Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How I lost 100 pounds

How I lost 100 pounds--
without strenuous exercise, surgery, dietary supplements, pre-packaged diets, or giving up junk food!


As I lay in the emergency room writhing in agony the nurse asked, “On a scale of one to ten, how bad would you rate the pain?” “Let’s put it this way” I responded, “If I owned a gun I would not be ready to use it yet, but I would be comforted just knowing it was there.”

She did not think my lame attempt at humor was funny.

I’ve had back pain before but never anything like this! There were some precipitating events that led up to my emergency room visit, of course, but one of the underlying factors was the fact that at only five feet ten inches tall, I weighed 318 pounds!

This was the final straw. I simply had to lose weight. But like most other overweight people, I had tried all kinds of diets and they never worked. In my case I would always loose an encouraging amount of weight at first and then hit a plateau. After a few weeks on the plateau I would decide, “What’s the point of missing out on the food I love when I’m not losing weight anyway?” and that would be the end of the diet.

But clearly I needed to do something. That’s when I discovered that there are free online websites that make calorie counting easy.

It’s all about calories!

Most overweight Christians are painfully aware of what the Bible says about gluttony. For example, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor…” (Prov. 23:20-21a, NIV). Or, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach…” (Phil. 3:19, NIV). One of the roadblocks to my weight loss, however, was that I was convinced that I was not one of those people. I really didn’t think I ate all that much.

What I didn’t realize was that weight loss is not just about the quantity of food we eat, but about how many calories the food contains. I discovered that the amount of calories a food contains is not always very intuitive.

For example, I never would have dreamed that a single “healthy” taco salad at Taco Bell can contain as many calories as three delicious jelly-filled Dunkin Donuts! I didn’t realize that I could stuff myself with four servings of Culvers’ mashed potatoes and gravy (which I love) for about the same amount of calories as a single Big Mac. It’s not just about quantity. It’s about calories. Understanding this fact, allowed me to eat enough food so that I did not go hungry, while staying within what I soon called, my “budget.”

The Budget

To make calorie counting easier, I signed in to CalorieCount.com (later changing to LiveStrong.com) and selected a goal of 230 pounds. This was not an ideal weight, of course, but I thought it was a realistic target. The website asked about the level of my physical activity and I selected the lowest level. I admit it, I was a couch potato (mmm, potatoes!).

According to the website, if I ate 2,400 calories per day I should achieve my goal in about 18 months. I knew, of course, that I could lose more weight—and lose it faster—by lowering my calorie goal, but I wanted a calorie total I could live with permanently. I figured that there was little point in struggling to lose weight if I was just going to gain it back again anyway.

Once I signed up, it was just a matter of keeping track of my calories for the day. Both CalorieCount.com and Livestrong.com make that easy with extensive databases of foods and restaurants which include calorie and nutrition information. All I had to do was type the name of the food and/or restaurant in the search box, fill in the quantity, and click to add it to my list for the day. The websites automatically tally up the calories and other nutritional information. Since I am on the computer every day anyway, searching for foods and recording calories turned out to be easy and even fun.

I have come to call this weight lost program my “budget” rather than my diet. To me, diet implied something I discarded after I reached my goal. I knew if I discarded this, I would immediately begin to gain weight again.

It’s about choices

Next to losing weight, the main goal of my “budget” is to make the right food choices to ensure that I do not get hungry and do not run out of calories before the day is over. After awhile, I discovered that this was relatively easy to do.

It’s all about choices, but contrary to popular opinion it is not always about healthy choices. For example, I significantly cut down on the amount of healthy milk and orange juice I consumed and replaced them with Crystal Light and Diet Coke. Diet Coke may not be the most healthy choice, but for me it cut hundreds of calories out of my daily calorie budget.

In fact, one of the great features of this “budget” is that I can eat just about anything I want. I did not have to cut out the sweets or fast food which I love. I just have to “budget” for them. So for example, I will sometimes cut down on the amount of food I eat during the day just so I have enough calories left over at the end of the day to enjoy cookies or ice cream! This may not be the most healthy choice but being able to enjoy the delicious foods I love is one of the things that has kept me on this “budget” for so long. Besides, when it comes to being unhealthy, weighing 318 pounds at my height has to be near the top of the list.

