“Your cholesterol must be through the roof!”
“How are you not 300lbs? All you do is eat!”
Those are a few of the things I hear pretty regularly from people who follow the blog.
“Are you Bulimic? Do you spit the food out?”
“What’s your dieting trick? Atkins?”
Those are some questions I get from people who have only met me in the past few years and have seen my loss of weight.
I figured it was time to post an official response to these sorts of questions here for all to see. I guess the best thing to do is start at the beginning:
I was always a skinny dude growing up. In fact my whole family is skinny. We are those people that everyone hates: we can pretty much eat whatever we want, not work out or exercise, and stay skinny (the women in my family might beg to differ, but that’s just how broads are). My dad, at his fattest, was 122lbs after he quit smoking and retired. I came out of high school at about 115lbs, maybe 120lbs. Coming out of college, I was the biggest in the family. I was the tallest at 5′ 10″ and heaviest at about 150lbs (I grew taller in college, by about 4 inches). At the peak of my youth, I looked like this:
Then it all went to shit. After I graduated law school things changed. My life became sedentary with the beginning of my career, sitting at a computer desk for 8-12 hours at a pop. No walking around, no fun with friends playing sports, and I was NOT the working out or running type.
My mid to late 20s hit and suddenly 150lbs became 175lbs. I wasn’t too concerned at the time. It actually felt good to have a little meat on my bones. I felt normal around people instead of being “holy shit I can see your ribs” skinny. I had just met and fallen in love with my future wife. I was comfortable, and not looking to impress anyone. Girlfriend became fiancé, and fiancé became wife (and wife became Cake Dealer). Meanwhile the steakhouse quest had started, so 175lbs became 180lbs, and 180lbs became 185lbs, then 190lbs and 195lbs… you get the picture… And I also started losing my hair! That sucked. A bald spot meant it was time to take it all down and accept being hairless. That made me bald and getting fat. Eww. A horrible double whammy. I was becoming George Costanza.
A random visit to the doctor revealed that I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and borderline diabetes. I was put onto some blood pressure meds for a few months while I tried to diet. The timing was good here (2008-2009) because my and my wife’s wedding was approaching. I was probably around 180-185lbs for the wedding, which was in April of 2009. I had lost 10-15lbs and was generally keeping it off.
The steakhouse quest was slowed if not halted. Until two things happened: (1) a trip to New Orleans, where all I wanted to do was eat and try everything in sight. Muffuletta sandwiches, beignets, gumbo, po’ boys and all that fantastic shit.
The diet was out the window at that point. Then, (2) we moved from NYC to Long Island after the wedding in the Summer of 2009. Three hours of my day had suddenly been sucked out of existence and lost to the horrors of the LIRR commute.
The first thing to go was home cooked meals. The last thing I wanted to do at 8:00pm when I got home from work was to cook a “sensible meal,” and then clean up afterward. By the time I finished eating and cleaning it would be close to 11:00pm, and my alarm was going off at 5:00am to catch a 6:09am train. Fuck that. Fuck ALL of it.
In my defiance of all things healthy, and with a raging middle finger held high to the LIRR, I re-started the quest for great steakhouses, all the while keeping notes and a list of places to go next. In April of 2011 I decided to put my notes into a blog format, and, eventually, here we are today.
But from mid-2009 to December 31, 2013 I was blowing up like a balloon. I never thought I could be a 200lb person, yet by the end of 2013 I was pushing fucking 220lbs! What a fat fucking bastard! I’d go up a flight or two of stairs and feel winded, my heart would race, and I felt weak. I was killing myself.
So I made a New Year’s resolution to lose some weight and get in shape. My target weight, at first, was 185lbs. At my heaviest I was 218lbs, so that meant a serious effort. I was looking at BMI (body mass index) calculators to see where someone my age, height, and activity level should be, and I was shocked. To get down to the high end of the acceptable BMI range for my frame, I needed to be about 175lbs. I didn’t think I’d get there, but I did. Here’s how:
I woke up early every morning to run on the treadmill. In the beginning I was going two miles in 20 minutes. Pathetic. Eventually I was doing three miles in 30 minutes, or switching off to do some stationary bike cycling to mix it up. Still a pretty bad pace, but at least I was going for longer. I did this every day, with the exception of weekends. Once the weather got nicer I was running outside. I liked this a shitload better than the treadmill. In fact, I found that my pace was quickening, and I was going for longer distances.
