“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos – the trees, the clouds, everything.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
In 2017 I released 43 pounds, dropping my weight from 192 to 149 pounds. I have had many people ask me how I did it, and others who did not recognize me (including my mother). I knew the look in their eyes which I interpreted as “How did you do it?” I have been trying to get to my ideal weight for the last 20 years, and failing that entire time. Whenever a friend of mine would lose weight I would marvel and ask them about it.
In addition to releasing 43 pounds some other amazing things happened. I got off of high blood pressure and high cholesterol medications. I stopped having bi-monthly headaches that bordered on migraine intensity. I stopped snoring loudly and waking my wife up. At 52 I had the energy I did when I was 22. Yep I had discovered the Fountain of Youth.
So how did I lose the weight? First I want to address the use of language. If you lose something, like your car keys, it implies you want to find the thing again. Do you want to find the weight you lost again? I will assume no. So the term I have learned to use is “release.” My intent is for the weight to be gone and never return. So how did I release the weight?
The next thing I learned is that I never change. What? But you released 43 pounds! What I mean to say is that I always remain myself with all of my strengths and weaknesses. I am not perfect and I never will be. But I can accept both my strengths and weaknesses and move forward. The good news is that there are many tools and resources available to support anyone releasing weight.
The use of the word “release” and the idea of “never changing” I learned from Momentum Education. A deep and sincere thanks for the lessons.
The biggest shift for me was getting support. I was always determined to release the weight on my own. Should be simple enough, just exercise and eat better. And I tried. I stopped driving and started walking and taking the bus. I did this for 3 years. I felt better but weighed the same. I tried to eat better but it is hard when your favorite foods are a cheese burger, french fries and a chocolate malt. When I say favorite I mean I ate them several times a week. And I loved cheese and bread. Some days I ate an entire loaf of bread and 1 pound of cheese (only the good stuff like Beecher’s Flagship). And not to forget a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or Lopez Island Creamery ice cream. So many yummy flavors.
In December 2016 I decided to change. I had a 7 week paid vacation coming from Christmas to February. People asked me what I was going to do: travel, remodel the house, learn a new programming language? “Nope, going to get in shape,” was my reply. But how? I started sharing my dilemma with friends. My friend Steve mentioned that his wife Denise taught boot camp classes at Embody Health and that they had a 21 day special. I knew nothing about boot camp but went ahead and signed up.
A boot camp class is 30 minutes of guided movement with varying intensity: jumping jacks, squats, pulling yourself up using TRX straps, lifting barbells. It was really, really hard. I would go to a noon-time class and when I came home my wife would look at me and say, “Going to sleep?” I would take a nap until dinner. Get up for a few hours and then go back to sleep. For the next 2 weeks I slept 18 hours a day. I was in a daze. At the end of the 21 days I had released 6 pounds. I signed up for 1 year. The sleeping returned to 8 to 10 hours a day. I still could not do a single sit-up. I did a modified version where I remained lying on my back. I kept at it and 2 months later I did my first sit-up in over 20 years. I did not cry that day but if I had it would not have surprised me.
It was announced that at the end of January there would be a Nutri-Fit class. A class of a dozen of us would get nutritional counseling from Meryl who had her Masters in Nutrition from Bastyr University. It did not take much for the light bulb to go off in my head: get support, get it now! I signed up.
The Nutri-Fit class was not prescriptive. It did not tell you to eat or not eat anything. It was not about going on a diet. You did not practice a paleo, vegetarian or vegan diet. There were two main components to the course: paying attention to your nutritional needs and paying attention to the act of eating. Your body is fulfilling it’s nutritional needs from whatever you eat, so look at what you are eating. Try eating more vegetables if you are not eating many. For carbs try eating brown rice instead of white rice. Try reducing sugar, not eliminate, just reduce. If you love to fry food a lot (yep that was me) then try frying stuff less. It all sounded so obvious when explained, but practicing it with other students who were asking questions and sharing their experiences was awesome. And then there was paying attention to the act of eating itself. This meant no more TV or computer or phone while eating. You just eat. Sure you can eat with family and friends and have a conversation while you eat. But no distracted eating. I stopped eating an entire bag of chips or an entire container of ice cream while watching Doctor Who on TV. I started to taste and enjoy my food.
