Fitness, Body Image, BMI & Health – Yeah, that’s quite a lot
Recently I’ve been paying more attention to my friends and acquaintances who are losing weight or trying to lose weight. I have always paid attention, but due to my own success over the past two years I have become more attuned to their successes and failures.
Personally I have been lucky due to body type and genetics and though twice in my life I have gained weight and became somewhat unhealthy I have only been classified as crossing into obese twice according to the official BMI charts. Now I know that there are exceptions to every rule and any time somebody mentions BMI several people will explain how it is a flawed measure. However, it can be used as a baseline for many people and for me I find that I feel and look better when I am somewhere in the normal range.
What I would like to do is outline what has worked for me and share the steps I have taken to get myself in about the best shape in my life. If you want to break it down to the most basic level it really is eat less and exercise more.
First some background on me. I weighed about 155 pounds until I was 26, which being almost 6’1″ put me at a BMI of 20.4 near the lower part of normal. After this age many things changed in my life and eventually I weighed in at over 200 pounds which while not obese was definitely overweight. As my life continued to change and I stopped being as active my weight settled in at the 215-225 range. I have been a vegetarian since I’ve been 21 so for the most part my diet has been healthy. The biggest issues I faced were eating too much and not getting enough exercise. I would go through periods of exercise, but not much would change in my weight over the past decade except for one year where I did head down to 200 pounds only to have the weight come back on over the winter when I stopped exercising as much. In January of 2011 I decided to make a concerted effort to lose weight and went from 218 pounds to around 180 pounds in around a year. The biggest change I have seen is that my pants size went from a tight 38″ waist to a loose 32″ and from Large-XL shirts down to Small-Medium sizes. Since early 2013 I have remained between 175-180 pounds while gaining muscle mass the whole two years.
So, what changed in the past two years that made me lose weight and keep it off? There really were three things: A change in my diet, a fitness plan and realistic goals. These three things have helped me lose about 50 pounds from my highest weigh-in and get my body in the best shape it’s ever been.
Change in Diet
Realistically, almost all the weight I lost was due to a change in my diet. As I mentioned I have been a vegetarian most of the time since I was 21 and have eaten fairly healthy. However, I do have a sweet tooth, love pizza, eat frozen meals and do like junk food. So, when I made up my mind to get myself down to a goal weight I looked at what I eat and my portion size. What I did first was found a few apps for my iphone and started to record everything I ate for one week. This gave me a good baseline. Then I used an app to track my weight loss which also told me how many calories I could eat each day if I wanted to stay on track to reach my goal, which at the time was losing one pound a week for 30 weeks. When I looked at my average calorie intake on a daily basis compared to my allowance I realized that I was over by 400-800 calories a day.
To take care of this overage I spent time looking at every item I ate and looking at lower calorie alternatives as well as focusing more on lower calories fruits and vegetables. Over the next two weeks I overhauled our grocery list, came up with four new standard meals and became very aware of serving size. Another helpful tool was finding alternative snacks which would satisfy between meal cravings. Since I am vegetarian I need extra protein so I focused on nuts and looked to a wide variety of fruits. Since I’ve had trouble in the past if I deprive myself of my favorite foods I really looked at quality and quantity. I found that really high quality cheese not only tastes so much better, you don’t need to each as much to be satisfied. This also is the case for chocolate and a host of other items. Another area of my diet which I paid a lot of attention to was my sodium intake, processed foods and high fructose corn syrup. I tried to cut these items out as much as possible. I have read various studies on both sides, but for me I really have felt better since I made this change and it has helped me to lose weight.
I really wanted to incorporate quite a bit of exercise into my lifestyle change because I had been unhappy about my body shape and I felt that I could no longer do some of the physical activities I loved. There really are many things you cannot change about your body and it’s good to accept that. However, there are things that you can change and those are the things which I wanted to change. I do feel that I am lucky regarding how I gain weight, which is that typically it’s distributed throughout my body instead of just gaining in one or two places on my body.
