This was my main concern and my first question to my cousin Sarah, a physician assistant, over five years ago when she approached me about the need to lose weight. In her professional opinion, I was at the beginning of a decline that would lead to my early demise if I didn’t do anything to stop the trend. All the data was right before my eyes, yet I ignored or disbelieved all of it to continue to live in a world of denial. However, the walls were crashing in around me as symptom after symptom began to appear, shattering the myth of, “Everything’s okay being obese.”
Fatty liver disease. Tingling in the lower extremities. Bleeding gums. Rapidly decreasing eyesight. Type-2 Diabetes. Cholesterol levels rising. Circulation problems in my big toes. Inability to tie my own shoes without holding my breath. That last one is the one that finally got me to consider losing weight. Why? I don’t know why that’s the one that made me realize I needed to make changes, but if I pinpoint a single moment, that was it. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
So when my cousin asked me if I wanted to lose weight, I told her I didn’t think it was a realistic possibility for me because not only was I unable physically to do any meaningful exercise, but I hated it. I disliked discomfort, especially the discomfort of an obese man trying to exercise. She then followed up my question with another question: “What if I told you that you can lose weight and get healthy without exercise?” I answered, “Then I would think you’re lying or that it’s not possible. But I’m interested; go on.” And go on, she did. She told me about Whole30 and Paleo and how they had been so successful for her and many people she knew. That she was friends with the people who started the Whole30 program was an interesting aside, but not necessarily important to me. Well, okay; it was a little important knowing that it was developed by people in the medical community. But while I’d actually read about Paleo, I hadn’t heard about Whole30. As she explained it to me, it made sense, and sounded like both something I needed, and something I could actually do. The seed was planted, and I began doing my own research.
A week’s worth of voracious reading led me to talk to my wife Sherry. After some back and forth, we decided to start a Whole30. I’ve talked about this part extensively before in this blog, so I won’t go into it again, but while it took a bit of convincing to get her on-board, she’s been the biggest ingredient to my success. We went through the process of getting rid of non-compliant foods, stocked the refrigerator and pantry with whole foods, and never looked back.
After about six months of Paleo, people began to notice my weight loss. Then they began asking me: “How much do you run?” “How much time in the gym do you need to spend to do what you’ve done?” “Wow, you must be so disciplined to spend all that time in the gym to lose that much weight? I could never do that!” Imagine their surprise when my answer was always, “I’ve spent no time in the gym and haven’t set a foot on a road or track to run. This was all accomplished with diet alone!” Most simply didn’t believe me, thinking I was trying to be modest or humble. Others assumed I had gone to a doctor for surgery to lose the weight so rapidly without exercise. Both of these groups of people were wrong. My weight loss was entirely and solely due to Whole30 and the Paleo Diet, which is to say, solely based on changing my diet.
What makes Whole30 and Paleo so different? They cuts out unneccessary foods that are high in carbohydrates and anti-nutrients, or nutrients that work against our bodies and promote inflammation and work against proper digestion. They also get rid of pre-processed foods and anything with added refined sugar. That last bit is, in my opinion, the most important one: cutting out added sugar, because our appetite is driven so much by our sugar intake. The more you have, the more your body wants, which drives more sugar intake, and the cycle continues.
So, when someone tells me that they’d love to lose weight but they hate exercise, I tell them, “I understand; I did, too!” They then jump to the assumption that I hated it until I bit the bullet and started exercising to lose weight, but that’s where they’re wrong. I started exercising because while I had lost a bunch of weight, I was weak. Since I had lost enough weight to get back into the military’s height and weight standards, I thought I might try to get back in the reserve or National Guard, so I began an exercise program to allow me to meet and exceed the minimum physical training standards. I can’t say I’ve ever grown to really love exercise, but I have come to enjoy it from time to time, and the more I’ve gotten into it, the less I find it annoying or boring. There are those days when I’d rather do anything else, but there are also days when I can’t imagine feeling any better, and that’s due in large part to my exercise regimen.
I have a saying I use often on this blog: You lose weight in the kitchen; you get fit in the gym. It’s why I hate seeing people, friends, or family concentrate so heavily on exercise to lose weight while ignoring their diet. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. A proper and reasonable diet is absolutely essential to losing weight and getting healthy. That’s not to say someone can’t have a slice of pizza here or there if they want. I only eat Paleo foods 99% of the time, but every now and then, when at a work function or social gathering and no Paleo options exist (my military training is a prime example), then I will eat what’s available. I just eat in moderation and try to mitigate the damage by making the best choices possible. But no matter how many calories I exert after those meals, the effects become apparent on me very quickly through bloating and water weight gain.
So, I’ve lost 150 lbs from my heaviest. I lost the first 130 lbs without any exercise at all, and lost (and gained) the last 20 lbs with exercise. I say I also gained it back because I replaced a lot of fatty tissue on my body with bulkier, heavier muscles. While my waist size has decreased, my weight has increased from its lowest point and has held steady for three years. As I continue to get stronger and faster, my waist size keeps getting smaller, my shoulders and arms keep getting bigger, and my weight is staying the same. I went from a person who despised exercise (an opinion I earned the hard way while on active duty in the Marines for 11 years) to someone who faithfully adheres to a strict exercise regimen. I won’t lie and say I love it; I don’t. I’d much rather be able to be fit and strong without it, but that’s not reality. To achieve the strength and fitness I want to have takes work, and at this point in my life, I’m willing to do the work to sustain this level of fitness I’ve reached. Heck, I’m still striving for more strength and speed. But I do it out of necessity, not because I love exercising.
If you have studied for a test when you didn’t want to but got it done anyway, it’s much the same thing, in my opinion. We do many things, not because we like them, but because we have to. We weigh the benefits with the efforts to determine whether it’s worth doing something. In this case, the efforts are well worth the benefits to me. My wife and I have not only lost weight and gotten healthier, but we have become much more active people; hiking, mountain biking, ziplining, kayaking, and I even flew a WWII biplane trainer; all things we could never imagine doing before Whole30, Paleo, and in many cases, exercise. My ability to serve this great nation as a Soldier in the National Guard is also something that would not be possible without a strict and vigorous exercise regimen. The new Army Combat Fitness Test is not easy, and requires a lot of pre-work to be able to pass even with a minimal score let alone to do well on it.
In closing, I know many people do not like seeing, “If I can do it, you can too!” but that’s what articles like this are really about, aren’t they? That’s what reading blogs are for versus reading mainstream articles. Blogs are personal, and are based on our perspectives and experiences. When I read a blog, it’s because I want to gain insight from someone who has been there or done that. In this case, I went from a person who flat-out rejected the idea of exercise to being a person who weightlifts and runs at least three times a week. I told you how I did it, and I told you why I did it. Now, it’s up to you to find your “Why” and then for you to “Do.” If you need any help with that, let me know, or reach out to someone at your local gym or running track/park. Even those of us who are not “Exercise people” can find a happy balance between the benefits and the effort. But there has to be effort. That part can’t be skipped if you want to be fit.
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