[Editorial note: This post was originally published on January 3, 2019. It was lost in a database error, then reconstructed from a search engine cached copy. I continue to extend and refine it. Recent updates are at the end.]
First, the numbers: since July 21, 2018, I’ve lost 50 lbs. On that day back in July, I weighed in at 217 lbs. As of December 26, 2018, I’m 167 lbs. The new year has just begun, and I’m sure losing weight and getting healthier is on the minds of many. As I approach my goal weight, 160 lbs., I wanted to make a few notes about how I eat now and how it has worked for me.
When I started having some success, I expected people would eventually notice. But commenting on other people’s weight is a minefield, so most wisely avoid it. When the Christmas season finally came around–and, with it, the holiday parties–I ran into people I don’t see in person all that often. By that point, it was obvious that something had happened, and my good mood lessened the chances that it was some sort of illness. So people started asking, and I finally started talking about it at bit.
Here’s a legal/ethical caveat: I’m no scientist, much less a dietician, nutritionist, nor any other kind of medical professional. This is me talking about what worked, and continues to work, for me. If you have trouble with your weight, I hope you can find something that works for you. But medical doctors and other people with real training should be in the loop, not just idiots on the internet, like me. I don’t know much about why any of this works. I just know that it works for me. Also, I’m linking out to some products on Amazon that I use. As of right now (Jan 3, 2019), I don’t get any kickbacks on those product links. If that changes in the future, I’ll update this disclaimer. I run Google Ads to offset the hosting costs of this site.
So, what’s your secret?
I follow a low-carbohydrate diet. My basic rule of eating is this: I avoid the “evil white stuff.” That means several things:
- Almost no added sugar. That means no candy except for the darkest chocolate I can find/stand and that only in small quantities. Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate bars (85% cocoa) are my current favorite. A few squares of that at the end of the day is a nice reward. Basically, you want to push that cocoa/cacao percentage as high as you can. The higher you go, the fewer carbs and sugar will be involved. It also means no sugary sodas, sweet tea, etc.
- Almost no flour. That means no bread, no pasta, no chips, no cake, no crust, and no breading on fried foods. There are some fancy, low-glycemic index breads out there. But it would require a lot of testing to see which will work for me and which won’t. So I take the easy way out by not eating bread. This is the hard one for most people. And, being a huge fan of sandwiches of every sort, it was hard for me as well. I had to go cold turkey with it.
- Almost no rice. I skip rice as a side. I substitute some veggies, or beans, or just do without. Many dishes in restaurants come with rice as a side or as a bed. I eat around it or ask them to leave it off the plate. I don’t cook it at home. At Japanese places, I order a sashimi and roll combo. The roll include as bit of white rice. But I cut down on my rice intake by switching form nigiri sushi to sashimi.
- Almost no potatoes. Okay, I’ll grab a french fry off my kid’s plate once in a while, but, as a general rule, no potatoes. This one hasn’t been hard for me at all because I noticed, quite some time ago, that eating potatoes tends to make me feel really bad afterward. They just don’t sit well with me.
- Almost no beer. I have one on occasion. But, for the most part, I dodge it. However, see #9 and #10 in the next section.
All of the above was tricky, at first. I had no idea that I got so many of my calories from chips, pizza crust, and the like. Carbs are my kryptonite. And, while I don’t think of myself as having a sweet tooth, I’ll graze on sweets if they’re available.
So, what do you eat, then?
I eat a lot more of these sorts of things:
- Coffee with 1/2 & 1/2 or heavy whipping cream. No sugar. No sugary creamers that don’t actually contain cream. Cream itself is lovely in coffee. I start off the day with two cups of coffee and have a third mid-morning. Coffee is good for you. It energizes, provides mental focus, and lifts my mood. There’s some evidence that it helps prevent dementia. It also suppresses appetite, which is an added perk. Coffee is nothing new to my diet, I’ve been a fan of it for years. But it does help me–with diet and life in general–so I’m including it here.
- Salads with lots of protein on them. This generally means chicken, but it can be edamame, or ham, or cheese, or anything else that has sufficient protein. There are lots of salads out there these days that add avocado, which is also great. As a perk, since I’m not avoiding fat or–within reason–calories, I can whatever dressing I like, including ranch (the good kind. Not that terrible low-fat stuff) and other ones that are high in fat can calories but low in carbs.