In the late 90s I was very into riding my bike, doing indoor rock climbing and occasionally lifting weights. All of these had pretty much faded out by 2002. I became less active in late 2003 due to my odd heart issues flaring up which left me in the hospital for a week and a radio catheter ablation. After this procedure I was put on beta blockers and just didn’t feel quite like myself. Even with the medicine I was still going into tachycardia at times and would get tunnel vision due to lack of oxygen. I didn’t fit any of the typical profiles and eventually we have all come to accept that my normal is abnormal and my heart just has a lot of electrical issues that are not truly effecting me. Regardless I had been using my heart issues as an excuse to not really exercise or as a reason to stop whenever slightly odd.
So, in 2011 I decided to take baby steps to getting myself into the best shape I could. I had been walking my dog about a mile a few times a week and had started using Wii Fit a bit. From this starting point I resolved to walk the dog a mile daily and do Wii fit 4-5 times a week. In February also decided to sign-up for the Warrior Dash in May 2011 after my friend Troy mentioned that he was doing it as a motivator to get into shape. This gave me just over three months to be ready to run a 5K with ten obstacles. I’ve never been a runner, but figured this would force me to give it a shot.
I then came up with an exercise plan mixing some weights and cardio indoors until the weather got better in late March. Then I found a few apps and loaded one called Runkeeper with a couch to 5k program and followed the routine as much as possible. However, I hit a wall around week 4 and could not move past it due to my heart rate and breathing. Still I did keep at it and was able to do decent at the Warrior Dash. At this time I had already signed up for a second WD with other friends in late August. I decided to keep going with my training and add in biking as well as occasional free weights. My second Warrior Dash was faster and I felt better about the whole process and was looking forward to more challenges.
After my second WD I started my first round of P90X, which I repeated right after the first time through. At this point it was Spring again and I decided to run for the first time in five months. To my surprise I was able to run a full 5k my first time out. I realized that I had now built up my cardio enough to not be as effected by my heart issues. From this point on I have created my own hybrid plan of P90X workouts, running and biking. I also competed in two more Warrior Dash’s in 2013 and plan on doing a few Spartan runs in 2014 with a team of friends.
These are the results from the four Warrior Dashes which I have participated. As you can tell since the courses can be very different so, you can’t judge on time alone. I prefer to look at my place within my age bracket and then overall. I think this gives me a true sense of my improvement between races.
I now actually enjoy running somewhat and am very happy to be biking on a regular basis again. However, the best part is that I like how my body looks, find I can do so much more without getting tired, have better balance and can do random climbing / jumping. I really do feel better than I have in over a decade and look forward to a good workout of testing my body and getting all sweaty.
One of the reasons given for weight loss and exercise plans failing is unrealistic goals. I decided that this time I would have some pretty basic and long-range goals. The first was to eventually get down to 175-180 pounds, but to start with a goal of 200 pounds and then one of 190 before then end goal. I gave myself a fairly low pressure target of losing a half to a full pound each week. My second goal was to run a Warrior Dash and get back into riding my bike.
I feel that since my goals were fairly simple I was able to achieve them regardless of small setback and as long as my trend line was heading in the right direction I wouldn’t get discouraged which happens all too often. Once I hit my goal in early 2013 I went into what I call maintenance mode. I do not watch what I eat as closely as before, but I do have a redline weight which if I go above means I need to watch and be more observant.
I think the main conclusion is that if you really want to get in shape you need solid goals and to figure out what is going to work for you. I have tried many times before and failed due to a variety of reasons, primary of which was not really being ready and looking for a pre-made solution. The past two years have been a challenge and a journey where I have learned a lot about my body, my mind and what I can accomplish. I have read such an amazing variety of articles and learned so much about food, nutrition, diet, exercise and my heart.
If you want more details about anything or just want to talk about any struggle you are having feel free to get in touch with me here or via any social network near the top of this blog. Thanks for reading and I hope I’ve helped you a bit.