I’ve struggled with my weight for over 14 years now. It started back in high school. I had gotten a little chubby, and self-conscious about it. Until that point, I never had a problem with my weight. I had always been very lean and active, spending most of my free time on my bike or wandering around our 40–acre farm on foot. I ate whatever I wanted. My breakfast and lunch consisted of things like mac & cheese, hot dogs, and Chef Boyardee ravioli.
When I realized I needed to lose some weight, I just ate less. When we got takeout, I had one egg roll instead of three. Two slices of pizza instead of four. And it worked! I lost what I’m guessing was at least 10 or 15 pounds without too much trouble.
But then, the summer before college came. I had graduated high school early (snotty homeschooled kid that I was) and started a job installing wireless Internet services for a local telecommunications cooperative. I remember throwing big bags of tater tots in the oven for breakfast. Then for lunch, we were out doing installations, so I picked up gas station food, which was plentiful in northeast Missouri. Restaurants weren’t so plentiful, and we often didn’t have much time, so it was always the gas station. I would eat a big box of potato wedges and chicken tenders, and wash it down with a 20 oz. Code Red Mountain Dew (my favorite).
I was making good money, I had my own car (an Oldsmobile 88, which I had worked to pay for), and I had easy access to gas stations that served pizza and all manner of fried things. For 18–year–old me, it was like waking up one morning only to find yourself in the Promised Land.
I probably gained 20 pounds that summer. Going into college, I looked pretty overweight and unhealthy. Not fat exactly, but definitely not the sleek version of myself I was accustomed to. And things only went downhill from there. In college, I had access to the Dining Common, the Snack Bar, and dorm vending machines. I couldn’t stop spending money and buying chicken tenders, sodas, and fries. My parents eventually cut me off and canceled my ability to buy food using my student ID. They got tired of paying the bills.
The truth was, I was depressed and lonely and used food to comfort me. I would scrape together whatever money I had and get Papa John’s or Chick-fil-A or Sonic on the weekends. I would drink 2–liter sodas in a day. During my sophomore year, my roommate and I made a pact to get fit, work out, and lose the weight. It worked, some.
I started going to the gym, getting used to the equipment, running on the treadmill (I could only run a mile, at a slow pace). I lost a lot of weight, coming down from around 268 pounds to nearly 220. I looked way better, and felt pretty good about myself. I wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but I had made significant progress. The problem was, it didn’t last long.
From what I remember, my weight slowly climbed up throughout the rest of college. I know I made attempts to stay fit and cut down, but I couldn’t manage it for very long before I gave up. The authoritarian religious environment of my university was part of the problem. I was unhappy there, and it showed around my waistline.
When I graduated, I was overweight. But unfortunately, that was when the real trouble started. After I landed my first job, I experienced even greater levels of freedom, and therefore greater levels of excess and hedonistic eating. I had plenty of money, and could eat out literally every single meal. And I often did. I would buy frozen, packaged groceries, but mostly I would have Panera for breakfast, Chick–fil–A or the Chinese buffet for lunch, and Papa John’s for dinner. I would come home with a Large Papa John’s pizza and a side of chicken tenders, and scarf down almost all of it.
This caused big problems for me. I became even more depressed, socially isolated, and overweight. After a year or two of this, I did try to make some changes. I started walking every morning and trying weird diets. I got into raw food, and found The 80/10/10 Diet, which is mostly fruitarian. I bought bananas by the case, and for three weeks ate nothing but fruit and a few vegetables. By day 21, I was so exhausted and frustrated, I had no heart to keep going. And of course, what I was doing was unhealthy and stupid, but in my naiveté I had been convinced it was the best way to live.
As I spiraled into a deeper depression — caused by my weight gain and a hefty measure of internal conflict — I finally realized something had to change. I found a good therapist and started seeing him each week. We dealt with my religious guilt and shame, my compulsivity around porn and masturbation, and my binge eating. I realize I haven’t mentioned the binging. I wouldn’t just overeat, I would absolutely stuff myself every night after work. I would have meals like two Chick–fil–A sandwiches, a large iced tea, a large order of fries, and a slice of cheesecake. If that wasn’t enough to numb the pain, I would swing by the grocery store or McDonald’s. I used food as a drug to make me feel less shitty about my life.
But therapy really helped me. I let go of decades of religious programming. I slowly dropped the shame and guilt I had been carrying around with me for years, and what I found was that my compulsions weakened along with the shame. Shame often props up our addictive tendencies and makes them even stronger.
Over a period of about a year, Larry (my therapist) and I started to work through my binge eating tendencies, and we realized I needed even more help to find a healthy eating pattern. So I started working with a nutritionist. We would meet for over an hour each week, creating a meal plan together and going over my food logs for the last few days. I learned what it could mean to indulge without going overboard.
