As I continue working towards my goal weight and keep seeing positive gains (or losses, as it were) every week, I want to share some of the tips and simple changes that I've made that have helped me to be as successful as I have been so far. Also, New Year's will be here before we know it and losing weight is one of the most commonly made - and broken - New Year's resolutions. With the holiday season coming up fast, first the big meals of Thanksgiving and then Christmas, not to mention how people tend to get lazy and sit around in warm, comfortable clothes and put on the pounds when the weather outside is chilly and uninviting for physical activity, I think now is as good a time as any to give you 5 fairly simple changes you can make to help lose weight without a lot of work, without having to spend a ton of money (or any at all, really) and without any gimmicks. Following all of these suggestions is how I have managed to lose 63 lbs in 10 weeks and I haven't had a single week of weight gain so far.
5. Stop drinking sodas and other sugary drinks.
Sounds easy, but doing it is pretty difficult. Most people who enjoy enough sodas or sugary drinks a day for it to be a problem are probably also hooked on the sugar, caffeine or both. However, each 12oz can of soda you drink is anywhere from 150-190 calories and it's pure sugar. There's no nutritional value to those calories whatsoever and, in fact, eating sugar just makes you crave even more sugar, so you end up feeling thirstier and it can cause you to get the munchies for junk food snacks. Just replacing regular sodas and sugary drinks in your diet with water or sugar-free drinks can knock 20lbs off of you easy.
So, how did I do it? Coke Zero. My friends have heard about Coke Zero from me over and over and I'm sure they're sick of it, but it's the reason I was able to kick my addiction to regular sodas and I haven't had so much as a sip of regular soda since I began my weight loss program. Coke Zero is a great alternative for people who really don't like the taste of diet soda, like myself. I thought that eliminating regular sodas would be my Achilles' heel because of how much I disliked diet sodas and how hooked I am on the caffeine. Coke Zero is great because it has a much more mild "diet" flavor than normal diet sodas. It also has caffeine, so my other non-fattening addiction is still satisfied. Also, there's cherry and vanilla Coke Zero as well, so there's some flavor variety. Pepsi has it's own 0 calorie "non-diet, diet" soda with Pepsi Max. It's good, but I prefer the Coke Zero. Dr. Pepper recently introduced a 10 calorie diet soda too, but I hate Dr. Pepper...
4. Drink more water.
This is a natural match with the first suggestion of eliminating sugary drinks. To fill the void and to help your body burn fat and calories, you should be drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day. This sounds like a lot when you stack 8 glasses next to each other, but it can be done fairly easily. First of all, once you successfully replace regular sodas and sugary drinks with sugar-free alternatives, you can start replacing one or two sodas per day with a bottle of water instead. Use flavorings like Crystal Light to make your water more enjoyable if you want. They're only 10 calories per "on the go" packet, which mixes with an 18-20oz bottle of water and right there with each bottle of water you have 2 of your 8 glasses down.
Drinking more water has a number of positive effects on your body. First, it helps control hunger. Often, when we think we're hungry, we're actually thirsty and having a tall glass of water would completely curb that hungry feeling. When we do eat, water helps to fill you up and it also helps with digestion. Drinking enough water also helps your skin, both in moisturizing and keeping your pores clean. Studies have shown that drinking those 8 glasses of water per day can cause you to lose 10-20lbs or more just by itself.
3. Eat your vegetables!
If you're like me at all, you don't really like vegetables. If you do like vegetables, then good for you, you're already better off than I was 10 weeks ago! I've never been a veggie guy. I considered my side of fries to be enough veggies for my meal. Fortunately, I've always loved salads. One of the biggest tips to eat better without starving yourself is to load up your plate with vegetables, so if you want to lose weight without feeling hungry, eat your veggies!
With the help of my nutritionist, I learned about the "50/25/25" method of preparing a plate of food. What that means is 50% of your plate should be veggies, 25% should be your protein and 25% beans or starchy side. So, in my case, half my plate is a big green salad with sliced carrots, mixed greens, maybe some black beans or a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, then I have a 4-6oz piece of chicken or other lean protein like pork loin, turkey or lean beef and then I have maybe 1/4 cup of beans, potatoes, corn or whole wheat pasta. If you are eating properly throughout the day and drinking enough water, this is more than enough of a meal to keep you satisfied. In fact, most meals I skip the starchy side entirely and just eat even more salad. Keeping carbs, sugars and fats low is the most effective way to trim empty calories from your diet. Speaking of which, I use low-fat Italian or vinaigrette or yogurt ranch dressings on my salads, they have a lot less calories and fat than regular dressings but taste almost exactly the same.
