You weren't born over-weight
When the topic of fitness or nutrition comes up in conversation, people are often surprised to learn that I’ve been over-weight three times in my life. Based on their lens, they assume that I’ve “always been thin” or athletic. They often guffaw when I tell them that I too have struggled with managing my weight; or they sarcastically retort that I wouldn’t possibly understand their struggles, or that I have it easy since they have always been over-weight. In response, I wryly point out that nobody is born over-weight (at least not by choice); that being overweight is the result of successive failures in moderation and discipline, failures in caretaking that occurred prior to and after birth. I make a lot of friends.
Healthy food makes me fat?
I became overweight as a pre-teen, in my early twenties and then again about two years ago. In each case, I became roughly 20-40 lbs overweight and each time the weight gain was mostly a result of my nutrition; simply: I ate too much. Unfortunately, I often find that folks that are looking to lose weight, and ask my opinion, often spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the type of food (e.g. Paleo, juice only, no juice, no sugar, more fat, no fat, no carbs, go vegetarian, etc) or more exercise. As I’ve said before, exercise is good for a whole host of reasons but increasing exercise alone won’t necessarily help you lose and maintain weight, only proper nutrition can.
Growing up my Mom was pretty militant about having only “healthy” foods in the house; e.g. no processed cereals, no soft drinks, lots of fruit. Yet I still gained weight. Why? I ate too much. As I got older I became a pretty dedicated exerciser (high school sports, college intramurals, top 1% on military fitness tests, etc) so how is it that I gained 20lbs? I ate too much. After the military, I continued to exercise 5-7 times a week and eat healthy: no soft drinks, no fast food, 8-10 servings of fruit & vegetables, and focus on whole food. Yet, I went from 175 lbs to 205 lbs two years ago. How? You guessed it, I ate too much. In every case of weight gain, it wasn’t exclusively the type of food I ate or the level or type of exercise. I consumed entirely too many calories, period.
Losing the Weight & the Super Duper Food Scale
The first two times I lost the weight I had external motivators. My Mom was a tough cookie, she had to be as a single Mom of two boys (more on that in a separate post), she was able to motivate me to lose weight in her ever-loving way, “you’re fat, stop eating peanut butter sandwiches before you go to bed.” Simple, direct, effective. The second time, I had the Military: fit to fight, combat-ready, peer-pressure, and “fat-boy” club are all very motivating monikers.
This most recent time, however, I had no external motivator. It all came down to me. You know what? It’s really hard to lose weight on your own. Fortunately, my body did me a favor, it started hurting. Every time I tried to go for a long run, everything hurt. Then I started having all kinds of gastric issues. So what did I do? I bought a food scale. More accurately, my wife bought me a food scale and told me to measure everything I ate. She made me read labels. Did you know that only sixteen, plain, no salt, raw almonds equal 100 calories?! Sixteen! (That’s not a lot) I had no idea. I was grabbing a handful as a snack almost every day…nearly 4x the calories. So naturally – and here is the hard part – I decided to track everything I ate for two weeks. In the end, I was over-eating by nearly 2x at every meal and snack. One food scale, a little label pre-reading, and hard discipline for two weeks; result: I lost 40 pounds last year and I’m training for my first marathon. It took some time before I got to the point where I instinctively knew how much food I needed versus wanted, but it was worth it.
I only eat rice cakes.
So do I only eat tofu, non-fat, non-sugar rice cakes 24-7? Yes. Just kidding. Of course not, I love food. Better stated, I love good food. I just don’t eat the entire menu. My wife and I eat out and order rich, savory food, but we split the plate. I’ll eat fast-food, but split the fries or get a salad on the side. I eat chocolate by the truckload. Just. Not. All. At. Once. In other words, now that I have a baseline of how many calories I need (many, many months later), I'm able to manage what I eat without having to exclude anything.
Over time, I have also made other healthy food choices over the year like reducing overall fat intake, less sugar, and eating more fiber; but these are merely tweaks and refinements. It wasn't food's fault I was over-weight, it was mine: when over-ate, I gained weight – plain and simple. So if you’re looking to lose weight, don’t focus on the refinements or quick fixes of what type of food you’re eating, or what one thing you should eliminate from your diet to fix it all. Start first with how much you’re eating. Track everything for two weeks, one week, or any length of time you’re able to stomach (pun intended). Then talk to your Dr. and/or a nutritionist to see how many calories you really need. You’ll be surprised.
It may be hard but enduring change doesn’t occur overnight and you may regress (I did three times). Nevertheless, moderation is the key. Keep it simple and buy a food scale. After all, you weren’t born over-weight. Even if you were, blame your parents and go buy a food scale. Good luck.