Every year around mid-November many of us start eating out more due to holiday meals and gatherings with friends. We eat more cookies and desserts because those we love work hard to make them, and honestly – they just taste sooo good. A certain percentage of us will drink a little more alcohol than usual as well, and all of this can easily add up to a few thousand additional calories a week over the six-week Holiday Season, which can stretch to 10 weeks if you’re an NFL fan!
It was around this time of year in 2011 that I made a decision to change my lifestyle. I was 45 pounds overweight according to my doctor with a BMI index of 29.7, which classified me as overweight but approaching obese. I was on blood pressure medication and had sinking HDL cholesterol numbers, so I was on medication for cholesterol as well.
Over the next 6 months I managed to lose 30 pounds; during those 6 months we had Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, The Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter – all of which are holidays I normally celebrate and indulge by eating or drinking things that are detrimental to losing weight. As a result of losing the weight I was able to stop taking cholesterol and HBP meds, the latter of which I had been on in one form or another for 16 years.
The Warning Signs
I’ve maintained that weight for a few years now, but each autumn I fight what I think is a natural biological tendency for us to store up some fat for the winter, as if we’re bears preparing for hibernation. As the days get shorter, my appetite seems to grow, and if I’m not careful my waistline will too. I tend to get a little down each year – the winter blues – usually around late October, so traditional comfort foods become more appealing. Fall and winter are also the season for my favorite beers, so I tend to crave more beer than the wine I normally drink. All of this conspires to undo the efforts I have made to have a healthier lifestyle.
When I stepped on the scale on Sunday morning it read 201.9 pounds. Crap! That’s seven pounds above my normal “cruising weight” of 195, and it’s only a couple days after Thanksgiving. More importantly, it crossed my action threshold of 200. I realized my discipline in eating had slipped, primarily due to all the international travels recently. I was 192 at labor day, and had held 195 through October, so I had put on 7 pounds in a month. I had to curtail this upward trend immediately!
*I’m not a health professional – I’m an engineer, author, and musician. This is what I have done and it works for me. If you haven’t been to a doctor recently, go get a check-up and share your fitness goals and ideas with him or her. I want you to be healthier and happier, not hurt or headed to the Home Triumphant.
Instead of waiting for a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and get back to 195, I decided to get to 195 by New Year’s, and then I’ll push to 190 or maybe even 187 in 2015. I’m reclaiming my eating habits on all normal days, but will feel free to enjoy the holidays. What I did in 2011 has worked for some of my friends as well, so in hopes of maybe helping a few others avoid packing on the pounds this winter, I’ll share what I’m doing and share my progress each week.
My plan in 2011 wasn’t revolutionary, and it’s not really even “my plan”. I followed a modified eating regimen with excerpts primarily from Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Body, Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple, and Paleo while using P90X as my workout routine. I never got to the point where I could do the full 90 minutes of P90X – I mean every rep of every exercise – but I modified to where I needed to be and took a few days off when joints or muscles were really sore.
For 2014, I plan on following the eating plan and doing these workouts I found on Fitness Magazine’s website, although probably a modified version. I’ll be happy if I get each strength workout and 2 days of intervals in each week. For meals, I’ll probably eat the same breakfast and lunch each day during the week and try to eat sensible on the weekends. I might even eat the same lunch and breakfast on the weekends too. Dinner will be more flexible, but I’ll still avoid excess sugars, refined starches, and artificial foods. If there’s chemicals in it or names I can’t pronounce, I look for an alternative. Here’s what my meals look like:
- (3) Organic Brown Eggs, over medium, fried in grass-fed butter
- Black Beans – a portion about the size of my fist
- Broccoli – about equal to the black beans
- 1/2 of a strip steak (5-7 ounces) – medium rare
- about 1/4 cup of lentils
- steamed spinach – usually with a splash of apple cider vinegar
The basic premise of Ferris’ 4-hour Body (4HB) is don’t eat anything white, and pretty much don’t eat fruit. You need to have lean protein, certain veggies, and beans at every meal. You don’t count calories or nutrients. And you need to eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up to stoke the fires of your metabolism – to “break the fast” your body has been on since dinner so it doesn’t enter “fat storing mode” after you wake up.
Sugar (as well as sugar substitutes) is a key ingredient to watch as you change your eating habits. For my wife, she ate relatively well and was already thin. But when we used the MyFitnessPal app to track her foods, we found she was almost 4 times the recommended calories from sugar as she should be. Orange Juice, jellies at breakfast, fruits, and chocolate were the main contributors. She made adjustments – diluted her OJ with 50% water (much healthier and tastes better than the low calorie OJ’s), eliminated jelly, changed the types of fruits she ate, and switched to dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. It’s all about managing your insulin responses and eliminating spikes. The end result was she needed to buy a new wardrobe, and she has maintained her weight as well.
I can’t recall if this is Ferris’ term (it probably is, and I need to re-read the book), but what makes this work for me and my friends is the notion of “Garbage Day”. Most people fail to change their eating habits because they feel the need to “cheat” by eating bad foods they enjoy. On Ferris’ 4HB plan, one day each week is a binge day. The theory is that the body can only process so much caloric intake at a time, so an occasional binge won’t stop your weight loss, and in fact it might even accelerate the loss.
I use Garbage Day for my bag of chips, my beer, and whatever I want. In 2011-2012, I would top 6,000 calories in a day on Garbage day – mostly from beer and cheese. A few imperial stouts at 500 calories each and 12 ounces of Toscano cheese add up! Anyway, Garbage Day lets anyone eat well 6 days a week and indulge in what they crave on Day 7. I found that over time, my Garbage Day cravings became more subtle. I no longer enjoy eating a bag of Doritos, but for 6 or 7 months I looked forward to Saturday or Sunday to rip open that bag!
The Take Away
Start now! Don’t wait for January to change your eating habits. Don’t think of it as a diet; make a lifestyle change and don’t feel guilty about eating at parties and dinners. If you start now, I bet you will most likely at least maintain your current weight, and you’ll already be building discipline to roll into 2015 with a solid plan to improve your health.
Here’s my progress thus far:
- Sunday morning, Nov. 30 – 201.9 pounds
- Today, Dec. 4 – 198.2 pounds.
That’s 3.7 pounds dropped in 4 days. The weight loss won’t stay that fast, and it’s not unusual to see a 5-7 pound range in a week using Garbage Day. So if you weigh yourself at the same time almost every day like I do, don’t be shocked if you gained several pounds a day or two after garbage day. Give it a few weeks, drink plenty of water (no sodas! sugar!), and if you’re disciplined 6 days a week, you’ll see a downward trend in your weight if you have excess body fat. Now excuse me while I go do my intervals for the day.