20 pounds in middle school
25 pounds in high school
30 pounds in college
35 pounds in North Carolina
65 pounds on my latest journey
Now I apologize for the teaser title, I never did say I lost it and kept it all off. There is a point to this article, however, that I think is very important to anyone trying to lose weight. I learned a lot from all these losses and I'll share these learnings shortly. But first I need to re-live these events to put things in perspective...
- In middle school I weighed 180 and the weight limit to play football was 160. I lost 20 pounds in 3 weeks when my parents put me on a grapefruit and egg diet. Essentially I ate nothing but hard-boiled eggs and drank nothing but grapefruit juice for the entire diet. On the last day I threw up and 25 years later I can still remember how sick I was from that diet. I didn't eat hard-boiled eggs for years and I've never had another sip of grapefruit juice.
- As a freshman in high school I weighed 220. On valentine's day the school had one of those charity events where you could buy a carnation for someone special. You could get a red one for love, pink for a secret admirer, or white for a friend. As a football jock I had a lot of good looking friends and I watched them all get tons of carnations. Me? I got 1 white one that I later learned came from one of my relatives. I decided I would go on a diet. The flavor of the month back then was low fat, so I basically shunned anything that had any fat in it and consequently that meant shunning anything that had any flavor. I ate a lot of rice cakes during that time. I lost 25 pounds in my freshman year.
- After my first year in college I weighed 310. I got a job cleaning the dorm rooms during the summer. The job came with a free room in one of the dorms but it was essentially empty so my evenings were quite lonely. I took it as an opportunity to try again to lose some weight. By then it wasn't just low fat, but high carbs that was supposed to make you lose weight because they digest so quickly. I had a microwave, so my dinners were ramon noodles or pasta. I also incorporated some exercise; I started jogging each night and I had a book on getting a flat belly by doing a whole list of ab exercises. I did lose about 30 pounds that summer but I didn't get the six-pack abs.
- When I got out of college and then moved down to NC, my wife and I started a routine of eating out almost every night. We never lived in a big city and to have so many restaurants nearby was just too much temptation. Within 2 years I had ballooned up to 349! My mom told me about a new diet called The Six Week Body Makeover. Unlike past diets, this one required me to eat 4oz of protein 6 times a day and carbs were rare. I also couldn't have any salt, sugar, or dairy at all and I had to drink 100+ oz. of water. This was my most successful diet; I lost 45 pounds in six weeks. After the first six weeks I tried to do the diet again, but it was just so hard because it was so restrictive. Once off the diet, most of the weight came right back.
- A year later my first daughter was born. By the time she was 2 my focus had shifted from my weight which was about 315, to my smoking. When I quit, it stuck, but the price I paid was in my weight. A year later I was back at 349. It should be noted that I've always listed my max weight at 349. Twice in my life I've seen that number on a scale, but the reality is that I was probably even heavier. The scale I had only went to 330, but it would roll over so you could add more if you weighed more. I suspect that I probably went beyond the physical boundaries of the scale but since it never read more than 349, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
- That brings me to the journey I'm on now. I started it about 2 years ago at 349 (still sticking to my story). My first phase was using The Abs Diet that I read about in Men's health. I like the Abs Diet because it's not really a diet; it is more like a guide toward what you should eat and there are no restrictions. I was pretty successful with this diet and lost my first 35 pounds on it after 6 months. The next six months brought a time of no gain or loss. I was very busy remodeling my house so I didn't focus on my diet but I was more active and I think that made up for it. The important thing was that for the first time the weight didn't come back. Looking back it was because I stayed active, and I had begun to learn how to eat right instead of restricting myself all the time.
- At the start of last year I was at 315 when I started the bet with my friend. This brought me a lot of motivation. In 6 months I lost another 25 pounds. This time I decided the way to go was to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly. I kept the parts of my other diets that made sense and threw out all restrictions. The weight didn't come off really fast, but it did come off regularly. After 6 months my family and I moved to Virginia. It sounds like an excuse, but the move was tough on everyone and when I got here the recession was just beginning. Through this time I bounced between 299 and 290 regularly. Again though, I didn't gain all the weight back...I think I'm on to something here.
- Be wary of fad diets - Back in the 80's the grapefruit diet was one of the big fad diets. The diet I did was a variation of it and looking back I realize just how unhealthy it was. Now before you go blaming my parents, remember there wasn't as much information about healthy diets back then as there is now. Also, the diet was successful and they spared me the humiliation of not being able to play football because of my weight. Some fad diets or reasonable, but some are downright dangerous!
- Exercise and physical activity is required - Did you notice that I gained 90 pounds between high school and college? In high school I gained roughly 10 pounds each year. When I got to college I turned the freshman 15 into the freshman 50. The reason for that was the abrupt change in my physical activity. I played all sorts of sports up through high school but it stopped when I went to college.
- Any eating style that cannot be maintained indefinitely is likely to fail - The Six Week Body Makeover worked great but was so restrictive it was impossible to maintain. Most diet books have the same format; They devote half the book to the science of why their diet works followed by the other half telling you how to do the diet. Then at the end there's a cursury 10 pages or so that tell you what you should do after you've lost the weight. Usually it involves "loosening" the restrictions set forth on the original diet. They tell you to "eat normal" weekends, or go off the diet until you see some weight creeping back in and then go back on. If this paragraph describes the book you are currently reading, learn what you can then throw the book in the trash. (Note - authors and publishers are not stupid. Current trends have shown a migration towards creating a long term sustainable diet. Just because the book calls it's plan a "lifetime change in eating style" doesn't make it so. Read between the lines and decide for yourself if you could live the plan forever).
- Trends change over time - First fat was bad, then it was OK if it was the right kind. Cholestoral nearly killed the egg council...until they discovered there was good and bad types of cholestoral. Next came carbs...Glycemic index anyone? Now the enemy is HFCS and artificial ingredients. There will always be a new diet discovery of the month and many times they contradict each other. Science discovers new things all the time. Try what's reasonable and throw out anything that sounds too good to be true.
- Don't be afraid to try new things...then learn what works for you and what doesn't. The best diet you can go on is YOUR OWN DIET. When you try to follow someone else's diet, it's easy to pass the buck. If it doesn't work you can easily blame the diet. Even if it does work, it wasn't yours so as soon as you stop you go back living your bad diet. By all means try different things and learn what works for you... then make your diet your own.
No matter what changes come about, the one diet style that can't be beat is a balanced diet and plenty of exercise. It may not be fancy and it definitely isn't fast, but it does work. I've learned this through many years as a dieter and so far it is still proving to be true. Maybe you should give it some thought. How much weight have you lost in your lifetime? What can you learn from it?
[Photo: Flickr / Graham Richardson]