How I Lost Forty Pounds and Kept It Off and Why You Probably Can’t

Losing weight is easy. It’s an easy concept anyway. I lost over forty pounds and have kept it off for 20 years. You can live your dreams if you are willing to pay the price to make them come true. Unfortunately, the price of losing weight is simply too high for most people. I’ll tell you how I did it and maybe you can join me.

Before doing anything else you will need to educate yourself about food and nutrition. Don’t worry. It’s easy! All you have to do is start reading nutritional labels. The law requires that any packaged food must have a nutrition label listing things like calories, carbohydrates and fat.

When I started reading nutritional labels, one of the first things I learned was how incredibly small a serving size is. This is the first shock for many people taking the first steps to controlling their weight. Part of the problem is that we do not use plates and bowls for their intended purpose.

A portion of cereal is one ounce, about a quarter of a cup. The first time I dumped a quarter of a cup of flakes into a soup bowl intended for three cups of soup the flakes looked ridiculous. Just a little dab of color in the bottom of the bowl. That same amount of corn flakes in a cereal bowl looks more like a serving. At least it did when I got used to eating only one serving at a time.

As I learned more about serving size, I realized that we humans need very little food to stay healthy and even less to lose weight. When I cut down on portions and calories, I found myself becoming very pragmatic about the foods I eat throughout the day. I started thinking more about foods that satisfies hunger in small portions. Lunch consisting of avocados and sardines is an excellent choice. It packs lots of nutritional value, keeps me satiated, is inexpensive and discourages thoughts of second helpings.

Whenever I heard about diets and weight loss, I also heard about exercise. Most people think exercise is a key to losing weight, but it isn’t. I found that exercise did not make as much difference in weight loss as reduced calories. Decreasing caloric intake is the most effective way for me to lose weight, but exercise is important also.

Exercise does two things that go along with losing weight. First, it keeps you generally healthy. It’s a good idea to have strong bones, clear lungs and highly oxygenated blood. Exercise also makes you look good, which is one of the main motivations for losing weight.

Think about it…you might lose the blubber on your belly, but if the underlying abdominal muscles are soft and saggy you will still look fat. So get on the floor, slide your feet under the dresser and start those sit-ups.

Unlike exercise, changing my diet didn’t take any time. In fact, since I spend less time eating I have more time for other things like exercise. There are all sorts of guides and standards telling me how much time to exercise every day but none seem to agree with one another. So I decided to spend about an hour a day alternating between strength training and aerobics. As time passed, I found I liked walking and increased my exercise time to about two hours a day.

That is about all there is to losing weight, at least for me. Read nutrition labels, cut calories and carbohydrates by about half and spend an hour a day — less than 5% of a 24-hour day — exercising. I did these things for only a couple of weeks and started seeing lower numbers when I got on the scale. When I got to the weight I wanted I ate just a little more. With a little experimentation, I found I could easily maintain my desired weight.

I know what you are thinking. “If losing weight is that easy why are so many people overweight? He’s not telling us everything.”

Well, yes there is one thing I have left out. It has nothing to do with the biology of losing weight. The “Eat Less and Exercise More” principle really works.

What I have avoided until now is why none of this works, at least for most people.

We get fat because we live a lifestyle of constant overeating. Not only do we need to drastically reduce the amount we eat; we need to eat a wider variety of more nutritious foods, like fish and fresh vegetables.

The only path to permanent weight loss is permanent lifestyle change. Adopting a new lifestyle is a daunting and scary task for most people. Few of us are willing to make that change, and for very understandable reasons.

Losing weight means losing our friends and maybe our jobs.

Imagine walking into the lunchroom at work. A conference table creaks under the weight of bagels, cream cheese, plates of cut sausages, cheeses and snack meats. All the delicious garbage food that made you fat. Your coworkers are delighted to see you and invite you to join them. But there is no way you are going to eat anything they put on the table.

Maybe you sit for a few minutes munching on your apple slices, then excuse yourself and spend the next 45 minutes on a brisk walk at a nearby park putting in your hour of aerobic exercise. For the rest of the afternoon you feel energized and focused while your co-workers complain about drowsiness and tight clothes. They notice the difference.

That evening you go to a Mexican restaurant with friends. They order delicious traditional Hispanic fare like beef burritos stuffed with cheese and whipped cream and chicken tacos bathed in melted cheeses washed down with imported beer.

You order a chicken breast and salad, finish your meal and sip water while your friends gorge themselves. Likely they will insist you join them in their gluttony and when you don’t they resent it. It is not your intention but you have brought their attention to their poor eating choices.

You see the problem. You might change your lifestyle, but your friends and co-workers will not. The very reason they are your friends and co-workers is that you once shared very similar lifestyles. That is why they are your friends and co-workers. We like people who are most like us.

When you make drastic changes to the way you eat, you no longer share in the eating and exercise lifestyle of others. Simply being successful in changing your eating habits creates feelings of guilt and shame in people with whom you previously shared unhealthy habits.

At the beginning of this piece, I said that you could dream dreams and make the sacrifices needed to make them come true.

Do you really think you will be able to prepare dinner for your family, and then retire to the living room while they eat? How will clients and colleagues respond when you ignore the catered fare and eat a side salad during a working lunch? Will friends and family be disgusted when you eat sardines right out of the can?

These are the sacrifices for making your dreams come true.

This is the hard truth about losing weight. If your dream is to become slim and healthy you cannot allow anything — ANYTHING — to compromise your efforts.

It does not matter that your friends drift away. Your new lifestyle does not allow you to sit around with them overeating. Get new friends who share your dedication to a healthy lifestyle. Join a gym or an outdoor activity club, find a new hobby and build a new social network. Do whatever it takes.

It does not matter that it is 1AM and raining. You have to do that daily one hour of aerobic exercise. You don’t feel safe in your neighborhood after dark? Then do whatever it takes to feel safe — hire a bodyguard, get a big dog, find a 24-hour gym — whatever it takes.

Your new lifestyle means big changes. Welcome those changes and do whatever it takes to allow for them or forget about losing weight.

If you are willing to make the sacrifices, you can live the dream of a slim body, and create a healthy lifestyle guaranteeing you keep your new body for a lifetime.

If you like this article I highly recommend Sylvia Tara’s book The Secret Life of Fat. Tara is a microbiologist who is gifted at writing about science in a way lay people can understand. Read the book and let me know what you think