Twelve years ago I weighed 220 pounds (100 kilograms) with rising blood pressure, high cholesterol, and reaching pre-diabetic glucose numbers. Pills are out of the question for me since I have real problems taking them consistently and I really wanted a healthier lifestyle over medications. The moment where I knew I had to take massive action was when I decided I would jog to the corner and back. Living in the countryside meant the corner was a quarter mile away (.4 kilometers). I figured I would start slow with a small run and build as my endurance strengthened. One problem: I could not run all the way to the corner.
The run started out okay as a lopsided wobble which quickly devolved into burning lungs. Two-thirds of the way to my goal I was hugging my knees. I was determined to make it happen. I stood back up, tall and proud and walked to the corner, turned around and started walking back. I was pissed at myself. Years of sitting in a chair working accounting followed by sitting in a chair all night as I read books had taken its toll. The only saving grace was my farm. I had some muscle mass as I needed to lift hay and clean the barn. The farm work was limited to twice a day for fifteen to thirty minutes so I could not count on farming to preserve or rebuild my health.
When I decide to do something I set a goal. I set goals differently from most people. My goal was a vague: weight less, reduce cholesterol, reduce glucose level, and run to the corner and back without a heart attack. For any goal to work you need to record where you are at on a regular basis. I started writing down my weight each morning on a calendar. The goal: weight less than I did on the same day the week before. You see, I had no idea at which weight I would feel healthiest so my goal was to weigh less each week. Losing a pound a week was a reasonable goal. The fat came off until I weighed 180 pounds (82 kilograms) a year later. I continued to trim until I dropped below 170 pounds (77 kilograms) for a while at which point I no longer felt I had energy. I slowly added a few pounds until I felt awesome. Here is how I did it:
- Eat Less: I watched what I ate like a hawk. The junk food was out, protein and healthy carbs were in. I tracked my daily calorie intake for that first year. I also guestimated how many calories I burned each day working and running. The first weeks were hard as my body acclimated to the new diet and daily exercise.
- Diet: Losing weight without losing muscle mass is a challenge if you do not monitor your diet. My muscle mass was relatively low, but the light farm work meant my frame carried some muscle, especially arms and legs from lifting. I added protein to my diet, mostly by eating more chicken. Soda, my worst vice, was given the heave-ho along with the junk food. Evenings were the worst. I tend to binge eat as I read into the wee hours of the night. A concerted effort to stop eating late at night, even if it was good food, was made. This one act, coupled with running, took off the pounds fast.
- Exercise: The running came easier as consistency built endurance. Soon I was running to the corner and back without effort. Then I ran a mile, then two, then three. Before long my normal run was five miles 3-4 times per week with longer runs at least once per week. Eventually I ran a few 5Ks and a half marathon. I kept running, but stopped paying good money to run races when running is free (except for a new pair of cheap shoes every six months) down the side of the road.
- Gym: I joined a gym, another wasteful spending vice I prefer to keep. To recoup some of the cost, ninety-eight percent of my showers are taken at the gym. The cold winters of northeast Wisconsin reduces some running opportunities for a few months of the year so I started using a treadmill for inclement weather.
A year later my weight was down, cholesterol count was perfect, glucose was down, and blood pressure was awesome for a man my age. No pills were needed. I felt better than ever.
It was time to use the gym to build muscle mass. Between runs I lifted weights. It was slow going at first. I recorded everything like a nice boy with OCD. Before long I was adding muscle to my frame. Protein drinks were added to my diet to facilitate muscle growth. A year later I added nearly twenty pounds of muscle mass. I put it on slow and kept it.
Back Into the Fire
Heavy running makes it hard to build muscle mass. Reducing the miles I ran each week while increasing lifting workout intensity kept adding muscle. Heavy running and lifting requires a lot of calories. I was always eating and still hungry. Soon I reached 190 pounds (86 kilograms) with the added muscle. The truth is I reduced my running a lot to build the muscle. Without reduced running the muscle had nothing to build with.
I was a lean, mean fighting machine at 190. I felt awesome with loads of energy and the ability to lift and carry with ease. Carrying feed bags to the barn went from one 50 pound bag (22.68 kilograms) to two on each shoulder.
Some running was replaced by biking. Without heavy running and starting to eat late at night again, including soda and junk food, the weight started to creep up. Even biking to the office (a 30 mile round trip (48 kilometers)) was not enough to offset the added eating. Running burns more calories than biking.
Recently I hit another “dammit” moment. I currently weight 204 pounds (I never stopped recording my weight daily), and need to get my running form back. My physic is good except for the stomach area. For guys, weight goes there first. The good news is I have significantly more muscle mass than when I started the first time. The best weight for me would be around 190 pounds, so I realistically need to lose about 15 pounds. Since I am closer to my ideal weight and exercise regularly, I only need to tweak my daily routine. Rather than taking off a pound a week, I will take a slower approach to reducing weight this time.
The New Game Plan
The idea is to take it off and keep it off. My cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure are good due to regular exercise, but if my health is allowed to deteriorate health issues will reappear.
This time my goal is more firm; I want to reduce weight to 190 pounds over the next year and flattening the stomach. A one or two pound reduction per month will do the trick. Here is the detailed game plan:
- Diet: The old habits causing problems are on the firing line: late night snacking, soda, and junk food. Soda is my bane! The chips have got to go and the late night snacking needs curtailing. Soda? Well, soda needs to be eliminated, but I may have to settle for a reduction. At home I have no soda; at the office it is freely available and a problem. I could always retire for real. Then I would have no reason to go to the office. Yeah! I like that.
- Exercise: I want to increase running a bit. I got away from running and did more biking. The running really ramps the metabolism. I lift three days a week at the gym and will remain consistent. Other than increasing running a tad, the exercise routine is in order.
- Caffeine: Too much caffeine encourages appetite and poor eating habits for me. I need to cut back on caffeinated beverages.
- Protein: My diet shifted more toward carbs as my weight crept higher. Increasing healthy protein also helps curb appetite. I rarely consume protein drinks anymore and pounding down meat all day is not always the healthiest choice either. I think I will add protein to my diet with legumes. I’ll follow-up over the next months to let you know how it is going.
Always use common sense when adjusting diet and exercise. Only you know your body and condition. It might be a good idea to even consult your doctor and nutritionist if you need radical changes.
Depending where you are personally, I invite you to join me on this life-long journey of healthy living. Wealth means nothing if you don’t have your health. Most readers can take steps to improve their health. My oldest daughter is using the same techniques to add weight; she is very thin. It does not matter where you are now; what matters is where you are going. Record your progress each day. Don’t let a setback or plateau discourage you. A healthier mind and body from a healthy lifestyle is the greatest wealth of all.