Thursday, August 23, 2012

How I lost 51 pounds

A few weeks ago, I changed my Facebook profile picture and casually mentioned that I've lost 46 pounds since February. This week I passed the 50 pound milestone, and posted an update. Both posts received a great deal of "likes" and encouraging comments. (Thank you so much!) I've also had lots of people ask -- either via public comment or private message: "So how'd you do it? What's your secret?" Although I still have a long way to go (I'd like to lose another 60 pounds, so I'm not even halfway to my goal yet), I'm going to try my best to answer those questions here.

I need to warn you that this is going to be a very long read, because my answer is not a simple "eat this" or "do this particular diet." It's much more complicated than that. My philosophy is that everyone is on their own personal journey and what's right for you may not be right for me, and vice versa. Disclaimer: this is not advice, but an account of what I'm doing.

First, some background info. I haven't always been overweight or obese. As a child and teenager, I was always kind of average in terms of weight (but a little taller than average until people caught up with me in high school). I'm really lucky to have a Mom who studied nutrition in college, and even though she worked outside the home for most of my early life, she always made sure we had proper amounts of nutritious, healthy food. We didn't eat a lot of junk, and we rarely ate fast food. I didn't really appreciate that when I was younger, but I do now. :)

Unfortunately, I didn't continue the good habits Mom tried to instill in me when I left home to make my way in the world. Perhaps to make up for the lack of junk food during my childhood, I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, as much as I wanted, and never thought about it. At first, this didn't seem to make an impact on my body because at the time I was an active person: I rode my bike, walked, played basketball and had boundless amounts of energy all through my university years.

Then I graduated and went to work . . . in a sedentary job. (I look back on that now and think WHAT A BIG MISTAKE! I should have chosen a more active career. It's NOT HEALTHY to sit for 9 hours a day. Don't do it, kids!) Suddenly, I didn't have the drive or the energy to exercise. I couldn't control my hunger. I became addicted to a certain soft drink whose initials are "MD" and it was no big deal for me to drink 3 or even 4 liters a day.  That only made me more hungry. Time passed, and every year I seemed to gain 10-20 pounds. One year, I gained 30 pounds. I have a large frame, so the "lose 12 pounds, lose a size" adage does not apply to me. I gained 30 pounds and could still wear the same pants! So honestly, I was gaining weight but I didn't realize it . . . until it was way out of hand.

I remember seeing a photo of myself in 1992. It freaked me out, because I had no idea I was that big. What did I do? I went on a diet -- the first serious diet in my life. I chose [one of those diets where you have to buy the food every week.] It worked! I easily lost 20 pounds. But after a few months I got sick of the food. I mean, seriously? How much tinned tuna casserole and Swedish meatballs can one tolerate? So I quit -- and quickly gained back what I had lost, plus ten pounds more.

Sometimes I wish I'd never heard the word 'diet.' Am I the only person who's ever noticed that the word 'diet' contains the word die? For the past 20 years, I've done every diet known to humankind. They all worked in the beginning, but they weren't sustainable and eventually I couldn't take it anymore and would quit, gain the weight back, plus more. I was trapped in a vicious cycle.

[Hmm, I just re-read this and it sounds a bit like an infomercial. I promise I'm not trying to sell you something. Please keep reading.]

Over the years, I became what some people fondly refer to as a Foodie and others call a Food Snob. My hobbies were food-based: cooking, hanging out at markets and gourmet stores, reading food books and magazines, watching food television shows, playing online food games, writing my food blog, and of course -- dining out. I loved to try new restaurants, and one of my biggest hobbies was to take photos of pretty food and then post them online. I thought about food all the time. My life revolved around it. You know, I've heard people say "food is my friend" and I always thought that sounded stupid. Until the day it occurred to me that I was one of those people.

That's when I realized that I have a real problem: I'm a food addict. Yes, I use the word addict. I'm food addict, just like some people are drug addicts, alcohol addicts, gambling addicts, and sex addicts. It can be a scary proposition to look your demon in the eye, but that's what I did. Realizing and then admitting I have a problem was the first step in this journey, but I honestly believe it was the most important.

I'm going to be dealing with this for the rest of my life, because that's how addiction works.

