It has been an interesting project, these last couple months. A project to better my health and test my will power. After all this time and progress I am happy to say that I consider all of my effort and weight loss a success. My health has improved ten-fold and I am happier and more fit than I have been in years. Back to high school weight and athletic level.
I have been asked by friends, family, and coworkers how I accomplished this so I have written out my regimen in hopes that other people can pull in a tip here or there to help push them towards their own health goals.
After breaking my foot playing volleyball back in Nov 2013 I had the unfortunate time of sitting around all winter and eating Christmas cooking all the while waiting for my foot to heal. In the spring of 2014 I visited my doctor for my physical and he surprisingly (or not so much now in hindsight) told me I was overweight at 305 lbs so he suggested I take a serious look at my diet because I was not healthy, at all, for someone my age (31 at the time). My problems weren’t just weight, I had high blood pressure (resting 150) and had developed sleep apnea as well and snored….like…crazy. My wife couldn’t get any sleep due to that as well. In the end of March I made a pretty radical change, not just to my diet (that was a major factor) but also to my habits. It is true what they say, it isn’t just a diet but an entire lifestyle change. I set a goal for myself between March and Dec 2014 to lose 75 lbs and I am glad to say I stuck to it. I slipped a little into Jan 2015 but I did drop over 75 lbs (down to ~230 which was roughly high school weight), pants size from 46 to 38, shirt size from an 18 ½ to 17, blood pressure is around 110 so that is in check, I sleep better and don’t need mid day naps anymore, my concentration is up, my energy levels are consistent, and am generally happier than I have been in years.
Over the last couple months I developed a system for myself that has worked quite well and doesn’t need any of those Atkins/Weight Watchers/Dr Berstein products or completely unnatural “quick fix” diet products. Again this is my system and works for me so it may not work for everyone. Consult your doctor first!! 🙂
And now, as of Jan 22nd 2015, I reached my goal of 75 lbs and even passed it by 1.5 lbs! Total loss is 76.5 lbs in 44 weeks (Apr 2014 to Jan 2015)!
At the start of the change the major issue was diet so back in Mar-Aug 2014 I attributed the weight loss ratio about 80% change in diet/lifestyle and 20% with exercise. Now (Jan 2015) I have hit my point of diminishing returns on the diet/lifestyle so I have to get the exercise up to see any losses; so about 50/50 diet and exercise.
Everything below helped with all of my ailments so I hope you can take some it and use it:
- Exercise: this one is obvious and you should already be doing anything in some capacity to be active. Get your heart rate firing for at least 30 mins a day and work up a good sweat. I don’t do any weightlifting, all of my exercise is either volleyball (advanced) and stationary biking. I played volleyball for 1-2 hrs for about 3-4 times a week and the days when I am not playing I bike hard for 45 mins at about 30km/h and pushing it up to 35 km/h if I hit a good song. I also take the stairs at work now instead of the elevator; not a biggie but I am sure it helps a little.
- Caffeine: this was/is one of my vices. I would drink a shit ton of coffee/tea in a day; 2 x extra large Tim Horton’s coffees during the day and tea in the evening. On the weekend sometimes it was more. My energy levels would be all over the map, up/down, heart rate/pressure would be bonkers, I would crash during the day and I am sure it screws with your metabolic rates and kidneys. I decided to completely cut out caffeine all together and it was quite an addiction because I was not well for about a month after cutting it out (headaches, irritability, etc). Monika can definitely attest that I was an “irritable little shit” while kicking the brown dragon. Now I don’t have the highs and lows anymore, steady energy level throughout the whole day. I still drink coffee and tea but full decaf (swiss water decaf).
- Calories: my doctor told me a dead simple rule and you don’t need expensive programs or personal trainers or nutritionists to truly get it; it is basic math. If you want to maintain your weight then: calories going in = calories going out. Knowing the calories going in is just adding up the foods you eat but knowing what you burn in a day gets a little more interesting and all depends on your lifestyle. Everyone burns calories just by existing and this is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basal_metabolic_rate). Go to http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/ and figure out yours, mine is roughly 2300 calories a day (male, 6’3”, 32y/o, 230 lbs). This is the number you will use to multiply by another factor that accounts for your activity level; called the Harris Benedict equation/principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harris%E2%80%93Benedict_equation). Working as a manager in the IT department my default activity level is “little to no exercise” (unless you account for running from meeting to meeting) so I take my 2300 calories and multiply by 1.2 = 2700 cals. Therefore if I wanted to maintain my weight, without any extra exercise, I have to limit myself to 2700 calories a day. My personal rule is to be between 2200-2500 cals of food per day AND try to get exercise daily to lose weight. If I hop on the bike for 45 mins then I can burn almost 700-800 calories. 2700 cals + 700 cals = 3400 cals burned in a day is well over the 2500 cals that I consume and hence the weight loss week over week. So rule of thumb is know how many calories are in your food, know your BMR * activity multiplier, know your calories burnt during extra exercise and you are all good. To keep all of this tracked see below (Tracking system http://www.myfitnesspal.com/ ).
