WEIGHT LOSS THAT WORKS FOR THE LONG HAUL!
𝗧𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗶𝘀 𝗺𝘆 𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘆...
I’m no different than any of you when it comes to battling with and maintaining a healthy weight. For the better part of my life I’ve seesawed up and down in weight so many times it makes my head spin. It wasn’t until six years ago that I decided to try a different approach to losing and maintaining weight loss. I’ll get to that later but first, a little background about myself.
Historically, my approach to weight loss was probably similar to most of you; find the diet plan that allowed me to eat as much food as possible while avoiding regular exercise. I’d convince myself I was way too busy to workout. After all, how could I fit exercise in with going to the bar regularly with my buddies? There simply wasn’t enough time in the day for both socializing and going to the gym. One of them had to go and I certainly wasn’t going to give up my all-too-frequent boy’s nights out.
So what happened six years ago that made me try something new? Kidney failure. Years of high blood pressure, highly processed foods, partying, lupus, and a lack of exercise had finally taken a toll on my body. I had lost 95% of my kidney function and didn’t even know it until my body started swelling up like a water balloon. And like most men that think they have all the answers, I’d rationalize that everything was “normal” and ignored all the symptoms that had surfaced years earlier. Constant exhaustion, frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom, swollen, sometimes even purplish colored feet, sore joints, and nausea. You’d think I’d go to the doctor, right? Nope. I’d continually search out a diagnosis on the internet that I could live with. After all, I was only 44 years old. How bad could it really be?
Kidney failure was a blessing in disguise. I’ll never forget the night my ex-wife was at my house to pick up my son and, crying, told me in no uncertain terms to get my ass in her car. She was taking me to the ER. I resisted but it was pretty apparent she wasn’t gonna let me talk my way out of it. Deep down I was kind of relieved I was going to the hospital. I quickly realized while watching a team of doctors work on me in the ER that my condition was way more serious than I suspected.
Two weeks in a medically induced coma, emergency dialysis, and another two weeks of recovery in intensive care, the gravity of my new normal had taken hold. I was either going to make some massive changes in my life or die. There was no question which path I’d choose. I had an 8 year-old son I wanted to see grow up. Thank God for Lochlan otherwise I may have thrown in the towel.
My “Come to Jesus” Moment-
For most of my life I’ve probably considered myself spiritual but not religious. I rarely went to church but during that hospital stay I experienced a moment of clarity like I’d never before experienced. Looking back, I’m convinced God or some higher power intervened in my life at that moment. No more bullshit excuses, no more rationalization, no more alcohol, drugs, smoking, or quick fixes. I needed a long term plan that would reshape my life for the better. I knew what it would involve and, frankly, I was doubting whether I could do it. Amazingly, that old saying “God never gives us more than we can handle” was more true than I ever imagined. I left the hospital as a man on a mission. There was no way in hell I was gonna let kidney failure beat me or define my life.
“The road to failure is paved with good intentions.”
Despite leaving the hospital with a determination and plan to get and stay healthy, I somehow managed to gain nearly 40 lbs and it happened quickly. If you’re not familiar with the recommended diet plan for dialysis patients, it surprisingly involves a lot of refined grains, meat, carbohydrates, and a limited amount of fruits and vegetables. I won’t get into explaining why but it has to due with the kidneys no longer having the ability to process and regulate things like potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. The fact that I suddenly stopped producing urine meant I had a very strict allowance of liquids I could consume on a daily basis too (32oz to be exact). Since fruits and vegetables are high in water content and many are high in potassium, I was instructed to eat them in small quantities.
It seemed counterintuitive to me that many of the foods I always knew as healthy were now off limits to me but that’s what I was told. My new reality was eating white rice instead of brown, no nuts or beans, no dairy, no kale or bananas, no avocados, no beets and no whole grain bread, only white. As ridiculous as this diet seemed, I adhered to the program as best as I possibly could. That is, until I quickly gained 40 lbs and decided there had to be a better way.
