I haven’t just finished losing 200 pounds - it’s something I did a decade ago. Why bring it up now, then? Well, I need to lose significant amounts of weight again and it has me thinking about the subject, so I figured I might share what I know.
So I’ll start by answering the obvious questions.
I weighed 380 pounds at 17. The odd thing about this is that I wasn’t that sedentary. I was in about as good of shape as it is possible to be at 380 pounds - which, granted, is not great shape. But I spent plenty of time in my teens doing normal teen boy stuff - sports, lots of walking around town, even some rock climbing and it didn’t stop me from climbing well past 300. My weight mostly came from a lifetime of high carbohydrate intake. I don’t know how more I ate than the average person either - it didn’t seem like I ate much more than my skinny friends. I did drink a ton of sugary drinks, however.
How did I do it?
Minimal carbohydrate diet combined with working out every day until the point of exhaustion. You simply cannot be this effective by mere calorie counting or fat counting, and you will be utterly miserable if you try. You will always be hungry, your body won’t be getting the protein it needs, and you’ll be ramming your head against the wall constantly.
I didn’t follow any particular diet, although I guess the closest is basically staying on the induction phase of Atkins - I ate next to 0 carbs for the first 7 or 8 months, trailing off a bit in the last month or two. My average carbohydrate intake over the first 7 months or so would probably be about 10g. After that, maybe 30.
I never deviated or indulged the slightest bit. Strict adherence to the diet at all time. Low carb diets are particularly sensitive to one time indulgences because there’s some transition time from when your body goes from burning primarily glucose vs primarily fat. One sugary snack might negate 2 days of good work.
I also never took a day off from working out to the point of exhaustion, except for one deliberate test week about 6 months in when I wanted to see what would happen to my weight without working out, but still dieting.
At first, I just started walking a few miles a day, and even that’s pretty hard when you’re 380. The foot pain is agonizing. I started lifting weights soon after. It was April, IIRC, when I started, so a bit cold to swim. I started swimming about a month after I began.
Swimming is a far better excercise to walking, especially if you’re fat - there’s no particular point of agony as your feet are when you walk, your buoyancy somewhat offsets your weight and becomes less of a strain on your joints, you don’t get overheated, it works more of your body, it builds more muscle, and it’s pretty much the best general excercise you can do by far.
More important, though, is lifting weights to build muscle mass. This should, by far, be he centerpiece of your workout plan, with everything else being a far second. Building muscle raises your basal metabolic rate and the amount of calories you burn in general. Building strength is a significant factor in feeling good and feeling fit - I was in better shape halfway through as a 300 pounder than most skinny people are, simply because I was strong. Resistance workouts also have a longer lasting effect as far as keeping your metabolic rate going.
This may not hold true for women, as they have a harder time building muscle, but in my experience a strength training routine is far more important than any cardio for men. Not even close. If you’re only jogging or riding a bike without strength training - obviously it’s more beneficial than not excercising - but your efforts would be better directed at strength training, or a mix.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t do any cardio - I did tons. Basically because you can only do so much strength training. You can do a full body lifting routine that won’t take more than an hour, and you need a rest day before you start the next one to give your time muscles to build.
I worked myself to the point of exhaustion every day, to the point where I simply couldn’t continue or if I tried, I’d risk injury. At first, at 380 pounds, that didn’t require too much, but I gained strength and endurance rapidly. Within two months, that meant that my lifting days (every other day) would involve about an hour of lifting, an hour of swimming, and if I felt good, other minor excercise like walking or biking. On my rest days, it’d be more like 1.5 hours of swimming, and 1.5 hours of biking/walking/stairclimber/misc cardio. Sometimes I’d substitute the cardio for sports like basketball.
I ramped up the time and intensity as I could. Eventually to increase the intensity I would combine the lifting and cardio routines. I’d do a set of upper lifts, lower lifts raipidly, and then run to do 5 minutes of high intensity work on a treadmill/bike/stairclimber/elliptical, hop off, do another set of upper and lower lifts, then on to the next cardio for 5 minutes, etc. I kept my heart rate past 160 for about 2 hours doing that - and if I still felt alright at the end of the day, I’d top it with swimming.