I also switched my diet up drastically. I was counting calories. In the beginning I was trying to keep it well under 2000 calories per day, that way I would get the ball rolling on the weight loss. I thought of the calories like money. I had $2000 in my wallet for each day. If a candy bar cost $300, was it worth it? Or would it be better to spend that $300 on fish and a veggie, getting more food for my dollar? Lunch was typically carrots and celery, raw, with hot sauce to dip. Or pre-portioned serving sizes of nuts, dried fruit, trail mix, etc. Other lunches included Greek yogurt, or simply cooked veggies (steamed with seasoning, or sautéed in garlic and oil).
For dinner, I tried to double the veggie portion and half the meat portion, and always tried to watch the number of calories and serving size. More chicken, fish, or lean meats. Less grains, fatty meats, sugars, breads and starch. High fiber, low calorie, low carbs. I was also eating slowly. Fiber tricks your body into thinking it’s full, and it takes 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach that it’s full. Eat slowly and get full before you gorge yourself. Otherwise, that’s how over-eating happens.
Portion control was key though. If I needed a snack, I was hitting on nuts, dried fruit, yogurt or an occasional Fiber One snack bar – ALWAYS in the proper portion size as per the nutritional labels, and keeping my daily intake under 2000 calories. I tried to limit myself to two snacks per day: one between lunch and dinner, and one after dinner if necessary.
It was fucking tough. I was irritable at first. But I banged it out, and lost a shitload of weight in the first month; something like 25lbs. I kept this diet and exercise routine up for three or four months without changing too much up. If I ate a larger dinner, sometimes I would double up on my running for the day to shave off some of the extra calories out of pure guilt. This is analogous to working overtime to earn a little extra calorie dollars to spend.
Suddenly I was down 40lbs in four months. That meant I could normalize my diet a bit and just focus on maintaining weight instead of losing. I had hit my initial target, pretty much, but part of me wanted to push it more, to get into that “BMI” range of health and fitness. I still kept my lunches light, but dinner was pretty much a free for all (yay for steaks!). I didn’t do much snacking, but when I did, I tried to make sure I don’t go overboard.
The final pounds were the slowest to come off. My wife and I moved back to the city in the summer of 2014, so I continued my running in Central Park. Eventually I upped the daily average to five miles a day, typically in about 37-40 minutes, and only taking one day off per week instead of two. I was burning more calories, and occasionally doing ten mile runs (once a week) or even half marathons (once a month). That meant I could eat more (more calorie $$$ to spend each day), yet I was still losing weight. PERFECT! I shed even more weight. I donated all of my fat-guy clothes to charity, and broke out some of my older, skinny-guy clothing, as well as picked up some new stuff. I went from a 37 inch waist to a 32.
I currently fluctuate in my daily weight between about 168lbs and 173lbs (generally we are lighter in the mornings). So I’m down about 50lbs from the start! I still weigh myself several times per day. Constantly knowing what I weigh is important to me, because it helps me manage my weight. I’m in the proper BMI range, and I’m in the best physical shape of my life. I place no restrictions on my dinner meals. I still keep to a light lunch, unless I plan on burning more calories with a longer run that day. Snacking is still generally kept to a minimum, but I am not afraid to partake. All I do now is run and watch my lunch and snack intake, and I can eat anything I want for dinner. If I can do it, anyone can.
So what do you call this “diet” that I followed? I don’t know. It’s part Atkins, part “paleo,” part portion control and lots of good old fashioned exercise.
As for my cholesterol, I don’t know. Back in my fat-guy days, it was 169 for LDL and 259 total. As of February of 2014, which was only two months into my diet, it was down to 126 for LDL and 205 total. Improvement. No idea what it is now; hopefully much better. But I can care less.