Today is September 17th and I am sitting on the cusp of hitting a major goal.
On July 1st, soon after reading Alex King’s stirring post, I set a goal of losing almost 33 pounds by September 18th. That way, when I would go on vacation in Germany, I would have hit 200 pounds for the first time in well over a decade. I sincerely didn’t think it would work. I was convinced that it was crazy and that I should really stop bullshitting myself and expect instead that it would take a couple of years.
But with the help of a local nutrition class, a lot of encouragement from my friends and family, a heap of diligence and a pinch of luck, I seem to have nailed it on the nose!
What was the secret?
It turns out that weight loss is not rocket science. It’s simple… sort of. Fundamentally, you take in calories, and you burn calories. If you take in more than you burn, you generally gain weight.
There are myriad apps out there for calorie counting and fitness. I personally like Lose It the best although My Fitness Pal is also totally reasonable. The thing that I like about these services and their apps is that they make it incredibly easy to track my consumption. Most of the time I can just scan barcodes with my phone and instantly see the nutrition details.
Shane and Reid nudged me for years to try joining a fitness group of some sort. I don’t know why I have been so reluctant. But I finally talked to my doctor and she referred me right to a group that is run by the Santa Cruz Medical Foundation. The group is one of many across the country spawned from the Diabetes Prevention Program. Originally this program was designed to help people who are at high risk of diabetes from succumbing to the disease but it proved to be so effective in terms of numerous other wellbeing factors that it’s become widely adopted within medical foundations.
Basically, the principals are simple. Spend a year aiming to lose 7% of your body weight by making permanent, informed, healthy habits regarding diet and fitness. Most people who actually put in the effort and attend regularly keep the weight off and live substantially longer and healthier lives. And the best part is.. I can say that, not based on here-say, but based on a careful and repeated study.
Apparently, counting calories and reporting to a class on a regular basis is enough in itself to have a substantial impact on people’s wellbeing. Because, really, the problem that we all suffer from is an intersection of excessive consumption combined with chronic absent mindedness. Simply forcing yourself to be aware of what you’re doing is a huge step.
Having junk food on the kitchen counter, in the refrigerator, or at my desk substantially increases the likelihood that I’ll eat it.
Actually, there are well known studies that show that will power is expendable. And that after walking by a cookie and resisting it often enough, I will eventually cave and eat it or maybe something much worse. So removing the cookies is key.
But beyond that, there are much more profound yet subtle ways that I had to tune my environment. Mostly, I had to surround myself with more healthy food… Lots of ready to eat fruit. Cucumber salad takes some time to make but is low in calories and a wonderful supplement to any meal. Apple chips are delightful and calorie cheap. And often I’ll make salmon or barbecue chicken in batches so that it’ll last for a few days so that I’ve got easy healthy meals that don’t take any effort.
We are lazy. Don’t fight it. Prepare for it.
I have always hated running. In grade school, I was always that asthmatic overweight kid that the whole class was waiting for to finish laps. I’ve always assumed that I’m just not made for running.
However, Reid and Shane inspired me to work at it. The honest truth is that running and swimming are probably the most efficient ways to burn calories (aside from maybe Reid’s crazy Tabata routines… but that’s another story). I’ve been running for a year and a half. I hate it less every month. And recently, I started to actually like it.
It has been especially fulfilling since it started to directly correlate to my weight loss. I can see the impact of my exercise when I weigh in the next day. The visceral effect of seeing my weight drop is formidable motivator.
I have lived with a sense of self loathing for most of my life. I have spent a large part of my time feeling uncomfortable in my body.
What the f#%$ have I been waiting for? It’s ridiculous. It’s like having a rock in my shoe every day. For my whole life. And rather than stoping and emptying my shoe, I’ve persisted in limping about.
Now every time I’m faced with an ice cream, I picture myself agonizing over my body, loathing myself. Then I picture myself lighter and free and energetic. I imagine the confidence that I would be sacrificing by eating this ice cream. I consider the idea that it is literally hastening illness and death. Is it worth it? Not usually. Though… sometimes it is.
Now every time I’m faced with having to get up off my butt and run, I picture myself agonizing over my body, loathing myself. Then I picture myself lighter and free and energetic. I imagine the confidence that I would be gaining by throwing myself into a sweat. I consider the idea that it is literally staving off illness and extending my life. Is it worth it? Yes. Especially when there’s a new Radio Lab, This American Life, 99% Invisible, or even a Stuff You Should Know podcast.
The weekly meeting is a form of support. The customized environment is a form of support. But ultimately I need all my friends and family to be on my side. So I am not hiding my hopes and fears. I am not hiding my success or my failures. Instead, I am communicating transparently. And in return, I am being awarded unequivocal support from everyone I know. And I am deeply grateful and delighted.
It’s Not Me, It’s You
I don’t suffer any illusion that I have will power. I am not strong. I am lucky. I am supported. I am doing well enough all around that the work I put into this feels relatively easy. But I am acutely aware of how tenuous good fortune can be and how easy it is to lose inspiration.
So for anyone reading this who does not feel like they are equipped to meet their aspirations, I have this to offer…
We succeed, not by our solitary strength, but by the support of our community. We succeed, not by fighting our demons head on, but by educating ourselves and learning to see through them. And the only way that your community can help you is if you are completely transparent and invite honest and thoughtful criticism – the truest act of love.