Rod Hilton's rants about software development, technology, and sometimes Star Wars

How I Lost 90 Pounds in One Year

I’ve been a fat guy since I was in elementary school. I had a growth spurt around 10th grade that thinned me out a lot, but then I regained all of that weight in college, and then some.

One day I hit 290, which became something of a wake-up call for me. I really didn’t want to break the 300 barrier, but I had been steadily gaining weight for the past few years and I was well on my way to being over 300 pounds. Combined with my father’s increasing problems due to his diabetes, I had become worried enough about my future that I decided to do something about my weight in 2007.

I have tried a number of different things over the course of my life, though I never tried any fad diets like South Beach or Atkins. I tried limiting my food intake, I tried riding my bike to work to get exercise, but I remained steadily creeping toward 300 pounds and a future as a diabetic.

To make a long story very, very short, exactly one year later I weighed 200 pounds, having lost 90 pounds. No surgeries, no fad diets.

There were a number of things I did that I consider to have made the difference between an unsuccessful attempt at losing weight and a successful one. I’ve decided to share these things on the intarwebs, in hopes that they might motivate or help someone else struggling with their weight.

#1 See A Nutritionist

Talking to a professional nutritionist made a huge difference. I was able to tell her exactly what I ate during the day and exactly what kind of exercise I got regularly. I ran her through a typical day and a typical week, and she figured out exactly what my problem areas were. As it turned out, my main problem wasn’t sugar intake, but carbohydrate intake, and she gave me helpful guidance for how to control my carbs in my diet. She told me what foods I ate that I needed to stop eating, which foods I needed to cut back on, and which kinds of food I needed to start eating. She illustrated portion sizes for the foods I eat, and gave me a number of extremely helpful guides.

She didn’t put me on some crazy fad diet, or give me suggestions that I’d be unable to follow because I’d be miserable following them. She catered her advice to me specifically, which made it far more useful advice than what I could pick up on the internet in blog posts such as this one.

In the end, making adjustments to my diet and exercise routines based on her suggestions wound up making a critical difference in my ability to lose weight.

#2 Seriously, See A Nutritionist

I really can’t stress it enough. The combined impact of every single other item on this list didn’t even come close to the impact made by just talking to a nutritionist. The visit was covered on my insurance plan and it only took about an hour out of my life. Absolutely nothing I did over the course of the year helped me as much as talking to a nutritionist.

Do it.

#3 Set Goals and Rewards

My goal for the year was 90 pounds. I never, EVER thought I’d actually pull it off. 90 was my “boy would it be nice” goal. I set intermediate goals of 30 and 60 pounds. 30 I knew I could hit, 60 would take work, 90 was basically impossible.

At each goal, I gave myself a reward. This reward was something I didn’t allow myself to get without hitting the goal. At 30, I got a second monitor for my computer. At 60, an XBox. At 90, a Macbook. Each reward was larger than the last.

Focusing on just the thirty pound increments made my goals seem more doable, and whenever I wanted to bail on a workout early I could say “come on, 10 more pounds to the XBox” to keep myself going. Every time I wanted a piece of cake, I knew it moved me further away from my Macbook.

Manageable goals make a big difference in motivation, and I’d say that this item combined with seeing a nutritionist were the biggest difference makers without question.

#4 Timebox The Effort and Commit

When I first started, it was very helpful, just from a mentality standpoint, to set a limit for how long I was going to make this effort.

The idea of “I’m going to watch what I eat and work out for the rest of my life” was intimidating to me, to the point where it felt like I didn’t even want to bother. It was a miserable future in my mind, and it made me want to give up instantly.

In contrast, this time I said to myself “Okay, I’m going to watch what I eat and work out and commit to that for exactly one year, to the day. I’ll decide what to do after that at the end.” Time boxing the effort gave me a reason to try, and every time I wanted to give myself an excuse to get out of the gym or eat a giant pizza by myself, I’d just say “No, not now. You’re sticking with this for one year.”

It seems small, but it made a big difference. Feeling like there was a limit to the work kept me motivated to stick with the plan whenever I was tempted to deviate.

In the end, however, I feel so much better now than I did when I was 90 pounds heavier, and I actually ENJOY the gym as well as how I feel when I eat healthy. I don’t have the temptation to eat a big pizza any more because I know how I feel afterwards and how different that is from how I feel normally. Eating junk food makes me lethargic and tired, but I never knew that until I ate healthy and was able to really observe the difference. Even though my year is up, I haven’t fallen back into old habits; I still eat well and go to the gym, but now I’m happy to do so. However, it helped a great deal to to limit myself to a specific period of time from the outset.

