When I first came down to the US, I had to pick a doctor and go in for a physical, and when the doctor was done with all the various procedures he needed to perform, he asked me if I had any particular health concerns. I really only had one, but I didn’t see the point in mentioning it, I didn’t really think there was anything he would be able to do for me anyway. I decided I had better let him know though, it seemed stupid not to tell your doctor about your only real medical concern. “Well..”, I said, “my only real concern is about my weight… I’d really like to drop some pounds”. The doctor’s face seemed to light up and he said, excitedly, “I have just the thing for you, I can tell you exactly how to get rid of that excess weight…”. At this point, I have to admit I felt a little surge of excitement, however unrealistic it seemed, maybe he knew of some great solution that I had never heard about, so I waited for his next words eagerly. He sat down in front of me and told me the answer: “Eat less, do more… it’s that simple”. Ah… funny guy.
He was definitely right about what was required, I have no doubt about that, but that simple formula never seems quite as easy to accomplish as healthy people make it sound. That was almost three years ago, and it didn’t really cause any change in my activity level or my weight.
Around a year ago, I mentioned that I was hoping to lose some weight, a blog posting that I quickly learned to regret as it showed just how many of my work colleagues read my main feed (including my boss’s boss’s boss, who used it as an example of the personal side of blogging at several large meetings). Well, I can’t say that I have any particular knowledge around what works and what doesn’t, and I haven’t reached my goal weight yet, but things are looking good.
Why am I telling you folks about this, if I don’t have any great wisdom to impart? I could be unusual, but I like reading about other people’s experiences with working out and losing weight, and it seemed like the right time of year to bring the topic up. The gym I go to gets crazy busy from the middle of January until around the middle of February and then drops right back to normal, so perhaps this is a good time to talk about working out… like I already said, I’m not an expert on this, and I’m still quite far from being classified as fit by most definitions… but here’s my story anyway.
From last December to around July, I didn’t accomplish much, I dropped 5 or so pounds but that was with going to the gym 4-5 days a week. That level of effort should have produced better results, but I’m quite certain that I wasn’t really pushing myself and the fact that I totally ignored my eating habits pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn’t accomplish much. Around August though, it was getting close to the birth of my daughter and I guess I started to realize that I was going to be a fat father in the eyes of both of my children, and that it was pretty likely that I would drop dead on them at some point (earlier than expected that is) the way things were going. I’m not positive that was the reason, but I know I started to feel pretty cruddy about staying this weight for the rest of my life, and I went to the bookstore (a real one!) and picked up the South Beach book by Dr. Agatston and started into the relatively unenjoyable Phase 1. Three weeks later I was into the next phase and it was starting to seem like something I could stick with for the long term.
Four weeks in, I had dropped 10+ pounds, which was more than I had lost at any time previous, and I continued to lose weight more slowly after that point. When you decide to cut out sugar and reduce your fat, it has quite an effect on what you are able to eat. Basically, everything I normally ate outside of dinner was suddenly off limits. Mochas had to be turned into non-fat sugar-free hazelnut lattes, pizza for lunch turned into wraps or a chicken breast and salad, etc… cheese sticks and nuts for snacks instead of cookies or PB & J sandwiches. Eventually I plateaued after having lost around 20 pounds, bringing me down to my current weight of 176-177, which would probably have seemed like enough for me to lose if you had asked me last year. I think about 15 lbs. of this weight loss was due to the change in my diet, but to lose any more it was essential that I increase my activity level quite a bit. I’ve been doing mild cardio (30 minutes) and weights 3-4 times a week, and I’ve recently added more intense cardio (35-60 minutes) 2 times a week. We’ll have to wait and see on the results of this increased level of activity, but I think it is a good idea. All in all, the South Beach plan, without going beyond the guidelines set out in the book, has worked well for me and seems to be working for quite a few other folks, but I think the key to maintaining this weight loss and to hit my goal of dropping another 10-15% body fat is to keep the focus on the weight lifting and high-intensity cardio…
I think you need to really get excited about working out though, if it is going to work… if you had given me $120 to spend on myself a year ago I expect I would have picked up a couple of XBox games or some DVDs, but this year when my wife and I decided to just give each other around that much to go and pick out our own presents (yes, it takes a bit of the fun out of it, but we’re busy these days 🙂 ) I picked up a heart-rate monitor as my Christmas gift and I think that is really helping me understand how hard the cardio workout really needs to be if I want it to work. Over the past year, I’ve basically gotten myself equipped, choosing to spend more and more of my ‘mad money’, which is usually ear marked for gadgets and video games, on various bits of fitness gear: I’ve hit the factory outlet stores for Nike to pick up some nice workout gear, I have a good music player that I use for working out, I’ve subscribed to a fitness-focused magazine (helps keep your interest level up… really it does!), a body-fat scale to try and track a better metric than just weight, I even picked up a bag last year that seems to make it quicker to get in and out of the locker room. I had to make other changes in my life to make this work though, I used to get up at 8am and go to bed around 2am, and now I’ve shifted that two hours earlier… I pack my gym bag the night before and then get up at 6am and head right to the gym… not an easy task for someone who has been a night-owl for at least the last 10 years…
Well, I don’t think I’ll be posting my weight every week or anything like that, but I might talk about this type of thing from time to time… and feel free to post questions and comments, I might not know the answers for you, but you never know who might be reading this stuff!