Being Less of a Porker: Part 1

The Good Ol’ Days

“I guess there is no situation so bad but what it can get worse.”
Robert Heinlein, Farham’s Freehold, 1964

Hindsight is 20/20, we never appreciate what we have until we don’t, and there is no situation so bad but what it can get worse.

I’d been slim for almost half my life. As a kid, I worried about being too skinny.  I wanted to be stronger, more flexible, and muscular, but I was otherwise happy with my appearance (if not my wardrobe, haircut, or severe acne).

I remember maturing during the summer just before I started high school. I was extremely active, full of hormones, and starting to develop muscles I never knew I had (coupled with hair in funny places)…

We lived in the country, which suited me well as I hated cities. I learned how to build fences, pound nails, swing an axe, butcher a chicken, and a thousand other things children today (including man-children) will never experience.

After high school, I did a lot of construction, and the hard work was great for my body. Even though I often felt ashamed of having to do manual labor (I was too smart to dig ditches for a living), I was in the best shape of my life. At 18, I looked and felt better than ever, but this didn’t last (does anything?)…

The End of an Era

Within the span of three years, a high-stress, sedentary desk job coupled with too much fast and processed food (e.g., McDonald’s and Hamburger Helper, I gained about 60 lbs. I remember looking in the mirror one day and realizing I was out of shape… My belly protruded, and I had to buy new clothes as my old ones no longer fit me. I knew I needed to do something about this, but I didn’t know what, so I did nothing. Analysis paralysis!

Lesson 1: Have a Plan, and Follow It!

A few years later, I got a fresh start, returned to school, and tried working out and walking daily. I didn’t know anything about exercise or nutrition. Smartphones were still a few years off, and I didn’t understand the basic laws of thermogoddamnics.

I was cast adrift in a sea of confusion. I had no plan, no structure, and no way to know if I was on track or what (if any) progress I was making… In time, I grew bored of this and stopped doing it…

Lesson 2: Weight Loss is Mostly Diet

“You can’t outrun a fork…” – Some guy on the internet

Fast-forward a few years to my first major breakthrough in early 2012. That year, I lost about 30 lbs in three months by eating mail-order cardboard food – you know, the one on late-night television that claims you can “eat great and still lose weight!”

This worked because it restricted my caloric intake to roughly ~1200-1500 calories daily. The food was preservative-laden cardboard, barely palatable, and got old quickly.

In addition to this, I worked out regularly with my Wii, starting with the training program for Wii Sports and then upgrading to Wii Fit. When I started, I could barely keep up and would be pouring with sweat by the time I finished.

Over several weeks, I became more adept at the exercises and eventually outgrew the flimsy resistance bands it came with. I bought a second-hand elliptical machine and started using that instead.

I was doing fine until I was rear-ended on my commute to work, which put the kibosh on my exercise. At the time, I’d gotten down to about 194 lbs. Unable to exercise due to being in physical therapy and having gotten sick of eating disgusting food, I eventually fell off the bandwagon, shooting back up to the 225-230 range by the end of the year.

Although exercise helped, diet and nutrition had the biggest impact on my weight loss (~80%).

Lesson 3: Remove Temptations 

In December 2012, I flew to Sand Land to look for my next career opportunity. I ended up getting stuck there for reasons I won’t go into, and it would be seven months before I could return home in mid-2013.

At first, my living situation was such that I did not have ready access to food and sometimes missed meals altogether. Other times, I didn’t like the food I was offered and refused to eat it (e.g., boiled, bone-in chicken wings with overcooked macaroni – shit I wouldn’t even feed to my dogs). This went on for about 4 or 5 months, but I eventually was able to strike out on my own.

Almost every weekend, I went camping and hiking in the desert. Soon, I found myself fasting during the day to keep up with provincial norms and lost more weight as a consequence.

In the evenings, I cooked for myself, ate wholesome meals, and did not keep soda, cookies, candy, or other junk food in the house. As a result, I wasn’t tempted to eat it. I allowed myself a little juice but always cut it with 80% tap water since it was too hard to drink on its own (it reminded me of well water, but worse).

