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When you’ve spent your entire life overweight, you try to convince yourself that it’s just normal. You tell yourself that it must be bad genetics, and perhaps a bad digestive system. Big bones run in the family, you say, and oh well, food is a required sustenance of life, so you might as well eat the s--- you enjoy. You see that other skinny guy eating the same deliciously unhealthy food you crave and not gaining a pound, and you say… “Eh, I’m good. Pass me another slice of pizza and a beer. It’ll all work out in the end.”
I started the year 2016 at an amazingly successful point in my life. I have a job that I love, and I live in the greatest city in the world. I have terrific friends, an amazing family, I travel as much as possible and I have a social life that some have described as “always on.” At the age of 32, I was living my dream. Except when I stepped on a scale back in January, I found I was living my nightmare. 300 pounds?!?!?! S---....
You’re probably asking yourself how someone can get to weigh 300 pounds without stopping, realizing and doing something about it. But that’s the thing about weight. When you struggle with weight, it’s a constant battle, up and down, for your entire life. When I started attending Weight Watchers meetings at age 16, I was “the high school kid” who was trying to get himself in better shape for baseball. When I joined LA Weight Loss at 22, I was the new kid in NYC trying to look more put together for my first real job. When I bought those P90X DVD’s, when I bought a new road bike, when I did that juice cleanse, when I tried the Atkins diet… yeah, you get the picture. But 300 pounds is a whole other kind of scary.
A few realizations that hit me pretty quickly after reading that scale…
1. I had to visit the doctor. Guys are sh----- at going for checkups, physicals, etc. I didn’t feel bad, but it had been a few years, and now was as good a time as any. And I couldn’t fight this battle alone. Guys, go to the doctor. They are there to help you.
2. I had to talk about it. When you tell people you’re trying to lose weight, they often say “good for you.” It would be great if people were more honest with friends and family sometimes. Talking about the struggle, any struggle, is a real part of dealing with it. I suppose that’s part of why I’m writing this post, to be honest.
3. I had to exercise. I’ve always played sports, and I still play recreational softball and a lot of golf, but I needed to do some real and regular exercise again. I’ve always found gyms boring and awful, but there really is no replacement for physical exercise.
4. I had to eat better. I thought I was doing myself a favor starting my day with egg whites and toast. But the sandwich at lunch, followed by takeout or dinner out with friends, along with beers and/or cocktails a few nights a week quickly makes those egg whites useless. And the beers… Man, I love those IPA’s, but it was time to cut down on that social drinking a bit.
I started this journey back in January with a visit to my physician, who didn’t sugarcoat it after running some tests, some numbers and talking it over with me. I was in bad shape. He put it two ways: “You can either lose the weight, or you can get bariatric surgery.”
For those unaware, bariatric surgery is essentially a weight loss surgery whereas your stomach’s size is reduced with a gastric band or a portion of your stomach is removed. It works, but not without risks, and it changes your life and the way you can live it forever. I attended an informational session at NYU at my doctor’s request, and it’s impressive what this surgery can do and the attitudes of the people who were there talking about it. But it’s a major surgery, and it’s scary as s---. I came away even more determined than ever to lose the weight the right way…
And here’s what I’ve learned…
1. Visit a nutritionist/Log your food. You think you know, but you don’t know. It’s pretty basic, but keeping a food log of what you put in your body goes a long way in recognizing what you actually are putting in your body. And that touch base every month goes a long way with accountability. If you’re tech-savvy, the “Lose It!” app is one of the easiest, best ways to do this daily logging.
2. Eat less than you burn… It’s a simple premise, but if you can take in less calories than you burn off, you’ll lose weight. For example, if you burn 2,000 calories a day, try to eat a 1,500–1,800 calorie/day diet (500–600/meal). It’s very reasonable. And it works. Why didn’t I think of this?
3. Find an exercise you enjoy. Who knew, but swimming can be a lot of fun AND a great workout. It keeps your heart rate up while limiting stress on your body. It builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. It helps maintain a healthy heart and lungs. And the gym just down the street from my apartment had one of these fancy endless pools (you literally set a current and swim against it for a set time). I love it, and I’m there 3–4 days a week minimum to kickstart my day. I feel better all day long because of it. And when I travel, I stay at hotels with a swimming pool, and kick off my day with a swim. I also bought an Apple Watch this fall, and set a fairly high daily walking/exercise goal. It’s cliche, but those fitness trackers can be a good motivator sometimes.
4. Cook more. I live in New York City, with the best food in the world and the most easily accessible takeout and delivery anywhere. The bagels. The pizza. This stuff is delicious… But that stuff kills you quick. I started going to the grocery store every weekend, buying food to eat for the week (chicken, vegetables, rice), and bringing leftovers to work whenever possible. It’s amazing the money you save, and also the peace of mind in knowing what you actually put into your food and your body. Also, a slow cooker is one of the easiest, healthiest ways to make a big batch of food for the week. Spend the $20 and buy one.
5. Sleep matters. I’ve never not been a good sleeper, but really committing to 7–8 good hours a night makes your mind and body truly ready for the next day. And when you are eating healthier and working out, you sleep better. Who doesn’t like sleeping? Why wouldn’t you want to do more of it?
6. Drink less alcohol. Listen, I’m a social drinker. I love meeting my friends for a beer or a cocktail. But again, pretty basic stuff here… a mid-ABV India Pale Ale, let’s say a Sierra Nevada IPA at 5.6%, will run you 175 calories per serving. Throw back five of those in a night, and that’s 900 calories. If you see Number 2 above, that’s half your daily allotted intake. I still love a delicious beer, but you don’t have to drink the whole case. And I don’t really drink outside of social settings any more.
If you’re somehow still reading this post, thank you. It means a lot because talking about this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.
After 11 months, I’m happy to share that I’ve dropped over 40 pounds and feel better than I have in years. I’m back near what I weighed in high school, which is still overweight, but a lot more reasonable. Clothes fit better, I feel better, and this is just the beginning. I’m confident that unlike the fad diets and unsustainable workouts, this is a lifestyle change that I can keep to. And changing your life starts with recognizing who you are, recognizing what works and what doesn’t, and committing to something better. Here’s hoping I continue to build on these habits and more for years to come.