I listened to my doctor and dietician routinely tell me I needed to follow the renal diet if I wanted to survive but deep down inside I wasn’t buying it. I buried myself in research, some cutting edge, some from publications overseas, to see if everyone agreed that the recommended renal diet was the only way. What I found was that the opinions on the subject were far from universally agreed on.
Secretly and unbeknownst to my doctors and dietician, I started consuming more fruits and vegetables, brown rice and whole grain bread, and nuts and seeds in small quantities. Instantly I started feeling better. I had more energy to hit the gym and started losing weight rapidly. While my blood potassium level did tick upwards from eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, sometimes dangerously close to upper limits, shockingly, my monthly labs mostly improved despite eating all these foods I was being told to avoid.
My NEW Plan-
Now that I was seeing the results both on the scale and at the gym, I embraced my new diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in red meat, refined white flour and sugar. As quickly as I put on those 40 lbs, it came off equally fast and then some. I had lost 50 lbs! I was going to the gym for an hour four times per week with more energy and stamina than I’d had in decades. My nephrologist and dietician were shocked. They kept asking what I was doing differently and I resisted telling them for fear my lack of compliance with their instructions would have a negative impact on my ability to stay on the transplant list. In case you didn’t know, compliance with orders is a pretty big deal to not only get listed on the transplant registry but stay on it. So I kept my highly modified and non-compliant diet to myself out of fear.
It’s necessary to tell you that I did make some very specific and conscious changes to my habits. First of all, I quit drinking alcohol entirely. I suspect this was a much bigger factor in my success than I initially thought. I had a horrible but common habit of eating garbage foods after drinking. Aside from all those empty, needless calories from drinking, I’d pile on hundreds or even thousands of calories eating crap carbohydrate heavy foods during or after drinking. Eliminating these was a huge leg up in my weight loss.
My second big change was a significant reduction in dairy. I love cheese and would never give it up but things like pizza became far less common in my diet. I now eat pizza maybe once every three months. Also, I never eat ice cream. I simply switched to eating sorbet instead.
My third and most ambiguous change was a change in decision making. Like many of you, I love a good burger and fries. What changed is that I’d drop the fries and eat vegetables instead. Sometimes I’d lose the bun and use lettuce as the bun instead of bread. It’s the little changes that make the biggest difference. After a while I realized I really didn’t miss things like French fries. In fact, when I thought about all the calories and fat I was saving myself by substituting vegetables for fries it actually got me fired up.
My last big change was giving up 90% of the soda I regularly consumed. You have no idea how much sugar and calories you take in at a restaurant with all those free refills. I also eliminated 90% of diet soda from my life. Why? Because I don’t trust artifical sweeteners. I’ve read all sorts of articles about the negative impact artificial sweeteners have on your metabolism and decided to just remove them from my diet. Water with lemon or iced tea are my go-to beverages now.
Again, I can’t reiterate the point that it’s the little changes that will add up to enormous calorie and fat saving decisions throughout your day. I estimate my cognitive decision to drop needless high calorie foods such as French fries, pizza, ice cream, and packaged snack foods probably was saving me, on average, around 1000 calories daily.
So now I’ve brought you up to four years ago. That’s when I started actively reading and researching Chinese medicine, fitness and so-called “superfoods”. I was more convinced than ever that food is medicine. After my fantastic experience with weight loss simply by changing my diet and mixing in a moderate amount of exercise, I was certain I could do even more to improve my chances of survival while I waited for a kidney transplant. I started reading more and more about Chinese holistic medicine. Dubbed science fiction by some in Western culture, “natural” or holistic medicine had become my passion. I’d read articles morning and night trying to learn the medicinal properties that Chinese medicine believed were inherent in all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
The Creation of More Than Beets-
When my lifelong buddy from elementary school, Todd Mitchell, and I got reacquainted after years of losing touch with one another, we talked at great lengths about working together. We kicked around various ideas but it wasn’t until Todd mentioned his father, Morrie Mitchell, a pioneer in the fitness industry and founder of Universal Bodybuilding, had suggested Todd start a nutraceutical business that my eyes lit up. Both Todd and I worked in the world of finance so this was new to both of us but with Todd growing up around the bodybuilding profession and my love and belief in herbalism, it was a perfect fit for us.