I once again dropped below 200 lbs. Eventually, my significant other joined me, and I found myself giving in to things that made her more comfortable but were bad for me. Instead of cooking a meal and eating leftovers for the next 3-4 days, we’d go out to eat to get her out of the house. When we went shopping, she’d ask for pastries, cookies, and other sweets, and I’d give in…

Lesson 4: Your Diet Must Be Sustainable!

Within three years, the suits I bought when I was 195 lbs. no longer fit, and I’d ballooned up to the mid-240 lbs again. After watching a movie about an Aussie who lost a lot of weight drinking juice, I made the mistake of giving that a try, and after a day and a half of this, I wanted to snuff it.

It was a terrible experience. Losing weight is like making a diamond. It takes time and pressure; there are no shortcuts.

Lesson 5: Don’t Overdo It

About a year later, I returned home. Travel always stresses me out and wears me down, and I was about 235 lbs again when I started counting calories and lifting free weights using the 5×5 StrongLifts method.

This consists of two exercise routines:

  1. Five sets of 5 Squats and Overhead Press, 5 Deadlifts
  2. Five sets of 5 Squats, Bench Presses, and Bentover Rows

Between the two, I saw some progress, and after about 6 or 7 weeks, I’d dropped about 10 lbs and lost 3″ off my waist, but I had stalled in the mid-220s.

Eventually, I managed to throw my back out, putting an end to my training. Again, my progress was stalled, followed predictably by gaining it all back.

Lesson 6: Don’t Do Fad Diets!

After a year out of work, I eventually obtained gainful employment again. Once again, I started feeling the aches and pains of being overweight, and once again, I decided to do something stupid…

“…If you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working? Heh. Potatoes. You’ve got to be poor to eat potatoes. Really poor…I’m rich, but I’m lonely.” – Tuco Ramirez

I recall reading somewhere that Penn Jillette and others lost significant weight on a “mono diet,” eating nothing but potatoes. I decided to give this a try. I lasted longer than my foray into juicing but ended with the same result; I never felt satiated and was sick of eating the same thing daily…

About two and a half weeks in, I developed a terrible craving for meat. I finally broke down and started eating steak at the behest of my dear friend Jim, and I felt a lot better. I tried to eat mostly meat and vegetables but wasn’t tracking how much of each, and while I had some short-term losses, it was not sustainable as I didn’t have a plan (see lesson 1).

My Most Recent Relapse

I’ve been overweight for the better part of 24 years, and while I’ve dipped below 200 lbs a few times, I’ve always gained it back and then some. As I started my new job last year, I weighed in at an all-time high of about 267. The prior year, I worked three jobs, ate out every day, and didn’t track my weight, caloric intake, or anything else, as my sole focus was getting out of debt.

Out of the blue, an old friend made me aware of a job opening. It didn’t pay amazingly well, but it had a pension, and for the first time in my life, I finally had a way out of the corporate rat race. I applied, was interviewed, got an offer, rejected it, got a better offer, and started my new job in January of 2023.

No one I work with eats out for lunch, and there are no good places to eat nearby. Consequently, I stopped eating lunch, thus cutting out about 700-1,000 calories a day from my diet without changing anything else (and getting to leave work an hour early).

I started off strong and averaged about ~1.6 lbs. of weight loss a week, but I wasn’t getting enough protein, and while I was losing weight, I eventually dropped to 215 lbs. and plateaued.

Almost a year ago, on June 1, 2023, while cooking up a London broil without a shirt on, some of the grease splattered on my chest when I went to flip it. The following day, while on my evening walk, the skin on my chest started to burn, and when I got home, I noticed some red marks across my sternum and left ribs – I assumed this was the burn, and it would go away after a day or so, it didn’t.

The pain got to be so unbearable that I ended up going to an emergency clinic and was diagnosed with shingles. Within three days, the red patches blistered and scabbed over. Any movement was painful during this time, so I stopped exercising. I let myself break discipline and go back to eating out at night because I was in too much pain to cook for myself…

At the beginning of July 2023, I completed my first 180 days at work and was allowed to work remotely 95% of the time; being home all day meant that I had ready access to food and could graze all day, and I did. I had a difficult professional certification I needed to complete by the end of the year, and the stress of the encroaching deadline took my attention away from taking care of myself.