At then end of 7 weeks I had released 14 pounds and returned to work. In that first week back there was a work sponsored talk from a doctor titled Having A Healthy Heart. In the past I would have ignored this. I attended and was baffled. The doctor kept mentioning how eating certain foods can cause inflammation and the body’s response is higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, and even migraine head aches. She kept mentioning eating a whole food plant based diet. What? I was firmly convinced that just releasing weight would fix all my problems. Now I was puzzled. I had never heard of a whole food plant based diet. The doctor offered a free consultation so once again I took the offer of support.
At the consultation the doctor explained that I could release all the weight but would still have high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and head aches. She explained to me that she practiced what is called functional or root-cause medicine. The idea was that medications still might be needed but that you should be able to eat and exercise in such a way that your body healed itself. She suggested I try the IMF (Institute of Functional Medicine) elimination diet for 21 days. The IMF elimination diet has meat but she also suggested no meat. And only whole grains. Oh and no soy, corn, gluten, peanuts, alcohol, caffeine or sweeteners. What was there left to eat I wondered? Quite a lot it turns out.
First a brief aside. Several years ago my doctor prescribed high blood pressure medication. My blood pressure was dangerously high. I refused. He said, “Ok I am going to prescribe you some nitroglycerine. Always keep it with you and easily accessible. When you have a heart attack I want you to take it. But here is what will really happen. You will have a heart attack and not be able to take it as you fall to the ground. You will not be able to dial 911. If you are with some friends they will dial 911. It will not matter. You will be dead before the ambulance arrives.” This should have frightened me. It did not. I did start taking high blood pressure or “pee a lot” medicine as I called it. A year later he put me on high cholesterol medication.
My New Year’s resolution had been to quit alcohol, caffeine and sugar. So that part of the elimination diet was easy. I then started figuring out to eat what I dubbed “really really healthy vegan.” I was given a few recipes and modified some of the Nutri-Fit recipes, but I did not want to eat the same 5 things over and over for 3 weeks. Searching on the Internet I came across Matt Frazier’s No Meat Athlete and Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra. In the following 2 weeks I read both cover to cover. And my entire life changed. Some friends joked that I was having a mid-life crisis or had found religion. “Sure,” was all I said. As my body cleaned out my energy level soared. I was only sleeping 4 hours a day. I tried to sleep more but just woke up fully awake. And my energy level was consistent the entire day. In the evening I would just close my eyes and quickly doze off.
With all this new energy I wanted to do something. I went for a run over Queen Anne hill in Seattle and on the way back noticed a yoga studio Haute Yoga. They were having a 2 week special. I remembered that Rich Roll did yoga. Again I trusted my intuition and signed up. As I ran back to work I though about doing a marathon or a triathlon.
At the end of the elimination diet I added foods back and realized that dairy and gluten were not supporting me. I had never planned to become vegan but it just happened. If I could feel this amazing why would I go back to eating the foods that sure tasted yummy but ended up being harmful?
For the next month I did boot camp, yoga and ran. In March my friend Steve suggested I try cycling. I loved it. Ok not at first. But the same stubbornness that had kept me eating harmful food I channeled into cycling. I joined the No Meat Athlete Facebook group and introduced myself. I met Karin who became my triathlon coach. In May I started swimming in a pool. Then I learned to swim in open water in Lake Washington. Yes it absolutely terrified me but that is another story.
In May I had released 32 pounds. After that weight release slowed down. I did not push at the weigh release, just let it happen. It took another 6 months to release 11 more pounds. That is my story of releasing 43 pounds in 11 months.
I have no magic bullet to prescribe for you. I would suggest getting support versus taking the journey alone. I am so happy to have discovered a joyful way to release weight. I wish you joy, love and courage on your journey.