I wanted the title to look like a headline in the newspaper. You know, like it is big news, or a revelation. Now it is EASY to lose weight. Of course! It is easy to drop pounds. Its science. And math. Okay, now back to reality. Weight loss is hard. It sucks. It is a battle against many things at the same time—DNA, hunger, appetite, work schedule, age—I could go on. As if the pressure to maintain a healthy weight were not enough in and of itself, we have to contend with all the voices banging around in our head, trying to sell us the latest method or idea or gimmick. And we fall for it! Trust me, I get it. Read on, friend. I have nothing to sell you, and offer no gimmicks.
Recently I made a comment to my students about the challenges associated with obesity. They scolded me for it. “Don’t act like you know what it is like to be fat,” they said. “It is easy for a skinny person to dog fat people.” I was stopped in my tracks! Did they just refer to me as skinny? Me?? Skinny. It occurred to me at that moment that I’ve kept my weight off long enough, there are people in my life who have never seen me heavy. Perhaps you’ve never seen me heavy. Let me enlighten you.
It has always been easy for me to lose weight, once I get over that initial ”wave,” to borrow a metaphor from the Tom Hanks film ”Cast Away.” Remember when he was finally determined to get off the island, so he built that janky raft and started rowing out to sea? He knew from previous experience that the ocean would furiously attempt to drive him back to shore, so he had a plan. He had found part of a porta-john that had washed up on shore, and used it as a sail on his raft. He set out, and when he got to the place where that last big wave was bearing down on him, he launched the ”sail,” and the wind pushed him up and over that wave. He was on his way to being rescued. Dieting is much the same for me. The first two or three weeks is brutal. Hungry. HANGRY. Feeling like I could die of starvation at any moment. But if I stay strong and fight through, on the other side there will be even seas and smooth sailing. Once I’m over the wave, it gets a lot easier for me.
In the past, I’ve been able to have success by dramatically slashing calories for a period—less than a thousand calories a day. Starvation mode. Not healthy, you say? You’re right, but neither is weighing close to three hundred pounds. Plus, I never stayed there for long—only about three weeks. Then I would get back to a more healthy range for losing weight—1800-2000 a day. After three weeks of starvation, I felt like I was feasting! Listen, I’m not a doctor—you should consult your doc about any plans you are making to lose weight. All I know is what has happened to me, and you’re different, so be careful.
When I was young and tried to drop weight, it was before everyone had computers. I kept track of calories by writing it down, every day. At the end of each week I would get a new sheet of paper and start again. Now I use an app that allows me to record calories as well as exercise. All the data stays on there, so I can go back and review. Every single day it all gets recorded. My scale sends data to the app, so I can see my food intake, exercise activity, and progress on the scale.
The first week of any diet plan I’ve done is always the most productive—ten pounds usually. Talk about an encouraging jump start! The next week I will drop around five pounds. After those first fourteen days or so, I settle in to a steady routine of losing about a half a pound to one pound per week. Eventually I hit a wall, stop losing weight, and decide that is where my body wants me to be. That number varies historically, usually around 200 pounds. Each and every time I had success, I would gain it back. When I was young, it was because of ignorance—I thought once the weight was off, I could go back to eating like before. At other times it was outside forces—changing jobs, homes, and habits, or even medications. I’ve done this so many times, I’ve lost count.
I was forty-eight years old when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My weight was up at the time—235. But that wasn’t my primary concern. I needed to figure out how to deal with this new normal. In the process of researching medications and lifestyle changes, I learned that diet and exercise can make a big difference. We started making smoothies, and riding my bicycle more, and weight started coming off. It was great! I lost more than I had in a long time—close to my high school graduation weight—186! I might have stayed there, but my doctor changed my medication. Instead of an injection three times a week (one of the side effects of which involved weight loss) I had to take a giant pill two times a day. The meds came with explicit instructions: the pill should be taken with ”greasy fatty foods.” If I didn’t, it would make me sick. “Not me,” I decided to man up, and tried taking it while eating normally. Big mistake. The meds made me sick. I started eating greasy fatty foods, as instructed, and the nausea ceased, and I gained weight back, and more. I continued to drink the smoothies and ride my bike, but that didn’t matter. I got fat again. Boo.
That was it. I decided that dieting wasn’t for me anymore. MS is a tricky disease, and managing it is challenging, to say the least. No way I could go to an 800 calorie a day diet like I did when I was healthier. I’m just gonna be a big boy.