I knew a lot about calories from all the previous weight loss attempts I had made. I knew what I needed to do, I just had trouble doing it. But this time was different. I honestly thought I would die unless I made a change. I felt miserable at over 330 pounds. I was morbidly obese, and afraid that if I kept it up, I would eat myself right into an early grave.
I stuck to a 2,000 calorie diet plan, like burrs on jogging pants. For 10 months. And I lost almost 100 pounds in that time. It wasn’t too long after that I was back at my college weight loss number, 220 pounds. I looked and felt fantastic. I felt attractive for the first time in a long time. I wanted to date, and finally felt that I could.
I moved into the city so I could have more of a social life. I started weight training, which I really enjoyed, and I also kept trying to lose weight. It always seemed like the last 20 pounds or so just didn’t want to come off, and strangely, it seemed harder than ever to discipline myself to stick to a plan, even a higher–calorie plan. I just kept bouncing back and forth between 210 and 225 pounds.
A year and a half after moving into the city, right around the time I started dating my fiancée, I began a major weight loss and strength gain effort. I was working out consistently three days a week, and walking a lot on the other days. I ate 2,500 calories a day, on average. It was extremely successful, and after a few months, I had dipped down to 195 pounds. I was ecstatic at reaching an all-time low. I don’t think I had dipped below 200 since high school.
Problem was, that didn’t last either. Are you detecting a pattern here? When I raised my calories back up to a maintenance level, the increased glycogen and water retention moved me back up to right around 200. But I couldn’t stay there. I was dating my fiancée and eating out a lot, and my weight slowly started climbing back up to 205, 210, 215, and by early last year, I knew I had to change something.
I decided I would try a fitness coach. I wanted someone to hold my hand through the process, provide accountability, and generally help me make this time different than all the other times.
For a while, things went really well. I found a great coach, was working out consistently, and I seemed to be making progress. But then, I ran hard into a brick wall. I felt almost forced to stop exercising. Not only did I not have the energy or the will, but I seemed to be grinding myself down deeper into a hole with each workout. I became physically and mentally exhausted, so I just quit. For months.
After multiple doctor visits and tests, it became clear my problem was Obstructive Sleep Apnea. I wasn’t getting restful sleep. Having the diagnosis didn’t make me feel better, though. It wasn’t until months later, having navigated the medical system in all its twists and turns, that I got relief. I used a dental appliance for the better part of a year without much to show for it other than a sore jaw. I was hesitant to try CPAP therapy because of the mask you have to wear, but I’m so grateful I did. It worked wonders for me, and I’m still using it every night.
Just after I got my CPAP machine in November of last year, we went to Thailand for a three week vacation. I came back with extra pounds. Then Christmas hit. More pounds. My fiancée and I were planning our wedding, a move, and a job change all at once. With the stress of those big life changes came more pounds. And when I stepped onto the scale a few weeks ago, I was dismayed at what I saw. The blue LEDs of the scale formed the numbers 2–3–6.
I knew I was overweight — I could feel it as I moved my body and see it in the way my clothes fit — but I didn’t want to admit the extent of the problem. Yet there it was, 236 pounds. I hadn’t hit numbers that high since just after my initial 10–month weight loss, years before.
Setbacks like this are part of trying to achieve any long–range goal, but it’s still disheartening to see all your hard work literally eaten up. After I stopped mourning what I had done to myself, though, I started thinking about how to fix things. Our wedding is coming up in November, and I want to look the best I possibly can. I have a plan, and I’m working hard (while trying to make it easy on myself) to get consistent and get my weight back under control. I want this to be the time I get into the best shape of my life, and I think it can be.
So here’s my plan for getting my ass in gear and making this happen:
- Track calories, but don’t go crazy. It’s so easy to drive yourself bonkers counting calories (was it 5 calories or 10 for the balsamic vinegar?).
- To make it easier to track, rotate through the same basic meals or meal templates.
- Walk or bike for at least an hour each day.
- Work standing as much as possible, and alternate between sitting and standing. This is healthier and burns more calories.
- Eat strictly during the week, but enjoy going out to eat once or twice on the weekend. Don’t go overboard on sweets or junk food, and stay within the calorie budget.
- Stop stressing out so much. Relax and let the process work. Don’t micromanage everything. Trust in the plan.
I’ve been implementing these basic principles for a week or two now. I plan to post more about what I’m doing and why I think it works (if indeed it does) in the coming weeks. I want to use myself as a guinea pig to figure out what makes dieting simple and stress-free. I don’t want diet and exercise to rule my life. I just want to get lean and fit. No muss, no fuss. Simple, straightforward, and effective.
Stay tuned for tips and insights from my process.