Those who know me and have seen my recent Facebook activity will know that I’ve lost in the neighborhood of 20 pounds over the last three month. I thought I would write up a bit of my success story here.
I’ll start by thanking a few people. I feel like I’m writing a book…
- First I have to thank the Lord who has given me a changed heart when it comes to food and weight. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I idolized food all that much before, it’s just that I didn’t particularly see a reason to pay that much attention. I always rationalized losing weight and being healthy as being idols of our culture and that it didn’t really matter. Really it was an issue of laziness and not considering the deeper reasons why it’s a good idea to stay in shape. God helped me understand that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and also the ways in which my weight affects those around me, or can potentially affect them, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.
- Second I have to thank my late pastor Rick Wilson and another friend and elder candidate Joshua Allen. They helped kick this into gear for me when we sat down and challenged each other to lose 40 pounds by Thanksgiving (a challenge that started in May).
- Third, I have to thank my wife Mandie who does all the hard work of counting the calories and budgeting the meals for me. I could not do this without her.
- Fourth, I have to give a shout out to The Hacker’s Diet which is where I got all the science behind what I’m doing, and got a charting tool to help me track my progress. That’s where the chart above comes from. It’s a great diet if you’re of the programming/engineering mindset. Really it’s a great diet if you’re of any mindset actually. It throws off all of the gimmicks of other diets and simply says, “Look, losing weight only happens when you consume fewer calories than you burn. So consume fewer calories than you burn.”
- Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who has encouraged me in this regard by giving me positive feedback. You know who you are.
Why should I bother Losing Weight?
So the main purpose of this blog article is to discuss that first point about a changed heart. I wanted to lay out what I have learned in hopes that this might help some others. Like I said, it was more of a laziness issue with me. I just didn’t want to put in the effort necessary to discipline my body. I didn’t want to feel hungry dieting. I didn’t want to have to say no to sweets. I didn’t want to have to beat myself up with exercise. I covered all of this with a rationalization that fitness and health are an idol of our culture. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t good and wise reasons to be fit and healthy at a less obsessed level.
So I sat down and tried to answer the question of Why I Should Lose Weight. I came up with three answers.
1. My Body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?…
– 1 Corinthians 6:19
How well I treat my body shows how much I care for the God whose temple it is. Thus, I have a responsibility to care for it and show it the honor due a dwelling place of God. This is a high responsibility.
Fitness can be an idol if you consider yourself the god occupying the temple, but that does not mean that there is no God occupying this temple. So when it comes down to whether I do things that are good for my body verses things that are bad, the question I have to answer is whether I’m doing this to simply please myself, or whether I am honoring the Lord in this. Eating ten brownies is probably something done purely to please myself. Exercising restraint in consumption of brownies, when done to honor the Lord, pleases him. I have a duty to only do that which is honoring to the Lord. There’s freedom in this, but not the freedom to do whatever I want without thought to my health.
2. Being overweight incurs greater health risks.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
– Proverbs 22:3
The Obesity Epidemic lobby has told us all about the ways in which being overweight contributes to a greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems. While it’s tempting to roll our eyes at these people (and I still do when it comes to their collectivist take on the problem), it would be wise to consider this information. There are two very bad things that can come from being overweight.
The first risk is of incurring higher medical expenses. If my weight causes me to contract heart disease or diabetes, I’m going to have to pay extra to take care of these. This is bad stewardship. Even if I had the money to cover those expenses, I could be using that money to serve the Kingdom of God or to bless my family and others around me. And I’m not guaranteed to have the money, so I could be playing into the collectivists hands by being a burden on “The System”, or at least those in the church and my family who I’m supposed to be a blessing to, not a burden. If the money I have is not mine, but is God’s money which I am tasked with stewarding wisely, then it would seem that spending it to pay for health problems that could have been avoided by a little moderation and self control would be a waste. It would be wrong to squander the money in this way. If I’m supposed to be using my resources to serve and bless those around me, then I am failing to be a burden on them. It would be inconsiderate to force this upon them. Granted, there’s only so much I can prevent, but I have a responsibility to make sure I’m not foolishly contributing to a significantly greater risk.
This is a touchy subject right now, I know. I had already been thinking about these things for a while, but recent events* have really served to underscore this for me. The sobering reality is that the second, and more serious, risk of being overweight is death. I need to consider the affect that an early death would have on my family and anyone else who is under my care. I have a responsibility to be a husband and father to my family, and if I die because I’m not taking care of myself, I’m leaving them in the lurch. God is Sovereign over these things, and if he calls me home, he will provide for my family, so there’s no need to pendulum swing the other way and become terrified of death. But again, I have a responsibility to not contribute to a significantly greater risk in this regard. I should do what I can to avoid this outcome for the sake of my family.
