Sunday, September 01, 2013

Weight Loss Magic

I finally hit it: the 200 lb. mark.  This means I’ve lost 50 lbs. over the past five months.  It’s magic!

Well, no.  It hasn’t been magical at all.  It’s been a lot of discipline, frustration, mind games and hard work.  The most weight I’d ever lost before this was as a teenager, the summer I turned 14, going from a chubby kid to a gangly teen, most of which was thanks to growing about three inches.  But I recall dropping about 20 lbs. as I also started getting into distance running and weights at the same time.  It felt like breaking out of prison.

This time?  Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet, but I don’t feel as liberated.  Probably because the circumstances have been so different, and I’m on the other side of life.  The past 10 lbs. or so, people have made me aware that they see the difference with some nice compliments.  The first 30 lbs., I don’t think anyone was quite getting it.  The older you get, the harder it is to lose weight around the belly, and I was still wearing the same-sized pants that whole time.  The past 20 lbs. it’s become more obvious that I’ve dropped a truckload of weight – haven’t bought new pants yet, but surely need a belt to keep them on.  My face has grown more definition, too, which I am glad to see, as I spent years cringing when I saw how chipmunk-cheeked I came off in photos.

What’s my secret?  There is none.  Eat less.  Consume less calories than you burn.  Eat enough calories that you can function as a normal human being, i.e., don’t starve yourself.  But take in less than you put out.

It’s hard as hell, and anyone who tells you otherwise is bullshitting you.  True, it gets easier once you have the routine down, but once you have it down, you have to keep it down for a prolonged period of time.  The routine for me has been three meals a day, really no change with breakfast and lunch (for which I’ve always eaten light), but smaller portions for dinner, and no snacking.  No baked goods, like the cookie or brownie I used to have every work day after lunch.  The only snacks I’ve gone for are dried or frozen fruit.  I’ve even cut out mixed nuts for the time being, which are healthy and I love eating, but I found that having a small bowl was often throwing me off track.

And let’s not forget working out five days a week.  Four in a gym, Fridays usually a seven-mile walk home.  One thing I’ve learned: losing weight is more predicated on diet than exercise.  But I gather maintaining weight does have a lot to do with exercise.  Or at least that’s how it’s gone for me over the past few months.  It’s grown into a pattern that the first half of my week is consumed by hard-assed boxing workouts which find me either maintaining weight or losing no more than half a pound.  Followed by a sedentary day or two where the weight stays the same.  Followed by the weekend, where I’ll have light lunch each day (no more than a cup of yogurt or banana) and find that I’ll drop anywhere from 1-3 lbs.

I gather this is just my body’s weight-loss pattern and what has worked for me.  I’d have felt a whole lot better if I could see direct, cause-and-effect  results – do a hard workout and lose a pound or two – but it just hasn’t panned out that way for me.  I got some interesting advice from the Calorie Count website (a good resource if you’re trying to lose weight).  I saw another person on there complaining about the same issue: working out like a fiend, in his case clocking in hundreds of miles on a bike over the course of days, and not losing a pound the whole time while dieting.  A few people put forth the concept that if you’re dieting to the tune of 1,500 calories/day, and burning 600 with a hard workout, then you’re really only taking in 900 calories … at which point your body just might slip into “survival” mode and hang on to every bit of weight it can, be it fat or muscle mass.  Thus, it could make more sense to eat a little more on workout days (but not too much!) so your body doesn’t shift into that preservation mode.

However it pans out, so long as you’re not starving yourself but still managing to lose weight, something is working.  I think part of it is I consciously don’t avoid carbs during the week, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch on whole-grain bread, avocado and/or veggie burgers on a roll for dinner.  I need carbs for working out, even if it means my weight holds steady for a few days instead of dropping.  I’d imagine I could go carb-less all the time and really drop weight fast, but I wanted a steady, slow loss, and 2 lbs. a week or so has worked out pretty well.  I’ve seen those pictures of people who have had much more drastic weight loss, with their loose skin hanging off their mid-sections, and I gather part of that is just dive-bomb weight loss, losing extreme amounts of weight, fast.

It makes more sense to take your time.  And it was imperative that I lose weight, after the hernia and ensuing surgery.  I swore to myself that I’d be 30 lbs. lighter when I went back to the gym (walking was my only workout for weeks post-surgery), and sure enough, I came in just under the wire when I started gym workouts again two months later.  That was the first goal, to make sure I was considerably lighter as I’m certain being that overweight and doing hard workouts played roles in getting a hernia.  It’s been a matter of degrees since then.  If I can make 220 … why not 210 next month? If I made 210 … then why not 200 the following month?

And so it’s gone each month.  I’ll surely try for 190 by the end of September.  And if I get that far, 180 in October.  I’ve learned not to look too far ahead, just to focus on that 2 lbs. every week and make it happen.  It’s been a sluggish, half-assed journey every step of the way, where I’ve felt totally lost and frustrated at times, but it’s happened.  I’ve found that the “6” number of each 10 lb. series has been pure hell: 236, 226, 216, 206 … every time I’ve hit those weights, I felt stuck at each for an inordinate number of days, although I think a lot of it was not sensing the pattern I noted of how and when  my body chooses to let go of a few pounds.  Psychologically, it’s been draining at various points, and I look forward to the day where I stop dropping weight and only use the scale twice a week as opposed to every day.

