Content warning: Discussion of weight loss and food monitoring.
In March of 2021, I emerged from a winter of severe depression to face several facts:
- I was three months away from being 49 years old.
- I was in horrible physical condition, largely as a result of trying to survive a year of what my eye doctor calls the pandamnit.
- My Dad had died just five months before from a virus virtually nobody in my state was taking seriously, and it seemed to be specifically targeting the obese and people with high blood pressure.
- I was obese and had high blood pressure.
- My wife was immunocompromised, and while I am limited in my ability to protect her from this virus, I wanted to do everything I could to make sure I did not die, leaving her behind to deal with life in this dystopian hellscape.
You know what didn’t figure into my decision-making at all? My appearance. These days, my body looks like a Crisco can on top of two tooth picks. I used to be slim and muscly. But I also used to be 19. I don’t expect to look the same way at 49 that I did at 19.
I didn’t want to be “skinny”. I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to not die. I wanted to not have the joint pain and diabetes and heart disease men in my family get in their fifties. But mostly, I wanted to not die and leave Renee behind to try to survive in all this.
I’m not telling you what you ought to do. I’m just telling you what I did, and the thinking that got me here. You do you, boo.
Like many folks, I have lost weight before. But they were all “diets”, designed to help me lose weight, with no real plan for what happens after that. But that wasn’t my goal this time: I wanted to live. I needed to change my life.
Actually, that seemed overwhelming. So I decided to do a thing I do when I’m starting a new project: I ask myself what I want the end to look like, and then work backwards. In say, a year, I wanted to be physically active, have lots of energy, and have healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels. And then I wanted to maintain that for the rest of my life.
I like to eat. Food is important to me, and table fellowship is important to me, so food restrictions that make it difficult to eat with other people and receive hospitality from them are nonstarters for me. Unsure what that would look like, I eventually learned of the connection between my ADHD and food that made me constantly overeat – that my object permanence issues caused me to eat mindlessly, and I had no idea how much I was actually eating.
So I started tracking my food. No goal, just using an app to track my food. I needed more data than I had. It turns out I was routinely eating about 3500 calories a day. Was that good? Bad? Let’s do some research!
Now – I am the first to say that the medical establishment targets and discounts fat people unfairly. I was just looking for data. And according to the medical establishment, people who were my height had better health outcomes on average when they took in about 2,000 calories of energy a day. And people my age tend to have better health outcomes on average when they are moderately active for 30 minutes each day.
So, now I had a benchmark. Could I live on 2,000 calories a day? It took several weeks to get it dialed in, to see what the things were that triggered mindless eating for me, the things that told my body to snack, the things I did routinely (like eating peanut butter out of the jar every night before bed) that set me up for eating more than I realized. I also was reminded that I thrive on routine, so, as an example, once I realized that most of my breakfasts were usually one of three things, or that I tended to eat one of four things for lunch if I was working from home, that became a habit.
For example, ¾ cup of oatmeal, ¾ cup of blueberries, 10 grams of butter = breakfast for 272 calories. It became a habit, and thus, a thing I didn’t have to think about. I was teaching myself to be aware of food in a way I hadn’t before, but I was also teaching myself what a “serving” size looked like.
Growing up, it was a sin to waste food, so you ate what was on your plate. A serving was however much was on your plate. How much cereal should I eat? Well, how much is in the bowl?
Turns out, a serving of Honey Nut Cheerios is more than you think it is, and a serving of milk is too much for that amount of cereal. Just learning to eat actual portions of food was huge in my progress. (1 cup of Honey Nut Cheerios and half a cup of 2% milk is 200 calories, by the way.)
For the first time in my life, I was actively, consciously, eating, instead of passively.
Meanwhile, I started waking every day. A bit more than 2 miles each day, a little more than 30 minutes. After a month or so, it was another habit. Later – much later – I would add swimming and weight lifting into the mix.
I never had a “goal weight”, because the goal was to be healthy, not to lose weight. The nearly 100 pounds I had gained as an adult was because I was taking in a lot more fuel than my body required. If I balanced my energy outputs and fuel intakes, that would sort itself out.
And there is no finish line. This is just what I do now. There are days I eat more than the 2,000 calories someone my size should eat regularly, but other days I eat less, and because I don’t have a goal, I can’t relapse. Some days I get busy and don’t exercise, and it doesn’t matter – because this is just what I do now. It doesn’t matter what I do any one day – it matters what I do repeatedly. I didn’t need a diet – I needed some new habits.
I don’t restrict anything. On my birthday, I ate cake. At Christmas, I ate fudge pie. Tonight, I ate tater tots and chili dogs. (940 calories). There is no such thing as bad food – just food that has more energy or less energy, and I don’t need to store extra energy, so I eat what my body needs, which is about 2,000 calories each day.
Now, because somebody will ask: Yes, I have lost weight – just under 50 pounds so far. It’s been very slow but I don’t care, because the weight is not the goal: My being healthy is. Theoretically, I will lose another 30 pounds or so before my body settles out on a balance between my energy use and 2,000 calories of daily fuel, but it doesn’t matter to me when it happens, or even if it does.
And how’s that coming? Well, I swim about 30 minutes most days, and my resting heart rate has dropped almost ten beats a minute since March. I can walk a brisk pace for miles and carry on a conversation with you the whole time. And this afternoon, my blood pressure was a quite sound 118/64, far better than the hypertensive 155/99 I was at just before the pandemic started. I don’t get extreme headaches after eating any more, and I don’t wake up in the middle of the night craving water or sugar anymore.
I feel good. I have the healthiest relationship with food I have ever had in my life. I feel like I can do this the rest of my life, because I’m not on a diet: This is just what I do now.