Several months ago, after reading Sam Wilkinson’s post discussing basketball and aging, I openly declared that I’d write a post discussing the experiences that I’ve had turning my 41-year old self from a couch potato into a health and fitness enthusiast. Of course, given that it takes me forever and a day to get a post up here, here we are six months later and I finally got around to writing this, although the focus here will be relatively narrow. Some background is in order:
I remember the day I decided to lose weight – November 30, 2012. At that point, years of neglect in both diet and exercise caught up and the situation wasn’t getting any better. By this time, I had put on weight and was carrying 200 lbs on my five-foot five-inch frame. I felt awful. I was well on my way to medications if I didn’t straighten things out for myself. Also, I had recently learned that my youngest son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. This also lit a fire under my ass and motivated me to get physically and mentally stronger so I can both feel better and tackle the day-to-day challenges to come. The decision was spontaneous. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t broadcast my decision to the Facebook world. That morning, I rolled out of bed, walked downstairs to my kitchen. My two-year began with a vegetable omelet, an apple and black coffee.
My goals were modest: to lose a few lbs and perform moderate exercise a few days a week, but modest goals were almost immediately replaced by my commitment to running a half marathon even though I couldn’t run to the end of the street and back. However, 20 weeks later and 25 lbs lighter, I completely a 13.1 mile run in just under 2:20:00. Since then, fitness and exercise, in addition to diet, have become a core part of my lifestyle. After running the race roughly 19 months ago, an educational process began that took me through Tough Mudder training, high intensity interval training and, most important to me know, calisthenics (pull ups, push ups, dips, core work, bodyweight squats, etc.). I currently train between 5-6 days a week at varying levels of intensity. Since starting this journey almost two years ago to the day, I have been able to keep at least 25 lbs off my body. Right now, I’m approximately 30-32 lbs lighter.
What does this have to do with a Food Symposium? Everything. When it comes to health and fitness, exercise is, at best, 20% of the solution. The remaining 80% is proper nutrition. Two cliches come to my mind: 1) we can’t outrun our forks, and 2) abs are made in the kitchen. Obviously,eating a proper diet doesn’t require one to have fully defined abdominal muscles or be able to run a marathon, but from my own experiences, people that have achieved a good level of fitness and have successfully gotten themselves very lean (by that I mean at or below the average body fat % of a male or female at that age) have done so with just as much zeal for nutrition as exercise.
I’ve been asked questions about what I eat and why I choose to eat it, but I’ve never shared the overall learning experience I’ve had over the past two years. Before I go on, I want to make two things clear. First, I do not have an academic background in nutrition, but it’s not necessary to have one to understand the basics. I’m not going to bore anyone with citations to journals. The only way that I can show readers that something has worked for me is, well, by showing people what I look like. This was taken in July. It’s close enough to where I’m at now.
I can talk about my results until the cows come home, but pictures do speak 1,000 words. I’m not trying to toot my own horn nor am I suggesting that I’m the world’s biggest authority. All I’m saying is that I’ve had success with the methods I’ve used.
The second thing I want to make clear is that I understand that everyone has different goals and everyone reacts differently to food. My approach is for me and others don’t necessarily need to follow my approach in order to get the results they want to get. I’m not here to moralize. I’m not here to argue for something definitive. I am here to share my experiences and will try my best to do so in a way that’s most accessible for everyone.
– When I started, I had no idea what the hell I was doing – probably because I had no plan. If there is a reason that motivates me to argue that educating consumers is the first thing we ought to do in the event that we choose to tackle obesity, weight problems and the piss poor standard American diet including the absolutely god awful USDA food requirements (yes, ChoosemyPlate is a sick joke). it may be because the first time I ever went out to buy groceries for myself, I spent 90 minutes in a grocery store realizing how clueless I actually was. As crazy as it sounds today, while I had a good idea what I shouldn’t buy, after that hurdle, I found myself struggling to figure out what it was I wanted to eat. Because my decision was a spontaneous one, I never thought to go online and research diets, macros, health plans, etc. I can’t say I did a terrible job making it up as I went, but I know that there were foods I bought back then that are no longer a staple in my diet today, most of them of a processed nature.
– Common sense adjustments are quite amazing. I’m going to speculate a bit here but I want to say that the first 15-20 lbs of weight loss were largely driven by some very easy to make adjustments to my diet. I wasn’t at a point where I was counting calories or tracking macros. Rather, my focus on making sure that I didn’t eat certain kind of foods. I was in my “Don’t Eat” phase. I avoided fast food, candy, processed snacks, heavy creams and other dairy products (not all) and, most importantly, made sure that the number calories I was taking in from my beverages was reduced to almost zero. Prior to that, I was drinking sugary sodas, energy drinks and had plenty of sugar in my coffee. I also made sure to eat less. I didn’t need charts, graphs or plans to do any of this.
– Hey Dave, I want to lose weight by getting back in shape and exercising…what do I do? The first thing to do is basic math. Let’s assume the 3,500 calories per pound of fat rule and assume that a relatively untrained person can burn off, at best, 150 calories during an exercise period. Assuming this untrained person exercises 3x a week, how many weeks does it take to burn off one pound of fat? Answer – too many.
I think exercise is critical but for other reasons like the need to build muscle and not only lose weight but alter body composition; however, I’m not going to cover this here.
– Make the calories out > calories formula matter as much as you can. There are plenty of opinions on this subject and some people see this as a crude way to look at weight loss (I agree in some ways). However, it was a good way for me to get started, even if my approach is different today.
– Weight loss supplements are bullshit. I just read two posts that discussed how Big Food lies to people, plays on their weaknesses and profits accordingly. This is an accurate description of companies that provide weight loss supplements and sell results in a bottle. Not only do they not replace proper diet and hard work, but people with weight issues and related ailments may be putting themselves at grave risk ingesting substances that can spike the heart rate and blood pressure.
– What do I usually eat? Lean meats (chicken and fish), lots of greens (I fill a one gallon Ziploc bag with salad – that lasts a day), some fruit, sweet potatoes before workouts, sometimes black beans after workouts, nuts, seeds water and a little decaf coffee. I keep it simple. If I had to measure my macro nutrient portions, I’m sitting at 15% fat, 40% protein and 45% carbs. Keep in mind that I’m trying to lean out and build muscle so my diet is geared to that.
– Do I cheat? Yes. It happens. There’s no point in beating myself up over it. I just go back to what I was doing and things resume to their normal state in a short period of time. I know I’ve called myself an unfoodie, but I’m not going to turn away certain items, especially during the holiday.
– Find the balance. Being an “unfoodie”, it’s easy for me to eat the same things day in and day out. For those that enjoy good food, some of it of a highly caloric and/or sweet or fat nature, moderation is key. The results will speak for themselves. Don’t deprive yourself of the things you enjoy. Rather, enjoy them responsibly.
– I and I alone am responsible for my food intake. After years of poor habits, it took a lot of work to reverse that. It’s not always easy to turn away the candy bowl at work or the craving for a sweet late night snack, but I have no intention of reverting back to my old ways. That helps to keep me accountable. I’m not perfect and I don’t strive to me. I just try to do the best I can, knowing what the health consequences are if I don’t keep this up.
I’ve tried to keep this simple and accessible for everyone. Hopefully, this can provide some benefit to readers and I can elaborate more in the comments section as requested.