Three weeks ago I noticed that I was overweight again, but I’m doing something about it again.
I’m not quite sure what did it. Maybe it was the almost-nightly bowl of ice cream or maybe those french fries weren’t really counteracted by those side dishes of broccoli. Whatever it was, three weeks ago I noticed that bad eating habits had kicked my weight more than 15 pounds over my usual weight. Those 15 extra pounds I was carrying around weighed as much as a bowling ball.
I’ve had to lose weight before. Five years ago, I decided that I was tired of carrying around lots of extra weight. Back then, I noticed how bad things had gotten after a friend showed me a photo of that 194 pound version of myself at the beach. Back then, I decided to see if I could lose 10 or 15 pounds. After doing a bit of research, I implemented a series of the eating and exercise strategies that worked well for me. They worked extremely well. I’m going to share them in this post. I dropped more than 4 pounds per week, week after week, until my 194 pound carcass melted into 159 pounds, a swing of 35 pounds. After I got going with my program, it was almost painless. I found myself feeling better and I looked better. Based upon well-established statistics, I knew that I had substantially decreased my chance of being afflicted with heart disease, stroke and various kinds of cancer. I was comfortable wearing my clothes again and I was no longer obsessed with food. What was not to like?
I’m 5’ 11”. For most of the past five years, I have carried about 163 pounds. When I recently noticed my scale rise to 178 three weeks ago, then, I declared war. I’m fighting that war right now. I calculated that my approach will take me back at my normal weight in about 5 more weeks, a steady weight loss of about 2 pounds per week. It’s working like clockwork. In three weeks, I’ve lost 6 pounds. To give myself even more incentive, I’m making my weight loss ambitions public here!
This weight loss story is the sort of thing that has been told many times, of course. But I’ll continue.
Over the past year, I fell into some bad habits about eating well and working out. And to accelerate my weight gain, I haven’t exercised much. I normally commute 10 miles/day by bicycle, but extremely cold winter has hindered that. Also, I haven’t been getting enough sleep, a factor that is associated with weight gain. During the day, I work at desk job and I’ve been hovering over my computer several hours each night (much of it writing this blog). Further, I take care of my two young children quite often; it is hard to work out vigorously when one is with them. They just can’t keep up (although that is changing rapidly).
Now that we’ve had our winter thaw, I’m back on the bicycle almost every day. I don’t belong to any health club. My exercise program is virtually free. In addition to riding a bike to work (which saves 1/3 gallon of gas every day), I do floor exercises several times a week. I do these floor exercises for only 10 minutes, in accordance with many of the suggestions of a pretty decent book, Eight Minutes in the Morning, by Jorge Cruise.
Here’s a short version of my “secrets” for losing weight: eat reasonable amounts of good food and exercise. There’s no substitute. Don’t tolerate excuses out of your own mouth. Excuses are a dime a dozen and all of us have thought of all of them ready. Here are a few of my favorites. We live in a toxic society, nutritionally speaking. It’s really tempting to eat all those sugary fatty salty foods. It does take more effort to chop up some zucchini and stir fry at then to eat a big bowl of potato chips. I could go on and on. Tell your excuses to get lost.
When I try to determine a workable series of rules five years ago, I focused on several things. My number one rule was that my approach to eating could not require any daily menus. I wasn’t going to buy expensive concoctions or prepared foods. My approach had to be an approach that I could use anywhere, whether at someone’s house or a restaurant.
Substituting nutritious food for bad food at home was a terrific jump start for dropping pounds. In my case, I became sold that eating lots of whole grains (carbohydrates loaded with fiber) was a critically important basis for eating well. I work whole grains into my breakfast, lunch and dinner (here’s why). It’s really easy to swap out crappy cereal for cereal loaded with fiber. There are many delicious whole grain breads available for purchase (look for bread that has at least 3 grams of fiber per slice). I learned much about whole grains by reading Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating, by Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health.
When I decided that I needed to lose weight three weeks ago, I didn’t realize how many bad habits I had gotten into over the past year. It’s really easy to overlook all of one’s own bad habits. I started noticing that I was grabbing food for numerous reasons having nothing to do with hunger: anxiety, nervousness, stress and boredom. Many times, I was eating food when I was really thirsty and I should have been drinking water instead of eating.
