Hi. My name is Ryan and I’m a loser. Specifically, I’ve lost 50 pounds over the last 10 months. If I can do it you can do it too (relax, there’s no sales pitch embedded in this article). I’ve really hesitated to write about this subject because it is such a drastic departure from my usual writings, and because it is such a deeply personal topic. Having said that, I find myself answering the same questions over and over again about my weight loss. Overwhelmingly, people simply want to know the magic secret to quick weight loss, and that leads me to the first lesson I had to learn on my journey to losing 50 pounds.
There is no magic secret to quick weight loss! Ok. So there are unhealthy ways to lose a quick few pounds here and there. Usually, they are “gone today and back tomorrow” kinds of pounds that leave us feeling unhealthier than before we started. Pills that make your hands shake and your chest hurt, or diet plans that work but don’t create sustainable lifestyles like the Adkins diet or the many juice diets. Like millions of other people, I’ve tried gobs of those schemes over the years but they failed me miserably in the end. Sustainable weight loss is not an overnight process or a one-time commitment; it is a lifestyle change.
I’m not a health nut or an exercise enthusiast. By nature, I’m a couch potato. Most of my favorite activities involve sitting down. I’m also not one of those people who hate unhealthy foods and enjoy kale (or any of the other foul tasting health craze foods). I like carbs, butter, and Blue Bell ice cream as much as the next guy (or gal). Neither do I think the whole world should be skinny and obsessed with jogging. However, as a 31-year-old man who has already undergone four open-heart surgeries, I do want to be healthy and live to see my children grow up and hopefully their children too.
Now that we have established that there is no magic weight loss pill, allow me to share with you the basics of how I lost 50 pounds and a few tips that may inspire you too.
Calorie counting. This is the most well-balanced way to safely and sustainably lose weight. Calorie counting is incredibly simple and yet extremely hard at the same time. I don’t think I could effectively calorie count in a pre-smartphone world. At the beginning of my weight loss journey, I downloaded the free app called MyFitnessPal (there are all kinds of other great free calorie counting apps available as well), and it really made the calorie counting process less obnoxious. You simply input your height, weight, etc. and the app tells you how many calories you should consume per day depending on how many pounds you want to lose each month.
Count every calorie. The most difficult thing about calorie counting is being honest with yourself about what and how much you eat at each meal. When I first started I was shocked by how many calories I was consuming per meal. The great thing about calorie counting is that you can technically eat whatever you want. Technically, you can have french fries but you find yourself drastically reducing portions in order to stay within your calorie allowance. In other words, you naturally eat healthier in order to eat more. For example, a handful of french fries contains far more calories than a big bag of baked potato chips, so I usually choose more chips over fewer fries.
The key to being successful with calorie counting is to actually count every calorie even when you know that you’ve blown it (and you will blow it). The temptation will be to not input your calories when you know you’ve really gone over your allotted number for the day. However, that moment of truth is very important. Looking at it and seeing it for yourself will help keep you motivated and on track. Also, a day or two of not counting because of excuses quickly becomes weeks and months. Make counting your calories a daily habit (a lifestyle).
Count your calories before your meal whenever possible. If you’re like the average American you do a lot of eating out and it’s important to calculate those calories before you eat, otherwise you’ll choose your meal, eat it, and then find out that you can’t eat dinner because you just ate all your calories in one sitting. At first, this will be very hard, very inconvenient, and very obnoxious but as time goes by it will become second nature. In fact, after a while, you’ll know by memory how many calories certain foods contain and the process will flow naturally. You’ll be able to count and no one will even know that you’re counting.
If it’s not awesome, don’t eat it. That’s become a new theme in my life. I was one of those people who loved to eat just for the sake of eating. I would eat huge portions of things that I didn’t even enjoy all that much. Calorie counting makes you a selective and picky eater. I still splurge and have plenty of days where I eat way more calories than I should, but I don’t splurge on things that aren’t awesome. I don’t splurge for the sake of splurging. If I blow it I want it to be worth it. Whenever you’re tempted to splurge, ask yourself this question, “Is this something awesome, or will I just regret wasting calories on it later?” Of course, it goes without saying that if you indulge more than you abstain you won’t lose weight. So splurge within reason and splurge selectively.
If you know you’re going to blow it fast until that meal. Most people have a social calendar that requires them to attend meals where they are not in control of the menu and it would be rude to not eat what is provided. This is a regular occurrence for me, and I have found that if I know that I have a calorie busting meal scheduled into my day I fast up until and sometimes after that meal, or at the very least I severely restrict my intake.
Managing calories must become a mindset. What I’ve been describing up until this point is really just having an overall understanding of what and how much you intake on a daily basis. It’s not that we can’t snack or eat three square meals a day, it’s just that we have to manage amounts, which makes us pickier and choosier. This leads nicely to my next weight loss journey truth.
Not everyone will be supportive of your weight loss journey. Ok. So most people are supportive of the idea of their friends and family losing weight and being healthier but if it inconveniences or hinders their lifestyle in any way, they often become frustrated and sometimes even hostile to the process. This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of making a lifestyle change. Do it anyway. As you make progress and prove that your new lifestyle is more than just a fad they will get on board (if they are a true friend).
Cardio exercise will help you lose those pounds faster and allow you to eat more (it’s a win-win situation). I’m not talking about lifting weights or bulking up, I’m simply talking about speed walking, 30 minutes on a stationary bike, or something like that to get your blood flowing. You can certainly still lose the weight without the exercise if you just count calories, but when you do regular light exercises, multiple times a week, you can input those into your calorie counting app, and for every calorie that you burn you can eat an extra calorie that day (if you burn 300 calories speed walking you can eat 300 extra calories that day guilt free). The basic idea is to speed up your metabolism and your body will actually burn more calories throughout the day. Think of exercise as a mechanism that ignites a calorie burning oven. I didn’t start using the stationary bike (my exercise of choice) until about the halfway point of my weight loss journey, and the difference was drastic. I went from losing about a half a pound a week to losing a whole pound a week.
Do not let your failures be final. Millions of people give up on their weight loss goals because of one day or one week of dieting failures. Expect to mess up and plan to get back up. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Also, don’t be discouraged when you don’t see immediate results. Usually, visible results are about a month delayed (if you have a month of diet perfection you won’t see those results until about four weeks later).
You will feel better long before you look better. This is either good news or bad news depending on your perspective.
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Not to over spiritualize weight loss, but as I have learned to exercise self-control in my eating habits it has been easier to exhibit self-control in other areas of my life as well.
Try to make it a goal to not eat after a certain time in the evening. Certainly, there will be exceptions to this some days of the week (probably because of social calendars), but try to set a time (maybe 7pm or 8pm) where you simply will not eat after that point no matter what. This will give your body plenty of time to digest your meals and keep you from sleeping on a full stomach and bogging your metabolism down.
Good news! Once you reach your weight loss goal (and you must set a goal) you get to eat more calories per day. That’s right. The number of calories that you can eat to simply maintain your weight is substantially more than you can eat if you are trying to lose weight. And after an extended period of time eating less than your body needs, eating just enough will seem like a feast. I promise.
If I can lose 50 pounds you can too. I mean that sincerely. I don’t have super willpower or exceptional health savvy. I’ve never been nor am I now athletic, naturally active, or extremely outdoorsy. I’m not particularly fond of fruits, veggies, or other healthy foods. I love all the bad stuff like cheese, soda, butter, bread, anything fried, pizza and the list could go on and on. To top it all off, I really don’t enjoy exercise either. But I do enjoy feeling healthy and knowing that I am doing all that I can to ensure that I will live a full life with my little family.