I recently posted a huge personal victory on FaceBook. Specifically, I posted that I had officially reached 100 pounds of weight loss.
I went from 287 to 187.
This post got a lot of likes. In fact, more than any post I have ever done. Apparently, I touched a nerve.
Since then, I also completed my first half Ironman race.
Combined, I have received a ton of kudos and kind words for these achievements. Which I am grateful for.
Even more meaningful were the personal messages that I have been getting from friends and acquaintances, telling me that I have inspired them to keep pushing. Some have even asked for advice. So, I thought I’d do a blog post with my 10 easy steps to weight loss.
With no further ado, here are my 10 simple steps:
Work, and then
Or, if you prefer the steps in song format:
Losing weight isn’t easy. It is hard. There are no shortcuts or simple steps. It’s. Extremely. Fucking. Hard.
Plenty of my friends are lean and fit. You may think that being lean comes natural to them. It’s easy for them, right? They get to eat whatever they want and they don’t gain weight. You many even be jealous of them, and wonder “why am I cursed with this fat-loving body?”
Bullshit. Don’t blame genetics, even though it may play a role. My friends who are lean and fit WORK to be that way. They work. Fucking. Hard.
It ain’t easy for nobody.
So, what to do? My advice: you might as well quit trying to be fit. Being overweight and out of shape is not that bad, right? It’s easy. You don’t have to work work work work work. You can hang out with friends. You get to eat pizza and drink craft beers. You can watch live sports on tv. Cool.
My advice is, don’t worry about it. Just do you.
Still, some of you may still want to try, despite my advice. But let me begin by saying that you shouldn’t listen to me. I’m not a doctor, trainer, or nutritionist. My ideas may be based in “bro science.”
And, here’s the thing. I’m not done. I didn’t “do” it. I’m “doing” it. Every day.
Yeah, I lost 100 pounds. Took me about 10 years. Of work. And I’m proud of that. Very proud.
But I’m not satisfied. My BMI (27) is still “overweight.” And my body fat percentage (18%) is still to high for my goals. Indeed, after reaching my 100-pound goal, I promptly gained two pounds back. Fuck. In fact, I slip up all the time – at least one bad day a week.
So, I work every day.
Want to know my formula for eating? It’s really simple. My calories in have to be lower than my calories out.
I look at calories as firewood and exercise as fire. And my fat is the woodshed. Every day, I bring in a bundle of wood (daily calories). If I burn all of that wood (through exercise) but still need to keep the fire going, I have to go to the woodshed (body fat). Sooner or later, the woodshed will get depleted.
It’s that simple. Calories in have to be less than calories out. In a recent controversial example, a professor in Kansas set out to prove this formula by eating nothing but twinkies. It worked. He lost weight eating only twinkies, doritos and oreos, because his calorie intake was lower than his burn.
There are plenty of calorie counter apps out there. I like Fitness Pal.
Of course, merely counting calories does not take into account nutrition. Eating twinkies won’t keep your body’s systems in good balance. But you will lose weight.
My formula for eating nutritious food is pretty simple too. More calories from carbs than protein before exercise, and more calories from protein than carbs after exercise or when resting. That’s it. Yeah, you can go no-carb, switch your body to ketone burning or whatever. But I’m not interested in that.
I eat A LOT of lean protein, and nutritionally-dense fruits and veggies (dark greens, beets, citrus, and berries) with nearly every meal. In addition to being good for muscle repair and recovery, these foods are low calorie and filling.
Even when I thought I was eating enough lean protein and veggies, I was wrong.
I try to avoid fried foods, sugary food, pizza and pasta. Too high calorie due to all the extra, nutritionally useless fat and sugar fat and sugar (I get enough fats and sugars from a healthy diet).
But I do eat junk sometimes. My favorite junk foods–the ones I just can’t quit–are donuts, bacon, and beer. I don’t feel guilty about enjoying my favorites, as long as I don’t overdo it. But I am honest with myself about the calorie and health impact. And, I don’t indulge in junk that I DON’T like, just because it’s available (like those cupcakes someone brought in to the office). I could eat one, but if I’m going to eat junk, it’s going to be my favorite junk. I’d rather save the calories for a beer after dinner (or have beer for dinner). Point is, be strategic about eating junk. Do it mindfully and intentionally.
Pretty easy. Probably nothing you haven’t heard before.
What about exercise? Well, that’s the other hard part. But again, my approach is pretty simple.
Cardio burns more calories than strength training. But some strength training helps keep you durable and injury free. So, I do more cardio than strength.
