In the Simpsons episode “Brush With Greatness,” the titular family takes a day trip to Mt. Splashmore, a water park shamelessly plugged by Krusty.
Before they leave, Homer puts on his bathing suit, which features a wonderful smiley face on the butt, and after he works the suit past his hips and onto his waist, the smiley face turns sour:
After he’s mocked on TV for being overweight, Homer decides to do something about it. He steps on the scale, and sees a number he’s horrified to see.
AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
On December 17th 2015, I went to my doctor for a medicine checkup, and I stepped on the scale. The PA started the slide scale at 150. “Aww that’s cute” I thought, and she slid it up to 200. Then she slid the individual pound slider all the way over, and the slide bar stood still. My chin lowered, and a lump grew in my throat. She slid the main slide bar to 250, and it began to wobble. The individual bar slid over to 6, swayed back and forth, and settled.
“Two hundred fifty six pounds” the PA said.
I looked down and closed my eyes. I almost started crying. I opened my eyes, looked to the heavens (or at least the halogen lights) and thought “how the hell did this happen?”
EXPOSITION – A CHUBBY GUY’S BACKSTORY
I’ve been chubby-ish since college. The freshman-15 was more like a freshman 30. As I got older and got on the right medications, I hovered in the 225-230 range for most of my mid-to-late 20’s.
But sometime between the cruise I went on with my family and the Love of my Life Jessica Liken (that’s how she’s entered in my phone, by the way), and the week before Christmas, I ballooned from 235 to 256.
And I’m writing this blog post (and will keep with it) because I know people will support me in this, and it may inspire someone else to do the same.
Here’s the sexy couple on formal night on the cruise in June and us in December at the Postmodern Jukebox concert:
My face, chest, and gut all got bigger. And my neck. Good lord, my neck.
I felt OK with myself at 230-235. Not great about it, but I felt OK about it.
Two hundred fifty six. 256 pounds.
I was revolted. Disgusted. Other words that mean disgusted. All of them.
Then I thought back to that Simpsons episode. I was not going to let myself get to 260. Nope. No way. No how. Never. Never Never Never.
But it was the holidays, and I had committed to making cookie balls for a couple of events, so Jessica and I decided we would take small steps for the last 2+ weeks of December, and kick it into gear come New Years. I made my cookie balls, but only had 2 or 3 of them. Limited myself to two drinks if we were out. Ate more salad. I was making small, conscious decisions that started to change my behavior.
On New Year’s Eve, Jessica and I indulged in Thai food (pineapple fried rice with chicken, a spring roll, and corn fritters for me, Tofu Spicy peanut for her), had a vodka cocktail, and watched The Philadelphia Story.
(Side note, why hasn’t Jon Hamm played Cary Grant in a biopic yet? I mean, just look at this!)
The calendar turned over, and Jessica and I downloaded MyFitnessPal, a site/app that helps track the food you eat, calories, macronutrients, etc. It has a wonderful searchable database of foods (hundreds of thousands of items) that you can add to your daily calorie intake and track responsibly. And we were off on our journey.
When you first get MyFitnessPal, you enter your vital stats (height, weight, age, activity level, gender, and how much you want to lose per week), and it spits out a caloric, protein, carb, and fat goal for you to reach each day, so that in 1 week, you’ll lose a set amount of weight. I set mine to 1.5 pounds lost per week and it gave me a number of 2300 calories per day. In 2 months, I’ve lost 19 pounds.
I’m sure you’re thinking “Great Michael, that’s really awesome! But surely downloading an app and entering what you eat wasn’t all there was to it!”
And you’d be right.
There are two more tools I’ve acquired that have aided Jessica and I on our journey.
First, a food scale.
Here’s the one I got. Using this, I’ve learned more about serving size and portion control than I ever had. And this has taught me about making the most of my calories.
I love crispy salty snacks. Chips, crackers, goldfish, popcorn, etc. I love them all. Except salt and vinegar flavored varieties. You can keep those. But I would eat those snacks by the handful, the bowlful, the boxful. But to keep under my daily calorie limit, I had to now measure out a serving of said snacks, and years of overeating have produced a large stomach on me. It takes more volume to fill me up.
One serving of tortilla chips and one serving of popcorn are the same amount of mass – 28 grams, or 1 ounce. Each is about 130 calories. The difference is that 1 ounce of tortilla chips is about 10 chips, while one ounce of popcorn is 3 1/2 CUPS.
Advantage – popcorn.
