I hurt my back sometime near the middle of Spring 2015. I’m not sure how I did it. Neither my doctor nor physical therapist could figure it out as well. What we did know was this: I had a bulging disk, which meant no working out for a good six-to-nine months while it healed.
I was mad, and a little scared. I couldn’t do anything physical. Everything hurt. And what didn’t hurt fatigued me. I couldn’t walk for extended periods of time. I never knew when a spasm would send me to the floor in pain. For months I wondered if I’d ever lift, or run, or do anything again.
I fell into a deep, dark funk. I’ve been athletic for much of my life. I’m not a great athlete. But I’m constantly on the go. I like physical activity. I like feeling my body.
Then without warning: I couldn’t anymore. My weight ballooned. I went from 77.1 kgs (170 lbs) in early February to 92.5 kgs (204 lbs) in November. I was scientifically categorized as obese. Beyond that, I was miserable and out of shape.
When I was finally able to lift again in November, nearly ten months after the injury first flared up, I was determined to shed that weight. I wasn’t trying to get skinny. I just wanted to feel my body again, to move in my body. I’d had enough of this new, unwanted mass bringing me down. I knew to get my body back I needed two things: a goal and accountability.
- Goal: Compete in the national masters weightlifting competitions in 2017 at 77 kgs at a weight of no more than 75 kgs.
- Accountability: I would make take my journey public, and use tracking mechanisms like MyFitnessPal, Garmin Connect, and my WeightGurus bluetooth connected scale to put everything out there.
That meant I needed to lose 17.5 kgs, which is about where my doctor wanted me to be anyway. (Someone of my height, 5’9″, should be between 60-77 kgs.)
Since I began this journey, I’ve dropped 13.6 kilograms (29.9 lbs) between November 2015 and March 2016 using some very simple dietary work. There’s nothing that’s very radical. No diet. No pills. Just a strict accounting of the calories and types of food I’ve been eating, and my regular Olympic lifting routine.
To Start: Daily Accountability
Before I started this weight loss program, I knew I needed to focus on setting hard and fast goals, to build accountability into my system. The reason: We know that the only way people enact real, long-term gains and turn those into lifestyle choices is through a daily recording and accountability system. (Here’s a story in The Atlantic about the science behind this.)
There’s no way around this particular aspect of the work. You either measure and count every day, or you’ll face a series of steps forward and steps backwards. It’s how we’re hardwired. As a recovery alcoholic, my people call this looking for an easier, softer way. The sooner you realize there is no easier, softer way, the quicker you’ll start seeing movement towards your goal
For me, the accountability and goal tracking began with using MyFitnessPal to track all my food. (A quick scan of my tracking can show you exactly when I was losing weight, and exactly when I was not. I’ve been very diligent about tracking since November 2015.)
To Start: Setting Macro-nutrient Levels
Once I settled on MyFitnessPal for my tracking, I needed to adjust my caloric intake and my macro-nutrients in order to achieve my goal of 75 kgs.
Step one was setting the caloric intake. I just used MyFitnessPal to determine how many calories I needed to eat each day in order to lose 0.75 kgs (1.6 lbs) each week. That was aggressive, but I was obese. I figured I could stand to lose weight rapidly.
Step two focused on my macro-nutrients, which meant focusing on how much of what types of foods I should be eating. You can go deep into this, but I wanted to keep everything simple. I stayed at the very top level, focusing on how many grams of Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, and Sugars I should take each day.
I decided to use the World Health Organization’s nutritional intake levels since the U.S. recently upped its Sugar and Carbohydrate levels to accommodate our country’s continued and steady rise towards obesity. (More than 2 out of 3 adults are considered overweight or obese in the United States.)
What That Means
Practically speaking, here’s what my nutrition tracking looks like
Calories per day: 1950
- Carbohydrates: 30 percent of my daily intake
- Fat: 35 percent of my intake
- Protein: 35 percent of my intake
- Sugar: less than 10 grams a day
In truth, I actually eat more Protein and Fats in my diet. When I start playing with the macros, I try to reduce my Sugar and Carbohydrate intake whenever possible.
All of these numbers adjust automatically in MyFitnessPal based upon my workouts. On long workout days, for instance, I might have an addiction 5-7 grams of sugar available in my nutrition.
