One of the advantages of being almost 6’5 is that there’s a lot of room to pack away weight before people – and, well, you – really notice.
One of the disadvantages? When you finally do notice, it’s pretty shocking how bad things have gotten.
I was a downright scrawny teenager. When I was 14, I was 6’2 and probably 130 pounds. When I graduated from high school, 6’4-5 and about 190. College? I think I was like 220 pounds.
There’ve been ups and downs, of course. From 2007-2010, I biked to work most of the time – and got into some decent shape. And then went back to car commuting, and fell back out of it.
But over 30-odd years of life, somewhere along the line I got out of the habit of stepping on scales. For, like, 15 years. I didn’t really want to know. In the past few years, I knew I’d packed on a bunch of weight, and had a gut going on, and was getting kind of jowly. I knew my knees were killing me. When I took off my socks at night, there was some ankle swelling. One of my co-workers described me as “heavy-set”, which was a first (and a kick in the head, for someone whose self-image has always been and still is “Scrawny”. Also, she was a *really cute* co-worker, so there was that). But there were always bigger, nastier things to worry about.
A year ago today, I went in to the doctor for my first routine checkup in probably five years. I suspect the doctor knew that I’d been one form of denial or another – maybe I’m not the only middle-aged guy he’s busted on that. So I’m fairly sure he tricked me into looking at the printout with my actual weight on it – I think he said it was some billing stuff I needed to sign.
But I don’t honestly remember, because I almost blacked out. My actual current weight was right there, in big numbers. And I nearly soiled myself.
In my mind, I figured maybe, absolute worst case, I’d be 280 pounds or so. No more.
Nope. I was over 300.
How significantly? I still don’t want to talk about it. Picture a hypothetical number, “n”, in your mind. We’ll come back to it.
The doctor – who must have been a psychologist earlier in life – eased us into a talk about the need to update some lifestyle choices. The weight wasn’t the last of it; my blood pressure was borderline-high, and, well, the list kept going.
And as I left the appointment, I thought – who do I know that’s actually pulled this off?
My thoughts turned to my friend, former producer and now lead singer, Tommy Huynh, who’d been writing about his experiences on the Keto diet.
Now, Keto had always been a joking matter to me – “How can you tell if someone at a party is Atheist, a Cross-Fitter, or on Keto? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!”) – but at this point I figured I had nothing to lose – and with effort, drove past McDonalds on the way home, made an omelet and some bacon, and started researching.
Keto involves a diet that’s about 50-60% fat, 30-40% protein, and less than 10% carbohydrates – and to get started, you keep it to 20 grams of carbs a day. A regular tortilla is almost 30 – so potatoes, rice, legumes (including peanuts) and of course wheat, flour, corn and corn meal, and especially processed sugar are all right out. Even fruit is problematic. We’ll come back to that. You also operate at a calorie deficit – but the goal is, through restricting your carbs, your metabolism starts burning fat for energy instead of muscle.
And so I dove in.
It got worse, of course. That Monday, I went to the gym, worked out, and got back on the scale. The scale at the gym read “n”+15 pounds – worse than at the doctor’s office.
So I just kept going. I figured out how to eat a diet that was more than just eggs, meat and cheese; spinach, almonds, coconut flour and flaxseed meal all became staples, sooner than later.
And to avoid obsessing, I limited myself to weighing in every four weeks, to start with.
And after four weeks? Down 15 pounds.
Four weeks later? 12 more.
At my follow up checkup with the doctor, I was down some more. Blood pressure was down 20 points. Blood sugar well in the “safe” zone. Cholesterol a *little* high, but then I had no baseline. We’ll be seeing in coming weeks what’s happened there.
It was about that time that I noticed my knee pain had nearly disappeared, that climbing stairs wasn’t an effort, and that a day outside hacking away at hedges, which used to be a nightmare that I’d be trying to get out of after half an hour, was kind of fun again.
I was down 50 by mid-July at my niece’s wedding. Around 70 by fall.
And it almost feels bad to say this, because I’ve had friends who’ve struggled mightily with their weight – but it wasn’t that hard. It was a huge lifestyle change, of course – I haven’t had fast food in a year, I read menus and nutrition labels VERY carefully, I log what I eat pretty religiously, and even now I “cheat” very, very rarely (as in, I’ll eat a pita with my greek food once a month or so). The gym is now 3x a week, rather than 3x a year. But once I got it into my head that nothing tastes as good as getting healthier feels , and learned how to cook tasty stuff I *could* eat anyway, it *actually wasn’t all that bad*.
And I did figure out how to make some fun stuff; I make a pretty serviceable pizza crust out of mozzarella cheese and coconut flour; I make root beer floats out of diet root beer and whipped cream; and since I started replacing half and half with heavy whipping cream in my coffee, my morning Java has never tasted so good. I’ve changed my restaurant habits – pizza and nachos are out, dry rub wings are in, and I’ve become a regular at some of the local barbeque joints, and it’s been a wonderful thing.
I’ve been plateaued at about 75 pounds since the fall – I need to get my metabolism kicked up, which means I have to hit the biking hard when the ice is finally gone – but I’m OK with that for now.
Yes, I know – keeping it off is the hard part. Which is why I’ve pretty well resolved there’ll be no back-sliding into the regular American diet. I may transition from Keto to Paleo – introducing some unprocessed fruits and the like – but the days of wolfing down a frozen pizza are pretty much donesville.
Anyway – I’m writing this to encourage those of you who might be fighting that battle; if I can do it (so far, one picky, label-reading, carb-hunting day at a time), you can do it too.
 As I write this, I picture me falling over with a heart attack tomorrow, and some social media twerp writing a photomeme: “Pundit PWNed after ironic last Facebook post”.