10.16.2012

The No-Bulls**t Guide To Losing Weight (And Keeping It Off)

Preface: A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who is just starting out at the gym told me he read my Absolute Beginner's Guide To Working Out. He liked it, but noted that he read the guide over a year ago, but wasn't ready yet to join a gym -- which he thought was mandatory to losing weight. It's not, it's just a part of a strategy.
So this is the follow-up to that piece, four years in the making, for those who haven't yet gotten to the "join a gym" phase and simply need a kick in the ass to get healthy.
Note: If you're fit, or if you're genuinely happy with yourself, or if you're a zen master Buddhist monk, this isn't for you. You may read it if you wish, but I'll go ahead and tell you, most of it is just going to sound mean and terrible and harsh. That's because what you're about to read is a conversation that people who hate themselves have with themselves, only I'm here to moderate. If you're not... Well, get ready, because this is going to sting a bit.

Also, those looking for an easy to follow bullet point list can find it at the end of this article. If all you want is the bullet points, click here or scroll down until you see them. But I really do hope you'll read the whole thing, because, hey, I wrote it. No one writes a thing they don't want read. 
 

Let's just get it out of the way:

You're fat.

I don't say that to be mean. I say that because it's true. You've heard it for a long time now, and you've thought it to yourself, and you've somehow dismissed the notion or lied to yourself about being happy with who you are. So it's time for the gloves to come off. I can call you overweight, or weight-challenged, or any number of bullshit terms which equivocate to you being fat. So I'm coming at you hard and furious with the bare knuckles of truth. I wanted to just get it out of the way, right away, because you are fat. 

It doesn't feel good to hear. But let me warn you, a lot of what I'm about to talk about doesn't feel good. If you want something that feels good, head to Amazon.com and check the Self-Help section. There are literally thousands of people writing thousands of books, all of which soften concepts in the hopes of taking your money. This blog runs no advertising and costs nothing at all to read. I don't sell things to you, so I have nothing to lose by telling you the truth.

For most of you, hearing the words "you're fat" just lands on the surface of your ego and bounces off. You've heard it all your life, or at least for the portion of it leading to now where you've been unhealthy. But someday soon, you're going to have an experience which is going to hammer you so hard, you have no choice but to face the honest, real truth that you are going to die prematurely due to your lack of concern about your health, and every day until then, you're going to be miserable because of your body's condition.

There's been a movement the past few years that, frankly, saddens me. "Body Acceptance" and "Obesity Acceptance" is fine, because sure, we're not supposed to judge people by how they look. Except it's a lie. Of course we do. We're humans. We do that. To pretend we don't is bullshit.

But that's the thing -- the "Obesity Acceptance" movement attempts to define acceptance as changing everyone else's views of large people. "It's not MY problem I'm fat, it's YOUR problem you can't get over it... And it hurts my feelings when you don't, so stop thinking it and making me feel bad. It's society's fault that it's a problem I'm unhealthy." And so on.

It's also fundamentally flawed, in that it compares a completely controllable, self-created issue to things like race, gender and sexual preference... These things are not under anyone's control, nor are they indicators of a certain type of personality or behavior. But being overweight is. It's a strong dislike for yourself, because you don't care for yourself. And of course, because you don't care for yourself, you let yourself go, which makes you not like how you look, which makes you not care for yourself... It's a destructive downward spiral.

(Note: of course there are medical conditions which exist which make weight gain uncontrollable. If you have one of these, well, I can't do anything for you, and this isn't really about you. So please spare me that argument. I'll only say that I know people with Type 1 Diabetes who have found a way to participate in long distance endurance events, and people with Type 2 Diabetes who reversed their condition by finally taking care of themselves. If you're living off an IV, have no control over what you digest, and are overweight -- fine. If you've been stuffing donuts into your face because you "have a medical condition" so you can't lose weight, so why bother... You're not helpless, no matter how helpless you think you are).

Look: if you're unhealthy, overweight or obese, and you're genuinely happy with who you are when espouse all that bullshit bravado I've seen the past few years about "Body Acceptance" and "Obesity Acceptance" and whatnot: yay for you. You're a fucking liar, but yay. You've found your coping mechanism, and it's annoying people with your delusions that it's okay to loathe yourself and expect everyone else to turn a blind eye to that fact. You get to aggressively attack people for thinking you're fat.

Why don't I believe you? Because goes against the entire core of our existence as human beings. Buddhist monks spend lifetimes attempting to neutralize the ego and achieve nirvana. It's a rare feat indeed when they do, and those who do are usually quite old. And not many of them read blogs. So if you're reading this, I can safely assume you're not a zen master level Buddhist monk. Which means, in short, I think you're a liar.