- Diet: Now the fun part! Do you know what your normal go-to meals are and how many calories are in them? I certainly didn’t and after doing the calorie calculations above I wasn’t shocked when I saw that my ratio of consumed vs burned calories was way out of whack when I was gaining weight. My wife and I went through all of our normal meals and started calculating how many calories were in each ingredient and charting them in Excel. We have a scale and calculator in the kitchen now just so we always know how many calories we are consuming each meal. Yes, it sounds time consuming and completely anal but I needed to do this for months between March and September 2014 before I had the majority of food types memorized along with portion sizes. We cut out a lot of our carbs (breads, potatoes, pasta) since that causes the meals to add up reaaaaaally fast. I couldn’t cut them out completely because I love them but I cut down since now I know how much they account for. I also moved to eating more turkey: deli meat for sandwiches, turkey burgers with spices to replace beef burgers, and ground turkey instead of ground beef for things like our Mexican nights and pasta dishes. It is to the point that I barely notice anymore. I also eat lots of chicken and fish now as well and very rarely eat beef or pork. I do get the odd craving for a steak or roast we have that when we want but it isn’t part of the regular food rotation. I also have 2 salads a week for dinner but I cut up a big piece of chicken on top and load it with sauce and cheese and garlic bread so I don’t feel totally cheated. My suggestion is to try and find a healthy meal (or two) that you actually enjoy and make sure you have it once a week. Hell, we even have pizza night every Sunday since some of the frozen McCain/Delissio pizzas (some are 1000-2000 calories per pizza) are pretty low considering you get some lunch leftovers out of them.
- Portion control: it isn’t just the food the I was eating but how much of it. As a kid I always wanted to eat more and have second helpings so I was conditioned to eat a lot. I believe that I had stretched my stomach to the point that I would be hungry before dinner so I would have a snack, then eat dinner and be hungry right after since I didn’t have the “full” feeling knowing full well the amount of food I had just displaced from the plate to my crap-factory. On top of changing the food types that I ate above I also cut down on the amount of food I was eating in order to “shrink” my stomach. I now don’t have the hungry sensations that I used to have even though I am eating less. This took many months to achieve and still have the odd day with a grumbling stomach but then I grab a snack (segway incoming!!!)
- Junk food and snacking: The day I decided to go on the diet I packed up all of the junk food I had and shipped it off to my brothers :). I am not so much into the sweets but I do like salts/carbs which are definitely not great for calorie count. Now if I have a hankering for salty foods I have it stocked with the “healthy” stuff you get from Loblaws/Costco like the Special K chips, rice cake based snacks but flavored, the Popcorners chips or the Veggie straw chips from Costco are good too; just anything that I could have a handful of for 200-250 cals if I really needed a fix. Otherwise I snack on carrots/peppers with hummus. If I am looking for a dessert snack then I have found that I LOVE yogurt, fresh berries/fruit, granola, nuts, and some chocolate chips all mixed into some kind of mega parfait! If you get some low fat yogurt then it is a snack that is about 400-500 calories but all healthy food and great for the system. I also like light jello with some light whip cream on top which is like 100 cals tops.
- Breakfast: most mornings I would leave for work without eating anything then I would end up being hungry and going down to Timmies and buying junk. Now I make sure that I have breakfast every morning, no exceptions. This keeps the “snacking” down but it also jump starts the metabolism in the morning. From my readings it sounds like if you are keeping to a 2000cal / day diet then 700 should be for breakfast to get the metabolism going. Don’t skip breakfast!! I started by having a big glass of OJ and 1 cup of cereal with mixed nuts on the top for protein. Once I started with my personal trainer, he moved me to 2/3 cup of rolled oats (regular, not the sugar Quaker Oats packets), and 3 eggs in the morning. Protein and good carbs!
- Shakes: I was doing well with the diet for a couple months but breakfasts were still tough.
