My 5 point plan for shedding pounds and feeling better about myself
If you’ve seen me in the last few months, you may have been one of the many people who have said to me “you’ve lost weight.” This is a bit of a backhanded compliment to give someone (because it implies there was weight to be lost), though we’ve all likely given it to someone at one point or another.
I knew I needed to lose weight, I was the one carrying all that extra me around all these years, after all. And now that I’m losing it it I do appreciate when people notice, it’s just generally people tend to focus on the comparative. “You look better now than when I saw you before,” just hits a little differently than “you’re looking great, keep doing what you’re doing.”
The last, I don’t know, 5-7 or so years, I was somewhere ~200lbs, peaking in December of 2020 at around 208. For a 6’1” guy, that’s just a smidge over what would be considered a “healthy” BMI into “overweight” territory, though friendly reminder the BMI scale is racist and generally wrong.
I eschewed my previous “skinny fat” designation for full blown “dad bod,” trying to embrace the idea that not caring about my weight was my right as a straight man in a serious relationship. I was Homer Simpson-ing it. The reason to be in shape was to seduce someone else, once that person was seduced there was no reason to keep up appearances anymore.
I do not need to explain the toxicity or lack of regard for oneself required to see your body as purely a means to attract a mate or attention, but needless to say, lots of people see their physical wellbeing in this lens. It kinda makes sense…how we present ourselves is more often perceived by others than sensed by ourselves. Working on our externalities can feel like doing work on ourselves to improve the view others have of us, when in fact it’s the underlying sense you have of yourself that’s steering your behavior. Losing weight for someone else (either specifically or generally) is just how we externally project own self-loathing.
Regardless, I’ve turned a corner and recognized that I just feel better when I’m not carrying around an extra 10% of me. I’m still far from toned, but unlike past experiences with exercise and diet, I’m trying not to look at this like a temporary exercise in achieving a target weight so I can go back to being a slob again. Or rather, I’m not looking at it that way anymore. My goal was to get from 200 to 180, I got there earlier this year. Everything since then, now approaching 170, has been the product of the healthier habits I developed getting to the 180.
In the spirit of answering the “how’d you do it” question, I thought I’d share some advice from someone who never really had physical fitness hardwired in.
This is also, selfishly, an effort to dispel the Ozempic rumors some of you have been bandying about, I understand the timing of my weight loss seems sudden, effortless, and suspiciously timed to the rise of the miracle injection, but those who know me best know I’m far too squeamish to be injecting anything in my body for something as vain as weight loss.
Instead, here are the 5 actual things I’ve done, and am doing, to try and not have a heart attack before I’m 45.
In most Italian American households I know of, clearing your plate is a sign of respect for the chef, and if you’re offered seconds, you accept and clear that off your plate too. Growing up, we weren’t too far removed from a generation of people who remembered a time when there wasn’t enough food to go around the dinner table, so the idea that you ate everything you were given was foundational.
This leads to some pretty bizarre psychological behavior, and I still will find ways to condense a meal’s leftovers into the corner of a plate to give the illusion that more of the plate has been consumed. It’s also easier to eat everything on your plate if you eat it faster than your body can process what you’re doing, so speed eating was pretty common for me.
To achieve portion control, I actually started doing two discrete things differently. First, I consciously served myself smaller portions to begin with. Instead of making a pound of rice and starting by eating half of that, I could make half a pound, and then start by eating half of that. I was still having “two” helpings, but each helping was half the size it would have been previously.
The second key to portion control was slowing down. I try to imagine my first bite of something like I’m doing a taste test…how can I construct the perfect forkful to get the essence of what’s happening here? If this were a wine tasting, what flavor notes can I pick out? Is that cardamom? Do I sense a touch of rosemary? How’s the texture? Temperature? By forcing myself to really pay attention to what I’m eating, I find I can enjoy each bite more while having fewer bites before I start feeling full.
And that’s worth noting too: Your body has ways of communicating that it doesn’t need more food. Learning to stop and listen for those signals takes a moment, but once you get a feel for it, the reaction can become second nature. Pausing between bites, letting the food settle, and being okay with having leftovers on your plate helped me take fewer, more meaningful bites over a longer period of time.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
The next one is also fairly obvious (I suppose they all are if you’re the kind of person who regularly takes care of themself), but I’ve found that looking at labels on food has made it really easy for me to cut out a whole host of garbage snacks and fast food that I was once pretty reliant on for calories. It’s kind of a “you can’t unsee it once you’ve seen it” approach to what kind of substances you put in your body.
