Over the last few years I have really begun to struggle with my weight. 11 years ago, I weighed a mere 145 lbs. Since then I have put on roughly 100 more.
Early on, I found it fairly easy to maintain a healthy weight. I didn’t really have to think about it. As I’ve gotten older, that has slowly changed.
I attribute the first 20 lbs I gained to the simple fact that my wife is a very good cook. I gained those 20 lbs and then just sort of maintained that weight… until I quit smoking. The next 50 lbs I attribute more or less directly to the hell of breaking a firmly-entrenched nicotine addiction. I maintained 215 – 220 lbs for a long time, and then started a distressing trend a few years ago. I began to very slowly, but very steadily, gain weight.
Of course, this is just the summary version of events. Lots of other ups and downs went into the time line. I tried running for a while, and it was something I really enjoyed. But I found I was unable to keep it up on any sort of day-to-day basis. I wasn’t, for whatever reason, able to make the lifestyle change required to really make that work for me as a method of weight control. I still would like to get back to running at some point, as there is no doubt it was doing wonders for my level of fitness.
More recently, meaning a few months ago, I was reading some articles about new data in the excersize/dieting world, as relates to health and weight loss. The new findings suggested a few things.
One is that exercise doesn’t really affect weight loss. It does have some effect, but the effect is much smaller than was previously believed. Running marathons will obviously affect your weight loss (or gain) drastically, but for folks who work out for 30 minutes 3 times a week… not so much. Exercising that much has a wonderful effect on your level of fitness, and for that reason people really ought to put in the effort to work out at least that much. If your quest, however, is to drop some pounds, then you need to be looking at your diet.
Another thing that the new findings (and numerous older findings as well) suggest is that not all calories are created equal. The simplistic view that weight is only a function of calories in – calories out is still basically true, but there are biases in the way your body processes food that makes the equation a bit more complicated. The short version, as I read it, is that your body tends to want to store simple carbohydrates (sugar, starch, and, alas, beer) as fat, instead of burning it directly for energy. The flip side is that your body tends to want to burn complex carbohydrates and protein instead of storing it as fat. Or phrased another way, a 1000 calorie dinner of pasta marinara will put more on your thighs than will a 1000 calorie spring salad topped with grilled chicken.
These things suggested a fairly simple change for me. I resolved to switch, as much as possible, my food intake away from simple carbs and toward complex carbs and protein. A few things have really helped me make this change, and I believe that this is a change I will be able to sustain long term:
First, I am not a fanatic about it. I can still go and have a burger and fries for lunch… though I am trying to keep such occurrences down to at most once a week. And hopefully more like once every two weeks. I still very much enjoy some fine beers from time to time throughout the week. I haven’t given that up. But I keep an eye on what I’m consuming, and I now consume far fewer simple carbs than I used to.
Second, I have found an outstanding little shop within easy walking distance for lunch, that sells salad, from a well-stocked salad bar, by the pound. Eating salad all by itself doesn’t really work for me, but keeping in mind that protein is also on the “good” list, I started adding lean meats and/or low-fat cottage cheese to my lunches. This helps me feel full, and helps me stay full until (roughly) dinner time. Something salad all by itself doesn’t really do for me. Add in some decent salad dressing, and though I am still getting a pretty substantial lunch (about 1 to 1.5 lbs of food!), it’s all complex carbs and protein. No simple carbs at all.
Third, and this is already implied but bears stating clearly; I’m not really eating less than I used to. I’m not feeling hungry all the time. I’m still having the same size portions that I have grown accustomed to. They just now contain fewer simple carbs than they used to.
I’ve been doing this now for about 2 months, and I have had very non-dramatic, but very steady, weight loss. And, more importantly for me, I feel like I will have no problem at all maintaining my current habits for the foreseeable future.
Yesterday, I was down 10 lbs from when I started this experiment. I am very pleased with that.