And of course, If you're ACTUALLY that happy with yourself and you genuinely believe it, the last thing you care about is my opinion, so if I hear from your type, I know I'm right and you're just very well-versed in self-deception.

I know, because I was. This was me in 2002, the day before my wedding:



That shirt is a size 4XL. And you can still see the boobs and huge gut. I was 375lbs, 41% body fat. One day, I had a wake-up call. A family member of mine who is morbidly obese had a health-related situation. It shook me. Hard. It woke me up. It made me realize I was on the exact same path, and if I wasn't careful, I'd be putting my wife in the same situation.

More than that, it made me realize, it was MY fault I was overweight. I had control. I could change the path I was on.

As fat people, we are in a lot of pain, both physically and mentally. We make jokes, or we hide, or somehow otherwise gloss over the fact that we are unhappy with ourselves. We feel out of control. We feel helpless. We feel like we can't not be this person.

Here's the thing: none of that is true. At all. If you want to change, you can change. But you have to want it.

I won't lie: this particular change is going to be very, very hard. It will require willpower, determination, control and other things that, being overweight, we haven't been doing very much or very well. But if you look at the pain associated with the changes you're about to make as simply taking all the emotional and physical pain you feel as a fat person, piling it all up, and pushing through it and past it to get to the other side, things actually get a LOT easier.  Because that's what you're about to do: you're going to trade long-term emotional pain for a shorter-term physical test. And when you pass it, you'll be happier, live longer, and feel better.

And it's going to hurt... At first. Changing is hard on the mind and the spirit. But as I wrote yesterday, the actual steps to change are pretty simple:

1) Don't do the thing you want to stop doing.
2) Do something else. 
3) Repeat.

I promise you, after a little while, you'll actually start to like the pain. It sounds like bullshit now, but trust me -- there will come a time you actually like eating healthy. There will come a time where you look forward to exercise. Again, I've been there. You're not reading the advice of a stranger who makes money off self-help anything. This cost you nothing, and it comes from a guy whose only motivation is to bring some sort of light to dark places. Feel free to not do any of it.

But if you do, you'll want to thank me. And when you do, I'll remind you, you did ALL of the work yourself. So thank yourself. Because the results will belong to you, and no one -- not the people from your high school; not the disappointed parents; not anyone on this planet -- can ever take it or any of the time you spent achieving it away. Ever.

It's not going to happen overnight, either. The key here is to eventually incorporate a total lifestyle change via a system of small, deliberate changes over time, such that you make them your new habits. This isn't just another program like you see on Dr. Phil, Oprah, Dr. Oz or any of those shows that make their money on getting you to constantly and continually tune in for the next big thing.

Don't treat this like an obligation. You're not signing any contracts. You're not adhering to any rules. You're making a decision. You are deciding to live differently, because you want to be different. If you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done.

Also, feel free to start slow. If you take every single step I post and start doing them all at once tomorrow, you may succeed... But my guess is that you will encounter fatigue and then discouragement long before you encounter success. So, part of this change is to acknowledge that it's gradual. You can start as heavy or as light as you wish, and my suggestions on how to break things out into phases are listed here, but you can do what you want. Just know that plunging headlong into anything completely different is going to be a shock, and like most shocks, you'll want it to end because it's too hard.

Lastly, being fit and losing weight doesn't mean "looking fit" or "being skinny" or any other socially-dictated measure of your personal fitness. It means losing weight and being fit, period. Don't get caught up in body image shit, and focus more on how you feel. The more fit you are, the more weight you lose, the better you're going to feel. And of course, this will project outward, not just because you're dropping size, but because you're building confidence -- and confidence is sexy.

Ready?

How To Lose Weight And Keep It Off Forever

There's no fad program. There's no book to buy. There's no self-help tapes. When it comes to programs, fad diets and trendy methods of being healthy, I've tried everything. I did Atkins, I did South Beach, I did Paleo, I even tried going Vegan early on. I tried cleanses. I've tried it all. I know LOTS of people who have tried them all. We all have one thing in common: eventually the program grows tiresome, and the weight comes back.

You can't do sit-ups and burn belly fat. There's no such thing as localized fat loss. It doesn't work that way, unless you get liposuction. It's a lie. There's no ab machine, sit-up program, pill, cream or belt that will make you lose fat only on your belly, or your arms, or your thighs.

There is one -- only one -- program of systematic lifestyle change that has proven to not only take unhealthy weight off the human body, but keep it off for the rest of your life. Just one. Ever. In the history of ever. It's called diet and exercise.

"Diet" doesn't mean a diet program. It means learning how to eat correctly. Knowing how many calories you require in a day, and meeting those needs.

