Friday, February 12, 2010

How I lost weight

Someone beer-mailed me on BeerAdvocate after I mentioned in a forum post that I lost 100 pounds in 2009, asking me for tips and advice. I figured I might as well post it here! I hope you enjoy, and I hope you disagree a bit with some of it!

Hey Frank,

Good luck in your quest! Losing the weight (100 pounds from 2/23/2009-8/24/2009, started a bit higher before, dropped even lower at the end) was one of the biggest things I've ever done. To give you some reference, it sounds like we started in similar places - I turned 25 while losing the weight. I'm 6'1.5". My hundred pounds was 287->187, and I was 297 at one point and 181 a bit after the end. I'm back up to 191 now, but come biking and running season, it'll hop back off.

Losing weight a healthy way is hard because we're fighting the attitude of "You can eat whatever you want and lose weight if you just X" (take our pill! Eat our Weight Watchers food! Cleanse your colon on our expensive juices!). I don't believe you can eat whatever you want, lose weight, and keep it off. It requires a psychological and biochemical change.

I admire everything you're doing - what worked for me may not work for you, but here's roughly what I did:
* Ate perfectly. I had almost no sweets in the middle phase. I still haven't had any bacon since I started. I even lost 4 pounds on an all you can eat cruise, I was that disciplined (my wife and family would say obsessed) with eating well.
* Worked out 6 days a week - 4 days a week of running and lifting weights, one day a week just running, and one day a week going on a longer bike ride (40+ miles). A lot of the lifting days I just went in, did half what I planned and left because it was too hard, but getting in the habit of being in the gym every day is great.
* Read a lot and asked people. Which it sounds like you're doing.
* Hired a trainer. I had a friend lose a lot of weight with this personal trainer, and it got me to realize I could too. Not every trainer is good, and I realize they're expensive. But going twice a week, I paid maybe $2000 for the trainer. $2000 for 100 pounds was totally worth it for me.
* Keep a food and exercise log - it'll keep you honest.

Sample day of eating:
6:30 Oatmeal with raisins, fruit
9:15 zbar, fruit
12:00 Salad with the vegetables I liked and vinaigrette, maybe some whole carbs, and a lot of fish or chicken or turkey. Probably a whole large chicken breast worth.
3:30 zbar, fruit, maybe some protein like turkey jerky or a Muscle Milk shake (the Lean line).
7:00 pm pretty much the same thing as lunch.
(my morning and afternoon snacks were pretty much evenly spaced between meals)

After I worked out, I would have protein. Turkey jerky is great in a pinch, and if you can have egg whites with vegetables, it's a nice reward after working out.

I swapped in burritos at lunch pretty regularly, and I would have whole wheat pasta with chicken sausage and tomato sauce (and a salad) for dinner if I was going to go on a long bike ride the next day. I'd have one beer with friends during the week, and one on Saturday or Sunday, and one if I did something extra (like bike to work when I worked out that day too). Chicken fajitas were pretty regular at home too.

Things I believe:
* You don't have to count calories. If you eat the right things, your body will tell you what you need. Counting calories is a pain in the ass. Sometimes, I counted calories over a day to get a general idea of how many I was taking in, but I didn't do it often.
* Lean protein is awesome. Men's Health said in one issue that people who lost the most weight and kept it off were the people who added in more protein. Protein fills you, doesn't turn into fat on your body easily, and helps you in the gym.
* You have to eat to work out, and you need to work out when you're cutting weight. I don't think 1000 calories a day from food, or 1500 total, will be sustainable - if you always are hungry, you probably won't have the resolve to keep going. The only reason I could lose so much weight so quickly was because I was only really hungry right before I ate.
* Lifting weights helps. You burn calories during the session and for 48 hours after. Also, your body will eat muscle if you lose weight and don't work out. Your bike riding is good, but you probably will end up weak in the upper body (I have no clue what your day job is).

Food "rules":
The problem with many foods isn't the calories they themselves carry, it's that they cause you to be "hungry" (not real hunger, but an addictive want) for other things. If you avoid trigger foods, you'll eat fewer calories total and you won't feel hungry.
* I had no cheese in that time frame. I also avoided yogurt and milk (and definitely cream), but had a little if they were ingredients in a better dish. (You probably want to supplement your calcium intake if you do this.)
* Whole eggs are good, but egg whites are *perfect*. No fat, no cholesterol, just plain protein.
* No red meat. It's not great for your heart, it's generally not as lean as chicken breast or fish, and it often isn't in healthy dishes. Also, remove the skin from your turkey and chicken, and avoid gravy - it's all fat with little benefit.
* No fried foods.
* No traditional sweets. If you want sweets, eat fruit :) (In six months, I had two slices of cake - on my birthday, and on my first anniversary)
* If you're truly hungry, eat. If it's just an apple, that's alright - it's 60 calories, some fiber, and it won't wreck your day.
* Whole grains are great. If you can't get a meal without refined carbohydrates (white rice, white flour, potatoes), then eat the refined carbs. But whole grains (oats, brown rice, whole wheat breads, etc) fill you up, metabolize differently, give you protein, and don't spike your blood sugar. White flour, white bread, and potatoes basically look to your body like straight up sugar.
* No mayo - it's just adding fat. I put a lot of mustard on my sandwiches to get them wet.

If you have a Trader Joe's near you, I found them to help a lot. Instead of having one whole wheat tortillas option, like I have at Safeway, they have three - so if one is nasty, I can find one I like. Lots of healthy food tastes awful, but it doesn't have to.

(I don't believe everything in either book. Not everything they suggested worked for me.)

I know this is a lot of data, but there was no silver bullet for me. Good luck in your quest, and let me know if you have any other questions!