A little over a month ago, I took to heart what I read by Timothy Caulfield in the book The Cure for Everything: Untangling Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness so I decided to embark on a diet based on Caulfield’s diet chapter. For more details on this great book, see my earlier post that goes into great detail.
And what great timing: when I came to this decision, I was about seven weeks away from my marrying my soul mate, Suzanna, in Tuscany. And if that’s not a good enough reason to lose weight, I don’t know what one is.
In this post, I discuss the diet (after a little background) and share with you my results. Hopefully, this will be of some use to you if you are struggling with your own body mass or just curious.
Me as an Adult
I was a long distance runner and skinny and short growing up. I finally stopped growing in college but remained very skinny. Somehow after college and living on very little money in graduate school, I grew up. And not just in maturity. Like many people these days, virtually overnight, I seemed to grow from about 140 pounds when I was a starving grad student to the 175-185 pounds I have consistently maintained for the last 3 decades.
On the positive side, unlike many of my peers, I have managed to maintain a BMI in the range of 25 to 27. Not great, but within striking distance of a upper range of normal: 24.9, or so I have been telling myself for the last couple of decades.
Even when I was training for marathons (I’ve completed four in the past decade; and three others back in high school), I never got into the normal range except for one brief period in 2006. (Here’s a blog post I dug up from January of 2006, where I was excited that I briefly hit a 24.9 BMI.)
At the same time, I was unhappy with the gut that stared at me every day when I looked into the mirror. Now when I was marathon or triathlon training, I generally was closer to 170-175 pounds with a BMI of 26, but still the gut was there. Look for example, at this photo of me after my 3:36 marathon performance (just missing qualifying for Boston, by the way) at the Eugene Marathon in 2008. I don’t know about you, but I can see a gut there even though I had just run a marathon and had logged on average 30-45 miles per week while training for the race for about six months prior to the race.
Which leads me to the book that inspired the diet…
Back to the Book
In The Cure for Everything, backed by his review of the current research, his discussions with nutritionists and top-of-the-field fitness experts, and his first-hand dieting effort, Timothy Caulfield asserts a few basic premises that I took to heart and have formed the basis of my current diet plan:
- Most of us are fatter and shorter than we believe we are.
- Weight loss and fitness are different things but are often conflated. That is, you don’t lose weight by exercising. At least not by exercise alone. After denying it for years, I finally admit that this is indeed true! (Recall, the photo of me after the Eugene marathon.)
- Most adults need to consume about 1,800 to 2,200 calories to maintain their current weight. (Kids under 12 need only about 1,400 to 1,600 calories.)
- The only way to lose weight is to consume less calories than you burn and you undoubtedly eat too much now.
- Certain poison foods should be avoided. These include sugary beverages, junk food, candy, and most heavily processed foods.
- Maintaining a food diary is a good way (the best way?) to lose weight.
That’s pretty much it; most everything else is noise when it comes to weight loss including how much carbs, protein, or fat you eat or what time of day you eat it.
And if you think this is all just a bunch of assertions from some random person, think again. While I won’t go into the details here (this post is long enough), Caulfield backs up his assertions with numerous references to research studies and interviews with nutritionists and physical fitness experts.
Start of the Diet
At the start of my diet on August 25, I weighed myself, and just to make sure, I also had Suzanna measure my height using a wall, a pencil, and a level. My weight on that day, first thing in the morning, was 174.6 pounds and my BMI was 25.8 as calculated on the US Centers for Disease Control BMI calculator page. Notice the mention of OVERWEIGHT!
Also, the circumference of my body at the belly button: 37 inches.
The Diet: What to Do
I have good news and bad news about this diet. First, the bad news…
- The bad news:there is no magic.
- The good news: there is no magic.
It’s all quite simple. Here is what I did…
- I pointed my browser to myfitnesspal.com and created an account. I entered my current weight (174.6), height, gender, my goal weight (165), a few details about my job (sedentary) and amount of exercise I planned to do, and how quickly I wanted to lose weight (I put in one pound per week). Based on my inputs, my fitness pal suggested a basal number of calories I needed to maintain my weight (it was around 1900-2000 calories) and a suggested daily goal of 1500 calories to lose weight.
