This is a very satisfying, hard-earned, post for me to write.
By the end of last summer, I was overweight, out of shape, lacking energy and entirely uncomfortable in my own skin. I had not committed to regular exercise, was not paying attention to the foods I ate and generally was living a decadent, wholly unhealthy life.
With a family history of hypertension, I was clearly playing with fire. My blood pressure had crept up into prehypertension, even stage 1 hypertension, ranges.
By the end of August, I snapped; fortunately it was in a good way. I was fed up with my lack of energy, my ill-fitting clothes and my general state of poor health. I chose change and I dedicated myself to it completely. With the support of my family, and the tips below, I succeeded.
This is my journey, my results, and the things that worked for me as I rebooted my life. It is primarily a written record for my own life history book. I do hope, however, that one or two of you might stumble across it and find something within that helps you out on your own journey.
Weight Loss and Body Recomposition: Power 90
Yesterday I finished my second 90-day round of the Tony Horton DVD bootcamps. I found exercising in my own living room, with the goofy yet charismatic Tony Horton, to be a highly satisfying and sustainable approach. The first 90 days I did “Power 90” and the second 90 I did the “Power 90 Master Series“ (get the Sweat 5/6, Sculpt 5/6, Cardio Intervals, Core Cardio, UML and Ply Legs DVDs). I highly recommend both programs and am personally a big fan of Tony’s programs and training style. After taking a crack at Sean T’s Insanity, I will definitely do P90X next.
From start to finish, my key health stats did this:
BF% WT BEL WAI CHOL BP==== === ==== ==== ==== ======33.6 234 45.0 40.0 165 135/94 (Aug 30, 2011)18.3 182 34.8 34.0 122 120/74 (Apr 12, 2012)
BF%: body fat percentageWT: weight (lbs)BEL: belly measurement (in.)WAI: waist measurement (in.)CHOL: total cholesterolBP: blood pressure
Here’s a fun science experiment for you: put a tape measure around your belly and then let it out 10 inches. That’s how much of me is gone. Here’s another one: go down to your exercise room or local gym and pick up two 25 lb dumbells. Can you imagine carrying that weight around all day and night?
From start to finish, I averaged a daily calorie deficit of 980 calories. Of that only 308 (31%) came from exercise while 671 (69%) came from eating smarter. So, for my weight loss, eating well has been more than twice as important as exercising (exercising has, of course, given me much greater strength, endurance and flexibility).
Also, having my wife on board made all the difference in the world. The support provided by jointly making smart food decisions has been a powerful factor which helped insure my success. Find a friend to partner with, it will help you tremendously.
Weight Loss and Body Recomposition: Loseit.com
Without question, the most important tool I had for losing weight was LoseIt.com. For the past seven-plus months I logged EVERY SINGLE DAY/EVERY SINGLE MEAL. There’s even a free iPhone/iPad app which scans barcodes and automatically adds the food to your daily log.
Invariably, there are times when you go out to eat, or gorge on a banquet at someone’s house, and have a hard time tracking your specific foods. To deal with this, I have a generic food entry in LoseIt called “1000 Calorie Food”. As the name implies, it has 1,000 calories per serving, 45 g of fat, 3,000 mg of sodium, 210 g of carbs and 67.5 g of protein. For these “untrackable” meals, I estimate how many calories I consumed (e.g. 1,750) and add the appropriate servings of this “1000 Calorie Food” (e.g. 1 and 3/4).
The thing about tracking your food intake, is that over time you get very good about estimating your calories consumed. Personally, I find it incredibly important to track every single meal, every single day. The continuity and completeness holds me accountable for each meal and each day. My wife likes to joke that I run to the computer to log my food every time I eat a strawberry.
One of the best features of LoseIt is the ability to add custom foods and recipes and have the portion calories and nutrients automatically calculated for you. Knowing and logging what I eat has been, by far, the most important habit contributing to my reboot.
Weight Loss and Body Recomposition: Google Docs
I have also been neurotically diligent about tracking my daily results in a highly detailed Google Docs spreadsheet. A copy of my tracking sheet with my data is here. Every single day, I record these key markers of my physical health:
- my body fat percentage
- my weight
- my lean mass vs. fat mass
- my BMI (a totally useless stat, but I track for giggles)
- my blood pressure and pulse
- my body measurements (not daily, every two weeks)
- my calories consumed (from LoseIt)
- my exercise calories burned (every day)
- my total calorie deficit (every day)
- my completed workout (every day)
- and some notes (e.g. “Went out to dinner with friends”)
I have tabs for each month as well as a summary sheet with snazzy trend graphs. I find it very motivating to have a running record of my progress. It makes screwing up more costly, since it will be in my face every time I open the spreadsheet. I also have a strong “set completion” instinct, which the spreadsheet reinforces.
For my daily/weekly measurements, I use and recommend this Salter analog scale, this hand-held body fat monitor, this blood pressure monitor and this body tape measure. I also use a fitbit, which I hang from a chain around my neck and which really does inspire me to get up and move around more. I use an analog scale because I don’t like getting caught up in tenths of a pound. I generally log to full or half pounds.
