Diet and Exercise

On the anniversary post, I was asked for “diet tips” and exercise tips in the comments. So . . . here they are. YMMV.

Situps are a lot easier when you’ve lost 70 lbs. If you can do them at home, in the bed in the morning or whenever when you can grab a minute, you’ll find you can increase the weight you can pull on the crunch machine at the gym. That’s been my experience at least. And having less time to go to the gym, finding times where I can do plain body weight exercises has been a life saver.

Toe lifts can be done almost anywhere, at almost any time. Maybe you can’t run on the treadmill or go for a walk, but toe lifts can help with a lot of those muscles, and you can reach your maximum exertion quickly. There’s always time for toe lifts.

Pushups work a lot of major muscle groups at the same time (proceed with caution if you’ve got back issues). You can do them in all sorts of places. The goal I’ve got is 100 pushups a day. Eventually, 100 in an hour, in sets of 25. I cannot yet complete a full set of 25, but it’s amazing how many muscle groups are improved by developing strength with plank pushups. Haven’t got to a 100 a day, but I’m halfway there (I’ve topped 50, though I still don’t do that every day). But when I started, I was doing sets of 5 and not getting to more than 20 on a good day. It’s just very slow going.

Diet: don’t eat much. Some people go vegan, do Paleo, do Atkins. Everybody has a reason why there way works and radical calorie restriction does not . . . but radical calorie restriction actually does work. At least, it has for me. All I’m doing. Just not eating very much, but trying to get sufficient nutrition to remain healthy. I focus on calories and quantity, and don’t worry much about nutritional value, or whether there is protein or wheat or saturated fats in what I’m eating. I just don’t eat much. And I eat more of fruits and vegetables, if they are part of the meal.

The motivation game is the issue. That’s trickier. I just always keep in mind that the food will be there next week, next month, next year. I don’t have to eat it now. I also keep in mind that the way the brain works (and the reason I was fat in the first place) is that overeating trains the brain to always ask for more. Dopamine receptors go down and dopamine releases go up. So I always think about that, when I’m downstairs, and it’s late, and I’m thinking of snacking. It took three months of very light eating (most of the time) to retrain my brain to stop acting like I was starving because I wasn’t eating second breakfast. Do I want to lose that? I do not. So I skip the late night snack.

Best time of my life, I weighed around 180. I think about that, too. Not that it’s a causal relationship, but it certainly can’t hurt to recreate what components of that time that I can. I think about how I had felt trapped and miserable in high school (when I was fat, out of shape), and how that had seemed to stretch out for decades rather than a few short years. Then how much and how dramatically so much in my life improved during my college years, and just how awesome they were. There were lots of reasons for that, of course, but being slim and fit certainly helped.

And as the quality of my life deteriorated after college in many important ways, I was putting on weight. Hmmmm. Does make a man ponder.

But the improvements in my life, back in the distant past, didn’t happen right away when the needle on the scale first dipped below 180. So I need to maintain, and then judge how things are in my life generally a year from now and two and three years from now. So I keep that in mind as well.

The other bit as regards motivation is spending time (now that I am much skinnier, and generally more fit) enjoying it. Dressing well, admiring myself in the mirror, jumping down the last five or six stairs and landing lightly on my feet. Running a mile on the treadmill, and reflecting on how that would have probably killed me 9 months ago. Thinking about the difference in squeezing through tight spaces or running out to my car or riding rides at the fair. The quality of all these experiences are dramatically better. Do I need to eat dessert that badly?

The answer is no.

Plus, it’s fun, at 43, to be physically fit and attractive. I get looks from, and flirted with by, women half my age. I got the flustered oh-my-gosh-this-an-attractive-man reaction from my daughter’s dance teacher last night, a reaction that I got very familiar with in college. It’s a reaction you only get from women (if you are a man) when they knew you before, and you show up suddenly transformed, for them. They’ve watched you move (abruptly, in their experience, because they have not see you for awhile) from asexual blob of generic humanity to a fit and attractive man radiating strength. It’s not flirting, but it’s an unmistakeable “Wow!” reaction. And one you never get when you’re overweight and out of shape, and not one you get when you move in the other direction. “Wow, you’ve gotten fat!” is a completely different experience.

