This will be my last post on health and weight for a while. My next will likely be in a year when I can write about the first year of maintenance.
- Starting weight: 240
- Goal weight: 190
- Current weight: 190
So, I have lost 50 pounds in around 6 months. I actually hit my goal weight a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to give it some time and make sure I was settled into it; that it wasn’t going to pop back up again.
I’d like to share why I started this, how I went about it, and what I have learned.
Why I wanted to lose weight
Since I was young, my primary goal in life has been to be a good husband and father. That means that I am continually looking for ways I can become a better person: nicer, better educated, better at handling conflict, more generous, more kind, more supportive, etc. And I also wanted to be physically healthier. I want to have energy to do things, I want to have strength to pick up our kids, and I don’t want to be a burden when I am older.
I don’t think you can do everything at once. Losing weight can be stressful, and it’s certainly another thing to think about and plan for. When you’re overworked and busy, that’s hard to do. So I put it off as long as I could.
But these days, I’m not in school and my job is great. And now we’re going to have kids! So the time had come.
I was also really struggling with mental energy and long-haul travel. My doctor recommended keto, a low-carb and high-fat/protein diet, to address these problems. I didn’t like being completely drained by 4 p.m. on weekdays, and I needed to make a change to fix that.
How I lost weight
You can’t outrun your diet. I had one year where I rowed multiple times a week and burned lots of calories, but I didn’t keep track of what I was eating. After a year, I had rowed a lot of kilometers, but I hadn’t lost a pound.
I lost weight over the last 6 months through Calories In, Calories Out (CICO). I used MyFitnessPal to track my meals and I followed its calorie recommendation to lose 2 pounds per week. One pound of fat is 3,500 calories, so this meant a weekly deficit of 7,000 calories, or 1,000 per day. Since I was eating around 1,500, that suggests that maintenance for me is probably 2,500… we’ll see.
April was a tremendous help through all of this. I don’t know that I would have been successful without her. She did a lot of the cooking and food prep, and she helped weigh and portion things so I could log them. She made the salad I had for lunch every day. Her support made this possible.
What I ate
I ate a keto diet, which means that 65% of my calories came from fat, 30% from protein, and 5% from carbs. I maintained this for probably 4 out of the 6 months. I don’t think keto is what lost me all the weight, but it did help me maintain the CICO approach. Keto evened out my blood sugar so I didn’t have any spikes or crashes, and it reduced my cravings tremendously. I think cutting out sugar was really the biggest thing for helping me stick to the diet.
Breakfast most every day was keto coffee, which is 1 tbsp. (14 grams) of coconut oil, 1 tbsp. (12-14 grams) of heavy whipping cream, and coffee. This is 185 calories and gets me to lunch at around 11:30 a.m.
Lunch was Mark Sisson’s big-ass salad almost every day while doing keto. My favourite dressing (out of the 3 I tried) was Green Goddess. If I wasn’t having salad, it was typically a basic meat + veggies thing, such as a pound of ground beef in a skillet with a bell pepper and mushrooms sauteed in, and I would eat half of that.
Dinner was typically similar to lunch. We would have meat and veggies, and try to have something different than what we had at lunch. So if we had beef at lunch, then it would be chicken at dinner. Occasionally pork, but not often. If I had a big salad at lunch, I often didn’t bother with veggies much at dinner.
Our main cooking oils were coconut, olive, and avocado. If you have never had avocado oil, I absolutely love it. Put two tablespoons in with ground beef right before sauteeing your vegetables and it really kicks the meal up a notch. Make sure to add salt and pepper too.
I have a powerful sweet tooth, so when I craved something sweet, I ate dark chocolate. I didn’t really like dark chocolate originally, but it turns out that different dark chocolate tastes different. It’s not all horribly bitter! My favourite, after trying many different dark chocolate bars over the last few months, is Alter Eco. I also made chocolate mousse and roasted pecans regularly to have as other snacks/desserts. For ice cream, I had this mint chip coconut ice cream and it was great.
What I learned along the way
There were some surprising things I discovered while losing weight.
Gear doesn’t make you lose weight
I wore a step-tracker on my wrist for 4 years before I really changed my diet. There have been a number of studies indicating that Fitbits and whatnot don’t typically lead to weight loss, and there have even been lawsuits about it. I’m not writing this to be critical of anyone who wears something like that, but it’s important for us to admit to ourselves that tracking steps, and even walking 10,000 steps a day, won’t lose us weight on its own.
You burn a different amount of calories for physical activity depending on your current fitness level. These days, I find it harder to get my heartrate to the aerobic zone (of beats per minute), and I’m not burning as many calories as I was. But when I was starting out, walking 10,000 steps might burn 5-800 calories in a day. That’s great! But if I was eating 2,500-3,000 calories in a normal day, and occasionally more, then my weight was plateaued or going up.
