Sunday, 15 January 2012

How I lost 50 lbs in one summer - Part 1

I am often asked what I did to lose all that weight in a short period of time…actually, not so much lately now that people are used to the slimmer me. I am not a certified personal trainer or professional dietician, so if I mention something that anyone feels is unhelpful to weight loss, I am sorry…I am just stating what worked in my specific situation.

Before I get going, I want to clarify the term “weight loss”. Technically, anyone could easily lose weight in a short period of time by losing water, much like fighters do before a weight in to get into a lower weight division. This is called cutting weight, even though literally you lost weight. So in the context of this blog, “weight loss” means much more than differences on the scale. It also means losing fat and gaining muscle, reducing belly size, fitting into smaller clothing, ect.

Excluding certain things like pregnancy or some medical conditions, in the simplest terms, weight change boils down to calories in vs calories out. A surplus of approximately 3,500 calories results in one additional pound of fat on your body, likewise, a 3,500-calorie deficit will cause you to lose one pound of fat. The one thing that increases your calorie count is consuming calories – eating and drinking. There are two ways to burn calories – physical activity and metabolism. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, for anyone wanting or needing to lose weight, it is much easier said than done!

I will discuss the “calorie in” part of it today, and the “calorie out” part next time.
Now that the preamble is over...the old me ate mostly whatever, whenever. Calorie counts were not on my mind at all. I just ate what I felt like. That lifestyle caused me to swell to 280 lbs.

A few times over the years, I tried unsuccessfully to lose weight. I failed for a number of reasons, but mainly because I was not smart about it, and when I did not see results, I gave up. Anyone knows you need to reduce/eliminate junk food, but I ate food that I assumed was healthy, not what I knew was healthy. One example of this; me thinking to myself:  “Hey Jarred on the Subway commercial lost a bunch of weight eating at Subway…guess I will go eat a footlong meatball”. In reality Jarred must have eaten 6-inch subs…and definitely not meatball. One footlong meatball sub at Subway contains 1,120 calories. In comparison, a Big Mac has 560 calories and a BK Whopper has 670 calories ( Some “healthy lunch”!

I also was not honest with myself - one example would be a taco salad. I thought: “hey I am being healthy, eating a salad”. All the while conveniently ignoring the cheese, sour cream, and worst of all, the deep fried tortilla bowl that I almost always scoffed down.

Finally, I had little regard for portion control. Whether the food I was eating was obviously calorie dense or not, I almost always overdid it. 

So what did I do starting in April 2008?

First, the easy stuff, I drastically reduced the amount of obviously unhealthy (unhealthy = high calorie with little nutitional value) food going into my body. I thought of all the blatantly bad foods I would consume over the course of a month and put them into two categories.
  1. Obviously unhealthy foods that I like but do not love. Some examples: candy, pop/soda, fast food burger and fries. These foods were cut out completely.
  2. Obviously unhealthy foods that I love: chicken wings, pizza, and some desserts. I did not cut these out completely, but I did come up with different strategies so I would not be totally deprived. Chicken wings: have 6 occasionally, not 18 every Friday night. Pizza: 1-2 slices, not 4 or more. Also, my pizza started having less processed meat, more veggies. I also make my section of the family pizza without cheese. Desserts: more occasional and smaller portion sizes.

Second, I knew I needed to gain better insight on what was going into my body. On the other hand, I knew that meticulously counting calories would be a pain the butt and something I really did not want to do. Nevertheless, I found a calorie counting website that offered a three week trial and made a commitment to carefully log everything I ate for three whole weeks. The three-week experience was not as bad as I thought, and I gained valuable insight on what a normal day’s food intake should look like. I realized some part of my regular diet had no business being there if I wanted to drop some pounds. I used the info I gathered to formulate a new eating plan of estimating calories rather than strictly counting them.
One weight gain booby trap that thows a wrench into calorie estimating or counting is going out to eat at a restaurant. Some places offer healthy alternatives, but if they don’t or you would like something off the regular portion of the menu, you are blind to the calories damage (and it is usually bad). I was pleasantly surprised on a recent visit to my former home, Vermont, to see that all restaurants are required to print the calories/fat/sodium content prominently for each item on the menu. Hopefully that becomes law here too someday! 

