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Archive for the ‘progress’ Category

Milestone: Down 175 to 275

By tomorrow I won’t be happy weighing just under 275 pounds, but today it’s a milestone that feels worth celebrating. I’ll celebrate a milestone with every 25 pound loss, which means I have about three major weight milestones left (maybe four if I count my “ideal weight”). After that I’ll have to set new fitness goals to make the most of my new body, like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, etc.

Of course, there are some BMI range and personal history milestones left to come:

  • 262.5 pounds – 3/4 of the way down from my starting weight of 451+ pounds
  • 250 pounds – over 200 pounds lost, and a nice round number
  • 240 pounds – dropping from “obese” to merely “overweight” on the BMI scale
  • 200 pounds – my base goal for now – will need to re-evaluate once I reach it – but also moves me into the upper range of “normal weight” based on BMI

Getting my weight down to below 275 feels almost as significant to me as being below 300, but maybe only because it’s been so long in the making. I reached my previous weight-loss milestone post a little over two years ago, although what really happened is that I maintained a weight of around 300 pounds for two years, and then gained 15 pounds back, and now have lost 40 pounds in the past four months. So here I am 27 months after my previous milestone celebrating another 25 pounds lost.

A Little Perspective

I wish I could take the weight Ive lost and toss it away like this.

According to Wikipedia, a Scottish caber weighs about 175 pounds. While I’ve never picked up a caber, they sure do look heavy. I suppose that from now on whenever I reach a milestone and say I’ve lost the equivalent of [blank] that most people will have no real idea of how much that is exactly.

Since people rarely lift things that weight more than just a few pounds I’ve run out of reasonable comparisons. I know that 175 pounds is more weight than most whole persons, so maybe I should just pose for photos with people weighing what I’ve lost so I can point to them and say “There. See this guy? I’ve lost this much.”

What’s Next?

Weighing under 275 pounds was my goal for Labor Day so now that I’ve reached it five weeks early, I’m re-setting my weight loss goal to 262.5, which is 3/4ths of the way to my overall weight goal. It’s a little ambitious, but even if I miss it, at this rate it won’t be by much. I’m losing about ten pounds a month, so losing 12.5 pounds in five weeks isn’t that unreasonable.

Because everyone loves before & after photos, here’s one of me playing pool (badly) about a month into my Clean Livin’, back in July 2008:

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And then to contrast and/or compare, here’s one from July 2012 (last week):

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Lowering Cholesterol

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For the past few years I’ve been getting an annual physical that includes a blood test for various vitamin concentrations, a blood glucose test to screen for diabetes, and a lipid panel to test for cholesterol levels. The lipid panel has to be taken after you’ve been fasting for at least twelve hours because fat in food you’ve recently eaten can artificially raise your triglycerides and throw off the results.

I had a “holy shit” moment this year when I got my results back and found my total cholesterol and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) were both high for the first time. When I dug up my results from the last two years it’s clear I should’ve been concerned about this sooner. Last year I was right on the cusp of having high cholesterol and didn’t think anything of it. My doctor even warned me about it in her letter accompanying the results, but I paid it no mind, probably because it was just under the normal range.

Here’s how my cholesterol has crept-up since 2010:

Total Cholesterol LDL HDL Triglycerides
Normal Range 125–199 0–129 40–135 30–149
2/8/2010 168 109 43 80
1/21/2011 199 129 50 101
2/27/2012 220 151 50 94

This year, though, my doctor’s letter contained an implied threat: if I couldn’t get my cholesterol down through diet and exercise alone in three months, I’d have to start taking statin drugs. Challenge accepted! Statins are a prescribed medication that have various side-effects and other nasty business of which I want absolutely no part. Could I really reduce my cholesterol naturally? I was determined to try.

What The Hell Is Cholesterol, Anyway?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like steroid found in every cell of your body. About 75% of your cholesterol is produced by the liver, and you get the other 25% from the food you eat. Your cells need cholesterol to function, and they get cholesterol delivered to them via the bloodstream. If a cell has enough cholesterol, then the cholesterol globules continue through your body until they’re reabsorbed by your lower intestines where they’ll go back to your liver to be recycled.

When you have an abundance of cholesterol in your blood, though, that won’t be accepted by cells and is more than the liver can re-process, your body will start to store it throughout the areas where your blood travels, usually throughout your arteries, gunking up the walls of the little tubes your blood flows through. Yes, even your blood can get fat. Then it will start to build up in the heart, which can impair its function and eventually cause a heart attack.

The problem with having high cholesterol is that there are no symptoms until you have your first heart attack. Getting a cholesterol screening can help diagnose potential issues while you still have a chance to remedy the situation.

Cholesterol is a kind of fat and can be screened by what’s known as a lipid panel or lipid profile (“lipid” being the fancy scientific term for “fat”).

