Instead of More, I Give you Less

<originally published on Medium on 27 May, 2018>

Specifically, Less of Me

(A friend of mine said I should do this, so why not.)

First two pictures. First, me at 230–240lbs, on August 19th of 2014:

Now, me at 184 lbs as of May 27th, 2018:

Apologies for the schmutz, I am lazy about cleaning mirrors at best

While the shorts are different, that is in fact the exact same shirt. So yeah, 50lbs. A few folks have asked how I did it, and if you want the specifics, I’ll get to that in a bit. But that’s just technique. Technique is the relatively easy part here.

The hard part was getting to where I was tired enough of how I looked and felt to make one final change. Now, first, I exercise fairly regularly. Circuit training, walking, etc. Not nice and easy stuff. At the time that top pic was taken, I was hitting workouts 3–4 times a week that were weight-intensive and burned 400–500 calories a pop. And still I stayed at that weight. My diet wasn’t, well ideal, but it wasn’t awful. I’m 6’2″, 230–240 while not ideal is hardly morbidly obese.

My diet was fairly typical, lots of carbs, probably too much sugar, although not cake and pie every day. One pertinent point, I cannot eat:

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • asparagus.

Attempting to causes me to violently puke everything I eat for three days. Dry heaves shit. I call it an allergy, although technically, it probably isn’t. (Spare me any ways to get around this. I detest the flavor of half of that list, and only asparagus has a flavor I could be said to like on its own. I’ve no interest in testing this, I’m a big believer of “it hurts when I do that, stop doing that.” It works really well.)

The point here is go to the store or a restaurant and see how many of those things show up over and over. Luckily, it’s not a peanut allergy. I have to eat a non-zero amount of those things to get to the “just kill me” stage. So I spend a lot of time quietly sliding things off to the side of my plate. Fortunately, people ignore that, because I don’t call attention to it. However, it does make certain kinds of eating tricky.

I am also “blessed” with a really slow metabolism, which has caused me weight problems all of my life. It takes me longer to tell when I’m full, so overeating is easy for me. I take longer to digest food, (this is highly annoying where alcohol is concerned), and left up to my own devices, my normal sleep period is 12 hours ± 1 hour either way. This is hardly practical, so basically, I’ve been sleep deprived for almost half a century. That part has been improved since about 8 months after that picture was taken and I was diagnosed with an underperforming thyroid. The medication has helped, I am now fully rested after 8 hours, ± an hour.

After it kicked in, I was marveling at this, to me, new sensation: regularly not being tired. Awake even. It’s kind of cool y’all. But that issue has never been a help to me.

Again, I wasn’t obese. I did the occasional 5K, I worked out, I’m reasonably active.

But I was not happy with how I looked and I’d realized a year ago, I couldn’t do it with exercise alone. I’d done that before exactly twice. When I was in the Air Force, which involved:

  • An extremely intense martial arts class 4–5 days a week. Sometimes more.
  • Lifting in the base gym 4–5 days a week.
  • Working outside in temps that were regularly -20 to -40ºF without wind chill
  • Working outside on an aircraft (B-1B) in a specialty (DAS) that required me to do a lot of overhead lifts of things that weighed between 80–130lbs.

That is not a really sustainable exercise schedule outside of that specific solution. The other time was when I was helping teach a martial arts class and was again, really active for 3–4 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Hard to sustain.

So the answer was modify my diet, but that was, for me, harder than it should have been, or perhaps, harder than I thought it should have been. The core “eat fewer calories” thing is valid, but vague. I’m not the best with vague.

So until June of 2017, the first picture was where I stayed. It wasn’t awful, but it kind of sucked. That extra 50lbs got in the way a lot. Ironically, the most while exercising. And, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. Even if I cleaned them regularly. This is not about overweight people being bad or less, so let’s not start that. I’ve been overweight almost all of my life. I was 5’6″ and 260lbs when I graduated high school. Being overweight is not a sign that you’re anything other than overweight.

And I was. Overweight that is. Body acceptance can sing hoseannas to the contrary, but I knew what I looked like when I was in the shape I wanted to be, and what I saw wasn’t that. Which is the important thing. I didn’t give a fuck about what society thought. I rarely have. I’m a dude with a hairy back who refuses to even care about it. I’m fine with ignoring other people’s stupidity.

But, in 2017, I turned 50. That’s a fact. It is also a fact that being overweight, even “just” 40–50lbs causes problems and those problems do not go away as one gets older. Diabetes, heart problems, all sorts of things. And the fact I couldn’t lay on my back in bed for long without my back muscles seizing up. And doing situps was way too hard, as were other forms of exercise impeded by a large ball of suet in one’s midsection.

In June of 2017, my wife, Melissa decided to be more proactive about her body and what she saw in the mirror. My only input on such issues was “If something about you bothers you, then do what you feel is best to change it. You have to be happy with yourself.” So she did, she started doing the Keto diet. (I’m not going to get into the scientific issues here.) She decided to do it month to month, without some massive, unrealistic goal.

