Here's What I Learned From Losing 50 Pounds in 4 Months
Making a Decision to Make a Change
A few months before my 38th birthday, I stepped on the scale and saw the highest number I had ever seen when I weighed in at 260 pounds. It should not have been a shock to me since I’d been slowly gaining weight with every passing year of my adult life. Every so often I would attempt to knock a few pounds off with some sort of plan, but ultimately it would never stick and I would gain back what I had lost. A photo of myself with a friend that clearly showed I was larger than I could remember prompted the visit to the bathroom scale and my worst fears were confirmed. Something needed to be done.
I immediately opened that picture in Photoshop, put the words “Don’t Be Fat” across the bottom in large bright yellow letters, and made it the wallpaper on my computer. I knew that this alone would not be enough to motivate me to take action, so I set out to make a plan. I turned to the Internet and found a blogger who worked with computers every day, like myself, who had had some success, and I began to take notes. I wanted to make a real lifestyle change, without requiring everyone around me to do the same, and many of the suggestions fit into that mold.
In the past, I would simply say I wanted to “do better” in my eating and could justify any food decision as having been better than some previous terrible food choice. This time, I felt I needed to make a very tangible goal, no matter how reasonable or crazy it might seem, so there would be some way I could measure my progress and success. I decided I would attempt to lose 10 pounds in 10 days and set out to gather some tools to do so.
I purchased a scale and decided I would weigh myself every day. I had read pros and cons about doing this, but I knew that having some way to measure my effort every day would be important, as it would serve as a reminder for the task at hand. I purchased one with a digital readout that also measured body fat, and placed it near my shower where I would weigh myself each morning. First thing each day, at the same time. This would be my motivator.
Being a lover of technology, I would use the Internet and set up two online accounts to help me with the process. The first was an online food and exercise tracker. This would give me a tangible way to see what my intake was each day and track calories, meals, water consumption, and exercise. This proved handy because I typically had some sort of internet device with me at all times. The second tool I registered was a blog account, where I would tell the world about my progress, or at least anyone who cared to read along.
One of the tips that resonated with me was that every day an amount of fuel is put into the body. Whatever is not burned through activity, or is not expelled in some manner, is then stored by the body as energy. The trick to weight loss and maintenance is finding the proper balance for your body. Through a variety of methods, I found out that mine required around 2,200 calories per day to maintain my weight. After some quick calculations, I realized that on many days I worked long hours, had multiple off-site meetings, and went to bed past midnight. I was often consuming 3,000-4,000 calories and not exercising. All that stored energy was adding up to stored pounds. I set a daily limit of 1,500 calories for the first round of my experiment and recorded everything I consumed.
I have long had a love/hate relationship with water. I know that water is essential for a healthy body and, as a singer, I also know that water is critical for staying hydrated. Still, I have never enjoyed drinking water. Knowing I needed more water meant giving up all other forms of drinks, aside from my morning coffee, so I could reach my daily goal of 64 ounces each day.
On February 3 of that year, I started a new phase of my life, eating only 1,500 calories per day, weighing myself every morning, tracking every calorie I ate, and writing about the experience. For ten days I had a single focus. I was methodical about making sub-500 calorie meals that didn’t turn my household upside down. I was resolute in avoiding tempting fat and sugar-filled coffee drinks and the normal accompanying snacks. I drank water every day and nothing else aside from black coffee. I weighed myself every morning and wrote every last bit of it as a record. On February 13, 10 days later, I stepped on the scale, I had lost 10.3 pounds.
Before I had time to change my mind, I decided to do even more and set a new goal: lose 35 pounds. I had a closet full of clothes I knew I could wear again if I dropped those next 25 pounds, but I also knew I would simply feel better in every way imaginable. I purchased a bike and fell in love with cycling. I told everyone I knew about my goal, and surprisingly found that several friends were also hoping to make similar changes and hopped on board with their own goals. I continued on with my original plan and 64 days later, hit my target goal. Before I could let go of this experiment, I decided to lose the last 15 pounds and set a final goal of 50 pounds.