3. I’ll feel better. And I already do!
I’ve noticed that being overweight can really drag you down. It just generally makes you feel… crappy, whether it’s from back pain or just generally feeling sluggish. I don’t like feeling crappy. But this is more than just a self-serving item.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
– Romans 12:1
This might seem to go along with the first point, and it does, but it is also a separate point in its own right. The first point was more about having a heart attitude of worship and honor toward God in how I take care of myself. This point is about trying to be as ready and able as I can be to do whatever he calls me to do. If I’m to be a living sacrifice, then my body belongs to the Lord and is an instrument of service in his hands. I need to be the sharpest axe, most finely tuned instrument, or most well oiled machine I can be so that I can be effective in serving him.
If I’m to serve the Lord in whatever capacity he calls me to – I’m already called to serve as a husband and father – then I’m going to need to be agile enough to meet the demands of that responsibility, even if that means hopping off the couch at a moment’s notice to urgently … wash a dish! If I don’t feel well because I’m overweight, I’m going to be hindered in my ability to do that. This does not excuse laziness, which is still a real heart issue at play here, but it does expose and remove the excuse that my laziness likes to lean on. It forces me to actually confront that heart idol, which I am in the process of doing.
Don’t forget about Exercise
These issues also cross over into the exercise side of things. From what I’ve read and from my experience, Exercise by itself is only marginally effective at helping people lose weight – for the most part. It works best as a companion to dieting. Ultimately in order to lose weight you have to consume fewer calories than your body burns. Exercise burns more calories, but it really only adds a few extra calories. It helps, but a simple 30 minutes three times a week doesn’t do enough to counteract a daily diet of 2500+ calories.
What it does help with is helping you feel better overall, strengthening your heart, and may or may not have some companion effects to bolster your diet – like suppressing your appetite or boosting your metabolism. I figure your mileage may vary on those last two. Ask Michael Phelps about appetite suppression… Then again, ask him about metabolism boosting…
There’s always exceptions to the rule, but one thing remains constant:
Diet and Exercise together are necessary to take care of the body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit and are therefore a duty for the believer on some level.
But No Legalism!
What I won’t do is make any kind of dogmatic proclamation about any sort of specifics. There’s no weight chart in the Bible. There are no chapter and verses citing any specific BMI that you have to be at. There is no Scripturally sanctioned diet – well… except in Leviticus… The specifics of it are entirely up to what you can do and what you feel lead by your conscience to do in order to satisfy the requirement of the temple worship that is your body.
This is a matter of Christian Liberty. If your heart is right before the Lord on this issue, and you are doing what you need to in order to honor him, there is no shame in being overweight. Take me for instance, I’m still overweight – probably by about 70 pounds. Being overweight for me is not a sin as long as I am trying to do what I can about it. There’s no rule that says I have to go at any certain pace, set any certain goal, use a certain calorie budget, or have a certain exercise program. The only rule is to consider the heart issues above. From those, I’ve found all the motivation I need to do this.
These things are not legalistic. They should be remembered and adhered to with a good amount of foundational understanding of what the heart issues are. Do remember that the world’s obsession with fitness is an idol. Do take this with a grain of Ecclesiastical salt. Do examine your own heart to consider whether you are honoring the Lord with your body, or simply serving yourself.
So, How Do I Spell Success?
S-U-C-C-E-S-S, of course. Unless I’m speaking Welsh. Then it’s LL-W-Y-D-D-I-A-N-T, but that’s beside the point.
Oh, you mean what’s my secret for actually losing this weight? Aaaah. Well why didn’t you say so? That’s an entirely different question. 😛 For myself, success has come with the following formula based on The Hacker’s Diet. (CAVEAT: Though I used “Step x” as my way of delimiting the components of my plan, I do not mean to construe this as any sort of 12 step plan, or that I went through these as a progression in this order from step 1 to step 2, etc. These are equal components that were in effect from day 1 and are still in effect. It was just a figure of speech. Hope nobody was confused by that.)
Step 1: Set a daily calorie goal of 1600 for myself.
