I said it. It’s harsh, ugly, and something none of us wants to hear, but if it’s the truth, then it needs to be said.
Now that I’ve said it, let it sink in. This didn’t happen over night. It didn’t happen through mere breathing. Nobody is “Big-boned.” The plan truth is that you’ve eaten more calories than you expend. Your body, being made up of DNA that, through the ages, has made improvements to how we store calories for those lean times, has taken the excess calories and turned it into an energy storage medium that our bodies use when we don’t get enough calories. It’s called lipid, aka FAT. The bigger problem is that you never allowed your body to receive fewer calories than its taken in which leads to more and more storing of these fats. After a long time, the internal structure of your body is that of a hoarder; full of junk (fat) that’s difficult to get rid of without professional help.
The first step in getting rid of a hoarder’s stash is for the hoarder to accept that they have a problem and that they need to make a drastic change in their life to change. I have seen first-hand a friend of the family go through this. She’s recovering from being a hoarder, and there are times it’s tough for her, but she’s doing great with a lot of support from her family. Getting rid of the fat is the exact same thing.
Admit you have a problem, and that problem, is your lifestyle.
If you can’t admit this or fail to recognize it, stop reading and look elsewhere. I’m not going to sugar-coat the issue, and not only because sugar is horrible for you! I’m not going to sugar-coat it because the time for being nice about this is over. It’s done. If you’ve reached the end of your rope as it pertains to your weight, then you’re still reading, and you want help. Good! That’s promising.
Then let’s continue.
“Losing weight is hard!” Some say that gaining weight is easy and losing it is hard, but that’s not true. Gaining weight is hard to do if you eat good foods. What makes gaining weight (getting fat) easy is that we eat foods that are so calorie-dense that we don’t consider the effect. Through the course of human history, we had to eat a lot to stay alive. Human bodies are horribly inefficient. That’s why our ancestors ate bacon and eggs for breakfast, had a big calorie-rich lunch, and a reasonable dinner to stave off hunger until morning. Our ancestors worked a lot harder and life was more physical, even for office workers. They didn’t have cars to ride to work in; most walked, and even if they took public transport in those cities that had it, they still had to walk to and from the train and buses, and had to walk up and down stairs, etc. You get the picture. In those days, gaining weight was hard because the amount of calories burned was pretty big as compared the amount taken in.
Enter fast food. With the advent of fast food came mega-calories. Us humans love food that has fat, salt, and sugar. Our brains are wired for this. This desire to consume is a mechanism through which our bodies ensure caloric intake for storage for later use. With fast food came (frankly) really great tasting food that was fairly inexpensive, but horribly bad for us. In the beginning, people thought it was the fat. For nearly 60 years or so, the Government has been telling us that fat is bad while not even considering how harmful sugar is to our bodies. Lo and behold, this past week, the Government released new healthy eating guidelines. Guess what. Sugar is the culprit. Scores of studies have been bearing this out and have been telling us to limit our sugar intake, yet I called BS on it all. In the face of all the evidence, I stuck to my guns: “Calories are calories.”
I was so wrong.
I finally reached a point with my own health that I could no longer ignore: failing systems due to neglect and abuse. I began having nerve issues and blurred vision due to high blood sugar. I had enzymes in my blood that indicated fatty liver. If left unchecked, my liver would fail to function properly and I would die. My cholesterol was surprisingly in-check, but was on the rise after decades of never being considered a risk. My weight was in the unhealthy-obese range. My knees and ankles were always in pain, and I could no longer reach down to tie my own shoes. We won’t even talk about being able to see below my gut. Something had to change, and it had to change fast or I was on a fast-track for death.
I’m only 48. I’m not ready to die.
I talked with my wife. Much like a hoarder, I needed help. Together, we researched nutrition and exercise on the web. With help from my amazing cousin Sarah and gentle nudges from my sister Julie, my wife and I found our way to Whole 30. The idea with Whole 30 is not solely to lose weight. In fact, they say that it’s not a diet for that, although most people do experience weight loss with it. It’s actually a way for us to wean ourselves from sugar, carbs, and processed foods. It’s a method through which we can learn about our bodies, what our bodies like and what our bodies have negative reactions to. I learned that potatoes are a food I can’t eat in small quantities; something about it makes me want to keep eating non-stop. My wife discovered that her body swells when drinking milk. These are things we didn’t know our entire lives.
