In my last post I described my weight-loss journey and how it ties to spiritual formation. What I want to do now is describe some of the details of how I did it (and how I plan on continuing). But let me first say that if you are in need of some encouragement to lose some weight or start getting healthy, this may sound trite, but you can do it. Seriously. If a lazy, food-obsessed lard-ass like me can, anybody can!
That said, here’s my story. Weight loss, for me, has been an ongoing struggle, as I know it has for many of you reading this. But after many attempts, using many different methods, I seem to have found a method that works. I use a free app on my phone called Lose It, which is similar to many fitness and weight-loss management apps. You can research and decide which app may work best for you, but the key is the daily log of calorie intake and exercise. Most of these apps will do much more than just that, including goal setting, challenges, notifications, etc., but all I needed was the calorie tracker. The app makes it quite easy, as you can search for certain foods and it will usually have the correct calorie count already in its database. For foods it does not have, you can easily enter the info yourself.
My calorie budget was (and still is) roughly 1,500 per day. What I have noticed as the weeks go by is that if I actually ate that many calories, weight loss was very slow, so it was necessary to stay below that amount to see results and not get discouraged. To reach that goal of under 1,500 calories per day, I needed to make some pretty drastic changes to my diet. My cardiologist had told me that I should avoid wheat for health reasons, so I cut out bread and pasta. Also, since I began this journey with Lent, I had cut out all sweets (no cookies and ice cream, my two favorites!). I had to figure out what was realistic to replace these things, particularly the bread, because it was so much a part of my former diet. Luckily, I am a fan of vegetables, so they became a staple of my daily diet. Steamed broccoli with some shredded parmesan is so easy and good!
You may think, no bread, ice cream or cookies? How can I maintain that? Well, I had to come up with some alternatives that satisfied my cravings for those things. In all honesty, bread was pretty easy to give up. I still have “sandwiches,” but they are simply chicken or turkey between cheese slices. And that is satisfying for me. No bread needed. Using lettuce works as well as a bun replacement. Another life saver for me is low-sugar protein bars. There are many different ones to choose, but my favorite is this Atkins bar. (http://www.atkins.com/products/bars/snacks/caramel-chocolate-nut-roll). Very satisfying. The other life saver, which is my main go-to on this eating plan, is a protein smoothie. Here’s how I make it, but you can use any number of ingredients, as long as you accurately track the calories. One scoop of protein powder (find one that is for meal replacement, weight loss), one frozen banana, 1 cup of milk (I use 1%), a bit of sugar-free chocolate sauce, a dash of french vanilla creamer, and a some semi-sweet chocolate chips (30 chips are 70 calories). Add lots of ice (I like mine to be very thick), and you’ve got a pretty good chocolate smoothie. The way I make it, it adds up to about 350 calories. Best of all, it is very filling and satisfies that craving for something cold, sweet and creamy.
My wife and I are not gourmet chefs by any means, so we needed to come up with some easy prep meals that were low in calories but high in satisfaction. So we regularly make street tacos with either ground turkey, grilled chicken, or slow-cooked shredded pork. Use small corn tortillas and garnish the meat with grilled peppers and salsa (no cheese needed) and you’ve got some tasty tacos. Another meal we make regularly is pizza (this is one instance when I don’t avoid wheat—gluten free pizza crust is available but just isn’t as good!). We use thin pizza crusts and make bar-be-cued chicken pizza (grilled chicken, onions, mozzarella cheese and bbq sauce), and veggie pizza. You can put whatever veggies you like on it. Just make sure you calculate the calories for each slice. Once we made the, we had the basic calorie amounts added into our apps and just recall it each time we make the same items.
Other things I have regularly are eggs, cottage cheese, sweet potatoes, and cereal for breakfast. Let me say a bit about cereal. I love cereal for breakfast, and in the past would either have a sweetened cereal or put lots of sugar on my rice crispies or corn flakes. When I began lent, and cut out sugar, I had corn flakes without any sugar. It became surprisingly easy to maintain that after Lent ended, and I continue to have plain corn flakes or rice crisps (no wheat based cereals) with no sugar added to it. Adding sugar to food is one of the things I have stopped doing, and I now enjoy the taste of foods without it. Since Lent ended, I added sweets back into my diet, but still (try to) stick to the calorie budget. That means being very intentional about what sweets to eat. I look at the calories per item and choose wisely. But I don’t deprive myself.
I should say a bit about struggling with hunger pains. I am used to living without hunger, because any time I felt hungry I would eat something. Now, I am learning to embrace hunger. In my last post, I shared how I use hunger as a trigger for experiencing God’s presence. If you can’t relate to that type of spirituality, perhaps using hunger as a reminder that you are human, and stand in solidarity with the millions who go hungry through no choice of their own. It is a way of reminding oneself that there is more to life than our own selfish desires. On a practical level, though, drinking water is a great way to quench an immediate feeling of hunger. My water intake has increased quite a bit, and it helps me make it to the next meal without much discomfort.
Regarding exercise, let me say this: calorie intake is the most important part of losing weight. Changing my diet, not my exercise habits, is what made the most impact. I lost 45 pounds with very little additional exercise. I walk regularly, usually 3-4 miles, but was doing that before I lost the weight. Now that I am thinner, I find that I am desiring exercise like never before, so the desire to get in shape is a by-product of losing weight. I have tried to lose weight in the past by exercising more, only to lose motivation after a couple weeks. But it is amazing how, now that I have lost weight by changing my eating habits, my motivation to work out and be active has increased dramatically.
The last thing I should mention is my tendency to binge eat. Yes, I still struggle with food obsession. That obsession on occasion becomes overwhelming and I have given in to “pigging out” on several occasions. When that does happen, I don’t get depressed and give in to my dark side, going back to my old ways. I simply say, “It is what it is,” and get back on track the next day. I don’t fret about it. If I put on weight, no big deal. This is a journey, and it will have ups and downs. I have plateaued at my current weight for several months. It took me 4 months to lose 45 pounds, and I have been roughly the same weight for two months. I still want to lose 20 more pounds. Slow and steady in the same direction is now my motto. Sometimes it is really slow. Sometimes I veer off course. But as I keep on keeping track of my eating, which is my new, life-long practice, I am confident that my journey will be worth it in the end.
If you are encouraged to try something like this, all the best to you. It really is a life changer, and I hope my story can encourage you.
Grace and peace,