I lost thirty pounds.
Let me back up a bit. Following the stock market crash of 2008, I had no job prospects and a bad case of senioritis. I self-medicated. With food. I wasn’t obese by any means, but I did enjoy the occasional king-sized chocolate bar. And by occasional, I mean daily. My abs needed a bailout.
I made a habit of eating dessert after every meal but breakfast. And I craved fried foods. It didn’t matter what it was, as long as it was fried. Deep-fried Oreos, fried chicken, crispy beef, the list went on.
Fast-forward a few years later. After I finally decided to listen to my friends’ advice, I realized that I wasn’t comfortable being overweight and I vowed to do something about it.
This will not be a shortcut to losing weight. This is the story about how my weight got twisted upside down. It was up to me to put in the work. Most importantly, I wanted it.
A key component I used when losing weight was having two alternating sets of exercises. I believe that by alternating, my body wasn’t able to adapt to my routine and therefore I was able to continue to shed pounds at a fast pace. Without alternating, my body would have become stagnant and weight loss would have been slower.
I became aware of my body, and listened to what it was telling me. When something wasn’t working, such as running the same three-mile route every other day, I would make an adjustment. My regimen was a workout laboratory of sorts. I saw results quickly. When I didn’t notice a change, I knew it must be time to make one. Doing the same routine repeatedly was, for me, akin to learning one song on guitar and thinking that I was a virtuoso.
Consistency played a big factor in my slimming down. Making exercise a part of my routine wasn’t easy. That’s why it’s important to find a routine that’s enjoyable. When I got bored, I added thrill-inducing workouts, like running stadium steps or lifting weights closer to my max. When I got lazy—or, worse, lonely—I would try to find a workout partner to keep me accountable. When I was diagnosed with a foot injury, I tried swimming. Cycling, team sports, weight lifting, yoga, hiking, rowing, skiing, Stairmaster, elliptical, and martial arts are some other examples of how I mixed it up. I also found that, when I was in the gym, personal trainers were more than happy to answer any questions I had and to walk me through certain exercises. I even partnered with one trainer on his personal workout schedule. When I could afford it, and even when I couldn’t, I hired a personal trainer, even if it was only for a session or two. The trainer that I hired walked me through new methods and brought something to the workout laboratory. He was very helpful in listening to my concerns and served as someone who I could bounce ideas off of. He also taught me a great deal about accomplishing goals, like being specific with what I wanted to accomplish. Really, trainers are as good therapists as you’ll find.
As I learned, it was really important for me to set goals. And when I set goals, I don’t mean “lose twenty pounds,” or “drop three inches off my waist.” It was simple and measurable (and realistic). I used the SMART criteria for setting goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound), developed by Dr. George Doran in 1981. I made a schedule, and challenged myself with increasingly difficult goals. Once I achieved a goal, such as two weeks of consistency, I aimed at a new target.
When I couldn’t find a partner, I sought out group-classes. I took hot yoga classes for about three months, a few times a week. My flexibility improved and my breathing became deeper. I also tried kickboxing and spinning classes.
It was important for me to have fun while I was working out, to not force myself to do something I hated. I sometimes combined TV-watching, reading, or music into my workout.
The exercise that helped me the most was interval training. Interval training is alternating between 20-45 seconds of intense exercise and sixty seconds of recovery exercise. It saved time and was highly effective at burning fat. I incorporated intervals into my cardiovascular exercises: running, elliptical, swimming, and biking. This was the second key to my success.
A few points on diet:
- Always refuel after a workout. Your body needs carbs (gas to start the engine) to prevent any muscle loss. Without them, your body doesn’t have the energy to burn fat and will break down muscle. Yogurt, peanut butter and jelly, a smoothie, or any healthy meal will do. But make it a point to cut out carbs after 8:00 p.m. According to nationally recognized nutrition and fitness expert Mitzi Dulan, snacking after dinner causes your body to “digest food while you sleep instead of burning the fat.”
- A great trick at avoiding sugary treats is taking a picture of it before you eat it. It will sometimes take away the craving.
- Eat breakfast. It does wonders. Not only does it jumpstart your metabolism and thereby begin the fat-burning process, it also makes you less hungry during the day.
- When I get a craving for something sweet, I grab a piece of fruit or have one bite of a piece of chocolate or think to myself, If I can conquer the craving this time, it will be easier to resist the next time, and so on.
- Eating is half of the equation. I reward myself when I deserve it, but I try tp stick to whole-grain carbs, fish, and chicken, and smaller portions. Instead of eating a bagel for breakfast, I eat half a bagel with an apple or banana.
- I occasionally drink a cup of coffee before a run. In a study published in November, 2011, in the Journal of Applied Physiology and covered in The New York Times, Dr. Magni Mahr says that “Probably everyone can get some fatigue-delaying and mood-enhancing benefits from caffeine.”
Although trading chips and cookies for apples and almonds seems mundane, I began to see results fast and instantly felt more confident and better about myself. For snacks, I prefer reduced-fat potato chips, carrots and dip, fruits, mixed nuts, and oatmeal with maple syrup.
I recently spent four months in Israel. While there, I became accustomed to the local diet of salads, vegetables, and lean proteins. I naturally lost even more weight. After I got back, I was soon like a balloon inflated not by air but by the American diet: butter, oil, and salt. The same foods in America are harder to find in many other countries and not as big a part of the regular cuisine. After I gained most of my weight back without realizing it, I quickly shifted my diet back to my old ways.
As good as unhealthy food tasted, looking and feeling good felt even better. And those same foods tasted even more delicious when I only had them once in awhile. As soon as I started to see a little bit of success, my motivation and confidence followed. I am always keeping tabs on my body. Now you know how one person succeeded—and as G.I. Joe used to remind us: knowing is half the battle.
My exercises (Sidebar):
- Run three miles two or three days per week. Do hot yoga for 45 – 60 minutes a day, two or three days per week.
- Run three-to-four miles three days a week. Run eight speed intervals two days a week. At one point I developed Achilles tendinitis. Although I was devastated when I found out that I couldn’t run for a month, I found a pair of goggles and started swimming. It enabled me to stay consistent.
- When I didn’t have time to get in a full workout, I did prison workouts. They consist of push-ups, wall squats, pull-ups, dips, and running stairs. I counted either the number of stairs or the floors.
- Run three miles three days a week and lift weights three days a week.
Thanks to Jordan Rubin and Rachel Graubard for reading drafts of this