Fad Diets and Facing Reality

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I’ve been on a long, slow journey to becoming a less chubby dude. Last fall, I topped out at 260+ pounds. This wasn’t the heaviest I had been but it was pretty close. Prior to hitting my max, I had tried every fad diet that allowed me to continue eating meat (and tangled with a few that made me reduce meat input significantly). They all seemed like sound approaches. 10-20 pounds might come off, but in a few months, the diet would collapse.  I would end up traveling or visiting some place that made strict diet requirements impossible to follow and would fall back into old eating habits. I would be back to square one soon enough.

I’m not a dietician or a medical doctor but that’s not good for you.

So when I posted a while ago that I had lost significant weight (as of this writing, down 43 pounds over 8 months), it seemed surprising even to me. I had three holidays at various families in the winter, a vacation to Hawaii, and I traveled for work. I managed to continue losing, on average, 1-2 pounds a week.

What changed? A couple things:

  • I kept track of how much I ate and how I felt — I committed to doing this using an app called MyFitnessPal to let me easily track calories. 
  • My brain was reprogrammed pretty quickly — Using this app consistently, I could estimate most meals pretty easily in my head after a few months. Proof being, I didn’t use the app at all in Hawaii and afterward? I lost about a pound. Same with travel and the like.
  • I started moving — I tried couch to 5k but I’ve been sedentary for so long, it was pretty pathetic and painful. Slowly, I’ve been able to jog longer and further distances while increasing my stamina. Hiking distance and hills has helped the stamina as well.
  • I started lifting heavy things — Since I work from home, I spend conference calls where I’m not required to take notes lifting up random things. My stool and heavy things within easy reach of my desk are all targets. When I make it to the gym, I slowly build strength doing that though it hasn’t been a huge priority at this point.

The whole goal has been to simply slowly adapt my habits so that I know things like: how full I should feel, what foods give me energy and help me think, and how often I need to be active and what sort of things I can do. It seems like basic stuff but when you’ve been ignoring it for more than a decade, it is a new feeling.

When people ask my secret, that’s literally it. Listen to real science on the issues, keep track of what you do, and listen to how your body feels. Eat well and exercise regularly. Also, clean behind your ears. It works.

Yet, I still drink coffee and energy drinks. I still eat bacon and cookies. I still like beer, wine, and some good rum or bourbon (though, not as much anymore). Now, I surround those things with mostly good choices while avoiding overindulgence.

The toughest challenge hasn’t been the diet or getting back into exercising though, it was the realization that there is no real shortcut for this. I could go faster, if I cut more calories, or ran more, or lifted more. But there is no shortcut to losing 80 pounds. There is no shortcut to getting back into running, hiking, or playing basketball after so many years out. It’s humbling and motivating to know how long it took to get to this place and how hard I’ve had to work at it. The rewards and regrets of easing off a decade of unneeded weight (and everything associated with that) is finally hitting home.


  1. I’ve been struggling to lose some weight as well and have come to a similar (but not as articulately stated) conclusion. I was able to lose a lot of weight because I was either on a fad diet, starving myself or working out obsessively. None of which fit my lifestyle. One of the bigger issues is that I love to cook and eat but the cooking I do isn’t the healthiest so I’ve been trying to change that to focus on leaner foods and cuisines (Asian cuisine versus my first love of Italian). Thanks for talking about this openly.

  2. I used to be a Master Fitness Trainer when I was in the Army, but feel free to take my thoughts with as large of a grain (or shaker) of salt as you’d like.

    I love MyFitnessPal. It’s a way to measure both your exercise and your caloric intake. Take it one step further and weight yourself each day. Log the weight on an Excel spreadsheet (or OpenOffice or Google Docs or Lotus 1-2-3). Chart the weight. Just doing that will spur behavioral change.

    Lifting heavy objects is key to building muscle, which will require the burning of fat to accomplish. I’m a HUGE fan of Martin Berkhan, http://www.leangains.com. Some of his writing is NSFW, but since you’re independent…You’ll also need to eat more protein. I’m willing to bet you a dollar (which could be used to buy a breast of chicken) that you’re not getting enough protein in your diet.

    Finally, to help with the couch – 5K program, try using Tabata protocols. They’ll SUCK for the first few weeks. 4 minutes of he-double toothpicks and slowly increasing, but nothing will get you to 5K faster. I just had knee surgery and as soon as I can run, that’s what I’m going to do to get fit again.

  3. Lance, I’m on pretty much the same journey as you, and I have found I really do have the most success when I allow myself to take baby steps and focus on how I’m feeling, and how the scale (and my clothes) are reacting to that. Congratulations on the 43 down!