Paradoxically, although my budget has allowed me to make some less than healthy food choices, overall, I am actually eating more healthy now than I ever ate before! This is because, first, the budget has required me to limit my overall intake of sweets, which is certainly healthier. Second, in order to make my calories stretch for the day, I tend to chose lower calorie (and more healthy) foods like turkey or grilled chicken rather than high fat, high cholesterol (albeit delicious) cheeseburgers or fried chicken. Or, as another example, since I love mashed potatoes, I order Culver’s mashed potatoes and gravy instead of fries. This is not only a more healthy option, but a more filling and lower calorie option as well.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy my cheeseburgers and fried chicken. I just have to budget for them. The point is that while I still eat some junk food, overall I am making more healthy choices than before I was on my budget.

Exercise and going over budget

So what happens when I go over my budget? Simple. I never go over budget on purpose. I have discarded too many diets by thinking, “Well, I’ve blown it again. What’s the use?!” But on those rare occasions when I have accidentally gone over, I compensate by cutting back on calories the following day.

Another strategy for some might be to make up for the added calories by exercise. Both CalorieCount.Com and Livestrong.Com give the option of factoring in exercise. The more I exercise the more calories I’m allowed to consume. I decided against this option, however, because my goal was to lose weight not to exercise so I could eat more.

Speaking of exercise, at first my new “budget” was almost entirely about counting calories. I was, after all, in physical therapy for back pain and even the required walking around the block was uncomfortable. When the back pain went away, however, I began walking more and more. While walking, I often pass the time by listening to an ipod or wrist-radio, talking on my cell phone or praying. This makes walking even more enjoyable.

Once my back was healed, I even began using weights. Nothing serious, mind you. All I have is a cheap incline bench and a couple of dumbbells. Muscle tone helps increase metabolism which helps lose weight!

At 318 pounds, exercise was drudgery but I discovered a happy--rather than vicious--cycle. The more weight I lost, the more I enjoyed the exercise. I discovered, however, while exercise is essential to good health, it did very little to help me lose weight. Losing weight was all about calories.

Other strategies

One of the websites suggested that I should eat all of my allotted calories for the day. If I consistently come in under my target for the day, it may cause me to start becoming hungry which would make it harder to stay on the budget. I love this rule because if I get to the end of my day and have calories left over, I can eat the rest of my calories just for the sheer pleasure of eating— and do so entirely guilt-free! This was one of those features that helped me stay on the budget for so long.

Finally, I mentioned earlier how those pesky plateaus have been the downfall of many of my previous diets. I found a simple solution. I only weigh myself once a month. This turned out to be great strategy! There were times—especially as I got closer to my goal—that my weight loss for the month would be minimal, but I almost always lost something each month and that was enough to keep me going. Even if I only lost a couple pounds for the entire month, I would look at a pound of hamburger in the freezer to remind myself that losing two pounds is no small accomplishment.


I’ve now been on my “budget” for over two years and I have exceeded my initial goal of 230 pounds. In fact, after I got down to 230 I was able to comfortably lower my calorie limit to 2,000 and am now down to 210 pounds and still dropping. I feel better, look better, and have much fewer back problems. In fact, I think I’ll celebrate by having some cake and ice cream—but only if it fits within my budget for the day.


Kevin said...

And all without the help of Michelle Obama :D

Phil said...

Dennis, I only discovered your blogspot blog about a week ago and this one now. As I scroll through your VERY thorough list of topics, I am yet in awe of the VAST amounts of information that you have navigated, read, processed, considered, and profided. I only had one class with you (and saw a few presentations on topics in other classes) and you were an amazing professor. As I expressed on my facebook, I am greatly indebt to you for the education you provided for me then and now, long after graduating (and now I'm doing masters work in psychology) you CONTINUE to provide a great source of education for me.

On that note, as someone who has been doing vast amounts of research on healthy living (as I have needed to improve my physical shape as well, not to the tune of losing over 100 pounds; more like about 25, but improvement none the less), I cannot help but to have to comment on this entry simply out of care for a man who has given much to me.

When I saw you at the Subway last month I did noticed that you had clearly lost a LOT of weight (but I was still suffering from PTSD from having to spend a couple of hours in Dinkytown, a place I absolutely despise [imagine driving around in a pickup truck {amongst countless environmentalists staring you down} with a horse trailer trying to find a place to part....!! it doesn't happen] and thus still dazed and confused and not very "conversational").

But where I'm going with this is to beware of other health issues that could arise from what you've got going on.