A lipid profile typically includes measurements for:

  • Total cholesterol
  • High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL)
  • Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL)
  • Triglycerides

An extended profile (which is much more expensive, and not typical) may also include:

  • Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL)
  • Non-HDL

However, most cholesterol testing doesn’t include a full lipid panel, and instead only measures LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, and then the results of the others are calculated from those. If your initial cholesterol screen looks like you may have high cholesterol, your doctor may order a more complete profile.

Cholesterol levels are measured in mg/dL, or how many milligrams of each cholesterol lipoprotein are contained in a deciliter of blood. When I refer to “points” or “levels” I’m talking about a measurable quantity of mg/dL. For reference, Americans, a deciliter is a little less than half a cup. The average human body contains about five and a half quarts of blood (depending on size different people will hold more or less blood in their body). So the cholesterol test takes a sample and then projects how much total cholesterol you have.

LDL vs. HDL

Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL (“bad” cholesterol) is a fatty protein that transports cholesterol through the bloodstream when your cells reject its delivery (because they have enough). It’s “bad” because it deposits excess cholesterol in the walls of arteries, or wherever else it can. It just stuffs it wherever it’ll fit.

When that happens white blood cells attack the LDL and try to digest it, but are unable to, so the LDL is converted into a toxic, even waxier substance called plaque, which builds up in arterial walls and makes it harder for red blood cells to carry oxygen through those parts of your cardiovascular system. Plaque tends to build up over time, and eventually can cause a rupture, on which a blood clot can form and if that clot breaks free and travels to the heart, can cause a heart attack.

High-density lipoprotein, or HDL (“good” cholesterol), scavenges LDL cholesterol and returns it back to the liver where it can be broken down and essentially recycled for when it’s needed again. HDL also scrubs the walls of your blood vessels so that plaque doesn’t form.

It’s long been thought that higher levels of HDL in your blood prevented heart attacks, but new research conducted in May 2012 suggests that raising the HDL levels of people with low HDL doesn’t lower their chances of getting a heart attack, probably because of other factors that lead to heart attacks, such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.

While HDL alone may not be the panacea for your heart’s health, higher levels of HDL are beneficial mostly because they control the levels of your LDL cholesterol, and that’s good.

Triglycerides

Triglycerides are the main form of fat in the body. When you consume excess calories, food is broken down into triglycerides and stored in your fat cells (adipose tissue) where it may be used again when you burn more calories than you take in. Triglycerides are packed together in the liver and wrapped up inside the strands of very low-density lipoprotein, or VLDL, and then go on their way through your bloodstream until they’re tucked neatly away in one of your body’s fat stores.

It’s not currently known how high triglyceride levels in the blood affect the heart. Part of the reason is that high triglycerides tend to occur when you have other risk factors for heart disease, like high LDLs or high blood pressure.

There is also a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and high triglyceride levels. Drinking more than one drink per day for women, or two drinks a day for men may raise triglyceride levels considerably. Of course, if you’re trying to lose weight you’ve already cut back on drinking alcohol for the calories alone.

How Can You Lower Your Cholesterol?

Besides medication, there are some all-natural ways you can lower your cholesterol:

  • Aerobic Exercise
  • Diet
  • Supplements

I wrote them in that order so they wouldn’t have the acronym “SAD.” By fighting cholesterol on all three fronts you may have a better chance of lowering it, and thus lowering your risk of heart disease.

Exercise Lowers Cholesterol

So how does exercise lower your cholesterol? Exercise raises the level of your lipoprotein lipase (LPL) enzymes[1] which in turn attach to triglycerides to essentially remove them from the bloodstream, thus lowering your triglyceride levels too.

Exercise also increases the size of both LDL and HDL cholesterol, which means that the LDL can’t nestle into the tiny nooks & crannies of your heart and blood vessels.

While there’s a direct correlation between exercise (especially aerobic exercise like walking, running, or otherwise moving your body without resistance) and lowering cholesterol, researchers aren’t quite sure why exercise works, but they know it does.

A 2002 study at Duke University Medical Center found that more intense exercise lowers LDL cholesterol far more than moderate or light exercise. People who exercised more vigorously also raised their HDL cholesterol. Win-win. So you have to push yourself harder to have a greater effect in lowering cholesterol.

Foods That Lower Cholesterol

In addition to exercise, certain foods are known to help lower cholesterol.