- Nuts. I eat them pretty much every day as a snack, especially when I get home from work. I keep a lot of them on hand. Pistachios are my favorite. I buy them both shelled and unshelled. Spanish peanuts are wonderful. I dig pecans and walnuts. I often mix them together to create a custom blend. I’m snacking on some Wonderful pistachios as I type this.
- Eggs. I have a two-egg omelette quite often, with whatever cheese, meat, and veggies I have handy, and with a healthy splash of Cholula hot sauce. Where I used to work, there was a cafeteria with a grill where I would regularly get a two-egg omelette with sausage, spinach, and diced veggies. When an omelette is too much work I make scrambled eggs (with a healthy splash of Half & Half beaten into them, which is the secret to making them fluffy).
- Icelandic yogurt. Never heard of it? Nor had I. I stumbled across it at Whole Foods. I’ve always liked yogurt, but much of it these days is chock full of added sugar. I’d tried Greek yogurt, which is better when it comes to sugar, but I don’t care for the taste. Then I found Siggi’s, which makes a line of skyr, an Icelandic style of yogurt. Siggi’s Plain Whole Milk Yogurt has the least fewest carbs and least sugar I’ve found. When I first started out, I’d always top it with some fresh fruit. These days, I often eat it plain. Once you cut sugar out of your diet, your taste buds find sweetness in things were you wouldn’t expect to find it.
- Meat. Most diets scare you off meat. But meat is naturally low in carbs, free of sugar, and high in protein. I mostly eat chicken, because it’s plentiful and affordable. The company I used to work for makes Wright Brand bacon, which I eat and which I honestly think is the best bacon out there. I enjoy deli meats, too, especially Boar’s Head ham and salami. Hormel makes a turkey pepperoni that’s good for snacking.
- Bars and shakes. Specifically, Atkins protein bars and shakes. I keep these at home in case I need a quick breakfast on the go. I keep a box of the bars in my file cabinet at work in case I need to work through lunch. They’re cheaper in bulk at club stores. I get mine at Sam’s Club (there’s no Costco around here).
- Fruits and veggies, of course. I’m a huge fan of cherry tomatoes and keep a bowl of them in my kitchen. I snack on them like I used to snack on chips and candy. I’ve slowly added more veggies to my diet.
- Tito’s + Topo-Chico + Lime. A friend turned me onto vodka and I’ve come to really like it. I’m not a heavy drinker. But, when I do want a drink, I mix some good vodka with a good sparkling water and squeeze some fresh lime juice into it. It’s a crisp, refreshing drink, with none of the bloaty feeling of beer. If you’re on the west coast, I recommend Vodka Farallon. A friend of mine distills it, and it is excellent. But I can’t get it here (yet).
- Truly Hard Seltzer is refreshing and light both on calories and, especially, on carbs. It’s become my go-to summer drink.
- Specialty Foods. I mostly avoid foods engineered for low-carb diets, but there are a few out there worthy of mention, and they keep creating more all the time. Quest Tortilla Style Protein Chips, Nacho Cheese flavor, taste like a cross between Dorritos and Cheeze-Its and clock in at 5g carbs (and 18g of protein!) per bag. The high protein makes these a filling snack. La Banderita Carb Counter soft taco sized tortillas are only 15g of carbs (4g if you subtract the 11 grams of fiber) and are just as delicious as the full-carb version.
So what about eating out?
I eat out a lot–a lot more than I should. Luckily, most places have something for people dodging carbs.
- At any burger place, ditch the bun. It feels weird at first. But most places don’t bat an eye these days. Order whatever you like and add that you’d like it without the bun. Skip the fries or chips. If they have soup, add a bowl of that as a side. Wash it down with water or any other calorie-free drink.
- At any Mexican place, get the taco salad. Either ask them to serve it in a bowl (without the fried shell) or order it normal and just don’t eat the shell. Most Mexican places also have a dish–it goes by various names–that consists of chicken breasts pounded out flat and topped with queso, sometimes with pico de gallo and/or avocado. It’s really great. Just don’t eat the rice that will surely come with it, and don’t eat the chips they serve as an appetizer. There’s no need to make a big deal out of not eating the chips. No one will notice.