The last 15 proved to be the hardest for me to lose. Despite putting in long miles on my bike, making smart food decisions, drinking plenty of water, and following my normal routine, my body simply needed more time. I logged several blog posts of frustration when I would plateau on my weight for days, or worse when I would gain weight. I even ran a “Guess The Date” contest on my blog and gave away a Starbucks gift card to the reader who guessed the day I would reach my target. Most of all, I kept my goal in mind, didn’t give up hope, and on June 7, 124 days into my experiment, I reached my 50-pound goal, right on the nose.
Reflecting Back on Where I Was Before the Change
Losing 50 pounds that year was one of my greatest personal accomplishments. It was harder than I had anticipated and more gratifying than I could have known when I first decided to try. I have often said that I hated being overweight, but I always found excuses to keep from getting healthier. When I would make comments about my own weight, my friends and family would brush them away by telling me I carried it well, or that I didn’t look the weight I was. My wife often told me she was happy with me just the way I was, and that she “wouldn’t want me too skinny, anyway.” My kids, of course, could care less what I weighed, and my friends, co-workers, employees, and business partners held the same sentiment. With nobody telling me I needed to consider getting healthy, it was never a priority for me until I saw that single photo that changed my mind.
Early on in the experiment, I realized I was an emotional eater. I love the way food tastes, but I also rely on it as a crutch. If I was working late after my family went to bed, I deserved a midnight snack for my effort. If I was procrastinating on a project I didn’t want to work on, I would prepare some food to help pass the time. If somebody else was up late having a snack, I would enjoy the camaraderie of tackling a pizza or tub of ice cream together. I not only ate because of those moments, but I also ate because I didn’t want to miss out on the moment. I have never been the kind of person to say “no thanks, I just ate,” if there was something tasty to try. Instead, I would have just a little more so that I didn’t miss out on whatever fantastic food was available.
I also realized I was a mindless eater. While I was recording everything I ate and measuring portions and calories, it dawned on me that I had never considered my daily food intake. If we had cold cereal at home, I would eat two bowls, not one, simply because I enjoyed it. Nearly every day I would walk with my business partner to get a calorie-laden coffee drink, and usually a scone to go with it. We ate lunch out every day of the work week, and I usually consumed whatever I wanted. My wife was better about preparing healthy dinners, but I never considered portions, and of course, most nights I had dessert or some late-night snack. Every day I would plow through an amazing amount of calories without even thinking. When I considered how I mindlessly ate my way through the day, it was easy to see how I ended up at the weight that I did.
As a business owner and community leader, I felt I needed to appear confident and sure of myself. Inside, the fact that I needed to lose 50 pounds just to get a weight that health experts still consider overweight upset me and made me self-conscious. Writing the blog helped me deal with this in several ways. As I posted about struggles I faced or feelings I worked through, readers would often comment or email me with encouraging messages. I began to realize that I wasn’t alone in my frustration, and some of my friends and other random readers struggled with the same feelings. I neared my goal and then plateaued just 2 pounds away for several days. I posted about how angry I was for not being able to get over that hurdle. My brother wrote to me and reminded me that while I was seeing the negative of not being able to complete my goal as quickly as I wanted, I had made a tremendous achievement already, and would reach my goal in due time. Writing the blog was not only therapeutic, but also revealed to me others with similar frustrations, and provided a great deal of direct encouragement from friends and readers.
Throughout the entire process, I worried about whether or not I’d be able to maintain this healthy way of eating and living beyond the initial goal. I had lost 5 or 10 pounds before, only to have no plan in place to maintain that loss, and would quickly gain the pounds back. With so many people cheering me on to this lofty goal, would I let them down if I gained it all back in the same amount of time? My desire was to make a life-long change. I wanted to enjoy activities with my children, and not feel winded from running around with them. I wanted to be able to wear the clothes I finally fit into, and not have to go back to all extra-large sized items. I wanted to achieve victory over this issue I had battled for so long, and be able to keep it off. There was one key element that was different this time that gave me hope I would be able to do it.