  • Oatmeal – Oats contain a substance called beta-glucan which absorbs LDL cholesterol and removes it from your body. If there’s any one magic bullet for lowering cholesterol, oats are it. If anything, since the 1980s when the FDA allowed oat-based foods to carry a health claim, additional research has proven that above all other foods, oats can lower cholesterol by as much as 20%.
  • Fish – Especially those high in omega–3 fatty acids, like salmon, herring, sardines, and tuna, can lower your cholesterol. Sure, you can take a fish oil supplement, but you gotta eat, and adding more fish to your diet can help lower your cholesterol and provide healthier proteins than red meat or poultry.
  • Flax Seed – Flax is like a wick that soaks up that bad cholesterol and removes it from your body. Add a tablespoon or two to your oatmeal, yogurt, or other healthy food, and you probably won’t even notice it’s there. Flax seeds are also high in omega–3. Do you see a trend? Fiber and omega–3 fatty acids work to reduce cholesterol.
  • Chia Seeds – You know those novelty terra cotta Chia Pets that grow little greens? Eating the seeds rather than planting them may help reduce your LDL. Cha-cha-cha chia!
  • Olive Oil – Not only does olive oil help to lower LDLs, but because it’s a monounsaturated fat it doesn’t lower your HDLs, so a little olive oil in your diet can help you in more ways than one.
  • Avocado – Speaking of omega–3 acids, avocados are loaded with the stuff, and taste great when mashed up with a little lime juice, onion, cilantro and salt. I could probably eat guacamole every day.
  • Walnuts – Also high in omega–3 fatty acids (unlike most other nuts), which can help slow down the growth of plaque in your arteries. Other nuts, like almonds, pecans, pistachios, and peanuts also help to lower cholesterol, mostly because they’re high in fiber, but none are as effective as walnuts.
  • Blueberries – The high level of antioxidants in blueberries have been found to reduce cholesterol… in hamsters. However, they taste great in oatmeal, so it’s worth trying (plus blueberries contain numerous compounds known to be beneficial).
  • Red Wine – In vino veritas… and it has been found to lower cholesterol, too. Only the red wines, though, ladies. Your chardonnay, while delightfully crisp and oaky, won’t have much effect because white wines do not contain a chemical known as a flavonoid, which has a protective effect that makes your heart and arteries less able to accept LDL cholesterol for storage. The flavonoids are stronger in red wine because they come from the grape’s stem, seeds, and skins, which are skimmed out of white wine earlier in its fermentation process. The tannins in red wine also suppress the peptide responsible for hardening arteries. As beneficial as red wine can be for your health, it still contains a lot of alcohol and therefore should only be consumed in moderation (one glass per day for women, two glasses for men).
  • Dark Chocolate – The darker (i.e. containing more cacao) the better. Dark chocolate also contains flavonoids (as well as 300 other chemical compounds known to cure a great many ills both physical and psychological).

If these foods have anything in common, it’s that they’re high in calories. So moderation is key. Try replacing some other food you were going to eat with these heart-healthy choices and you’ll be lowering your cholesterol in no time.

In addition to eating these special foods, though, improving your overall diet, eating the proper number of calories, and getting ample nutrition is going to be the most effective in preventing various diseases.

Foods High in Cholesterol

It’s not all sunshine and oatmeal. There are a number of (primarily animal-based) foods that contain a lot of cholesterol, such as:

  • Egg Yolks – While egg yolks only contain 1.5 grams of saturated fat, eggs have become the poster child for high-cholesterol foods. Of course, eggs have many other health benefits (I’ll write more on how great eggs are later).
  • Red Meat – Steak, hamburgers, pork, bacon, etc. are all high in fat and dietary cholesterol.
  • Dairy Fat – Dairy fats like butter, cream, cheese, and even whole milk contain cholesterol.
  • Shellfish – Shrimp, lobster, oysters, and mussels are all high in cholesterol.

While the dietary cholesterol you ingest doesn’t become “serum cholesterol” in your bloodstream, consumption of saturated fats may stimulate cholesterol production in the liver. It’s long been considered a given that the type of fats you consume influences the types of cholesterol you produce.

My dietician suggested that I reduce (or eliminate) my consumption of the above foods, but there is an abundance of research to suggest that a diet high in saturated fat has no correlation to increased blood cholesterol levels. I expect we’ll see more research in this area in the near future.

Since there are no obvious health detriments to reducing your consumption of saturated fat, however, why not reduce your intake to be on the safe side?

Do Any Vitamins or Supplements Lower Cholesterol?

I’ve been taking Benecol Smart Chews which are essentially a concentration of plant stanol esters. Sounds tasty, no? Plant stanol esters are naturally occurring in vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other natural whole foods, but in such limited quantities as to have little effect on the body. The refined, esterified, and hydrogenated stanols bond with LDL proteins and remove them from the bloodstream. Sterol esters have a similar effect, but are partially absorbed by the body, and thus raise levels over time. Studies suggest that this may be a problem so I’ve stuck with the stanol instead of the sterol esters.

Statins

I’m not down on statin drugs, as they can help reduce cholesterol for a lot of people who can’t rely on exercise and diet alone to reduce it. I just try not to take any more medication than I absolutely have to, and am trying to hold back the march of time on my body. For people who need them, I’m sure that statin drugs are a godsend.

Statin drugs work by blocking production of an enzyme in the liver that is responsible for producing cholesterol (the enzyme is called HMG-CoA reductase, or as it’s known to its friends, “3-hydroxy–3-methyglutaryl COA”).

Statin drugs are the most common prescription drug in the world. Some statin brands prescribed include Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, Mevacor, Altocor, and the comically named Lescol (for less cholesterol?), Livalo (live a little longer?), and Pravachol (which, uh… prevents cholesterol?). Whatever the brand name, these statin drugs actually provide different statins, so if one doesn’t work another may work better for you. Lipitor recently fell out of patent protection and therefore a generic may be prescribed in its place (although in Summer 2012 the generics aren’t much cheaper than the brand name drug).

