by Kirk Douglas
In just under a year’s time, I’ve gone from a weight of 256 pounds at my highest, to my current weight of 211 pounds. Its been a wild ride, a heck of an accomplishment and a starter of many conversations among friends and coworkers.
The attention I’ve gotten has been very positive and at times uncomfortable. As a person who had grown up labeled by mom as “husky” its been a bit of a life-long challenge to shed that title and trim down. When you’re ‘living large’ as I say, its not always easy thinking slim, but somehow I’ve managed and there’s a few tips and tricks I’d like to share in hopes that you might find your own motivation if you’re so inclined.
First and foremost, I see it as a requirement to state that what has worked for me may not work for you. I am not a health professional, nor am I a personal trainer, life coach or any other variant of personal fitness guru so please, tread lightly here. My objective is just to lend some best practices that have worked for me to anyone reading who might be ready to start 2016 off on a healthier note.
- Headspace: Day by Day
Whatever you think you can or cannot do, let those thoughts fall by the wayside. We are often our own worst enemies and talk ourselves down from achieving greatness much in the same way we talk ourselves out of bad decisions. Some of the best advice I have ever been given is the simplest: Take it one day at a time. If it helps, pick up a fitness classic like Body for Life, a book I regularly recommend for insight on what its like for the average person to change their fitness outlook, their habits and their bodies. Once you see that change is truly possible for other ordinary people it becomes so much easier to get yourself to a gym or take those first steps.
- Diet rules, ‘Dieting’ doesn’t.
Now that Thanksgiving is out of the way, I’d start with taking a couple of weeks to acclimate yourself to better food options. Love it or hate it, counting calories works and diet is a huge part of any sustainable weight loss. A common pitfall however, at least in my experience, has been trying dramatic diets in the past that are so specific that they are not sustainable long-term. Don’t do that to yourself, trust me – its a mistake. No one wants to drink maple syrup straight from the bottle or be on a lemon detox for days on end.
The idea of being on a diet is one of the first things I threw out the window. Diet, —as in WHAT you eat is very, very important. But it doesn’t need to be a perfectly curated and meticulously planned day-in day-out deal. In other words, watch your diet for sure, but don’t worry about “dieting.” To help me remind me what is best, I think of 5 things regularly:
-Shop the exterior of the grocery store
-Don’t rely on prepared (packaged foods)
-Cut out or quit fast food altogether
To explain, it comes down to a few key points. Salt is not only bad for heart health, blood pressure and kidney function when consumed in abundance, but its an additive that we have far too much of in our food as of late. Most natural foods have their own flavor we can bring out with less harmful herbs and spices and when you steer away from salt, suddenly things taste pretty darn good without it.
Sugar is not much different. You may know that sugar can be a major contributor to weight gain and an unhealthy metabolism when it is not burned off. It’s a food factor we should all watch and be weary of consuming too much of.
The next time you’re uncertain how much sugar you consume in a day, think about what you put in your morning coffee or how much is in your breakfast yogurt or cereal. You may be really surprised to see how much sugar intake you might be consuming before noon. Now I didn’t come up with any scientific way to measure this – its as simple as reading labels and trying my coffee unsweetened. A difficult change at first, but something I was quickly able to take pleasure in.
The worst foods you can buy when out shopping are typically in the center of your local grocery store. Think about your grocer and what’s located centrally and its almost entirely frozen, packaged and volume-produced foods loaded with sugars, salts and preservatives. You don’t have to avoid them entirely but its a good idea to consider purchasing 90% or so of what you plan to eat from the exterior isles of the store instead. The outside isles are usually where you’ll find meat, produce fresh deli foods and dairies, some of which have their own pitfalls but much of which are generally far healthier than what you’ll find amongst the factory-packaged goods. For more specific insight, I highly recommend watching the film Fed Up which does a great job of de-mystifying “health food” shopping mistakes commonly made among shoppers. The short of it is, that prepared and packaged foods simply aren’t very good for us and they are often smack in the center of our shopping experience.
Finally, cut fast food. If you can, cut it out completely. If you can’t, that’s alright but try to be smart about it. I occasionally crave fast food but limit myself to a very small handful of items, usually early in the day if at all to ensure I have time to burn off those empty calories. Many fast food restaurants have posted up calories next to each item and once you start paying attention to them it becomes very clear very quickly what foods are the worst. That said, keep in mind that its much harder to see salt and sugar breakdowns – this is info you usually have to resort to a company website to find. Generally speaking, when it comes to fast food, keep away for best results.
- What’s healthy? Know your resources.
Its going to take a little bit of patience and research to know where to look for solid health tips. The internet is loaded with great resources but you’ll need to employ simple common sense to start. There are some obvious snack replacements you might consider, like substituting fruits and veggies for the usual chips or snickers bar. These changes are kind of a requirement, mostly because its very difficult to change your metabolism and your body when you’re keeping up old habits. The good news is, there are a lot of great free or inexpensive resources and products out there to help.