In every previous effort to lose weight, I was always focused on food. What could I eat? What couldn’t I eat? How much could I eat? When should I eat? While some of these questions were still valid, I realized that I had indeed made a lifestyle change as a byproduct of my experiment. I found that I loved cycling. Prior to this phase of life, I hated every form of exercise and would regularly declare that to my friends. I hated the gym, I hated running, workout videos were not my thing, and golf didn’t really count as exercise. With cycling, my view of exercise changed, and I actually craved being outside on my bike, for as long as I could afford. Whereas before I couldn’t stand to run for 30 minutes, I could spend two or three hours riding my bike on the country roads just out my back door. In an effort to simply lose weight, I changed a previously held notion about exercise and my own healthy lifestyle.
Specific Concepts and Tactics Used
Before I successfully lost 50 pounds, I never formulated a clear plan of attack. Through this experiment, I established a clearly defined goal. In every other attempt to lose weight, I simply started without a specific goal in mind. I would fizzle out before reaching the goal because I didn’t know where the finish line was. By setting an initial goal of 10 pounds in 10 days, I was able to measure my progress each day and see where I was in comparison to the goal. When I later made 35 and 50-pound goals, I had in mind the dates I would like to reach those goals but wasn’t set on them being hard deadlines. The goal was to reach those numbers, in whatever time it took, continuing on with the plan and the tools I determined would get me there. Having a goal allowed me to clearly answer the question, “What is it you are trying to accomplish?” I loved being able to share exactly what my goal was.
Simply having the goal would never be enough. I needed a way to reach the finish line. I developed a straightforward plan to reach my goal. Before I set one foot on the scale, I researched methods that worked for others, particularly those that revolved around lifestyle changes, and not simply techniques to lose pounds. I assembled a collection of tools to help me with my goal and put them in place before launching my experiment. I established a daily limit of 1500 calories, and proactively planned as many meals as I could. Planning ahead would help me avoid having to make last-minute decisions that could lead to poor nutritional results. I would drink only water and coffee and slowly mix in some form of exercise. Along the way, I would journal everything and share it online. It was a simple plan, which made it easy to follow and return to, day-in and day-out. The plan was my daily marching order on how to reach the goals I had set. If I ever was unsure of what I should be doing, I could refer to the plan.
Since this was something I was doing alone, I would need the encouragement, support, and accountability of other people to keep going. I made myself accountable to others in order to stay motivated. Only I could lose my weight, but others would play an important part by reminding me what I was trying to accomplish. Writing daily blog entries turned my private goal into a public effort. When I ran into people at the coffee shop they would ask how my progress was going. Other times I would receive emails encouraging me to “keep it up” or sharing that I had served as inspiration in their lives to do the same. No matter what the method was, it all served as motivation to continue. Without the accountability piece, I could easily fade out of a goal, and no one would be the wiser. I have set far too many goals, and not shared them with anyone, to know this to be true.
Throughout this process I endured setbacks, regrouped, and moved forward again. I call this the “Limit The Damage” mantra. Every person that has attempted to lose weight knows there are moments of weakness. Moments when even the most determined dieter caves and eats something they shouldn’t, or has a solid day of poor food choices. This is not the end of the world, yet too often I am discouraged by these poor choices. I can easily feel I have derailed the entire goal with one day of bad eating. I quickly learned this wasn’t the case. In fact, after several days in a row of consuming minimal calories, my body reacted positively to eating more than I planned. In those times, having an extra-large cheeseburger actually kick started the weight loss process once again. As an added bonus, I felt like I was getting a reward for working hard. Knowing that I hadn’t entirely ruined my plan allowed me to limit the damage to one meal, or one day, regroup my efforts, and return to the plan as quickly as possible.
