Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Guest Post: A Reader Provides His Recipe for Weight Loss

His name is Brian Abernathy and a few weeks ago he reached out to let me know what has worked for him with his weight. And while I'm not suggesting everyone follow his plan (there's no one right way, and what's right for one, is no doubt wrong for another), I thought it was thoughtful, well written, realistic, and very much in line with my philosophy, and so I asked him if he'd mind if I shared.

Yoni,

First, thank you for your reasonable approach to weight loss and for pointing the finger at the dismal food environment we’ve created. I’ve been following your blog for a few years now and I thought I would give you a brief account of my recent weight loss of which a lot of credit goes to your simple approach, though I haven’t read your book (sorry). I have been dieting or exercising for weight loss for probably 25 years all to no avail until this year. I’ve gone from about 155-160 (at 5’9”) when I graduated high school in 1985 to a high of 215 lbs. at the end of 2013. As of today I’m at 178 lbs and still working at it (37 lbs total loss).

I think part of the problem was that I wanted society to change my eating environment for me or perhaps for there to be a way to eat as much of some kind of esoteric diet (Ornish, vegan, paleo, etc.) as I wanted and still lose weight. I came to the realization that two things had to happen:
  1. I needed to take charge of my weight loss because the food environment was unlikely to change.
  2. I needed something that was guaranteed to work and would be simple.
I’m fairly well read on the literature so I took your advice along with some others and just started. My plan was simple:
  • Set a fixed calorie amount per day – in my case 1,800 and try to get about 100-150g of protein per day. Fat and carbs could vary (I didn’t track them). I had tried 1,600 before and it was way too low and 2,000 didn’t give me fast enough results to keep me motivated.
  • Write down and weigh all the food I was eating – the good, the bad and the ugly. This is really not that hard – takes a few minutes a day at most now. Early on, I realized I had eaten 3000-3500 calories some days and the scary thing was how easy that is to do if you don’t pay attention. If I wasn’t sure about a food’s calorie count, like at restaurants, I would just estimate and try to be close – don’t get trapped into being perfect. The food log ended up being the most critical part of the weight loss – I can’t emphasize this enough.
  • DO NOT have a weight loss goal or a date to have lost the weight – too easy to fail. Better approach is to remember than not quitting is the only way not to fail.
  • Focus on systematically meeting my calorie/protein goal DAILY – the rest will take care of itself.
  • Eat any kind of food – nothing is off limits. However, I quickly figured out that whole foods are just more filling than processed ones. Really, I’m not pious about this at all, but the reality is that an 8 oz chicken breast, 6 oz. of boiled golden potatoes with salt & pepper and a couple of cups of broccoli with a pat of butter is so much more filling than a large milkshake for the same calories.
  • Eat cake at parties, pie at Thanksgiving, ribs on the 4th of July, etc. without guilt.
  • Don’t use setbacks to quit – get back on track and keep working at it even if your weight goes the wrong direction for a few days.
  • Don’t get trapped into being perfect.
  • Exercise daily for fitness and not for calories – I focused on getting faster in my running and lifting more weight.
While losing I also decided to write down lessons learned and follow them (here they are so far):
  • Always look at the menu and decide what to eat BEFORE having a drink - drinking lowers my inhibitions and I go off the rails with my eating
  • Write down the meal and calories before eating it – then go to town and enjoy!
  • Eat whole foods because they are bulky and fill me up more than refined ones
  • Alcohol takes up calories I would rather be eating
  • Eat lots of vegetables – they are stupidly low calorie and fill you up
  • Meatless days are very hard on a low calorie diet for me.
  • Starches like potatoes, rice & pasta seem to have too many calories for how little I enjoy them – replace with veggies I like or more protein.
  • Prepare my lunch the night before – I never regret this small chore
  • Rolled oats are cheap, low calorie, high protein, fast to cook and I don’t seem to tire of them for breakfast – cinnamon, applesauce, walnuts, brown sugar – lots of ways to mix them up.
  • Controlling your food intake by cooking at home is HUGE – very hard to manage calories while eating out regularly
  • You can eat healthy and low calorie at practically any restaurant – it’s just not always easy to do
  • Don’t let yourself get too hungry or you go off the rails – an apple is usually enough to take the edge off.
  • Man up! - you have to be a leader and stay in your own frame – don’t let other people influence you to eat the way they eat even though it doesn’t fit your lifestyle
  • Your family will start to follow your lead – my wife weighs the food now before she cooks it!
I started out using an app on my phone and tried various ones (Fitday, MyFitnessPal, etc.) but I eventually went a more Luddite route. After a few months of logging foods, I figured out that I don’t eat 1000’s of different foods and I could just put them in a spreadsheet and print them out and keep them in my notebook. It’s four pages and includes calories for common recipes we use too (lentil soup, ragu sauce, balsamic dressing, etc.). I use the notebook to log workouts, food, etc. and I really like the portability of the notebook over my phone. Unlike some other people I try not to be tethered to a cell phone and I can throw my notebook around, sweat on it and it never needs charging.

YMMV.

Regards,

Brian Abernathy
Upstate NY

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