But enough of that. Here's what you came here for: How I lost 51 pounds (and how I plan to lose another 60) . . . my very personal 15-step program. Here goes:

  1. I acknowledged that I have a problem. This is number one for me, because if this hadn't happened, there's no way I could have continued this journey beyond four weeks or so. I am the food addict. I OWN THIS.
  2. I decided to do something about it. There's this great quote from the Star Wars character Yoda: "Do or Do not. There is no try." You're either ready or you're not. You can't do it because someone else (girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, partner, children, grandchildren, doctor, friend, anyone) wants you to or tells you to or heaven forbid, nags you to. I DO IT FOR ME.
  3. I recognized that I can't change the past. What's done is done. I'm not going to feel guilty or punish myself anymore for the poor choices I made over the last 30 years. Instead, I'm going to make good decisions today that will positively impact my future. I find certain mantras like "Today is the first day of the rest of my life" and "Take it one day, one hour, one minute at a time" to be very helpful!
  4. I took a good long look at my support system and informed everyone of my new way of life and that it's NOT optional. I'm very lucky that I have a strong support system, but I realize not everyone does. I'm going to be blunt: You have to eliminate the unsupportive people and situations from your life, or you won't succeed. Looking at that from a different angle, it's possible to add support and inspiration to your life. Take a look around and you'll find someone who can inspire you at some level. It may sound really strange, but one of my biggest sources of inspiration is someone I don't even know who lost over 110 pounds and now runs marathons. How did we connect? Twitter!
  5. I sought out resources and did my research. I'm not the kind of person who can starve myself -- it's not healthy, and it makes me grumpy. I knew that I'd need to find a medically-supervised weight loss program to help me through this, so I found one. I go once a week to weigh in, chat with a counselor, get nutritional assistance, and yes, I do have access to a low-dose, non-addictive appetite suppressant (I don't always need it.) If you want to know which program I'm on and details about it, contact me privately and I'll tell you.
  6. I measure almost everything and I track everything I eat. I'm not a morning person, and I'm not going to get up an extra 15 minutes early to fix my lunch, so I do it the night before. I measure some foods on a kitchen scale and most everything else in measuring cups and spoons. Sure, there are times I can't measure my food - for example, in the very rare cases when I go out to eat anymore -- but I'm getting really good at eyeballing things like grilled chicken. I track every single thing I eat. Research shows that the people who are most successful keeping off the weight track what they eat. I use My Fitness Pal (www.myfitnesspal.com), a wonderful FREE online tool that also has apps for iPhone/iPad, Android, and Blackberry so you can track from multiple devices wherever you are.
  7. I eat well! I have three meals and a minimum of two snacks everyday. This is what I have almost every morning for breakfast: up to 7 oz. of plain 2% or full fat (yes, FULL FAT! I don't eat "fat free" anything, because when they take out the fat, they add other stuff to make up for it - stuff I don't want, like added sugars) Greek-style yogurt and 1/2 cup berries sweetened with 2 packets of stevia, with a small handful of walnuts or pecans. For lunch, I usually have all protein: 3-4 ounces of a lean meat like grilled chicken or fish, a good cut of grass-fed beef, or a high-quality (preferably all-natural, nitrite free, low sodium) deli meat -- usually turkey, chicken, or roast beef, occasionally ham, with 1 ounce of Gouda or Swiss cheese. Dinner is either a huge green salad (I can have all the leafy greens as I want -- salad greens, kale, bok choy, collards, chard, etc.) with 3-4 oz. grilled chicken or fish or crumbled veggie burger or veggie protein and Cafe Geneva European salad dressing -- or a protein shake. (On the nights that I have a protein shake, I have a salad for lunch instead of dinner, because I have to get my veggies.) My snack choices are protein- and fat-based: string cheese, a boiled egg, macadamias, cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, 2% or full-fat cottage cheese, edamame, or some hummus with veggies. I limit my snacks to 1/4 cup per serving. On days that I work out, I'll have a pre-workout meal of an apple with 2 teaspoons of natural peanut butter or almond butter. If I do strength training, I also have a little meal afterwards, usually a protein shake or another 3-4 ounces of the deli meat or grilled chicken, whatever's handy.