But then one day I decided to give it one more try. I set my calorie goal at about 1900 a day, and made cycling more of a priority. The first three or four weeks were just like they had always been, even though I wasn’t starving myself. I lost about ten pounds in week one, five in week two, then about a half a pound a week. After six weeks or so, Lisa said that she wasn’t losing anything, but was still starving all the time. She decided to follow her sister’s plan, written by a nutritionist she had hired to help her manage diabetes. The dietician said that most people are counting calories when they should be paying attention to the combination of foods at any given meal. She suggested that every meal and snack should consist of a protein and a carb. So from now on, our snacks would follow that plan. We would be eating more food—more calories, so naturally I was skeptical. How could I not be? For example, our snack on one day each week would consist of beef jerky and a beer. I’m not kidding. How can you lose weight when you eat beef jerky and drink beer? I told Lisa that I would try it for a week, and if I didn’t lose my usual half a pound, I was going back to the old way. It felt like Thanksgiving Day, there was so much food. There is no way I would do anything but gain weight. After seven days, I stepped on the scale. Did I lose half a pound? No. I lost five pounds. Read that again: FIVE POUNDS. In ONE WEEK, SIX WEEKS into my diet. This was unprecedented. We stayed with the plan. The next week, I’d lost five more pounds. I continued to lose two to five pounds a week, for weeks. We started the plan in January 2020, adjusted to the nutritionist’s plan in March, and by mid-June I was at 199. In the past, this would be the time I would get lazy and start gaining weight back. But this time was different. Recalling my propensity to gain weight back, I stayed focused. Write everything down. Weigh in once a week. In four more weeks I had dropped below 190. Now my eyes are fixated on that most elusive of goals: my high school graduation weight. In twenty more days, I was there! It seemed so effortless, and because I couldn’t think of a reason not to, I kept it up. I no longer viewed 185 as my target. I was thinking small—a big mistake. Who said that I should aim for 185? I decided to shoot for 180. By the time school started at the end of August, I was at 179. I couldn’t believe it. I kept going. October 5th—170. November 6th—165. One. Sixty. Five. It didn’t seem possible. And that’s where I settled in. The one-sixties. I don’t ever remember being anywhere near this weight. Lisa was freaking out—she thought something was wrong, or that I was becoming anorexic. She ratted me out to my doctor, who disagreed with her. She told me I looked like my mom, just before she died. She told me I looked like a cancer patient going through radiation treatments. She told me I looked like those people in the World War II movies. Not the soldiers, but the concentration camp survivors. She took a picture of my back, shirtless. Ribs. Spine. Yuck. But I didn’t mind a bit. It was thrilling, and encouraging. I felt fantastic. I kept having to buy new clothes! I had gone from a tight 36 waist, and often a 38, to a 34, but soon those were too big. I went to a 32 (the size I wore my senior year in high school). All my t-shirts have gone from XXL to M.
There have been some obstacles along the way—hit by a car while riding my bicycle in May of 2021. A family tragedy in the spring of 2022 shook up our routine, putting diet and exercise at the bottom of the priority list—no smoothies or healthy meal plans, and cycling was rare at best. I gained some weight—back into the 170s, but not for long. I cut my calorie intake back for several days, and soon was back into the 160s, which is where I currently abide.
Why has this time been different? Isn’t it supposed to get more difficult to maintain a healthy weight as we get older? There are a few reasons why, I think.
Maybe the most significant life change for me in the last few years is marijuana. Oklahoma legalized medical cannabis, and even though I never smoked weed before, not even as a teenager or in college, I researched it, went to the doctor, and was given a prescription. I use it every day, mostly at bedtime. MS has jacked up my sleep schedule, but a few draws on an e-cig does the trick. It is better than novocaine. I have read that a side effect of marijuana use is weight loss. Fair enough.
I ride bikes a lot, but I’ve been doing that since the early nineties. The difference now is that I walk more—my two Golden Retrievers thrive on that! Woody goes with me to work a lot, and so I am out walking him at lunch, and during my plan period. some days I ride, some days I walk, and that has helped me stay focused on fitness.
The most important factor in all of this is consistency. In the past, I would reach a goal, then go back to doing the things that made me heavy in the first place. This time was different. I kept it up. I have maintained consistency in both exercise as well as diet. My daily calorie goal is 2620. I record every single thing I eat or drink on every single day, as well as every minute of physical activity I take part in. Cycling, walking, mowing the yard, cleaning the garage, moving boxes—you name it. If it raises my heart rate for more than twenty minutes, I write it down. As long as my daily net caloric intake is less than 2620, my weight will remain stable. Sometimes it isn’t, but I don’t sweat it. Today is Monday, July 11, 2022. It is 6:53am, and I have been up for about three hours, and I’ve already logged on to My Fitness Pal, which tells me that I have recorded my calorie intake for 901 consecutive days. That is IT! That is the most significant reason for my success in keeping my weight down. Consistently recording your caloric activity is paramount to success! Ignoring a bad eating/exercise day doesn’t help. Write it all down, good and bad.
For me, it works. You’re different, so you might have different results. Talk to your doctor. If doc gives you the go-ahead, get busy. Find what you like to eat and how you like to move. Get a Vitamix, and start buying kale and spinach at the grocery store. If you need some recipes, hit me up. Lisa’s got some good ones. And stop lying to yourself. Science doesn’t lie. Actually, it does—science can be a big liar. But in this case, it is simple, if you burn more calories than you take in, your weight will go down. If it doesn’t, there is either something wrong out of whack with your metabolism, or you are cheating and telling yourself and everyone else that you can’t do it. You absolutely can do it.