The low carb diet was essential to this and I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise. After you try it, you pretty much intuitively learn that low carb diets are what your body wants, and you’re screwing with it by eating a normal high carb diet. Even worse when you try low fat diets, which are entirely counterproductive.
Everything runs better. You have more strength and endurance. Your muscles recover and heal faster. You won’t get sick. You build muscle better, on account of the abundance of proteins, and the abundance of calories - your body isn’t starving and holding back.
I actually discussed it with my doctor beforehand (the good old days when I had access to medical care…), and she was against the whole idea. She ran a battery of tests on me so she could prove herself right after I’d somehow done something to ruin my body. But after months of this, she ran the tests again, and could not find a single way in which I wasn’t massively improved. Despite eating tons of bacon and other foods that are supposed to be unhealthy every day, my triglycerides were cut by about 85%, my cholesterol was dead on in the perfect range, etc. Conventional nutritional advice is bullshit - especially 10-12 years ago. They’re finally starting to come around on it.
How did it progress?
It came off faster at first - as you have more to lose, you’re more able to shed it - because you can sort of get at the low hanging fruit - you must’ve been doing something very wrong to get that fat, so once that’s fixed, your body will correct the excess. As you get in shape, each incremental stage is less of a dramatic difference than the previous, and you have less to lose.
I never counted calories - that’s counterproductive. After a bit, you realize that most of the hunger you feel with a normal diet isn’t actually hunger, it’s just the feeling of having a blood sugar crash. If you keep your blood sugar steady, you lose those short term hunger-like effects. You become much more in tune with when your body is actually hungry - which tended to scale with the time and level of your activity. So you’d only need to eat when your body wanted to eat. No point in counting calories in that case - eat when and how much you felt like eating, your body would guide you.
That said, pretty much all the food I ate was very calorie dense. Lots of bacon, sausage, eggs, cheese, etc. So I doubt I was skimping on the calories. I simply don’t know.
I lost 25-30 pounds a month over the first 6 months, trailing off a bit as time went on. Conventional wisdom says this is unhealthy and dangerous - and if you’re achieving that by starving yourself, it is. But you’ll find once you correct the underlying problem - that excess average insulin blood levels causes all sorts of problems - your body will be happy to be rid of the fat. Not only was I losing that much weight, but I was also gaining significant muscle, meaning that the actual loss of fat was more than the actual weight loss. After 6 months, it slowed to about 15 pounds a month. At that point I was closer to what my weight should be, so it didn’t come off as fast.
After 8-9 months, I hit 205, and that’s where I stopped. Since I’m 6’1, and was doing strength training like crazy, 205 was pretty in shape. I wasn’t ripped - I still had a gut - but I was big and strong and in better shape than most people ever achieve.
Why did I stop?
Well, low carb is generally sold as a lifestyle choice, rather than a temporary diet. I’ve had several people tell me “that’s the problem with low carbing - once you eat carbs again you’ll just balloon right back up” - which is a weird thing to say. You mean if I do all the things that made me fat in the first place, I’ll get fat again? No shit. How in the world is that a downside to low carbing?
Let me back up a bit. I originally took on the weight loss thing mostly as a challenge. I wasn’t horribly concerned about the health implications (at 17, you don’t suffer weight related health problems - just set them up for the future). I was still able to do the things I wanted to do in life even at a high weight. But I was aimless, just sort of drifting through life with no idea about what to do, very depressed. I decided that I could assert some sort of control by proving that I could accomplish this huge task - something that would come with temptation and a desire to quit, and that I could not only stick with it, but absolutely demolish it.
And I did. I didn’t deviate a single time from the diet, I didn’t take a single day off. When I was tired and wanted to stop - I kept going. Every day. Mission accomplished. Wildly successful.
There were two major downsides. I don’t actually enjoy eating low carb. I enjoyed the effect it has on your body, but I don’t like most vegetables and many kinds of meat. I also have no cooking skills and generally hate to cook, so my diet was even more repetitive than it should’ve been. So I had many of the same meals over and over - I’d start out every day with 10 pork sausage links and 10 slices of bacon, for example. After about 8 months, one day my body decided “ok, no more sausage ever again” - the thought of it made me ill. Not because it’s bad for you, I suspect, but eating the same thing enough over and over makes your body reject something. I still, 12 years later, have a hard time eating sausage.
