DISCLAIMER: This information is provided as examples of the things that helped me on my weight loss journey. I am not a doctor and that this is not medical advice and that anyone who wishes to begin any sort of weight loss or exercise plan should consult a qualified medical professional; which I am not.
Well, it’s the end of the first month of the New Year. How are your fitness and weight loss goals coming? If you are like most people, your resolve is weakening already or you have already lapsed. But that’s why I’m writing this. I want to inspire you to stay on track or get back on track if you have fallen off the proverbial wagon. Because I’ve been there myself, I know how hard it can be. I think I can offer you some useful advice and methods for setting goals. You see in January of 2009 I weighed 315 pounds and had a 46 inch waist. Or at least wore a size 46 pants. I was fat and just didn’t realize how fat. Shopping for a new suit and only finding things in the “portly” section annoyed me, but I still didn’t get it.
I had spent the previous three years focusing on my career. I was learning as much as I could about server administration and networking. I was studying six hours a day or more and working full time. Everything in life cannot be a priority; something has to give and at that time it was my weight and my health. Then in November of 2008 my wife camped out and got a Wii and the Wii Fit game. We were playing it and I stepped on the Wii Balance board… 315 lbs. This shocked me. I knew things had gotten bad, but 315! I had no idea. I thought I was closer to 200 than I was to 300, but no - I was over 300 pounds. Wow… That really hit me. But it still wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t until Christmas of 2008 that I woke up. I was at Christmas Eve dinner with my family and my little sister asked me if I had seen the trailer for the new movie called Tropic Thunder. “No,” I replied. “Do you remember how when we were little I used to say you looked like Tom Cruise? Well you have to see this!” And she proceeded to show me the scene where Tom Cruise is dancing to a rap song in a fat suit. And I had to laugh, because it was terribly funny how much I looked like him… except I was fatter than Tom Cruise was in a fat suit. And that was it. I was done. I finally crashed through the above average fantasy that shades how we see ourselves on a daily basis and I said that night that I was fixing this.
And that was how it started. Come the first of the year I started getting my act together. I knew that I had to make a drastic change and get noticeable results quickly or it would weaken my resolve. But how to begin? I had a good beginner’s workout template. In the past I had been fit and active and now it was time to get back to where I had been but I had to make this time different. I wanted to go beyond just weight loss and achieve a level of strength and athleticism that was to be proud of especially since I was knocking on 40’s door. At first I just did body weight exercises and jogged around my neighborhood. Then my wife and I bought some weights from Dick’s Sporting Goods and a Tae Bo cardio video. We did that for about 90 days and it got to the point that we needed more. Come March of 2009 we joined our local YMCA. Within 6 months I had probably lost close to 50 pounds. My diet was good. I didn't starve myself and I ate five small meals throughout the day. At this point I had learned some important lessons.
Five Tips to Help You Succeed
Don’t set firm goals when it comes to weight loss. Once you start working with resistance training the idea of “weight” is not your enemy. Track your weight but also measure yourself in the dominant arm, chest, waist, and thigh (maybe your hips as well). Keep a record in Excel. If your weight goes up or doesn’t come down quickly but your measurements keep going down, then you are still making progress. Keep in mind that I placed this tip first for a reason! Your scale does not always mean what you might think it means.
Don’t make the mistake of just doing weight training. This is mostly advice for men. Lifting heavy weights is not going to give you the results you want. You need to do cardio as well. If you cannot run because you are too heavy and it hurts, then use the elliptical or other machine. If you cannot afford to join a gym, then jog and walk to the best of your ability.
Don’t just do cardio either. Generally women fall into this trap. Cardio by itself will help you to lose the wrong kind of weight. Use resistance training to help you shape your body, improve your hormonal environment, and increase your metabolism to where you burn more calories at rest than you did when you were sedentary.
Cut out the fake food. Many people ask me this question, “How do I know what I should be eating?” I have a simple rule. If someone alive 500 years ago would not have recognized it as food at a glance, don’t eat it unless it’s a cheat meal. My wife was constantly confused by this, let me put it another way: If it is in a package at the time you are about to eat it, it should be left for a cheat meal.
A planned, controlled cheat meal is important. If you have eaten according to your diet all week then one meal, once a week you can eat whatever you want. Now don't do crazy with this. Test it out and see what works for you. Keep in mind that your scale can go up 7 or more pounds after a cheat meal and stay at close to that level for a few days! This is normal and is one of the reasons why I say that "weight" does not mean what you think it does.
What about the Paleo Diet you are Always Talking about?