What’s amazing though, especially this time, is how hard it is to turn around one’s habits. When we get into old eating habits, they are really hard to break. It’s like trying to turn around an ocean liner. One’s habits, especially one’s food habits, are quite personal. To change one’s food habits is to change one’s self; it is to reject one’s (own) self. The problem is that we tend to get used to ourselves and make lots of excuses for ourselves. We humans are capable of liking ourselves the way we are, no matter who we have become.
I’m three weeks into my better eating campaign, and I notice that I’m starting to rediscover the good habits that I initially learned five years ago. I’m eating more nutritious foods and staying away from processed foods. I’m staying more conscious of my food while I am eating it and I’m enjoying it more. Because I am again focusing on eating nutritious food (again, avoiding refined and over-processed foods lacking fiber) my metabolism has settled down. Before I decided to get with it again three weeks ago, I was finding myself looking forward to my lunch break even when I wasn’t really hungry. Now, because I’m eating well, I often find myself working straight through lunch, forgetting to eat. Sometimes I feel “fatigue” at one or two in the afternoon, and then I remind myself that I haven’t yet eaten. It’s not really fatigue that I’m feeling, but real hunger, something that I haven’t often felt during my year of bad habits.
I’m not suggesting that eating can’t be fun while eating well. I’m really enjoying those extra doses of vegetables (I usually stir fry them) and whole grains. I’ll still have a small cup of ice cream several times a week. Sometimes, when I crave sweets, I grab a small piece of good quality chocolate—I’ve found that a small piece of good chocolate (I use Dove chocolate bars these days) is much more satisfying that large amounts of waxy cheaper chocolate. The point is not that people need chocolate to lose weight–everyone will have their own favorite foods. The point is that a bite or two of highly craved foods often extinguishes the craving and, if one deprives oneself of those favorite foods entirely, one might “compensate” for the un-extinguished craving by eating huge amounts of food one doesn’t really want or need.
During my past 3 weeks improved exercise and better eating, I find that I’m sleeping better–when I’m working out, I feel refreshed after getting only 7 1/2 hours sleep each night, rather than eight. I’m happier. I think faster and remember more, it seems. And I’m losing weight.
Imagine if someone came up to you and said that they had an amazing drug that would make you feel much better, sleep better, enjoy life better and provide immunity from many horrible diseases. Imagine that the price of this proven life-lengthening drug was $10 per day, more than $3000 per year. Imagine all the people nonetheless clamoring to get their hands on such a drug! Well, there is no such drug, but there is a free way to get all of these same benefits.
As I’m writing this, I keep thinking that I’m saying nothing new at all. People know all these things. But maybe it’s worthwhile to share a story like this so that others who want to drop 15 or 30 or 50 pounds can be reminded that it can be done. A long journey begins with the first step, but that first step is the hardest of all the steps one will take.
So, without further ado, here the tips that I’ve used and I am again using. This is the list that hung on my refrigerator. After about a week, though, I knew these tips well. These are the same tips I’m now offering to anyone else who wants to drop some weight. I’m offering this program free of charge. If you are overweight, just follow this advice and you will lose weight. I guarantee it. It happened for me five years ago and it’s happening again.
So here is the information that worked for me. It starts with a declaration that reminded me that my quest was not so much about weight loss as much as attaining a state of health. Being at a healthy weight is not about not eating. Rather, it’s about eating well.
DECLARATION OF HEALTH
When Health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot become manifest, strength cannot be exerted, wealth is useless, and reason is powerless.
Herophilies, 300 B.C.
How Much to Eat
- A well-tuned body is potent mental medicine. Your mind will follow the body’s lead.
- Articulate your specific reasons for committing yourself to an energized existence, now and for decades to come. For instance, become a savvy eater to show that you really care for loved ones. Do you really want to be around for your children/grandchildren?
- 65% of Americans are overweight. A healthy BMI is less than 25 and closer to 21 (at 23 we are still 3 times at risk for adult onset Diabetes). Think like a thin person. Become a believer that your body is well-tuned only when your BMI is in the low 20’s.
- Eat only until you are “70% full” (the European approach, as to the American approach (eat until you’re full).
- Consciously identify seductive marketing and incessant social pressures to eat poorly and to eat when you’re not hungry. Clocks and other people are incapable of telling you when you are hungry.
- Eat only when you’re hungry, not when you’re thirsty, bored, frustrated or trying to be polite.
- Put the fork down when you’re no longer hungry. Food is much better off in the Tupperware (or even the trash) than in your full stomach. Praise yourself for leaving unneeded food on the plate.
- You would never tolerate it if someone else forced you to eat food you didn’t need. Don’t do it to yourself.
