How My Italian Greyhound Helped Me Exceed My Weight Loss Goal
Taking care of my dog’s health inspired me to start taking better care of my own—using some of the very same habits
Zeppelin, my beloved Italian Greyhound, is a rock star. He prances with confidence, freely gives affection, and everyone loves him. He is also a fantastic weight-loss coach.
He is a rescue that my brother was fostering. My daughters had gotten to know Zeppelin during my brother’s trips to our home, and after weeks of relentless pleading, they convinced me to investigate getting a dog ourselves—and he was still available to adopt. He appeared to be in overall good health, but his weight was a problem we knew we needed to address.
During spring break two years ago, we adopted Zeppelin. He was my copilot on the long drive home from New Jersey as the kids slept. I stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru for coffee just before they closed. Zeppelin’s ears perked up at the sweet aromas as I opened the window to place my order. As the barista handed me my coffee she asked, “Your dog is so cute … may I give him a munchkin?” I agreed, and he ate it in one bite. Zeppelin immediately knew we were a good family.
Two weeks later, we were at the veterinarian and got the expected news. Zeppelin was overweight, and he needed to lose 7 pounds. She gave us a plan for calorie management and said we could quench his hunger by giving him all the green beans he wanted. Green beans were the vegetable of choice because they were easy on the stomach and would not cause bloating. What I soon learned was that Zeppelin thinks green beans are ice cream. As soon as I say the word, he starts running and jumping like the kids do for the ice cream truck. In addition to calorie management, we implemented an exercise routine by walking 1–2 miles a day.
After about 12 weeks, we returned to the veterinarian for vaccine boosters. After she saw him and his weight loss, she responded in an astonished voice, “He looks great and his weight is perfect. How did you do it?” I smiled and said, “We did exactly what you told us to do. We controlled his calories per your plan, fed him all the green beans he wanted, increased his exercise and weighed him to monitor progress.” Still with a bewildered look on her face, she stated we needed to start giving seminars because no one seems to follow their advice. With his lean figure, Zeppelin is now extremely fast. My daughters want to see if he can beat Usain Bolt in a sprint. I think it will be close.
Fast forward one year. Like Zeppelin’s story, I was 18 pounds overweight. I had contemplated doing something for months, but life was getting the best of me. Simply put, I was overeating and not making healthy choices. I knew I needed to fix it as we did for Zeppelin. Yes, I was exercising more with Zeppelin, but my poor nutrition was counteracting any benefit of that. As I looked in the mirror at my sagging body, I decided to follow Zeppelin’s lead. As an added benefit, my prehypertension could improve with more exercise and weight loss. After all, how could I expect Zeppelin to make a change but not myself? Why did I care more for Zeppelin’s health than my own? My wife and daughters were expecting me to live a long life, but I needed to do my part.
These are the keys to the success of my weight-loss journey. I focused on seven main principles:
- Proper nutrition — eating a wide variety of healthy foods (most important)
- Physical activity — doing what I loved
- Having a support network — Zeppelin, family, and friends
- Setting attainable goals — such as a sustainable daily calorie deficit, weekly weight loss, target blood pressure, and long-term weight
- Monitoring progress regularly — body measurements for fat percent, weight, BMI, calories in and burned, and blood pressure
- Coaching — reading and incorporating many of the leadership principles I use in business
- Healthy body image — doing your best and letting confidence win over vanity
Each of these principles will be discussed in more detail below.
I increased fruits and vegetables in my diet while reducing ice cream and other unhealthy snacks. In general, I did not follow a specific diet routine but ate a wide variety of whole foods and grains as recommended by various health organizations.
For me, this is the most sustainable long-term. Still, it was challenging at first, and I was hungry most days. When the hunger was unbearable, I turned to more vegetables like Zeppelin. Vegetables are highly nutritious and low in calories. I was amazed at the small number of calories in a bowl of spinach. I was determined to persevere, as we had with Zeppelin.
Goals are like a destination. Without them, it is impossible to determine if you have arrived. During my weight-loss journey, I set a number of daily, weekly, and monthly goals:
- Replace unhealthy foods with a variety of whole foods (immediately)
- Two servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- 500 calorie deficit per day
- Weight loss of 1.5 pounds per week
- Weight loss of 6 pounds per month
- A systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mmHg
- Total target weight of 170 pounds (this changed over time)
- Body fat percentage of less than 19%
I began monitoring calories (in and burned) and as a result, significantly reduced the quantity of food I was consuming to create a delta in favor of burning more calories than I ate. I also tracked my blood pressure (using a Welch Allyn 1700 series blood pressure monitor) twice a week because I was in prehypertension. I wanted to return to normal blood pressure without medication. Lastly, I tracked weight (daily, using a digital scale) and body fat using the DoD body measurement technique and used algorithms to monitor progress. By incorporating monitoring, I was able to adjust when I was not seeing results.
As an aside, I do not believe in monitoring calories long-term. It is necessary for three to six weeks to retrain your mind to be in tune with signals the body gives. Ultimately, you want to practice moderation and know when you have consumed enough food for your activity levels without monitoring calories.
Soon I started seeing weight loss, and I became even more motivated for eating healthily and exercise. Zeppelin very much enjoyed the walks and would encourage me if I got too involved in my morning work. He wouldn’t take no for an answer with his persistent nudges. This led to two walks a day and upping my exercise to 4 miles.
