Sunday, January 27, 2008

The 6 Month Mark - a.k.a. the "secret" to weight loss

Disclaimer: Any product endorsements written here are solely based on personal experience and preference. I have not been paid/bribed/bamboozled/hypnotized into writing anything, good or bad, about them, so yeah...

Today (January 27th, 2008) marks the 6 month anniversary of the day I turned my life around.

I was a 6'3", 280lbs (127kg/20 stone), and 29.1% body fat. I had always seemed to have been in denial about my weight - I always knew I was big (I was 10.5lbs at birth - and only went up from there), but I never really thought I "looked" it. My entire life, my parents had been on my case about my weight, always telling me to exercise (but also always feeding me so much), but I would never listen. I had high cholesterol (although I also have a bi-parental history) and my blood pressure was starting to look dangerous. This, as you may imagine, is not normal for a 19 year old boy. But even still, I wrote it off - I had always been happy being 'big', except of course when I would be out of breath and sweaty just from walking to class. I had tried to lose weight in the past, but like many, never succeeded.

Then, something seemingly small led to something big: on our family trip to the Dominican Republic, I wasn't allowed on the free horse ride because they had a 200lb (90kg/14.3 stone) limit. This didn't bother me at all, but when we got back to the hotel, my parents had a fit. When we returned home, my mom called a family friend who had worked with a personal trainer, and we called him. The next day, July 27th, 2007, was the day my life turned around - the day I started with my personal trainer at 24hour Fitness, my bodybugg, and my new life.

The dieting and the exercise started immediately, and is quite literally the "secret" to weight loss. It's simple math: Calories Out - Calories In = Weight Lost. I was introduced to the bodybugg, and while the price was a pretty steep deterrent, we decided to go for it. Basically, you wear the bodybugg on your arm all day (and all night, if you prefer - I don't because I tend to sleep on my side), and then plug it into your computer. It uploads the information that it takes from a bunch of sensors inside, and uses them to calculate how many calories you've burned. It's surprisingly accurate, and not only gives you the day's total (or how much so far that day), but displays graphs of minute-by-minute burn. It's quite amusing to be able to visually see how certain things increase your burn, e.g. working out, and how others bring it back down to your BMR (basal metabolic rate), like sitting on your butt watching TV. It also asks you to type in the Nutritional Information for the foods you've eaten that day, and I think this is the major player in the weight loss. Having to type in your food leads to a certain amount of personal accountability. It makes you constantly look at the BACK of the food container, where the important stuff is, not just the front, where they try and lure you in with how tasty their food looks.

Using the information it has from your bodybugg and the information you give it about your food, it calculates a deficit/surplus (I can proudly say I have never been in a surplus - not even on Thanksgiving), which helps you estimate how much weight you should be losing. The bodybugg creates a "goal" burn, intake, and deficit based on how much weight you want to lose, and by when. As long as you stick to the numbers it gives you, you'll be on track to your goal in no time.

So, back to my story - I was in the gym, with my trainer, 5-6days a week, moving from core stabilization to resistance training, followed by cardio. With everything I have experienced in the past 6 months, I will say (as will countless other fitness buffs out there) that those are the 2 key ingredients (along with diet) to maximize your weight loss. Cardio burns calories like no other (especially the elliptical trainer, rowing machine, and treadmill), and resistance training strengthens your body and adds muscle mass, which increases the amount of calories you burn all day.

The only "supplement" I used all summer was a protein powder called Muscle Milk. Protein shakes after workouts are important for keeping your lean muscle tissue (although with any drastic amount of weight loss, expect a significant drop in lean body mass) and to maximize the effectiveness of resistance training. I had tried other protein powders in the past as well, which is why I was skeptical of this as well (as you may tell, I went into this whole 'personal trainer' business warily, constantly keeping watch for scams, etc). But again, I decided what the hell, and bought it. It was actually pretty tasty, but whether it had any significant effect on my loss, I can't tell you for sure.

With this routine of diet and exercise, the pounds started falling off (see the "Progress" column, to the right - now you all know what it is, if you haven't figure it out already lol). By the time summer finished and it was time for me to get back to school, I was down to 251.5lbs (114.3kg/17.9stone) and 22.4% body fat. I felt like a changed man - my clothes fit better, I had more self confidence, and people were noticing a difference (it's an amazing confidence boost, let me tell you!).

However, I wasn't even closed to finished (and I'm still not). When I returned to University, I decided not to let the ridiculously unhealthy hall food and freezing weather ruin all my hard work. I continued making the right choices about what/how much I ate, and I was back in the gym, Monday-Wednesday-Friday. For those of you who find going to the gym tedious and boring, a tip I suggest is finding a friend who thinks the same thing. Not only will you keep each other motivated (the friend I go with constantly calls me fat-ass - but only after I started dropping the weight - it's an amusing incentive to constantly prove him wrong), but it makes the workouts go quicker and makes them more fun.

By December, I was down another 30lbs and 6% body fat. My clothes were no longer fitting (I have never, in my life, been able to say that something was "too big" for me - I was as big as they come, with a 52" chest and 42" waist.) But this Christmas break, amongst the multitude of sales, I was finally able to buy nice clothes that fit well, rather than having to settle for whatever came in my size. I'm down to a 44-46 chest and a 36-38 waist. It's absolutely amazing.

Essentially, I'm writing this whole story as a motivation to those like me. If you put your mind to it and set goals, you can do it. It just takes the right mindset, attitude, and some basic knowledge of what you're doing to achieve what you want. Emotional support from family and friends helps too. Who knows, you might even get a poster up in your gym like I do now!

I am currently at ~220lbs (100kg, 15.7 stone) and 20% body fat, so I'm not even close to being finished. Who knows, if both the weight loss and this blog keep going, maybe you'll see another post such as this one in another 6 months :-)

If any of you need advice, motivation, information, workout/diet plans, etc, feel free to leave a comment and I will gladly help where I can.