Nutrition and training are the keys to fat loss, no matter if you need to lose 5 lbs. or 200. The exercise I started with and the one I still enjoy and partake in more than any other is simply walking.
I was several months into what I called my hardcore period in the last post before I had enough free mental energy to switch my focus from nutrition to starting an exercise program. When you’re obese, there aren’t a whole lot of reasonable exercise options open to you. Walking is easy on the body, but can be made challenging and intense. On my walks I always made an effort to be quite brisk. I used an app on my phone called Walkmeter to monitor my pace, calories burned, and distance. I quickly settled into a pattern of trying to burn about 500 calories per session, the equivalent of about 3 miles of brisk walking for me (obviously for a smaller person less calories would be burned).
As I got started, I was walking maybe every other day. It took me a while to ramp up to that, or rather, to become that consistent, but after starting in May, by October I was burning 1,500 to 2,000 calories a week, just from walking. This is a big help because although when you have a lot of weight to lose, it comes off fast in the beginning, over time things slow down and you have to start adding in activity or reducing calories to lose at the same pace you originally were. So by exercising, I was able to keep shedding fat, even though day by day my energy needs were slightly decreasing as I lost weight.
When walking, I would sometimes try to run briefly, to test my ability to even do so. In the beginning, I could barely run for one minute. But as I lost weight, it got easier. By the time January of 2014 rolled around, I had started a 5k training program, again using Walkmeter. Signing up for a 5k race is a great way to set a goal and help motivate yourself to get fit. The program I used to prepare for my race was the 10-week training program built into Walkmeter, and it starts off with running intervals. So you walk a minute, run a minute, walk three minutes, run two minutes, etc. By the end of the program you’re all set to run 5k’s as often as you want.
Something I haven’t mentioned so far is the role of resistance training in my program. Early on in this journey I was very influenced by a book called The Happy Body. In that book, Jerzy and Aniela, two competitive Olympic weightlifters who happen to be married, teach that building and maintaining strength and flexibility are key to aging well and having a lean, fit and yes, happy, body. I realized I didn’t want to go into old age (or even my 30s, hah), when bone density and muscle mass tend to decrease, without fighting against those forces, without having built a great physical platform from which to move. I have seen so many people’s bodies crumble when they reach their 60s, 70s and 80s. They become bent over, hunched, have trouble even walking, become physically inactive and just generally allow themselves to be overcome by gravity. I am determined not to allow that to happen to me, and for the most part I think it’s entirely preventable. Just as most Americans are overweight or obese, an entirely preventable condition, most Americans lose their mobility and strength through disuse.
Resistance training can also be a powerful ally for those who are trying to lose body fat, since one of the problems with running a calorie deficit is that while you do lose fat, you also lose Lean Body Mass (LBM) at the same time. You want to be losing as much fat as you can while losing a little muscle as you can. Resistance training can help you actually build strength while losing fat. With severe calorie deficit and no resistance training, you can wind up losing all the weight, but becoming skinny and weak in the process.
Looking back, I wish I had been seriously hitting the weights way back at the beginning of this weight loss process. If I had, I would have made so much more progress by now. Instead, I think I got weaker and I know from body fat percentage tests I had done that I actually lost muscle at certain points in my dieting. Trying to lose weight too fast (another mistake I made) can also cause an unnecessary loss in strength and muscle mass.
I’ve learned my lesson now, and I am committed to losing the last 10-20 lbs. (or whatever it ends up being, I’m not worried about numbers on the scale, only how I look in the mirror) slowly and without any decrease in strength. To that end, I am following the Warrior Shredding program from Greg O’Gallagher at Kinobody.com, which is a strength-focused program that focuses on doing just a few key movements with greater and greater resistance to take your physique to the next level. So far I’m extremely happy with it, and would highly recommend it to anyone else trying to get lean. If you’re more interested in building muscle, Greg also has a Greek God Muscle Building program, which I haven’t delved into yet, but plan on using in the future after stabilizing my weight.
There’s a lot more I could say about the mindset, nutrition and exercise that got me from 330+ lbs. to 201 lbs. as of this morning, and I’m sure I will be writing more about all this in future. For now, I hope sharing my story was helpful to someone out there, and if you have any questions or suggestions for topics to write about, I’d love to hear them.