Last year in early June, I was applying for life insurance. Of course, they do a lot of blood tests and they weigh and measure you and probably probe into your medical records. Turns out, I was too fat for life insurance. On June 16, I weighed 340 pounds. I’m 6‘2” which means by BMI was 43.6 which put me well into morbidly obese territory.
Despite my being overweight, I found out during the life insurance tests that all of my blood levels were fine but one: liver enzymes. Turns out I had fatty liver syndrome from the large amount of belly fat I had been carrying around for more than a decade. Men are especially susceptible to this because we carry so much of our weight in our abdomen. This leads to fat being deposited inside the liver where it limits the liver’s ability to do its job.
Like a lot of people, I had long thought about getting more active and eating better. This life insurance problem was the push that I really needed. Turns out that it coincided with a positive shift in my spiritual and emotional life that started back in January of 2012.
Today, as I write, I weigh 236 pounds and my BMI is around 30.4. I feel immeasurably better and can do things I thought impossible months ago. I exercise joyfully on a regular basis. I made it through the holidays eating all the wonderful treats my wife made and didn’t gain weight. I’ve learned a moderation and planning with regards to eating that I never knew before. So, how did that happen?
Tracking and Accountability
Because I’m a nerd, I of course turned to technology to help me with my goal.
I started tracking my food with pictures and text on a Tumblr blog. I was also documenting my workouts there.
About a month after I started, a coworker suggested I try out the LoseIt! site and app. That made all the difference. The iPhone app lets me search for calorie and nutrient content for lots of food and can scan barcodes for food purchased in a store. It can also track calories burned from lots of different kinds of exercise.
I also purchased a Withings scale which wirelessly sends my weight, BMI, and fat percentage to the LoseIt! app each time I step on it.
To keep myself accountable, I set up LoseIt! to update Facebook every time I worked out and whenever I weighed it would update with the amount gained or lost. Knowing that others can see your progress or lack thereof is a powerful motivator. There’s also no discounting have friends and family cheer you on.
LoseIt! has tons of nice features. I especially appreciate the graphs and weekly email reports.
Here’s a graph of my weight loss for the last six months. It shows a nice drop and smoothing out over the last month.
I focused on removing fats and carbs from my diets. I dropped the fried foods, the bread, the sweets, the sugary drinks all of that. I focused on lean protein and vegetables as much as I could.
The app started me out on a program with a certain calorie budget for each day. Exercise adds to the budget while food subtracts from that budget. My daily average of calorie intake for the last six months has been around 1200 calories. It has increased as I’ve gotten more fit and exercised more and my metabolism has increased. The app does a pretty good job of letting you manage or manipulate the budget to fit your needs.
Because of this lower caloric intake, I’ve learned to listen to my body better. I now know when I am full and when I’m actually hungry. I used to just eat as much as I had on my plate whenever it was time to eat. Now, I eat for fuel. I still enjoy treats and special meals from time to time. It’s actually more special and enjoyable now.
This graph shows the percentage of my calories coming from fats (blue), carbohydrates (gold), and proteins (green). One thing to point out is that I try as much as possible to have the carbs be complex carbs and not things like refined sugar. Still, when the wife makes a homemade “tres leches” cake, I’m going to eat some.
One tool I’ve used to get some good protein into my diet are protein or nutrition bars. I especially like the “Pure Protein” brand. These have carbs too, but they are limited and they can provide vitamins and minerals that might otherwise be lacking if you are limiting calories. Just be sure to read the labels carefully to be sure of what you are getting. Some protein bars are little better than candy bars.
For workouts, I started with the elliptical and walking on a treadmill. I could only do about 12 minutes on the elliptical on its easiest setting and could only walk for about 20 minutes. But I kept doing it.
Here’s a graph of my exercise calories by month for the last six months. Interestingly, I exercise more and harder now than I did in August, but I burn less calories. As you might imagine, moving a 340-pound body takes a lot more effort than moving a 240-pound body, so even a little less exercise back then meant more work.
When I reached about 280 pounds, I felt fit enough to try running. Given my size and history of knee issues, I was worried about injury so I wanted some guidance and pacing. I chose the Couch-to-5k app from Active.com. It walks you through 3 runs a week progressing in length and difficulty. Primarily, it uses interval training with walking interspersed with jogging. On about week 7 of the program. I had to backtrack a couple of times because I didn’t feel ready to move on or went too long between runs.
I found myself doing the elliptical about 3 or 4 times a week at the beginning. When I started adding in the running, it moved to 2 or 3 times a week with running being 2 or 3 times a week. I did occasionally mix in some light weights, but found I wasn’t seeing much benefit because I wasn’t doing it often enough.
The Couch-to-5k app pushes me as it should and I do try to run a little farther and faster with each run. On the elliptical, I’ve continually increased my speed and the resistance the machine uses, but I never really do it for more than 45 minutes at a time. In my research, working past that time frame has diminishing returns for weight loss. It can improve your performance or endurance but those weren’t my goals starting out.
With regards to weights, I recently bought Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength and plan to start a strength program in addition to elliptical/running. It professes a simple program of barbell exercises to gain strength and mass. No fancy machines or crazy exercises. Just four or five movements with impeccable form. We’ll see how it goes for me.
I won’t talk too much about finding the motivation for exercise. That differs for everyone. For me, the nudge provided by the life insurance debacle was enough to overcome a lifetime of being fat. It helps that I’m vain enough to want to be able to wear normal clothes. You’ll need to find that thing that gets you up at 4:30am in the cold and dark rain to get to the gym or to put on your running shoes.
I reached my goal of 100 pounds on Dec. 21 (appropriately, the supposed last day of Earth). Since then, I’ve focused on maintaining my loss and pushing my exercise to new levels. Even through the holidays, through discipline and moderation, I saw no weight gain despite enjoying my fair share of cakes and sausage dips and the like.
This has become a new way of life for me. It’s not a diet I’m doing or a exercise plan. These things have just become a part of the way I live.
Through a combination of carefully tracking my caloric intake and macronutrient balance while continually pushing myself harder and farther with exercise, I’ve been able to steadily decrease my weight, gain more energy, sleep better and wear clothes not bought in the big and tall section. As the saying goes, if I can do this, so can you.
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