This weekend, I hit a milestone. Since the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (November 26), I have lost 60 pounds—61.3 pounds, to be precise.
People who’ve noted the change have repeatedly asked how I did it. So, as a break from COVID-19, here’s the answer. *Image: Bill Branson, National Cancer Institute, Public Domain.
It helps that I had some serious incentives…and an unexpected boost. The incentive came from of a blood test that revealed me to be pre-diabetic. Not by a lot, but diabetes is the big killer in my family.
The boost came in the form of vitamin B12. In the same doctor’s visit, I discovered I was borderline B12 deficient. I bought a bottle of pills, took one, and woke up with more energy than I’d had in years–energy that I immediately applied to losing weight.
My weight-loss method itself was old school.
I counted calories, increased my exercise to 15,000 steps a day, including a lung-and-thigh-busting power walk up a big hill–big enough that I was climbing about 3,000 vertical feet each week. Then I harnessed my inner obsessive-compulsive to make all of that my “new normal,” even before COVID-19 had us using that term for other reasons.
A pleasant side-effect was that within two weeks, I’d lost enough weight that my feet, which had tended to hurt badly if I walked more than a mile without a rest, were letting me go farther and farther, pain-free. I knew that getting weight off them would help, but I was stunned by how little it took to have such a marked effect.
As for calorie-counting, I have a background in food and nutrition writing. I know there are other approaches, but that taught me how to estimate portion sizes and calorie counts. (The trick is to guess, then put it on a kitchen scale to help you calibrate future guesses.)
Finally, I weighed myself every morning, and wrote it down on a calendar, to the tenth of a pound.
Not that I cared about day-to-day fluctuations. What I cared about was comparing today’s weight with 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks ago (which also means that writing down today’s weight will be useful next week).
At the same time, I was doing the same things for my sodium, fiber, protein, and saturated fat–though in most of these cases, all I wanted was make sure my diet wasn’t taking any of them out of the healthy range.
If all of that sounds like a colossal nuisance, it can be. It certainly would be if you had to write everything down every time you ate something. Even my inner obsessive-compulsive wold balk at that.
Instead, the vital skill comes from practicing what researchers call 24-hour food recall: listing everything you ate in the last 24 hours. Sitting here, writing this, I am absolutely certain that I can do that for the last 24 hours.
I am now very close to my dream weight (which was what I weighed during the best years of my masters racing career, from 1999 to 2009). Though, with several pounds of titanium in my hip (a lot denser than bone), I’ll be happy to be close.
Will I be able to maintain it?
Who knows? When I first announced that I’d lost significant weight (at the time, only the first 30 pounds), one of the first responses I got was, “for now.” That might sound snarky, but it’s true.
Years ago, I was at a food science meeting where an obesity researcher from the University of Washington described the psychological process of maintaining a healthy weight in the face of a body that would rather do otherwise.
What’s necessary, he said, was to develop “neurotic” behaviors that might otherwise appear unhealthy. And when these behaviors start to lose efficacy, it then becomes necessary to find new ones to replace them.
Prior to the arthritis that sent me on the spiral of weight gain I’m now descending from, my “neurosis” was intense physical activity: distance racing and speed workouts on the track.
Now, it’s tracking numbers and power-walking up my hill. Will that still work in 2021? I don’t know.
There is, of course, one major caveat: I very much needed to lose weight. I don’t like to say this, but six months ago, I was clinically obese. Right now, my BMI is still a little above the middle of the “normal” range.
If people—especially including your own doctor—are telling you enough is enough…or that you’re already too thin…your life may depend on listening to them. A sad irony of the weight control field is that those who find its advice easiest to follow can be those for whom it isn’t actually beneficial.