  8. I drink a ton of water every day. OK, maybe not a ton, but at least 10 cups (a cup is 8 ounces or about 236mL). They say that sometimes when you think you're hungry you're actually thirsty, and I've found this to be true. The water thing was not easy at first. I had to pee all the time . . . but thankfully, now I don't because my body is used to it. In addition to drinking water, I drink some coffee in the mornings (with real, full-fat cream and a packet or two of stevia). I'll also drink an occasional unsweetened ice tea or green tea. I use unsweetened vanilla almond milk in my protein shakes. And I drink a zero-calorie sports drink, which I'll mention in a moment. I don't drink juice or soft drinks of any kind - not even diet. Alcohol is out, too.
  9. I take vitamins and drink electrolytes. I drink one 32 ounce (946mL) bottle of a certain zero-calorie sports drink a day, not all at once but over the course of the day. This helps to replace anything I might not be getting otherwise, especially on days I exercise. As to vitamins and supplements, here's what I take: a multi-vitamin, calcium, vitamin D, biotin, and omega 3s (fish oil or flax oil).
  10. I get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep is so important for so many reasons. 50 pounds ago, I had sleep apnea and was a loud, obnoxious snorer who often stopped breathing and made funky noises. This all went away after I lost the first 30 pounds. Sleep is necessary if you're trying to lose weight, and especially if you're working out -- that's when your muscles recover.
  11. I get some form of exercise EVERY DAY. I've always wanted to be a runner, and I tried doing a Couch-to-5K program last fall, but it was too hard on my joints because of the extra weight I was carrying. After I lost about 25 pounds, I re-started the C25K program. I can now run about 1.5 miles without stopping (or puking, or falling over, or . . . ) I do the C25K program (which, by the way, is an iPhone app) three times a week and on my non-running days I do strength training - at home - with dumbbells. I also do the occasional 5K as a walker/jogger. I'm planning to join my local YMCA soon because I want to take swim lessons, something I haven't done since I was a kid.
  12. I weigh once a week and take measurements once a month. As tempting as it is, I'm not obsessive about this. Weight varies depending on time of day, fluids, and other stuff, so there's really no point in stepping on the scales more often. Same for measurements.
  13. I plan in advance -- and I'm willing to share. I don't do "cheat days" or "cheat meals" but occasionally I go off plan -- for example, if I have a business trip, I can't prepare my own food like I do when I'm at home. But I'm really, really careful. If I'm going to a restaurant, I do as much research as possible before I get there by looking at the menu online. I don't go to all-you-can-eat places or buffets, and in the rare instance when I have no other choice but fast food, I'll order a grilled chicken sandwich and just eat the chicken. In a sit-down restaurant, I'm not shy about requesting something that's not on the menu (such as grilled chicken instead of fried) or asking the server to bring the salad dressing "on the side" or to hold the bread or sauce. I've found that food servers/wait staff are actually quite used to people being on (all kinds of) diets, and they are very accommodating and knowledgeable about options if you just ask! AND . . . I've found that my friends and family are generally open to sharing a meal. In fact, most of them think it's a really great idea and wonder why they didn't think of it. :)
  14. I celebrate my successes. Even a half-pound weekly loss makes me happy because . . . it's a loss. I don't celebrate with food anymore, so I do other things: get a massage, buy some new songs from iTunes, get some new running socks . . . it doesn't have to be big or expensive. I celebrated my 50 pound milestone yesterday by signing up for a half marathon!
  15. I try to keep my balance and not stress if I fall off.  Since I started this journey back in February, I've deviated from the path a time or two. I just try to make the best possible choice, even if it's the lesser of evils. For example, a new frozen yogurt shop opened up in my hometown recently, and Dad wanted to treat me, so I let him. I had 4 ounces of no-sugar-added vanilla with some walnuts. It was fine. Like everything else in life, it's all about balance.
I want to say something else about the food addiction thing. My way of dealing with it was to cancel my magazine subscriptions, unsubscribe from food-related Tweeps and FB likes, delete my blog, stop watching the food shows, and basically bury my head in the sand. I did this because it was what I had to do to get back control. I'm going to keep doing it for a while longer. You probably won't want to ask me out to dinner anytime soon, but just so you'll know, I'd be open to going for a walk, a hike, or a bike ride. :)

Oh. You're still reading? I haven't put you to sleep yet? Good. One more thing that might interest you:

Results are in. I had some blood work done earlier this year, and again just a few weeks ago. My total cholesterol went from 232 to 175. I was pre-hypertensive. Now I'm not. My pulse rate used to be in the mid-90s. Now it's in the low 70s. My blood glucose has gone from high 90s to mid 80s. The results speak for themselves.

Well, that's it. Let the journey continue. I wish you the best on your personal journey, wherever it may lead. See you at the next milestone. :)