We’re going on a cruise in November. I weigh now what I weighed when I went to London in college (best trip of my life, for many reasons). I haven’t been this skinny or fit on a nice vacation in 20 years. That’s exciting. I’m going to buy a new suit for the trip, the kind of dress suit that looks great on thin, fit people. And I’m going to look awesome in it. Would I want to spoil that with a cheeseburger (and then another, and then another) or snacks and sugared soft drinks all day long? No, no, I would not. Would it be nice to lose another 5 or 10 lbs before the trip begins? Yes, yes it would. Can I see myself running half-a-mile on a treadmill on the cruise ship each morning? Yes, yes I can. And I couldn’t do that without having done the ground work, or maintaining it. So . . . that’s what I focus on. Because that’s what’s working for me, right now.

A great deal of it is where I keep my mind. Hopefully, I won’t be back here a year from now reporting I’ve gained 50 lbs! I’ve lost weight (I topped out at 300 lbs in high school, bottomed out at 150 lbs 2.5 years later). I got down to 225 before a trip to Mexico in 2008, then shot back up to 270 in 6 months. But I weighed in at 185 lbs this morning. I haven’t weighed that since early 1990.

Now, if I could only will away the perma-flab that comes from having weighed 300 lbs in high school and 270 lbs a year ago. But perma-flab was a problem even at 150 lbs in college, it’s not the kind of thing you fix without surgery. And, at 43, I think I’ll pass on cosmetic surgery. Because I still look drop-dead gorgeous in a suit. 😉

I’m not sure any of this will be beneficial to anybody else. But it’s working for me, for now. And that’s my story.

Or, my story, so far.

21 Responses

  1. Way to go Kevin! I lost 80 lbs. a couple of years ago by doing just what you’re doing, calorie counting and (ugh) exercise. I found that the more I lost the more I wanted to lose, if that makes sense. The hardest thing was losing sight of the goal. I would crave, say, a cheeseburger, and get depressed because I’d never be able to have a cheeseburger again, forgetting that the diet was temporary. The brain can be a real bitch.

    I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in since I was 18 and in the Marines. I looked up the what the PT score for a male Marine my age (I’m 46, FTR) and beat it! Prior to now, exercise was exceedingly uncomfortable and I’d never, ever had an endorphin high. For some reason now, probably because I quit smoking several years ago and have lost the weight, I actually enjoy exercising (running, mountain biking and weight lifting) and I think, maybe, I’m getting the endorphin high.

    The one thing I do is try and keep my weight between 195 and 200 lbs. I weigh myself daily and am probably obsessive about it (if you’re OCD like me, calorie counting is a great, satisfying way to lose weight) but I really don’t want to put it back on. What’s weird for me is that I believe that at some point I inevitably will. Go figure, I just assume that I run to fat and that’s my lot in life.

    Anyway Kevin, reading this post is like reading about my experiences over the last 3 years. Thanks and keep up the good work.

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  2. How tall are you guys? I weigh 185 lbs at 5′ 10″ and consider myself to be overweight.

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    • jnc:

      6’3″, 215. I got to 193 a few years ago with a concerted effort (office contest…I finished 3rd). But gradually put it all back on. I need to lose 15-20 pounds and I will feel good. Starting tonight. Right after dinner. And maybe a couple drinks. For real.

      Actually I do minimal exercise, especially during the summer (which is why I am at my peak right now). I’ve always had a high metabolism, and if I invested 20 minutes every other day to running on the eliptical that is gathering dust in the corner of my room, I could get below 205 easy without ever changing my diet. A marginal tweak to that and I would be where I want to be.

      I’m inspired. Mark it on your calenders. I’ll be at 205 by Halloween. Below 200 by Thanksgiving. Hold me to it.

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    • I’m 5’8″ and weigh 160. I do believe that’s considered overweight. I’m more like Mark in that I pay more attention to my waistline than my weight. As long as my 32″ pants don’t feel tight I don’t really worry too much. I’ve focused a lot more on serving sizes and calorie counts since my son was born because I don’t work out much. Although carrying around a 22 pound child does count as a workout of sorts.

