My Journey to Health and Fitness
Inspired by his father, Joey_indolos took a proactive step in reversing the gradual weight gain he had experienced over the years. He tells us about his dietary and physical fitness routines that have helped him lose 40lbs and it’s a plan he will continue to follow until he reaches his goal.
1. What prompted you to begin this weight loss journey? Did you have an “Aha!” moment?
Many people’s “Aha!” moments are some sort of sickness, usually diabetes, or their first heart attack or stroke. I was lucky that mine was the sickness of someone else, but my late father wasn’t so lucky; he was that someone else.
He wasn’t even as overweight as I was, but had high blood pressure that went undetected because he was gung-ho about his health and dismissed the need for checkups. The only time we finally knew about it was because the symptoms became too bad to ignore — his retinas started detaching and his kidneys started failing. Doctors were able to reattach the retinas with lasers, but his kidneys were too far gone. He eventually died of multiple internal organ failure, after three years of thrice-weekly dialysis and a few operations.
It was during the early stages of his health’s downhill slide that I realized I was heading in the same direction. But for me it wasn’t so much an “Aha!” moment as a gradual wake up call. As his health declined and the medical bills mounted, it became more and more a burden to those of us around him, since we shouldered more and more of the costs. Even though I am still single up to now, I eventually told myself that I couldn’t do the same thing to my future family.
2. What other “diets” (programs, products, plans, or services) had you tried in the past?
None really. My weight history is that I was fat as a baby (one nickname was “Buddha”), normal as a child, then downright thin and underweight as a teen, mostly due to a poor diet and countless pickup game of basketball, plus some running. By the time I was close to my final height of 5′ 9″ in my late teens, I ranged from 110 to 120 lbs. Definitely underweight.
Then I started working in my 20s. This meant I now had my own money to buy my own beer and food, and on the output side, less and less time for basketball and running. It was a deadly combination. By the time I hit 30 I went past the 190-lb. mark. The 210-lb. max that I wrote down here is actually just a best estimate, because once I reached 200 lbs. I stopped. That is, I stopped weighing myself. I was so in denial about my weight that I was actually proud every time I would gain. During swimming outings, I reveled in the fact that I made the biggest splash during water slide belly flop contests.
3. Please describe how you reached your weight loss goal. What changes did you make to your usual diet, activity, lifestyle, and attitude? Did you implement any other strategies besides Calorie Count? What was the most important change?
Healthy, sensible eating, plus exercise. If you had asked me a few years back, I would have answered “diet and exercise”, but after reading so much about it on Calorie Count and elsewhere, I know that the word “diet” has connotations of deprivation. When I started out, I did so while constantly researching, both by buying reputable health magazines and going online (this was how I discovered Calorie Count). One thing I found early was that too few calories would actually encourage fat retention, so my dietary adjustment was more of partly cutting back (even with healthy foods, too much is still too much) and partly making sensible substitutions. This meant severely curtailing refined carbs like white rice and bread, and making sure that I had fiber-rich vegetables with every meal to substitute for it. I also used red rice and whole wheat bread.
Then it was fruits and nuts for snacks and desserts, instead of cakes and pastries. I also went for leaner cuts of meat and chicken, and more fish. I would also try to plan things so that most of my meat dishes were earlier in the day, chicken later, and fish for most of my dinners. I don’t know if there’s any scientific basis for it, but I figured that since the fats in meat were not the healthy fats of fish, I should eat them earlier so I would have a greater chance of burning them off as I went about the day’s activities.
So I don’t believe in going hungry, but I’ve found that, as my waistline has become smaller, compressing my stomach in the process, and as my diet has grown richer in fiber, I can no longer gorge. My standard of what “full” means is definitely quite a way in the direction of what “hungry” used to mean for my old fat self.
On the exercise side, I’ve had mixed results. I took to the weight room like the proverbial duck to water. I think it’s because I’m a mixed mesomorph/endomorph type, so I gain muscle easily compared to most of my friends, and the satisfying feedback keeps me coming back. The only reason why I don’t spend more time with weights is because I read that once you pass a certain time, your stress hormones start kicking in, interfering with muscle buildup.
On the other hand, I’ve had less luck with the cardio side of exercise. I run and bike when I can, but I find the effort to haul myself to start a session is so much more than with weightlifting. One bright light in my cardio scene is boxing, which I like a lot, probably because of its variety, but it’s not as convenient as running and biking since I need to schedule time in a special gym for it. I’m also going to try swimming, and once I’m good at it I’ll try surfing, then maybe train for a sprint triathlon to motivate myself to do more cardio.