The Paleo Diet is a “template diet”, which meaning it uses an idea of a culture from the past to explain a template for the types of food you should choose from. In the case of Paleo, it uses the theoretical concept from Evolutionary Biology known as the Environment of Human Evolutionary Adaption (EEA). This is a theoretical construct that represents a non-existent, but intellectually useful, environment where our genus (Homo) evolved and the ideal foods that would have been present for us to eat. The basic concept of the diet is simple:
Eat a wide variety of leafy green vegetables. Every meal should contain some – yes, in my opinion, even breakfast! Eat good lean meats. Pick from seafood, fish, chicken, beef and pork. Don’t shy away from anything but don’t use this as an excuse to eat bacon all day, either. Eat a bit of fruit like berries or an apple. Have a few nuts or seeds (learn what a nut and seed is and how they differ from legumes). Eat a few whole eggs each week. And there you have it. Notice there are no calories dense, nutrient poor grains or dairy products on that list. “What about calcium and fiber,” you might ask. Do the research and compare a cup of spinach (calories and calcium content) to a glass of milk. Now do the same with two slices of bread. You will see what I mean.
Let me cut to the chase on this topic. Most of the evidence that supports Paleo from a health perspective is very anecdotal and there is not a lot of formal science that has been done around it. The reason why I love Paleo so much is due to the fact that it becomes very hard to over-eat. This means that you can consume a larger quantity of food, which will reduce hunger and craving but still lose weight. It’s an undeniable fact that no one ever got fat from eating apples, and nobody ever died from giving up Wonder Bread.
Now for the Bad and the Ugly…
You’ve stuck with the article this far, so let’s have a serious conversation. Statistically speaking, you are likely to fail. You are probably going to give up, but I don’t want that to be the case. Let me help you understand why you are likely to fail because the fact is, barring some sort of terrible accident or tragedy, these things are entirely under control.
Four Reasons Why you Quit
- You think you are better than you actually are. Everyone has the above average bias. You think you are just a little smarter than the average person, a little more considerate, a little less fat. But you are not. Since you suffer from this bias you think the process is going to be easier than it is, and when you don’t quickly get the results you expect, you quit. Perhaps you make an excuse and convince yourself that wasn’t the reason you actually stopped, but it was.
- You are not prepared to make mistakes, suffer setbacks, or fail in the short term. This makes long-term success impossible. You are a human being with a finite amount of will power, responsibilities that demand your attention, and you sometimes get sick. If you start down the road to any goal, you will mess up at some point. And you are more likely to mess up big in the beginning. You’ll forget your lunch and have to go out to eat. You’ll wake up in a bad mood and stuff your face with a pastry and a mocha from Starbuck’s on the way to work. None of this means it’s over unless you make it that way. Get up off the floor, dust yourself off and continue on as best as you can. But please keep in mind this does not excuse failure, it simply demonstrates the attitude you need to handle failure in order for you to succeed in the long run.
- You don’t know how to manage your weaknesses. Now-you operates under the best intentions, future-you is a douchebag who doesn’t give a crap about now-you’s goals. You need to be brutally honest and develop strategies that will manipulate you into doing the things you need to do to accomplish your goals. Remember up at the beginning of this post when I talked about how I had a very different image of myself than what was real? You do this, too. You might not know it, but everyone needs to have a positive self-image. And the best way to do this is warp reality in favor of yourself. You will try and convince yourself that you are actually fine that there is always time, you are not really unhealthy… Lies! All lies! You know the cliché, if you want to do something bad enough you will find a way, if not you will find an excuse. And the best excuse is one you believe in your heart is legitimate. Yeah, it's not. So get over it.
- You want to make small changes because you feel those are more manageable and will be easier to stick with. For example, you want to just stop drinking soda and walk for 20 minutes every night. But that's not enough. This is scientifically proven to be wrong and I will say that to any M.D. or Ph.D. who tries to convince you otherwise. Every single study done on the topic has shown that drastic, healthy changes cause noticeable positive benefits that produce a positive feedback-loop, driving your desire to continue and get better. Of course there are health constraints you should consider! You need to know yourself and your health but that doesn’t change the fact that you can either change or die.
So are you ready to go? Have you realized that this is a long-term commitment that might take years for you to accomplish? If you are ready and want some advice and encouragement, hit me up on Twitter or on FaceBook. Join a gym or your local YMCA or just go to your local park. You'll find all sorts of ideas for workouts on this site and others that I link to. Just remember not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good and get out there and continue your transformation.