Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Losing Weight

I read this blog post by Ben Davis, aka "Ben Does Life," and it got me to thinking (always a frightening thing). I'm one of the few who has lost weight and kept it off. A lot of people, including many I know, have lost weight and then, in time, put it all back on, plus some. I recently read that most of the weight gain people experience happens over the holidays--extra pounds that are often never taken off. If you gain two pounds during the holidays every year, over a period of 20 years you're going to gain 40 pounds, especially as your metabolism slows due to inactivity (a process you can reverse) and you lose muscle due to a lack of exercise. If that sounds outrageous, it's not. It happens to many people. Many of the people I knew in high school and college are now fighting their weight. It happened to me and then, at about age 30, I got control.

I don't pretend I'm now immune from ever being over-weight. I'm going to have to keep eating right, exercising regularly and adhering to healthy habits if I'm to maintain my current weight and fitness level.

Lots of people out there are overweight and unhappy and not sure what to do or how to get started. In many cases, they know changes have to be made, but they're either scared of change or unsure of how to go about it.

If there's one nugget of wisdom I've gleaned from my transformation from a 220-pound "big guy" to a lean 168-pound ultra-distance runner with a few wins on my resume, it's this: Whatever you do to try to live a healthier life, make sure it's sustainable. Slimfast isn't sustainable. The Atkins Diet isn't sustainable. Same with NutriSystem and other unsustainable fad diets (though I do kind of like the Paleo Diet). Many of the ridiculous workout machines and programs advertised on TV (including P90X, which I used to like but have since changed my mind about) aren't sustainable and will keep you interested for only a few weeks before burn-out sets in. So what is sustainable? Activities that are natural and enjoyable, such as running, walking, cycling, swimming (warning: swimming increases your appetite!), horse-back riding (my wife's passion), tennis, ciruit training, aerobics (e.g., Zumba, which my sister-in-law loves), etc.

You have to find what you love to do and then make it a permanent part of your life, starting with your daily routine. For me, it's running (and cycling when I have time). I run nearly 4,000 miles a year and I love every step of it, whether it's a training run or a race of 100 miles. I can't remember the last time running was "exercise." For you, the right fit might be daily tennis or laps in the pool. Find what you love and stick with it.

Exercise is only part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Diet and lifestyle play a huge role. Here are a few sustainable changes I made that really made a difference for me:
  • In bed by 9:00 PM. If you're a night owl, the temptation to eat in the wee hours is often a killer. If you go to bed at an earlier hour (say, 10 PM), the temptation won't be there.
  • Up by 5:00 AM for my run. I have found that as the day goes on and there are more and more distractions, it's harder and harder to find time for my run. I prevent that from happening by running first thing in the morning (and then again at night if I'm training for a big race such as 100-miler). There is no better way to start the day than with exercise. Be sure to exercise for at least 30 minutes and ideally an hour or more.
  • Eat whole grains instead of refined carbs (e.g., whole-wheat pasta, whole grain breads and brown rice in lieu of white pasta, white bread and white rice). Note: I do eat lots of carbs to fuel my running, but I try to eat good carbs.
  • No more sugary drinks. Ever.
  • Less red meat and more lean proteins, including free-range chicken and beef from grass-fed cows (I love a good steak)
  • Greater emphasis on vegetarian foods (e.g., garden burgers)
  • More organic vegetables and fruits
  • Introduction of healthy, gluten-free foods like quinoa
  • Pack my own lunch every single day
  • Bye-bye to fast food. It's poison and never OK to eat. Moderation is not always the right approach.
  • Dine out only occasionally and, when we do, I usually order something healthy like salmon.
  • Less TV
  • No video games. In time, I believe video games will be shown to be destructive to mind and body. Like the Internet, when you sit down to play a video game time flies and, before you know it, hours have passed that you could have spent being active or doing something productive.
As we can see in Ben's blog, he's working hard to get back to healthier ways after falling off the wagon for a while. This happens to many of us. If it's happening to you, don't wait until tomorrow to get back on the wagon. Don't put it off until "after the holidays," or the new year--convenient excuses. Get back on right now. Make the change this very second and put your heart and soul into it.


  1. We share a lot of practices in the diet area. What you describe is not quite low-carb in the Atkins sense, but certainly moderate and/or smart carb. I simply replace some of the grain portion with IPA :)

    I found Atkins too restrictive to maintain, but low-carb in general is certainly doable and tunes the body towards fat-burning.

    The issue of energy becomes interesting though. I don't run the mileage you serious ultra folks do, but I've found low-carb works with mountain running up to marathon distance provided I eat real food (not gels and sugary bars). I'm not sure how that would work if I really raced (hard enough to make digestion difficult).

  2. Hi Mtnrunner2: Definitely. I eat a lot of carbs but I try to eat good carbs. If I don't eat enough carbs I feel it in my running. I probably get at least 60% of my calories from carbs--maybe more. Occasionally I do fall prey to bad stuff, but I NEVER eat fast food :-)


  3. Nice post, Wyatt.
    It's the same simple approach, one that we all try to maintain :0

    I like the sustainable criterion.
    That's the buzz-kill everyone needs in order to look honestly at the task of making it truly long term.

