TL;DR – I got off my butt, started eating better and lost 40lbs in ~100 days. You can too.
UPDATE: As of NOV-2014 I’m down 55lbs since this timeframe. Feel amazing, found new hobbies that are active and loving life again.
This year started very depressing personally as each look in the mirror showed another chin growing under the previous. I weighed the most I’ve ever weighed in my life and it just kept getting away from me. My move to Redmond brought back a different office life for me from my previous role at Microsoft and I became much more sedentary than before. Now, this doesn’t mean I was a triathlete before, but I certainly didn’t sit in an office as much as I have in the past 4 years. I really put myself fully into work and nothing else…and it showed physically.
As my kids got more active (I have two kids; 8 and 12) I participated more with their activities. I realized how out of shape I was when I couldn’t ride a bike like my kids, couldn’t run around the baseball field to help with Little League practices without being out-of-breath, etc. I had to do something. The problem is I’ve ‘tried’ before a few times. I haven’t really dedicated myself but tried dumb diets and various techniques to lose weight, get active and get healthy. None worked…or I should say none lasted long at all. Perhaps another catalyst is the fact that I turn 40 this year and my wife keeps bothering me about “project 40” and being the best we can in our 40’s. These all combined to be a wake up for me to really, really try harder to get fit and healthier.
As of this writing I’ve lost 40 pounds! I’m very happy with my results so far as it is much more than just pounds, but I still have a way to go for full change. I wanted to share my ‘program’ with others in the tech community as I think others probably suffer from the same sedentary work/life style as I do and probably use the same excuses that I have in the past as well.
For context, I’m a white male, 39 years of age, 5 feet, 9 inches and started weighing 225lbs at the start of this process. I started wearing a size 38 pants, wore an XL (and sometimes it was snug), and my dress shirts were 17.5 collar. I have no idea of my body fat percentage other than it was probably a lot when I looked at my man boobs and belly. Maybe too much information for a blog post? Oh well, now you know where I was coming from.
The Secret Formula to Getting Fit and Losing Weight
I hesitated to write this secret in a blog post because I could make MILLIONS sharing it as the health industry is booming right now. But I’m generous so here’s the single secret formula to losing weight and getting fit: STOP EATING SO MUCH CRAP AND MOVE AROUND MORE! Seriously, anyone who really tells you any different is just lying. Yes I’m aware there are medical conditions. Yes I’m aware there are tons of studies around the plagues of white bread. Yes I’m aware that there are fads that encourage eating only things that dinosaurs could have eaten. I don’t care. Seriously. Nothing can sustain your fitness more than the realization that you just need to eat smarter and be active. I don’t think this involves you turning into a gym rat, nor does it involve requiring any significant investment in stuff/supplies/equipment, but it does involve dedication and time…sometimes two of the hardest things to give up.
No amount of exercise will help if you keep stuffing yourself with crap food. That was a big part of my problem. I LOVE food…all kinds – I don’t discriminate at all on food. Ever. I would eat whatever I thought tasted good…and lots of it. There is no way anyone can really lost weight and get fit without changing the habit around eating smarter. Notice I didn’t say diet, or only eat plants, or whatever. Eating smarter isn’t always about eliminating everything, but about being aware of what you are eating.
For me, the easiest way was to track calories. Now I don’t care about anyone who is going to jump on my method and say ‘counting calories is not the right way, blah blah’ – I don’t want to hear it. For me it is a simple formula. More calories in…more weight. Less calories…less gain. This method also allowed me to basically continue to eat whatever I wanted. My eating habits would change naturally because guess what – an 18oz rib-eye is a lot of calories! There are other methods like Weight Watchers that are similar (‘points’ based) in basically assigning a value to all foods you eat. I think these approaches are the easiest to understand and manage.
The best way to understand what you are eating is to write it down. Seriously write EVERYTHING down. And I’m not talking “sandwich” is what you write down, I’m talking “two slices wheat bread, 1.5oz turkey, 1T mayo, 1oz cheese” detail here. There is no way you can begin to understand how much you are eating unless you understand it at that level. For basically 4 months I wrote every ingredient down in every meal I ate. It started out to be incredibly annoying but just became routine and I used tools to make it easier (see below).
My wife helped out a lot here as she’s been trying to eat more “clean” foods. Whole foods. Our home doesn’t have a lot of packaged foods anymore and our refrigerator looks like a farmer’s market most of the time. Do I miss a lot of foods? HECK YES! But now that I’m at my goal I can indulge a little bit more and moderate the ‘not good but tastes great’ stuff more easily.
For me, I had to radically change my diet. I wasn’t eating any breakfast usually (and when I did it was a chocolate-filled croissant), would have whatever the café special was at work (usually high in calories) and would LOVE to go out for dinner at typical restaurants (Mexican, Asian mostly). I also had a soda for lunch and didn’t really drink much else during the day. I changed this completely. I focused on trying to eat more protein, less sodium and less sugars. I didn’t really focus on other specifics like carbs, etc. Here was a typical day for me food-wise:
- Breakfast: Protein Shake. I exercised first thing in the morning and would have a post-workout protein drink. I used 100% Whey Protein as my mix. I know this has more things in it that I couldn’t pronounce, but I allowed myself to break the whole foods rule for my protein substitutes. The mix that I used was Cytosport 100% Whey Protein. It was not delicious but was not disgusting either. Over time I changed this to mix with almond milk, frozen bananas and a berry choice for more of a shake. This shake approach is now my preferred method. Freeze a bunch of bananas and they add great flavor but also serve as the ‘ice’ to get it to shake consistency.
