Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lose the weight without the wait

Folks, I'm putting this here because I can't tell you how often I get asked my "secret" of how I look so completely different (And, yes, here are some "before" and "after" pictures so those of you who don't know me might stumble across this (as if that would happen) will understand what I'm talking about).

I lost 65 pounds in about nine months, but the important thing to take away from this is not the loss itself but rather the fact that anyone can do it. And, most importantly, that you can keep it off.

Invariably when asked how I did it people get disappointed -- that's because it's not a miracle diet, or some pill I discovered, but rather several steps that, while easy to follow, tend to need elaboration. So elaborate I'm going to, and hopefully you'll at least stick with me to the end. It won't cost you a thing so you have nothing to lose except all those excess pounds that are making you feel and look terrible.

I'm no doctor (although I have played one on TV) and the things I'm going to tell you about aren't any great secret. You can find them yourself on the web. About the only thing I can do for you is to distill the hundreds of hours of research I've done (along with the living proof) into three simple rules to follow, along with the details of why they work. But that will be enough for you to accomplish all you want -- on this you need to trust me (and if it doesn't work I'll refund double the amount you'll have to risk :>)

(This is me at my goal -- trust me, this is even more impressive than these two pictures can demonstrate, as the fat one doesn't show how really fat I was, and this one doesn't show how thin. But it was 65 pounds, and my waist went from 44 to 32).

Before we start, some simple thoughts:

If you really want to be healthy the rest of your life, forget dieting, at least how most people define diet (meaning a temporary change in your eating patterns). Diets just don't work -- 9 out of every 10 people who lose more than 20 pounds gain it all back within a year. Let me repeat those stats another way, less than 10% of folks who lose serious weight will gain it all back almost immediately.

Why is not hard to figure out. A diet, the way we think of it, is hard. People can stick with some things, no matter how hard, for a while, particularly if they see the finish line. But once they cross that finish line, all bets are off. Just look at Oprah if you have any doubts about this.

So how are you going to lose the weight and, more importantly, keep it off? Simple -- by changing the way you eat for the rest of your life. There's no other way to do it but rather than think of that as an insurmountable obstacle it should actually liberate you. You're going to end up with a plan that you will find easy to live with.

That's why fad diets, eating pineapples or nothing but yogurt, or crash courses which reduce your calories to nothing are not going to work. It's not even worth doing if you can't do it forever, and no one can do those things forever. But I promise you the things I tell you are not only something you can do for the rest of your life, they are things you are going to want to do. Trust me now and make sure you read all that I write here and it will happen. So let's get on with it.

Here are the three simple rules:

1. Cut out all refined sugar

We might as well start with the hardest thing first. First and foremost we need to cut out all refined sugar (or as nearly all as we can). This means absolutely NO non-diet soft drinks (no exceptions to this rule). You can have all the zero carb drinks you want, regardless of what sugar substitute is used (but it must be zero and not just "low" calorie). My favorite is Crystal Bay Cherry, sold here in Florida at Publix. It's the only one I've found flavored with Splenda, and it truly has no aftertaste. But if you have something else you like go for it. Cutting out non-diet soda alone will save most soda drinkers around 10-15 pounds a year.

And while we're at it, might as well bite the bullet for this as well -- no candy unless it's made for diabetics (and, again, contains zero sugar). Get used to it -- if you continue to eat refined sugar you'll end up as at least a stage 2 diabetic anyway (3 out of 4 overweight people have stage 2 diabetes and the fourth will get it before they die).

You can, however, have some dark chocolate in moderation (we'll talk about this in rule 2). The darker the better (I like Hershey's Dark Chocolate but try them all to see what you like. You may not appreciate the sweetness in Dark Chocolate until you've been off the sugar wagon for a while, though).

But we're not finished, we haven't even come to the toughest part. The really insidious form of sugar, HFC (High Fructose Corn syrup) is in almost every commercial product out there. That's because it's cheap, makes things taste good and preserves the shelf life of things that don't even need to taste sweet. Just pick up a package or can of something and the odds are good you'll see it listed. If it's listed in the first two or three ingredients run don't walk away from that product, no matter what it is.

For people with a sweet tooth this will be by far the hardest part of this process. But something amazing will happen, and while it may take as much as a month it will happen (because it does for anyone who follows this): soon your cravings for sugar will disappear.

It's actually pretty logical when you think about it. There was no refined sugar in most of civilization, and even when it was invented it remained the purview of the very rich. The average citizen's intake of sugar as recently as a few hundred years ago was about three teaspoons per year. Three per year. Or, in other words, about what you have now in a bite of a Snicker's bar. You will not miss it once your taste buds have become acclimated.