- At any Thai place, have Thai Basil, red curry, or any other dish that’s basically meat and veggies in sauce. Just don’t eat the rice that comes with it. This means no Pad Thai or other noodle dishes. The beef salad is also a great option, as are some of the soups. Tom Yum soup is fantastic.
- You’re pretty much out of luck at Italian places. Most have a chicken Caesar salad. Some have an option that replaces the pasta with squash or some other vegetable. You could order a side of meatballs, of course. But that’s not enough for a meal, and ordering two sides of meatballs seems weird. Weird enough that I haven’t done it yet, though I’ve considered it. [Update: I’ve done it now. It’s great.] You can order the lasagna and separate it, so you skip the noodles. I’ve done this, and it’s inelegant but satisfying. You just have to find a place (here in Fayetteville, Pesto Cafe wins) where the layers of meat and cheese between the noodles are substantial.
- At McDonald’s, Chick-fil-a, or Wendy’s, get a salad with grilled chicken on it. They each have several options, and they’re all better than you might think, especially topped with real salad dressing. At Wendy’s, you also have chili as an option, which is great on a cold day.
Nuggets can also work. Yes, they’re breaded. But they’re mostly meat. At McDonald’s, I often get a 10-count nugget (no fries, no soda). It has more carbs than I’d like (26 grams), but it’s also packed with protein (24 grams), so it satisfies hunger. By contrast, a small order of fries at McDonalds has even more carbs (29 grams) but only a fraction of the protein (3 carbs). Chick-fil-a nuggets have even better numbers. A 12-count has only 16 grams of carbs but 40 grams of protein.
- At McDonald’s or Wendy’s for breakfast, get the sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit, just don’t eat the biscuit. It’s messy, but the guts of it plenty filling. Try the Wendy’s version, if you haven’t yet. It has a fried egg instead of scrambled and, to me, a superior-tasting sausage patty.
- At Taco Bell, get the Power Bowl (chicken or beef). Substitute extra black beans for the rice. Or, since substitutions seems to confuse them, just leave the rice off.
- You can eat the toppings off any pizza. Just skip the crust. I get that this is an odd way to enjoy pizza, but it works just fine. You’ll end up eating more slices, but you’ll only eat the meat, cheese, and sauce.
Do you feel better?
I do, but it took a long time to get there. I say that to help people avoid discouragement. I’ve always thought that I’d feel better–physically healthier–if I lost the weight. And I do, but it wasn’t until I was quite near my goal that I started to notice I had a touch more energy. That I was moving more and enjoying it. That I was no longer avoiding things that required some exertion.
A Day in the Life
Here’s a few things I do (and don’t do) each day to keep things on track.
- I weigh in most mornings. I note my weight in a little Field Notes notebook that I carry with me, along with the date and where I weighed in (usually at home, of course, but sometimes at the doctor’s office or at one of those little kiosks where you sit down and take your blood pressure) as scales can vary a lot. The point of weighing in is to make sure the trend line is moving in the correct direction. If I’m stalling, or gaining, I’ll watch my portions more closely that day. I might skip breakfast, if I’m not particularly hungry. Or I’ll make sure not to snack after dinner. I’ll drink more water.
- I don’t count calories. I’ve done it in the past, but it’s a drag. It’s time consuming and involves a lot of guess work. While the overall number of calories is important, I find that weighing in and adjusting my intake based on that takes care of it without all the bookkeeping.
- I don’t count carbs, either. That might seem surprising, since I’m following a low-carb diet. But, here’s the thing: once you’ve eliminated sweets, rice, pasta, and bread, the only carbs you’re getting on the regular are from vegetables, fruits, and the small amounts in 1/2 & 1/2, cream, and dark chocolate.
- I don’t exercise as a weight-loss strategy. I walk the dog and take the stairs. I park in the back of the lot to add some walking to my day. I love bicycles and do some mountain biking and paved trail riding. But I don’t–yet, at least–go to the gym. A friend of mine who follows a similar regimen once said “you can’t outrun a bad diet.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that. Elite athletes can eat what they want because they burn amazing numbers of calories as part of their daily training regimen. I’m not an athlete, much less an elite one. Most people people reading this aren’t either. A few of you are–and my hat is off to you. For the rest of us, that thirty minutes on the stationary bike or moving plates on the weight machine will not burn off the bagel you had for breakfast. Exercise is good for the heart, lungs, and the mind. So, while I don’t count on it to help me lose weight, I suspect, now that I’m nearly at my goal weight, it will become an important part of the next phase.
