I think before I can really get into what I did to lose weight, you should understand that it was a journey through different techniques and methods. Some worked really well, some worked kind of okay. But I found that my body adjusted to what I was doing, and if I didn’t change things up, it started to resist the weight loss. It was all about transitioning from one phase to the next.
First, a few ground rules apply universally to any healthy-eating/weight-loss plan:
- You really shouldn’t drink anything except water. An occasional diet coke isn’t going to do any serious damage, but more than 2 or 3 of those a week and you’ll find that the chemicals in diet-soda are very counter-productive to your success. They are best saved as a treat—or even better—stop drinking it altogether. Fruit juice, vegetable juice, soda, smoothies, and anything else taken in liquid form (other than a protein shake, which we’ll talk about later) needs to be eliminated.
- Sugar is absolutely off-limits in any form.
- Artificial sweeteners are okay in moderation, but my experience is that if you use them, you create cravings, and they’re generally a major contributing catalyst to failure.
We’ll call this my salad phase. I’ve talked about it before—I was brand new, I barely understood how to read a nutrition label. I started this phase on Oct. 1, 2014, when I weighed 260 lbs and had 36 percent body-fat.
I took the approach of “I will not be hungry, but I will not overeat.” I decided to cut carbs down to <20 g a day. I didn’t count calories at all. My meals were pretty simple (when you cut carbs that low, you’ll find a lot of foods are simply off-limits). I would eat an egg and cheese omelet for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and a salad for dinner (watch the salad dressing, a lot of it is loaded with sugar/carbs).
The first few days were terrible. I had horrible cravings for anything with carbs and sugar. But any time I felt hungry (i.e. was craving carbs), I would eat something else—veggies mostly. The really bad cravings lasted about a week before I no longer felt haunted or like I was “on a diet.”
The result was astounding. I lost nearly 30 lbs in 45 days. Melanie, my wife, and I even went on a cruise during that time where I watched the carbs (I did eat more than normal, but still avoided the bread, pasta, etc.). I was super happy with a) how easy it was, b) that I was never hungry, c) that I could always find something yummy at a restaurant to eat, and d) that I didn’t need to exercise to lose weight. (I hated exercising).
Like I Said, that worked for about 45 days and then the weight loss stopped. I was still doing what I’d always done and I now weighed 230 lbs going into December, but I just couldn’t get the scale to move. My body had adjusted. It was time to change things up.
I started this phase at the beginning of December. We’ll call this the calorie counting phase. Basically, I kept doing the same thing I was doing before, but I started trying to keep my calories to <2,000 calories a day. I was pretty strict with this rule. I still kept the carbs <20g, and I wasn’t paying attention to fat or protein.
My biggest fear with counting calories was that I was going to be hungry all the time. (Everyone I knew who counted calories always complained about being hungry). My experience was the exact opposite. My body was already over the cravings (I really wasn’t bothered or tempted by “forbidden foods” anymore). I never really felt hungry. I was never uncomfortable. But the scale started moving again. I lost another 25 lbs over the course of the next 50 days or so (and that included one or two small cheat meals during the holidays).
I was still eating large amounts of fat along with my new low-carb diet. However, having to count calories kept things under control. You know that whole myth about the Atkins diet where people eat nothing but bacon and still lose weight? It’s a load of crap. Atkins advocates no such thing and anyone who tells you otherwise knows nothing about the diet (including a lot of people who claim to be on the diet). Atkins advocates that you must count calories. And if you’re counting calories, nothing uses them up faster than bacon. So you learn to eat lean proteins (chicken, turkey, salmon, etc.) and pair those up with low-carb foods (like vegetables) and you end up with a shockingly healthy and well-rounded diet.
The concept is that your body can get energy from fat, or it can get energy from carbs. In fact, your body gets energy from fat while you lose weight. Eating a high-fat diet puts your body into a fat-burning mode from the beginning, and makes burning body-fat a natural side effect. And yes, it really does work. It worked for me for a long time.
Until mid-January… when it stopped working. (I’ve since learned exactly what I was doing wrong that caused it to stop working… but that’s another topic completely).
