I'm often asked what specifically I did to lose 220 pounds. I decided to make this page to hopefully pass on some of the tips that helped me. I expect it to change over time as I continue to learn, and as I refine my ability to communicate what I have learned so check back!
Small Gradual Changes
If I had to sum things up into one phrase, "small gradual changes" would be it. Make small changes, gradually, that will last you for a lifetime. One of the first things I did when I started changing my eating habits was work on portion control. Don't eat two hamburgers for dinner, just eat one. Skip the fries, eat a salad, or some baked sweet potato “fries.” All those small changes add up! You lose a little bit of weigh, gain momentum, and continue improving.
I heard my friend Scott say “It's about progress, not perfection” once in a facebook post. That's exactly what I'm trying to say here.
I get approached all the time by people trying (sort of) to lose weight. Let me give you an idea of how about 90% of the conversations I have with people about weight loss go.
Them: Hey, you're the guy that lost a bunch of weight and now does triathlons, right?
Them: I can't exercise OR eat right because I X (where X is some excuse like “have kids, have a job, am just too busy, have an unsupportive spouse, etc.)
Most people go out of their way to tell me why they can't possibly do what I did. I never ask, but they put it out there anyway. Honestly, I don't think they really want to lose weight, so much as they want validation for their weak excuses. I just “Ok” these conversations because I have no patience for them. I wish I did, but hey I'm not perfect.
But what am I really thinking? A few things:
Thing 1 – Bullshit.
Thing 2 - When you start with reasons you can't succeed, you won't.
Thing 3 – If / when it's important to you, you will stop talking about why you can't do it, and instead do it.
When I started this I couldn't walk a block without being out of breath. So I walked a block, and then did it again the next day.
When I started this I had a spouse that made an unhealthy dinner every night and chased it with a sugary desert. So, I made myself a sandwich, or a salad instead.
If you're going to make it, you've got to own your own success. You have to be ready and willing to come home, see that your spouse ordered your favorite deep dish pizza, and then say “no thanks” and walk away if you know you can't control yourself around pizza (good example for me because I can't). You have to be willing to walk away from your own birthday cake, if you can't control your desire to eat the whole thing.
I'm not saying to never eat pizza or cake. I am saying you have to own it. I don't want to hear about how someone is sabotaging you. Unless they are tying you down and feeding you, it's not about them.
The same can be said for making exercise a priority. You need to be willing to get up before your kids/significant other and exercise if that's what it takes. You need to be willing to go for a run after they go to bed at 11, even when you are exhausted, if that's what it takes. If it's pouring down freezing rain at 4 am when you wake up to run, you get wet. All that's required is doing whatever it takes.
“I just can't lose weight becasuse my spouse keeps twinkies and dorritos around...” is just an excuse. You've got to want this, so suck it up buttercup.
If I sound overly harsh here, I'm sorry. I really do want you to be successful, but excuses are just excuses and hearing yours reminds me of my own. I don't have patience for either. If you want someone to validate your reasons not to be healthy, go somewhere else. This is a place for the people that do whatever it takes.
Set Realistic Goals
When I started off on this journey, I never imagined I'd lose so much. My first goal was to be under 330 pounds. Why? Because that was the capacity of my scale. I'd finally know how much I actually weighed, instead of just “tilt.” Then I went for the impossible, and started working to make it to less than 300 pounds. At 299, my world was different. I had made it to 330 before, but 299 was a real accomplishment. If I did that, maybe I could get to 280, or 250, or ride a bike, or...the more you do, the less it seems impossible.
If you're morbidly obese like I was, don't take it all on at once. Take it day by day, and pound by pound.
And when you hit those goals, celebrate them! Don't be afraid to buy yourself some new clothes, or a new healthy cook book. Make those goals count. They are a big deal, they're milestones to a new you.
Eat Good Stuff
The unfortunate truth about weight loss is that there are a billion “experts” out there, most of which have never fought the life-or-death struggle with obesity that you might be facing. They're all trying to make a buck though, your buck.
It's not about atkins, or subway, or paleo, or whatever ism. There isn't an eating system that is going to do the work for you. Your weight is about how much you eat, not what.
Don't get me wrong, what you eat is important. Eating real, good food will determine how you feel, it will influence your body composition, it will nourish you in a way you probably aren't used to based on your current diet, and keep you satisfied even when eating less than you need to maintain your body weight.
The good news is that eating right isn't as hard as everyone makes it out to be. As Michael Polland would say, “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.” Eat your veggies, eat mostly lean meat, eat fish, eat fresh fruit. That's all there is to it.
So, when people ask “what should I eat?” I respond with “eat good stuff, and not too much of it.”
Most people don't have a real good handle on just how much they eat. Because the average American diet is composed of many foods that are very calorie dense, they can consume an amazing amount of food energy in a small form factor.
At the very least, you should log every bite you eat for a week/month/whatever. Understand just how many calories you are eating. You'll likely surprise yourself.
This is more than just "Dear Diary, today I ate a roast beef sandwich and this is how I feel about it..." This is about measuring and controlling your energy needs. You're going to have to figure out approximately how many calories you should be eating. There are numerous online calculators for that. Of course your own needs can vary, so use those calculators as a starting place, and adjust based on your experience.
Research indicates that people that keep food logs lose about twice the weight of people that don't. It's a fantastic way to hold yourself accountable.
While you're at it, get yourself a food scale. It makes portioning infinitely easier, and it really helps you understand the calorie content of various foods.
Even if you don't do it forever, logging food can be an eye opener. I personally have logged every day for the last three years and plan to continue it.
Eating too little is as bad for weight loss as eating too much. I've gone through many many weight loss plateaus. Every one of them I can recall has been caused by eating too little and has been solved by eating more. Don't starve yourself. It will slow down your weight loss, cause poor workouts, and make you feel like crap.
Exercise with Purpose
If you're going to be healthy, you have to exercise. Period. The end.
Can you lose weight without exercise? Yes. I'm not here to tell you how to lose weight though. I'm about living healthy, the right way. I want to help you be the person you are supposed to be, and I'm here to tell you, the person you are supposed to be exercises.
So, if you've got to do it, you have a choice.
Exercise can be a chore. It can suck, you can hate it the whole time, and you can cross it off your list anyway.
Or you can enjoy it. Imagine a place where exercise is something you look forward to every day. It's possible. Find something you love. Find a sport you can train for. Find an activity you like. Go for a run and make it your “me time.” I can't find that purpose for you, but I can tell you to find yourself a purpose. Make it mean something, and learn to love it.