I was always fat
I’ve always struggled with my weight. I noticed I was heavier than other kids back in the fourth grade. Well, maybe I didn’t notice as much as I was told that I was heavy. Fourth graders aren’t famous for being tactful. Things only got worse when I left my home town to go to a private school in the seventh grade. Not only did I leave my friends of seven years, I was entering the most socially brutal time in life as a chubby kid among several thousand new faces (it was a big school). Suffice it to say that I was teased, and that teasing caused a rather unfortunate spiral into the bottom of many, many french fry boxes.
After three years of eating, struggling, teasing, bullying, and an all-around “not great” experience, one of the few friends I had suggested that we join the wrestling team. It was my sophomore year in high school, so I figured that the extracurricular activity would be good for my college applications. I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t know it at the time, but that experience would change my life. My time on the wrestling team deserves its own post, later. For now, let’s just say that I started my sophomore year at roughly 180lbs (on a 5 foot frame), and ended my senior year some 45lbs lighter, and a few inches taller.
16 Years hence, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. It hasn’t been a smooth climb to fitness, but it has been insightful. About four years ago, after another major life change, I was back to square one. I was nearly 40 lbs overweight, and absolutely sedentary. I was eating and drinking as if each meal was my last: giant helpings of pasta, white sauce, all kinds of sausage, steaks, beer, wine, and more beer. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. Something had to change. The obvious first step was exercise. The less obvious zeroeth step was changing my diet.
Making the change
I read numerous articles about how nutrition science had changed since I was young. I remember the food pyramid we were taught in school: 4-4-3-2-1 of bread, fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, and fat respectively. It turns out that I should have been reversing that order. Yes, I just linked to a ketogenic diet FAQ. The resource I used to plan my new diet isn’t available anymore, however it was similar to “keto,” but used a carb cycling method instead. I actually increased my fat and protein intake, and decreased my carbohydrates (save for two days per week of carb-loading). The idea behind the dietary change was to correct leptin resistance, and get my body to react properly to “feeling full.”
This is in stark contrast to conventional nutrition taught in the 80’s and 90’s: fat makes you fat, protein causes cancer, and if you’re still hungry you can fill up on rice. That last statement got me every time. I could eat rice until there wasn’t any left in the house. Why? Because I wasn’t full. My brain wasn’t getting the “I’m full” signal from consuming fat, because I wasn’t eating any fat. I was getting lots of calories, huge insulin spikes, and no real nutrition.
Calories in, calories out
Beyond modifying my diet, a friend of mine (also a personal trainer) made it clear that “calories in versus calories out” was the bottom line when it came to weight loss. While eating more fat and less carbs helped control my hunger, I still had to keep a food diary. For that: Livestrong.
For the past few years, I’ve been using Livestrong.com’s calorie and exercise tracker. At first, I used it because it had an iPhone app (all the rage at the time). Since then, I’ve migrated entirely to using it via the traditional web interface. Entering meals is just faster that way. It also seems like the only way to enter meals including custom recipes is to use the web interface. The iPhone app costs a few bucks, but using the web interface is free; signing up for an account is free either way.
After entering a few days of meal data (and being honest about it), it was easy to see how I stacked-up against my calorie goals. For the first few months, I was constantly pushing to beat my daily estimated calories by 200+, while keeping my sugar and carbohydrate intake low. Keeping a food diary is generally considered a very healthy way of losing weight. I didn’t think much of it at first, but it really works.
I started to see results before I felt them. My moobs (man boobs) were looking considerably less pointy. Yes, I’m not afraid to admit that I had a serious case of pointy man boobs. My cheeks started to shrink back onto my face. According to Drew Carey, face fat is the hardest to lose. It’s true, but I seem to have misplaced the chins that prove it.
What really turned the tide in my diet was when I first felt my metabolism start working properly again. It took about a year of maintaining the diet (with a few slip-ups and vacations along the way) when I noticed that eating fatty foods actually made me feel full. I ate a reasonable 10 ounce portion of ribeye steak, and actually felt sated. I didn’t want dessert. Later, I realized that after intense exercise, I was hungrier than usual. I could eat an extra 200 calories before becoming full if I was eating after a workout. Changing my diet really worked. Now, I only eat when I’m hungry, and have a good handle on that natural signal that tells me to stop. This happens to coincide with 3 meals/day, with one or two snacks.
Weight doesn’t matter
Why didn’t I mention any hard weight numbers after I changed my diet? Because it didn’t matter. I stopped using my scale over a year ago. Weight wasn’t a good indicator of my overall health. It is simply more effective to track my calories, eat only when hungry, and get a decent amount of fat in my diet than it is to weigh myself.
I’m glad I shared my experience. Adding diet and exercise to my lifestyle was the biggest positive change I’ve ever made. Admittedly, making these major lifestyle changes was easy for me as a single guy, living alone, with access to the necessary fresh foods, exercise equipment, and copious free time. However, I suspect that the basic principles of keeping a food diary, and working to get control of your metabolism can work for almost anyone, in almost any situation.
The subject matter – especially diet and nutrition – is so deep that I can (and will) write another dozen posts on it. I’d also like to share my exercise routine, and some of my healthier recipes. Look for those in future blog posts. Thanks for reading!