In December 2015, I didn’t feel very good. Actually, it wasn’t that I didn’t feel good. It was that I actually had begun to feel rather bad. My clothes had begun to feel tight again. I ached in a myriad of places. I was getting out of breathe incredibly easily. I could feel my face getting flushed with a little exertion I was taking Ibuprofen almost every day—sometimes more than one dose a day—for headaches. It was time to do something about it before I made an early exit from my life.
Before I go into what I’ve been doing, let’s go back about a year to the winter of 2015. I was sitting in a heart doctor’s examination room. He was following up on a recent stress test I’d taken. (The cardiologist couldn’t find any specific problem with my heart.) He was asking me questions about various issues in my life and I was responding. I was rationalizing poor lifestyle choices, making excuses for myself. I could hear myself doing it. (Can you relate?)
Then, he stopped me. Looked me square in the eyes. He said: “Fish, chicken, vegetables. Got it?”
I laughed it off. “What? No fruit,” I asked.
“You can have fruit for your dessert.”
It took me almost a year, and I ruminated on that conversation the whole time. Finally, after feeling so bad in December, I decided it was time to take action—while I still could. I made some changes—not New Year’s resolutions. Actual changes.
Some of you have asked me what I’ve been doing. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the specifics with you. Now, if you are considering following in my steps, there are some things you need to realize. A. I am not a medical professional. Nor am I a nutritionist. B. What works well for one person may not work as well for someone else. Everyone has a different physiology. C. Make sure that you don’t have some chronic or acute health issue that would dictate a different approach.
That said, here is what I am doing:
- No More Sodas. Somewhere around December 27th—give or take a day—I had my last Diet Coke. Wow! For about ten days it was like a bomb was going off in my head every afternoon. The headaches would kick in sometime between 3pm and 6pm. After about ten days, they were gone. And I mean they were really gone. Where I used to take at least three 200mg Ibuprofen a day—sometimes more—now I almost never need them. Since the first week of January, I’ve taken only three doses, as of this writing. Only two of those were for a headache. That's almost two months! Weight aside, this was one of my all-time best decisions.
- Drinking Water. I decided that instead of drinking so much soda, I’d focus on drinking a lot of water everyday. I still drink a cup of coffee in the morning, and I’ve found a great green tea that I drink in the evening. However, water is my primary drink of the day—everyday. I think I’m consuming somewhere between 50 and 60 ounces of water a day. (By the way, that green tea, I’d like to give it a little promo here: Mint & Honey Green Tea by Sweat Leaf Tea Company. All natural ingredients. Sweetened with organic cane sugar and organic honey. Awesome tasting when it’s ice cold.)
- Natural Sweeteners. I am avoiding Aspartame like the plague. I’m not going to go into all the potential negatives of the product. You can do your own research. However, it might be interesting to you to know that they put it in all sorts of products from sodas to breath mints to chewing gum. I’m using actual sugar or honey instead. Keep in mind, besides water, the only thing I’m drinking that would be sweetened is one cup of coffee in the morning and one bottle of the green tea in the evening. If I were drinking those green teas—one after the other—all day long, I’d be getting way too much sugar. As it is, my body can deal with a small amount of sugar. It was designed to do so. However, you have to be committed to drinking a lot of water to make this work well.
- Heathy Snacks. Mid-afternoon, I have a snack. Usually, it is a small package of nuts. Planter’s has some Men’s Health or Heart Health versions that are hitting the spot. One package! Don’t eat three or four. Also, if you are going to pick up a bag of mixed nuts at a convenience store, be careful about the package size. Some bags are larger than they appear, and the calories add up quickly with nuts. Some days, I might have a banana, a pear, or an orange instead. Maybe even a slice or two of cheese. Whatever you do, focus on either protein or a fruit.
- Avoid Starchy Carbs. I have eliminated probably 90% of the starchy carbs from my diet. Nearly zero bread, potatoes, and rice. I love my favorite Mexican restaurant (El Rodeo), but I no longer eat the chips. I still eat lunch there at least once every week, but now I order the lunch-size chicken fajitas—without tortillas. I’m pretty strict on this, but not obsessive. For example, one lunch I’ve been eating frequently the last few weeks is a combo lunch at Applebee’s made up of the tomato basil soup and fiesta chicken chop salad. It has small portions, but still enough to hit the spot. However, it has several croutons in the soup and some tiny, crispy tortilla strips in the salad. I pick the croutons out of the soup, but eat the tortilla strips. (Speaking of croutons, they don’t seem like much, but if you put them all together, they would equal at least a slice of bread. They add up.) Another good option for the low-starch diet is the Jimmy John’s Unwich. The Unwich is the same as any of their other subs, but instead of bread, they are wrapped in lettuce. They taste remarkably good and you don’t get all the starchy carbs from the normal bun. I've been having the turkey versions.
- Fish, chicken and vegetables. Here’s where my doctor’s advice is kicking in. Again, I’m not obsessive about this. I will have an occasional small portion of beef—think bowl of chili, or some sort of soup. However, my first choice for a “meat” in a meal will be either fish, chicken or turkey. And, along with that, I’m eating a lot of vegetables. Besides lettuce, there is broccoli, cauliflower, beets, zucchini, asparagus, and the list goes on. There are a myriad of unique and tasty ways to prepare this stuff to make it appealing. Watch things like corn and peas. They are starchy.
- Exercise. Consistency is the key. I can’t run anymore. I have too many issues since I had a herniated disk in my neck a few years ago. Still, I can walk. So, I set a minimum distance to start with, and I do it every day. EVERY DAY. Since January 1st, I’ve missed only two days. I either walk outside or I get on the elliptical. As I’ve lost weight and improved my fitness, I’ve extended the distance, and the intensity on the elliptical. This step is important. Losing weight is mostly about the diet, but adding the exercise is vital to push it over the top. It keeps your metabolism firing as you’ve cut the calorie intake. Without the exercise, your metabolism will slow down and my weight loss more difficult or slow. That's been my experience anyway. Even if your health is even more limiting than mine, you can do something. Start wherever you are and build from there. If you can only manage a few steps, then do those steps every day. And each week, add just a few more steps.
I had a starting weight of 285 pounds. I set a goal of 235 pounds. As of this morning, I’m almost to the halfway point. I weighed in this morning at 260.6 pounds—down 24.4 lbs.
I no longer ache everywhere.
I no longer have daily headaches.
I no longer get out of breath easily.
My clothes are all getting loose. I’m going to need to buy a new (shorter) belt very soon.
I think I even look healthier.
All of this, and I’m still probably 50 pounds overweight. I have 25.4 pounds to go to reach my initial goal, but I will need to drop another 25 after that to really reach the sweet spot. Even so, I have already stepped back from the edge of the abyss. I feel so much better already that it is a bit hard to explain it.
One day, I will eat a burger again. I’ll have some pizza. I’ll even drink an occasional soda (no diet versions). But, not right now. Not for some time. Even then, it will be in moderation. No more multiple sodas in a single day. Once I’ve corrected my health decline and reached a good place, I can occasionally indulge. Until then, I have to be firm. Be strong. Be committed.
I’m doing it. If you need to, you can too. You don’t have to pay someone a bunch of money to do this. You don’t have to drink special shakes or go to special meetings. Just start making healthy choices and get moving.