And my statement about taking a lot to fill me up leads me to my 2nd important tool:
You need to spiralize. This is the one Jessica, Jessica’s parents, and I have. It takes vegetables and in seconds, transforms them into noodles.
Here’s a simple math question.
- 7 ounces (198 grams) of regular spaghetti has about 315 calories.
- A 196 gram zucchini has 33 calories. Total.
Which would you rather eat?
I go through at least three big zucchini a week. They’re cheap, both in co$t and in calories, add much-needed filler, and take about 2 minutes to prepare.
But the most valuable tool I’ve used is without question, MyFitnessPal.
NOT JUST A PAL, BUT A KICK IN THE ASS
Here’s what I’ve learned through 60 days of tracking everything that goes in my mouth (and yes, we’re still doing phrasing):
- First and foremost, than from July-December, to gain 21 pounds, I ate an excess of 73,500 calories of what my body needed for basic survival. That’s an extra 35 days worth of calories over what I’m eating now. When you see my INDULGENCE pizza below, know that it would have taken me eating ONE HUNDRED of those in that amount of time to gain that weight.
- I consumed way too much salt, without really even trying. Sodium is everywhere. The biggest culprit? Breakfast. I have an egg-white omelette almost every morning, but breakfast meats are loaded with 1/4 or more of your day’s sodium. Now my omelettes are made with ground turkey (not cooked in oil) and are much better. Cheese has a lot of sodium. Sauces have a lot of sodium.
- By the way, sodium’s effects on the body are somewhat counteracted by Potassium, which I wasn’t getting enough of either. Get yourself some Potassium Citrate powder and mix it into a drink every day.
- I really don’t care about macronutrient percentages right now, but I make sure to get at least 100 grams of protein a day. How do I get that? Lean meats (turkey, chicken, and tuna), soybean pasta (which you can get at Sprouts or Whole Foods for wayyyy cheaper than Amazon), protein bars (ThinkThin is currently my favorite), and Enlightened Ice Cream Bars. I haven’t had regular ice cream in the last two months, because 1 serving of regular ice cream is HALF A FREAKING CUP. I would eat a whole bowl’s worth (at least 3 servings) in a sitting, maybe more.
- Cut out oils wherever you can. Or try a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon next time, and see if you notice a difference.
- I still eat way too many snacks. Healthy snacks, but my caloric proportions are off. I need to eat bigger meals and plan out snacks.
And finally, I’ve learned to use food as an indulgence, not a reward. Ice cream is a part of my daily diet – and at 80-90 calories per bar, it’s just fine. Our favorite indulgence? Pie Five. They have a fantastic Nutrition Calculator that lets you build your own pizza and know exactly what’s in it. My indulgence pizza is a thin crust with mozzarella, double chicken, bell peppers, pineapple, sauteed onions, and magic dust on top. With planning and preparation, this is a pizza I enjoy about once every two weeks.
So to wrap up (and wraps are bad too – get the soft taco, low carb kind!), at the end of the Simpsons episode, Homer says “Okay, scale, we don’t like each other but I’ve been good so treat me right! (steps on scale and sees 239, runs downstairs excited) All right! Marge! I’m two-thirty-nine and feeling fine. Look, I’m using the original notches on my belt!”
I got to 239 last week, and since then I’m down another 2, at 237. I still have 7 pounds to go before I reach my first goal of losing 10% of my body weight. And once I hit that, I’ll set another goal. Not sure what it will be, or how long it will take, but I’m going to get there. I will never reach 239 again. I WILL NOT BE HOMER SIMPSON!!
- I’ve lost 19 pounds in 2 months tracking everything I’ve eaten and staying within certain goals set by the MyFitnessPal app.
- At minimum, get a food scale and some kind of vegetable noodling device. There are cheap ones at Target that are “As Seen on TV.” If you like it, get a nicer one.
- Watch your sodium.
- Indulge yourself every once in a while.
- Look for ways to add protein to any meal.
- Add frozen vegetables to lunch and dinner.
- Set realistic, open ended goals. Don’t say “I’m gonna lose XXX pounds by XX/XX date.” You don’t know if you can. Instead, make your goal something like “I’m going to fit into this old piece of clothing I can’t wear anymore but love.”
PS – MICHAEL – YOU DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT EXERCISE!!
That’s right, because other than walking and some 10 pound dumbbells in my room, I haven’t really exercised that much. My food habits were HORRIBLE! I had to change those first, to give me the foundation of healthy living, before I move on to working out regularly.
Please leave a comment below. If you want to get in touch with me about advice, if you want a secret ally, or whatever, you know how to get in touch with me.