It’s that time of year when people start making new year’s resolutions and flocking to the gym. So I thought my first post of the year would be about something I think is very important: taking care of my body. In February of 2011 I stepped on the scales and decided enough was enough. I weighed 225 pounds, I was on high blood pressure medicine, anti-depressants, and high cholesterol medication. I was working a dock worker/trucker driver averaging about a twelve hour a day work schedule. I’ve been on diets before, but this time I really researched it and committed myself not just to losing weight, but to taking care of my body.
I joined the gym in February, and by May 5th that same year, I had shed 50 pounds and reached the goal of what was considered my ideal weight by the BMI charts. But that is not really the best part. I am currently going on my 4th year of keeping the weight off. Since I see so many people falling into the same old pit falls of fad diets, I thought I would share what has really helped me.
1. You’ve got to burn more than you eat.
It’s a scientific point you can’t get around. If you lose weight, it is because you are burning more than you eat. This simple fact exist no matter what diet plan you’re on. Since this is the case, you need to know what your taking in and how fast your body is able to burn the food off. Obviously, if you are fairly active and exercise on a regular basis, you can eat more food, but you still need to know the amounts. Therefore, you have to keep track of your calories. Fact: You eat less when you keep track of what you eat. It’s like having a budget. There are all sorts of things to help you keep track of your calorie intake. If you have internet, then many are free. It won’t cost you a dime if you look around.
2. Don’t go hungry
There is a couple reasons for this, and it a very common dieting mistake. When you starve yourself, your metabolism slows down. Not only that, but you go hungry, you eventually give in and when you give in, it usually takes place with an eating binge. So you not only slowed down you metabolism, you just ate a bunch of calories and wrecked your will power and self-esteem. My rule was I ate ever couple hours. You may not get to eat much, but you don’t ever go hungry either. Since I worked so much where I couldn’t just take a break when I wanted, I carried around food in my pockets. It’s amazing what a carrot here, and boiled egg there will do to keep you from getting hungry.
Eating first thing in the morning kick starts your metabolism. Another common dieting mistake is not eating a breakfast. We are the least hungry in the morning, and that is the most important meal. I would eat rather I felt like it or not. When your counting calories, you have to plan out your day. I would put food into baggies or little containers. I would prepare 6 meals and store them in containers. Now if that seems a bit much to you, keep in mind I was working 12 hour days. It needs to be a priority. When you calculate calories correctly you will also keep track of proper ratio’s between fats, carbs, and protein. There are several tools on the internet to help with this, but you have to take time to plan and cook. I NEVER SAID IT WAS EASY.
3. Don’t rely on other people to feed you.
When you’re in weight loss mode you seriously need to say good bye to the restaurants, at least for the most part. If you are recording calories, you’ll figure this out pretty quick. Restaurants are always going to use a lot more needless fat to prepare your meals so they can make their food taste good so that it sells. Which brings us to the next point.
4. You don’t have to like what you eat.
Jack LaLanne used to say, “If it taste good, spit it out.” I’m wasn’t quite that extreme, but part of the reason why people are so overweight is that we have made food taste too good. We have loaded it with sugar, salts, and fats till is 10 times more addictive than cocaine. Have you ever noticed that the most obese people are usually the pickiest eaters. If it doesn’t taste good, they won’t eat it. What crap! We eat to survive, not survive to eat. The better the food taste the more you will be tempted to eat more of it. Have you ever noticed that nobody overeats on vegetables. People don’t even overeat on meat either if the meet isn’t processed with all sorts of spices and condiments to make it taste good. Steak sauces average about 100 calories a tablespoon. The same is true with salad dressings, butter, ketchup and all the other stuff you use to doctor up your food. 100 calories of pure fat. You don’t overeat bland food, but you don’t go hungry either.
I would look for the food that was good for me. I carried around a good stock of vegetables in my pocket for snacks. I looked for low fat/high protein food. I don’t really like chicken breast, fish, sardines, but they are the best food for you. I could eat a lot of them. I didn’t cook them fancy either. There was no fried food for me. I steamed stuff, baked it, boiled it, but I didn’t add a bunch of fat to make it palatable. Eggs were my best friend. If you remove the yoke from a hard boiled egg, you are eating pure protein. It may not taste that good, but you can live on it, and you get used to it too.
Stay away from diet food. One thing most people don’t realize is what artificial sweeteners are doing to us. Just look at the average Diet Soda drinker and it should become quite obvious; it’s not working. Artificial sweeteners are not only addictive, they make you crave sweets. The best thing you can is learn to eat plain food. Fruits, vegetables, and meats prepared in good way are good to eat, but they aren’t too good.
5. Take one day a week off you regular diet.
Don’t go crazy, but take a break from calorie counting and have a day that you eat more than the usual. This not only gives you something to look forward too, it also helps to speed up your metabolism. Enjoy some of the food you normally consider off limits as a award for making through the week. This is just as important as all the other points I’ve mentioned. It helps you to stay motivated, and it stops your body from going into starvation mode.
5. Prioritize exercise.
When I say prioritize exercise, I mean give it the same kind of commitment you give to your job. If you’re well enough to work; you’re well enough to workout. You also need a balance in the types of exercises you do. I’m not going to go into a lot of details here, but there are plenty of fitness gurus who would love to get you pointed in the right direction. I do want to point out the differences between cardio and strength training. Both are important in the weight loss process. Most people, when they think of losing weight they figure cardio exercises like running, cycling, elliptical machines are the route to go. Cardio does burn up calories much faster than strength training, so those who want to loose weight may try long periods of cardio as the way to do it.
There are some other things to consider. For instance, muscle burns up calories. Working out with weights won’t burn as many calories, but it does burn calories for a longer period of time. When a person burns a lot of calories quickly through excessive cardio, they not only loose body fat, they can start loosing muscle mass as well. Have you ever notice that long distance runner look much less fit than a sprinter? There’s a reason for that. The long runs are burning up muscle along with fat. It’s not that good for the body. There’s nothing wrong with a good thirty minute cardio exercise, but even that may be better spent with interval training. Instead of a long steady jog or walk, you would be better to really push yourself for a short period of time (like 30-60 seconds) and then rest and do it again for several cycles.
Strength training and interval training both build muscle. As a result, you are burning up calories at a faster rate for a longer period of time after leaving the gym. You are increasing your metabolism more as more muscle is developed.
Currently, I don’t have to count calories and I can pretty well eat what I want. I still weigh each morning so I know when I need to cut back. I believe my metabolism is about that of a teenager. It wasn’t always like that, but it is now. I continue to hit the gym 5 days a week for about an hour. It’s a habit now just as natural like getting up and going to work. I don’t always feel like it, nor do I always push myself as much as I do at other times. But I get a great deal of satisfaction having a level of fitness where I can enjoy life. I love walks in the wooded hills near my home. I find an evening run once in a while to be relaxing. I turn 50 this March and I can still fit in my old Marine Corps uniform. More importantly, I know I can still pass a Marine Corp physical fitness test in respectable standing. I hope this will encourage more people to make the lifestyle change as well. It is well worth the effort.