2. Eat 4 times a day.
Yes, I am saying that in order to lose weight you should eat more often per day than you probably are right now. Most people eat twice a day at most, maybe 3 if you count that late-night snack that you always seem to be craving just before bed time. That might seem to make sense - "Hey, I'm eating less often, so that's good, right?" - But the reality is that it's actually worse for you. See, while your brain might realize that you aren't going to let yourself starve to death, your body doesn't know that at all. When you first wake up in the morning, your body wants food so that it knows to start running all systems at peak efficiency. Having something as simple as a piece of fruit and a cup of Greek yogurt or having 2 eggs and an orange gives you essential nutrition, both in vitamins and protein and it tells your body to go ahead and start running full-steam ahead because it's got the fuel coming in. Eating breakfast jump-starts your metabolism and if you can combine that breakfast with a 30-minute workout, you're really off to a fantastic start. There has been research done that suggests exercising first thing in the morning can burn up to twice the calories of doing it later in the day.
So, breakfast is essential. You should always eat breakfast. If you aren't hungry, even better, have a light breakfast. I suggested Greek yogurt earlier because it's high in protein and non-fat. It's an excellent source of protein at breakfast. So are eggs and cereals like Kashi that contain soy protein. Eat a piece of fruit on the side instead of having a glass of fruit juice. Why? Because most fruit juices contain added sugars and calories and you probably wouldn't be able to eat the 4 or 5 oranges that it takes to make a small glass of orange juice, so why not just have one orange and a cup of coffee instead? (non-fat creamer and sugar substitute, of course).
Next, eat lunch. If you eat breakfast, your body will let you know when it's lunch time by being about 100 times hungrier than you would have been had you skipped breakfast. That's that whole "body running at full-power" thing I was talking about earlier. When you let your body know it will get food from the get-go, it burns off all the food you give it and you feel hungrier sooner. When you skip breakfast, your body goes into "energy storage" mode and you don't feel as hungry as soon, since your body is storing the energy it has instead of burning through it. Thus, you don't burn as many calories, you don't burn as much fat, you don't lose weight.
For lunch, you can have a nice meal. There's an old saying "Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for dinner". There is a lot of wisdom in this because the more you eat early in the day, the longer your body has to burn it off - whereas if you eat a big dinner late in the evening, your body most likely won't be able to work it all off before you go to bed and the rest gets turned into fat. So, if you can't make yourself eat a big breakfast (I have that problem), then treat yourself to a good lunch. Have a sandwich, but hold the mayo. Avoid things that are big sources of high calories - like tortillas, chips, candy, etc. I know eating a big lunch for a lot of people isn't easy, especially if you have to go back to work afterwards. You don't want to feel all full and gross when you still have half the day left. However, you can have a good-sized, nutritionally-rich meal, not feel "gross full" because you didn't load up on fats and carbs and it will give you a ton of energy to get through the last half of the day on.
Late in the day, have an apple or a banana or snack on some baby carrots or eat an orange. Have a piece of fruit and maybe a small handful of nuts or something. Eating a little snack in the afternoon helps fight the urge to hit up the vending machines for a coke or a candy bar to get that sugar and caffeine rush to finish the day by giving you better energy with a fraction of the calories. Also, you won't feel as hungry when you get home and that will make you less likely to over-eat at dinner.
Speaking of dinner, remember the "50/25/25" rule! Have a big ol' pile of veggies - whatever kind you like. Just remember, tempura veggies aren't healthy, asparagus or broccoli covered in cheese sauce isn't healthy! Have a big salad or a pile of steamed, roasted or grilled vegetables and learn to love chicken, pork, turkey and fish. I'm still working on loving fish, can't quite get over my dislike for most seafood, but apparently as soon as I can start embracing fish, I'll be blessed with all kinds of healthy oils and stuff that's supposed to be awesome for me, so I guess I have that to look forward to! At any rate, load up on the high-fiber, low-calorie, vitamin-rich goodness that is vegetables, make sure you get enough protein on your plate and go easy on the taters, cheese and butter wherever possible.
1. Get up and move!
When I first started my weight loss program, I could barely walk around my block once without feeling like I was about to have a heart attack. 10 weeks later and I'm walking a mile every morning and 3.5 miles every evening. I'm also strength training twice a day - in the morning and evening. 10 weeks ago, I would have never thought I'd be capable of what I'm doing now without even thinking about it. One of the biggest things that I wanted to accomplish through my weight loss was to be able to be active, go places and walk around and do things without being winded, sweaty and sore from it. Something as simple as walking around a mall or along the beach was unacceptably difficult for me and I was frankly tired of it. I was tired of sitting in the car and watching my wife go run errands by herself because I couldn't handle staying on my feet long enough to walk around the mall. I was tired of driving by points of interest and wishing I could get out and walk down there and check everything out, but knowing I would be regretting it halfway into it when I was out of breath and sweating like a pig. I was in such terrible shape and so overweight when I started my program that I didn't know if I would ever be able to do those things again. I went into this thinking "If I can just get in good enough shape that I can walk 3 blocks in San Francisco without feeling like I'm going to die, then I will call that a victory." Well, I can walk all over the streets of SF today, no problem. When we plan trips now, I go out of my way to take time to go places where we can walk around and enjoy the sights. It all started with getting off the couch, putting one foot in front of the other and taking a nightly walk...