There is one commercial program that succeed with this. Believe it or not, Weight Watchers is actually very, very successful at teaching you how to eat and manage calories of various kinds. It combines learning how to assign "points" to your foods (which is little more than a scoring system for the calorie content) with assigning points for exercise to tell you how much you meet or exceed your daily caloric need.

It also puts in place two very vital things: rewards and accountability. You attend meetings with like-minded folks in the same situation as you -- they're unhealthy and want to be healthy. So, having that peer support group is a BIG help. Also, there's no punishment if you gain weight in a given week/month, but when you lose it, you earn accolades.

But Weight Watchers isn't required to change your life. No real program, including mine, is. Once you've decided you don't want to be fat anymore, you'll figure it out. I did.

So, after much ado, here's the list of how you will lose weight and keep it off.

1) Know that you deserve to be happy. The very first step. You deserve this. You deserve to feel good about yourself. Should you decide to incorporate exercise, you deserve the time you set aside to treat yourself well. You deserve it. You don't think so now, but you do. You must give yourself permission to change, and in order to do so, you need to realize, you deserve it. And let no one tell you otherwise. Tell yourself this. Seriously. Out loud. Look yourself in the eyes in the mirror and say "I deserve to be happy." You will feel silly. You will be embarrassed. And if you're like me, somewhere around the fifth time, the embarrassed smile will fade and you will begin crying. Because you feel like you don't deserve it, and it's a lie. It's not. And the person you should trust most in this world -- YOU -- just looked you in the eyes and told you so. You deserve to be happy. Know it.

2) Write down EVERYTHING that goes into your body. Every single thing. I use an app called Lose It! on my iPhone, and they have it on Android as well. Lose It! and others like it, like MyFitnessPal and MyPlate by Livestrong, make the process of tracking your food and exercise very easy. They also include social elements so that you and your friends can keep track of who is logging their meals and exercise, although if you're keeping this private, that's fine too. This one step changed my life forever. It made me aware of every single snack, dense dinner and so on. It made me think twice before I started shoving things into my mouth.

3) Don't drink your calories. No more sugary sodas. No more Kool-Aid. No more Frappuccinos (even skinny ones). If it's liquid, it should be calorie free. Diet sodas are better than sugary sodas, yes, but even they should be curtailed. You can still drink coffee (trust me, I drink plenty) and tea, if those are your vices. If you need caffeine delivery methods that aren't coffee and tea, you may be in trouble. Diet sodas aren't a very good substitute if your goal is weight loss. I cover this more in the suggestions area. But they're a damn sight better than drinks loaded with sugar. These are called Empty Calories. They contain energy that is unused, delivered via non-nutritional means.

4) Read the labels on EVERYTHING you eat. Know the calorie count. Know the fat, carbs, protein, and ingredients. This will help you when you're writing everything down, especially when you start working calorie-counting and ingredient awareness into your lifestyle change.

5) Cut out High Fructose Corn Syrup. I'm not going to hop on a political or Capitalism soapbox and tell you about the industry of HFCS. What I will tell you is that by avoiding HFCS, you avoid calories by default. HFCS is found in all kinds of places you'd never expect, like bread and peanut butter, so check the labels.

6) EAT. Do NOT starve yourself. Too few calories is just as harmful as too many. If you starve yourself, your body will shut down and begin storing ALL energy intake, putting more fat on you. Meanwhile, it'll begin devouring it's own muscle, which is a richer short-term nutrition solution. This is contrary to the goal. You should find your ideal caloric intake and stick as close to that as you can. Extremism is what gets you in trouble -- high OR low.

7) No more fast food. There are certainly "healthy" options at Wendy's and McDonalds and Chipotle, but the problem is, there's more unhealthy ones than healthy ones. And if you're like me, the temptations to occasionally dip into the dollar menu and get some fries is eventually going to get you. So don't be around it. The same goes with buffets, pizza joints and other super calorie-rich places. Cooking food yourself and preparing your own meals also has the benefit of letting you know exactly how many calories are in each dish / meal.

8) Drink more water. Water flushes your system of impurities, speeds digestion, helps promote weight loss due to all-day digestion and calorie burn, and overall is just a good idea. Start slowly. Incorporate an additional cup (8 oz) of water a day until you get to the point you're drinking half your body weight in water a day. I weigh 303lbs and I literally drink a gallon or more of water a day. Some of it is in the form of green tea and coffee. There are conflicting theories on whether or not brewed drinks count as "water" but until someone definitively proves it doesn't, I'll count it myself. Sodas definitely do NOT count, though. And if you get sick of plain water, add some sugar free Crystal Light flavor packets. There's tons of really great flavors, and they change things up a good bit.