Station drugs are known to have some fairly serious side effects, though, including nausea, dizziness, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, and bloating due to gas. Lovely. The worst side-effect seems to be myositis, or inflammation of the muscles, which can cause injuries when trying to exercise. None for me, thanks.

So How Did I Do?

After improving my diet, adding copious amounts of foods known to help lower cholesterol to my diet, chewing Benecol with each meal, and increasing the amount of exercise I get each day, I gave blood again for another lipid panel.

Here are my cholesterol levels after my most recent blood test:

- Total LDL HDL Triglycerides
Normal Range 125–199 0–129 40–135 30–149
2/27/2012 220 151 50 94
6/19/2012 164 111 36 84
Difference –56 –40 –14 –10

My total cholesterol reduced by 56 points, and my LDL cholesterol went down by 40 points in three months[2]. Oddly, my HDL, the “good” cholesterol, also decreased, which is typical for those taking statin drugs but unusual for people who achieve lowered cholesterol through diet and exercise alone, especially since exercise is known to lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. Puzzling.

I’m not stopping now. While my total cholesterol is now well within the “normal” range you can’t really ever get your LDL too low, and I’d like to lower my LDL as much as possible while raising my HDL even higher.

I’m going to re-check my cholesterol in four months to see how I’ve been progressing, and I’m going to pursue lowering my cholesterol as a good excuse to lose weight and get healthier, and continue to act like my cholesterol is high. After all, heart-healthy foods like oatmeal, avocados, salmon, sweet potatoes, blueberries, walnuts, and olive oil aren’t exactly hard to fit into your diet, because they’re delicious.

Being diagnosed with slightly high cholesterol was just the kick in the pants I needed to get back on track with my Clean Livin’. I’ve lowered my cholesterol by 56 points naturally, yes, but I’ve also lost over 30 pounds in the same interval.


  1. Not to be confused with LDL, the “bad” kind of cholesterol.  ↩

  2. Yes, I know that February to June is actually four months, but I didn’t get the results of my blood test in the mail until March 19th, so my next blood test was actually exactly three months after I started making changes to my diet and increasing my exercise.  ↩

Four Years of Clean Livin’

As I contemplate my Clean Livin’ quadrennial I’m reminded of the last time I celebrated my healthier lifestyle anniversary two years ago.

In the interim I got busy with life, stopped writing here, continued to remain active, but otherwise stagnated for almost two years. When I started trending upwards again I decided to redouble my efforts, get back to basics, and work the program that I know is effective… when you actually do it.

Some things I do every dang day:

  • Walk on the treadmill (okay, I do this almost every day).
  • Ride my bike to work during the week (most days, about 8 months out of the year).
  • Weigh-in and record my weight.
  • Log everything I eat or drink that isn’t water.
  • Assess my caloric intake at the end of the day.

Stat Me Up

Anniversaries are good for celebration, but also a good time to reflect on pass successes and stumbling blocks. Since life is a continuum and every day is a new Start Date you can’t fail, just not succeed as fast. As long as you’re alive, you can be a bit healthier than you were yesterday.

Here are some numbers to consider on the fourth anniversary of when I made the decision to improve my body, get healthy, and help others do the same:

  • Weighed-in just over 1,200 times (which means I missed about 250 days due to travel, or missing a day or two here and there).
  • Since I got my Fitbit in February, 2010, I’ve walked over 3,500 miles.
  • Starting weight: over 451 lbs (since that was the max of the scale that couldn’t weigh me when I started – but considering that I was measurable less than a week after I started, I couldn’t have weighed that much more than 451).
  • This morning’s weigh-in: 287.2 lbs. That means I’ve lost 163.8 pounds, or a 36.32% decrease from my former body weight. That’s about the weight of a full keg of beer[1]. Have you ever tried to lift a full keg? They’re heavy. Now imagine wrapping yourself with that much weight and carrying it around every day.
  • My current goal weight is around 200 pounds. I’ll re-adjust when I get closer. If my calculations are correct, when this body drops 88 pounds you’re going to see some serious shit.
  • At an average of –1 lbs / week, I should hit my goal by the beginning of 2014, which is a bit later than I’d originally planned, but of course if I can lose more faster I will.

It’s still a little shocking to me to see pictures of how I looked four years ago. I wish I thought of taking progress photos, or at least a “before” picture, when I started down this road, but here’s a photo of me from Thursday, 19 June 2008, three days into Clean Livin’. I’m in yellow, sitting on the steps at Daley Plaza by the fountain with some of my co-workers at the time (I wish I had a better quality image, but I think this was taken with someone’s old cell phone):

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And to contrast and compare, here’s a full-body photo of me from our trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum last week (wearing, now that I see the picture, a shirt that’s too big for me):

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  1. A standard U.S. “half-barrel” keg. Perhaps you’ve seen one at parties or in movies about college keggers.  ↩

Keeping Healthy On Vacation

There comes a time when one’s livin’, no matter how clean the intent, is tested. A time when temptation is greater, every as-yet untasted morsel appears more succulent, routine is recklessly abandoned, and measuring progress becomes a chore too unpleasant to contemplate. For me, that time is while I’m on vacation.

