Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Losing Weight Isn't Hard

Losing weight is easy, and let me tell you why (and how!).

I have something to tell you that could either be unbelievably hard to believe, or possibly instantly understood, depending on your own experiences. I've been talking a LOT about my weight and my health in the last 3 months or so, and I've started posting my weight on Twitter every day as a way to motivate myself to eat more responsibly.
This is how I feel now, stepping on the scale.
The thing that I've learned in losing almost 30 pounds in the last 7 months or so (and 25 lbs in the last 2 months) is that starting to eat isn't the problem. In losing this weight, I really haven't limited myself in the food that I have been eating. That's not to say I haven't changed my habits, but I still eat burgers, and pizza, and nachos, and all kinds of other delicious foods. I can probably even say I basically eat about as much of those things as I always have.

The MOST important thing I have learned when losing weight is this: stop eating. Don't let your hunger decide how much you should eat for the first little while. Restaurants are the worst for this. You have no control over the portion of food you get, and it can be difficult to control your intake this way, especially if you despise the inconvenience of doggy bags as much as I do. When I go to a restaurant now, I get the main dish I really want (be it a big, juicy burger, or a pizza, or whatever other thing I might want), and then get a side that has very little food in it. Fries are a terrible example of this, because there is a LOT of food in fries. I'm not trying to survive a year and a half on Mars, so I probably don't need to eat several hundred grams of potatoes along with my meal.

Once I accepted that I could eat less than I had been, I was fine missing "meals" and just eating a little bit when I felt like it. It is darn near impossible to gain weight while eating only fat and protein. Carbohydrates (sugars) are the real problem here. And in our modern grocery stores, everything is full of carbs. The simple reason for this is that carbs are incredibly cheap calories. Dipping those carbs in fat and covering them in salt is an easy and cheap way to make them DELICIOUS.

The other really important part of weight loss is your metabolism (to put it simply, that's the amount of food energy your body burns when it's just sitting there doing nothing else). I've been biking or walking 1-2 times per day since I really started focusing on my health. Because my bike ride is to work, that means I get 25-30 minutes of pretty intense exercise about 8 hours apart, splitting the day up nicely for my metabolism. It's a pretty common excuse that around 20-25 years old your metabolism drops off and you stop being able to eat whatever you want and maintain your health, but I really think the "change" isn't in your metabolism, but in the average adult's activity level.

With the activity that I've been trying to do every single day regardless of other circumstance, my good metabolism that I had written off as having "lost" in my late teens is back, and I can eat a good amount while still losing or at least maintaining my weight. For a little more background on this, Nick and I discuss active transportation and its impact on healthy weight in last week's episode of East Meets West (the discussion of health and such starts around 44:15, but I encourage you to listen to the whole thing).

Anyhow, to simplify things, or if you're looking for an easy set of guidelines that have been working for me so far, here are the easiest things I can recommend:
  • Have a food around that you can sustainably eat every day, and can prepare in a few minutes (no more, and no less; that is Soylent for me). Any more prep and you will do something easier. Any less prep and you will already be eating before you're hungry enough.
  • Exercise at least a half hour every day, twice throughout the day if you can, to keep your body burning energy.
  • Try not to order fries at a restaurant, unless that's all you're having (soup, salad, etc. is much easier to control the total amount you eat).
  • Stop thinking that fat will make you fat. Carbs will make you fat, but don't necessarily avoid them completely (you will need quick energy sometimes). Keep in mind that not all sugars are created equal, and simple sugars (like in candy) will spike your blood sugar and make you crash.
  • Stop using dinner plates (and stop eating "dinner" at all at home, if possible). The modern meal, and the size of dinner plates, means that on average we tend to eat way more than we need. Eat when you are hungry, and give it 15 minutes before deciding you need more.
  • Eat eggs. However you like them cooked, they are a great source of life stuff (vitamins, minerals, fats, protein, etc.). There's a reason you can grow a whole chick from an egg. It has everything you need for life. And stop thinking that eating cholesterol will make you have high cholesterol (it won't).
  • Last, I forgot one of the very important things, drink water! Not lots of water, but definitely some water. It keeps you from feeling hungry when you're not actually hungry.
It honestly wasn't that hard for me to lose a lot of weight just keeping these simple principles in mind, but if you have had trouble on "diets", I'd recommend keeping track of your weight every day. It will give you a good sense of how your habits are affecting your weight (and overall health, in general) and you will be able to stay ahead of bad habits (like eating too much on weekends). You can follow the steps here and download a useful spreadsheet to track your weight (ask me about it if you're interested in the modifications I've made to my version). And you can follow along with my weight loss journey here.