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  3. Troll,

    That’s it. Counting calories and exercising. I’m going a little light on the exercise right now, but hoping to pick it up soon. Life circumstances and all that.

    The craving food was much worse the first few months. It does come back, but it’s usually not for very long (as long as I don’t give into it: if I do, and I have once or twice, there is a chaser. Immediately, enough isn’t enough any more and I want just one more thing). Occasionally it still gets bad, but I suspect when I get to maintenance rather than weight loss, it should be manageable. Until I first fall off the wagon (which I might, on the cruise, there tends to be lots of good food). Then it may be hard to get back on. Some event has usually presaged massive weight gain: a Thanksgiving buffet at a nice hotel one year broke my diet and then stomped on it, and after I just could not seem to control my eating. A cruise. The increase in eating that came with my wife’s pregnancies.

    So I must proceed with caution. If I can keep trim and fit for even five years, I’ll be a happy camper.

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    • From the age of 57 to the age of 65 I became sedentary. Really sedentary. So when I had my physical at 65 I had high BP. I began to exercise again, 6 days a week, cut salt and caffeine out, and cut my beef intake from @10 times per week to zero for 6 months, than to @2 times.

      My BP is good now, but it spikes when I eat out twice in a day, or when I take an antihistamine. After a workout my BP is about 100/60, it goes up to 125/72 late in the day. I can live with that. Literally.

      Kev, I really laud your determination. I got determined only when I got truly scared: BP 162/100.

      Because I never had a sweet tooth, my worst weight enemy was bread – and it is still a weakness.

      You and George have picked a good time to get [back] into shape: the present. I am now faced with shrinking! I graduated HS [age 16] 6’2″ 168-172. At 57, before I went all sedentary, I was 6’1″ 184. At 65 I was 6’1/2″ 218. Four years later I am 6’1/2″ 197. I am not a weight watcher but I do ck my waistline against my belt. My goal is to be 34″ again – I am a touch under 36″ now. I was a 32″ when I graduated HS, but I don’t see that as a possibility. I think 34″ will equate to about 185#, but not if I keep shrinking!

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  4. BTW, Troll: You believe you will inevitably put the weight back on. Do you believe you will inevitably start smoking again? I can think of about a dozen circumstances in which I’d probably pick up the habit again, at least for a while. In fact I’ve done it back in the day, or a week or for a month or two. Quitting is always a bitch, but the fact I’m able to do it like coming through a lingering bout of the flu gives me a little too much “take it or leave it, so let’s take it” confidence.

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  5. Good job, Kev. And thanks for the post. Motivation is the hardest thing for me. Now that I’m mostly in front of the computer, I’ve gained about 5 – 10 lbs. (fluctuating week by week). I started doing the pushups/situps every time a political ad comes on TV when I’m watching. It was great at first, but now I don’t want to watch as much TV. Which is good too, I guess.

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  6. @jnc4p: “How tall are you guys? I weigh 185 lbs at 5′ 10″ and consider myself to be overweight.”

    I’m 5’11”, and, yes, according to the weight charts, I’m still overweight (and I’m aiming for 175, but we’ll see). Thanks to the permaflab, I’m always going to look like I’ve got a bit of a gut, especially if I’m hunched over. However, the difference between the 260-270 range I was hovering for several years and 185 is night and day, and you’ll feel pretty damned thin at 185 if you once weighed 270 lbs!

    I weighed 150 for a week or two in college, and it was impossible for me to maintain, and I was really too thin. I think 165 is probably the minimum wait I can maintain and still ingest food at all, and 175 is probably the maximum healthy weight I could ever hope to maintain even in the best of circumstances. 185 is actually a fine weight, and if 10-15 lbs of that were muscle instead of fat and flab, I’d call it ideal.

    But it’s an odd, pleasant feeling to be back at a weight you haven’t seen in 20+ years. Just ask Troll. 😉

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  7. J,

    I’m 6′ even and a large frame. My BMI is 187 on the top end, which is absolutely ridiculous. I’m pretty sure that the BMI is based on starvation weight because the thinking several years ago was that starvation weight was the “healthiest.” Subsequent studies have frequently been counter to that but politics plays a role in government “science.”

