really do. All of my favorite foods are high in starch. Going super low carb not only left me feeling unsatisfied all the time, but it made me ANGRY. Forget the irritability of the diet pills, when I was doing the low carb diet, I would be overwhelmed with a wave of raw fury, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was terrible. I’d randomly want to scream and beat people. I think I made it one or two weeks on this. Probably one. Call it starch addiction, call it what you will. I never want to feel like punching someone for no reason. The downsides weren’t worth it for me.
South Beach: Similar to above. I need as much starch and carbs as I need. Sorry.
Eating a balanced breakfast and 5-6 small meals throughout the day: I never used to eat breakfast. When I started having breakfast, I started getting hungry an hour later. Eating small meals through out the day just seemed to stoke this hunger. I was always starving. Maybe this is the small meals stoking my metabolism or something that’s supposed to be good, but the net result was that not only did I spend lots of time making and eating these little meals, but my entire workday was spent being extremely distracted by my hunger. It just didn’t work for me. I tried this one for three or four weeks.
One of the other issues that I had with all of these approaches is that I felt I was actively sacrificing and unhappy regarding food, and yet there was little measurable progress on the scale. Sure I was only able to keep on them for a week or two, but without positive reinforcement I couldn’t really keep going.
I’ve finally found something that works for me. I know there are tons of people out there who will say this isn’t healthy and I should be doing atkins, 6 meals a day, raw food, pick your flavor of the week, but you know what? It works for me, it’s healthier than being 270 lbs, and I’m happy.
This is what I do. For a week, I will eat between 1000-1200 calories a day. I try to get as close to 100 grams of protein a day as I can. I try to keep my percentage of calories from fat below 25%. If I miss, it’s okay. If I eat 1350 calories with 35% from fat, that’s okay. It’s not good to go under 1000 calories apparently, so I do what I can to keep above that. If I can, I go to the gym and do low impact walking on the treadmill (more on that later). After the week is over, I go back to eating normally. And by normally I mean that I still consider what I’m eating, but I don’t track calories. I don’t eat fast food, drink alcohol, drink soda much, or eat candy often, so my general diet isn’t too bad. Then after a few weeks of normal eating, I might do the 1000 calorie week again. No real schedule.
In one of my 1000 calorie-a-day weeks I will lose between 5 and 10 pounds. When I go back to eating normally I might gain back 1-2 pounds. But I never gain back more.
So how do you do a 1000 calories in a day? For me the easiest thing is to do this:
For breakfast I have a protein powder/water mix. I’ve selected a chocolate flavored protein powder which has the highest protein/calorie ratio I could find. My current one provides 25 grams of protein in 110 calories. It has one gram of fat and 2 grams of carbs. It doesn’t taste bad at all. It takes about 30 seconds to make and drink in the morning. I also have a multi-vitamin. If I’m underslept I also make a cup of Earl Grey tea. For some reason, having a protein-only breakfast keeps me from getting hungry for a long time. After the protein drink, I usually won’t feel hungry until 3-4 PM. That’s an awkward time for eating if you want to have dinner with someone, so I try to eat a little lunch around 1-2 PM.
For lunch I’ll have some yogurt (Yoplait: 170 calories, 33g carbs, 5g protein, 2g fat) or cereal (soy milk and total raisin bran: 270 calories, 50g carbs, 10g protein, 5g fat).
This means for dinner you have 700-900 calories free. You can eat almost anything (within reason) for dinner. Chicken burgers with swiss cheese, fajitas with cheese, burritos, all kinds of things. I can ensure I always get some starch to make me happy. Usually I’ll even end up too low after dinner and I’ll be “forced” to have some desert. I recommend the Warm Delights 150 calorie microwavable cake/brownie things. They’re quick, easy, and 150 calories each, and totally meet a craving for something sweet.
For me, this plan is really easy to maintain. I could do it much longer than a week if I wanted to, but I’m not sure eating <1300 calories a day for prolonged periods is a good idea. My understanding is that if you go much more than a week you run the risk of your metabolism dialing itself back to cope with what it sees as a long-term reduction in available energy. You don’t want that. So I do it for 5-8 days at a time. I almost never feel hungry or irritable or low energy. I generally feel great when I’m doing this, and I lose measurable weight in a few days.
It’s pretty straightforward. Forget all the diet plans, and good fat bad fat, good carb bad carb stuff. You just need to burn more calories than you take in. That’s it. So if I have a basic daily burn of 2800 (I’m a big guy and that’s my actual number based on basal metabolism measurement etc…), and I burn 600 calories at the gym, and I take in 1000 calories, then in that one day I’ve burnt 2400 calories. A pound of fat is 3500 calories. So I’ve done 2/3s of a pound in a day. That’s five pounds a week. I’ve actually found that I often loose more than that, not sure how, but hey.
It’s easy for me to do, it works for me, it’s quick, it’s painless. It may not work for you, but for me, it’s amazing.
I use FitDay to track calories and nutritional information in foods. It’s easy, it’s free. For instance today mine looks like this:
So yeah. That’s what I’ve found has worked. It’s taken me from 270 lbs to 238 lbs. I’ve never gained back more than 5 pounds even during the holidays. Your milage may vary. I’ll have a post about exercise up shortly.