We’re not agonizing over every single calorie. We’re not using measuring cups for every single bowl of cereal. We’re not filling out daily logs or anything like that. We’re just saying, “I’ll eat ~1600 calories today. That’s 500 for breakfast, 500 for lunch and 600 for dinner.” Then Mandie plans accordingly. If I go over a little, we don’t stress. I could probably go as high as 1800 in any given day, and supposedly my stasis level at my current weight is closer to 2400, so I could probably eat a 2000 calorie diet and still be losing weight. But I’m in high gear right now, so we keep it low. (Update: I’m down to 1400 a day now)
I simply set the calorie budget for myself, ballpark estimate everything I eat, and pay attention to how I’m doing against my budget. Then we make informed decisions about everything I consume. Do I have seconds of casserole? I’ve only had roughly 1400 calories today, so I’m good. Or, I’m pushing the limit, so I should hold off.
It’s not rocket science. We don’t even overstress about being perfectly exact in our calorie calculations. We pretty much round everything to the nearest 50. And I’m not legalistic about it. I just keep a general eye on how I’m doing, and as long as my weigh-ins continue to pull my trend line down, then I know I’m doing good. If I plateau or start to rise again, then I know I need to be a little more strict.
This of course, would be perfectly compatible with other systems, such as using weight watchers points instead of calories. The basic idea is to give myself a daily budget of food I’m aloud to eat, and then try to stay within it without driving myself crazy.
Step 2: No snacks.
This was the big key for me personally. I said to myself a long time ago that I should never even try smoking anything of any kind. Why? Because I’d be a 3 pack a day chain smoker from day one. No kidding. I’m the guy who opens a bag of chips and finishes it in one setting. I can go through a whole bag of tortilla chips and a whole jar of salsa in the space of a 1 hour TV show. Right before getting into the full swing of this whole thing, I sat down and ate a whole jar of peanuts without thinking about it. Afterwards, I looked at the label and realized that that one jar was 2000 calories by itself. Not kidding.
The problem for me was that I was such a habitual snacker that I had conditioned myself always to feel hungry in certain circumstances. Anytime I sat in front of the TV, I felt hungry. I was a couch potato – excepting the fact that we don’t actually have a couch right now… When I started this whole diet, I realized that what I had done was a bit of Pavlovian behavioral conditioning. I had trained myself to feel hungry, even though I wasn’t. I had to reverse this trend. So I made a rule for myself. No snacking. Period.
And it didn’t take long to recondition myself. I simply looked myself in the mirror and reminded myself of one simple fact: There is never a situation in which I NEED to snack. That was the silver bullet that has defeated every snack pang. Really as soon as a week later, I lost the urge to snack every time I sat in front of the TV. Now I’m armed with knowledge. I make sure with my meal calorie budgets that I’m getting enough food to survive and when the hunger bangs come up later, I say, “Nope. I’ve had enough,” or, “I’m going to eat dinner in a bit.” Essentially I remind myself, “You’re not really hungry. You just think you are.”
Snacking might not be an issue for you. You might have some other area that you need to rethink in your diet. The generalized advice I can give on this is to pay attention to what you eat and why you eat it. Watch out for calorie dense foods, and watch out for ways in which you may not realize that you are packing on extra calories. Mine came in the form of TV and Video Game snacking. What might it be for you?
Step 3: The Eat Watch
Follow The Hacker’s Diet’s system of tracking called the Eat Watch. This is the final key component. Along with not being super legalistic about calorie budgets and not snacking, I followed The Hacker’s Diet’s system of tracking. Essentially it works like this: You weigh yourself every day and put it in the computer. The computer calculates a trend line based on a statistically smoothed, rolling weighted average and shows you your progress. You’ll see how your high points and your low points are smoothed out into a trend that gives you a general direction. You learn to stop worrying about the specific weigh-in weights and to just watch the trend line. You might weight in five pounds higher or lower than the day before, but your trend line will be slower to adapt, and will show you the overall direction you’re moving. Then based on the trend line, you can decide whether you need to get more aggressive about your calorie budget or whether you can ease up a bit.
There’s even a mobile app called Libra that I’ve been using on my phone which makes recording my weight super convenient.
Step 4: Be Content With the Long Haul
I think what discourages people from dieting the most is that we get too aggressive with it. We set ridiculous goals like “I want to lose 20 pounds by Monday!” There’s no need for this. At my current velocity, I’m losing about 1.5 pounds a week. That might not seem like much, but it adds up after three months, doesn’t it? If I continue on this trend, think where I’ll be in a year!