4. Please describe how Calorie Count was instrumental to your weight loss.
It was mostly the community, reading about their varied weight loss stories in the newsletter. One of my earliest inspirations were these two magazines I had — one had a story on how to be like their cover models; another had a cover featuring some U.S. Marines, with an article on their fitness regimens. What most impressed me was the variety in their routines, with some going heavy, some going light with high reps, some mixing it up, variations in exercises, etc. At that point I had been frustrated with a routine I had picked up online that was “guaranteed” to get results, but wasn’t working with me. What these two articles showed me was that I had to find my way, and what worked specifically for me. And it is this variety, both in the community stories and in the feature articles from your contributors, that keeps me in Calorie Count. It’s one source that I have for new ideas to try out, both in the diet and exercise sides.
Also, if you search my history here, you’ll find that I haven’t used the logs. This is because I was already halfway to my current weight by the time I discovered Calorie Count, so I was confident in my ability to balance my diet and exercise instinctively, without need for so much formal recording. But I do use the food search tools to assess what I’m eating, especially if I buy some food I’ve never tried before, or if I buy something that doesn’t have a nutritional label. I also use them to confirm nutritional labels that have figures that look suspiciously like typos.
5. What difficulties did you experience losing weight?
Most of my difficulties are due to business-related travel. My company has around 13 plants and 90+ offices scattered around the country, and the fact that our IT function (my department) is fairly centralized means that we tend to have a fair amount of travel every year. When you’re in the provinces here, they have the hospitality that is typical of rural areas in the U.S. and many other countries. So force-feeding is the norm, especially when they learn that you’re from the big city.
On the plus side, the produce and other food are so much fresher in rural areas. But the sheer quantity, plus the cutback in exercise because of the work schedule, and how often it’s difficult to find a gym for temporary use for a few days or weeks, means that I’m sure to gain some weight.
6. How long did it take you to see results? When did you realize that you were a success?
It took me quite some time. With cardio, I read somewhere that you have to do it for at least 20 min. to have any worthwhile effect, so I went for a brisk walk to warm up, then tried running. I didn’t make it past 30 seconds. So what I did was slow to a walk for 1:30, for a total of 2 min., then repeat the run-walk 10 times to get my 20 min. Most of it was walking, but my mantra was “just keep moving”, so I never pushed the run parts hard enough to the point that I would have to totally stop.
And I was determined. I would do this 2-3 times a week, and every week I would try to add more time to the run parts; sometimes I would be able to, sometimes not. It wasn’t easy for a 210-lb. man, but after 5 months I was eventually able to string together a 20-min. nonstop run (okay, I now realize it was an easy jog, but it seemed like a run to me then). Then I moved on to increasing it.
Then I added weights, and it was an epiphany. I took them up because, again, I read somewhere that having more muscle mass would actually help me burn fat, even if I was just sitting around after exercising. Sure I was weak at first for a man (my first barbell curl was somewhere in the 20- to 30-lb. range) but I found the gains to be easier and faster than with running.
When did I realize that I was a success? As they say, fitness is a journey, not a destination. And since, although I’m happy with where I am now, I haven’t reached my ultimate fitness targets yet, I don’t want to say I’m a success or I might get complacent. But I guess the best answer to that question was when I realized, after a year had passed, that I could stay on this journey. When there were times I would gain a pound or so, but wouldn’t have any problem getting back on the bandwagon and losing 2 to 3 in the succeeding weeks.
7. How do you prevent relapse?
Ironically, by not being too hard on myself. During the times I’d gain a pound, if I were to kick myself over it, I’d say “what’s the use?” and go into a blue funk. This would make me gain even more, and so on in a downward spiral.
It’s normal to have slight cyclical variations in weight. When you weigh yourself at any given time, aside from any actual gain in fat from that last party, your weight can depend on many factors, from your hydration level to your last meal. What’s bad are the huge cycles, where you lose 20 lbs. on a crash diet, only to gain it all back, and more, when your body can no longer stand the deprivation and you gorge. But don’t worry about the occasional 1- to 2-lb. gain, if experience has proven that you can lose 2 to 4 lbs. steadily in the next 2 weeks.
8. How has your life changed now that you’ve lost weight?
The best thing is, I feel so much better about myself! I guess it’s a combination of many things — the additional confidence that comes from looking better, the “feel good” endorphins from exercise, the being generally more useful all around. I can work more quality hours, party harder and stay out later (but not too often, or else I’ll gain weight), and it really feels good to be able to help when a friend needs to rearrange some furniture.
9. How long have you maintained your current weight?
More than a year already. So I’m at a plateau right now, but it isn’t one that worries me. I’ve been able to keep lifting more weight every 2 to 3 weeks in many of my exercises in the gym, so I know that I’m gaining muscle. And if my weight is static, that means I’m gaining muscle at the expense of fat, which is just fine with me.
10. What tips do you have for other dieters?
- I couldn’t really enumerate what has worked for me. I guess the best advice that I can give other dieters is — don’t listen to my advice!
- One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that we are all different, so what works for each of us is different.
- So read up, check out the different foods and exercises that the rest of us will recommend to you.
- If something doesn’t work for you, discard it.
- If something does work for you, adopt it as your own and add it to your health and fitness repertoire.