When is it too late to start a healthy lifestyle?

When you’re dead.

Me in the field in 2019.

Seriously.

I’ve heard too many people (FAR too many) tell me that they’re too old to change their lifestyle now, and that the benefits are not enough for the amount of discomfort they would have to endure.

First of all, none of us knows the exact day our life status will expire (unless you’re on death row, and even then, you will likely make an appeal or two). Second, the benefits from a healthy lifestyle begin almost immediately. I begin feeling better very soon after starting a Whole30, and the effect is pronounced after being off the Paleo Lifestyle for a month. And it only gets better.

It’s too easy to find excuses to NOT do something, but using your age as one of them is silly. The irony is that this is one thing that can likely increase the time you are alive and put off your expiration date.

If you’re one of those people who thinks it’s too late for them, I’m your poster child. I lost over 150 lbs and even re-joined the military at 49. At this writing, I’m 52 years old and in the Army National Guard. If I can do this (and I’m quite the lazy person), literally anyone can.

What My Meals Look Like

One of the most common questions I receive is, “What does the food you eat look like?” I know they don’t necessarily mean, “I want to see a picture of your food,” but I’m going to do that anyway.

My breakfasts are pretty basic, and have been for over four years: two eggs sunny-side up and two slices of low sodium sugar-free bacon. I then drink a cup of black coffee in the car on my way into work. This week, however, Sherry had a surprise for me; a Whole30 compliant casserole made with eggs, pulled pork, and apples. It’s delicious and very convenient to be able to heat up a slice in the microwave.

Lunch is typically something that Sherry meal prepped for us on Sundays. My favorite lately is a Cuban-inspired meal called Picadillo. She says it’s fast and easy to make, and it reheats well and tastes amazing.

Dinners are a mix between our meal prepped meals and freshly made food. Last night, for example, we had skillet steak with baked sweet potato cubes and asparagus.

I don’t count macros, and I don’t get too technical with weighing my food. I follow the, “This looks like a good amount to sate my appetite” rule which has worked well for me in the past, and is working for me now. When doing a Whole30, it’s against the “Rules” to weigh yourself, but that’s the one rule I break every time. Unlike some people, I am motivated when I see fluctuations in both rate and actual weight. If my weight holds steady or even goes up, it fuels my desire to make more progress and forces me to more closely examine what I’m doing to make sure I’m following the process. When it goes down, I’m rewarded and it reinforces the good habits. So far, I’m already down 4 lbs, though admittedly, the vast majority of that is surely just water weight from cutting out the sugar.

The single most important factor in our health is the food we eat. We are today a result of decisions of the past. I am overweight today because of poor decisions over the past year culminating in a disastrous last quarter of last year, exacerbated by two debilitating sports injuries and a final month of abandon. I’ve turned all that around not because it’s a new year, but because timing worked out to coincide with the new year. My Achilles heel was finally healed enough to allow me to start running this week, and with my son going back up to North Dakota, my wife and I were able to focus on ourselves and our own diet.

I feel good today, and so far, I’ve not been experiencing the flu-like symptoms that come with a Whole30. In the past, I haven’t had strong symptoms, but in the past, I wasn’t consuming as much sugar as I had for the past month, so I’m expecting it any day. But when it comes, I’m ready for it. BRING IT ON!

Teamwork

One of the best things to happen to me has been meeting my wife. That I was able to convince her, after all the evidence to the contrary, that marrying me is a good idea, is nothing short of a miracle. Nearly 17 years later, I celebrate every day that I am married to my best friend and adventure buddy. She’s my favorite person, as I am fond of calling her. The reason I mention her is that because without her, it’s unlikely I’d be here. I mean, I’d be here, but I wouldn’t be the healthy person I am today.

When I decided to embark upon this journey to a healthier lifestyle, I knew very quickly that I was unable to do it without my wife. It’s not that I was unable to cook for myself; I am actually a pretty good cook. It’s not that I don’t have the discipline; I can be as stubborn as any person when it comes to reaching a goal and resisting temptation. It’s also not because I didn’t have enough desire to do it; I most certainly did. It had to do with the fact that being in a partnership, being half of a team, I wasn’t able to think of just myself. I couldn’t embark upon such a momentous journey without the buy-in, and of course, the help of my other half.

