Just before my weight loss journey began I had become a truly sad human specimen. I had arrived at an improbable 360 pounds through a long series of poor, uninterrupted life choices. I share this with you upfront in case you are bracing for a cheerful protagonist who takes on all odds with unbridled enthusiasm and a song in their heart. Yeah well, let me disabuse you of that straight away.
I lost 150 pounds in just under two years, but only after attempting multiple alternatives that involved tremendous amounts of cheeseburgers and alcohol. It turns out that those ideas, while attractive on paper, didn’t work.
Firecracker Feet and an Epiphany
On the night in question I was driving myself to the emergency room because I felt like a fireworks store was exploding inside the soles of my feet and I was quite honestly scared shitless. One quick blood test later and the nurse informed me that I had Type 2 diabetes, and that the pain in my feet was neuropathy – permanent nerve damage that can feel like bolts of electricity are shooting through the veins in your feet.
Driving home from the hospital that night was
when I had my epiphany. I had become so large, and life had become so absurdly difficult, that this latest trip to the emergency room was just the icing on the upside down cake that was my life.
So epiphany is the correct word to describe what happened. And recalling that moment I swear the clouds parted and a marching band appeared and broke into an excellent rendition of “Louie Louie”, but it was probably just another rainy night to anyone who may have seen me driving.
I won’t bore you with all the ingredients that went into my becoming huge; we all get there in our own way. I will say that severe bipolar depression, abandonment issues and a predilection for self-medicating all contributed to my current situation.
My epiphany took all of one second, but in that moment my mind recalled all the best stuff I had read over the past year regarding nutrition, weight loss, what worked, what didn’t, and crafted a simple plan for me to follow.
I knew my path forward would be simple but not necessarily easy. There would be no powders, pills, potions or pre-packaged foods. Since I gained the weight one pound at a time, I would have to earn my weight-loss one pound at a time.
If I had to boil it down to its essence, the plan I executed was the long-standing elephant in the room of health and nutrition: eat smart and exercise.
In the days and weeks that followed I eliminated processed foods from my diet, along with alcohol, pasta and most bread. I added fresh fruits and vegetables, and began eating something called – and I hope I spell this correctly – salads. I decided that if I wanted impressive results I would need to bring something more to the negotiating table than marginal dietary changes.
Exercise posed a problem. I was comically out of shape, and I knew that whatever I decided to do for exercise would be something I would stick with, was easy, and had an all-around low barrier of entry. So I chose walking, and committed to walking every day without exception. I kept it simple. Get up, get out, and walk. I didn’t complicate it. I didn’t strap on expensive data-mining fashion accessories or fuss over maintaining a certain heart rate; I just made sure I walked every single day.
Within two weeks I began to notice pleasant changes. I had more energy and was in good spirits! My body felt a bit stronger and my digestive system wasn’t pissed off at me. Muscles I hadn’t used since the early 70’s were sore (but a good kind of sore), and a general sense of well-being was taking hold.
I liked it and wanted more! So I began to focus on my program and move from the general to the specific; that is, to take the general idea of eating better and exercising and convert it to a simple set of rules to keep me “on the rails” and provide some structure. You can check out 6 Weight-Loss Truths Every Dieter Should Know for more information.
The Question of Calories
I downloaded an app to my phone that allowed me to track calories, miles walked, etc. But how many calories was I allowed? Well, here’s how I solved that problem. I used a Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) calculator to determine the minimal number of calories I would be allowed to maintain my current weight. Then I decided on a calorie limit that was lower than that, because the whole idea was of course to lose weight rather than maintain my current weight. The difference between the two numbers was what I called my “bankable calories“. Add in exercise and presto! I had a force multiplier to compliment my new and improved diet.
I didn’t get caught up in dieting minutiae. My whole plan consisted of eating clean food, burning more calories than I consumed and walking.
I made the smart phone app the centerpiece of my program. I used it to record what I ate and ensure I came in under my daily calorie limit. The app took the guesswork out of the process and allowed me to focus on making weight-loss fun, trying new recipes, and exploring new walking trails. I especially enjoyed seeing how far I had walked each day, and being competitive by nature, it drove me to walk further.
Eat Walk Repeat
Those early walks were painful. My knees literally cracked with each step, my heart pounded, and I would sweat profusely before I even left my driveway. I was aware of every neighbor who drove by as I struggled up my road, like a laboring Before Picture. But I had an epiphany damn it! I was sticking to this program and that was that!
In the months that followed the weight came off fast
and consistently. My quality of life improved dramatically. My sense of humor returned. I laughed again. I felt strong for the first time in years. My regular doctor took me off my diabetes medicine, and my cardiac doctor took me off blood thinners and other meds. My morning pharmacological cocktail went from a toxic brew of half a dozen pills to just one med (plus a baby aspirin).
Perhaps the greatest win was when I realized I no longer needed my sleep apnea machine! It happened by accident one day when I went to take a nap. I realized I was breathing just fine unassisted. No more CPAP machine!
To date I’ve lost over 150 pounds, one pound at a time. Today when I see someone who is large like I was, I wish I could use some kind of Vulcan mind meld to show them how they could feel, how much better their life could be, and how close they are to changing everything. I want to share what I have learned, but alas, I cannot violate someone’s space that way.
So I’m writing about what happened and putting it out in the ether, in the hope that someone may find it and take stock in knowing that it’s never too late to get back in shape.
I climbed out of a very dark well, and I thank God for not giving up on me. I sincerely believe that I would not be here today had I not made dramatic changes. And if a guy like me – a guy who used calzones as palate cleansers and Big Macs as light appetizers – can do it, anyone can.