Did I lose weight with Whole 30? I did. I lost 20 lbs in one month. Is this the result everyone will have? Of course not. Keep in mind I weighed 290 lbs. 20 lbs isn’t that much as a percentage of my entire body weight at the time. What was more important was the next step.
Like a hoarder, I had to change my lifestyle in order to make a durable change. I needed not only outside help (my wife), but a new mindset to allow me to move on from the behaviors that led to my being in this condition in the first place.
Whole 30 got me weaned of sugar, and in the process, it took away my non-mealtime cravings. Do I get hungry? I do, but now, typically only when it’s time to eat, or when my body really needs nourishment. There’s a huge difference between cravings and being hungry. That’s something I didn’t know before Whole 30. Well, maybe I did, but not for a very, very long time.
Now that I was weaned of sugar and free of cravings, my wife and I set to what is called a Paleo diet. I don’t necessarily believe that cutting all carbs is a good idea, but limiting them severely has been a life-changing decision for both my wife and I. I still have vegetables with every meal, but I very strictly limit what these vegetables are, and the amounts. I eat three times a day, and each time I’m done eating, I feel full. Another new sensation for me in the past few weeks; reaching a point at which I literally cannot eat anymore while there is still food on my plate.
Like many people, I grew up with parents who lived through either poverty or famine. Those parents would admonish us children to finish all the food on our plates. We didn’t know how good we had it, they would tell us. There are starving kids in Africa, they would remind us. What they were doing was setting me up to be fat. Psychologically, it is still difficult for me to not eat everything on my plate, and I’m 48 years old. They didn’t do this maliciously; it came about as a result of their own life experiences. I forgive them for this.
Can I get rid of the fat without effort? Can a hoarder clear a home of all their goods without effort? The answer to both questions is no. Effort must be exerted. In my case, the effort I exert is psychological. I am very strict with the foods I eat and the amounts I eat. My wife does both psychological and physical; she now runs most mornings and does something physical at least six times a week. My good friend Matt, who is the poster boy for looking and being fit, told me when I began my journey to healthy living that diet was 90% of weight loss while exercise was only 10%. I hoped he was right, and it turned out he was. In my case, it’s been 100% of my weight loss as I haven’t begun any exercise regimen yet. As of this writing, I’ve lost nearly 63 lbs (62.8 if you want to split hairs) without any exercise outside of walking in my daily life and the occasional bike ride or festival (which makes one walk a lot). Has it been easy? Honestly? Kind of. I can’t believe that I’ve lost as much as I have through diet alone, but I know that there will come a time when that will not be enough, and I will have to augment my weight loss with exercise. Why? Because I’m still in the obese category, weight 227.1 lbs at 67″ tall. My body fat is at 30%, and healthy is considered 26% or under. When you’re obese, it’s kind of easy to lose weight if you limit your caloric intake and eat the right foods.
And there I said it: “Eat the right foods.”
This is the part where I lose people (and frankly, I can’t believe you’re reading this far, but if you are, congratulations! You recognize that not only are you fat and that you have a problem, but you want answers). You will have to give up certain foods forever.
That’s a mighty long time, but you really have to decide whether you want to die early or live a long, healthy life where you can be mobile, have fewer health problems, and be able to actually enjoy just being.
I was none of those things until I started eating right.
So I keep saying it, but by now, you’re wondering: “What’s eating right?” It’s kind of simple. Really.
- Eat meats. Chicken, pork, beef, and especially wild fish.
- Eat vegetables. Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, spinach.
- Use real butter, coconut oil, or nut-based oils (olive oil is good, too).
What do you need to avoid? This list is a little longer and may look painful on first glance, but keep reading after you read the list and hear your inner sugar addict scream to you, “No effing way!”
- No added sugars. None.
- Anything with added sugar in the ingredients list
- Sauces, pre-made microwave foods (which typically use a lot of sugar)
- No carb-rich foods like:
- Beans (not green beans)
Yes, it’ s hard to give up pasta and bread. I’m part Italian; you’re not telling me anything new. But, seriously, this is it. It’s surprisingly easy to cut out added sugars and cabs when you get to eat bacon and eggs and steak and lobster and wild fish and barbecued chicken or pork. There are so many awesome, amazing, and delicious foods that I can eat that I don’t fixate on what I can’t have and concentrate on the things I can. Do I miss spaghetti and lasagna? Yes. Do I miss chocolate cake? Of course. Do I miss eating at Panera? Certainly. Do I miss weighing nearly 300 lbs? Not even a little. And honestly, that’s where I had to use a mind-hack to get past the initial shock of cutting out foods I loved.