I had to change my diet. And I had to keep track of it. MyFitnessPal helped tremendously, and I got two other pieces of gear along the way that have helped. But it’s important to note that these tools help us lose weight. We have to make the conscious and regular decision to change what we eat and what we do if we’re going to lose weight.
A few months ago, I got a Vivoactive 3 and an Index scale. I like the Vivoactive because it has a heart rate monitor and GPS, so it helps me know more accurately the number of calories I am burning in a day. But what had an even greater impact on my weight loss was the electronic scale. I forced myself to step onto it every single morning, no matter what I had eaten the day before or how I felt, so that it would wireless sync my weight to Garmin and MyFitnesspal. Having that daily chart helped me in two different ways:
- It kept me accountable. Weighing myself daily, and having it actually be accurate (which my old scale wasn’t) and visible (through the apps, where it showed up alongside my calorie counts) made a huge difference for me.
- It gave me hope and clarity. I could see a clear connection between my choices and my weight. And because I was logging my calories, I knew what was happening. When I had a personal pan pizza (850 calories), and my weight shot up by 4 pounds, I knew that I hadn’t actually gained 4 pounds (14,000 calories). No, I was retaining water. And if I went back to keto, and drank a lot of water, then in around 4 days I would drop that water weight. Seeing this in action really helped calm me down. Weight loss takes time, and knowing how it works helped keep me patient. That helped keep me from giving up.
So, gear can help, but it can’t do the work for you of choosing and making the right things to eat, tracking what you eat, or exercising.
Temperature affects me differently now
I’m not as hot and sweaty as I used to be.
And strangely, really cold water doesn’t hurt me as much as it did. Like, I’m generally colder than I was, but when I put my hands in really cold water, my joints don’t hurt as much. I think this is down to having less inflammation thanks to my diet.
Also, I have less acne. I think this has more to do with cutting sugar and unhealthy oils than it does with weight loss, but they kind of go hand-in-hand.
Eating when I’m happy is good, and eating when I’m sad is not
I am a stress eater, and I have my comfort foods. If I am down in the dumps, the orange chicken from Thai Express is my happy meal.
But through tracking what I eat and how I feel, I know that generally speaking food doesn’t actually make me feel better. When I’m depressed and want to eat an entire quart of ice cream, and I go ahead and do it, I don’t feel better afterwards. Eating half a pizza doesn’t make me feel good. A burger, fries, and milkshake doesn’t fix my problems.
When I’m feeling happy, and I have some good food, it’s great. I’m loving it. And that’s important to remember. It’s the same advice that Chesterton gives in regards to alcohol (I think in Orthodoxy). Do not use alcohol as medication, because using it to try and feel like we should always feel means that we will always drink, which is unhealthy. Only drink when you’re happy, because this will be more rare but will make the happiness even greater.
I was upset last night and really wanted to go to Andy’s for some frozen custard. Instead, I hung out with some people online and ate dark chocolate, which while it’s not exactly the best thing, was literally 10% the calories of what I would have had at Andy’s. And I don’t regret it and didn’t feel bad as a result.
Monitoring your nutrients is important
Tracking nutrients is especially important when starting keto. I was getting way less sodium as a result of my diet, which is a problem. Using MyFitnessPal really helped me see where I needed to be eating more. That’s one of the things a lot of people don’t think about with tracking your meals.
Everyone fixates on how “hard” it is, when it really isn’t hard and only takes a few minutes a day. When you track your calories, it’s not just restrictive and telling you what you can’t eat. It’s also telling you when you need to eat more. If I’m super active one day, then MFP helps me see that I need to eat more. And if I check my nutrients and see that I’m low on sodium or iron, then I should do something about that.
This was also helpful because I was feeling pretty bad for a while. I kept getting this really heavy and uncomfortable feeling in my gut, and it took me a while to figure out what was causing it. Turns out, I don’t tolerate whole avocado well. I thought at first that the problem was having 19-20+ grams of fiber in a day, but I think it’s actually just pure avocado. So that’s good to know.
Where I’m going from here
I actually want to lose around 5 more pounds to get down to 185. That way, when I switch to maintenance and start eating pizza and rice and Chinese food regularly again, and I’m carrying around an extra 4 pounds of water all the time, I’ll still be around my goal weight.
My reward for myself when I hit 185 is an ice cream maker. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m going to make keto and/or low-sugar ice cream that’s cheaper and relatively healthy, and try to completely break my craving for Andy’s.
I have tried making Chinese food at home and been unsatisfied, but we are going to buy some new cooking stuff to open up new possibilities for home cooking. We need some new and different skillets and baking sheets.
And I have already bought new clothes. Not all that I need, but enough to get by for now. I’m down around 6″ in the waist for jeans, and I’m wearing medium shirts instead of XL now.
So that’s it. Let me know if you have any questions. Otherwise, I’ll probably write next about health and weight in a year.