That’s how I had to adjust my thinking. You can’t change this thing overnight. Buckle in for the long haul. Set reasonable long term goals for yourself. Cut your budget, and be patient. If you don’t make this super hard on yourself and don’t agonize over the short term results, you’ll find yourself adapting to a healthier lifestyle that won’t seem so hard after a month or so. I felt really hungry all the time when I first cut down to 1600 calories. Actually, I went to 1800 first and then stepped down to 1600. But now I don’t notice it all that much. I’m adjusting to eating at a more healthy level. And really when you get down to it, isn’t that the true goal of all this: To train yourself to adopt more healthy eating and living habits? If you want to just flash burn 50 pounds in a month, you’re not really doing yourself any good. You’ll find yourself reverting back to your old way of life and gaining it back anyway.
Settle in for the long haul and you’ll find a sustainable overhaul to your health.
I really haven’t changed what I eat much at all, just how much of it. I haven’t gone overboard on green smoothies or juicing or fad diets or anything. I still eat ice cream and other goodies, just less frequently and in smaller quantities. I could probably even reintroduce snacking at this point, but since I don’t need it, and I’m wanting to stay in high gear, I haven’t. Maybe once I reach a certain weight, I can work some occasional and moderate snacking back into my diet.
I recognize that some of you may be jealous of how easy this seems for me. I’m not trying to make you feel that way. First of all, adjusting to a budget of 1600 calories a day is not easy. Second, I do acknowledge that it was much easier than I expected it to be. Consider whether what makes it seem so hard to start doing this might be an unwillingness to endure the short term hunger pangs of eating a small calorie budget. I would challenge you to try it for two weeks and see if you don’t adjust. The key is to start small. Try 1800 calories for two weeks and see if you don’t see any progress. I know it’s tough, but isn’t it worth it?
Also keep in mind that what works for me may not work for you. Everybody’s metabolism works slightly differently. Don’t get too discouraged if what I’ve done doesn’t seem to work with you. I highly doubt that is possible, but who knows. If it doesn’t work right away, just try tweaking it a little.
I also recognize that what I’m doing may only be working right now because of how far overweight I was and still am. I estimate that I started in the ballpark of 100 pounds overweight at one point. (EDIT: I checked the official guides and found that I’m technically supposed to weigh 170 pounds, which made me 120 overweight when I started. Having lost 40 pounds, I’m still 80 pounds overweight. I can’t fathom being under 200, which I haven’t been since like 5th grade, but we’ll see what new health horizons might open up to me :P) I figure that these simple measures will really only work this effectively for the first 50 pounds or so, then the law of diminishing marginal returns will kick in and I’ll have to find other ways of boosting things. But I’ll cross that bridge when I get there (EDIT: We’re nearing the moment of truth on this.) and even if that’s as far as I go, I’ll have come a long way toward critically improving my situation.
So ultimately I’m saying this to those of you out there who are as dangerously overweight as me. I want to be an example that you don’t have to be one of those super obsessed insane-o health nuts to make some key progress. You don’t have to kill yourself by running marathons every weekend, or eat nothing but kale all the time – not that there’s anything wrong or inherently disgusting about kale, mind you. You don’t even have to go in as high of a gear as I did. Simply reassess your heart, which is the critical thing, set yourself a calorie budget, stick to it, and watch the weight melt off of you.
I haven’t really settled on a regular exercise routine just yet. I’ve tinkered here and there, just haven’t found the right system that works for me yet. I’m looking at possibly getting a bike to go do some riding, which I would really enjoy. Also I’ve had Fitocracy recommended for me. I just signed up today, so we’ll see how that goes.
EDIT: I fiddled with fitocracy, but didn’t like it. It seemed to assume I was going to a gym or had some equipment or was actually running, which is an activity I loathe with the fire of a thousand suns. For now, I suppose I’ll need to see about doing the Hacker’s Diet exercise ladder or maybe get out and ride a bike when it warms up.
Thanks for the encouragement. Let me know if you have any feedback!
UPDATE: Today is Wednesday, November 13, 2013 and I weighed in at 244 this morning! My trend weight is down to 249. I’ve made my goal of 40 pounds by Thanksgiving and have already re-committed to another 40 by next May. Thank you for all the prayers, encouragements, and support!
UPDATE: Today is Tuesday, January 22, 2014, and after surviving the holidays without gaining any weight, I have now gotten back on track! Praise the Lord, and thank you to all who have prayed for me and encouraged me! This image sums up the last year for me. I started with a trend line of 291.7. My trend line is now 240. That’s 51.7 pounds lost!
1. For those who are unaware, I wrote this article shortly after my pastor and dear friend Rick Wilson passed away of a heart attack. The Lord works all things together for good, and one way may be for this painful event to spur me on to good health.