    Kevin, just allow yourself to gain, say, 20 lbs. and blow out the tubes if you want. What I’ve realized is that i have food issues. I like to eat a lot and I like to feel full. Unfortunately, I cannot do that and maintain a healthy weight unless I’m a marathon runner and I’m not. Just assume you’re going to gain 20 lbs. on the cruise and adjust to the idea of losing that after the cruise, say, starting vigilant dieting 2 days after returning home.

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  8. @MarkInAustin: “My goal is to be 34″ again”

    I’ve got some shorts that are 32s. The smallest pants I’ve ever fit into as an adult were 30s, and the permaflab is a little poofier now that it was the last time I was 185.

    But I’ve also got some dress slacks that are tight at 34. Some that fit well at 36. Everything 38 or larger is too big for me now (I had had some dress slacks that were 48s, so that’s a good thing). It’s odd how I have to try on size ranges that span 4″ in order to find clothes that fit well. I should actually measure myself with a tape measure, see what it actually is. Not that the clothes at the store will all fit me at the size the tape measurer says.

    My undershirts are smalls now (I like a tight undershirt). My regular T-shirts are all mediums (down from xx-larges). Yay! Gone from 18 shirt to 15.5 . . . every time I get hungry, I think about that. 😉

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  9. 5’9” – 165. some love handles. because i like beer. would like to drop about 10 pounds and replace it with muscle. goal is to work the USMC daily 16 into my day.

    my wife has gone paleo, which means i have too, for the most part. she’s started crossfit.

    I bike to work occasionally (14 miles one way) and hockey games once a week. I keep the weight off because if i didn’t I couldn’t hang with the 24-year-olds on the ice. that’s motivation for me. Also, i found when I work out consistently I’m, uh, better behind closed doors.

    Edit: also this is worth a read: http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/everything-you-know-about-fitness-is-a-lie-20120504

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  10. @Troll: “Just assume you’re going to gain 20 lbs. on the cruise and adjust to the idea of losing that after the cruise, say, starting vigilant dieting 2 days after returning home.”

    Yup. Never been good at that. There’s always a chaser. But I think if I can make it over the hump (say a week of vigilant dieting), the constant cravings and food madness will pass, and I’ll get back to healthier eating. But I expect to put on 10-15 lbs of scale weight on the cruise (tend to retain more water, and more bulk, on vacations). 8 lbs of which will probably vanish in a week back home (if I get back to healthy living). That last 5-7 lbs will be more problematic. 😉

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  11. “Although carrying around a 22 pound child does count as a workout of sorts.”

    Amen. My guy is about 35-40 pounds now. he likes it when i do presses with him as the bar. or squats with him on my shoulders

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    • My guy is about 35-40 pounds now. he likes it when i do presses with him as the bar. or squats with him on my shoulders

      Yeah, he really likes when I put him on my shoulders so I try and do some squats when I do that. I actually got down to about 155 shortly after my son was born. I knew I wouldn’t work out as much so I was very careful about what I ate. Then I ended up crawling the floor with him, lifting up and down, not to mention packing and unpacking cars full of stuff for every trip to grandmas so I lost about 10 pounds. I need to get back to being more disciplined in the food arena but it’s brutal at work. Today was the third time someone brought in food this week alone. And that doesn’t count the cake and cookies that have been brought in. If it wasn’t for the office I never would even see that stuff. My wife is a dietician so we simply don’t have those things in the house The only sweet we have is ice cream…lots of it.

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  12. I admire people who can lose large amounts of weight. That takes a lot of discipline.

    At one time I was the archetypal pencil neck geek. 5′-9″, I graduated high school at 125, got married at 155, and have been flirting with 200 for several years. My wife and I were on Weight Watchers (she went to meetings, I tracked the points) and I got down to about 170 for about two years before it all drifted back on.

    My doctor who is a wiry distance runner wants me at 180 or less despite the fact that my blood pressure and all my weird bloodwork numbers are fine. I now weigh myself daily and was 193 this morning up from 191.3 early this week (a five-year low). The game is to try to eat as little as possible and not be hungry. Find the lightest thing on the menu. Doggy bag big dinners in advance. Have lots of fresh fruit in the house for snacks.