There’s this thing called delayed gratification. It’s said that anything worth having takes time and effort to achieve or acquire. The way I see it, getting back to a healthy weight or BMI is an important goal of mine. It’s, right now, probably the most important thing in my life because I want to see grandchildren. I want to be able to annoy and molest my wife for many years to come. To me, all the effort I’m putting into my new lifestyle is a means to an end, although it logically has no real end. This is another big concept; you can’t diet to get to a healthy weight only to scrap the new eating plan and go back to unhealthy eating. But I’ll talk about that at a later time.
Back to delayed gratification. Many of us have worked toward something we couldn’t achieve in short-order with little effort. High school diploma? College degree? Certification? Completed boot camp? If you have one or more of these, you’ve done it before and you can do it again. This is a process that you can’t complete in a week or a month. In my case, it’s going to take nearly a year just for me to get to my target weight. What comes after that? Maintenance. That’s the part that will last forever. But again, I digress.
Let me address another thing that hurts people trying to lose weight: calorie counting. This is controversial, to be sure, but my wife and I have embraced avoiding calorie counting to great effect. As long as we eat foods that are good for us and don’t have excessive carbs or added sugar, our bodies will tell us when we’re full and we won’t over-eat. I haven’t counted calories in over four months, and I have lost a lot of weight. How? I know when I’ve eaten enough. The morning after a big day of eating, I step on the scale and it gives me feedback about how my body reacted to it. Is weight the only metric to use? Of course not. There’s also how my pants and shirts fit, how I look in the mirror, and most importantly, how I feel. Some foods make me feel badly afterward: I avoid those foods from then on.
If you are strong enough and brave enough to embark on the path to better health and eating right with the added bonus of getting rid of that fat you worked so hard to pack onto your body, then you need to be ready to make changes that require you to have discipline. Lots and lots of discipline. It’s easy to see a hamburger or slice of cheesecake as cheating, but here’s another mind-hack that has served me well. There is no cheating. Cheating is defined as to act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination or to avoid (something undesirable) by luck or skill. Sadly, cheating on your healthy eating plan is not cheating at all. It’s sabotage. Sabotage is to deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something).
Do not sabotage your health, your progress, or your ability to keep breathing.
When I hear people say they allow themselves a cheat day, I think to myself, “What advantage do they gain from this in the big picture?” Is it psychological? Nope. It’s a crutch for those who cannot commit to the lifestyle. It’s not healthy, it’s not good, and it’s not acceptable. Ever.
There is, however, a caveat.
We live in a social world. Our culture is one of fellowship and friendship shared among food. To be social means that you will find yourself in situations where there is food present that is not part of your healthy eating plan. In these instances, it becomes necessary to partake to avoid the social faux pas. You can pick and choose what you eat, though, and there are always the lesser of evils. Typically, cold cuts and hard cheeses are going to be your best bet. Stay away from crackers and breads and sugary desserts, but again, if it’s a birthday party, you’re going to have to eat cake. Avoid the frosting.
Again, is it easy? No, and I’m not saying it is, but it’s also not hard. It’s something you can do. How do I know this? Because I did it. I’ve lived through the initial struggles with Whole 30. I made the successful transition to a Paleo Primal diet as well as using concepts from the Keto diet. I feel great, my blood work shows I’m healthy, and the benefits I’m feeling on a daily basis far outweighs how delicious lasagna or buttered bread is.
I’m going to continue to update on my journey and answer any questions people have about my methods, diet, and exercise. I can only use my own example as I can’t say that what worked or is working for me will work for you. I know, for instance, that those without gall bladders can’t eat fatty foods like I can. The options for you gall-less people are far more limited, I’m afraid. For the rest of us, however, I’m fairly certain that if you can get it in your head that clearing your house of all the hoarded fat is within your power and you are dedicated to staying the course and not sabotaging yourself, then congratulations! I’m in your corner, and I’m here for you.
Now let’s get to it. Nobody likes being called fat, and I know from experience that the only thing worse than being called fat is actually being fat. Let’s work on getting rid of that label and becoming the person that we are trapped inside all these layers of fat. Let that healthy person out. You won’t regret it.