#5 Track Progress, Adjust as Needed

During the year, I weighed myself every day, at the same time every day, wearing the same amount of clothing. I wrote down my weight, and I used the results to course correct when I needed to.

I found that my weight fluctuated quite a bit during the week, and there was nothing as frustrating as working my ass of at the gym and then weighing myself the next day and finding I had gained weight. In actuality, I hadn’t gained weight, but my weight fluctuated. Weight fluctuations are completely normal and depend on the time of day, the time of year, how hydraded or dehydrated you happen to be, when you last ate, and many other factors. You can’t let yourself get hung up on day to day weight changes.

Instead, what I did was kept track of my weight for the week. I had a spreadsheet (stored in Google docs) that had one week per row, 7 columns each. The only column I ever really looked at was the “Week Average” and I compared that to the previous week. If I had, overall, gained during the week, I needed to make a change. If I had lost weight, I was on the right track. This let me ignore daily fluctuations.

I entered my data every day, but I evaluated only at the start of the week. When I decided to change my plan, I committed to the change for one full week, even if it didn’t look like it was working as the week started out. For example, if I decided to have a different kind of breakfast, I would commit to that new breakfast for the full week, no matter what. At the end of the week, I’d decide if that did or didn’t work.

It also helps to buy a decent scale and weigh yourself at the exact same time every day. I always weighed myself in the morning, right before showering. The scale was in the bathroom, next to the shower.

I also tracked myself at the gym. I didn’t go running or bike riding for aerobic exercise - I used machines that allowed me to enter my age and weight, then told me how many calories I was burning. When I was first starting out, this was critical in figuring out what kind of changes I needed to make.

One thing I wish I had done was taken a picture of myself at 290. I never thought I’d actually be able to lose even 30 pounds, let alone 90. So I wasn’t willing to take a photo of myself at 290. When I hit 260, I wished I had taken a picture of myself 30 pounds heavier, because, having lived my life as a fat guy, it was really hard to actually see that I was losing weight because of my own perceptions. Only the scale told me I was losing weight. If I had a picture at 290 and one at 260, I would have seen the difference that others were seeing and mentioning. Of course, at 260 I never thought I’d hit 230, so I still didn’t take a picture. And, you guessed it, at 230 I never thought I’d hit 200 so I still didn’t take one. I wish I had a picture of myself 90 pounds heavier without a shirt on, but I don’t. Do it, or you’ll regret it.

#6 Don’t Make A Resolution, Start Right Now

Resolutions don’t work. Don’t make weight loss a “new years resolution.” And don’t say things like “alright, I’m going on my diet starting the first of this month.” Start next week.

Whenever I would pick a specific time to start, or do something like have “one last hurrah” at a buffet during the month prior to “getting serious,” I would fail. Any time I drew a line between my “old diet” and my “new diet” it didn’t work. I can’t really explain why, but for some reason this never worked out.

I’d miss a workout day and all of a sudden the “new diet” had been blown and I’d wind up skipping another day, and then another, until I wasn’t doing it anymore. Or I’d eat a slice of pizza and just give up on the whole thing. ** Creating a hard line between “old” and “new” made me feel like a failure if I screwed up during the “new” phase.**

Instead, I got into it gradually. My first day at the gym wasn’t some hour-long thing, it was about 30 minutes. My first day of my new diet wasn’t carrot sticks and salads, I just cut back on some bad foods and tried some new ones. I experimented. I replaced my morning muffin with a morning yogurt. I added half an hour to my workday by going to the gym immediately after work (before going home) for a little while. Then I’d simply track how helpful these efforts were. Quite honestly, a small change was actually enough to lose some weight in the beginning, but eventually it wasn’t enough, and I had to add more gym time or cut back more in my diet. I started with baby steps and then course-corrected as time went on. This means I didn’t ever have a distinct “old life” and “new life” with a line drawn between them. I didn’t start “first thing next Monday”. I started immediately and changed the plan as I went along. Start tomorrow.