I believe the most important metrics for tracking your recomposition are body fat percentage and body measurements. I used to focus on weight, but now body fat is the highlighted column in my spreadsheet.
Smarter Shopping, Smarter Eating
As mentioned above, eating better has been twice as important to my weight loss as exercise. Eating better starts with making smarter food choices. It also entails throwing out all the bad foods in your home. Remove the temptations completely, it is the best way.
As far as eating goes, these are some of my new food staples:
- chicken breast (look for ethically raised and humanely slaughtered, they say the chicken is the most abused animal on the planet)
- ground turkey (subbed in for ground beef in things like chili, the chicken ethics apply)
- salmon, tilapia, halibut and shrimp (wild caught, not farm grown)
- all beans
- whole grains: brown rice, whole wheat breads, whole wheat pasta, barley (say g’bye to: white bread, enriched pasta, white rice, white sugar)
- all nuts: almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, cashews, pistachios (unsalted)
- steel cut oatmeal (prepare it with half a banana, some truvia and some crushed walnuts and it tastes exactly like banana bread!)
- all veggies: organic kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, squash, cauliflower, asparagus, sweet potatoes
- all fruits: conventional bananas and blueberries; organic apples, pears, berries (frozen berries are as good as fresh)
- greek yogurt (higher protein than other yogurts, we like Chobani)
- pitted green or black olives
- eggs (true free range, organic, ethically harvested)
- skim milk (best if from a local farmer who’s milking practices you know)
- lots of spices, keep a wide variety on hand
- Truvia or stevia sweetener (we like Truvia and it goes great with my fave chai tea)
- daily supplements: ground flaxseed, a good multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D and calcium
- when in doubt, pick from tier one or two of Michi’s Ladder
- this book is also great for healthy food info
My Favorite Healthy Dinners
Based mostly on the above healthy building blocks, these are some of my favorite low calorie, healthy dinners: (Make AllRecipes.com your new best friend).
- grilled chicken (a staple – easy marinade choices: soy, bbq, ranch, italian, curry, cajun, lime, etc.)
- grilled salmon (or any fish, super good for you)
- grilled lean steak (rarely and in 4-6 oz portions per person)
- bean and kale soup (great with a hot sauce like tabasco or chulula)
- beef barley stew (make sure and chill and then skim off the beef fat mid way)
- 4-bean turkey chili (my fave)
- pea soup with shrimp (skip the cream, add some chopped shrimp – I really love this one)
- red beans and rice (sub in smoked turkey for the ham hock)
- butternut squash soup (skip the butter add some brown sugar)
- sweet potato and cauliflower soup (so easy, we blend into a pudding-like texture with our indispensable (though not cheap) Bamix immersion hand blender, very sweet – cauliflower is optional)
- fruit smoothies: vanilla whey protein powder, frozen fruit, skim or almond milk, truvia, yogurt, flaxseeds or chia seeds and a cup of cold filtered water (super healthy, 100% delicious and my kids love them, this is another great Bamix creation. For me, I add 5 g of micronized creatine powder to create a homemade post-workout recovery shake.)
- we also have this book for quick recipe ideas
We usually make a big batch of something on Sunday, store 1/3 of it in the fridge and freeze the other 2/3 away for easy last-minute dinners. Pro tip: buy some beano online, because you should be eating a ton of beans!
Healthier, More Ethical Shopping
Whenever you can, you should always buy organic fruits and veggies and ethically raised and slaughtered meats. For us, Whole Foods is our go-to store. If there is not a Whole Foods near you, find a good local natural food store or see if your grocery store has an organic section.
Never, ever buy ground beef at a conventional grocery store. One package of ground beef can have the “meat” of up to a thousand cows in it, primarily because it is often made with 10% pink slime. Oh yeah, it is also bathed with ammonia to neutralize the fetid waste it is tainted with. Whole Foods makes their own ground beef/turkey on site. Factory farming is the enemy of your health and of the environment, not to mention the horrors it puts the animals through.
For me, smarter eating has come in three distinct phases:
- The first phase was eating for weight loss, which mostly entailed controlling portions and calories without caring too much where the calories came from.
- The second phase was making smarter food choices to insure better health. This meant choosing whole organic foods, whole grains, beans, unsalted nuts, lean meats, and lots of fruits and vegetables. I also threw out and stopped buying most packaged and processed foods.
- The third and final (?) phase has been trying to eat more ethically. This means reducing animal products like meat, dairy, eggs and fish and making sure that the meat that you do eat is ethically raised and humanely slaughtered. Watch the documentaries Food Inc., Vegucated or Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead to open your eyes about where your food comes from and what bad food choices are doing to your health and to the environment.
So there you have it. The above tips changed my body and health dramatically for the better. If you stumbled upon this post and read this far, I wish you the best of luck with your own journey.
As you can see, I have a lot of opinions about this stuff. This post, as long as it is, is really just the tip of the iceberg. I could go much deeper on each section. Until I do, however, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have.
Lean on me for support, I’ll be here!