I had spent years researching nutraceuticals and thought it was almost divine intervention that a topic I was so passionate about was just coincidentally brought up by Todd as a business idea. I excitingly shared with Todd that I was a huge believer in holistic medicine and regularly buried myself in research studies about food as medicine. It wasn’t long after that Todd and I started our company, Super Anti-Aging Nutrition LLC, and developed More Than Beets, our first nutritional supplement.
Most Diet Plans Are Flawed-
I have tried numerous diet plans in my life. Atkins, Keto, and Paleo among others. None of them worked. Don’t get me wrong— I did lose weight with all of these plans. The problem was these diets weren’t sustainable. Eliminating certain foods made me miserable. I remember some days craving carbs so badly that it almost made me crazy. Each time I went off those no- or low-carb diets, I gained the weight back immediately. The attraction that so many have to these quick weight loss diets is that you can eat fattening foods and not exercise. Great, right?
The Basis Behind Low Carb Diets is Ketosis-
Ketosis is a normal metabolic process, something your body does to keep working. When it doesn't have enough carbohydrates from food for your cells to burn for energy, it burns fat instead. As part of this process, it makes ketones. Ketosis can become dangerous when ketones build up. High levels lead to dehydration and change the chemical balance of your blood.
Here’s the problem— many of the people that choose a low carb diet are considered obese by BMI criteria and are often already pre-diabetic or diabetic. For these people, ketosis can trigger a dangerous condition called ketoacidosis. This occurs when the body stores up too many ketones—acids produced as a byproduct of burning fat—and the blood becomes too acidic, which can damage the liver, kidneys, and brain. Left untreated, it can be fatal. Personally, that sounds like a pretty big health risk for adhering to a diet plan.
Convenience is Causing Obesity-
The biggest causes of obesity in America are twofold—
1) portion size, and 2) processed foods.
Americans eat out A LOT. And as you’ve probably noticed, most restaurants aren’t particularly mindful of the healthiness of the foods or portions they serve. Bigger is better. It’s the American way. Supersize, Big Gulps, packaged junk food, restaurant desserts large enough to feed 2 or 3 adults, unlimited bread baskets.... you get the picture. Thankfully, chain restaurants are now required to print the calories on their menus so at least you’re able to know the ridiculous amount of calories in that platter of pasta at Olive Garden.
The portion problem isn’t isolated to restaurants. Most of us feel compelled to eat too much at home as well, either because we don’t want leftovers or feel like we’re wasting food if we don’t eat everything.
The second problem is processed foods. Studies from countries across the globe document how people are eating more and more ultra-processed foods. Investigations from the United States, Norway and several European countries show that more than half of the food we now buy is highly processed. Let me reiterate that point— over 50% of the food we are eating is highly processed!
In the last 30 years, the number of people who are obese has increased dramatically in almost all countries in the world. Studies have also shown an explosion in metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Coincidence? Probably not.
Obviously, easy access to high-calorie foods and a daily routine that doesn’t include exercise play a role in these trends. But the general perception that gluttony and laziness are the whole explanation is not solidly supported by the science.
Several researchers have wondered if other factors in our environment, such as sleep habits or indoor temperatures, are playing a greater role than we think. Now ultra-processed food is being considered as another possible force behind these trends.
In a recent issue of the academic journal Nutrients, Marit Zinöcker from Bjørknes University College and Inge Lindseth from Balderklinikken in Oslo summarize the research that has been done on possible relationships between heavily processed foods and obesity.
Connection between ultra-processed foods and obesity
Zinöcker explained that a research group at the university in São Paulo, led by Carlos Augusto Monteiro, started this line of investigation.
