In December 2006 I decided (for the final time) to get fit and stay fit. For the prior decade my weight had yoyo’d within a 30 pound range.
In order to loose weight and keep it off forever I personally committed to making two fundamentally integrated life-long changes:
- Regular Workouts: I needed to first loose 40 pounds (to get to my goal weight) and thereafter maintain and and improve upon the weight loss and fitness with a lifetime of fun and sustainable physical activity.
(Note: I reached the weight goal in 90 days with P90X)
- Healthy Eating: I needed to find ways that worked for me (the single geek) to match my initial weight loosing workout regime and then, for the first time in my adult life, to consistently eat right, and enjoy it, for the rest of my life.
For me, the far harder of the two was, and remains, healthy eating. This post summarizes the calorie reduced eating strategies that worked for me as I lost those first forty pounds.
Note: I will cover some of my ongoing healthy eating ideas in future posts.
On January 1, 2007, I started the P90X classic fitness program and had remarkable success. While I followed the fitness program to the letter, I must confess, I didn’t generally follow the diet plan other than to limit calorie intake to 1,800 calories or less a day. I was proud of the fact that I hadn’t turned on an oven in in some 24 years. Cooking is difficult for me.
Nonetheless I did alter my eating patterns to dovetail with the workouts and healthfully lower my calorie intake as best I could. In the p90x forums, last November, I summarized the dietary steps I took during the 90 day workout program and I summarize them below.
- Calorie Focus: Rather than preparing specific meals and balancing my carb, fat and protein intake (way beyond my abilities at that time), I focused primarily on ingesting 1800 or fewer calories a day. I didn’t make a single recipe in the recipe book. I don’t cook.
- Ballparking Calories: I didn’t count calories to the decimal point or track them on a spreadsheet. Rather I kept a ballpark tally of my daily calorie intake in my head and try to limit the to 1,800 a day. There are about 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat. As I learned how much work was involved in loosing those 3,500 calories, it became easier to walk away from empty calories. For each 1,000 calories I didn’t eat, that’s one less hour’s intense workout I had to do.
- Loss of Appetite: The intensity of the P90x program helped a lot. The extreme workouts frequently tied my stomach up in knots, substantially decreasing my appetite.
- Purged Kitchen: I went through your kitchen and tossed out EVERYTHING that contained nothing more than empty calories. I was ruthless. I threw away all comfort food (realizing that when I needed to cheat, and I did, it was available at the nearest convenience store) .
- Filled Kitchen: with my favourite fruits and vegetables – especially the more expensive fruit I normally hadn’t purchased and considered a “treat” or a luxury. For me it was blueberries, cherries, asparagus and Fuji apples. Snacking on healthy, luxury foods made it easier to take the fact that I couldn’t eat the unhealthy food I used to eat.
- Grilled Chicken Instead of Hamburgers: I still ate at restaurants most every day (I don’t any more). Grilled chicken sandwiches were my friend. Most fast food restaurants have them. Rather than fries on the side, I got chili (very low in calories) salad or baked potato (I ate only half the sour creme)
- Wendy’s Salads: I ate a Wendy’s salad (the cranberry chicken salad was available then) almost every day of my P90x program. Yes, the dressings have lots of calories. So, tried to limit myself to 75% or half the usual dressing. Heck, eating a salad with all the dressing is better than a greasy burger and fries.
- Milk: I drank milk instead of soda.
- Restaurant Nutrition Guides: I asked for the nutrition guides at the restaurants I frequented. Most have them. I tried to pick the low calorie/fat items and avoided the high calorie/fat items. Simple as that.
- Read the Label: When grocery shopping I read the calorie and fat content on the back of EVERYTHING. I’m just an average guy and not a nutrition expert. But as I became aware of what calories were in what, I discovered lots of things I ate that were REALLY fattening that I didn’t particularly love and other things I liked more that had fewer calories.
- Biggest Loser: I started watching the “Biggest Loser” and similar shows for inspiration and tips. I TiVo them and watch them while on the treadmill.
- I Didn’t Starve Myself: This was one of the harder lessons for me. In the past when I tried to loose weight I frequently ate too little. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that to loose weight I NEEDED to consume a significant quantity of healthy calories. Eating too little causes the body’s metabolism to slow down and preserve energy – resulting in little or no weight loss.