- Lunch: Depending on my schedule I’d have another protein substitute like a protein bar. I’ve been pretty busy at work lately and not really near any food options easily (lots of meetings and running between buildings) so using protein bars helped provide me some nutrition and tide my hunger over. My sister-in-law turned me on to these Quest bars and they actually are quite good. They don’t taste like glue and sawdust. These have become my choice protein bar for now. Low in calories as well. If I was near a café for lunch I would choose a plain grilled chicken breast and add that to some romaine lettuce, roasted red peppers, 1 hard-boiled egg and 2T of balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve NEVER liked salad, but this was okay and I got used to it.
- Dinner: Whatever my wife made for me. Seriously the best thing is to have no choice, especially when your wife is on a healthy food lifestyle. If I came home and there was a plate of quinoa and kale in front of me, I’d eat it. NOTE: Kale is a weed…I hate it. But this was the best thing as it prevented my mind from wondering what’s for dinner and dreaming of different things. Occasionally we’d go out for sushi or Mexican food, but I would choose very simple options there…and exercise harder the next day.
- Snacks: none. I just cut them out. This was what was causing me a lot of problems throughout the day. I just stopped cold-turkey. At home if I wanted a later snack after dinner, I would hunt for a banana or nectarine and that satisfied me.
- Drinks: I haven’t had a soda in 4 months. I’ve been drinking only water. I hate water. It has no flavor and no enjoyment. I chose to vary my water with herbal lemon tea (we have an easy setup at work). I tried to drink as much water when I could remember. I went to the bathroom a LOT more during the day and that’s a good thing. Seriously – drink more water.
That’s the essence of it. It was/is VERY hard change for me and my food love. But it was necessary to get me back on track. I think I’ll be celebrating my goal victory with an amazing meal but will be smart about my choices more often than other times. This is what worked for me. Calorie counting doesn’t work for everyone and there are a ton of opinions about it…but for me, it worked and I have the evidence to prove it.
I first realized I needed to exercise and move around. I am not an athlete at all other than golf and in the Pacific Northwest that is harder to be active in golf regularly for me than it was in Arizona. I’m not a runner. I’m not a biker. I had a gym membership for two years that never saw a single swipe of my membership card. Ever. I’m horrible at exercise. I realized though that extreme times calls for extreme measures. I’m not one that is going to be real proactive in determining what I should be doing and I would likely get lazy quick. For me, I need someone to guide me to jumpstart, etc. I’ve had friends talk about the P90X3 routines so I decided I was going to go that route. My wife was going to do it with me as well so I’d have two people yelling at me to keep going!
For those who don’t know, P90X3 is a pretty intense exercise routine to be completed in 90 days. It is a derivative of other P90X programs, but the latest form is shrunk to 30 minutes/day of intensity. I figured that was a good time block I could commit to as an hour just seemed like I’d give up. I have a great benefit plan at work that actually paid for the DVDs and some equipment for me. I chose the P90X3 Basic Kit to start. And I just started. That’s it, you just have to start.
This program is intense (for me at least). It is 30 minutes of non-stop exercising. I cannot do a pull-up yet one whole 30 minutes is dedicated to doing pull-ups, then drop-down to push-ups, then back up to pull-ups – repeat for 30 minutes…seriously. FWIW, I still can’t do a pull-up. Because I learned this early, I also got a set of resistance bands as the ‘modified’ workout for these types of things. For the 90 days I did almost always the ‘modified’ version shown in the DVDs as I sometimes just couldn’t lift my unfit body into the positions they were asking!
Time of day was important to me as well. I chose the morning before everyone got up. My house really sucks for this type of exercise, but I did my best to make it work. Each morning around 6 or 7 I’d get up with my wife and we’d put in the DVD and just start. I’d grunt, complain and get frustrated…but I did it each day. 30 minutes seemed like an eternity but it was a great chunk of time to be able to get started. There were 2 weeks that were really tough. One week I was traveling to Russia and did my best to exercise on-track with the program, but admittedly it was harder not in your comfort zone.
SIDE NOTE: These people are still shipping DVDs only. I had to scramble to remember how to burn a DVD, only to also have to find a DVD drive to burn them for my travel. C’mon people, digital copies!!!
The second week we had a house full of visitors and they occupied my workout area. This gave me a good ‘excuse’ not to do it, but I felt horrible for missing my commitments that week.