Doing something as huge as a Whole30 and then adopting the Paleo Diet was not something that I could undertake alone without affecting my wife. As my friends can attest, when you change your lifestyle so drastically, it effects everyone. My friends are amazing, and they go to great lengths to prepare foods that are Paleo-friendly (and even Whole30 compliant when we’re on a W30) for Sherry and I (because our friends are AMAZING people!!!). When you live with someone, they are affected more directly, and consistently with every meal. I couldn’t, in good conscience, do something as drastic as a Whole30 without her there with me.

Then, there’s the meal prep. Once I convinced my wife that we needed to be in this together, and she agreed, she began investigating the lifestyle in great depth and concluded that meal prep is key to success. The term “Meal prep” is short for meal preparation, and refers to preparing meals ahead of time and storing them for later use. In our case, meal prep primarily falls into lunches and dinners, but every now and then (and this week, thank fully), it extends into breakfasts. She spends hours in the kitchen on Sundays to make our lunches and dinners for the week which allow us to have Whole30 compliant meals that would otherwise take a long time after work to prepare, and would be impossible to find for lunches. Now, we have delicious and filling Whole30 compliant foods for lunch and dinner all week, and as I said earlier, this week, I even have a breakfast casserole (made with eggs, pulled pork, and apples).

I have heard from many couples about their desire to live a healthier lifestyle, and every now and then, I hear one half of a couple lament that their partner won’t join them on the journey. I encourage them to do the best they can with the situation. It’s not impossible to go it alone. I know people who have, and it’s worked for them. I have a friend whose husband is quite healthy, yet she had issues with weight gain. His diet was already pretty good, but hers always included sweets, snacks, and fast foods. She changed her lifestyle and became far stricter than he, and she was able to get healthy and lose weight without him having to change a thing. It’s possible to do. I just recognized that it wouldn’t be as easy for me, and that my changes would adversely affect my wife if she didn’t join me.

One aspect of our teamwork that I see as a key to our continued success is that we watch out for each other, and we are always trying to be our best selves while also being a good example to each other. When one of us is feeling weak or vulnerable to temptation, the other stands firm, and bolsters the other’s strength. When one of us is feeling down, or feeling like the process isn’t working, the other will offer words of encouragement, a shoulder, or a hug. We’ve been in this together now for over four years, and while most of the time we’re on the same sheet of music, so to speak, it’s in those moments of weakness where our teamwork swoops in and saves the day.

Can you do it alone? Yes. Is it easier to undertake a new lifestyle with your partner’s buy-in? I believe so. But remember: their support doesn’t always have to mean that they do the exact same thing as you. When I did keto for a while, my wife had to back out and she did Paleo. It worked for us; I was able to lose the weight I wanted to while ketoing while she continued on Paleo. She helped with my keto meals, and I helped when preparing meals to make hers Paleo. It was a logistical nightmare for us, and eventually I switched back to Paleo, but it was something we made work when we had to.

As with anything, in a relationship, communication is key. Talk to your partner and lay out the reasons you’re contemplating making a lifestyle change. Be sincere. Be honest. Your spouse, husband, wife, partner, and best friend will most likely support you. If not by eating the food you’re eating, at least through emotional support.

I No Longer Snore

This is something I don’t remember bringing up on my blog, but after losing over 100 lbs back in 2016, I no longer snore. This is a big deal, because I was a prolific noise machine in my sleep. I also had medically verified (via two horrible nights doing sleep studies) sleep apnea which was scary because I would stop breathing for long periods of time. It was bad enough that I was prescribed a CPAP which I used for a long time to help me get a full night’s sleep and rest.