It’s worth mentioning that around the beginning of February, Melanie and decided to do hCG. It wasn’t the first time I’d done hCG. I think this was my third. I actually do not advocate anybody take this approach. Yes, it really does work, but you will feel like crap, you will be hungry (despite what people claim), and it really screws with your body. It is essentially a controlled starvation diet. Stay away from it. (If you want more info on why I say this, reach out to me privately).
I sat at 205 lbs for the better part of 4 or 5 months. I was still counting my calories every day and eating high protein, relatively high fat (not gross high-fat, but more than you might otherwise think), and very little carbs. Hey, I’d lost 55 lbs using this method, why not assume it would keep working? I experimented with a lot of different combinations of calories, ratios, foods, etc. and never found much success. I read books on food combinations, low-carb eating, high-carb eating, beach-body diets, junk-food diets, starvation diets, you name it. Believe me, I did a lot of research about different options and approaches during this phase. I even tried them.
Every day I would step on the scale. Every day I was frustrated. I wanted to quit and be done. I kept thinking about all the yummy food I wasn’t eating and about all the sacrifices I was making every day that weren’t paying off. And to do that day in and day out for 4+ months straight without the scale moving… It was utterly demoralizing.
I finally admitted to myself that I was willing to do ANYTHING IT TOOK to crack the code on why the scale wasn’t moving. It was time to change my approach, but I really had no idea what to do.
It was around June 2015 that Melanie invited me to join her at a spin class that she did twice a week. Now… it’s important to understand that one of my first rules, when I started this whole thing, was that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES would I exercise. Ever. No matter what. (I’ve written a different post on this topic). But I was getting desperate. I’d tried everything at this point, and exercise was the only thing left.
FYI, as expected, the spin class was horrible. But it worked. The next day after the class, the scale dropped — to an all-time low for me. I couldn’t believe it. I was elated. Almost started crying. And then the cold, hard reality of my awful situation settled in: I was not going to lose any more weight unless I exercised.
So I got serious.
I cut my calorie intake to 1,500 a day. I started running every night (and by running, I mean that I made a complete idiot of myself at the park trying to run a quarter-mile while people were probably debating whether they should call 911 now, or just wait for the inevitable.) Hated it. Every second of it. But that damn scale kept going down! I ran every night as hard and as far as I could (and seriously, it was like 3 weeks before I could even run ONE mile), but every morning, the scale would drop. Was it horrible? YES. Was it worth it? …yes
But then I started to feel like CRAP… I was light-headed all the time, dizzy, couldn’t think straight anymore. The worst part: I was completely drained of energy all the time. It was awful. I thought running and exercise were supposed to make me feel better! Yeah, I was losing weight, but I was clearly not healthy. (I weighed around 185 lbs at this point).
I decided it was time to hire a professional. His immediate suggestion was to replace the fat in my diet with carbs and increase the number of calories I was eating. The cardio I was now doing demanded a more sustainable energy source, and healthy carbs were the ticket (I’m talking about whole-grain bread so thick it crunches when you bite into it). I started eating more clean carbs, dropped the fat significantly, and started to control the proteins… All of this is included in a fit-eating system called IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). I’ll do several posts on how it works later on and I can walk you through the specifics. The gist of it is that watching the calories is the starting point—but if you can control the exact ratio of fats to carbs to proteins, you can lose weight much more efficiently.
And boy did it work. I’m still using this approach (in fact, I’m such a believer in it, I’m on it for the rest of my life, I think). I really wish I had known about IIFYM sooner as I could have definitely avoided the plateaus that I experienced.
So back to what I was doing wrong with my eating early on that caused the early stall at 55 lbs… (I promised I would get to that)… I was simply eating the wrong ratios of fat/carbs/proteins. If I had known how to optimize those ratios, I have no doubt I could have easily kept the weight-loss rolling. However, I also firmly believe that as I started getting serious about cardio and training, adding carbs back in was inevitable.
Put another way. I’m a STRONG proponent of the high-fat/low-carb approach if you’re not doing heavy cardio or strength training. Now that I’m doing reasonably serious workouts 5-6 days a week, the clean carbs are an essential component of my nutrients.
I’ll talk more about exactly what I’m doing now in another post. I’ll also talk more about what you should do if you opt for a high-fat/low-carb approach. (Again, they both have their place).