I didn’t even bother taking “before” pictures.
Why would I? Every year for more than a decade I had resolved that this would be the year I finally got my weight under control. The amount of weight I needed to lose grew each year. I’d done Weight Watchers, The Zone, Body For Life, South Beach Diet, Atkins and other diets. Of course I can’t count the number of times I’d resolved to “just eat healthier and exercise more”.
I would almost always lose some weight. But it would never stay off. So when a friend told me about “The Belly Fat Cure” in late 2009, I figured I might as well give it a shot. It was simple enough. I watched a few youtube videos and finished the book in about 15 minutes. The concept of no more than 15 grams of sugar and 6 servings of carbs per day was mostly consistent with the health literature I’d consumed over the last decade. It was not consistent with the food I was typically consuming.
I followed the diet strictly without exercising at all for a couple months. I lost about 15 lbs and quickly realized that I had some impressive sugar demons to overcome. My travel-heavy work schedule made compliance challenging but not impossible. I had a few days where I lost it but I got right back on it the next day.
After a couple months of this I was ready to add exercise to my life. I joined a local Crossfit gym in April of 2010 and am still a member, going 3-4 times a week when my work schedule allows for it. My diet has changed a bit over this time but I still believe that controlling sugar is the #1 key to controlling my weight.
Now, a year and a half later, for the first time I’ve been able to maintain a stable weight of around 220-225 lbs. I feel comfortable in my clothes at this weight and can wear the jeans I wore in high school. I can’t really remember ever feeling like I was at more or less an appropriate weight for my frame.
There’s so much that I’ve learned through this process. I’m going to share all of this in upcoming posts, but for now, here are a few principles that seem to be important.
For most people, carb restriction—especially limiting sugar—is going to be central in losing and maintaining weight.
The idea that it’s “all about creating a calorie deficit” is a myth; a horrible, frustrating myth that far too many people believe to be true. It’s not your lack of willpower that makes you fat, it’s your hormones. If you want to lose fat, you need to control three hormones: insulin, leptin and cortisol. Those hormones are in charge of partitioning your calories and regulating appetite. Cortisol is affected by many lifestyle factors, particularly stress. Insulin is almost entirely related to the quality and volume of carbohydrate intake. Leptin is a satiety hormone that is far more difficult to understand, but I’ll get there in time. For now, you just need to understand that you can control how many sugary carbohydrates you eat. In doing so you control insulin and regulate whether your body stores fat or uses it for energy. In my opinion, there is no more important concept to fully understand in losing weight than this. Ultimately, calories do matter, but I’ve found them to be much further down the list of important things to think about. I’ll unpack this concept plenty in future posts.
You don’t need to exercise to lose weight.
Don’t get me wrong; you should exercise. It’s fun and you will be healthier. But it’s not necessary to lose weight. It’s definitely not necessary to get started losing weight. In fact, I think it may actually make losing weight harder, at least in the beginning. Intense exercise is going to make you hungry for carbs and if you haven’t started to integrate healthy eating habits into your life, your exercise regimen could be your downfall. There’s more to this story, but this is why I recommend working on your diet first.
Weight loss must be slow to be lasting.
The majority of the change I experienced took place over the course of a whole year. “Lose 30 lbs in one year!” is not going to be the title of a NY Times bestseller any time soon, but it describes the only effective and lasting change in diet I’ve ever personally experienced. I’ve lost weight before, but never kept it off. Rapid weight loss doesn’t give you a chance to fully ingrain the lifestyle changes that must occur to create permanent body re-composition. Don’t weigh yourself too frequently. Visible results are fun and can be easily obtained by looking at a scale, but not seeing evidence on the scale despite meticulous compliance is discouraging. Pay attention primarily to how your clothes feel.
Once you heal your metabolism, you can relax (a little)
When you realize that being overweight is evidence of a diseased and dysfunctional metabolism, it makes sense that a healthy metabolism can more safely handle nutritional trysts that deviate from the norm. You probably won’t (and shouldn’t) be able to eat a typical American diet (i.e. what made you fat in the first place) but neither do you have to say good-bye to ice cream for the rest of your life. I eat more or less according to my principles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But once the kids are in bed (8PM at our house), my discipline seems to retire for the night as well. I typically have ice cream 2-3 times a week and most nights enjoy an adult beverage, especially red wine or a Dark and Stormy. Because I’ve healed my metabolism, this isn’t an issue for me. The grass is truly greener on the other side of metabolic dysfunction.
You never know what’s gonna be a difference-maker for people. For me it was this little tiny book that finally revealed to me the depth of my addiction to sugar. I believe that there’s probably someone else like me out there who can benefit from my experience. Perhaps I can even help them to speed past the decade I spent uncomfortable in my own body while steadily gaining weight.
I’m genetically disposed to gain weight and not be lean. I tend toward laziness. I’m a habitual procrastinator (don’t even ask how long this blog has been “in the works”). I travel a lot for work so consistency in any aspect of my life is challenging. I have 5 children ages 11 and under (plus one more on the way) that my wife and I homeschool so my life can tend toward chaos at times.
These are many of the reasons I got fat and stayed that way, but these are also why it’s so important for me to be healthy. There’s a lot more at stake.
Thanks for reading. Lots more to come.