Warning: this very long post is not intended to come across as boastful but it almost certainly will read that way. I’m certainly proud of what I’ve accomplished but please believe me when I say the intent is more to pass along some suggestions on things I did that helped me than to say “ooh, look at me”. If that’s not your cup of tea I suggest skipping this one. There is a tldr at the end if you want to skip to the bottom.
If someone bumped into me on the street today and hadn’t seen me in a couple years I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did a double-take. One obvious reason is because I have a lot of dark curly hair in place of my previous ‘even-steven’ hair-so-short-I-might-as-well-be-bald look (which I’ve had for most of my adult life except for a brief period in grad school). The other thing they might be reacting to is that I’ve lost a bit of weight.
Ok let’s keep it real – I used to be fat. I did a decent enough job convincing myself that I wasn’t or that I was okay being fat because who did I need to impress – I already landed my dream girl and she liked me just the way I was (more on that later).
But the reality was that I had, like many office warriors with young kids before me, let myself go. I have a pretty husky build and broad shoulders so I carried the extra fat pretty well but when I look back at pictures like the one below it’s pretty obvious that I needed to put down the potato chips and get back in the gym.
Miniwheatmama would occasionally nag me about my unhealthy ways, usually in a sort of #jokingbutnotjoking way that I needed to be healthier – not because she wasn’t attracted to me the way I was but because she wanted to make sure I’d still be around in a couple of decades. Being a typical male the only part of that sentence that registered was that she was still attracted to me – mission accomplished!
A funny thing happened when I started to lose weight – she started to comment how much she dug the new look. We met at university so it wasn’t like she had never seen a skinnier version of me – but I guess she forgot what that guy looked like and now that she had met him again she had no intention of letting him leave. The phrase “honey, you gotta keep it tight” has become a pretty common refrain around the house – and she now even goes so far as to block my hand if I reach for chips in the bag she is eating and gives me a Soup Nazi-esque glare that says “no chips for you”.
So hopefully at this point you are asking – ok man, enough patting yourself on the back – how did you do it?
The short version of this is kind of boring but if all you want to know is the basic “how I did it”, you can stop reading after this sentence: I started eating really healthy and working out 5 days a week. As of today (Nov 17, 2016) I am down to 208 lbs (down 40 lbs from the highest I’ve tipped the scales in the last couple years at 248) and am down to a 32″ waist from 38″. I’d like to lose another 5-10 lbs but we’ll see whether I push for that or not.
Keen observers may have also noticed another physical difference – I got a new tattoo.
Obviously, these are the names of the miniwheats. The significance of the symbols in their names:
- A Simba lion cub for Thomas because I have a lion tattoo on my right shoulder and so he is my little cub
- As you may know, if you read the blog regularly our nickname for Zoe is ‘zoebug’ or just ‘buggy’ hence the ladybug in her name
The slightly longer version of this story is that I read a book called: Bigger, Leaner, Stronger (and a bunch of blog posts by the author Mike Mathews on his website www.muscleforlife.com) and put the principles he teaches regarding nutrition and exercise into action.
If you are really curious about all the gory details and are still reading this and want the really long version of this please keep reading.
Every once in a while I half-heartedly went through short bursts of trying to eat healthier but I never really had enough motivation to get past the inevitable dips in willpower that I needed to sustain a new lifestyle. Thankfully that changed in a big way in August 2015 when my boss challenged the senior leadership team of my company to put 5% of our annual bonus on the line that we would earn by achieving a non-work related goal. Money is typically a pretty good motivator for me (!) so I decided to make my personal goal a 10% reduction in my body weight. At the time that I set this goal, I weighed in at a hefty 244 lbs – ~40 lbs heavier than I had been when I graduated from university. I had until June 30, 2016 to lose 25 lbs.
My initial approach to losing this weight was pretty uninspired – I convinced myself that the best way to create a sustainable lifestyle change was to get going very, very gradually. I thought about joining a gym but I was haunted by the hundreds of dollars I had previously squandered in gym memberships and decided I would start by walking the neighborhood after dinner. After a week or so of hour-long walks, I added some intervals of running. I started eating a bit healthier but wasn’t sticking to any real nutritional plan. I managed to keep this up for maybe 5 or 6 weeks but then it started to get cold and the holidays came along complete with parties, plenty of drinking and ever present junk to nibble on. Needless to say, the modest weight I had lost to that point was quickly regained.