When I began my health improvement journey, the last thing I expected to fix was my sleep apnea. I thought that once you got it, that’s just how it would stay: present and always needing a CPAP to sleep with. When my wife told me that I stopped snoring at night, it was amazing and coincided with my feeling better in the mornings. My mental clarity was likely due to more than the physical result of eating better, but also the result of getting more oxygen while I slept.

I no longer snore. This is a big deal for my health, and for my wife’s health. I no longer wake her up in the middle of the night with my snoring. I wear a Garmin 945, and it measures my O2 levels while I sleep, and I am consistently greater than 96% through the night, which is considered excellent/normal.

Then this morning, I see this story in CNN about how losing fat from your tongue is suspected as helping reduce the effects of and even eliminating sleep apnea. This is a case of science finally catching up to and verifying my own experience.

I mention sleep being important all the time, but quality sleep is super important. As you lose weight, and as your body sloughs off the fat, your sleep will improve, which in turn helps you sleep better, which in turn helps you lose weight easily, and the cycle continues.

If you snore and/or have sleep apnea and you’re overweight, there might be a cure. Just lose the weight.

An Honest Try?

This is an article where I will say things that I have never, would never, and will never say to someone to their face. It’s something I think to myself nearly anytime someone tells me that they tried Whole30, Paleo, or Keto and nothing happened. Before you go off on me, I am well aware of and know that all our bodies are different and that our genetic makeup plays a majority role in how efficacious a specific diet will be for us. However, there are a few key things I hone in on when they tell me about their forays into Whole30, Paleo, and Keto. These can be summed up as a lack of full commitment to the diet in both lifestyle change and diet.

These people say things to me like, “Well, I did Whole30 but it didn’t work for me. I just couldn’t get past not having my Diet Cokes, so I still did those, and I never lost any weight or got past the first week.” Or one of my favorites: “I just can’t live with a diet that is so restrictive.” Restrictive of processed foods, sugar, and (here, I’ll admit) grains and dairy. However, there are so many foods a person CAN eat, I don’t see the problem here. Besides, the “Food groups” myth has been debunked for a long time by many sources. Google it.

More things I hear (and yes, I know this post is beginning to sound like I’m a Negative Nancy and snarky, but I hear this stuff every day. Every. Single. Day.) I don’t solicit it, either. People who find out I lost a lot of weight are initially excited because they think I have some cheat code to losing weight. In many ways, I believe that I do, but when they find out that there’s work to be done in changing behaviors, habits, and food content, they immediately put up walls and don’t even want to consider it. For those who have tried, I wonder how hard they tried. How honest are they being not only to me, but to themselves? How closely did they actually follow the diet? Did they actually give the diet a chance to work? Did they get enough sleep? Were their portion sizes reasonable? How often did they cheat? Nothing happens in a day or three. Nothing happens when you sabotage yourself consistently by cheating here and there. It takes weeks or months to get solid progress. It takes discipline. It takes being honest with yourself with what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

If you want to get healthy and lose weight, do yourself and everyone around you a huge favor: do the work. Be honest with yourself first. Do what the plan says. Don’t change or modify the diet. Get enough sleep. Add in some movement/exercise. But whatever you do, don’t sabotage yourself or your progress with cheats, and don’t settle for anything other than 100% of your effort. Anything less does you a disservice and is just wasting your time.

Must Weight Loss Be Accompanied By Pain?

This is what discomfort looks like.

Discomfort? Yes. Pain? Definitely not.

“But you said that weight loss and fitness comes with discomfort and pain!” Yes. Weight loss AND fitness come with discomfort and pain. Weight loss alone doesn’t have to be painful. Will changing one’s lifestyle cause discomfort? Sure. But not pain. Getting fit, on the other hand, will most definitely involve pain. I’m experiencing that right now, as my legs burn from the last two runs I completed in the past three days. Today will be another rest day to give them more time to recover, but I’ll be back to running again tomorrow. But you know what’s crazy? They hurt far less today after last night’s run than they did yesterday. And I know from past experience that they will hurt less tomorrow, and on the morning after tomorrow night’s run, they will hurt even less as my body begins adapting to running.