It stands to reason. When you’re away from home or work you have less control over your environment, are probably not cooking for yourself, and the joys of discovering new foods or enjoying halcyon reminiscences too delicious to pass up.

Even the word “vacation” conjures images of freedom, excitement, and enticing new experiences. It’s a time you want to play instead of work, relax instead of be active, and let the tautness of routine slacken as the lassitudes of recreation multiply.

Or, if you’re me, you run yourself ragged walking around your vacation spot for ten hours straight without taking any downtime to relax, eating junk food from carts on the street as you go.

I’ve been making good progress managing my weight loss over the past few months, so the prospect of a vacation both excited and worried me. The wife and I visited New York City over an extended Memorial Day five-day weekend. New York is one of my favorite places to visit, and a big part of that is the food. Whenever we go to New York there are a bunch of things that we plan to eat that you just can’t get in Chicago, or at least it’s different enough that we enjoy the New York version:

  • Pizza – No one does pizza like New York City, especially at the few and far between coal oven establishments. You can debate which style of pizza is best but when you imagine pizza in your mind, you’re probably thinking of New York Style Pizza.
  • Bagels – There are a few places in Chicago to get passable bagels, but great bagels are so common in New York that it’s rare if they aren’t good. Also, you can’t really get bialys, the bagel’s weird denser cousin, anywhere else.
  • East Coast Chinese Food – Americanized Chinese food is available throughout the country, with various regional differences. New York Chinese food offers a nostalgia for the Chinese food of my youth in Philly.
  • Street Food – In Chicago it’s illegal to cook food in a truck and serve it (there are food trucks, but they have to prepare their food elsewhere and then sell the food from the truck, and there are so many restrictions that you can’t count on a truck having a permanent outpost, so they roam from place to place and post their current and upcoming locations on Twitter. Lame. In New York you can eat any kind of food you want, cooked in a cart or truck on the street. The same cart was there yesterday, and the same cart will be there tomorrow. There are some NYC staples like “chicken over rice” that doesn’t seem to exist elsewhere, and common stuff like falafel, kebabs, tacos, etc.
  • img-grays Papaya Drinks and Grilled Hot Dogs – I don’t know why this combination is only prevalent in New York, but Gray’s Papaya and Papaya King (and half a dozen lesser imitators) serve a combo of grilled natural casing hot dogs and a papaya drink that’s just out of this world, and a very cheap meal. Gray’s Papaya has a “recession special” that offers two hot dogs and a papaya drink for under $5.
  • Dirty Water Hot Dogs – Sure, Chicago may be the hot dog and sausage capital of the country, but there’s nothing like getting a dirty water hot dog (usually made by Sabrett) on the street, topped with mustard and sauerkraut.
  • img-shake-shack Shake Shack – The West Coast has In-N-Out, other cities have Fatburger, Five Guys, Steak & Shake, M Burger, and other local burger joints, but there’s just something about Shake Shack’s burgers that really draw the crowds. We waited about 50 minutes from the time we entered the line until we were actually eating a burger. I’m still on the fence about whether or not it was worth it, but it is a tasty burger. Shake Shack just expanded into Philadelphia, so I expect they’ll continue to open new locations.
  • Knish – Ah, the potato knish. I’m sure you can get them elsewhere, but the fresh round baked, not fried, knish from Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery on Houston are just not available anywhere else in the country.
  • img-katz Deli – Your city has delis too? Not really. You haven’t had a good deli sandwich until you’ve gotten some house-cured corned beef or pastrami from a reputable institution, like Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side[1]. Other cities have delis, and most supermarkets have a “deli counter” where they’ll sell you some sliced cold cuts, but none really do it like New York, and those that do call themselves “New York Style” delis.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a list of unhealthy but delicious things that are available in New York City, but there you go. I’m sure I forgot some New York City street food staples too.

When you’re trying to lose weight, though, walking around New York is like navigating a minefield. There are delicious and cheap foods everywhere and you have to walk by one of those carts every twenty paces. I think I did pretty well, considering.