9) Exercise. Yep, the biggie. It's the thing everyone dreads. But it's also the greatest key to becoming healthy. You can eventually join a gym, get into biking, or do all kinds of things, but to start, all you need is 20 minutes to yourself and a stretch of open road. Don't start with 10 minutes -- that's an easy way to begin thinking "eh, I'll get to it in a while." Figure out a time you can spend 20 minutes on making yourself better and stick to it. I also think you should do it every single day. I don't believe in rest days for walking. If you decide to start a gym program, I've written a very thorough guide for absolute beginners. To date, I've received over 300 emails from people who have read and followed that guide and have changed their lives for the better as a result.

10) Don't give up, short term or long term. Just because you had a heavy meal or treated yourself to something you're trying to cut down on doesn't mean you failed. The only failure is giving up on yourself. Taking a meal or a day or even a week off isn't failing, it's just delaying things. Just hop right back on the horse -- the sooner the better. Just because you had pizza at lunch, don't write your entire day off. Eat better for dinner. Eat better tomorrow. Don't use language like "skip the gym," instead say you "took today off." That will encourage you not to take another day off.

11) Do reward yourself. Eat some chili from time to time, but limit the sour cream, cheese and crackers to an accouterment, not a hearty portion. Eat a slice of pizza or two. Enjoy your vacations and all the delicious foods associated with them. Drink a beer or two. It's not going to undo all of your hard work... Unless you make it your lifestyle again. Just know two things: Missing one day of proper diet and exercise is the first step in missing two days, and missing two days is the next step to abandoning all that you've worked so hard for. So definitely indulge. Just keep a leash on it.

12) Persist. Never give up. The days you don't feel like going out and exercising are the days you usually have your best workouts, because you feel like you need to show yourself up. The days you feel like diving head-first into a chocolate cake because you had a hard day at work are the days you'll find far more rewarding if you work the stress out instead of eating your feelings. And if today was bad and you ate a whole one-pound bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, well, tomorrow don't do that. And keep not doing that. Again, it's not the end of the world if you slip. It's just a day you didn't participate in making your life better. Try to get back in the game as soon as you can.


Some further suggestions:


  • Find a peer group to take this on with. Even if it's one person. Support is vital. If you have no one, email me. I'll gladly give you encouragement... As long as you try. 
  • Seriously do the "look yourself in the mirror" thing. It works. 
  • Keep a journal -- not just of your calorie intake and exercise, but how you feel. You're not writing a novel. No one ever has to see it. Just write about your feelings each day, along with what you did that day. You'll be surprised to find that your worst habits usually have a pattern, and how you feel governs them. You'll also be surprised to see that your overall mood improves over time, pretty much permanently. It's great to go back and see the improvement. 
  • Join a gym. Scout them first. Go to one that makes you feel comfortable. There's many ranges of types. There's female-specific (Curves), family-oriented (Planet Fitness), muscle and athletic-oriented (LA Fitness, Golds Gym, Bally's) -- find the one nearest you that makes you feel good, not just the one nearest you. If you like going, you'll go. Simple, right?
  • Join a walking group / riding group / group class at the gym. Misery loves company, right? Being able to look over at some like-minded folk and know they're toughing it out along with you is a big help. 
  • Try new things related to fitness, but when it comes to diet, stick with the tried and the true. Don't fuck around with Paelo-this and Vegan-that. The body needs protein, carbs and fat, all three.
  • I've mentioned this method of keeping on various programs in the past, so here it is again, because it works: get a calendar and put a big red "X" on every day you eat right and exercise. Then, don't break the chain. After a few days, that block of X's is going to look pretty neat. Then, you'll find yourself not wanting to see gaps in the chain. It works for just about everything, ever. Don't break the chain. 


Also, know that you're not the only person to have done this. You know of at least one other person -- me -- and I am telling you it's great. But if you look it up, you'll see there's thousands, if not tens of thousands, of blogs people have written dedicated to changing their lives.

But you don't have to trust me. Try it yourself and see how you like the results. If you don't like it, you can always go back to eating chicken by the bucketfull and finishing it off with a carton of ice cream. No one's stopping you.

But if you do like feeling better, being happier with yourself, spending time on yourself and rewarding yourself with a whole new wardrobe and outlook on life -- Well now. Isn't it worth trying out to see? My greatly-diminshed gut says it will be.

By the way, I purposely didn't post my "now" picture in this article, because that's not the point. This isn't about me, it's about YOU. If you want to see what I look like, Google me or follow me on Facebook and Twitter -- there's TONS of pics of me that float through every day. You'll get sick of my smiling mug eventually.