Sunday, June 2, 2013

Weight Loss Chronicles, Volume 1

After being a little overweight for most of my life, in recent years I’ve had some success with different weight loss methods.  Actually, it’s really all one method, at least so far, but it encompasses various principles that can be emphasized or discussed.  After I lost 25 pounds over a few months in 2008 (which I only partially and very graaaaddually gained back as discipline waned and habits changed), I thought on multiple occasions that I should write a blog about what I learned.  Turns out, I never got around to it.  I guess I wanted it to be a “be-all, end-all” type of entry, which was daunting, so I never even started.

Well, now I’m gonna take a different approach.  Today I’m going to compose an entry about some of the things I’ve learned recently about losing weight.  It won’t be comprehensive, and I may follow it up later with other entries.  But it’s a start.  And it’s volume 1.   

Why now?

I recently participated in this new gimmick called a “diet bet”.  It’s a pretty cool idea, and if you’d like to understand it better you can watch the video on their website.  Basically you pay a fee to enter, you have 4 weeks to lose 4% of your body weight, and if successful you split the pot with the other winners.  Based on my smallish sample size, usually about 50% of people win, so the return is about 40% for winners after the website takes its commission.  

Kind of a cool idea, right?  And by the way I won.  That’s why we’re here today.    

So anyway, what did I learn during the past four weeks while participating?  Let me mention a few practices that aided me, and may help others.   I already understood some of these things, but they’ve been re-emphasized by this new experience.  

1.  If you have a deadline that you can't change, you do what it takes to succeed

I had 4 weeks to lose 4% of my body weight, and I couldn’t change that.  I could do it and make a little money, or give up and lose my investment.  Now, it wasn’t really that much money, but once I’d started I was determined to succeed, at least partially because a chunk of change was riding on it.  There were obstacles—for instance, I couldn’t exercise very much during the challenge because of a chronically swollen left knee—that increased the level of difficulty, so it took an extremely high level of discipline to do it.  But, once I had a firm commitment in place (again, facilitated by the immutable deadline), it really wasn’t that hard.  I wasn’t even tempted to break the rules.  It was more about figuring out how to do it, rather that wondering if I had the willpower.  I systematically did what it took, day by day, meal by meal.  And it was kind of fun, a chance to be creative.  

2.  Portion Control is key

Cutting entrees down to size goes a long way.  And what did I do with all that empty space on the plate where the heaping pile of pasta used to be?   Low-calorie, high-nutrient side dishes, which usually means fruits and veggies, maybe a salad.  I used other things too, but the point was to control the calories and keep each lunch or dinner to around 500 calories (breakfast is usually more like 350).  I didn’t even stick to healthy food all the time, I just controlled the portions.  When I cooked up a frozen pizza, I was only allowed to eat one fourth of the pizza at a meal, along with some healthier side dishes, and saved the rest for later.  The calorie count was still around 500.  Calorie count is key, as The Twinkie Diet taught us.  But since I hate counting calories, I accomplish roughly the same thing by limiting portion size (and having a rough idea of the calories in different foods).  Here are some examples:

with pizza
with a sandwich

with pasta
 It's also important to use a red plate.  And as you can see I was on a cottage cheese kick as well.  I still am. 

3.  Exercise Consistently

Like I said, I couldn’t exercise that much during the game because of my knee.  But I did anyway.  Most days, at a minimum I did a routine of stretching (dynamic and static), some muscle warm-ups (e.g. a few minutes of shoulder rotations), and an abdominal and back routine on the floor.  So I barely used my knee but I put in a 20 minute workout anyway.  I also got in the pool and started easing back into the elliptical.  I found a way.

Exercise is important for about 1000 reasons.  It’s how you use up all the stored sugar (glycogen) in your muscles from your last meal so that your next meal doesn’t just turn into fat.  It’s how you avoid losing all your muscle (atrophy) when you’re eating less, and thus turning into a flabby weakling.  It increases your metabolism in the short term (initially) and long term (as you do it consistently) so that you can keep losing weight and / or eat a little more.  It also lowers your risk of a million different diseases and illnesses.  Literally.  So don’t make excuses, just do it, consistently, even if you have physical limitations, as I do.  

4.  Eat slowly

easily lasts 20 minutes of a good show
And I mean slooooooooooooooooooowwwwlllyy.  That way, you can eat a smaller quantity of food, and get just as much enjoyment out of it!  Think about it.  So chew.  And keep chewing, and don’t stop, and don’t swallow yet, keep cheeeeewing and saaaavoring each bite.  I did this, and my meals started lasting twice as long as usual.  It also helped that I was watching tv while I ate, which motivated me to prolong my meals.  Highly recommended, unless you eat with your family and try to be social and stuff.  In addition to getting more enjoyment out of a smaller amount of food, you also give satiety a head start.  By the time you’re done with a smallish meal, you don’t feel like eating anymore, the way you would if you’d gluttonously scarfed down heaping portions in a fraction of the time.  So sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwww down.  Thank you. 

5.  Have a positive plan

It’s ok to think about what you won’t do, but mostly it’s deciding what you will do.  I planned how big my three meals would be, roughly what would be in them, and what types of snacks were allowed the rest of the day.  And I stuck to it, making adjustments as needed.  I also had those things in mind when I went shopping.  As I fastidiously stuck to my plan for the whole month, I thought about food a lot.  You might say my days revolved around food, which is kind of funny since I was eating less that usual and less than most other people.  But I enjoyed my meals, I savored them, I looked forward to them, and I never, ever skipped a meal.  Skipping a meal is an egregious sin because it makes you feel like you’re starving yourself, and it makes you want to give up.  I may also make you want to binge later.  Dieting is not about starving yourself, it’s just about being in control.  

So there it is.  Those are some of the main principles that were highlighted by my recent experience, and some of what contributed to my success.  Feel free to comment if you think these ideas are good, bad, or mediocre.  Then again, don’t knock it till you try it.  And I just made about $75 just by losing weight.  Can you say the same?  

For my next trick, I’m thinking about trying a low-carb diet for a while.  Thinking pretty seriously, since I bought 30ish pounds of chicken and 9 pounds of almonds at Costco yesterday, among other proteinacious things.  I’ve never tried anything like that before, I’m gonna see how my body reacts.  

Till next time.   


  1. Good job, Ben! I always love hearing the success of people I know. Now, if only I could maintain my enthusiasm and discipline, then I could be playing in the same ballpark. :P

  2. Nice work! I like the 4 points. Good to remember :)