- I also downloaded the iPhone version of my fitness pal and use it regularly.(There are also versions for Android and the Windows Phone.)
- I started logging my calories—everything I put into my mouth—in the my fitness pal food diary.
- I continued to exercise 5-6 days per week. Most days this was 60-120 minutes of exercise. My exercise included biking to work most days, weight lifting, running, brisk walking, and use of the elliptical trainer.
- Note: to get the most benefit from exercise, it’s important to do it vigorously. Low intensity exercise doesn’t make you fit and won’t help much with the weight loss either though I will admit it’s better than sitting on your butt!
- One more important thing: my fitness pal will tell you that you can eat extra calories that it calculates based on your exercise. I did my best (with a few exceptions) to ignore those extra calories and stick to the 1500 calories.
Maintaining a food diary on my fitness pal or some other online log or even on paper costs nothing. The diet itself costs nothing but does require a healthy dose of diligence and persistence. At the most, you might need to purchase a few measuring cups and spoons that will come in handy. A kitchen scale may come in handy too but we did fine for a number of weeks without one although we did purchase one recently.
On Sept 18, after about 3 1/2 weeks, I had lost 9.6 pounds, and achieved my goal weight of 165 and my belly button measurement was 34.5 inches. I was speechless. Not really, I was telling everyone of my success.
So I updated my goal weight to 160.
Now, on Sept 29, after only 5 weeks, I have lost 13.6 pounds. This morning I weighed in at 161.0 pounds and now am only a pound away from my goal weight! Not bad, not bad at all! My belly button measurement is 33.5 inches and my BMI is 23.8, significantly under the upper limit of normal!
The astute reader will note that my weight loss velocity was only set to one pound per week when I first configured my fitness pal yet I lost on average 2-3 pounds per week. And I wasn’t hugely obese to begin with so that can’t explain my accelerated weight loss. This is all true. I attribute the quicker results to working out hard 5-6 days per week and—and I think this is important—not eating the extra calories that my fitness pal awarded me. Sure, you may need to increase your calories if you do a 3 hour bike ride or a 2 hour run, but for most lesser exercise routines, you simply don’t need to compensate by eating more. And if you are able to do this, you should be rewarded handsomely!
How I Did It
I did it because I stuck to the plan.
What I did right…
- I logged everything I ingested. My fitness pal makes this incredibly easy with a large database of existing foods contributed by its users. It has lots of name brand, restaurant, and generic foods. But it also allows you to add your own.
- I got used to eating less. And eating out less!
- I got used to measuring things. Almost everything unless it was pre-packaged.
- Bear in mind that working with 1,500 calories is sometimes challenging and wasn’t exactly easy but if you set your mind to it, it can be done.
- Sometimes I let myself go over my limit. I wasn’t perfect although those were usually days where I had somewhat of a buffer because of exercise. However, I did not get in the habit of using up my “extra exercise calories” buffer.
- I generally would work out by running and/or doing weight training 3-4 days a week and would also bike to and from work most week days in addition to this exercise. On those days when I both biked to work and worked out before work, that would mean 1.5 – 2 hours of exercise. I’m sure this helped.
- The majority of my calorie consumption was devoted to fruits and vegetables, whole grains, non-fat milk (in my café latte) and plain Greek yogurt.
- Things currently not on my diet (with just a few exceptions): bread and cold cereal. Note: I love bread and used to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich almost every day for lunch but this is currently not on the menu for me. I certainly could fit it in, I just choose not to.
- Treats included small amounts of dark chocolate (as in 1-3 squares), an occasional glass of wine or beer, and popcorn.
It’s worth emphasizing, that when you have fewer calories to work with, you need to make smart choices. And these decisions will be different for different people. I choose to have a latte (sometimes two) most days but this costs me 135 calories a pop. Others (especially those not addicted to lattes) will choose a different way to spend those 135 calories.
The important thing is to stay on track and emphasize whole foods over processed junk with artificial sweeteners and other phony ingredients. Oh, and you need to lay off the salt too!
Aside: although I won’t reveal her details here, Suzanna has been quite successful too.
A Typical Day
Here are some reports straight off out of my fitness pal to give you a sense of a typical day for me…
The first one is from Sept 14th. Notice how I log everything. For breakfast, I had oatmeal with lots of fresh fruit, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds and a grande-size latte.