I recommend finding a fitness site or blog, using Reddit or a similar online forum for guidance. When bodybuilding.com was recommended to me by a friend, I initially thought “…but I’m not a body builder, so how could that help?” But it turns out among the body builders who frequent the site, there are also lots of beginners asking great questions. The site is full of forums with good diet practices, meal plans, workout information and FAQ’s to answer many of your common questions.
- Leverage technology
If you’re into tech like I am, don’t forget to leverage the power of the almighty smartphone you might be carrying. We have these amazing computational devices that can really help if we’re willing to put in a little effort towards learning and creating or tracking goals. Here’s a short list of some apps that you may want to try:
–Lose It!: One of the most popular weight tracking/calorie counting apps on the market
–Calorie Counter Pro: A premium alternative to Lose It, similar in functionality
–Full Fitness: Exercise workout trainer; great for discovering workouts and logging progress
–Fitlist: A simple tracking app to log gym activity and see progress
–Nike+ Running: Track your runs and set goals
–Runkeeper: Another popular app great for tracking your next jog
…and these are just a few. Check out the iOS App Store or Google Play top charts to see some other great options.
For some like myself, it may prove beneficial to invest in some additional wearable tech to help motivate you. I use an Apple Watch and prior to that had a Nike Fuelband SE, and before that an original Nike Fuelband. I’ve been using these devices for years now and if there’s one thing I can say they are all pretty good at it is keeping your fitness goals top of mind.
You don’t need to invest in a pricy Apple or Android Wear watch to see the benefits a wearable might provide you. Start simple, try a Misfit Shine or a tried and true Fitbit. There are many options on the market far under the $100 price point and this is the perfect time of year to score a decent wearable online at a great cost.
And by whatever means, get yourself a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones if you can squeeze them in the budget. If you’re doing any movement worth measuring with an app or a fitness band, the least you can do is treat yourself to a comfortable mid-range wireless headset. Being untethered might not seem important when you first start, but take it from me, the few times I’ve forgotten to charge my wireless headphones its made my workouts much less enjoyable and at times even made me less likely to want to hit the gym at all. They’ve made a huge difference in keeping my workouts enjoyable instead of cumbersome.
- Treat Yourself …and CHEAT
Want to eat out? Do it. Everyone wants to enjoy a nice meal out a couple of times a month but this is an area people commonly voice a struggle with. Unless it’s in your nature to be a fussy eater, no one really want’s to be that guy or girl on date night modding the heck out of their entree order. One word: Simplify. Think of a spectrum from healthy to tasty and acknowledge that the tastiest items on the menu probably won’t be the healthiest. That said, restaurants exist to make money and they probably won’t serve up anything willingly that would give them a bad reputation so there’s no harm in trying that salad or going for some rice wrapped spring rolls instead of French fries. You might be surprised at how good some healthier options can be. Get the dressing on the side, and go for it.
It has always helped me to eat out at familiar places where I know there are healthy options or find out the name of a place before going and review the menu. Once you have the menu, simplify by focusing on the things you CAN have rather than the ones you can’t. Too often people I’ve talked to express what they can’t enjoy when they should be finding good things that they can enjoy.
Finally, CHEAT. There, I said it. Its the fitness taboo word we often designate entire days to in hopes we find some redeeming indulgence after our hard work. Personally, I don’t believe in cheat days but rather, cheat meals.
The problem with an entire day of cheating is that most people don’t know when to stop and an unhealthy breakfast leads to an unhealthy lunch and so on. What I’ve personally found is that a 5,000 calorie day isn’t something I bounce back from too nicely. Don’t get me wrong, if a ‘cheat day’ works for you, then more power to you but I simply don’t have the will.
Instead of going off the rails 18 hours at a time, I’ve learned to think of my healthy eating goal as a percentage. The goal I’ve set for myself is that 85% of my intake should be food considered fresh, healthy, unprocessed or low in sugars and salts. The other 15% of the time I allow myself to have some indulgence with things less than healthy. That might mean a cookie Tuesday night after dinner or a Kit-Kat during my Sunday walk, but I don’t get too attached to these foods because they really aren’t great for my body — or getting me to my goals. I indulge in the things I just mentioned maybe 2-3 times a week. It may sound like a dull existence, but I can’t stress enough how cutting out so many bad foods have actually made me feel a heck of a lot better and crave other bad foods less.
Losing weight, living a little healthier and getting in a bit better shape is something I think a lot of us could stand to do. Whether making moves in that direction is a priority for you or not, don’t ever let self-doubt be the reason you haven’t tried.
The geek in me has taken to my personal health goals like a challenge. Its been almost a year of ‘re-wiring’ my thinking, my activity and behavioral habits to get to a slightly healthier existence. I’ve been inspired by books, films, wearable tech and empowered by educating myself through the power of the internet. I can only hope that for those who want similar results for yourself, there might be a sliver of inspiration here for you.