How To Mitigate The Damage While Still Enjoying Your Vacation

  • Walk Around – Walking around a new place can be a lot more interesting than walking around the same streets over and over again at home. While walking alone won’t make up for an extra two thousand calories, it helps mitigate the damage caused by eating poorly.
  • Share the (Caloric) Load – If you’re traveling with a friend or partner you can reduce your caloric intake by sharing the foods that are higher in calories. Some things are easier to share than others, of course, and convincing someone else to go halfsies may take some doing.
  • If You Can’t Share, Spread It Out – A single hot dog and bun is like 300 calories (and not much more if your toppings are comprised only of low-calorie items such as mustard and sauerkraut or onions), so if you eat one and then have a slice of 300–400 calorie pizza a couple of hours later, you’re spreading it out over time, and hopefully walking off some of those calories in-between.
  • Don’t Spend More Than You Make – Just like when you’re home, you should set a budget and stick to it. I set my caloric budget while on vacation to the amount of calories it would take for me to maintain my weight. I figured if I could break even throughout the course of my vacation, I’d call that a “win.” It’s harder, however, to have an accurate calorie estimate of foods you don’t prepare yourself, so while away I tend to try to over-estimate everything as a worst-case scenario. Pizza isn’t going to be consistent between pizzerias, or even between slices from the same pizzeria. Do the best you can.
  • Choose Your Battles – Since you’re still operating under a budget (albeit a looser budget, most likely) you should be smart about how to spend those calories. When you consider the opportunity cost that eating one thing precludes eating something else (in terms of space in your stomach let alone calorie budget) be sure that you’re choosing to eat something that’s highly caloric that you’ll truly enjoy. Save up throughout the day for that one meal for which you’ve made reservations. Pass on the soft serve from the truck and walk the mile to the artisan ice cream shop you saw on TV. You don’t have to deprive yourself, just make sure that if you’re going to pound down the calories that you’ll actually be enjoying the experience.

Easier Said Than Done

So how’d I do?

On the morning of the day we left I weighed in at 290.8 lbs. The morning after we got back I weighed in at 298.0 lbs. Oops. Since I was counting my calories while away I knew that there was no way I ate an extra 25,000 calories over the course of a week over what I burned, so something else had to be accounting for the extra weight.

It took me five days to get rid of my vacation weight (and another couple of days to be sure I kept it off and I didn’t just dip below it due to water balance changes):

Day Weight (lbs) Delta (lbs)
23 May
(leaving for vacation)
290.8
31 May
(return from vacation)
298.0 +7.2
1 June 297.0 +6.2
2 June 294.4 +3.6
3 June 294.8 +4.0
4 June 292.6 +1.8
5 June
(back to pre-vacation weight)
290.6 –0.2
6 June 289.6 –1.2
7 June 289.4 –1.4
8 June 288.8 –2.0

Totally worth it.


  1. It’s the deli where Sally faked an orgasm (“I’ll have what she’s having.”) from the film When Harry Met Sally.  ↩

How To Lose Weight

The most frequent question that I am asked when I tell people that I’ve lost over 150 pounds (so far) is “How did you do it?” The short and possibly glib answer is that I eat right and exercise. The truer answer is a bit longer and more abstract.

Before I can address the real answer, though, I’d like to rephrase the question to: “How do you change from being overweight and out of shape to being fit and healthy?” The real answer is easier to understand now: By becoming a fit person and then acting naturally. Your body will catch up.

Of course, that’s not quite it either. The real question is the follow-up “Well… how do you do that?”

It’s a decision. Losing weight is simple, but it’s not easy. I’ve struggled with writing this post because it’s hard to explain. I think I’ve found a shortcut, though. If you change yourself you’ll change your body. If you start to change your body, you’ll change yourself. Either way you’re going to be on the road to being fitter.

I could prescribe exactly what you should do – certain things like walk two miles a day, or track everything you eat, count your calories, and only intake so many per a daily budget. There are innumerable specifics that would likely result in your weight loss, at least temporarily – but that wouldn’t be useful to you in the long term because doing those things would be outside your nature, and eventually those habits that aren’t yours will fade away. You won’t keep up my habits. You have to make them your own. Losing good habits and re-introducing bad habits has happened to me, too. Any time you try to fight nature, even your own, nature wins every time.

Instead, I’ll offer this general bit of advice that will lead to your inevitable success. I believe this advice is pertinent to success in all things, not just weight loss or general fitness, but I’ll talk of it in these terms. In order to be a success, you must:

Make Things Harder Than They Need To Be

We live in a culture of convenience. Every product, service, program plan, diet, exercise regime, class, and so forth are meant to make your life easier. Work is treated like a four letter word. Companies are happy to take your money so that they can help you do less work. Unfortunately for you, you’ve been conditioned to be fat, dumb, and happy. I can’t help you with the latter two.

Losing weight is like swimming against the current. You have to fight against every impulse, instinct, societal convention, the food service industry, and even other people’s expectations. You’re basically a salmon, except that you don’t have a spawning ground to look forward to once you reach your goal. Although, if you get fitter along the way, maybe you do.

What does it mean to make things harder than they need to be? It means walking when you could drive. It means taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It means cooking instead of eating out or ordering in. It means taking ten steps when five will do. Squaring the corner instead of rounding it. Doing things yourself instead of relying on someone else (or a machine) to do them. It means when you come to any fork in the road you need to take the path that sucks.

Granted, I haven’t given up every convenience. I still use TV remote controls (given modern electronics you kinda have to – most TVs and media players don’t have many buttons anymore). I like to eat out sometimes (sometimes too often). I have texted my wife from a different floor of the house rather than go talk to her. Doing those things doesn’t make me any healthier, though.