In the end, I changed my perspective about weight loss and healthy living. The goal of losing weight had always been about the weight itself. Instead of simply looking at ways to lose pounds, I discovered that many thoughts about food and exercise didn’t help me have a healthy lifestyle. Previously I made a mental checklist of foods I couldn’t eat because they were bad for me. But I saw that I could eat any food I wanted to, just in moderation. There was no such thing as a good or bad food any longer, only the right sized portion. I also stopped looking at exercise as an activity I hated, and instead found a form of exercise that energized my day. Overall, I stopped looking at weight-loss as a negative thin and realized it was something positive I could control in my life with a consistent effort.
Applying These Concepts in New Situations
Every week in my Information Systems support position, there are a number of projects to be worked on by myself and the team I work with. Some projects require multiple members of the team and can span several weeks to accomplish. Because a project may be started and stopped and started again, it is imperative that the requested end result is clearly defined, and that everyone knows this goal. I serve the team in a role we call the Scrum Master, which helps facilitate the projects we’ve decided to tackle for the week. One of the questions I ask about each project is, “How do we know when we are done - done?” This helps the team to be clear about whether we have completed a project, by having a clearly defined measure that the goal has been reached, to the satisfaction of the requestor.
Just as with my weight loss goals, all work projects require a specific plan to ensure they will be completed properly. In my facilitator role, I lead weekly planning meetings where the team writes a story card for each project, detailing the required end result. For every story card, the team also writes task cards, which outline the necessary steps of the plan they must follow to meet the goal. Since we’ve discovered that we have greater success with an outlined plan, we’ve made a rule that no project can enter the workflow without well-defined tasks. Each of these tasks can be worked on by any member of the team, and must be checked off in order to complete the project. Having these tasks clearly outlined shows anyone how much progress has been made on the plan at any given time.
While my role as Scrum Master is one of facilitating workflow and not managing team members, there are still elements of accountability. Just last week I asked a team member if he could release a software hotfix before the end of the day, and he acknowledged that they could. Although it is not my job to make sure he followed through, I checked in during the last 20 minutes of his shift and found out that he had forgotten the task altogether. He quickly apologized and released the hotfix before 5 P.M., as was promised to the customer. Being accountable to each other helps reach the goals we’ve set as a team. Additionally, each morning we have a stand up meeting, where we each state what we are working on, what we accomplished the day before, and what we need from any other team members.
I’ve been working on a plan to move our company away from a locally-hosted accounting software to one that is hosted online. Since we are in the healthcare industry, this has been a particularly tricky move, as all data needs to be secured to meet the Health Industry Portability and Accountability Act rules and regulations. After months of research, and stacks of correspondence between vendors and end users within the company, I was able to present the proposal to the company leadership team. Although they had some initial reservations, they saw the long term value of the move, and approved the proposal. The week before the move, the online vendor declined to sign our business agreement, and our software vendor informed us our rates would be higher than he previously quoted. Both of these could have been issues that would have ended the project, and it would have been easy to give up. However, with some additional negotiation, we were able to agree on a modified contract. I was also able to modify the annual budget for the hosted solution in a way that negated the price change. The two issues caused a delay in the project, but we were able to regroup and continue on and are once again moving forward.
Whether I’m at work, community meetings, or home, I realize I can view any task from many different perspectives. Before tackling a goal, I try to consider the different ways I might be able to accomplish it. I also try to look at the issue from the perspectives of other people. Once, while working all night to reconfigure our network, our team ran into an issue where a segment of the network stopped working altogether. Everyone offered suggestions, and the system administrators worked until 3 a.m. researching possible issues, and reprogramming switches. Just before calling it a night, one administrator literally looked at the problem a different way, by simply looking at the component that wasn’t working, and found that a cable had been plugged into the wrong port. It was a solution that seven other team members had not considered, but once the cable was moved, the rest of the network came back to life. If I only see a task the same way I’ve seen it every time before, I may not realize the best way to tackle it, and I may miss out on a new lesson that I could possibly learn.
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