Weight loss is accomplished primarily through diet. Yes, burning calories will create a caloric deficit which leads to weight loss, but that can be done through diet when you cut out high-calorie foods, or dense caloric foods like grains. Fitness, on the other hand, is only improved through exercise.

When I lost my first 130 lbs, I did it all through diet alone. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Sure, I experienced the Whole30 Flu in the first week of my first Whole30, but afterward? Nothing. No discomfort, no false hunger, no appetite beyond normal, “It’s time to eat a regular meal” hunger. I was losing steadily and consistently 10 lbs a month and I was doing it without going to the gym, without running, without yoga, or anything at all. Friends I knew who were into health and fitness couldn’t believe my results were from changing my diet alone. The thing is, I didn’t see it as changing my diet for a short-term weight loss. I saw it as changing my lifestyle. This was something that I was going to do for the rest of my life.

The fact that I slipped back and re-gained a good amount of weight is testament to the fact that humans love food, and that allowing ourselves to eat off-plan is a very slippery slope that can very quickly get out of hand and out of control. Like any drug, sugar is addicting, and if you let a little in, it will take hold of you and make you crave more. Even this morning, as I write this, I find myself wanting something sweet. It’s been four days now on this Whole30, and I still have the cravings. Yesterday after lunch, it was the same. I finished a chicken breast that Sherry made in the Instant Pot with apples and walnuts served with mushroom caulirice, and about 20 minutes later, I wanted a dessert or something sweet. I instead made a hot cup of tea with lemon which sated the appetite and got me through the worst of it.

If that’s the only discomfort I’ll have while losing weight, I’ll take it! But for me, there’s more to this. I have to run to get back into shape for the military. Today, more than ever, my fitness is extremely important, so it’s a responsibility I do not take lightly. I’ve been pushing slightly harder than I normally would, knowing that I have training coming up that will require me to exert myself physically, and with the world scene being what it is, my very life and the lives of others may depend on my fitness. So, I endure the pain of pushing myself not because I’m doing so to lose weight, but because I need to strengthen my body.

So, if you want to lose weight, you don’t need to suffer a gym. You don’t need to get out on the street and run. You don’t need to contort yourself with Yoga, or spend 5% of your annual income on a Peloton. All you need to do is make some good decisions on the food you are going to be eating by doing some meal prep and then using discipline and make more good decisions when eating. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

My Process for Losing Weight and Getting Fit

What is my plan for losing weight and getting back into a high level of fitness? It’s pretty easy. It includes:

  • Strict Whole30/Paleo Diet (transitioning to Paleo after W30 is complete)
  • At least 7.5 hours of sleep each night
  • Exercise every other day for first week or two, transitioning to 6 days a week (letting each body area rest for a day after a workout)
  • NO SABOTAGE (that’s what I call cheat meals/food items/alcohol)
  • Be patient and trust the process

Doing those fivethings have helped me lose 130 lbs in one year, and over 150 lbs total in the past. Now, after a year of allowing myself to stray from this plan, I find myself heavier and out of shape (to be fair, I got out of shape due to two unrelated injuries three months apart from each other) and needing to lose the weight and get fit again.

The good news is that this plan works. It works surprisingly well. I say surprisingly because I was honestly surprised to see the weight loss rates I experienced on my first Whole30. I couldn’t believe that I was losing weight as quickly and as steadily as I was without doing any exercise. My entire life, I’d been fed the mantra that you have to sweat fat off to lose weight. My own experience was going against everything I’d ever been taught about weight loss from grade school to the Marine Corps.

I thought I might be sick, or something was wrong with me, so after a month, I had a physical. Everything not only looked normal, but vastly improved from a few months before. My blood sugar was normal. My liver enzymes were normal. I had gone from being a diabetic with fatty liver to having results that appeared to be from a healthy person. The tests were repeated, and the same results came back. Another physical three months later confirmed the first two. Fast-forward a year, and I was given a rigorous physical to join the National Guard, and passed the high standards for military service with flying colors.