If I know what the Right Thing is, and it’s not that hard to do, why don’t I do it all the time?

I fail whenever I try to deny myself something I want. I fail when I give into despair instead of acknowledging my setback and moving on.

How to Resist Temptation

Don’t.

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If you give up everything you enjoy you’ll never keep up with it. Oh sure, you can sacrifice what you enjoy for a while, but eventually your old habits, the things you want to do while you’ve been doing things you don’t want to do, will come screaming back with a vengeance.

You’re never going to succeed if you punish yourself to get there. The “yo-yo diet” effect of losing weight and then gaining even more back again (lather, rinse, repeat) is a common theme in most diets because they’re all about giving up stuff you like to eat. That sounds like a shitty life to me. No thanks.

Much better is to adjust your desire. Change what it is that you want. Remember that scene in The Matrix when Morpheus was explaining the nature of what being The One and how that works in the Matrix?

Neo: What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?
Morpheus: No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

A lot of weight loss advice I’ve read suggests getting rid of unhealthy snacks when you’re trying to lose weight – literally throwing them away – because if you don’t have them in the house, you can’t eat them, right? While there’s a certain logic in that, you can’t really fool yourself into doing the right thing if you really want to do the wrong thing.

If you’re trying to avoid the foods you really enjoy eating because you know that they’re bad for you, you’re doing it wrong. You can always eat the unhealthy thing later. It’ll be there. They’ll make more.

When you’re just starting out doing is almost as good as being. It’s hard to make new habits, but if you can keep the momentum going for a few weeks to a month you’ll start being what you’ve been doing. You’ll be the success you’ve been pretending to be.

When you’ve truly embraced Clean Livin’ you won’t need to avoid the bad foods because they will no longer be a temptation. I’m the guy who can eat a single potato chip. Fear me.

<Lawrence extinguishes a match between his thumb and forefinger. William Potter tries it and burns himself.>
William Potter: <screams> It damn well hurts!
Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.
Potter: What’s the trick then?
Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

T.E. Lawrence has met his match.
T.E. Lawrence has met his match.

Willpower

The word “willpower” comes up a lot when people talk about dieting.

Your body burns fat far more efficiently than it stores it. Metabolically speaking, losing weight is a lot easier than gaining weight. You just have to let it. As soon as you create a caloric deficit (eating less food than your body needs to power itself) you’ll burn fat (well, sometimes you’ll also lose some lean muscle mass, but we’ll ignore that for now). The system works if you work the system. Your body is burning calories just to keep you alive. You burn calories even while sleeping, although not nearly as many as being more active.

Remember Newton’s first Law of Inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion. He wasn’t talking about a human body, but it still applies. Keep your body in motion.

The best part about Clean Livin’ is that it’s not a diet. It’s a means of replacing bad habits with better habits without missing the bad. Diets have a shelf life, like any fad. Diets have an assumed end date. I mean, you’ll just diet for a while and then you can stop, right?

Clean Livin’ means eating healthily and being more active… forever. Well, most of the time. Hey, why not try it just for this next meal. Just for today. See if you can do it through the end of the week. We tend to have an “all or nothing” mentality, especially where our diet is concerned.

It’s hard to do the right thing all the time. It’s much easier to do it at any particular moment it’s at the forefront of your mind.

Make The Right Thing The Easy Thing

There are some simple and easy things you can do to immediately improve your health that stack the deck in your favor.

Some “right things” that are easy to fit into your life:

  • Walking – Adding just 30 minutes a day of extra walking is usually pretty easy. You don’t even have to do it all at once. Take a five minute stroll around the block before you eat lunch, or walk to the store down the street instead of driving there, or hop on the treadmill for 15 minutes twice a day.
  • Easy Elimination – Cut out bad foods you won’t miss. There were a lot of unhealthy foods that I ate and didn’t even enjoy very much. If you choose to eat something that’s unhealthy, and it’s going to count towards your daily budget, at least make sure it’s worth it. If you eat unhealthy things you don’t even enjoy that much, cut them out! It’s easy to eliminate the foods that are just there for convenience (especially at the office when you may not even choose them) and spend those calories on something you’d prefer to eat. Make the most out of your calorie budget. Don’t squander those precious calories on something you consider less than delicious. For instance, I used to drink a few cans of Coca-Cola per day, and eat a bagel or muffin every morning. I’ll still have a bagel from time to time, but it was something I could eliminate and not even miss.
  • Easy Additions – Rather than concentrating on what you can’t eat, just start planning meals around vegetables, beans, and other high-nutrition food. By the time you get to the meat or fish you should already have a healthy meal. Then you can more easily reduce your portions.
  • Get Moving – Whenever you need to do something, ask yourself “Could I do this while moving?” Pace around while on the phone. Get up and walk around during commercial breaks. Use the bathroom on a different floor. Park at the end of the lot. Wash dishes by hand. Fold your laundry. Read while standing.
  • Cook – Buy real food from the outside aisles of the supermarket – fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy – and then cook it yourself. Not only will you know better what you’re eating while you likely eat healthier food, but you’ll also burn calories while cooking it. By keeping fruit on-hand you’ll also have a readily available snack for when you feel peckish.
  • Drink Water – Drink lots of water to flush out your system. Pound down that water. If you drink soda, get a Sodastream instead of buying bottled soda and make your own fizzy water. Replacing sugary drinks with water will not only hydrate you to help you lose weight, but water (even carbonated water) has zero calories. Plus, drinking a glass of water before, during, and after meals will fill you up more than you’d think.
  • Start Slow – You didn’t put excess weight on in a day, so it’s going to take time to take it off, too. Don’t make a thousand changes at once. Make a few small, easy to live with changes first and then add a few more in a little at a time, like when adding dry to wet ingredients while baking.
  • Shrink Your Plate – This one sounds stupid, but if you use smaller plates you’ll probably eat less, and it’ll look like you still have a full plate. I use 8" salad plates for most meals even if I’m already serving a fixed portion size. They’re a good size without being too small.
  • Write It Down – Before you start restricting your calories, just log everything you eat without concern for how many calories it all adds-up to. If you want to get a little helpful reinforcement you can share your food log with a dietician or even just post it on your blog. The simple act of writing everything down may make you think twice about what you choose to eat. Or not, but at least it’ll make you more aware of what you’re putting into your body. I tend to keep a log in a text file in my Dropbox so it’s available everywhere, but if you work better writing in pen on paper, Field Notes notebooks are small, cheap, and sturdy. The best note-taking system is the one you have with you.
  • Make Things More Delicious – Add some umami to your food to increase the flavor while increasing nutrition and decreasing overall calories.

Redefining Failure

Do or do not. There is no try.
Yoda

You can’t really fail at this. Even if you don’t do everything right you’re going to make yourself healthier just by paying attention to what you eat, attempting to be more active, etc.

Let’s say you set a goal to go to the gym every day after work. We’ll ignore that setting a goal like that is a bad idea, but you’re just starting out so you’re likely to keep it up for a couple of weeks out of excitement and momentum. Eventually, though, you’ll miss a day. Maybe you have to work late, or you’re meeting friends that night at the time you’d usually be at the gym, etc. You haven’t failed. You just missed that one time. It’s okay. Instead of beating yourself up about it, just go tomorrow.

If you find yourself always putting today’s workout off until tomorrow, maybe you need to find a new workout. Some activities are more fun than others.

Most important, though, is that you can’t change the past. You ate poorly for lunch? It’s not over! You can still eat better for dinner. Don’t give up because you slipped up. Doing the wrong thing is part of the process of doing the right thing. It’s built-in. You don’t need to feel bad about it. Just do the right thing next time. And the time after that, and the time after that you may screw up again, so pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on that bicycle.

What Success Means

Keep your eye on the prize. You’re doing this because you want something. Maybe you want to feel better. Maybe you want to look better. The key word in this is you. You can’t do this for someone else. You have to want it for yourself.

Start slow. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You can make small changes and those will compound like interest into bigger savings down the road. I don’t just mean a longer life (although there are innumerable statistics demonstrating just that) but a better life as well.

I guarantee[1] that once you make even a few simple changes that you’ll begin to feel better after only a few weeks. Looking better may take a little longer, but you have to be patient. Even small positive changes add up over time.

How To Set Goals

Let’s say you need to lose 40 pounds. So what’s your goal? It’s not to lose 40 pounds. Your goal is to lose 1–2 lbs per week, or to create a calorie deficit of 500–1000 calories per day. Your goal is to eat right for your next meal. It’s hard to plan far into the future, but it’s easy to plan for a few hours from now. Doing the right thing now means a payout toward your goal later.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be mindful about your overall goal – just that smaller goals are more realistic and also more likely to be goals you can achieve.

Beware of setting deadlines to your goals too. I was going to write “unrealistic deadlines” but deadlines in general are probably a bad idea if it’s a particular date and not a range. For example, saying “I need to lose 20 pounds by our vacation to Mexico so I can fit into this swimsuit” isn’t realistic. Losing four pounds in the next four weeks, though, is perfectly doable. The more you have to lose, the farther your finish line, and the further in the future, the hazier the goal. Work for now, plan for soon, and you’ll be prepared for the future.


  1. No actual guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Cancel any time. Void where prohibited by law.  ↩

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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I'm just some guy who lost a lot of weight and studied up on nutrition, diet, and exercise in order to improve my personal fitness. The contents of this site in no way contains medical advice. You should visit your doctor before making any dramatic changes to your diet or activity. While I make every attempt to be as accurate as possible regarding current knowledge and scientific studies (please feel free to let me know when I'm wrong about something), and may from time to time post updates to correct inaccuracies in previous entries, the information on this site is provided "as-is" for entertainment purposes only. Don't do something stupid and then sue me. I'm just trying to help. Thanks.