Ask the guy who lost 200 pounds in 9 months

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.

Why are you attempting to repeat the same strategy that failed before?

Why do you think it failed? The OP doesn’t think so.

He’s trying to lose weight again, which assumes that he’s gained weight back, no?

What he did worked extremely well for losing weight, not doing it anymore is what made him gain it back.

Losing 200 pounds is a failure?

The weight loss diet was a success. His normal food diet after reaching his target weight caused him to gain some back. Now he goes back on another weight loss diet, which will most likely be a success too if he follows through with it.

You’re looking at it all wrong.

That’s quite an accomplishment. From your description, I would guess you were exercising 1500-2000 calories a day. Nice job.

Have you thought about training for triathlons? I know people training for the Ironman and they train for 2-3 hours a day, just like you were doing. One difference is that they only train at that level for a short time. You don’t have to do an Ironman. Triathlons come in all distances. With the variety of sports it keeps the training interesting, plus there is usually a good community of triathletes which is great for motivation.

I’d say going from 380 to 185 and then back to 275+ counts as a failure. Not a complete and utter failure, but a failure nonetheless.

And then he will likely slip and regain the weight.

Look, read the OP. He worked out like hell and changed his diet to something so radical that certain foods now physical disgust him. That’s not a winning strategy for long term weight loss. You simply can’t sustain a regime of working out until exhaustion and a radical diet. Part of the problem is that OP hasn’t identified why he was fat in the first place. From the OP:

Sorry, but this is utter bullshit. You don’t weigh 380 pounds at 17 because you drank too many sugary drinks.

One 12 oz can of Coke has 140 calories. The rapid sugar peak and drop often drives further intake. Three cans a day, if otherwise just eating your maintenance calorie needs is 420 extra calories a day, roughly 20% above and beyond maintenance. Yes you can easily become obese doing that for years.

Define success. Losing weight is something many achieve; if that is success many of the obese have been successful multiple times. Each time losing muscle mass as they lose and gaining mostly fat back; slowly becoming flabbier even at the same weight. Keeping it off long term is something few achieve. Doing that means looking beyond a diet and building a sustainable lifestyle that prevents regain.


Three cans of coke a day doesn’t result in being 380 pounds at 17. The idea is ridiculous on it’s face. Certainly drinking a lot of soda would help him on his way, but there are almost certainly other, more significant problems here.

I define success as reducing your weight to something near a healthy amount and maintaining it. Ending up at 275+ isn’t a success by any stretch of the imagination.

Treis, SenorBeef makes it very clear that as a teenager, he lost weight in order to feel better about himself and to be treated well by others. When he discovered that the better treatment made him feel hollow and cynical about others, he decided that the weight loss wasn’t worth maintaining. He made a conscious decision to let it go.

Now he wants to lose weight for the sake of his health. I think that there’s a good chance he’ll maintain whatever progress he makes this time, because he has a better motivation to maintain it.

Your take is an odd interpretation. And again, I seriously question the idea that being 205 vs. 380 pounds did not have a drastic effect on his life.

Unless my math is wrong, if you eat the most perfect healthiest diet to maintain your weight and not go an ounce over or under but add to that 3 cans of soda a day, you’ll gain 200 pounds in 4.5 years.

He didn’t say the weight gain came solely from sugary drinks. He said it was from a lifetime of high carbohydrate intake. I read the bit you quoted as meaning that he was eating too much but not really paying much attention to his food intake, so he can’t say exactly what he was eating too much of, except that he does know he was drinking a lot of high-sugar drinks.

Seems reasonable to me.

I’d say success, followed by backsliding - but he has maintained about a 100lb weight loss for over a decade, which seems like a pretty good win from where I sit. At 17, he had 200 lbs to lose - and he did. At 30, he has 100 lbs to lose - so he succeeded with half the weight loss. Glass half full or half-empty, I guess.

Succeeded at losing the weight, not quite so successful at maintaining the entire loss. But isn’t that normal for people who lose weight, especially a significant amount? Everyone I know who is overweight yoyo’s up and down to some degree. A good friend of mine lost over 100 lbs doing Atkins about 10 years ago…she’s gained some back but is holding steady at 80 fewer pounds than she weighed in 2001. Certainly a partial success!

SenorBeef, you’ve already figured out that exercise alone won’t cut it. Do you have a long-term plan that incorporates better and healthy eating habits - allowing yourself the occasional indulgence - along with some type of exercise regimen you enjoy and can continue doing?

Calories expended go up with body weight. This calculator gives a difference of 1100 calories for 380 pounds vs. 200.

He said “it didn’t seem like I ate much more than my skinny friends”. I’d wager dollars to donuts that this was not the case.

Right, but I read that with the implication that in his mind at the time, he didn’t feel he was eating all that much more, but in retrospect he clearly was. But SenorBeef can explain further if he feels like it, I’m sure.

He basically crashed down to 205 and then spent the next four years getting back to 275. The OP wasn’t specific if it stopped there, or if he kept gaining weight, but we know he didn’t make it back to 380. So yes technically he is better off because he is at a lower weight, but there is an opportunity cost of a decade. The most important point is that the goal is to keep off the weight. If it didn’t work the first time, why should he think it will work the second.

Maturity? Learning from his mistakes? Being older and more cognizant of health risks related to being overweight and obese? Rising health insurance costs?

Heck if I know, I’m not the OP. But those seem like reasonable guesses.