Friday, September 28, 2007

Weight loss wrap-up -- my story

Time to wrap up this series on diet, and I wanted to share how things have been going for me on my attempts at weight loss, exercise, and improving nutrition. (It's intended for encouragement, not as any kind of boasting)

One doesn't get 50 to 100 lbs overweight overnight, it takes a while! Specifically, I got there by ignoring exercise and nutrition, eating too much and too often, and ignoring the scale so I didn't know how bad it was. I hit a few walls simultaneously, each of which was a point I did not want to pass. Feeling way too winded from climbing up stairs, no energy to play with my kids, and pants starting to be too tight (again). My waist size was one I vowed I would never exceed, and stepping on the scale for the first time in too long found me just short of a boundary I never wanted to cross. Together these factors were too big to ignore and it was time to make some changes.

In the past I've played a lot of volleyball and tennis, and at this time some friends asked me if I was interested in playing volleyball with them one or two nights a week. Overdue, I took them up on that, and played for several hours the first night. I was completely exhausted, and sore for three days. Next time, still exhausted, and sore for two days. Improvement! Next two times just sore for a day, and after a month I could finish the evening without feeling completely wiped out or hurting the next day. At this point I made no significant changes to my diet except cutting out evening snacks on volleyball night. Exercise itself led to a weight loss of 0.5 lbs per week, playing volleyball twice a week. Does that sound puny? For two reasons it's not. First, I love volleyball! This was no treadmill, and it soon became a firm habit, and something I really hated to miss. Second, the weight loss was slow and steady, consistent - and after a year it added up to over 25 pounds. I still loved food too much, and had not made many changes to my eating habits. Two helpful ones, however, were: reducing evening snacking from fatty foods in large quantity to modest foods in modest quantities (pretzels, low-fat ice cream), and cutting lunch portions at restaurants in half to save them for later.

Those two consistent changes helped me to lose 40 pounds from my peak weight. Yet at that point I seemed to be hitting a plateau. Right at the 250 lb mark, I could not seem to go below it. I had got somewhat complacent on eating, and after a week of vacation with the family found the weight starting to creep back up. I needed to kick things up a notch and get back on track, and this time I would have to take a closer look at what I ate. Three things really helped at this point. First, I started learning about what was in the food I was eating, how many calories there were in my snacks and fast food choices. Second, I read several books on fitness including Jim Karas' "The Business Plan for the Body." Third, for several days I forced myself to work off the evening snack calories on an exercise bike before I could eat them. Boy, was that an eye-opener. The exercise bike is way too boring for me to stick to for the long term, but it was good for motivation to get informed about my snacking choices. This new information finally helped me to see my eating habits as choices I had to own, and made me consider them as strongly as I considered the cost of the meal - and as a strictly on-the-value-menu kind of guy, that's saying a lot!

Like some of my friends who got more enjoyment out of clothing when they bought them on a great sale, I now found myself greatly enjoying foods that were a calorie or nutritional 'bargain', including low-fat snacks and (to my surprise) salads and fruits. I also found that by adding a few snacks or mini-meals I would eat far less at dinner and overall. Knowing how you are doing is very important for success, and for me it too was motivational. Knowing my calorie 'budget' for the day, and knowing I was on track through dinner, let me enjoy some ice-cream in the evening while knowing I was would hit my goal for weekly weight loss.

Coming to the present, I'm happy to report my weight loss total has reached 56 pounds and ten inches off the waist! I'm under the 'obese' level and have a target of another 10-25 pounds to get out of the overweight zone completely (which would be the first time in twenty years!) Happy with my new food choices, having fun with the exercise, not feeling deprived of food I like, and keeping a consistent weight loss rate of 0.5 to 1.0 pounds per week, I have confidence I'll reach these goals.

Friends who've seen the weight loss and greater energy sometimes say "I could never lose 50 pounds", but that focuses too much on the end point. I didn't lose 50 lbs - I lost half a pound, repeatedly, over the course of the last two years, and I've enjoyed it. That doesn't mean it was easy to start exercising, or start eating salad, or that I never got frustrated, but there was nothing fundamentally hard about what I did. Choosing to become fit - flipping the switch in your mind - along with taking baby steps on a consistent right path, will do it. If you have any questions, or if I can help any of my friends or family to take a few of these steps, please let me know!

Good luck!

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