I like to eat and I don't move around much so it's no surprise that I struggled with weight for most of my life. I had tried calorie tracking and diets many times but could never keep up a routine for longer than a month or two. I finally found some success in 2018 (maybe too much) when I dropped from 170 lb to 130, losing almost a quarter of my body weight over the span of a few months.
Looking back, the most surprising part to me was how easy it was. I felt like I had to try much harder in my past weight loss attempts but a few things clicked this time around that made the whole process more fun than strenuous.
One factor that was different was that I was more motivated. In the past, my primary motivator for losing weight was to be more attractive. This time, I also wanted to lose weight to feel healthier. I was starting to feel sluggish and lazy after a heavy meal, something I didn't really think about while I had my high school / college years' metabolism. The change in mindset came after a particularly gluttonous trip to Japan where I spent weeks eating twice my normal food intake. I came back home 15 pounds heavier and just sliding into the "Overweight" BMI category. More concerning than my weight however, was how lethargic and unproductive I felt even after I had returned home. I realized then that I need to feel physically healthy in order to be mentally healthy and productive.
Another new source of motivation was to improve at climbing, a hobby I had picked up a few months prior. It's a lot easier to pull yourself up a wall when you're not carrying an extra 40 lb in your belly. Aside from wanting to climb higher grades though, I really loved the feeling of nimbleness and lightness that I was able to experience through climbing. The positive feedback from that feeling gave me the extra push to turn down that extra beer or takeout that didn't fit in my diet.
Of course, changing my approach to food was an important part of losing weight. My past attempts at dieting focused purely on reducing calories by eating less and without much regard to what I actually ate. This can work in the short term but it wasn't sustainable since I was often hungry and just a moment away from a binge eating relapse.
Climbing forced me to think about the nutritional content of my food since I needed some protein to recover and to eat sufficiently before a gym session. My favorite food tracking app is Lose It because I found it the easiest for creating personal food/recipe entries which could then be logged as meals. They do have a comprehensive database of food items but I preferred to create my own since their user generated items were sometimes suspicious.
In the interest of accurate data, I started to cook more of my meals and weighing the ingredients. Doing so developed my sense of the nutritional content of food and I realized how wildly inaccurate restaurant nutrition info can be. Especially from fast casual restaurants like Chipotle where the serving size vary from server to server.
Another revelation from logging my food was that the correlation between calories and taste wasn't as strong as I thought. There are plenty of delicious low calorie foods and on the flip side, many foods that weren't worth their calories (to my palate). Many of the flavorful foods I loved got their flavor from salt, spices, herbs, soy sauce, and vinegar, all of which are effectively calorie free. Even boring dishes can be saved with the right (also calorie free) hot sauce.
I was lucky to find a handful of dishes that I enjoyed eating but also healthy and easy to make. Some of my favorite are chili, teriyaki chicken, orange chicken, japanese curry, tomato and egg, fried rice (less rice and more of everything else), quinoa salad. All of these recipes can be easily meal prepped and I fell into a routine of cooking two of them at the start of every week. Thankfully, I don't get tired of eating the same thing repeatedly as long as it tastes good.
The pounds naturally fell off after finding a physical activity I enjoyed and healthy foods I liked eating. I stopped losing weight around 130 lb and eventually got lazy about my diet when I stopped seeing the numbers drop. Even though maintaining the diet didn't feel "hard", it was nice to start eating out and drinking without feeling a tinge of guilt. I don't track my food anymore but I still enjoy climbing and my increased awareness of nutrition has helped me maintain a healthy weight ever since.
It's my proudest accomplishment of 2018 since one of the best things I've ever done to improve the quality of my life.
- Find a physical activity that you enjoy.
- Track what you eat; You'll learn a lot about nutrition and develop an intuition for it.
- Keep trying recipes until you find ones that are tasty, healthy, and easy to make.