Those Tony Robins type guys are annoying (notice that I’m not linking to him), but they’re right about one thing: motivation counts for a lot. Here are some mantras and techniques that keep me headed in the right direction.
- I remind myself that I’ve consumed enough donuts and Dr. Pepper for several lifetimes. I just front-loaded all of mine. If I have to be more disciplined from here on out to make up for it, “them’s the breaks.”
- I keep in mind that I’m doing this for my family as well as myself. I have a son and a wife. I want to be around for them. The way I used to eat was leading me to a place I didn’t want to go. I was in denial about it for a while. Then I snapped out of it and made real changes. Oddly, it hasn’t been all that hard, once I got my motivation ironed out.
- It’s really a great feeling to go down a pant or shirt size. When I started out, I was wearing jeans with a 38″ waist. I went down to a 34″ and then to a 32″. The 38″ pants went to charity. I kept the 34″ ones for comfy weekend jeans. Likewise, my shirts were mostly XL. Now, they’re Large and, when there is a slim option available, I take it, because that fits me better. People compliment me more on my clothes these days, both because they fit me better and because I can wear more contemporary things now.
- It’s important not to be too much of a monk about it. From the start up until Thanksgiving, I was very strict. I’m always like that at the beginning of any project. But, at the Thanksgiving meal, I enjoyed some stuffing and mashed potatoes, along with my turkey. I just kept the portions reasonable and mostly ate meat. Christmas just passed and I took a similar strategy. In fact, I’ve indulged a bit on dark chocolate. But, for a guy who used to think nothing of eating an entire bag of chips or most of a large pizza, these indulgences are nothing.
You have to keep a balance between being strict and feeling deprived. To that end, I try to say “I choose not to eat X” rather than “I can’t eat X.” Because, obviously, I could and I used to. And, if someone around me is enjoying something I used to enjoy (e.g. ice cream, donuts, honey buns) but now choose not to eat, I’ll often comment on it’s delicious, rather than try to pretend it isn’t there. These bits of framing and honesty help.
- This may seem really narcissistic, but it’s nice not to be the fattest guy in the room. These days, I’m often among the thinner guys in the room. People might be silently judging me about other things, but they no longer get to judge me for my weight.
So that’s it, basically. I dodge the evil white stuff and eat more of the low-carb good stuff. And the weight melts off. As I mentioned at the onset, my goal weight is 160 lbs. I suspect I’ll be there quite soon. But even staying where I am right now is a pretty good place for me. If your New Year’s resolutions involve losing weight, I wish you well.
Based on past experience, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep the weight off. But, so far, I have. My ultimate goal weight was 150 lbs, and I made it. Here are some updates since the post went live. I partly add this section to keep myself honest. It’s harder to backslide if others are in the loop:
- April 21, 2019: These days, my weight continues to fluctuate between 160 and 165 lbs. I seem to have achieved a “new normal,” and I don’t have to be quite so spartan about things like croutons on salads or the occasional french fry or beer. I still follow the same strategy, and it’s still working well. I’m just less of a monk about it.
- August 2, 2019: My weight now stays in the 159-162 lbs. range.
- January 13, 2020: Currently, I’m fluctuating between 150 and 155 lbs, which is what I weighted when I graduated high school. At one point, I dipped a few pounds below 150, which concerned me. But I remedied it by making sure to eat a bit more the next few days! That took care of it. My pants have gotten down to a 30″ waist and my new shirts are mediums. I didn’t think I could make it down to 150. I would have been happy enough with 160 or 165. But it worked out.
- July 21, 2020: Still keeping it right around 155 lbs. I veered up to 159 a time or two. Just taking it easy the next day brought things back down. Yogurt + blueberries is my magic day-after fix for “oh, crap, I really ate too much yesterday.”
- October 25, 2020: All is still going well. 154 lbs. as of my most recent weigh-in. I’d like to report that Sam’s Choice 90% cocoa dark chocolate is a good budget chocolate option. It’s not as good as Lindt, but few things are.
- January 4, 2021: The holidays did their damage. I’m at 163 lbs. as of this AM. A few days of care will whip that into shape.