- Eliminated ALL Fried Foods and foods cooked in oil. Can you say French Fries?
- I Spent Money: that I normally wouldn’t on quality lower calorie food, meals and snacks that I liked. I treated myself – instead of that bag of potato chips I’d buy a nutritious gourmet sandwich.
- Social Events: While I had the occasional glass of wine, I used the old recovering alcoholic tricks to minimize social pressure to drink. I put Perrier in a wine glass. Or I just held a drink all night. It’s hard to refuse drinks from friends. But if you are just holding it, or drinking Perrier instead, nobody will know. There will always be a potted plant or sink you can slowly dump it out in. Alcohol = calories.
- Measured My Cream: I drink two coffees every day. To reduce the cream I put in I measured it. I discovered that when I just pour creme or sugar into my coffee, I’d often pour in a lot more than what I really wanted/needed for a good cup of coffee. Two cups a day times 90 days makes a lot of calories from cream and sugar that can be reduced. In my case I switched to a sugar substitute years ago.
- Worked Out Just Before I Got Hungry: I schedule my workouts a half hour before I usually get hungry. For me, the best time of day to do my workouts is around 5:00 pm. I’m just about ready for dinner. When I work out through the dinner hour, and work out hard, not only does it delay my feeding at the trough, but I ate less at the later dinner because after a hard workout my stomach was usually tied up in knots decreasing my appetite.
- Rice Crisps/Crackers: They come in lots of flavours. I ate a lot of them – especially to curb bed-time munchies.
- Popcorn: Lots of plain or lightly salted popcorn. It fills you up and is low on calories. I sprinkled a little vinegar on them for a salt and vinegar flavours. There are no calories in regular vinegar.
- Nutrition Bars: I ate a lot of the P90x nutrition bars – berry flavour. Yes, they are expensive, but they are better than other junk food and include the nutrients/proteins etc. you’ll need. I ate them as snacks. They satisfy my sweet tooth. I rarely ate more than one a day though.
- Nabisco 100 Calorie Snack Packs: Take them with you when you go to a movie or for an afternoon snack at work.
- Pickles and Mustard: were my friends – each have very few calories. I put them on all my sandwiches
- Lemon Juice: Instead of butter on your vegetables or fish, use lemon juice. Lemon Juice and vinegar are your calorie-free friends.
- Perrier: was my friend. Drink, drink, drink lots of your favourite water. I consider Perrier a treat. So I drank it constantly instead of soda, beer, wine. Lost of water is important for many reasons and keeps your tummy full.
- Use Tall/Skinny Wine Glasses: As silly as this sounds, replace your short fat wine glasses with tall skinny ones. The same level of wine in a tall skinny glass is significantly less wine than the same level in a short fat one. Hey, if it works!
- Supplements: I used the P90X supplement horse-pills. I hate swallowing pills, but hey, they seemed to work. I always had the energy and whatever else I needed for the stamina to get through it all. I also drank the P90X recovery drink after the intense workouts. Again, this is all expensive stuff, but was worth it to loose 40 pounds. It tastes really good.
- Spice Rack: My sister gave me a spice rack a decade ago that I had never used. During P90X, instead of lathering on the mayonnaise or the cheese or the butter (or list fattening topping here), I discovered that a pinch of sage or a little oregano, dill seed or crushed red pepper made wonderful alternatives to fattening condiments.
- V8 instead of soda (heck, anything over a soda). It also makes those horse pill supplements go down easier.
- Sleep: I got as much sleep as I could – muscles need sleep for recovery after intense workouts.
- Advil for Muscle Ache: Initially I found it very hard to sleep because my muscles were so sore in the first month. Someone suggested that I take an Advil or Motrin before bed. It worked.
- Missing a Workout or Eating Poorly: I missed several workout days and fell of the healthy eating wagon with the odd bag of chips or tub of Ben & Jerry’s. I tried not to beat myself up and just got back with the program when I could. One of the P90X mottos is “Do your best and forget the rest”. We all need breaks and life intervenes. The key is getting back into it and not letting a few off days turn into failure.
In order to sustain my weight loss, I’ve since began learning to cook (primarily cooking with a wok) healthy and enjoyable meals. Look for healthy cooking posts in the future.