It was actually a buddy from high school that saw my progress on Facebook and told me about these shakes that he uses. A company called ViSalus (http://visalus.com/) and their product is Vi-Shape. I was a little skeptical about the whole “shake” thing but I decided to give it a try. I bought the “Body by Vi Shape Kit” from their Canadian store (http://myvi.net) for $99. You get 2 of the bags of powder and each bag lasts me a month-and-a-half to 2 months so it is almost 4 months worth of breakfast for $100. I have one shake in the morning (with 2% milk) that accounts for 250 cals and a large glass of orange juice (1.5 cups = 180cals) during the work days, that’s it. Oddly enough that shake kept me full from 6am through to 11:30. I couldn’t believe it! The shake has good protein, vitamin, and other minerals. [Tim edit Dec 2015 – after meeting with some personal trainers and doing research, men shouldn’t be taking shakes with high soy content as it effectively turns into estrogen in the body causing other issues. Luckily I was told of this fact before my breasts started hurting 🙂 For pure protein shakes find a Whey Isolate with 100% Pure Protein. They will never be 100% but find one with as little filler as possible. There is one from GNC that I found.] Don’t worry, on weekends I treat myself to something else like a normal breakfast: waffles, eggs, bacon, etc :).
- Weighing yourself: do not weigh yourself every day, you will drive yourself insane. Since no 2 days are the same your body will go up and down throughout the week. I weigh myself at the exact same time of the day only once a week. For some reason I chose Thursdays when I got home from work, don’t know why, but that is my “weigh-in” and blood pressure day/time. I only record it once per week in my tracking system. If you keep true to the calorie equation then if you have a calorie deficit of ~500 cals a day then you should be losing the pounds each week. That is what I observed with my system and it has held true for months until recently now that there is less fat to lose 😉
- Tracking system: I realized that keeping track of all of the exercise, BMR, food, weight, measurements, etc was way too much to handle on a daily basis in Word/Excel so I went looking for a tool and found the free http://www.myfitnesspal.com/ to track it all for me. Every day I can go in to the tool and record the food I ate and most of the time it will auto calculate the calories for me. Sometimes I couldn’t find the specific food item in the app so I would create a custom entry then just copy the nutritional information from the food package into the tool then I can use it in the future. I also set my BMR, activity lifestyle and added in my common exercise activities so I could quickly add them to my day if I completed them. The tool will track any goals you set (mine is to lose a total of 75 lbs from Apr 1 to Dec 31 – which I missed by 3 lbs) and it will tell you how much you have to go and how to adjust your caloric intake / burn accordingly. I don’t use the tool for tracking food I eat or activity anymore because I am in a rhythm now where I know what food I am eating but I still go in weekly to track weight. If I find myself slipping or need to know the calories in a new food I want to try then I go back to using the tool. I love the app and it has helped immensely. My only gripe is that it has a lot of ads all over but loading Ad Block into Firefox/Chrome fixed that.
- Sleep: Like I said at the beginning I was not sleeping well and my wife elbowed me multiple times a night to stop snoring. I went in for a sleep study at the Queensway Carleton in April, they hooked me up to a bunch of machines and let me sleep for the night. It turns out I had mild sleep apnea and I would literally stop breathing for 30 seconds to 1 minute about 26 times per hour. Every time you stop breathing your body gets a shot of adrenaline to force you to roll to around in order to breathe. Every time you do this you are coming out of REM sleep, the sleep cycle where your body is at rest and repairs itself. The doctor said that this is probably one of the reasons that I am constantly tired and have high blood pressure. He also checked my throat and can see that since I had gained so much weight there was a lot of fat in my throat causing the airway to close while sleeping, causing the sleep apnea. So again, one more problem with being fat. From the sounds of it sleep apnea can lead to a lot of nasty stuff like stroke, heart attack, stress, weight gain, energy levels, etc. It is such a huge problem with health that insurance companies and doctors want to fix the apnea in order to avoid worse things in the future. So I went in for another sleep study and this time the hooked me up to a CPAP device which is a mask that constantly forces air. I slept through the night with only 2 incidents per hour which is below the default level for any normal person without sleep apnea. I bought the CPAP device and insurance covered 90% of it (my wife’s covered the other 10%) so it was essentially free and I have been using it since May. I have great sleep (6 hours of good sleep as opposed to 7-8 hours of crap sleep) and I don’t snore anymore so my wife is actually sleeping deeply and not angry/stressed in the mornings increasing her quality of life too. I am convinced that since I am in REM sleep for so long it is helping with the weight issue. I recommended to all my family to go get a sleep study when they mentioned having sleeping or energy level problems since this one device was so huge for my quality of life. My dad went and it turned out he has sleep apnea far worse than I did so he is on the machine too and noticed a massive difference in the quality of his sleep as well. My wife also went for a study just to see if it could improve her sleep as well.
- Support: Last but not least, I had a ton of people supporting me at work and at home. My wife knows when I am having a bad day and doesn’t let me eat crap food, we doesn’t buy bad foods anymore, and she makes sure my portions are in check. Also, it sounds cheesy but the Facebook friends support has been great in keeping me focused and pushing forward.
Hopefully some of this clicks with you and is usable. Good luck and let me know how your life change goes!!