- Choose small portions & beware huge desserts.
- When dining out, think seriously about splitting a single meal. My wife and I do this sometimes, and I’m always surprised that I am perfectly satisfied eating only “half” a meal.
- Spoil your appetite, so not to eat ravenously later. If you’re really hungry an hour before a planned meal, have a snack.
- Starving yourself slows metabolism and burns muscle tissue. Starving, then, is not a sustainable approach to losing weight.
- Slow down and eat consciously. Enjoy each bite. Eating should be pleasurable. Overeaters are always thinking of food, except while eating.
- Focus on eating well, not on avoiding bad eating.
- Don’t beat yourself up for eating lapses. You’ll use bad judgment here and there. Don’t make an enemy out of yourself. That makes it much harder maintain your enthusiasm.
- Get enough sleep, or else you’ll reduce your metabolism and affect your levels of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full. When levels are low you crave sweets and starches. Sleep deprivation also reduces growth hormone, which affects your body’s proportion of fat to muscle and repairs muscles.
- Beware eating too much on while traveling away from home. Exposure to too many large restaurant portions, and the fatigue of traveling, encourage weight gain. Also, I have an often-recurring thought that taunts me on the road:
- Don’t eat a little extra just because you are not at home, where food is easily available.
- Be good to your carcass. You are your body. Treating it poorly is self-mutilation.
- Strength training increases your metabolism by 7-12% for 15 or more hours. Do it each morning for 10 minutes to add a bit more muscle. It is really effective, though it doesn’t sound possible. A pound of muscle burns 50 cal/day more than a pound of fat. Here’s a book I recommend on short daily sessions of exercise: 8 Minutes in the Morning: A Simple Way to Shed up to 2 Pounds a Week Guaranteed, by Jorge Cruise
- Cardiovascular exercise increases metabolism for an hour after activity. This burns extra calories and is essential for your heart and lungs. Briskly walk or bike whenever possible.
- Track your progress once per week by getting on a good scale. Don’t weigh yourself every day. You’re body is telling you how much food it really needs, if you’re eating good food and staying away from starches and refined foods.
What to Eat & Drink
- Here is my “Bible” on how to eat: Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating, by Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health. Willett is an innovator, having argued way ahead of the crowd of the dangers of trans fats and of the need to drastically renovate the “food pyramid.” The pyramid has been changed drastically, adopting many of Willett’s suggestions, though many of Willett’s recommendations were ignored.
- Substitute whole-grain carbohydrates for refined-grains (e.g., amaranth, barley, brown rice, bulgur, corn, millet, oats, rye, spelt, tritclale, wheat berries, and wild “rice”).
- Beware the starches: white rice, potatoes, pasta and highly processed bread. These cause insulin to spike. Eating these is like eating pure processed sugar.
- Replace saturated fats (e.g., meat & dairy) and trans fats (i.e., “hydrogenated” processed foods) with unsaturated fats (e.g., flax, canola, and olive oils).
“Cholesterol free” does not mean lack of trans fats.
- Do eat good oils, including omega-3 oil, and smaller amounts of omega 6 and 9. These oils suppress the appetite by activating brown fat (as opposed to white fat), responsible for 25% of the fat calories burned). For an easy source of omega 3 oil, grind up flax seeds and throw a tablespoon or two on your cereal.
- Use liquid oils (flax, canola, olive) in lieu of butter or margarine.
- Eat plenty of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (lean toward the dark leafy lettuce).
- Eat flax, fish, nuts, canola, and soy. Soy, however, acts as a phytoestrogen. Limit it to 4-6 servings/week.
- For protein, eat a healthy mix of nuts, beans, chicken and fish.
- Nuts contain fat, but it’s mostly good fat. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, taking fat out of one’s diet can do much more damage.
- There’s no privileged place for dairy products in a diet, many of which are linked to prostate cancer. Calcium can be found in many foods other than dairy. Consider soy milk.
- Use alcohol in moderation.
- I take half of a daily multivitamin.
- Drink lots of WATER. Reduce caffeinated drinks;
- For snacks consider nutritious food. Don’t overlook the great taste of real fruit & fruit smoothies (but avoid fruit juice), whole grain cereal in soy milk, brown rice, beans, seasoned whole grains, stir-fried veggies (e.g., spinach or bok choy), whole wheat breads, popcorn.
- Have healthy food & water easily accessible (e.g., in kitchen & backpack) and avoid bringing home processed or refined food products, to maintain positive momentum.