  4. Another Great Post!
    Food is always on my mind, I love to eat! The thing is, no matter what I did I never gained. I am 41 years old, 5' 8”. I feel that my “racing weight” should be around 145 -150, which is my 30 year old weight (rock climbing weight), my high school weight was 120s. So what happen? . . . First, five years ago my wife (we) became pregnant and it has been the best thing that ever happened to me, but as my lifestyle changed, the weight slowly crept up. Three years later I was up to 185 and started to run again which got me down to 155. I ran the Colorado half marathon (my first flat half) in a decent time 1:37:17 and 3/4 of the way into it, I heard a pop - I tore my meniscus and the season was done. Knee surgery months later and a second baby on the way. I shot my way up to over 200. That was January, I am about 163 today, stable, and getting stronger. I ran my first marathon in Spain with 7000' gain and it was awesome. I still plan on getting down to under 150 by July, but it will not be easy.

    It is all about the fine tuning. Your post got me thinking again, 'real food' on the run, I take GU religiously and high sugar sports & recovery drink; all are very pricy too. The thing is, during longer runs, I have a hard time eating anything but GU. I usually take one bite of something else and throw it away. I love dates, so I am going to see how that works on a run, but sugar is sugar, right? And dates have a higher glycemic index than table sugar. What do you guys eat during a run?

  5. SKA:

    One of the things that really held me back in ultras was that I was terrible at fueling. But after a couple hours, everything looked unappetizing...including Gels.

    For me, I found Powerbar Energy Blasts http://www.powerbar.com/products/236/powerbar-energy-blasts-gel-filled-chews.aspx - at a 24 hour event earlier in the fall, I literally ate through 20 packs of them until I ran out of all that I brought.

    It is one thing I have found I apparently never get sick of.

    I would recommend continuing to look around and try new things...there's gotta be some things out there that you can agree with.

  6. Wyatt, I love the simplistic message you project in the bullet points because I believe the process is simple yet ultimately it's the embracing of it as part of your lifestyle that is the most significant

    I myself started off as a reasonable big guy (6'2, 205 pounds) and over the period of the last 3 years have now got down to 172 pounds (as of yesterday).

    For me the main changes has been dropping white flour based products, switching to wholegrains / more veggies and also eating 5-6 times a day but in smaller portions for each sitting.

    I got stuck at around 180 pounds following these principles around 2 months ago despite the fact logging 50+ miles a week yet however I noticed I was still eating a fair amount of chips and biscuits (not loads but a few). So I dropped these as well to only once a week. That small difference had a big impact. Lots of small changes can make a big difference.

    The best way to succeed is to make this part of your lifestyle. I still have a few beers and bad food every now and then. I don't beat myself up over it as I feel I have a balance in my approach.

  7. SKA Runner: Thanks for your awesome comments on my blog!

    Yeah, the gift of a child can create some challenges. It took me a little while to adjust my life after Noah arrived in May 2008. I kept going status quo but over time I began to realize that I had to make some changes. My mileage has dropped only a little (from 100-110 to about 90-95 when peak training). I wouldn't change anything! I'm sure you wouldn't either.

    When I race and run long, I rely on Hammer products for energy. I love Hammer Perpetuem and Gels. I find that they work in high-altitude races like the Leadville 100. I also use Hammer Recoverite after big workouts. Real foods during races like Leadville can be tough for me. Back East this wasn't the case, but at elevation it is.

    I do remember you from the Mt. Evans Ascent. That was a very tough race for me. I had a bad day and the wind just took it out of me. If I don't get into Western States, I'll be back at Evans looking for vengeance in 2012! I think I could go sub 2:15 on that course.

    Keep rocking!


  8. Richard: A few beers and glasses of wine could never be a bad thing :-) I usually have one drink a day (usually wine during the week and beer on the weekends). Also, chips are a major weakness of mine. Just ask my wife. The only chips I buy now are whole-graine Tostitos. If you put a bag of potato chips in front of me I'm a dead man. Seriously. I can't resist them, so I don't buy them. For me, one chip turns in 50 chips.


  9. Excellent post. Well thought out and written. Some folks have various eating disorders and/or coping issues which complicate the process. Surely there are an infinite number of reasons one can find NOT to take positive action. By the same token if one thinks on it a bit...there are infinite reasons TO JUST DO IT!

  10. Out of interest, may I ask why you changed your mind about P90X?

  11. Thomas: Thanks for your question. I used to like the idea of P90X, and I still like the idea of a program with a diverse mix of exercises hitting many different systems and areas of the body. My big beef with P90X is that its marketing is misleading. It's pretty much targeted to people who are out of shape and it uses messages to make you think you can go from being a couch potato to ripped. I've read many reviews and talked to some out-of-shape folks who said that P90X was simply not feasible for them--and downright discouraging--until they hit a certain baseline of fitness. They found another Tony Horton program useful in getting them ready for P90X. And yet P90X is marketed as appropriate for couch potatoes looking to get in shape and ripped. So I guess my beef isn't with the product itself, but rather with how its marketed. I think when people realize how hard P90X is and how out of shape they are, to the degree that they can't properly perform all of the exercises, they'll burn out and give up.