From 4XL to L
Work in progress — one chapter a day.
I was thinking how should I name my journey into fat-loss (for lack of a better term) and whether it would be of any interest to anyone in the first place. Usually, I end up being the one talking about it, while the lean, sporty ones are quick to dismiss it with another age-old BS mantra “you should burn more than you eat” or “just run 10km every day and you can eat as much as you want”, and the chubby ones — well, they like to change the subject or avoid it altogether. Now, I can already relate to a degree with the sporty ones, as I am also getting quick to dismiss discussions about a miracle pill or a new fad diet or a spot reduction by cutting the conversation with the only thing that really works (besides bariatric). But I also remember the time, when I was the chubby one (usually the chubbiest there is) and did everything in my power to avoid the horror discussion of weight, health and what am I planning to do about them… But I am getting ahead of myself.
So, what does really work. In September 2014 I had to visit Dubai for a business meeting, and as my passport was full cover to cover with Israeli stamps, I decided to get a new one. I went to the passport service and after processing my application, the extremely obese lady-clerk took a double look at my passport photo, then on my 41kg/80lbs slimmer face and she asked in the most surprised way if that is really me. When I confirmed it is indeed me, she quickly gather a group of another 4–5 colleagues, each fatter than the other. Then, collectively holding their breathes, they asked me: how did you do it?
I gathered my composure, and with the calmness of a prophet, announced: diet and sport.
Oh, how disappointed they were. Actually, that is understatement. They simply scattered, and the first one looked at me with hardly contained disdain, and muttered: everyone can do it with diet and sport… So, I gathered they were hoping that I’ve done it using raspberry ketones, green coffee or some detox tea… And in a way, I did use such aids — all of them.
I guess at this point it would be fair to say what I have lost so far, as most of the weight-loss confessions I’ve read usually focus on the nice number of pounds that has been lost. So, on the scale, starting January 2014, I lost about 57kg or 125lbs. However, this is definitely not telling the whole story. As I did a serious amount of training, I’ve gained at least 10–15kgs/22–33lbs, potentially much more, however it occurred to me that matters much later in my journey and any estimates I’ve done were pure assumptions. So, the easiest way for me to count the progress has been the drop of dress sizes, and the 4XL that was my go-to size for most clothes is no L. Just L. M on certain models of Adidas, as they tend to go large (I used to wear their 3XL back in the chubby days). Of course, on some European and Asian brands my size would go to 5, 6, even 7XL — but for the majority of the US sizes it was 4XL, jeans 50–52, suites 56–58–60, depending of the fit. These days, it is L (sometimes European XL), jeans 34–36, suite 42–44.
So, how I did it. As already mentioned — diet and sport. However, as much as it pains me to admit it, sport had very little to do with the fat-loss — it certainly helped and made me feel great about it, but the net effect on losing fat has been negligible. Let me get this straight — you cannot lose and keep the weight without sport, but you absolutely cannot do it with sport alone. Trust me, I’ve done it a few times already.
When I was a teenager, I was a fat kid. A large, big and fat kid. And I thought that the only thing that stops me from being my true, superhero self, was doing enough sports. So I started training freestyle wresting, which in the late ’80s in Bulgaria was still pretty big thing and most of the other kids went on to become various champions. I trained for nearly 14 months and became strong, fast and agile. Not a future champion, as I was naive enough to admit to my coaches I have no plans to become an Olympic champion, just get in shape, but still, I had a serious progress. I didn’t lose even one kilo, however, and strangely, my coaches didn’t seem even slightly worried about that fact.
Then, I stopped with the wrestling and moved on to something that seemed much more slimming (to me, at least) — karate. I signed up for Shotokan karate in an adult group, and although the coach tried to convince me I am too young and not strong enough to sustain the workout regimen, I soon proved that I can handle all the drills and pressure and started to quickly progress through the ranks. I actually became quite good at it, and unlike with the wrestling, did not do it just for the slimming. Nevertheless, I again did not lose much, if any weight, and a pneumonia I had one winter, together with several courses of antibiotics, quickly added more weight to my frame, clocking to roughly 120kilos/265lbs. This is while practicing for two plus hours three times a week, and having a bootcamp every 6–8 weeks, involving two days of three-a-day workouts. All the other advanced kids were lean as Ralph Macchio, and here I was, Mr. Chubs, doing everything together with the others, if not more and better, and still was covered in blubber.
It hit me back then — I cannot lose weight with sport alone. I need to tackle food intake as well. This was somewhat of a novel idea back at the time, as I didn’t feel that I was eating that much or that bad. In fact, at the time (late 80s/early 90s) there was practically no junk food available in Bulgaria and I was eating mostly home-made stuff. Yes, I ate more than the members of my family, but nowhere close to what my karate-friends were consuming on an hourly basis. So, not sure what exactly to do and what to cut from my diet, I intuitively did something very right — I stopped eating almost completely. I would fast for roughly 2.5 days in a row and then would have a very small meal just to beat up the hunger and then would fast — not, starve — for another 2.5 days. At some point I didn’t eat for nearly 7 days… And all the while, I moved — I played soccer, basketball, did running, obstacle races, stair climbing, in addition to my almost daily karate sessions, and I would stay for 1–2 hours after that to work on strength training with body weight exercises.
It was cruel, extreme, and at first, completely ineffective. The first month, I lost about 10 kilos (perhaps mostly water weight) and the second month I didn’t lose anything. Not a gram. I got so aggravated, I completely stopped measuring myself. But I carried on and decided that, what the hell, at least I would have given everything.
Then, after the end of the second month, I started losing weight extremely fast. 20 kilos in two weeks. Almost 1.5kg/3.3lbs per day. A pant-size every 2–3 days. Yeah, I know this is not possible — and yet I it happened to me. At the end, I’ve had lost 30kg/66lbs in 2.5 months, and in the next 3–4 months lost another 5 kg/11lbs by inertia alone… I couldn’t be happier and I thought I’ve broken the secret for eternal leanness.