This article by me appeared in the monthly newsletter “Much Ado About Mensa” for July 2012.
No, it’s not some miracle pill or buying your food from some over-hyped diet plan or even hiring a personal “coach.” I’m just going to skip right to the answer, simply put:
DON’T EAT SO MUCH!
Sure, easy for me to say. But here is what I have learned over the past 10 years since I weighed over 300 pounds and how I permanently lost over 100 pounds. How you do it makes all the difference. It’s neither quick nor a diet. It’s about un-learning the bad eating habits that got you to that undesirable weight and how you educate yourself in good habits that result in permanent loss.
First step in the process of adding years to your life is to discuss your current condition with your doctor and formulate a plan. Set a goal to achieve your ideal weight over an appropriate time scale. You will find that you will have to make some changes. Like I said, it’s bad habits that got you to where you are at. It may or may not involve changes to your current exercise routine, but the highest priority, the one with the most leverage, in my opinion, is to consume fewer calories.
Here’s what my doctor suggested to me: “Try restricting your calories to less than 1800 per day to start out.” He didn’t tell me to exercise beyond what I did at work or my infrequent hiking/walking. He gave me a “cheat sheet” of good nutritional meal plans with typical calorie counts. Seemed reasonable, but I then realized that it not only is it important to keep your diet balanced to stay healthy, you need to understand the nutritional value of what you eat along with the costly calorie “penalty” of continuing to eat the same quantity of the items you like.
The learning process for food value is a key to success in the long term and there are many aids in that area, ranging from printed calorie/nutrition guides to on-line programs that help you track everything you eat. And yes, it’s true, “there is an app for that.”
Read the labels on packaged food and visit the nutrition pages on restaurant web sites. If you simply record the calories of everything you currently eat for two weeks without trying to reduce your intake or change your choices you may be surprised. Weigh yourself at the start and end and see what average calorie count per day has resulted in what weight change. From there, calculate what your new average should be to lose 1.5 to 2 pounds per week by using the estimate that 3,000 to 3,300 less calories per week will mean losing about 1 pound. (YMMV and it works both ways.)
So, back to my case. I first used a program on my Palm PDA that had a database of common foods and I entered everything I ate into that. This allowed me to manage to my budget. I found it was easy to do that and so much so that I was able to easily stay under 1600 calories. In this way I lost my first 80 pounds at the average rate of 1.5 pounds per week. The doctor was pleased, my blood pressure went down, my tri-glicerides got more into balance, although he said I could exercise more. However, this is not the end of the story…
Even though I dropped the weight, I wasn’t close enough to being at a healthy weight. I had slacked off a bit in my calorie tracking and still didn’t exercise. However, I had learned a whole new set of “good” foods and what to avoid at all cost. I had drifted back up by 20 pounds over the course of a few years and then a wake-up call. A coronary artery blockage sent me to the emergency room. In spite of passing a treadmill stress test the week before and always having consistently low cholesterol I had to have five stents put into two blocked coronary arteries.
I needed to continue my weight loss and complement this with some exercise once I was released to do so by the cardiologist. At this point, I retired from working and had a lot of free time so I started riding bike a few days a week around the neighborhood. First 2 miles, then 4, then 6, then 8 and finally 10 miles each time I went out. I also began doing it more often until I was out every day, making friends with the other “regulars” running or riding in the neighborhood.
So over the past 10 years I learned what I can eat habitually yet still stay under 1600 calories average. I can still have pizza, chocolates, burgers and the like, but I just have to stay in budget. Speaking of budget, I now spend less on food! Holidays provide challenges, but keep the average around your budget and you will do fine. Today I use an app on my iPhone that tracks everything and even has a bar code scanner for packaged food UPC codes to lookup the information automatically.
In summary, I have learned that diets can’t possibly work, since they are always temporary. Only a permanent change in habits can achieve permanent weight loss and a longer, healthier life.
Photo at the top shows “before” on an Alaska Cruise in 1998 where I was approaching 300 pounds and below is “after” where I have lost over 100 pounds and completed a bike ride of 25 miles with daughter-in-law Lisa.