I hadn't had sugar for nearly 7 months when we had a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. I had one small sliver and while everyone else was saying how awful it tasted, so bland and weird, I was loving it. It was the best thing I had ever eaten in my life. There wasn't much sweetness in that pie, but what there was was almost overwhelming to me (and, no, a day later I had no more cravings for sugar. Once you get off the wagon you can safely sample a taste now and then without getting hooked. But be careful!).

I also find that the Crystal Bay I drink is so sweet (with Spenda) that it keeps any cravings from developing. So find yourself an artificial sweetener you like and you'll be fine.

2. Count Calories

And by count I mean really count. People tend to hate this, but it's necessary to do for at least the first few months. Let's face it, folks, the reason you're overweight is because you eat too much, and the simple math is that if you eat more calories than you burn you'll gain weight.

The more complicated truth is that, as humans, our mechanism for deciding how much to eat is screwed up. It was designed for a time when overeating was a Good Thing -- cavemen didn't know when their next meal would be, and it was far better to eat more than they needed then to not have enough when they did need it. So our tummies don't get full until about 30 minutes after the food hits the furnace -- which is far too late to back things up (let's not get the bulimics involved here, as they have far different problems).

A lot of diets take this handicap into account, having you drink water or eat non-fattening stuff (or taking fiber swelling pills) 30 minutes before you eat but in practice that's difficult (at least for me). If you can do it go right ahead (but avoid the pills -- no need to pay for this and you might get other things that are harmful to your system). Besides, it avoids the real issue which is learning how to control what you eat.

Ask yourself this question: do you eat so that when you are finished you feel too full? Or feel like you'd rather take a nap than engage in some activity? Because you should never feel that way. Feeling too full is a sign you over did it, that you didn't exercise sensible portion control. And the way to do that is to count calories.

Nowadays, with the information provided on all food products, and available on the web, and the great devices like cheap digital scales which can do most of the math for you, there's no excuse not to count calories. But do it right -- the first thing you need to determine is your Daily Calorie Requirement and you do this by first calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR); the number of calories you'd burn if you stayed in bed all day. Here's a link that I use:

BMR Calculator

After you have this you need to multiply it by your activity level. If you are moderately active, multiply it by 1.3 (if you are a couch potato, use 1.2). That will give you the total number of calories you need to eat each day.

Then you need to figure out how much to reduce this number so you lose weight. Typically you reduce it by 500 or so (so that you lose about a pound a week). No matter what your weight loss goal is, do not eat less than 1200 calories a day.

If you're a man, a simpler method is to just multiple your target weight by 100 -- if you want to weigh 160, then you eat 1600 calories per day. Sorry, women, but you are just more complicated (don't we men know it). For you I'd stick with the web site (but if you do want a simple equation, try your target weight times 80 and you'll get in the ballpark).

Note that if you start off very obese your calorie requirement is much higher -- it takes a lot of calories to maintain all that fat. So, conversely, you can cut fewer calories and still lose. This is why people tend to "plateau" -- they start with a certain number of calories and lose and then when their weight gets lower they don't readjust their calories and stop losing.

You have to accept this -- there is no such thing as a weight loss plateau. If you eat less calories than you burn, you'll lose weight. It's science, it's a fact, and the only reason people get stuck is they aren't adjusting for their new weight. So use the calculator above and keep adjusting and you'll keep losing. Or, if you use the "simple" formula understand that at first you'll lose more weight than you will at the end. If you go from two or three pounds per week to one pound per week don't panic! You'll get there eventually.

Once you get into the habit of counting calories, it really does become simple. After that, eat anything you want (as long as it fits the calorie totals). You'll soon discover you can eat just about as much vegetables and protein as you like, without even getting close to your totals, but that carbs quickly bring you to the brink. The old saw (which is mostly true) is that no one ever got fat eating vegetables (aside from potatoes). But man (and woman) does not live by veggies alone, and doing without things that make you happy is no way to live your life (and this will be your life from now on). So load up on the low calorie stuff and save the higher counts for things you can't live without. It's like budgeting your household.

And by all means drink! Drink tea, coffee, water, diet-drinks, but keep drinking. I drink several large (16 oz) glasses at each meal. You could, as I said, drink before hand, but I find it far easier to just drink while I eat. You absolutely will feel full, but not overfull.

3. Eat Frequently

Finally our last rule is the most fun. I'm giving you license to eat, as often as you want. You see, the body is an engine, and when it runs efficiently it burns fat. But if you let it stall, like any engine it takes a while to get going again. It's axiomatic, but you really do burn up calories processing food (so why can't you eat yourself thin? See rule 2).