And it worked. There were plateaus, there still are, but I watched her lose weight and keep it off. I watched her go from barely being able to walk a mile to four miles through hilly terrain. I watched her go from someone who hated exercise to someone who gets twitchy if she can’t for more than a day or so. Who is now looking for more things to add into her routine. I watched her go from having only a couple of pairs of pants or shirts that she could fit into and like how they looked to…well the same thing for the opposite reason: instead of being too tight, everything was too loose. I also saw her feel better about herself because she was doing this.

I also saw that as diets go, it wasn’t awful. (Google it if you’re curious, it’s not hard to find.) Heavy on fats and proteins, no sugar, almost no carbs. I also saw that it really wasn’t hard to do. There wasn’t a lot to give up, and she seemed to genuinely enjoy the food she was “allowed” to eat. She wasn’t trying to eat a half-dozen eggs a day, she worked with the diet basics in a way that worked for her. She found ways to do things that worked. Swerve as a substitute for sugar, (y’all, it actually tastes good), etc. Halotop for ice cream. (Yeah, it’s not the best, but the caramel and sea salt is really fucking good.)

And it worked, pretty easily. So, since I had an example in front of me, which gave me a well-worn path to trod, I started with it in January. January 1st, 2018 to be precise. (I know, trite, right? But gotta start some time.) The results? Well, here, from my daily or damned close to it weight entries in MyFitnessPal:

It actually started at 232.5, so a bit under 50lbs. But still.

And I look like what you see in the second picture. It’s not been hard. I recently hit 185, which is what I called my “donut weight”, or the number were, once I hit it, I’d have one donut. I did. A glazed blueberry cake donut, and it was pretty good.

But it wasn’t better than it had been. It wasn’t OH SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE I’M GLAD I FOUND YOUUUUU good. It was just…good. You know? Like “hey, that’s all right.” But I don’t crave more. They’re okay, and once in a while, I think I get to have one. That’s the thing I’ve noticed about this: I really don’t miss things. I mean, I like bread, I like things like jam, but Melissa and I, well, mostly her, have found ways to deal with that.

I love the shit out of peanut butter, so instead of staring longingly at the jar of Peter Pan my son uses, I got some all natural stuff from Costco (ingredients: salt, peanuts) and some Swerve confectioner’s (powdered) sweetner, and run that through a Kitchen Ninja (those things are COOL AS HELL Y’ALL), and I get to have peanut butter that tastes good and doesn’t fuck up my plan.

Note: I am probably not following the keto diet precisely. But what I’m doing works for me. That’s important. Again, I have data, 50 fewer pounds of body weight, and pants I haven’t been able to wear since 1993 that I fit into as my proof that my methods are working for me.

What I’ve noticed is that because what I’m eating is high(er) in fat and (very) low in carbs, and has no measurable sugar (sucrose version), I eat less and I fill up faster. Remember the metabolism thing? That’s been huge. I actually feel full before my stomach is literally full to bursting. So I eat less anyway. I eat a lot more salads, because it’s too easy for me (with my dietary limitations outside of keto) to accidentally not eat greens. So I’m eating a lot more salads, and they have lots of lettuce, and cheese and bacon and bleu cheese dressing and by the time I finish one, I’m about full. A bit ironically, I’m eating more greens now than ever.

We cook a lot more, and eat out less, not because we can’t find food that works within the diet, (we’re in the south y’all, I can find me some fuckin’ bacon) but because it’s just a bit easier to cook at home than eat out.

I guess the point is that a) this hasn’t been hard and b) for me, and I’m sure for Melissa, since we’ve talked a lot about it, this isn’t a diet. This is now how we eat. It doesn’t end, because it’s not a temp thing. If I go back to how I was eating before, I know exactly what will happen. Not gon’ do that. Besides, again, I really haven’t given up much.

And I’ve gained all the things you think about. Especially not carrying a 45-lb plate strapped to my ass (more correctly, my stomach.) I can sleep on my back and not be in pain or not much pain. Working out is so much easier. (Burpeeswere not the agony they used to be, holy shit!) It’s amazing, it really is, how not lugging that much unnecessary weight around helps.

I’m also happier. With what I see, with how I feel, with who I am. Maybe that’s shallow, but whatever. The important thing is, I’m happier with the results. I feel better, and I look, to me, better. It’s kind of cool.

I’m not saying “do this and you too will lose 50 pounds in six months!” Weight, body image, self-image, these are complicated and highly individualized things. This worked for me. But it took a lot of time to get to that place, where it could work. The biggest driver was I wanted to not cringe when I saw myself in the mirror. I don’t do that anymore. That was the driver. If you’re happy with yourself, that’s awesome, you’re doing it right. Seriously, that’s the only judgement that matters in the end. Losing weight but being miserable about it and hating what you have to do is a shitty way to live, as much as being overweight and hating what you see.

Life’s too short to hate yourself, you know?

So if this helps someone, however it helps someone, that’s great. if you want some specifics about how I do food now, I’m happy to discuss that in the comments or via email/whatever. And now I can point people who ask me how I did this at this post, and save my lazy ass some time, which is also important. 😛