How I have stayed slim the last 33 years after losing 83 pounds
The nurse called a few minutes ago. I’ve got a Zoom call with my urologist. Since I can’t go in these days under Covid, I have to answer all the questions as best I can.
Height? 5' 8.5".
And so on.
In 1987, I was 205 lbs. I was living in the lovely port city of Melbourne, Australia. I’d gotten overly fond of tea with cream, fish and chips, chocolate covered biscuits (Tim Tams!!!) and a whole raft of foods that were not only really bad for me but which also made my lifelong battle with being overweight impossible to manage.
One day I decided we were done. I was 34. By the end of that Southern Hemisphere summer I’d dropped 85 lbs. I didn’t know what was ahead of me. Nor did I have any clue that the odds, in every single way, were stacked to the sky against me.
According to most studies and available research, I had barely a one in ten chance of maintaining that success.
In my case, I did it the hard way. I changed my eating habits over the course of a single weekend. Increased my physical activity. And, I never looked back. As I began to slowly drop ounces, which turned into pounds, which turned into inches, the clothing started to loosen. By the end of the year I had a brand new body. From then on, with a slower metabolism, I have continued to adapt, listen to my body and make the kinds of changes as I age which allow me to remain slim, strong and athletic as I face down 70.
This is not easy.
Not in the slightest. Nor would I try to convince anyone that there is a shortcut which will get you magic results. There are no life hacks or magic potions or detox teas that will deliver what I have been able to achieve. I will, however, do my best to share what has worked for me, with the proviso that I have no clue whatsoever what will work for you. Nobody does. Only you can discover that.
Here then is my process and what I’ve learned along the way
1.The weight loss is the easiest part of the journey.
While you may not agree, the stats back me up. Dropping the weight, no matter how difficult that journey may be for you and me, is the slam dunk. We hit the goal weight, Woo-hoo. Then as is so typically the case, the body signals that it really, really, really wants that weight back. The siege to maintain your stronghold has begun. Now you and I find out whether or not we possess grit.
2. You will likely not be able to consume either the same kinds of foods, or certainly the same amounts of those foods again. Or both.
While this is likely to vary considerably, the simple truth is that what we eat, how much and our emotional motivations for eating are going to have to shift dramatically. I love donuts. No. Sorry. I INHALE donuts. I love chocolate, chocolate almonds…I could go on. There is no way that even thirty years ago with a younger body I could have continued eating those things other than as rare snacks and have any hope of maintaining my size. I shifted my preferences to fresh foods, veges, fruits. I completely cut breads and complex carbs out of my diet. Nobody loves a good, thick, chewy bread more than I do, especially slathered in butter. Nobody. And I just don’t do that any more. While I do not suffer from celiac disease, I have learned that my body doesn’t respond well to gluten. So gluten’s gotta go. When it did, my body responded with gratitude. Almost overnight.
So here’s a message: for so many of us, the foods of our youth, the habits of our families and culture may well be part of the problem. Whether it’s lactose intolerance or finding out that you and I have an allergy to chocolate makes no difference. Part of this lifelong, magnificent journey is the willingness to experiment, isolate foods and then reintroduce them to see if the body says NOPE in no uncertain terms. Once we find out (more on that in a minute)we have a way forward. It’s remarkable how much better you and I feel when we remove a substance- in this case, a food, like tomatoes- which is making us ill. Healthy for some may not be healthy for us at all.
3. Nothing about your body changes until you change your lifestyle. Here’s what I did.
The weekend I made the decision that I was done with carrying too much body weight on my bird-bone frame, I threw out all the junk food in my house. I committed to a completely different diet. Experimented with vegetable soups and dishes, switched to fruit instead of cake and cookies and donuts. Of course it took time. But I persevered. Over the years, I have of course taken detours. However, when I did, I tightly controlled how much, often taking a single bite and throwing the rest of my treat into the garbage disposal. For me it wasn’t, and still isn’t, an act of lack to limit foods that my body doesn’t like. It’s an act of love, and my body responds accordingly. Lifestyle changes mean this:
Back in 1987, I didn’t have a computer, so a great deal of what is instantly available to us now wasn’t then. I simply changed how and where I spent my time. I skipped the fish and chips shops and headed to the roasted chicken shop. I skipped the inner grocery aisles and only shopped the outer perimeters. I quit eating processed foods entirely. I learned to ride a bike, which quickly turned into a grand passion. Suddenly, lots of movement meant lots of fun. Also, I never went anywhere without a plan to take care of hunger. That mean taking hardy pieces of fruit like apples, and healthy snacks that were full of fiber and not loaded with sugar in my rucksack. If I needed to eat, I protected against my love of sugar by ensuring that I could get full before I reached for the closest candy bar. I drank water instead of juice, and stopped drinking tea with cream. I changed what was around me: the inside of my kitchen shifted to riding my bike along the highway, enjoying the wind in my face and the feeling of a powerful, well-fueled body giving me joy.