No matter who you are, you have access to the means of getting enough exercise and activity to see results. I didn't have money to buy exercise equipment or a gym membership, but what I did have was sidewalk and lots of it. My wife and I started going for nightly walks, taking the dogs around the block with us. After the first week, we added a second block, then a third and pretty soon we had to leave the dogs at home because they couldn't keep up with us anymore. Now, like I said, I'm walking almost 5 miles a day like it's nothing.
If you can make time to be physically active for 30 minutes a day, you will see results, I promise you. 30 minutes where you get your heart rate up, breathing a little heavy and working up a sweat. Play in the yard with your kids, go for a brisk walk, do some laps in the pool if you have one. If you have access to exercise equipment, all the better! Do 30 minutes on the treadmill or exercise bike. Do some strength training. If you don't have weights, lift cans from the pantry or jugs full of water. Empty milk jugs filled with water make a great free weight. Start working those ab muscles out, do leg-lifts, stretches and work towards being able to do crunches or sit-ups. It's not going to happen overnight, so don't be discouraged if you get tired easily when you start. Don't push yourself too hard or you'll get burned out and want to quit. Just do enough to feel it and know you pushed yourself and call it a day. Keep pushing yourself every week and I guarantee you will see positive results from it. When I first started walking and could barely make it around my block one time I lost 14 lbs that week, it was my biggest single-week weight loss so far. Don't think that a little bit of physical activity doesn't make a difference because I'm proof that it does. Yes, being out of breath and sweaty and sore sucks when you aren't used to it, but I know that when you get on that scale and you see a 10+ lb loss from a week of eating better and pushing yourself to be active every evening, it will all be worth it. In a month, when you are looking forward to that walk or that workout or you're beating the kids at whatever game it is you're playing with them outside, it will definitely be worth it. In 6 months, when you're within sight of your goal weight, your old clothes are swimming on you and everyone thinks you got surgery or something... well... then you'll wonder why you didn't do all of this years ago.
When I first started my weight loss program, I weighed 400 lbs even. In 10 weeks, I'm down to 337 lbs. I didn't do anything crazy, just the stuff I listed up there. I changed my eating habits, eliminated junk food and sugary snacks and started walking every evening. Every evening eventually became every morning and evening and I added in more and more strength training and I'm now able to do real sit-ups again for the first time since I was in high school. I'm walking more now than I have in 20 years. I'm on track to be very close to 300 lbs by the end of the year and for the first time in my life I'm going to make a New Year's resolution that I plan on keeping - to never, ever be as big again as I am by Dec. 31st of this year. I know a lot of people say "If I can do it, anyone can do it." but really, I mean it. I was the guy who never exercised, who ate bacon double cheeseburgers two at a time with super-sized fries and monster cokes. I made all the worst choices when it came to my health for my entire life. I never tried to diet and exercise once in my adult life, never even had the slightest inclination to attempt it. I didn't care if I got fatter, I didn't care if I couldn't do as much as I used to... until I did care. It took me getting to the point that even the simplest physical activities were really difficult, to the point where people were obviously treating me negatively because of my weight, to the point that I just wasn't physically able to do things most people take for granted - like sitting in a booth at a restaurant or getting on a ride at an amusement park or even going to the bathroom properly. It took me realizing that if I didn't make a serious change soon, I probably wasn't going to be around much longer.
When I started my weight loss program, my goal was to lose 10% of my weight and get gastric bypass. Quick-fix solution to my weight problem without having to make all the difficult lifestyle changes necessary to lose it on my own. However, by the time I reached my pre-surgery goal, I knew I wanted to keep doing what I was doing and lose the weight on my own, without the aid of surgery. I don't have a problem with GB or any other bariatric surgery, I think whatever people have to do in order to reverse extreme obesity and get control of their lives again is worth it, but I know that when you work for it, when you make the necessary lifestyle changes to get the weight off and keep it off without surgery, you're that much more prepared to make the positive changes permanent and live your life every day as a healthier, thinner and more active person. I don't just want to drop a ton of weight and then struggle unsuccessfully with keeping it off like so many of my friends who have gotten GB surgery have done. I want to lose this weight and never gain it back again. I want to not only look better, but feel better too. I want to have a healthy and active lifestyle, to go places and do things and enjoy all that life has to offer. It's not going to be an easy journey, I know this, but all I have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and I'll get there. That's all any of us has to do.