Third, I made a conscious effort to reduce the size of portions at meals. For some reason, I used to have a compulsion to eat everything in front of me, even if I was already satisfied. Not sure why I do this, but I do. Rather than trying to psychoanalyze myself to determine the root cause, I created a simple workaround: PREPARE LESS FOOD! I cannot eat a 12 oz steak if I only cooked a 5 oz one. If am still hungry, there is always something healthy I can eat afterwards.

Fourth, I relied on low calorie, yet filling foods and drink as snacks to not only satisfy my appetite between meals, but also one of the most dangerous times for me – when I wake up in the middle of the night drowsy (bad judgement) and hungry! Yes, I did eat at night. I don't really buy into the notion that you should not eat past a certain time...calories in vs calories out matter, not time of day. That being said, my daily caloric estimate did account for these late night snacks most of the time.
Anyways, some of these “fillers” that I relied on were:
·         Fruit (I particularly recommend grapefruit)
·         Water, water, water
·         Green tea (usually have 8 cups per day)
·         Psyllium fiber added to water or low calorie juice. Usually forms into a blob of goo that you have to down, but it is tasteless and filling.
·         High fiber cereal with no fat milk
·         Unsalted raw almonds (I found dry roasted too tasty and often overdid it)
·         Protein bars (if under 200 calories)
·         Low calorie crackers (recommend Wasa crispbreads) and hummus.
·         Low fat yogurts 

Basically that is it…so to summarize in point form:
  1. Cut out bad foods you can live without, cut down or modify bad foods you really love.
  2. Know the calorie cost of everything going into your body.
  3. Eat smaller portions at meals. If you have difficulty doing this, prepare less food.
  4. Rely on low calorie yet filling foods to satisfy hunger.
Of course changing my diet was only half of the equation. The other, as I previously alluded to, is burning calories…and man, did I ever burn a lot that summer! I will talk about what I did next time. As a teaser, I will say that while I did vary the exercise regiment up a bit, I attribute most of my weight loss that summer to one specific exercise.


  1. Thanks! This really helped! Can you publish a chart of a basic healthy meal for each meal of the day? That would be great!

  2. Well I was never a fan of a structured plan, but here are some of the things I may have eaten during a given week.

    Breakfast: Egg white omelette with onions, peppers and lean ham; slim fast meal replacement bar, high fibre high protein oatmeal (Quaker weight control), banana with low cal peanut butter

    Snack: Carrots and hummus, grapefruit, handful of unsalted nuts, apple, berries, low cal yogurt, protein bar or shake (usually after a workout)

    Lunch: Lean Cuisine meal (I usually fill freezer when on sale), can of tuna, sardines, or smoked oysters with spinach salad (low cal Italian dressing), last night's leftovers(which should have been healthy.

    Supper: Chicken breast, pork chop (small portion), or steak (small portion, I recommend top sirloin - not as fatty as other steaks like Rib eye and not tough like round steaks.)- all usually grilled on the BBQ. I always accompany this with a large serving of tossed or Caesar salad (pay attention you don't use high calorie dressing). Spaghetti with high fibre noodles (small portion), home-made pizza (my section has no cheese, just a little meat and lots of veggies), buffalo chicken wraps (breast meat, low cal mayo and hot sauce, and low call pita bread), poached salmon with brown rice. Also, just a general tip...not so much now as I am marathon training and need to eat more, but when I was in weight loss mode, I always tried to have leftovers, something unheard of before I really tried to lose weight...not only spreads calories out over different days, but saves money too.

    Dessert: Protein bar (if my meal did not have much protein), yogurt, jello, low cal ice cream (small serving), 100 calorie snacks (there are lots on the market)

    Just a few ideas...