  4. Did you pluck this post from my head? I’m pretty sure you did, stay out of my head man! I’m using MFP as well and it’s been more helpful than anything else I’ve ever tried. I’ve paired it with my FitBit so I get points for exercising when I go to the mall and roam around. The two are a great combo. You might also check out EveryMove.com, it will sync up with MFP and others to give you points toward stuff. I find the active day bonuses strangely movitiating.
    So far I’m down 26 pounds and buying clothes in sizes I havent seen in 10 years. My husband is always astonished when random things are in MFP, like craft beers or speciality doughnuts. Keep up the good work Lance!

  5. Yay for the baby steps and integrating more regular movement into the day. (There’s a word for it: NEAT. non-exercise activity thermogenesis. it’s a wonder people don’t go around talking about it all the time, with that for a name.)

    It’s hard for us to believe that simply moving more and eating better can do the trick. We’re so slammed with marketing messages and fake science, and those messages are tempting!

    Going to be sharing this. Thanks Lance.

  6. I don’t mean to post a saga, but I wanted to share something with you.

    I suffered for YEARS with depression and anxiety resulting from post traumatic stress disorder after an incident in the military. I took the socially acceptable yet lazy route of “taking the meds.” The trouble was, I was piling on weight, starving myself, and I was sedentary because I had no energy. I was a living vegetable.
    I am about 5’7″ and in May of ’09 I weighed 287 lbs. I am a woman, so of course my thyroid was checked. Of course I was pumped full of synthetic thyroid, and of course it didn’t work–my hair was falling out in my twenties! I began keeping a diary in 2008 to keep my mind busy, and off of the hurtful “cow needs to put down the fork” comments. I also hired a doctor to look at my diary because I wasn’t receiving much support from the VA.
    I have always had a certain fondness for Math and experiments, but I could not stay in a chair long enough to focus or I would freak out about people sitting behind me. I lacked professional credibility, and coupled with my mental diagnosis, I knew that I would not be taken seriously and my “findings” would be cataloged to support a diagnosis of schizophrenia or its cousin, schizo-affective disorder . I waited for what felt like an eternity for this doctor to call back to offer his take on my data.
    Before I share with you what his opinion was, I want to share what I informally discovered. Before I contacted him, I discovered I was having “the worst day of my life” and horrible stomach aches and crying spells after eating bread, pancakes, cake in general, “healthy”cereal ,”heathy” granola,, muffins, etc. I also noticed that my tendency to eat these things fell on the day just after an injection of the meds.
    The day I called him, I had begun eliminating these bread-y things. When he called me on a Sunday, emphasis on the weekend service, I was expecting to hear bad news. He instead asked me what transpired after my last entry, and I told him I had been avoiding “bready things.” He said, “Well, now that is interesting because I was going to order a lab for you to test you for gluten sensitivity. Do you know what Celiac Disease is?” I said “No.” Now, I do, but the story is not over.
    Under the guidance of this doctor, I began changing my life little by little, here and there, from “packaged” to “real” food because gluten-free packaged life is very expensive. I lost 120lbs in a little over a year and a half, I am maintaining my weight, I have normal cholesterol values on the last 6 labs, I am off all medications ( thanks to bacon to help with the withdrawals) and I have saved a bunch in groceries. I also know who I am genetically. Most beautiful of all, because of this doctor, I have returned to school to study math as a way of paying respect to old-fashioned honest science for saving my life.
    I believe now that my weight issue was never due to my current ultra-high consumption of bacon or other salted meats, oily fish, fermented herring, Viili, cheese, or milk. I make these things myself though, and I am admittedly less sedentary than health nuts, in that I do not go to a gym or purposely “work out.”
    Because of genetics, I abstain from many grains–not just “gluten containing” baddies. The take away here though is that “American” is not an ethnicity, and to say that the pyramid, vegan, gluten-free, atkins, or low fat diet is ” the key” to weight loss, is a bit dicey. Having Saami, Finnish, Russian, Inuit, and Cherokee ancestry, for example, points out how silly eating a low fat, (unfermented) grain -rich diet is for me. It may be different for you, because you are likely ethnically different–even if our “color” is the same.You may be holding your nose at the thought of “raw” fish. I bet we agree on bacon though! That is “thinking” food.
    We can look at the longevity of women of Okinawa and marvel at their high rice consumption and low dairy consumption and correlate the two, but we cannot defy genetics if our organs are not large enough to efficiently consume such foods. We can go on and on about how the French eat this or that and are thin.We can read peta propaganda on correlating meat and conditions like being overweight, but we will never rid ourselves of the desire to eat meat. (Point in case, check out the fake chicken nuggets and fake turkey roasts. ) We can look to Italy or look to Greece for reasons to buy this yogurt or that olive oil, but chances are the food is not traditional to YOU and the claims regarding health are marketing ploys to foster impulse consumption. There is no “one diet” that is appropriate for “all” Americans, because we are not all one ethnicity. Period.

    Keep writing in your log book, Lance, and best of luck–to all of you, in fact. I sincerely hope that you all accomplish your goals and write about your progress. I am rooting for you!

    I enjoy your pieces, Lance, and congrats on being a dad.

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