For starters, as a means to LOSE WEIGHT and get to a certain point wehre adjustments can be made, there does not seem to be a HUGE ongoing problem with such means of eating. However, it is not ALL about counting calories but knowing where you GET those calories. In other words, are they calories from fat, carbs, or protein (the three primary sources of calories). Now granted, there are approximately 9 calories per gram of fat and 4 calories per carb and protein so, if you're eating low cals you're probably cutting out the fat in order to be able to actually eat. But a healthy diet consists of a calorie consumption ratio of approximately 50%/30%/20% of carbs/protein/fat respectively. Like I had said before, I suspect that your diet is lower in fat in order to be able to keep calories low, but part of my point here also is to remember that with the wrong balance of carbs/protein/fat you might also be contributing OTHER health issues that could be more detrimental than extra weight in the long run.

Phil said...

Carbohydrate diets (like Atkins) would have you more like 2%/30%/68% of carbs/proteins/fats respectively. This DOES cause a rapid weight loss but weight loss that is too rapid is not healthy and these diets lead to what is referred to in the "fitness world" as "bonking". A deficit of carbs causes headaches, weakness, and other health issues. These ratios do have flexibility depending on your workout regime If you're looking to build muscle than you want to decrease carbs and increase protein; for a HEATHLY diet the fat intake stays about the same.

Also, it would by hypothetically possible to get all of your calories from one source which could give you teh ability to eat all dang day and not go over "budget". That being said, if your diet is not properly planned you are still being malnourished if you are not taking in proper vitamins and minerals.

What I am referring to is that you referenced drinking diet coke instead of milk or orange juice to reduce calorie intake. This is fine and dandy if you are still getting what you need of vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, etc. I might have missed it but there was not much clarity in your entry as to your intake of vitamins.

Also, you suggested the ability to lose weight faster if you cut even MORE calories. I am glad you said you didn't do this. To lose weight in a healthy way, it is suggested to be at approximately a 500 calorie deficit per day, totalling at approximately 3500 calories per week. It takes, if memory serves me, losing 3000 calories to lose 1 pound of fat. HOWEVER, if you go much beyond a 500 calorie per day deficit your body can actually enter "starvation" mode. At this point your body can actually start STORING fat and you can lose muscle mass.

Phil said...

As a final note, it might not be a bad idea (if you aren't already) to take a daily vitamin supplement. When you are at a calorie deficit it is also very likely that you are not taking in the vitamins you need (aside from teh influence of dietary choices as well). I would NOT suggest one-a-days because they are frequently made of synthesized vitamins and minerals which your body is not nearly as able to make use of and, in some cases, they do absolutely nothing for you.

Again, congrats on dropping 100 pounds, I'm glad to hear it. I only write this as a concerned former student (and even current student given the vast amounts of reading materials you've provided). Your brain and thoughts are a GREAT asset to this world and I'd like to see it around for a LONG time yet. Hope I've provided helpful information for you.

(as a note, soy nuts are a great snack. They don't have a lot of flavor but they do have a great texture and crunch; they'd be great in a salad or something They are very high in protein and in dietry fiber).

God Bless,

Dennis said...


Thank you for your kind words. When I first started my dietary "budget" I made a conscious choice to be concerned only with calories--not with nutrition. My main goal was to not get hungry or "sugar cravings", in other words, to stay with it. I figured that my first concern should be losing the weight.

I found that the choices I had to make to eat more on less calories tended to be more healthy choices anyway. For example, I eat much more chicken and turkey and less beef than I used to.

And now that I've lost the weight, I often think more of the nutrition side. For example, I eat far less snacks like Hostess cupcakes or twinkies than I used to and I will often choose raisin bran as a snack rather than cookies or something just to cut down on the sugar intake.

I do take a multi-vitimin--but that vitimin is One-a-Day. Is Centrum any better? Any recommendations?

Phil said...

Good deal, I'm glad to hear that you are more "nutrition" centered as well.

As far as "suggestions", I personally take the Mega Man Sports Pack from GNC. This vitamin is more oriented toward doing heavier workouts, however (it has a higher protein/iron content than many supplements and contains creatine too). So, that one might not be the one for you; I'm not sure how "heavy" you've been working out.

I wouldn't consider myself an expert by any means as far as vitamin supplements are concerned though. The ones I am taking were suggested to me by a guy I serve with who is in VERY good shape (he's probably about 170 pounds and bench presses around 300 pounds... so you tell me) and also from a few tips I received from an inmate at my work who was a professional power lifter (and world record holder). But the suggestions I received were based on the idea of heavier workouts too (which I've been slacking at this past couple of weeks).

Phil said...

As a follow up note; I think (I didn't re-read the whole thing) I had mentioned about soy nuts as being high in fiber and high in protein... they are also high in estrogen... as well as other substances that have been found to have a connection to slowing proper thyroid functioning...

Which means for a man trying to build manly muscle and for weight loss... ultimately not likely the best way to go...

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