It wasn’t a New Year’s Day resolution, but for the past year I’ve met and kept health goals I made for myself. Having reached clear and significant milestones, I feel I have the credibility to share my journey. There was a little technology in the mix, and I’ll be sharing the tools that helped me. I’m not done with this journey, but I’ve passed the “half way point” and since it’s a major focus of my week it’s long past due to share what I’ve learned in a series of future articles. Here is what I achieved so far:
Lost over 90 pounds
Lost 14 inches at my waist (6 pant sizes)
Blood pressure dropped from prehypertension to normal
I’m not a medical professional and none of the health related articles that I’m writing should be construed as prescriptive. It is my hope that you’ll find the information inspirational and helpful. You also won’t find any quick fix or short cuts. I didn’t find a magical diet or discover a miraculous supplement. I did it the proven way: cut calories and increase activity. But also, these developed gradually and weren’t a sudden, drastic, or traumatic lifestyle change.
My strategy factored in some unique health challenges. For example, a daily run is completely out of the question due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. You should find my obstacles encouraging, because even with these barriers I was able to make progress. Also, this is a tale of it’s never too late, since I undertook my journey in my mid-fifties! On the other hand it would have been far, far better had I started earlier and no amount of success will undo all the consequences. I’ll be sharing about some of my issues because there’s important lessons to be learned from a few of them. And, just as I found my research helpful, perhaps you’ll find some guidance in my story.
How it Started
I gained 60 pounds the first year after marriage and continued to balloon thereafter. I wasn’t overweight, or even obese, but morbidly obese. After breaching 325 pounds, I stopped weighing because I found the results too discouraging. So when I say I’ve lost over 90 pounds, that’s a minimum since I don’t know what my top weight reached.
The reason I overeat is that I really love food and I’m frequently hungry. It’s not a psychological reason that I overeat. A psychological element, no doubt, has arisen as my bad eating habits became ingrained. Food became an addiction not only because of the sensory pleasure of flavor, but also from the mental comfort of being full. I never ate so much that I felt ill afterwards and about the only after-effect was the need for a nap. And despite all my victories, my hunger and cravings are still forces I struggle with today—albeit with more and more success.
The turning point was the summer of 2017. We were vacationing at the beach with my kids and enjoying our first grandchild. My current trajectory meant I would probably disappear prematurely from his life. It wasn’t the only motivator, and he wasn’t the only person impacted by my life choices. But the pile of reasons had finally grown to the point where I actually made a course correction. I’d made diet attempts in the past, but now I’ve stayed the course for long enough that I believe this time it is a permanent lifestyle. And despite the benefit to my family, I had to make the change mostly by and for myself. Doing it for someone else is a benefit, but it would be unfair to make them responsible in any way. And I had plenty of personal reasons to be motivated: heel pain, knee pain, back pain, and trouble sleeping being the biggest issues. And although I joked about my weight and eating, I was ashamed of my appearance and hated being in photos or being seen by acquaintances who’d known me when I was a lanky youth.
The very first phase of my journey was a gradual reduction of calories. Not so much to lose weight, but to stop the run-away train of weight gain. My first step was to get a foothold with a single meal. The cafeteria at work had a wealth of calorie-rich lunches and were a particular problem, so I decided to start there. The first strategy was to look at the menu in advance and make a decision before impulse had its way. My target was roughly 500 calories since I knew from experience that I could be satisfied by some meals in this range. The strategy I started with was:
Look at the menu before arriving
Preempt impulse by choosing in advance
It’s a budget and the number to watch is calories
Start slowly and gradually
It’s only a start, so continuously improve efforts
It wasn’t every lunch that I hit the mark. But over the months the number of healthy lunch choices became the majority. There were exceptions, of course, and even a year later, if the cafeteria is serving prime rib, the calorie count (at least per meal) is suspended! (These exceptions are less splurges and now are strategic and budgeted.) This approach was a start, and while insufficient, it gave me the foothold I needed for the next advance that came in the spring a few months later. It would have been unrealistic to set a more aggressive goal with Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching. Small and consistent victories kept me motivated through the holidays without the discouragement and misery of complete abstention. I’ll save the details of the next step for a future article. But for now, and in conclusion, let me share with you the S.M.A.R.T goal-making technique I applied in my first strategy.
S = Specific
Lunches at work have a target of 500 calories each. Exceptions must be in the clear minority and no more than one exception every two weeks.
M = Measurable:
Weigh weekly to ensure weight gain has stopped
A = Achievable
Yes, I had enough self control to make this happen
R = Realistic
For me it was possible and the risk of failure was small
T = Time Bound
Until after the the holidays, when I would set improved goals and layer additional strategies