When I look at a label, I look in a few key areas for signals that I probably shouldn’t be eating the thing I’m considering eating. First is the calories, far and away the most important thing to getting your body correct. In any given day your body needs a certain number of calories to function, consume more than that and you’re going to turn it into fat. Less than that plus exercise, and you can actually turn your stored fat into energy, with ketosis being the most extreme version of this, though any amount of caloric deficit plus exercise will help, even if your body isn’t going into full blown ketosis.
This is effectively how Weight Watchers and Noom work…you have your caloric budget, and over time you start to get a sense for roughly what foods fit into what budgets. It doesn’t mean I can’t have deserts or the occasional Crunchwrap, it just means when I eat those things, I’m pretty mindful about not piling more food on top of that.
Besides calories, I check things like saturated fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and sodium. If any of these seem like an abnormally high % of daily recommended value, I shelve it or consume sparingly.
Lastly, I’ve started really diving into the ingredient lists, and if there’s ever an ingredient I haven’t heard of, I google it. This tactic alone has turned me off to more processed food than I can even keep track of, but here’s a smattering of gross ingredients that you didn’t know were in things you loved:
Titanium Dioxide (E171) - Mostly found in cosmetics because it’s a natural UV blocker, this naturally occurring substance was recently banned from food in the EU for having potentially carcinogenic effects. In the US, it’s what keeps ice cream cakes from melting, what gives certain candies their smoothness and color (think about the glaze on a Ring Pop), and it’s used in certain creamers to prevent spoiling.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole/Hydroxytoluene (BHA/BHT) - Used as an “antioxidant” (aka something that prevents oxidation, a natural breakdown that most organic material undergoes when exposed to the air), this chemical has also come under fire recently for having potentially harmful effects in larger doses. It’s mostly used to keep processed food fresh, like cereals, beer, and certain kinds of candy. Avoid.
Palm & Coconut Oil - This one is really hard to avoid, especially if you dabble in processed vegetarian foods like Beyond Meat or anything frozen. It’s also not going to kill you the way a stick of butter might, but it’s still increasingly being used to make “healthy” products sound healthier than they are. Ideally, you want oils that are naturally liquid at room temperature…high oleic sunflower oil is decent, avocado and flaxseed is good, olive oil is the gold standard, and canola oil isn’t going to harm you either. Palm oil is also one of the more ecologically destructive oils to manufacture, use sparingly.
Potassium Bromate - Including this one because it sounds kind of normal…potassium is a thing we know we need, and bromate sounds like a dude comedy about an American frat guy and British prep guy going on a road trip. Instead, it’s another preservative meant to keep food from oxidizing, most commonly used in processed breads (tortillas, white bread, certain packaged bakery products, etc). It’s banned pretty much everywhere except the US, though California recently passed a ban that should go into effect in a few years.
There are others too, but the point is, start learning what you’re eating and you probably won’t want to eat as much of it anymore.
Any Exercise Is Better Than No Exercise
I was not an athletic kid, I wasn’t shlubby either but I never really saw the appeal in organized running around. I was active though, constantly walking or riding my bike somewhere, definitely getting the steps in. This, of course, is tough to do when you work from home.
So exercise never really stuck for me, it always felt like a distraction from the other things I needed to be doing, and it never really fit neatly into a schedule. To counter that, I started setting some kind of daily exercise target. Today I’ll walk 2 miles. Tomorrow I’ll chop wood for 30 minutes. Friday I’ll do 100 push ups, Saturday I’ll make time for 100 sit ups. Sunday maybe I’ll do a yoga class. It’s not what most trainers would tell you to do to create consistency and routine in your fitness regimen, but if you’re like me and need variety, giving yourself one thing to do per day is better than doing nothing every day.
The last thing I want to shout out is the array of fitness trackers and apps that can help you see your progress. I use a Withings scale to log my weight, and having a chart I can look at regularly really helps me understand when I’m moving in the right or wrong directions. Because of the nature of weight loss and fitness, results do not present themselves overnight, but they do become apparent over time. And being able to see that is a major motivating factor to keep going.
Stay fit out there, says the guy who has now eaten approximately 15 cookies in the last 48 hours (everyone knows this is a cheat weekend).