I’ve struggled with my weight for nearly my entire life. I went from being chubby in primary school to overweight in high school to obese in university. At my biggest, I weighed almost 127kg (I’m 168cm tall). Finally, around five years ago, I got a spark of inspiration that ultimately led to me dropping a total of 50kg and counting. Here’s how I did it.
Image remixed from Leremy.
First, here the obligatory before and after shots:
Losing weight requires an enormous amount of motivation. You’re going to have to change your lifestyle and make real sacrifices. It’s going to be hard. Motivation will help you continue to justify the changes you’ve made, and prevent you from slipping back in to old habits.
Funny enough, I actually got my first seed of motivation from pneumonia. I was 126kg at the time. After three horrible, bedridden weeks, I was down to 117kg. It was painful, but it taught me the most important weight loss lesson of all: it’s possible.
Like a lot of other kids from my generation, I grew up overweight. When you can’t remember a time when you weren’t overweight, being fat is a part of your identity. So, as silly as it sounds, I think there was a part of me that believed that weight loss was impossible on some level — or at least that the amount of weight I needed to lose was insurmountable.
If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be that. You can lose weight. No matter how messed up your metabolism is (more on that later), no matter how long you’ve been overweight, it is possible.
I’m going to talk about a few of the strategies, diets and other random things that I have tried, because I think people will find them interesting. But I’ll give you an easy way out of reading the rest of this article just in case you’re already bored. Ready? Here it is.
STOP EATING PROCESSED FOOD. THAT INCLUDES SUGAR, WHEAT PRODUCTS, SUGAR REPLACEMENTS LIKE SUCRALOSE, ASPARTAME AND EVERYTHING ELSE YOU’RE THINKING OF THAT MIGHT BE AN EXCEPTION. EXCEPT STEVIA. YOU CAN HAVE STEVIA.
OK, so with that yelling out of the way, here’s a bit about my journey.
Briefly on Exercise
I’m going to keep this short. Exercise has never helped me lose weight. For much of the time that I was grossly overweight, I was also extremely physically active, often whitewater kayaking or downhill skiing for several hours, four or five days a week, and continuing to put on fat. Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, exercise isn’t an effective weight loss strategy for me.
After I lost the pneumonia weight, I was literally terrified that I might put it back on. So I decided to try eating less. I ate all the same things but avoided going back for seconds. I ate pasta, pizza and dessert until I was full but not stuffed. I lost another 10kg or so over a few months. Then it levelled off.
That really is the story of my weight loss effort. Strategies and diets that work for a while and then plateau. Sometimes it’s possible to break through a plateau, but other times you need to up your game with better eating.
I tried for another six or so months to break through the portion control plateau. It never happened. I was actually feeling pretty good about where I was though, so I didn’t really make much of an effort to progress for a few more months.
Lower Carb Diet
Shortly after moving from Montreal to Vancouver, I started seeing a personal trainer, hoping to accelerate my progress on the scale and in the gym. She had me keep a food journal and immediately picked up on the amount of carbs that I was eating back then. I was vegetarian at the time, and I was eating heaps of bread and pasta. She told me to eat more vegetables and tofu, and watch my carb intake. I lost about 10kg before plateauing hard.
On this diet, I was still eating bread, pasta and sugar — just less of them. After a while, I found it impossible to continue losing weight, so I started looking for other solutions.
Eat to Live
Eat to Live is an all vegan diet designed by Dr Joel Fuhrman. Only fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds are allowed; no oils, dairy, sugar or even juices are permitted (that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but for our purposes, this is accurate enough). I had very mixed results on Eat to Live. I did lose about 7kg, but I had a very difficult time keeping it off and eating enough food to feel full for more than an hour at a time. I found that I was constantly eating and still feeling hungry.
With that said, I actually know a lot of people who have had great success on ETL, including my ex-girlfriend, who I was living with at the time (so we were eating nearly identically, although my portions were significantly bigger than hers), and my good friend Giles, who actually introduced me to the book. That brings me to another one of my weight loss conclusions.
Everybody’s body is different. Some people have amazing success on a diet, while others are incapable of losing weight. I no longer believe that there’s one perfect diet out there that suits everybody. Your mileage will vary with every approach.
The only consistent thing I’ve been able to identify across all my friends and family who’ve lost weight is avoiding processed foods.
Psoriasis and Acne
An interesting aside here is that ETL led me to discover that it’s possible to control psoriasis with diet. The medical community doesn’t seem to be aware of this, but I am completely psoriasis-free after years of being covered in it.
At first, I thought that it was the greens that caused my skin to clear up. But since then I’ve realised that it’s a balance of factors. Greens do help, but merely avoiding processed foods is enough to keep me completely psoriasis-free. That being said, I started drinking coffee again a little while ago and noticed that a small amount of psoriasis came back. Upping my intake of greens seems to make it clear up. So it’s a bit of a balancing act.
Oh, I’m also extremely prone to acne, but I’ve found that avoiding high glycemic index foods keeps my face and body completely clear of pimples.
I’m definitely going to get hate mail for this, but here goes anyway. I was vegetarian for most of my weight loss journey. My conclusion was ultimately that vegetarianism made it significantly more difficult to lose weight. Here’s why.
At home, cooking my own meals from my own groceries, vegetarianism was perfectly fine. But every time I ate in a restaurant, on the street, or even at a friend’s place, my options were nearly invariably some combination of pasta, bread and sugar. I probably have the shittiest metabolism in the world, but when I eat that stuff, I gain weight. Lots of it.
I really enjoy eating in restaurants, which made the whole thing all the more difficult. During the whole time that I was on Eat to Live, I would painstakingly lose three or four kilos by religiously sticking to the diet for a month, then travel to a conference for a week and gain it all back. It was frustrating to say the least, which led me to the very difficult conclusion that I needed to at least try breaking my nearly 10 years of vegetarianism.
My Current Diet
My current diet is really simple: no processed carbs (that includes ‘carbless’ sugar replacements except stevia). I go through periods where I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but lately I’ve mostly been eating meat and fish.
Do I miss chocolate and ice cream? Definitely. But I eat guilt-free bacon or chicken wings whenever I want, and seeing results makes the sacrifice more than worthwhile.
This diet means that when I go out to eat, which I do regularly, I can have a steak without feeling guilty. I tell people that I’m allergic to sugar and flour, which gives me a reasonable excuse for being the pain-in-the-arse guy who has to ask the waiter about the ingredients in every dish on the menu. I’d encourage you to tell similar lies if they help you stick to a diet.
There have been a few periods over the last year and a half where I’ve started eating bread again and gained back a bunch of weight. In April of this year though, I finally committed to this diet as a more permanent lifestyle and have been ever since. I’ve dropped around 18kg since then, and I’m not stopping until I can see my abs.
Everybody’s body is different. Your friends may have had success with diet X, but you may not. Don’t let that discourage you. You’ll find something that works.
The best diet is the one that you can stick to, even if the weight loss is slower. If a diet fights against your lifestyle, it’s going to be that much harder to maintain. That was my problem with ETL. I love to eat out, and I travel a lot, so I couldn’t stick to it. And at the end of the day, I didn’t lose weight. The less you have to change your lifestyle to accomplish your goals, the better your chances of success.
You can lose weight, still enjoy the food you eat, and even go out to restaurants while you do it. Obviously, you won’t be able to eat everything you’re eating now, because if you could you’d already be thin. But it’ll be a sacrifice worth making. The best thing you’ve ever done.
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James Golick is a software engineer, entrepreneur and speaker. In his spare time, he likes to play golf and snowboard. Follow him on Twitter @jamesgolick.
This story has been updated since its original publication.