They created what was called the NOVA classification system, which groups food into four categories:
• Unprocessed or minimally processed food
• Processed culinary ingredients
• Processed food
• Ultra-processed food
Studies from Brazil showed that people who consumed up to half of their energy intake in the form of ultra-processed food were more likely to be obese. More recently, studies from other countries, including Spain, Sweden and a number of other European countries, have also come to the same conclusion. While more research needs to be done on the relationship between obesity and processed foods, the initial studies appear convincing— processed foods are causing obesity.
Net Negative Caloric Intake- The Only Way To Sustainable Weight Loss
I once tried Weight Watchers but found the point system cumbersome and irritating. But looking back, it helped me finally get on the right path to weight loss. How? I spent so much time learning the calories and fat grams in common foods that it’s almost like I have a calorie cash register embedded in my brain. Every time I eat I’m either subconsciously or sometimes very consciously calculating in my head the calories and fat grams in my meal.
The calculation is really pretty simple. I know from personal experience that I can safely consume around 2,500 calories per day to maintain or even lose a small amount of weight based on my level of activity. That works out to a little over 800 calories per meal. So now when I’m eating, whether I’m at home or in a restaurant, I try to choose items I know will keep me around that 800 calorie level.
The amount of calories you can eat per day is not the same for everyone. The amount of daily activity you get will directly impact your calorie expenditure. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to have a daily net calorie deficit meaning your expending more calories than you’re consuming. That’s slightly simplifying the dynamics of weight loss but it’s a good rule of thumb.
CALORIES OUT > CALORIES IN = WEIGHT LOSS
I realize counting calories takes the fun out of eating but next time you’re at a chain restaurant, scan through the calories for their entrees. I bet you’ll be hard pressed to find many options that are less than 1,100 calories and some entrees exceed 2,000 calories!
Eating at home should theoretically make the task easier because you have ultimate control over the ingredients. The drawback is nobody is calculating the total calories in your preparation or watching how much you put on your plate. And unfortunately, until you develop that calorie cash register in your head as I have, you’ll have to be diligent in your research and learn the techniques of healthy cooking and portion control to keep calories and fat in check.
EXERCISE- THE KEY TO SUCCESS
So here it is— the word everybody loathes— EXERCISE. You knew I was gonna bring it up sooner or later so I waited until the end to discuss the critical aspect exercise has in losing weight. I’ll state it simply and clearly. If you want to not only lose weight but also maintain a healthy weight FOR LIFE, there’s no getting around the fact that you absolutely, positively must make the time to exercise.
Just as you make time for breakfast, lunch, dinner, work, taking the kids to sports and school, you must set aside 30-60 minutes, 4 days per week (5 days preferably) for exercise. Yes, it is a sacrifice and a commitment but if you’re really sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, of bouncing from one diet to another, of maintaining a closet of clothes for fat you and skinny you, exercise is your only way to long term success. Like most aspects of your daily routine, once you integrate it into your schedule it will be very easy to maintain. The hardest part, by far, are the first 30 days. Get 30 days under your belt and the rest is a cake walk. I promise!
The More Than Beets Edge-
Earlier I mentioned the first product Todd and I created, More Than Beets. It was no accident that we created this particular product. As middle aged guys, we’re experiencing the same effects of aging that most people do after the age of 35; low energy, joint pain, and high blood pressure just to name a few. The More Than Beets product was specifically designed to help address these issues and others. We wanted a product that would help boost energy and stamina and at the same time deal with joint health so that our trips to the gym were not only productive but pain free. After 6 months of testing the product personally, I can tell you the results have been nothing short of miraculous. Individual results will vary but if you achieve half the results I have, More Than Beets will give you the competitive edge you’re seeking in beginning and maintaining a workout regimen or, at a bare minimum, help you from falling asleep at work.
That’s it! It’s really not that hard but it does require some lifestyle changes and diligence along the way. Spend the time educating yourself on healthy foods and cooking techniques. Seek out the restaurants near you with healthier menus. YOU CAN DO IT! How do I know? Because I did it. And I’m the king of making excuses.😉
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