The Steps In Depth

Diet

My method for lifestyle change starts with Whole30. All the information you need about Whole30 is available on the website, so I won’t go into it here. But I recommend you look at it there. Literally everything you need to start and complete a Whole30 is available, free of cost, at the Whole30 website. That’s what my wife and I did, and we trust in Whole30 to reset our appetites, to retrain our brains for proper portion sizes, and to reset our bodies to break any sugar addiction we may have regained.

The Paleo Diet is what we do long-term after completing a Whole30. The main difference is that The Paleo Diet allows you to have food items made from whole ingredients that mimic non-Whole30 compliant foods like cookies, pizza, etc. Whole30 works to not only reset your body chemistry to a baseline, but to also break you of craving certain foods. The Paleo Diet is good for cutting out the foods with added sugars, grains, and legumes, but some people can find it leads them back to eating foods that contain sugars or other non-compliant ingredients. Paleo bread is rarely as good as wheat-based bread (except when it comes to soda bread!), and some people craving a slice of bread can be lured into cheating.

Sleep

Why is this so high on the list? Because it’s the secret weapon that ensures that your body will lose as much weight as it possibly can. What most people don’t realize or know is that our bodies actually lose weight while we sleep. While you may lose water weight when exercising at the gym or on a run, your body doesn’t actually process that exercise and lose weight until you are lying in your bed, asleep. The more sleep you give your body, the more time you give it to lose weight. I have found that in the past four plus years, that whenever I hit a plateau, it was almost always caused by a lack of steady sleep. When I fixed that, the weight loss trend continued.

Exercise

This step isn’t necessary. I know that it’s not something you expect to read on a health and fitness blog, but it’s true. I lost 130 lbs in one year without a single step of exercise. Not a single drop of sweat was expended to exercise, yet I lost weight steadily, consistently, and safely. How? By eating right. Nothing more, nothing less. I was actually very insistent about not exercising for that first year because I wanted to see if it was possible to lose the weight without exercise to prove it not only to myself, but to those who read my blog. When I added exercise to my plan, I lost an additional 20 lbs.

No Sabotage

This is what I call cheating. Cheat days, cheat meals, etc. I’ve read other diets and blogs from other fitness gurus and experts who say that cheat days and cheat meals are okay. THEY ARE NOT! They set you back and put you at jeopardy of failure. It’s like what they say about heroin: NOT EVEN ONCE. I have learned the hard way, more than a few times now, that once you start to let yourself cheat, it snowballs. I am now 40 lbs heavier than I was a year ago because I allowed myself to eat a meal here and there, or to have a few drinks here and there which escalated into a much less healthy lifestyle. Like a drug addict, I thought I had it all under control until I didn’t. It took me feeling incredibly uncomfortable in my dress uniform to realize the damage I’d done. You have to remain vigilant and just say no to those temptations that come along.

Patience

This is another secret to weight loss and fitness that nobody talks about. You hear things like, “Do the work!” and “You have to work hard!” but nobody acknowledges that these changes take time. Sometimes, a long time. When I undertook a healthy lifestyle back in 2015, I lost 20 lbs in the first month. You’d think that I was ecstatic, but truth be told, I wasn’t. I couldn’t SEE the change. Sure, the scale was rewarding me with smaller numbers, and yes, even my pant size changed slightly, but I was so heavy that 20 lbs was a drop in the bucket. It would take another four months before I looked in the mirror one day and the face looking back at me was a face I hadn’t seen in a long time; my face. My not-so-fat face. You can’t get fit in a week, and you can’t lose significant weight in a month. The more weight you have to lose, the more patient you need to be, because you didn’t pack it on overnight. Losing it will take longer than it took to put it on because our bodies are stubborn and optimized for survival. Your body will do everything it can to hold onto the fat stores.

There are other things within these steps, like food-prep, portion control, discipline, determination, motivation, perseverance, etc. They are all important, but in themselves, won’t do anything for you. Follow the five steps, and you will find success. Decide to start. If you have already undertaken a healthier lifestyle, commit to it 100%. No sabotage. There is no finish line, but the road gets much smoother when you’re doing the right things.