So I was pretty tired of eating that way after 9 months. The physical sugar cravings go away after a week or two, but I psychologically wanted some ice cream, pizza, etc. Granted, my diet was more restrictive than it needed to be - most low carb plans allow 2-4 times the amount of carbs I was eating in the weight loss phase, and more than that in the maintenance phase. But I did find that the level of effectiveness was inversely proportional to the amount you ate - the closer you could get to 0, the better your body runs.
And there was another problem, which will probably make me sound weird. As a very fat kid, your childhood sucks. I don’t mean in the “someone made fun of you, suck it up kid” sort of way. I mean everyone you know treats you like utter shit. As you grow into an adult, you get a thicker skin to deal with it - even then, while people are not as deliberately mean, they still think of you as less of a person than someone who isn’t fat. You get treated like an emotional punching bag - something without deserving of being treated well. But it’s especially hard on a kid - when all you want is love and acceptance and all you receive is ridicule and hatred and deliberate cruelty. Especially a very fat kid, as I was.
So after undergoing this radical change, I realized how much differently people treated me. It was as if I were suddenly a real person, someone deserving of basic human decency and kindness, instead of the piece of shit emotional punching bag I was before. But it’s not like I had changed - I was the same person I’d always been.
Most people who lose a ton of weight see this - they can see how much better people treat them, and they’re ecstatic. They don’t contemplate what that means about the people they befriend, they’re just happy to be on the right side of it.
I reacted differently. Every time someone treated me better, I’d wonder and assume that this person would’ve treated me like shit before. Should I be happy that I’m in their good graces now? Do I want a person who’d otherwise treat me like shit as a friend? If a woman shows interest in me when she would’ve laughed at the very idea of considering me romantically before, should I embrace that? I’m the same interesting, smart, decent, and kind person - and yet her interest is entirely dependent on this superficial change. Does it even matter that I’m all of those things? The things that define me as a person? Certainly they’re less important than how fat I am.
So the better people treated me, the worst I felt. The idea that my childhood had been utter shit, and that I was pretty much going to be depressed for life - was not dependent on some fundamental aspect of who I am, but something superficial, was really driven home. It actually made me more depressed.
So what happened?
Well, my original plan was to go back to eating a normal diet, but maintaining my shape through excercise. That worked alright for about a year, but I managed to give myself a series of long term injuries every few months that made it difficult for me to maintain any sort of rigorous workout schedule. And I didn’t care terribly much. As I said, health wasn’t that big a concern. My main goal had been accomplished. My heart wasn’t really in it at that point. It was nice to be in shape, certainly, but it didn’t have that drastic an effect on my life. At 18 you’re not all that concerned with your long term health.
Which isn’t to say it was a complete yoyo. It took me years to regain weight. I cut out most sugary drinks and that alone cut my rate of weight gain in half or less. I spent about 4 years under 275 - years of being in pretty good shape. I never got as fat as I was when I started.
But yeah, I eventually just sort of let it go.
So why do I bring this up now? Well, I’m 30, and I’m more concerned about my health. I’ve had a health scare that sort of scared me back into needing to think about that stuff, so I’ve started losing weight again.
It’s harder this time around. As fat as I was, I was still 17 - so my body was resilient and ready to go. I didn’t hurt myself, I could force things, it was just a matter of will. At 30, and in worse shape, I’m having to be much slower. I have to take days off because I pulled a muscle pretty badly all the time. I’m two months into it and have lost 25 pounds - a decent bit of progress but a far slower rate than before - simply because I’ve only been able to excercise about a fifth as much. But as I go, I get in better shape, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to maintain a heavier workload.
I’ve also been more lax in my dieting. I eat between 20-40g of carbs per day, which is still pretty low, but much higher than before. It allows me more flexibility in eating stuff I won’t get bored with to such a degree. I’m not sure how much of a negative effect that has on the weight loss - the benefits of low carbing are definitely more pronounced the lower you take it.
So I’ve got weight loss and workout routines on the mind, and I figured I’d try to share what I’ve learned with other people dealing with the same problems. Give me your questions.