family always said it was baby fat, and then that i was big boned, but the fact is that i’ve always been fat. i’ve always been a picky eater who loved sweets and junk food, and never particularly liked vegetables. consequently, there has never been a time when i felt great about my body. never a time when i was proud of it. i came close once in 2007, but dropped the ball. i was constantly teased about my weight as a child, even by my “best friends”. i was bullied because of it. i cried a lot. later on, i dated people i probably shouldn’t have, simply because i was shocked that someone so good looking was attracted to me. back then all i needed out of a relationship was attraction & action. plus, i felt like that was the best i could do. i mean, i was a smart, funny, insightful, & loyal person, but i wasn’t hot, so i had to take what i could get, right? despite the fact that i’ve always been a spiritual person, i chose to ignore the part of me that said “this is dumb. get out of this relationship. you are better than this.” why? because i was blinded by physicality.
when you’re constantly teased about your weight, you become defined by it. you can’t think of yourself simply as Self; it’s always as Fat-Self. Fat-Self is the dominant self. It makes you Fat-Self-Conscious. It overrides everything else. nothing is simple. you have to come up with creative ways to get out of certain situations, such as shirts vs skins games of sport, going to the beach with friends, even going to a friend’s house (if it has a pool). you weasel your way out of gym class so that you don’t have to be exposed to anyone. my own family hasn’t seen me with my shirt off since i was 12 years old. in our society, a fat body is a thing of shame, and you do whatever you have to in order to hide it. of course there are a few brave people who are exceptions to the rule, but by and large, this is how it is, and when your body is your biggest enemy, you immediately fall for anyone who thinks it’s beautiful, because they can see something in you that even you can’t see. you know it’s in there, but for someone else to see it is a revelation; it’s intoxicating, resulting in “drunk dating”.
i wanted to be “good looking”, though. i was motivated to change. for as long as i can remember, every single year, i would go on a diet, whatever the fad was at the time: Sweatin’ to the Oldies, Deal-A-Meal, whatever. I promised myself that this summer would be the summer i’d finally be skinny, and able to enjoy swimming the way i did when i was a kid. i’ll be able to take off my shirt on a scorching hot day. i’ll be able to hop on a ride at the amusement part without worrying about whether i’ll fit (yes, there was one ride at universal islands of adventure that i couldn’t squeeze into; super-embarrassing). and when i broke my leg (both times), i took it as a sign that i needed to start paying more attention to my body. on the days that it really hurt, and life was really hard, i promised “the almighty” that i would change things; that i would get fit; that i would start treating my body like a temple.
needless to say, despite the fact that i said this to myself every year for the past 22 years, and despite the fact that i tried GoodLife Fitness, Premier Fitness, boxing, cycling, dragon-boating, and many others, my conviction always faded, and it never panned out.
I’m 35 now, and a couple of months ago i hit my all-time highest weight: 309.6 lbs, at 6’1″ height. staggering.
i’m getting married on august 24th, and i want to look good… but more importantly, i want to feel good. i want to own my body. it should work for me.
based on my track record of 22 losses and no wins, it seems i’m doomed to fail. the smart bet would be on the weight, not the dieter. but as they say in science, you can’t predict the future from the past; just the likelihood of a certain future. predictions also depend on “all things being equal”, but in this case, nothing in the present is equal to the past. things have changed. without this change, the likelihood of failure would be 99%, but with it, i’m confident that the likelihood of success is >50%. so, what has changed?
in august 2008 i was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. it’s a genetic thing that sometimes skips a generation (nobody else in my family has it). there’s no cure. the only treatment is diet & exercise to slow its progress. one of the hardest things for the kidneys to handle is alcohol. i haven’t had a drop since the day i was diagnosed; no wine at christmas, no beer on a patio on a hot summer’s day, nothing. unfortunately, that’s about the only lifestyle change i made. yes, i tried to watch my salt intake, but when push came to shove, i always ate the bacon.
fast forward to christmas 2011. i wanted to try the new hotness, (a low carb diet), so i asked my kidney specialist if that’d be alright. he said it was fine, as long as i went low carb by increasing vegetable intake, not by increasing protein intake (protein’s hard on the kidneys). i was off to the races.
in a few short weeks i lost 12 lbs, but constantly craved fruit & cola, and often felt hungry. worse, as soon as i stopped the diet, i gained back all the weight i had lost, plus a little extra. what’s the lesson i should be taking away from 22 years of failure? Weight lost by diet is not lost permanently. Only a lifestyle change will grant you permanent weight loss.
since then i discovered “paleo”, which is like low carb, except that a) it’s a permanent lifestyle, not a diet technique, and b) it says fruit is ok. my new plan is to lose weight using the low carb approach, then switch to paleo for the rest of my life.