What those numbers look like in MyFitnessPal
I’m not always directly on those numbers. In fact, these are the top levels for my macros.
- Protein: 185 grams
- Carbs: 140 grams
- Sugars: 10 grams
- Fats: 75 grams
Generally speaking, I try to keep my Carbohydrates between 85-125 grams each day and take in more Protein and more Fat.
Tracking my Exercise
One easy way to screw yourself up when you’re counting is to over-estimate how much energy you’re burning each day.
I spent a good deal of time researching how much energy I burned during my fitness routines. A good rule of thumb is this: You burn way less than you think.
- Running 1 mile: 120 calories
- 30-minutes of vigorous Olympic lifting: 66 calories
- 30-minutes of power Olympic lifting: 50 calories
- CrossFit 1 hour class: 300 calories
I manually enter my exercise and numbers in MyFitnessPal because the average numbers used by the system over-estimate exactly how much work you’re actually doing.
Also: DO NOT COUNT your steps towards your caloric intake each day. You are supposed to walk, people. If you give yourself credit for that, you won’t lose weight. I learned this the hard way. Track your steps so you’re getting your 10,000 each day. But realize that is what you’re supposed to do. That’s not extra work.
The Food Philosophy
Once my wife and I set out goals, we spent a good deal of time in the grocery story looking at food labels.
MyFitnessPal helps with this because you can sit at home and search items and see its nutrients, but going to the grocery was easier although time consuming. You can also scan through my food diary and see what I eat each day, find the foods you like, and see when I cheat.
Here are some basic guidelines that we follow when buying and eating foods
- No fruit
- No juices
- No soda
- Sugar-free bread
- Low-sugar peanut butter
- Low-sugar jelly
- Veggies, but check for hidden sugar
- No cake, pie, or other desserts (substitute protein bars or toast with peanut butter)
- Protein bars that have no sugar
- Protein drinks made with water or veggies
- Use vitamins to supplement
- No alcohol
We also measure all of our food. We have a kitchen scale and measuring cups that we use to ensure that we’re controlling our portions. And before we plow into a second helping of food, we take 15 minutes (and a glass of water) to make sure that we’re actually hungry for more. (Pro tip: You aren’t.)
The Grocery List
We’ve recently started using Instacart, a grocery delivery service. This helps us track our food, and keep lists of what we’re eating. Of course we will mix up our foods, but my goal has been to create a food routine that involves consistent food intake.
I know what I’m eating, and so I can substitute and move foods around during the day. I can mix-and-match because I have a good sense of what’s going into my stomach.
Below I’ve listed foods from our last three Instacart grocery lists. I’m sure there are more coming. We swap out, and add as we find new things. But this is a good start for those who are looking for low carb, low sugar, healthy foods.
- Think Thin Protein Bars (No Sugar)
- Bob Evans Original Pork Sausage Patties
- Johnsonville Sausage
- Organic Eggs
- Quaker Instant Oatmeal Weight Control Variety
- Nature’s Own 1005 Whole Wheat English Muffins
- Jif’s Creamy Peanut Butter (1 tbspoon, 1.5 g of sugar)
- Smucker’s Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
- Nature’s Own Sugar free 100% Whole Wheat 100% Whole Grain Break
- Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
- Smucker’s Low Sugar Strawberry Preserves
- Smucker’s Preserves Strawberry Sugar Free
- Daisy 2% or 4% Low Fat Cottage Cheese
- StarKist Solid White Albacore Tuna in Wate
- Garden Fresh Gourmet Salsa Special Med
- Garden of Eatin’ Yellow Chips
- Chicken Breasts
- Ground Sirloin
- Food Club Peas Petite (watch sugar)
- Food Club Corn Cut (watch sugar)
- Food Club Brussel Sprouts (watch sugar)
- Food Club Spinach Chopped (watch sugar)
- Food Club Chopped Broccoli (watch sugar)
- Swanson’s Organic Free Range Chicken Broth
- Spinach Salad
- Yellow Onion
We’ve also managed to eat out without breaking our basic food philosophy. Mostly, we order meat without bread, cottage cheese or plain veggies instead of fries, and we avoid desserts. It’s amazing what you can find on menus just by thinking about your food in that way.
We’ve had amazing steak, chicken, and vegetables while dining out with our friends. Nobody bats an eye, and we don’t leave the restaurant feeling deprived.