    I bicycle 50-100 miles a week mixed with trips to the gym. But exercise is a tough way to lose weight. You have to run 35 miles to lose one pound or bicycle over a hundred. My incentive is to be lighter so I can be faster when cycling. I would love to look good naked (or at least in spandex) but pushing 50 makes that unlikely.

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  13. “Yup. Never been good at that. There’s always a chaser. But I think if I can make it over the hump (say a week of vigilant dieting), the constant cravings and food madness will pass, and I’ll get back to healthier eating. But I expect to put on 10-15 lbs of scale weight on the cruise (tend to retain more water, and more bulk, on vacations). 8 lbs of which will probably vanish in a week back home (if I get back to healthy living). That last 5-7 lbs will be more problematic.”

    I hear you brother, the human brain’s a real bitch! You obviously know yourself better than anybody. What did you use to count calories? I used LiveStrong.com (still do) because they had the biggest variety of brand food on there. At one point I was down to 1200 calories a day, which was very difficult to sustain. Right now I’m holding at 2000 calories a day but because I cheat a little, it’s probably about 2200-2300 per day. I still use the LiveStrong Iphone app to enter calories everyday. OCD and all that.

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  14. Good stuff!

    Couldn’t agree more about being in shape at this age & getting appreciative looks from others – not to mention comments from the spouse.

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  15. Along with the toe lifts, my MD advised that I jump up and down three times. He said it was good for my bones. It has not improved my vertical, however.

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  16. Kevin,

    Thanks for sharing. We have a parallel story.

    My wife gained a fair amount of weight from back to back pregnancies. We lost the first one at three months and the second was a twin pregnancy. After having followed the right protocols the first time, we went into WTF mode for the second. Dealing with twins and professional and personal (they’ve got autism) stresses is not a recipe for losing the baby bump.

    The turning point came two years ago. There was a report from a recent annual check-up for my wife. We both knew that her weight had crept up, but had ignored the elephant in the room. I took a look at the report and did a quick mental calculation of BMI. It would have been about 40. The hardest conversation of our marriage followed. I love my wife and have always been attracted to her. I’m also 8 years older and factored in that I’d probably go to meet my maker a decade earlier. Not at that weight. Morbidity tables suggest we’d nod off together.

    It’s difficult for me to relate what’s happened since. My wife has worked harder than I have at any point in my life. The first six months were largely a shift in diet along with some moderate exercise on the Wii. She then plateaued at around 200 lb. and got hard core. A membership at a neighborhood health club hadn’t done it, but videos did. Particularly Bob and Jillian–the trainers from the Biggest Loser. It’s amazing watching her as she could be one of those people behind the lead trainer. I’m delighted to report that her BMI dropped below 25 recently.

    She’s inspired me. I’ve never been overweight, but I’ve been sedentary since my sons were born. I decided to do something myself and bought a bicycle in July. My commute is 11 or 14 miles (depending upon the route) and takes about an hour. I’ve been doing it several days a week since then. I don’t need to lose much weight, but do need the work. I figure that if I do 140 commutes, the bike pays for itself. I’ve got another 14 commutes to do this year before winter shuts me down.

    Cheers,

    Paul

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  17. ashot – Your body mass index is 24.4, in the normal range of 20 – 25. Like NoVa, I’ve a bit of a beer gut. I got into hanging out at pubs after work when living in the UK and kept the habit. It’s a pleasant break between work and home life.

    One couldn’t get parking on campus in grad school during the day, so I biked. That was probably the most active I’d been in my adult life. I had a long way home through the Iowa countryside that took about half an hour. I then started a post-doc and made enough money that I could afford to go to the brewpub. I picked up about 25 pounds in 2+ years. Moving to the UK off about 10 pounds as I never drove while living there. A bus pass and trains were sufficient to get around. I’ve bounced around the low to mid 160s ever since then.

    The biking has had a bit of an effect. Not so much in weight, but in terms of fitness. Where I was gasping going up hills early on, I can take them now. It’s still hard work, but not I’ve gotta stop and take a breather half way up. I’ll have to figure out something to do over the winter. Perhaps some of my wife’s DVDs.

    BB

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