Understand, I’m enjoying the vanity aspect of all this, but make no mistake, this is much more for my overall long-term health.  The hernia scared the shit out of me … and it’s the sort of fear and low-level paranoia that I’ll always live with.  That this could happen again, because I’ve gathered from my readings that these things come down mostly to genetics, and who’s to say it won’t happen again, no matter what I do.  But if it’s in my power to reduce the likelihood of recurrence by lowering my weight, then I vowed this would happen.

And not just the hernia, but my general health.  There’s nothing to be gained by being overweight, which I’d been for decades and had grown comfortable with.  I had just assumed that I gained a lot of weight in my early 30s, couldn’t lose it from then on, and this was life.  And then the doctor diagnosed the underactive thyroid, gave me appropriate daily medication to boost my metabolism, which kick-started an instant weight loss that lasted about three weeks, so I ran with it from there, knowing that it was now in my power to lose weight if I gave a genuine effort.  Believe me, I tried for years with no luck, so in many ways, that little hernia popping out, and the doctor stumbling onto this other problem, have given this whole shit experience some kind of silver lining.

What have I learned from all this?  A lot about how my body functions.  It’s an ornery, moody machine that does things in its own sweet time.  Like a pack mule that moves when it feels like it.  I can influence it, and control it in some senses, but weight loss, even after 50 lbs., is still very much a mystery to me.  I’ve grasped the essentials, that you simply have to consume less calories, within reason, on a steady basis.  But that’s it.  I’d gather there are nutritionists out there who could teach me a world of knowledge on combinations of food to eat in tandem with exercise to make weight really fly off.  But by the same token, I have become an idiot savant in terms of weight loss: I have made it happen on a real, substantial level.

I’ve learned that my self esteem hasn’t really been based on weight.  I don’t feel much more sure of myself as a result of this.  I look better, but being overweight for years taught me not to place too much value on looks (possibly the only benefit of being overweight).  I surely feel better, but not to the extent that I value my life any more or less than when I was weighing in at 250 lbs.  I don’t have any “wild success story” to tell, although I can’t help but feel some sense of victory in getting this far.  Given the circumstances, it just made a lot more sense for me to drop some serious weight after years of not being able to do so.

The greatest thing I’ve learned is that change is possible.  It seems like an easy concept to grasp, but the older you get, the harder it feels to change anything on a substantial level.  Take my word for it, dropping 50 lbs. is a sea change that hasn’t really sunk in yet.  Change is possible, but real, lasting change takes time and discipline.  It’s been an important lesson to learn this far along in life, where real change comes so very slowly or unexpectedly.  And often for the worse in terms of health.  But I can at least see now that there’s a door, and if you want to go through it, chances are you can make real things happen.  We all have things in our lives we want to change, and it’s a humbling concept to grasp this far along.

Of course, this all means nothing if I gain it all back.  I’m acutely aware of this and am looking to make this a permanent change.  Again, breakfast and lunch are not a problem for me, it’s going to be dinner and snacking that I’ll need to watch myself with going forward.  I look forward to a month or two from now when I’ll concern myself with maintenance as opposed to loss, which I’m hoping won’t be as hard and confounding as I’ve found steady loss to be.  I have to believe just as a health concern that I’ll be pretty diligent moving forward from that point.

Understand that I was reasonably healthy before all this, just carrying far too much weight.  Surely snacking too much on top of having too-large portions for dinner.  I was hardly going crazy with food.  With an underactive thyroid that I’m sure had been undiagnosed for over a decade, I was pretty much not going to lose weight, no matter what I did.  By the same token, I hit a certain point, about 250 lbs., where I plateaued for years and never gained past that point.  So I am hopeful that I’ll be able to keep off whatever I’ve already lost and should lose in the next month or two.

It’s hard to explain how all this feels.  “Cautiously optimistic” might be the best way to put it.  I’ll say this.  When you figure out how to unlock one door like this in your life, it makes you wonder what other doors might open if you take your time and put your mind to it.


Beatles Comment Guy said...

7 mile walk sounds like great exercise, but I literally don't know that I have time for a length like that in a single go. Would that something like 3-3 1/2 hours at an even pace with no breaks?

If I had detention in high school, I had to walk home, which was in the next town over, about 2 miles away, and that was 45 minutes to an hour. Of course, shorter in rural PA to cut through the woods, but then you might get lucky and get a ride from someone who recognized you if you walked the main road.

I used to be able to keep weight off just because I didn't have drive and would walk all over town all day long. Now it has to be 30 minutes of calisthenics every day.

William S. Repsher said...

That 7-mile walk, I usually start around 5:15 in midtown Manhattan and up seven miles later in my neighborhood in Queens at 7:00 or so -- usually 1:45, and that's with a lot of stop/starting at street corners in Manhattan, I don't really pick up the pace until I hit the 59th St Bridge and then the much-less hectic stretches of Queens. Keep a steady pace, but I'm always seeing people who walk for a routine walkout blowing my doors off on the bridge.

Beatles Comment Guy said...

I never really considered how much distance one could cover walking more or less on even surfaces without having to navigate winding roads.

I would be pretty impressed with myself if I could cover 7 miles in under 2 hours! The local high school allows the public to use the track field on weekends; I ought to see what I can do sometime. The stamina I'm not so much worried about, but I don't think I could get the speed without building up to it over a few weeks of practice. To do 7 in 2 hours would going around the whole track once every 5 minutes on average.