To keep your engine running, you need to eat at least every three or four hours (except, obviously, when you are sleeping at night). For sure you don't want to skip breakfast, because its name is just what it sounds like -- it is the breaking of the fast your body has been on all night long. But don't stop there.

Eat something between breakfast and lunch. And between lunch and dinner. And, yes, even right before you go to bed. Don't believe all the horrors of "don't eat anything after 8pm". While it's true you don't want to eat a lot of carbs, that's kind of built-in to rule 2. In order to eat six meals a day you'll find you can't eat many carbs at all (or you'd be eating only a bite or two at every meal).

What you want to do is find a protein and/or fatty snack that works for you. Turkey or chicken is ideal -- but not fried or processed in any way (see step 1). I eat the deli meats Publix sells -- their Boar's Head chicken is to die for, and at only 80 calories per 2 ounces (which is a lot) you can stuff your face without going over the limit. Cheese will work, too, but it's calorie dense so you don't get much (with hard cheeses -- soft cheese have a lot more water). Eggs are absolutely great if you like them (I don't) but there are tons of other choices.

If you budget out 100-200 calories or so for your snacks and choose wisely you have the added benefit of never being hungry -- you can't, because you're only an hour or two away from any meal! It also means your main meals -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- can be smaller since you won't be starving when you sit down to eat.

The Finish Line

Never being hungry is really how you want to live your life. You don't want to be hungry at any point, do you? And there is no need to be. I lost 65 pounds (around 8 pounds a month) and never once did I feel empty or deprived. That's how I know I can do this the rest of my life.

Remember, when you lose all the weight you want you will still stick by these rules, but you will increase your calorie counts. I find it very difficult to eat enough now -- a good problem! Indeed, I'm going to lose a few more pounds (and get really ripped) just because it's so easy. But I promise you that no matter how much you want to lose as long as you follow these steps you will do it. So what are you waiting for?

Extra Credit

For those of you who are really obese (say 60 pounds or more -- note that this fit me as well) or hate the fact that their loss has slowed way down (as it will as you get closer to your goal) there's one more rule you can follow. It, however, is a harder rule to follow your entire life, although some can and do, and that's why I hesitate to mention it.

But it's something I used for the last five pounds and it's very effective, so I present it in the sake of completeness. Here it is:

4. Count Carbs

We touched upon this in Rule 2, because carbs are so high in calories, but many many diets are based on the total elimination (or at least drastic cut back) of carbs. The reason is that carbs, while a necessary nutrient, are something the body can make out of the fat it has stored. So when you cut back or eliminate carbs the body brings up those fat reserves and converts them -- thus getting you thinner in no time at all.

The downside is that carbs are what makes eating and life truly wonderful. Carbs are, simply, everything that isn't protein and fat. But mostly carbs are in breads and pastas, rice and potatoes, milk, and, of course, part and parcel of all things sweet.

If you want to try a low-carb diet by all means give it a shot. However, I would not go to no carbs (the classic start up Adkins diet). Aim for between 75 and 100 grams of carbs a day. Even this will be tough -- you will have to go to whole wheat (I use the Arnold's 100% whole wheat, which is actually extremely tasty and not at all like cardboard which every other whole wheat I ever ate tasted like) and be careful about how much milk you drink. And remember that 100% whole wheat (the good stuff) is a completely different animal from a product that just says "whole wheat" (that latter beast will have processed grains and not be nearly as healthy, nor as low in carbs).

A trick not many know -- you can subtract any fiber from the carbs, so if the whole wheat bread you are eating has, say 20 grams of carbs but 5 grams of fiber it's only 15 grams of carbs you need to count (the reason for this is that fiber, while essential to the digestive system, isn't processed at all by the body and just passes through and while it does so it takes some carbs along for the ride).

This is also the secret to those folks who eat plenty of fiber at every meal that contains carbs -- I eat at least two stalks of celery at every meal. It's an advanced trick you don't have to follow but very very useful. Benefiber is also good in this regard. I also make sure I eat fiber late at night in particular. If you can eat 5 grams of fiber at each of your six meals throughout the day the weight will melt off of you without trying.

After you've lost all the weight you want to you can try increasing your carbs, carefully (but always being aware of Rule 2). I find I can eat white bread just fine now, but I don't want it as much (because that Arnold 100% whole wheat really is tasty). Many folks on a low or no carb diet say they can't ever go back to eating them but I think that's just silly -- carbs aren't poison (although sugar comes close and should have a skull and crossbones on the box).

And now you know everything I know about weight loss. Well, almost everything... there is the little subject of exercise...

(to be continued...)

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