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Countdown to 165: Week 5 – Staying On Track

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In five weeks, I've lost 33 pounds. I have 108 days left of my 143-day plan, so I'm not even quite one-quarter of the way through. And yet I don't worry about "cheating" or breaking my diet at all.

Staying Focused

One of the biggest challenges facing most people who need to lose weight is perseverance. Like people trying to quit smoking, it's easy for us to start exercising or cut back on certain foods; we've done it many times! Sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week, and sometimes just until we realize that there's one more Little Debbie snack in the pantry. Honestly, if we were people with plentiful self-control, we probably wouldn't be fat.

One popular myth is that it takes an event to trigger dedication. The stories begin with "One day I realized I had to do something…" and "That day I vowed that never again would I be embarrassed like that again…" My story isn't like that. In fact, I had one of those days, but it didn't help. I was embarrassed, and I realized I had to do something. I didn't eat for the rest of the day — and then the next day I went out to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Then, of course, I was so depressed that I figured I would just always be fat, and gained another 20 pounds pretty quickly. While some people may be inspired to dedication and focus by a momentous event, it is the dedication and focus that is key, not the event.

When I decided to get in shape, I gave myself a week. I needed that week to focus. I didn't spend the week eating and drinking everything I would miss, at least not much, but getting my thoughts in order. I had to choose what to value, and decide whether this was worth it. What motivated me and helped me may not motivate or help you, but if you've been looking for a bolt of lightning from the sky, consider these thoughts instead.

Nothing tastes as good as being thin will feel. I love food in a profound way. I love how food tastes, the way it feels in my mouth, and how full I feel after eating a lot of it. I could never understand people who turn down food, or leave food on plates, or skip dessert. I reasoned that they must just be put together differently than I am — and that may be true. Nevertheless, my love for food is a self-destructive passion, like a drug or alcohol addiction. How good it makes me feel is irrelevant, I must learn to control it. I must learn to think long-term rather than short-term when it comes to food. The key for me during these 20 weeks is to think not just about the benefits of food, which are immediate and obvious, but the drawbacks, which are longer-term and more subtle. The Butterscotch Zingers taste wonderful, but not being able to snuggle with my son because I'm too fat is disastrous. Which is worth more? That third helping will seem like the best thing ever, but if I develop diabetes or die of heart failure from being overweight, what are my wife and kids going to do without me? Which is worth more? I spent the week leading up to the start of my change in diet reminding myself every time I saw something tempting that nothing tastes as good as being then will feel. There will be time later for reasonable portions of chocolate, or beer, or whatever.

Get it done. When I think about some of previous attempts to lose weight, I'm not surprised I failed before reaching my goal. While "eat less, move more" is ultimately the key to long-term weight loss, it's only a rough guideline which needs fleshing out in detail. Does "eat less" allow for one extra spoonful of corn, or not? (I always said "yes.") Does "move more" mean I must take a walk tonight, even though I'm really tired? (I often said, "no.") A friend of mine is using software to chart her daily calories in and calories out, complete with color-coded graphs. The last time I checked, she'd lost 14 pounds, and was making great progress. In my case, my goals are simple: I aim to consume fewer than 10 grams of carbohydrates each day. The diet I'm on actually allows up to 20 grams, but why take any longer than I must? I've allowed myself 143 days, but if I can reach my goal weight even sooner, than that's less time I have to spend micro-managing my diet, and I might even enjoy a bite or three of Extra Stout Chocolate Mousse before I travel overseas. My goal is to lose 85 pounds as quickly as I can, so I can move on to the next phase of my life: establishing an approach to food that allows me to enjoy it without it ruling me. To cheat would just delay my ultimate success, and it's just not worth it.

Nothing is more embarrassing than being fat. During that week of preparation, I came up with a few objections and concerns, and I wrote them down, and I thought about them for a day. I realized that they were all answered the same way. Will the waitstaff at Chili's be disappointed when I don't order my usual tall Shiner Bock and the $15 Grand Trio dinner once a week? I can use some of the money I'm saving by tipping them as if I had, and then they won't care at all. Will I have loose belly-skin? Perhaps. I'd rather that than tight belly-fat! Will I draw attention to myself by not eating what everybody else is eating? Maybe. I draw attention to myself by being fat, too. I had to stop kidding myself that people didn't really notice or care that I was fat. People do notice, and people do care. When I tell my kids that they need to learn to control themselves, do their eyes flicker down to my belly and then back up again? I deserve that. I thought about how people on the street view me. They don't know anything about me other than what they see, and based on that, they shouldn't be impressed. I learned to see my fat the way thin people see my fat, and it disgusted me. All of my objections paled in comparison.

Setting a limited time helped me a lot. My goal was "only" 85 pounds. Others need to lose much more, and the thought of starting this diet with 200 pounds to lose would be too much, I think. After all, if we could easily set ourselves to difficult tasks, we probably would be that overweight in the first place, right? I can't imagine even starting with no end in sight, so I would set either a time limit (like six months), or a short-term goal (like 50 pounds), and reevaluate then. I think I would probably decide to keep going without a break for another 50 pounds or six months, and continue doing so for as often as I needed to, but I don't think I could start without that option to take a break.

Personal Update

I lost another four pounds this week, which actually surprised me. Since I've switched away from daily weigh-ins, for my sanity, I've found myself always suspecting poor results. This week I could tell that I was losing fat, but also that I was gaining muscle, so I assumed that the heavier muscle would offset the lighter fat. Fortunately, this turned out not to be the case.

I realize now that I should have taken physical measurements when I started. I've had to buy a new belt, and my wife tells me that all of my pants now look "obscene" because they're loose. In fact, while I lost "only" four pounds this week, my belt is now cinched two inches tighter. My pessimistic view is that one of these weeks I'll report no weight loss at all — but I'll finally have to break down and buy new pants.

2007-06-12: 250, initial weight
2007-07-10: 221, starting point for the week, 29 pounds lost total
2007-07-17: 217, -4 pounds this week, 33 pounds lost total

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