4. I let myself fall, fail, flail and fuck up.
Unlike all the times I’d skewered myself before, if I hadda have something and did, and it does happen, I let it be. I just didn’t do what I used to do: eat the whole box of cookies, or decide that my life was over, what the hey, let’s get donuts. No. Those days are over. While under quarantine due to Covid, I did indulge in too many chocolate almonds; still, I did give most of them to my neighbor. I still have an excellent internal regulator which says enough is enough. It’s okay to fail. It’s human. That permission to eat one too many Snickers bars after Halloween before I give the rest of the bag’s contents to the neighborhood kids is based on a sense of humor about my humanity. I know I can back off long enough to let those sugar calories work themselves through my body. And I didn’t punish my body with more insults. Part of the success of long-term body maintenance is the assumption of, and planning for, side trips, mistakes, goofs, painful events which might lead to emotional eating. Over thirty-three years, you betcha. And in the spirit of full disclosure, for a lot of those years I still dealt with eating disorders, but what I actually consumed was healthy.
5. I am constantly updating and changing my life, my lifestyle and my food habits.
I am now in my fourth decade since dropping six dress sizes. During those decades I have varied little more than ten pounds one way or the other, with the enforced sitting of the Covid quarantine causing the largest gain of 23 lbs. All those are now gone again (that’s another story). Every few years I’ve had to make mostly minor adjustments based on activity level and the simple fact of an aging body. As I do international adventure travel and usually am in training most of the time, I can still eat pretty well, but that all changed when I developed oxalate kidney stones and Intersistial Cystisis, or IC. That was a recent and very significant change. As it turns out, the way I normally ate (lots of spinach, beans, almonds, etc.), which is healthy for most folks, is not healthy for me. So during my 67th year I’ve had to completely retool my diet once more, this time from the ground up. Since I’ve been doing this all along, making new changes to protect my body and long-term health is easy.
While I will genuinely miss the occasional chunk of chocolate and my beloved spinach salads, my almonds and spaghetti marinara sauce, I am not willing to have kidney stones threaten my life. So, I started all over again. I still concentrate on veggies and fruit, chicken and fish, but now that list has to be further restricted. I will feel better, live longer and be healthier this way. On top of that, many of the new restrictions are even tighter on sugar, candies, chocolates, salts and bread products. While I was already careful, now it’s no longer a line I can cross.
These are the results:
I’ve been a body builder my entire adult life, and was exercising while heavy. The extra poundage didn’t keep me out of the gym or from running. However, by dropping 85 lbs all those years ago I’ve been able to live the last 33 years with this body. It takes hard, hard labor to develop and maintain. When I am at a smorgasbord, I pick the celery and cucumber. When I eat out, I choose the salmon and salad. I never returned to my previous eating habits. And as time has gone on, I’ve further refined, adapted and worked with the skin suit I have to keep it healthy and hearty. These are minor sacrifices to make to be able to live the way I do, enjoy the vibrant health I have, and be able to move through the aging process in pretty damned good condition.
This whole process is a game for me. Winning isn’t about looking better than folks my age or any age. Winning is being in vibrant health, at a good weight for my bones and age, and able to do what I love in the world. I would wish those for all of us. But you and I have to do the hard labor to achieve those results.
I still pack the car with apples. I still put packets of tuna in the rucksack. I still focus on fiber. No matter what challenges get tossed at me, I am happy to find a workaround. Those choices aren’t just about a brag-worthy body. It is far more so about being able to thrive late in life, recover from the inevitable bumps and bruises, stave off decline and disease better than most, and dance my way towards eighty and beyond.
How you do that is up to you. If you make learning how to be in your body a lifelong game of discovery, if you’re willing to put the time to dedicate yourself to your best body, your best life, your best you, you will likely also see some terrific improvements you’ll be proud to maintain.
It’s not just about weight. It’s not just about being thin. It’s about being functionally fit for the body you have. It’s loving the skin you’re in for life, and caring for it in such a way that it loves you back.
Just before I hung up with my urologist, she said that I knew more about oxalates than any of her patients. That I knew more about calcium citrate and supplements, diet and exercise than any of her patients. That my diet was the best she’d ever seen. Blah blah blah. I thanked her, and thought….
Yeah. I do. Kindly, that’s not bragging. That’s because when my body talks to me through injury or illness, I bloody well listen. Then as soon as there is a diagnosis I am on the Internet learning about what I need to do to make a course correction. I respect the body I was given. And I want this body to thrive. There are places to go, things to see, people to meet and love and learn from.
And, not to cop a phrase or anything, miles to go before I sleep.
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