I also chose to get more active in general. I volunteered for helping my son’s Little League team. It doesn’t sound like much, but again when you are out of shape, you try running around a field catching balls constantly hit into the outfield! I also had so much fun with Little League that my wife and I started a co-ed softball team with the city. We suck bad, but it keeps me active and I’m having a ton of fun playing softball! Most recently I went and invested more into my fitness and acquired a bike. I have been riding at least twice weekly to work and on the weekends. I live in a place where everything is uphill and this is proving to be a challenge to me, but again, I’m making a commitment to being active, no matter what. In the short time I’ve become addicted to cycling now and being a gadget freak doesn’t help my cause…so many cool gadgets for cycling!
There are also little things I do, like only take stairs now at work, walk whenever possible between buildings that maybe I used to shuttle between, etc. These are small things but they add up.
Outside of the actual exercise equipment (resistance bands, dumbbell, DVDs) my tools I used were only three more: a scale, a heart rate monitor and the Lose It! app.
At first I only weighed myself once a week. I recommend this in the beginning as well. When I started seeing results I started getting more excited and got more aggressive with my goal plan and was motivated by immediate results. I started weighing myself daily. Same place, same scale, same time every day. For me it was after my morning shower. I logged my weight each day – the gains and the losses. It served as a constant reminder of how close I was to my goal and how much progress and success my plan was working. I used a simple scale, not a fancy Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thing that automatically synced with an app (although that would be cool).
I wanted to estimate my calorie burn during exercises. I acquired a heart rate monitor in order to assist. I chose a Timex watch combo that I found a good deal on and love. I completely acknowledge that calorie burn on these things are not an exact science and estimates. Don’t flame me about that in the comments. Again, this is something that worked for me. I used it for each workout and to be aggressive I would subtract 75-100 calories from what it said I was burning in the exercise. I felt this really was a valuable tool to my success. Doing the P90X3 routine after a while I knew that the MMX workout, for example, would burn a certain amount of calories so sometimes I didn’t use the monitor if I knew that I was doing the workout the same as previously.
Lastly the best tool for me was the Lose It! app. I know some of the folks that wrote this app and so I’ve had it installed for a long while. Since then there are others like it, probably the most popular other one being MyFitnessPal. I started with Lose It and I like it so I haven’t switched.
NOTE: MyFitnessPal is also free and actually has more connection points to services, etc. than Lose It’s free version. Lose It has a premium fee ($40/yr) where you can do these same things that MyFitnessPal provides for free. It might be enough for me to switch but I like the Lose It app method of program for goals.
Lose It (and similar apps) provide everything I need to achieve my goal. It provides a method for establishing a program based on current/goal weight and gives you a daily calorie budget to monitor. You add exercises (estimating calorie burn) and can create your own custom exercises as I did with the P90X3 routines. It has a food log that includes a scanner so if something you are eating has a UPC symbol (or even the ingredients), then you can scan it and get all the nutritional info not just calories. Others have this too. It has a social component that you can join challenges and have other micro-goals to achieve. The food log became the most valuable tool for me as I mentioned earlier that writing down what you are eating is the most insightful thing to weight/food/portion control.
These simple tools was all I needed to be successful.
So hear I am 109 days later from the point I started. What are the results? Here’s the raw numbers:
- 40.5lb weight loss (Started at 225 and set my first goal at 185, today I weighted in at 184.5)
- UPDATE 20-NOV-2014: I’m down 55lbs now!!!
- I fit EASILY into size 34 pants…may have to go lower
- My t-shirts are size L now and my wife thinks they are still too big
- My dress shirt is a size 16 collar
- I have one less extra chin
- I had to get rid of most of my clothes and buy new ones…this was expensive, but a happy expense to pay. As a bonus, I had to get a new suit and my style got updated from 9 years ago!
- I can fit into some of my favorite sports jerseys and t-shirts that I’ve been saving for so long!
Of course your results may vary. People’s attitudes, abilities, body shapes and physiological make-up are all different and I’m not here to say that anyone would get the same results as me. Maybe some would be better, some worse. I’m certainly not going out and buying coach shorts and muscle shirts yet, nor am I ready to put my before/after pictures on display for the world to see but I’m proud of my results so far and feel a lot better about my health now than I have in quite a long time.
If you are reading this blog you probably are in the same industry as me (tech) and maybe you face the same challenges of constant sitting for long times, no exercise, crap food for ‘convenience’ and just perhaps the same laziness that I suffer from. Well, if you have anyone that cares about you, or that you care deeply about then you owe it to yourself to take a moment and think about your health and what you can do. For me I was just gaining too much and it got to a point of concern. The single-best wake-up call for me was starting to track what I ate. It was obscene the amount of calories I was stuffing my face with and the types of food I was okay eating on a regular basis. I don’t think a Snicker’s bar is bad…but all things must be in moderation and I just wasn’t. Take a step even if you feel in good health and write down your food for a week. It might surprise you as much as it did me and perhaps may trigger you to do something. If you are already eating right, exercising and a healthy person then bravo for you!
I am no fitness coach, no health expert, no dietician. I’m just some normal guy who was fed up with my laziness and decided to do something about it. The decision and steps were NOT easy for me. In fact, they continue to be difficult for me. But I have proof now in my own abilities to get healthy, eat smart and learn to love types of exercise. I have found something that works for me.
Hope this helps anyone!