Thursday, June 27, 2013

How I'm Losing Weight

(Note: This page is continuously updated, so please ignore the date of post)

"Tell Me Your Secret"

When people find out I've lost 77 lbs as of Sept 1, they always ask me "how are you doing it?". They seem almost disappointed when I give them reasonable, common sense advice rather than a quick fix, one-size-fits-all approach that promises them overnight weight loss without trying. Over the years, I've done every diet you can imagine and, guess what? They were all successful. If you measure "success" purely by reducing weight, they were "successful". When I was in my early twenties and did the "diet coke and cigarettes" diet, I lost weight. I've lost weight on cabbage soup, low carb, high carb, healthy food, junk food, fasting, eating 6 meals a day. You name it, I've done it -- and have lost weight! I always tell people I'm an expert at losing weight. Keeping it off is another story all together. Sure, I lost weight each time, but each time I gained it back (and some friends). Why? Calories. When I went back to 'regular' eating (or rather, overeating regularly), I'd gain weight back because I never learned how to eat normally and healthfully in the real world without a quack, quick-fix, restrictive diet plan telling me exactly what to do. Once I deviated from whatever diet I was on (and by default, stopped restricting calories), I'd gain all my weight back. Bigger than that though, is that I never attempted weight loss while possessing a healthy self-love.

The Common Denominator

Calories are the common denominator. Calories in versus calories out. That is the single path to weight loss, although not the single factor in losing weight (an important distinction). Regardless of who you are, if you're expending more calories than you're consuming, you will lose weight. If you're consuming more calories than you're expending, you'll gain weight. Of course, there are fluctuations in metabolism and health factors -- for example, some illnesses can cause weight loss, or weight gain. Some medications cause bloating and weight gain. There are hormonal factors, age plays a role. I understand that there are many factors that can make losing weight easier or more challenging for some people. With regard to diet plans, the bottom line is this: every diet in the universe has one thing in common, and that 'thing' is calorie restriction. Through whatever method they purport to be the "healthiest", or "fastest" or "easiest", they are all essentially calorie-restriction diets. There is no diet on the planet that will result in a weight loss unless it first restricts calories to the point where the dieter is expending more energy (calories) than they're consuming.

How you choose to restrict calories is up to you. I can only tell you what works for me. What works for me, (and why this weight loss attempt is resulting in long-term success rather than a short-term quick fix) is that I'm restricting calories mindfully instead of restricting entire food groups. I'm not adopting a dogma, I'm making a lifestyle change. I'm in it for the long haul. It's taken me two years to lose almost 70lbs which isn't the quick-fix, effortless miracle people want. It may take me a year to lose the rest, it may take me five (the time will pass anyway). I'm okay with that. I've finally admitted to myself that I'll have to be mindful of calories for the rest of my life. It's not as tragic as it sounds,  I'm sure it will get easier as it becomes more and more of my everyday life. Even when I'm in maintenance mode (having lost all the weight I'm comfortable losing) I'll have to be mindful of my portions and food intake for life. That's okay. It's already becoming second nature. Unless God does a miracle in me that prevents me from being able to eat an entire baguette dipped in olive oil as a snack, I'll have to be disciplined about my eating. Great--now I want a baguette dipped in olive oil!

A Word on Calories

If you've stayed with me this far, let's talk a bit more about calories. To lose weight, first and foremost you'll need to set a calorie amount that results in a loss. This number will be slightly different for everyone, but you can use general guidelines found online. A Google search for "free caloric intake calculator" should get you started. Personally, I began eating around 1800 calories per day. Since I was well over 100lbs overweight, this resulted in significant weight loss for me (around 2lbs per week or more). I don't suggest starting an extremely calorie-restrictive diet for weight loss. The smaller you get, the more you have to reduce calories to accommodate a smaller frame, so beginning at a higher calorie count that still nets a loss is wise. For example, I began at 1800 calories per day. When my losses slowed, I went to 1750, then 1700, and now I'm still consistently losing at around 1600-1700 calories per day. This allows me to feel satisfied and not starving, which can result in binging or slipping back into old habits. It also helps my body adjust without getting "set" at a certain calorie amount. Don't expect "Biggest Loser" numbers. It's simply not realistic for long term weight loss to expect to lose 10lbs per week (unless you're severely obese).

I also practice calorie cycling, which to me is just a natural way of eating. Most naturally slim people don't eat the same exact calorie amounts daily. How it works is this: you set a calorie count per day as an average. Let's say you're starting at 1800 calories per day. You'll set some lower calorie days, and some higher calorie days that when averaged, total around 1800 calorie. An example: 1400, 1800, 1600, 2000, 1500, 2500... etc. The benefit to calorie cycling is that it helps give you leeway for special events (you can plan a higher day for a dinner out or special event), and also it helps keep your body from expecting the same calorie amount every day and adjusting your metabolism accordingly. Body builders have been using calorie cycling for decades to cut fat and keep muscle tone. Heck, if you can't trust a bodybuilder, who can you trust? JK. From my understanding, Weight Watchers "Flexpoints" is basically calorie cycling in the form of points, just like the points plan is just calorie counting in the form of points. It's all about calories, ya'll.