Soon my daughters noticed my weight loss and encouraged me as well. My wife helped me make time to be successful. She was also in shock that I went an entire month without eating ice cream. What was more baffling to me was, after four weeks, I no longer felt as hungry with the smaller portions. I began to crave vegetables and salads. It literally felt like my stomach was shrinking. In the first month, I lost 8 pounds.
Accountability and transparency were key to my weight loss. Developing a strong support network to help you on your journey can sometimes make the difference between staying course and quitting.
Things were going great until I hit a plateau. My weight loss stopped completely. It was depressing. I seriously considered throwing in the towel.
Then I stumbled upon a video by Arnold Schwarzenegger where he discussed the need to shock the body to get results during a plateau. In other words, I had to work harder, per WPC World Champion Greg Doucette, to lose more weight, as my body had become accustomed to my routine.
Contemplating my choices, I decided to walk briskly (4.0–4.8 mph) on the treadmill uphill (4–6% grade depending on my motivation). I made this choice because my wife owned a treadmill, I could learn artificial intelligence from MIT during my 50-minute workouts, it would improve my skiing stamina, and running was too hard on my knees. I was being productive and losing weight.
In these heart-pumping routines, I burned 450 calories/workout, and after a week of it, reinvigorated my weight loss.
Month two was significantly harder, but I lost 6 pounds. During month three, I reached my goal of 170 pounds, and we celebrated with a trip to DC Cupcakes. It is important to note that both during my weight loss and after reaching my weight target, I had dessert in moderation. The important factor is moderation, ensuring my calories in do not regularly exceed my calories burned.
I want to be very frank: This journey is difficult. However, one method to overcome the challenges of weight loss is through generosity. Giving takes the focus off our own circumstance and focuses our attention on helping others. When you find you are having difficulty, reach out to a person in need, and give your talents freely. Listen deeply to the words they share. Then ask thought-provoking questions to increase your understanding of the discussion, show empathy, and build relationships.
So many people just crave a listening ear without pressure to give or receive advice. Another strategy is to focus on gratitude. Too often we are caught up in the challenges of the day that we forget to focus on the good in our lives. This gives us hope and the energy to overcome difficulties.
Physical Activity That You Love
The day I decided to change my life, Zeppelin, my daughters, and I started walking consistently 2 miles a day. During these walks, I had beautiful conversations with my daughters.
But my weight-loss journey didn’t stop there. I reached my target weight about three weeks before ski season began, one of my passions. My wife and daughters also love skiing, and that winter we had season passes.
To prepare for skiing, I incorporated resistance training into my workouts. With my nutrition in check (most important), brisk walking with Zeppelin, resistance training and skiing, I lost another 10 pounds. The next month, I dropped another 2 pounds, totaling 30 pounds. At 158 pounds, I achieved the fitness level of my mid-twenties.
I went from struggling to make it down a mogul field, to carving down the entire mountain without stopping. Not being able to do a single push-up, to doing 50 in four sets. The physical transformation over seven months was amazing, and I feel great only a few years from age 50.
Six months later, I have still maintained the results (averaging 155 pounds), and my systolic blood pressure is now normal after dropping approximately 7 mmHg from exercise, proper nutrition, and weight loss.
One of the most sustainable forms of exercising is doing what you love. In other words, an Olympic athlete once stated at the finish line of a sprint, “You have to love the process.” If you don’t love the process, it is impossible to sustain it long-term.
For me this is skiing, kayaking, long walks as a family, hiking, bike rides, and photography … hiking in nature to find the perfect subject. I am a firm believer that the type of exercise is less important than staying physically active. During my weight loss journey, I did not step foot in a gym once, though having a gym membership is perfectly fine. All my training was using body weight (push-ups, sit-ups, etc.) and staying active outdoors or on the treadmill in my basement. Soon, I do plan to incorporate more resistance training with weights using a small home setup. For my 50th birthday, we plan to take a heliskiing trip out west.
Healthy Body Image
Another important aspect of weight loss is a healthy body image. Magazines and Instagram are mostly fake. When they are not, it takes an enormous effort to achieve the results of bodybuilders on stage and fitness gurus; several years, hours in the gym per day, and radical diets. This is not sensible for a father of two, husband, and entrepreneur.
I was also born with a lean build. That is who I am. I need to embrace my body type and not try to be someone I am not. In my 20s, I wanted to be bigger with high muscle mass. I thought that would make me more attractive. It wasn’t until I accepted my body type and embraced it, that I gained confidence and was at peace. The confidence was more attractive than size. This was a much healthier place.
Now, at a fitness level of 14% body fat (per DoD measurements) and 155 pounds, I plan no further weight reduction. Yes, I could lower my body fat more to expose abs, but what for? My wife and daughters think I look great, and that’s good enough for me. As I continue to resistance train and build muscle, I may gain a little weight, and this is healthy too.
The key is getting to a healthy level, accepting who you are, and doing it for the right reasons. Keeping up with my daughters in their teens and my early 50s is important, and strength training will enable this. My doctor especially wanted me to strengthen my core (due to prolonged office work). I will also be in better shape for our trip heliskiing out west.
This all started with a decision inspired by my boy, Zeppelin. I couldn’t let him live an unhealthy lifestyle, and then I had to do the same for myself. Unfortunately, taking care of ourselves is often the lowest priority. My wife and daughters need me around a long time, and my new lifestyle has at least maximized my chances. Without Zeppelin’s and my family’s support, I am not sure I would have started or even finished this journey. They are the real heroes of this story, and Zeppelin has earned his rock-star status.
I will end with two questions. If you achieved your weight loss goal, what would you love to do at your improved fitness level? Maybe something you always dreamed of doing?