Over the remainder of 2023, I gained about half the weight I’d lost, and by April 2024, I was back in the mid-250s. Once again, I decided to climb back on the wagon. I must implement the lessons I learned to ensure success and codify good habits, which brings me to…

Lesson 7: Stay the Course

“Let’s say you are fat. I was fat! So I talk about it. Go ahead and say something, motherfucker, I was fat, too! And it was hard as fuck every  fuckin’ day to get up. I know what it feels like, when you roll your fat ass out of bed and all you want is some fucken damn cinnamon buns and shit. And fuckin’ chocolate milkshake. I know what it is…I know exactly what it is…but I can’t want it more than you.

And so many people just want it the easy way, I’m sorry man, it’s not! So what they start to do is they build this narrative of, ‘It’s okay,’ when their narative should be, ‘You need to fuckin’ work harder. You need to fuckin’ discipline your mind better.’

We need to help more than just saying it’s okay. It’s okay that you’re not willing to fuckin’ help yourself out, it’s not okay! It’s not okay! It’s not acceptable. Even though it’s your life, if that’s acceptable, it’s unacceptable. And there’s a lot of people in this world, me included, that if I accepted that, I wouldn’t be anywhere.”
– David Goggins

Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without sacrifice. So, you decided to take the first step. Great! Good for you. Stand up and take a bow, that is, if you can bend at the waist without lower back pain… never mind, you’ve started.

Starting is easy! I should know. I’ve done it dozens of times, and there’s nothing hard about it. The hard part is staying the course, not making excuses, not quitting when shit happens, not getting complacent with yourself, and saying, “This is good enough.”

“I’ll be happy when…”

The question is, why? Why is this time going to be different? Why can’t I stay disciplined for more than 3-6 months? Why do I keep giving up short of my goals? Why!?

I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately. The only answer I can offer is a lack of discipline and accountability. I cannot abdicate that to anyone else. Even If I had a personal trainer, coach, or personal David Goggins bot who lived with me and followed me around 24/7/365 to bully and cajole me into doing the right things, I have to want it for myself.

I should also have a backup plan. Shit doesn’t always go the way we want it to, and I need to come to grips with the fact that no matter how perfectly I try to stick to my plan, things can and WILL happen. Motherfuckin’ Mr. Murphy will see to that. But I can’t let this derail all the hard work I’m putting in daily. Instead, I need to be prepared to make adjustments and do whatever it is I can do. Not let myself get complacent, not let myself succumb to self-pity and give up short of my goals.

If I can’t exercise, I will stick to eating right. If I have to go out to eat, I will make sensible choices.

[Another] Fresh Start

  • Eating Clean: First, I threw away my junk food and started buying meat, vegetables, eggs, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, and fruit every week. More importantly, NO FUCKEN SUGAR (and all its permutations).
  • Tracking Caloric Intake: After a week of eating clean, I started tracking my caloric intake again, and now I plan out my meals in advance, every day, and stick to the plan. Moreover, I am paying close attention to my macros, prioritizing protein (at least 170-200g).
  • Daily Walks: I got off my ass and resumed my daily 3-mile walk (8 pm, ~1 hour in duration) – it was excruciating, but I made it. I did it again the next night, the next night, and the next…  as of today, I’m on the 29th consecutive day of walking 3 miles a day. Last year, my longest streak was 26 days, which I beat last week. The hilly walk includes long, alternating inclines and declines (as much as 30%). Incorporating daily posture exercises and stretches before and after has helped a lot.
  • Intermittent Fasting: I decided to try intermittent fasting. I can comfortably do a 16-hour fast with an 8-hour eating window (2 pm to 10 pm). Provided that I eat enough protein, I tend to feel full, and while I still get hunger pangs, I find that just having a glass of water or coffee tends to alleviate that. During my window, I start with a big meal (800-1,000 calories) at 2 pm. Sometime between 4-6 pm, I’ll eat dinner, usually another 800 or so calories. My last meal is a yogurt and frozen fruit shake with some collagen peptide powder for extra protein to help recover from the walk.
  • Strength Training: This week, I will resume my 5×5 training, starting slowly and carefully so as not to overdo it. My focus will be on reps and form. I will do this three times a week in addition to my daily walks.

To be continued…