Another benefit of starting without making it a New Year’s resolution is quite simple: just after New Year’s, the gym sucks. The place gets packed with “New Year’s Resolutionists”. You have to fight for a machine that you want to use, and if you’re new to the gym, you feel like everyone is watching your fat ass jiggle around on the treadmill. The gym blows when it’s crowded, especially when you’re starting out. Starting out in January is a guaranteed way to abandon the gym. I started in October, so I was comfortable enough in the gym by January that I didn’t mind the sudden surge in attendance (in fact, I felt like they were n00bs). The resolutionists all give up by March, so after that it’s safe.

#7 No Fried Food, No Soda - Cold Turkey

There were two exceptions to the “slow start” mentioned above. Two big changes that were, in fact, immediate and drastic. I stopped drinking regular soda, and I stopped eating fried food. Completely.

In a restaurant, if my food came with fries, I’d ask to replace it with steamed Broccoli or something similar. I didn’t buy or drink any regular soda, ever, no exceptions. Diet soda was fine, however.

I didn’t listen to any of the crap about how diet soda is bad for me and causes cancer, or how Mexican coke with real sugar is better for me, blah blah blah. It’s all horseshit. Calories are calories, and diet soda doesn’t have any. Diet soda isn’t GOOD for me, but it did let me drink something with some flavor with my lunch. Quite honestly I’d have gone insane if I only drank water for the year, so I’m glad diet soda had my back. That said, I didn’t guzzle the stuff. Soda, because it’s carbonated, expands your stomach, so it makes you feel less full than you otherwise would. This encourages you to overeat. I also started ordering only water when I went out to eat, which had the bonus of saving me more money than I expected. I generally had water or diet iced tea (no carbonation) with dinner, and I allowed myself to drink a diet soda at lunch. I could get away with this because I always brought my lunch from home, so there was a limit to the amount of food I could eat at lunchtime, reducing the risk of overeating because of soda.

I’d occasionally steal a couple fries from my fiancee if she had some, but eventually I found that having two fries made it extremely difficult not to have a third fry, and a third made it very hard not to have a fourth, so I stopped doing that for the most part.

Diet soda and veggies instead of fried food, immediately. Starting right away. It helps.

#8 Get What You Need, But Don’t Let It Stop You

At the gym during the first week with my iPod nano. Holding it while I work out is a pain. “You know what,” I think to myself, “I really need an arm strap. I’ll get one tomorrow and then start working out.”

You have no idea what kind of excuses you will invent to get out of the gym until you start going. It’s staggering, the human brain’s ability to concoct reasons to get out of the gym. My foot is kind of hurting. I need a water bottle to really get started. My iPod battery is dead, I should charge it first. My gym shorts are too tight, I need new ones. The little plastic thing on my shoelace came off and now I can’t tie them as tightly. Seriously, you will think of every possible reason under the sun to get out of the gym. GO ANYWAY.

Even if the reason is completely valid, like the armstrap for my iPod, make yourself go anyway and live with the problem for the one time, then fix it tomorrow. The HABIT of going to the gym is almost as important as the actual going. If you skip a day that you planned on going, you break your habit. Once you build the habit of going to the gym, you find that you don’t have to convince yourself to go anymore, it’s just part of your day, like brushing your teeth. Building the habit is crucial, so don’t let little things derail you from developing the habit.

I now find that I actually feel shitty when I don’t go to the gym, it takes more effort for me to skip than to go. That’s because I built a habit out of it, the same way that if you skip brushing your teeth for a day your teeth feel all grimy and disgusting. Even if you need something before you can really get a lot out of a gym trip, go anyway and deal with the problem tomorrow.

#9 Drink More Water

Water is good for you. It increases your metabolism, and it helps you feel full. Very, very often when you think you are hungry, you’re actually thirsty, your brain just can’t tell the difference. If you find yourself craving food, go drink a glass of water and wait a few minutes. You very well may not actually have been hungry. Your brain sucks, deal with it.

When I go out to a restaurant, I order water, and I drink a ton of it. This ensures I don’t overeat at the restaurant (food in restaurants is usually served in a 3x or more portion. If you’re not taking home a box when you leave, you ate too much). I try to drink an entire glass of water before the waiter or waitress comes back to even take my order, and another before the bread arrives. If I’m not annoying the server, I’m not drinking enough water.

How much water should you drink? At the risk of being crass, your piss should be almost clear. If your urine is yellow, you need to drink more water. It’s that simple.

#10 Slow The Fuck Down

You eat too fast. Trust me, you do. Fat people eat way faster than skinny people. Huge bites, gone in seconds, then a plate full of more food.