For cardio, I do short, high intensity workouts a couple times a week. This builds speed and really ramps up the calorie burn. And, a couple times a week I do longer, slower cardio workouts. This helps endurance and is generally more fun than high intensity work.
But I don’t stick to a rigid training schedule. When I feel tired, I rest. When I feel strong, I exercise. Once you get used to this rhythm, you can time “feeling strong” to coincide with race day.
I almost never train on sore or tired muscles. (A little soreness is okay, but overtraining has led me to injuries). That way, I don’t feel worn out and tired all the time and I don’t dread the next workout.
To stay motivated (and this is the hardest part), I enter races and events.
I am less likely to cop out of a training day and I am more likely to train harder, when I have a race on the calendar.
Second, make your training relative to something you enjoy. I happen to like mountain biking. I really really like it. So, training is not a chore for me because I get to ride my bike.
What do you like? Swimming? Hiking? Bird-watching? Look for events that are enjoyable to you. Then register and pay for them. Put them on your calendar. Now you’ve got a reason to train and you have skin in the game.
And when you find an event to sign up for, make sure that it’s a little intimidating. Something that is, for now, just out of the reach of your abilities.
For me, there is no greater motivation to train than fear of failure.
So, if you can run a 5k, put a half marathon on your calendar. If you can hike, why not trail run? You get the idea.
Finally, find a group of people who also like to do what you do and get involved with them. For me, I am surrounded by an amazing community of cyclists who have acted as mentors, coaches, riding buddies, and even people that I can teach.
Social media is a good place to find local groups with common interests. While most of your training will be on your own, you will receive support and advice from a good network of like-minded people. Plus, you will find plenty of group-rides (or runs etc.) and training opportunities.
I know, for sure, that I wouldn’t be where I’m at without all of the good people who lifted me along the way.
So, how does this all relate to the half ironman I recently completed?
Well, it’s my most recent challenge. See, over the last ten years, I have had to keep ramping up the work to get the same fitness benefit. Because my body has adapted to exercise, it takes more or different exercise to push the cardio to the same plateau.
So, when I stopped seeing a strong benefit from riding alone, I added running. Then I added swimming. I have added fast races, long races, and more races.
A half ironman seemed like the natural next step for where my fitness was at. It was a challenge that was intimidating, would require a lot of training, and was out of my reach when I registered.
So I trained my ass off. I knew I wouldn’t “win,” but I had hoped for a comparatively competitive result, like maybe top third or the finishers.
My actual race didn’t go so well. I trained for months, but just couldn’t seem to get faster at swimming (although I did overcome my open water panic).
So, at the ironman, I barely finished before the cutoff. (1:06 and the cutoff was 1:10). Still, I was so glad I made the cutoff, I actually cried a little in relief during the transition to bike.
Now, my bike is my “good event.” I had expected to average 22-23mph, given my training times and my times at other events.
But when I started, it felt like I was cycling through mud. I was putting in a 22mph amount of effort, but only going 19. People were passing me who shouldn’t have – people I know and that I am normally faster than.
At the time, I put this down to the strain of the swim, but, at mile 50, my rear brake locked up. It was then that I realized it had been dragging the whole time! This cost me huge, and I finished the bike in around 3 hours, instead of 2.5.
Lesson learned: when something feels wrong, stop and check. I could have saved myself a lot of time. And, I should have checked everything while the bike was on the rack before I left transition. It wouldn’t have taken long to just spin the wheels.
Anyway, the run went about as planned, and took me around 2:10.
All told, with transitions etc, the race took me nearly 6 and a half hours. Damned disappointing (although a fairly mid-pack finish). But I was hoping for a sub-6.
It’s tough to talk about the race after. Everyone wants to know how it went. And when I tell them it didn’t go to plan, they still congratulate me.
Yeah, I finished it, but that wasn’t my goal. I am proud, but still feel let down.
But it’s not about the finish time, in the end. It’s about the work, work, work, work, work. Remember, you’re gonna do most of this by yourself.
So, after the ironman, when a friend tells me “wow, great job!”, I hear “wow, great job dragging yourself out of a warm bed for all those 5am swims.” And when they say “That’s awesome!”, I hear “That’s awesome that you got home tired from a tough day at work, and saw the rainclouds rolling in, but you still laced on those shoes for a run!”
Because there is no cheering crowd on your training ride, no inspirational signs on your Sunday run, and no one gives you a pat on the ass when you manage to walk by the box of donuts. For the third time.
My advice: don’t do it.
Be brave, and work.