what’s paleo? basically, it says that the human body evolves very slowly. so slowly that we haven’t yet evolved enough to be able to digest modern food (less than 10,000 years old – wheat/bread/dairy/sugar) effectively, but it CAN digest ancient food effectively. paleo proposes that many modern diseases & ailments are caused by our bodies’ inability to metabolize modern food properly. so, the idea is that if we avoid modern food, our bodies will be happier. this makes an enormous amount of sense to me. it appeals to my science-mind, and is totally aligned with everything Michael Pollan says in his fantastic book “In Defense of Food”. To summarize the book, he says: only buy food with ingredients your great grandmother would recognize, eat primarily big green leafy stuff, try not to over-eat, and shop around the outside edge of the supermarket (fresh), not the inner-aisles (packaged).
4 weeks ago i started the low carb diet. I’m down 18.2 lbs so far. i’ve rarely been hungry, and haven’t had any cravings for fruit. A great improvement! (though i still craved and drank a lot of coke zero).
what have i done differently this time?
- i’ve been more strict about my carb intake (<= 10/day).
- i’ve been strict about having only cream in my coffee, instead of the occasional milk & sweetener
2 weeks ago, everything changed again.
my situation got way more serious.
i had my regular 6-month kidney checkup, and the specialist didn’t like the results of my blood tests. he was worried. my creatinine level had doubled since i’d begun seeing him. more troublingly, the level was rising at a faster rate than before.
he said he was now concerned, and that things needed to get serious asap. he wants to see me every 2 months now, instead of every 6. at the rate my kidney function is decreasing, i will need dialysis 3 times per week (4 hours each time) within 2 years. i had hoped to have a 1 year old child in 2 years. this was not good! i needed to make some dramatic dietary & lifestyle changes.
what do i mean by dramatic?
- reduce my sugar intake. Sugar is hard for kidneys to process, and hinders weight loss. This means no fuit juice (fruit itself is not concentrated, so it’s ok). BUT fruit & fruit juice are both high carb, so they’re out on my diet anyway.
- eliminate sodium intake. I’ve been on a low sodium diet for years, so now I’m on a super-low sodium diet. That means no more pop & no more carbonated water. No more packaged meat or soup. Even celery is high sodium, so it’s a no-no.
- reduce my protein intake. This means less meat, less dairy, less tofu, less nuts. Normally on low-carb diets, you increase dairy because it’s filling, but now I can’t. I am also used to having meat twice a day, sometimes three times. Now I’m limiting it to once a day.
- increase my exercise. I’m on week 3 day 2 of the “couch to 5k” app, and i’m going to start using a kettle bell for weights.
so now i’m on a low-carb, low-protein, low sodium diet.
what the heck do i eat?
thankfully, i’ve never needed variety in my diet. i’m happy to repeat the same few things again and again.
i haven’t been hungry in the morning, so i skip breakfast.
i have a large caesar (or other) salad for lunch.
i have a large caesar (or other) salad for dinner, with grilled chicken in it, or with a side of turkey or beef or pork.
the salad dressings i use are full fat (low fat will work against you!)
i break the rules on saturday and have 1 cup of coffee with cream, plus an omelette with bacon & sausage.
i drink lots & lots & lots of water.
how am i feeling after 2 weeks of this?
this is a state i have *never* experienced.
i have had NO cravings for fruit, juice, cola, sweets, cake, candy, dessert, bread, etc. In fact, i haven’t craved anything at all, and i’m never super-hungry. yes, i feel hunger, but never like i need to eat right now or i’m gonna die. i believe it’s what dr joel furhman would call ‘true hunger’. on top of all that, i have had an incredible amount of swelling in my right leg & ankle ever since i broke them in 2004. after just 2 weeks on this, virtually all of the swelling is gone!
this is simultaneously the most restrictive and the easiest diet i have ever been on. you would think that it’s impossible for something super-restrictive to be easy, but, but here i am, loving it.
what do i think has changed?
in a nutshell, anything that spikes your insulin response (grain/sugar) or tastes sweet causes you to want to eat. it makes you crave things. when you cut out everything that spikes your insulin response or tastes sweet, your cravings & appetite are reduced to “natural” levels. Health-producing levels.
what changed is that i completely stopped cheating.
i completely stopped bending the rules.
i forced myself to say no to all manner of treats for a few weeks.
then, as if by magic, all my bad eating habits melted away.
i hope reading this helps someone.
please post a comment or email me if you’d like to chat about it.
i’ll update you on how my blood & other measurements have improved after my next doctor’s appointment.