At this point I had signed up for a gym membership through a corporate discount program and briefly considered doing the clichéd New Year’s Resolution gym scramble the first weeks of January but due to a combination of laziness and self-delusion I continued to avoid making any meaningful changes in my life, while the nagging voice in the back of my head scolded me. Finally, on Jan 31, 2015 I decided that I would start going to the gym on Feb 1. A key to making this work was deciding to do what had previously been unthinkable and going to the gym before work vs. in the evenings. So I started waking up at 5:15 am and going to the gym. It’s not always easy but after about 3 weeks it became the norm and not only do I have more energy in the morning but I also really like that there are fewer people and less competition for equipment in the mornings.
Fast forward to mid-Feb and I was making slow progress but decided that if I was going to put in the work, I might as well get the most out of it so I started researching different workout and nutrition programs. Somehow I stumbled on the Muscle for Life blog and it really connected with me. I then bought his book Bigger, Leaner, Stronger and started to follow the principles of that.
If you want the details I really suggest buying the book (there is also a version targeted at females called Thinner, Leaner, Stronger) or at least reading some of his blog posts but the short version of his suggestions on exercising are: lift a small number (4-6) of reps of heavy weight (90% of your 1 rep max) for 3-5 sets. For cardio: do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts vs. more endurance style cardio.
80-90% of weight loss results are based on nutrition vs. exercise so he offers a lot of recommendations on that too. Quick version: use an online calculator like this to estimate a total calorie and macro-nutrient (protein, fat, carb) profile that will help you achieve a given weight goal. Then track everything you eat carefully with a goal of hitting that profile. For the first 6 weeks or so I was very disciplined about sticking to an exact eating plan, including weighing/measuring all of my food, tracking everything I ate with the myfitnesspal app (which is great) and planning my daily meals with a spreadsheet (here’s a link to download it if you want a copy) that I built that let me quickly pick a mix of foods that would hit my targets. I was super strict for about 6 weeks and then once I had a rhythm worked out and could more or less pick meals that were within the ballpark of the strict targets without the hassle of scales and measuring cups I stopped tracking every grape I ate.
One final nutrition tip I picked up along the way is more of a lifestyle preference than an absolute must do. I adopted an eating program called Intermittent Fasting (which is admittedly pretty trendy right now but I think is validated by some real science). Supposedly, having your body enter a fasted state every day makes it more efficient at utilizing the calories you do eat. Whether that’s true or not almost doesn’t matter because I’ve found that if nothing else it makes it a lot easier to stay within my calorie budget. Basically, the idea is that you choose a window of hours during the day (8 hours for men, 10 hours for women) that you will eat calories and you eat nothing (i.e. fast) outside that window. I’ve never been that big into breakfast so I’ve dropped that with the exception of an occasional family breakfast. It’s been pretty easy for me but if you love having three square meals a day it might be harder for you.
If you want the tldr* version of a nutrition and fitness plan here you go:
- Eat real food, mostly vegetables and low fat protein with complex carbs (avoid sugar and other processed stuff). Drink a lot of water. Limit your booze intake.
- (If you want to try Intermittent Fasting) Eat two-three meals a day in an 8-10 hr window and don’t eat any calories the other 14-16 hrs.
- Lift low reps (4-6) of heavy weights and do high-intensity interval cardio 3-5 days a week. (Heavy weight training making you bulky is a myth).
- Be patient. Depending on your starting point you might not see results as quickly as you like but stick with it and you will.
- I suggest not just relying on a scale to measure progress – instead measure your waist, hips, and chest. Muscle is more dense than fat so you might be losing fat and gaining muscle and seeing the numbers on the scale go up – but those measurements should be going down.
*tldr = too long, didn’t read. This is web-speak for a quick summary of a long article.
If you’ve made it this far and still want more please get in touch. As you can probably tell I’ve found a renewed passion for nutrition and fitness so I’d be happy to share more info or offer specific advice if you’re interested.
Also published on Medium.by