I found it very helpful to fill my dinner plate with what I felt was the correct amount of food, then to eat the food on it as slowly as possible. If I was still hungry when I was done, I forced myself to wait 20 minutes. Only if I was still hungry after 20 minutes would I let myself have more food. It almost never happened. I only got a second plate if I broke the 20-minute rule (which I’d always regret)

It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it’s full. That means, once you’re COMPLETELY FULL, it will be twenty minutes before your brain even has an idea that you should stop eating.

The slower you eat, the more time you give your brain to find out it should stop eating before you cram more food down your cramhole.

Take tiny bites. Your mouth doesn’t need to be full to enjoy the taste of your meal. The smaller the bite, the more food you’ll think is on your plate, and the less likely you will be to feel like you didn’t get enough food.

Chew. Turn it into mush before you swallow. You’re on a diet, so you have a much more limited number of bites. Taste those bites as long as you can before you swallow them. Once the food is out of your mouth, you can’t taste it anymore, and you need to stuff a whole new bite into your face to enjoy the taste of your food again. Leave the bite in longer, and you can enjoy your food longer without the need to shove more food into your gullet. Try to chew until there’s no flavor.

I still stuggle with this one, it’s a big adjustment, but it’s worth it.

#11 Don’t Kill Yourself

The worst thing you can do to completely derail your diet is to make yourself so miserable that you hate it.

If your company orders pizza for your group and you decide you eat your lame little salad while everyone else is eating pizza, you’re just going to sit there focusing on delicious pizza and how pissed off you are that you’re on this stupid diet. If you hate it, you’ll quit.

Indulge every so often. Have that slice of pizza. Steal a few fries from your spouse. Just order the cheeseburger if you’re going to be pissed off all night after ordering a bowl of soup. Just don’t make a habit of it. They’re indulgences for a reason, they should be the exception, not the norm.

If you love chocolate more than life itself, depriving yourself of it is going to end one way: with you shoving fistfuls of Hershey bars into your face while screaming “screw the diet!” The trick is not to deprive yourself, it’s to introduce moderation. Eat a kit-kat, but spend an extra 15 minutes at the gym to balance it out.

Eventually you’ll start looking at a slice of pizza not as a delicious, cheesy piece of bread, but as an extra 20 minutes on the treadmill. Then you won’t even want the damn thing (usually).

Yeah, that snickers bar sure LOOKS good, but the fact of the matter is that you’ll have eaten it in 30 seconds and you won’t even remember what it tastes like 10 minutes from now, but if you eat it you’ll have to spend an extra half hour at the gym working it off. Possibly an extra 6 hours the next day being all pissed off at yourself for eating it, blaming it for the fact that you gained weight yesterday in spite of working your butt off at the gym.

Your relationship toward these kinds of foods changes when you start living healthier, and you desire them less and less. But if you completely deprive yourself of them, you’ll want them more and more. Give in when you absolutely have to, just don’t make it a regular occurrence.

Conclusion

Losing weight is not that hard. Really, it’s not. It’s more about commitment than anything else. Make a plan, stick to it, and the pounds come off.

You don’t need a fad diet, you don’t need a special book, you don’t need to subscribe to some online service. If you burn more calories during a day than you eat, you lose weight, it’s that simple.

Stop telling yourself “I’ve tried everything and nothing works!” You know damn well you haven’t tried everything, stop kidding yourself.

Losing 90 pounds is, without a doubt, the most significant accomplishment I’ve ever made in my entire life so far. I can’t even describe in words how much better I feel now, how much more energy I have now, and how much happier I am. I feel comfortable in a suit. I can buckle my seatbelt in a car without feeling like the strap is making my bitch tits stick out. I can shop for clothes in a regular department store, and it doesn’t take me 5 hours. I can wear t-shirts instead of fat-guy Hawaiian shirts. I can dance or ride a bike without feeling like a fridge. The little things make a big difference.

I feel alive, confident, and energetic. My brain feels like it works better, and I enjoy how I feel when I’ve eaten well for the day. I enjoy my time at the gym, it gives me time to think about whatever I want or listen to an audiobook. 200-pound-me is so much happier than 290-pound-me that I can barely even understand how I was able to live my life before. Having someone I haven’t seen in a while say “holy shit, you look great!” makes my week.

It’s not that hard once you build habits, I promise. I did it. You can too.

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