Over the past year, my family, friends, and coworkers have encouraged me as I transformed from a portly, comfortable 30-something single guy at 235 pounds, to an increasingly fit, adventurous 31-something single guy at 185 pounds.
I was able to lose weight with as little as 5 hours of exercise a week and common sense dieting. That’s it. No crazy nutritional changes, no extreme endurance events, and no agreeing to anything that would set me up for failure before I even started.
As I’m celebrating being 50 pounds lighter at the time of publishing, I’ve had some time to explain what I’ve come to call my three personal rules of living healthier.
Exercise: Be adventurous, but within reason
Every day, I see awesome posts from friends in the military (hi, Reese!) who take a common-sense approach to fitness. Stay active, push yourself, but do it within your own limits without getting yourself into trouble. I also see people riding at length to and from work on their bike every day, or jogging during lunch during the work day, or getting a quick run in after work before they go to the bar to meet up with friends.
Common sense, right? Be active, do what you can, push yourself, but do it within reason. CrossFit, P90X, Insanity, and the other fashionable workout trends are just that. They’ll still get you there, but getting over the mental hurdle, costly memberships, and feeling like you can’t keep up might stop you in your tracks before you get very far.
I knew I could still improve my fitness without feeling uncomfortable all day long. I could still feel like I got a good workout without feeling guilty that I didn’t puke all over the sidewalk after a rough workout. That saying about pain and gain? Nobody needs pain. Isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid in the first place?
At work, a few of us joined an outdoor organic fitness group called Team Adrenaline. We meet twice a week, at work, after work, and exercise for 45 minutes. It uses cardio, plyometrics, aerobics, agility training, and mental conditioning, by using nothing more than the weight and resistance of our bodies, and perhaps a few orange cones to jump over. We’ll exercise near the river, by a large set of stairs, or if it’s raining or too hot out, in a parking deck where it’s cooler.
On the off-days, I will either swim at an Olympic-size pool complex here in Richmond, re-create my own Team Adrenaline-style routines in my apartment building’s parking deck, or take a jog along the canal or on the treadmill when weather doesn’t cooperate.
All it takes is a minimum of 5 hours a week, to around 7 a week if I’m feeling aggressive. ~5-7% of my waking hours feels like a good investment to feel better, and it doesn’t feel like I’m making sacrifices to do it. It’s just one less episode of TV a night. Don’t worry, I still have time for four hour-long episodes before bed.
Nutrition: Never give up something I love
With the craze of diets, the number one thing I hear and see and read is people giving up foods they love for anything but an allergy or medically-important reason. “Wheat is poison!” “Carbs are evil!” “Sugar is the devil!” Don’t even get me started on the mass-hysteria over GMOs.
If we paid attention to every claim and study, we’d rule out most foods over fears of dying by the time we’re 35. I’m not going to give up bread, rice, pasta, and ice cream. Sure, I have a lot less of it, but I didn’t give it up completely.
My diet is 100% common sense-based, with fresh ingredients and moderation being two of the most important aspects. My diet works for me, but it may not work for you.
My diet consists of six guidelines:
- Drop the chems: Avoid preservatives and artificial ingredients whenever possible. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient, chances are it’s not real or is there to preserve something longer than it needs preserving. (It also preserves fat, too. That doesn’t need preserving…) Doing this alone will be enough to feel a difference already.
- Lean up vs. fattening up: Eating more lean fish and meat than heavy, fattening protein. Yes, I still enjoy a hamburger or steak or ribs, but the key is moderation.
- Cut the carb-loading: Carb-heavy foods like pastas and bread still have their place in my diet, but instead of a main entrée, they’re a side. A side that doesn’t mean seconds, and certainly not thirds. If it’s a delicious plate of mac ‘n cheese, I keep that to twice a month at the most. Trust me, I’m not giving up my homemade lobster sriracha mac ‘n cheese because I want to lose weight.
- Fresh means flavor: Fresh produce is an absolute must, and grilling it is even better. A dash of soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos adds flavor if you insist on some liquid additives, but a pinch of finishing salt is just as delicious. Just avoid the plain iodized table salt, because that stuff is lame.
- Spray instead of pour: When possible, use olive oil in a spray mister instead of pouring it in the pan. It’s enough to add flavor and keep things from sticking, but keeps tablespoons of the stuff out of your body.
- Put down the fork, and pass on seconds: This is easy when you think it’s easy. There’s no reason to have seconds. I used to do it all the time, until I learned that I didn’t have to. Taking a sip of water between bites also helps me slow down while I’m eating and give my stomach time to send that signal to my brain that I’m good. One plate is all I need, and I keep the portions small. Honestly, a 12oz steak is still just as great as a 16oz steak.
Again, it works for me, but it may not work for you. I’m not a dietician, and I’m not going to try to make you miserable by telling you what you shouldn’t be eating.
Life: Challenge myself to do better
Staying comfortable is what got me to a lofty, personal weight record. Staying uncomfortable by the fad exercise programs and diets is what caused me to give up countless times.
Throughout my common sense dieting, exercising on my own terms, and understanding my own limits, I conditioned myself to know I could do better without regretting my commitment. I knew I’d wake up in the morning with a little soreness that would go away once I started moving, but wouldn’t have to worry that I’d need to pop pain relievers and muscle relaxants all day to deal with cramps and sore joints. That’s cray cray.
This also goes for my career, hobbies, friendships, relationships, and relaxing. No matter what I do, I know I can do better if I work for it.
I may have reached my initial weight goal of losing 50 pounds, but I’m nowhere near my final goal: to be physically and mentally fit, and able to do more than I’ve ever done before. It’ll take some work to get there, but I know with my three rules, I can do this.
Now that my weight loss goal is almost met, I’ll be focusing on toning up and strength, but without the bulk.
It’s been a long journey, but I’m just getting started.
Check out some of the pictures I’ve collected along my journey below, and say hi in the comments with any questions you might have.