For lunch it’s Fage (please don’t ask me how to pronounce it!) Total Zero Greek yogurt with fruit and slivered almonds (a half a tablespoon). Also, a couple of pieces of dark chocolate.
Dinner in this case was estimated. Probably for a meal out though I don’t recall exactly. Finally, I must have had some sort of snack that was estimated as well. Sometimes, an estimate is all you got but it’s best to be as honest as possible. Notice I was over my target by only 10 calories!
Here’s another example day: the September 7th food diary…
Eggs for breakfast; I entered a custom recipe into my fitness pal which added up the calories for me.
Lunch was Greek yogurt (again).
We had a guest over for dinner and ate wild salmon and quinoa. Plus two glasses of wine.
I snacked on sliced jicama, carrots, and 2 tablespoons of hummus while at work. Plus a peach and then later in the evening some pretzels. I was over my 1,500 calorie goal, this time by 194 calories, but again, I was pretty darn close.
Here’s another day—actually it’s from today. Cooked rye flakes (a lot like oatmeal) for breakfast with the usual fruit and seeds and a latte.
Lunch was a little unusual in that it was mostly veggies and hummus plus a square of chocolate.
Dinner was out at a Thai restaurant but we kept it smart. I had half of a lightly dressed salad and only a 1/4 of a tofu-based curry dish with a bit of rice (we took home half the curry dish instead of eating the whole thing).
And some fruit, dark chocolate, and coffee for snacks.
Here’s an example of an exercise routine at the health club. Running on the treadmill for 33 minutes followed by some weights work from last week.
Dealing with Challenges
Not every day goes smoothly. There are challenges. Some of the challenges we met were caused by back-packing, travelling, and eating out at restaurants. There are the times where someone brings brownies to work. And of course, there are always days where you just want to eat and eat!
Something I do that really helps is to pre-measure meals and snacks into containers (often setup the night before) and bring those containers along with me. I do this for my lunch at work and we did this for our recent trip to San Francisco and when we went back packing on the Olympic Peninsula And don’t forget the snacks! The more you can do to prevent breaking down and buying a cookie or a bag of chips at work or the airport, the better! I bring snacks to work almost every weekday (in addition to lunch) consisting of things like a couple of pieces of fruit, a small serving of nuts, a dried fig or two, carrots and celery with 1 or 2 tablespoons of hummus, or a square or two of chocolate.
Getting a cup of coffee helps me too. Of course, there’s also tea and you can’t knock a good old glass of water or sparkling mineral water. And, if I’m having an especially tough day at work, I will buy myself a second latte later in the day and perhaps a banana or an apple.
And if you have to go over, try and minimize the damage. And once in a while, you are going to blow it; forgive yourself, get over it, and set out to work harder the next day to stay on plan.
My Maintenance Plans
With two weeks to go before our wedding, I am a mere pound away from my revised goal weight. I am pretty sure I will attain my goal but even if I miss it by a pound or three (I could always gain weight between now and then), I will still have been successful. Still, I’ve worked hard enough and have come this far, that I doubt I will slip backwards at this point.
Once I attain my goal, it will be time to maintain my weight! My maintenance plan is simple: continue to try and stay under 2,000 calories and, when I over-indulge, compensate by eating less at other meals and exercising more. And don’t beat myself up for the occasional misstep.
Exercise plans to be a big part of my maintenance plan. And it’s important to me not just for maintaining weight. I have a strong desire to maintain a high degree of fitness for health reasons too. And because I enjoy being fit!
I’m sure our three weeks in Italy celebrating our wedding and honeymoon will be a challenge but we will hopefully make wise choices and walk, hike, and exercise a lot to make up for some of the indiscretions that are likely to happen.
Let me be honest: I can’t predict what will happen on my honeymoon, or what will happen next month or next year. I admit that I am venturing into new unchartered territory as I circle around my target of 160 pounds.
But I also know that following this dead-simple, gimmick-free diet and exercise plan has given me new hope and makes me realize that even if I have temporary setbacks, it shouldn’t be that hard to get myself back on track.
And just maybe by putting my story out in the open in the blogosphere, it might just help me stay on track even more!