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.