So, Which Eating Plan is Best?

Any plan that restricts calories enough for weight loss and is relatively healthy is a good place to start. Seriously, those with the most success are those who take whatever works for them (from any source), then tailor it to fit their lifestyles. For me,  sticking rigidly to a specific plan was difficult and dogmatic. There were so many rules and regulations and "allowed" and "not allowed" foods. It was ridiculous. As long as you stay within your calorie range and don't have any health problems, you could (in theory) eat 1400 calories a day of chips and cookies and still lose weight. I wouldn't recommend that though, because it's not healthy -- and hopefully you're striving for overall health and not just weight loss.

What Works for Me 

I try to primarily eat whole, healthy foods in their natural state. I don't eat any meat except fish, but that's a personal preference unrelated to weight loss.  Just kidding, I love bacon now.  I absolutely adore carbs, but eat relatively low/moderate carbs because it's difficult for me to control my portions when I'm eating carbs. I love desserts, but can't have too many in the house because I tend to binge. I like eating in the evenings,  so I sometimes practice intermittent fasting  which allows me larger portions at night. I try to avoid sugar, because I don't want to develop type 2 diabetes, and because I believe fluctuating insulin levels contribute to fat gain. I eat a lot of veggies because I like a lot of volume (big meals) and big salads/greens/low starch veggies help me stay full. I drink mostly water because I don't like the chemical aspect of diet drinks and don't want to "waste" my calories on drinks. I don't avoid fat, I actually think fats in nuts, avocado, olive oil are extremely healthy. That said, I tend to eat lower fat in general because fat is higher in calories. I don't have any dietary restrictions such as gluten-free or grain-free, I have lost weight just as easily eating grains and carbs (which is why I don't subscribe to diets like the paleo diet). I eat a mostly whole food, natural, pesco-vegetarian diet with some not-so-healthy-foods occasionally. I was actually a vegetarian for over 15 years before incorporating fish in my eating plan again.

Again, you may have dietary or medical restrictions that prevent you from eating certain foods (gluten allergy, type 2 diabetes and so on) but in my opinion, no food should be restricted solely from a weight loss standpoint. That's why I reject most popular diets. They claim that weight loss is the result of cutting out entire food groups rather than calorie restriction that results from cutting out entire food groups. This is not an endorsement, but the diet that most closely resembles the way I eat would probably be the Mediterranean Diet. I just think that's a reasonable, healthy way of eating in general, in that it doesn't restrict foods but recommends 'healthier' alternatives (olive oil rather than butter, for example).

That said, I still eat ice cream, pizza, chocolate, cake, and all the other so-called "bad" foods you're not supposed to eat on "diets". I ate two cupcakes at my daughter's birthday party, for crying out loud. I'm not dieting, I'm living my life and trying to lose excess weight in the process. I love good food (and even bad food lol). I eat anything I want, I just don't eat as much I want. I try to avoid temptation. I plan for special events. I try to discipline myself in portion-control. Sometimes I slip up. I backslide. Sometimes, I overindulge or all together binge. It happens. I don't punish, starve or berate myself when I slip-up. I love myself through it and  I get right back on plan the following day. I've adopted the motto, slow and steady wins the race. This weight didn't come on in a day or month, it's not going to be released in that time-frame either. Any month or year I begin lighter than the last is a victory.

I Totally Don't Exercise

Yeah, I totally don't -- not as a rule, anyway. I've lost weight consistently without exercising regularly. That said, I do try to move whenever possible. I enjoy walks around the neighborhood frequently. I play with my kids. I love to swim. I do Just Dance on the Wii (when I feel like it). My 40 lb toddler is my weight-training program (I lift him, a lot). I rarely sit down throughout the day. I don't get winded running up a flight of steps. So, I am moving, just not exercising on purpose. If you ever see me running, you'd better start running too because it means I'm being chased by a murderer. I may or may not begin an exercise program in the future, who knows? It certainly isn't central for weight loss, in my experience. I do recommend that you incorporate more moving and walking into your lifestyle, though, whenever possible!

The Power of Prayer

Last, but certainly not least, my faith in God has sustained me and guided me toward losing weight. I pray a lot for discipline, wisdom, and for God to keep me from temptation. I trust He's doing a good work in my life and I put my weight loss in His hands. God knows how many times I've tried to do this 'on my own', and have failed each time. This time, I'm leaning on the finished work of Jesus Christ and declare that He's the source and supply of my success. Through Christ, all things are possible.

I would love to hear from you! Please contact me with any questions or comments you may have.

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Thanks for all your kind words! If you disagree with me, please play nice. Don't make me stop this car!