For the majority of my adult life, I’ve been overweight, and at certain times, obese. For many years (though particularly prior to 2011), my discomfort regarding my weight kept me from experiencing life to the fullest. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, so I was much more likely to spend time alone, rather than be social… at least in the real world. (You don’t excel at software development without being at least a little bit introverted.) I went out like normal humans, but probably at a lesser frequency that you might expect. I spent more time typing things into glowing machines, and would often enjoy gaming as a hobby – it had social elements, but it was kind of taboo, where non-gamers were concerned.
In any case, I tried to solve my weight problem multiple times through dieting, but all attempts, ultimately, would fail in the long run… with the exception of one. Today, my intention is to share my trials and tribulations with you, and hopefully give you some insight into the struggle that I’ve had to cope with for many years. I understand, at the same time, that there are others that have way worse problems, and to them, I sincerely wish the best. This is a story of how I went from weighing my all-time high of 260 pounds, to my goal weight of 210 pounds. Before I get into the details, please keep in mind that I’m not a medical professional or anything like that, so my experiences should not be seen as any form of expert advice. All I know is which approaches worked for me, and which didn’t work for me. But first, I must set the stage a little bit.
My career officially began when I graduated from college and was hired by a local software development company. The job was originally meant as an unpaid internship, but I was fortunate enough to be offered employment immediately afterwards, and ended up taking it. The first 2 years at this new job were absolutely fantastic… and how could they not be? I was, after all, a developer at heart – and here I was doing development with small but focused group of talented people with whom I could improve my craft. So I took to it like a sponge to water, and enjoyed the job significantly. Weight-wise, I was around 225 pounds, which is overweight – but not devastating or surprising given my height of 6’3″, and my sedentary lifestyle.
It was around year 3 when I realized that I wasn’t enjoying my job as much as I had in the past. In my youth, I reasoned that perhaps I was getting used the work life and its associated predictability – the same type of work schedule every day. Wielding this logic, I tried to just keep my head down and keep to my tasks and productivity. Around that time, however, I injured my foot, and was instructed to work from home for what totalled to be something like 3 months. Due to the doctor ordering that I move less, I missed out on a lot of exercise, and quickly grew to my fattest state: 260 pounds. To this day, that remains the record in terms of weight gain, in my life. After my foot healed, my weight lowered a bit, but it would usually hover around the 250 area. During the time of my injury, I developed bad eating habits – and therefore, weight was gained through overeating, first and foremost.
I can’t say I had zero breakthroughs in the weight loss department during this time, however. For one, I came to realize that the fear of death was a fairly effective motivator in the weight loss arena. I learned this because at a certain point, at my heaviest, I agreed to participate in a big Paintball event that a friend was organizing. (Paintball is a very demanding sport, physically, if you’re not used to running around all day. I’ve written a post about my experiences in the past.) Some might take a relaxing approach to it, but I was always the type to run to and from cover continuously, it was anything but casual. Because of my experience with how physically demanding it was, and the knowledge that I was much heavier than when I last played, I came to a certain conclusion. If I ran for a whole day after sitting at a computer for the majority of my life, at the weight of 260 pounds, my heart might very well explode. To this day, I believe that my logic was mostly rational. Perhaps a little extreme, but my concerns came from experience – I knew how hard I pushed myself physically when on the field, and I didn’t want to stop doing that. So, in the month preceding the event, I kid you not… I lost a total of 15 pounds – about 3.75 pounds a week. I did this by simply eating an abundance of vegetables, while never eating bread, pasta, or meat. Death, my friends, is an excellent motivator. However, my approach was pretty aggressive, to the point where it was likely unhealthy. Soon enough, however, after having survived Paintball, my diet slowly went right back to what it was before. I didn’t have the right habits, nor the mentality to keep it all under control.
Years 4 and 5 were very depressing years, for me. I still continued to learn and grow at my job, but I had this increasing feeling that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I had decreased interest in the craft, difficulty focusing, and to make sure it didn’t cause any problems at work, I would put in additional hours to compensate. Though committed to the job, the additional work would then lead to more depression, as I would have less free time, and more time in something that no longer really interested me. Once my contract came to an end, I found myself reflecting on the experience.
It was through this reflection process that I eventually came to terms with what I had been feeling all along – that it was time to move on. What struck me was the feeling of peace that I had towards the whole situation. Throughout my time at the company, there were moments where I considered leaving, but each of those moments were born out of anger, and frustration – not so much at the employer, but at my overall career situation. Yet, when it was all over, I was filled with a sense of peace – to the point where I had no doubt that the conclusion would be “the right thing” for both parties. That feeling of peace was so pronounced that it stuck with me to this day – to the point where I consider it a compass of sorts. Here’s how I see it: when I feel that peaceful about a decision, then it was undoubtedly the right decision for me to make.
Though I came to terms with the situation and found a peaceful balance within myself, I also thought back to the issues that had occurred within the physical realm. For example, I remembered how I never really took a full vacation, over the years, and realized that it was probably a big part of the issue. The lack of a vacation was due to a workaholic-type lifestyle, whereby I would continue to work on weekends and week nights for my own personal projects, rather than just enjoy my time off. And, thus, I had little time to just have fun. I felt like that certainly amplified the problems that I had over the years, and I knew I could have approached it better.
So… what did I do when I realized this, no longer employed? I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, and stayed there for not one, but TWO months – a mega vacation of sorts. This proved to be a period of rebirth, as I joined my sister in a quest to go to the gym every day, while hiking every now and then. As a result, fitness went from being a way to lose weight to a lifestyle – no matter what, every single day, my sister and I went to the gym (in an almost machine-like fashion… sound familiar?). While there, I also managed to get some significant hiking achievements: I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail, and I climbed to the highest point in Georgia – Brasstown Bald, via Arquaquah Trail – 4 hours up, 4 hours down. I already felt like I was worlds apart from the guy who used to sit in front of computers and code.
In addition to the hikes and general gym access, I noticed that my consumption of food took on a certain comfortable predictability. My breakfast usually consisted of a protein shake and a bowl of a cereal, and my lunch was usually either two veggie dogs, or two veggie burgers. I even enforced a certain rule that I felt would help me control my consumption: I decided I could only eat bread or pasta once a day – meaning that if I had one, I couldn’t have the other. So if I had veggie dogs or burgers, I wouldn’t have pasta or bread at night – instead, I’d have rice, or something light like that. However, if I skipped the bread during lunch, then I could have it at night – so I had some flexibility. (I had tried to eliminate pasta and bread in the past, but quickly found that I felt far too weak without them. I was likely poorly managing my intake, not eating enough calories and/or protein.) My weird bread/pasta limit seemed to work best, for me. (Again, in case it isn’t abundantly clear by this point, I am not a nutritionist. This worked for me, but I didn’t break down the science of why it worked.)
By the time I left Atlanta, I had lost 20 pounds – bringing my weight to 230 pounds. I attributed this to my newfound eating habits, and my devotion to the gym life, which I kept up the whole time I was in Atlanta. My return to Montreal concerned me, to a degree, as I knew I would be less inclined to go to the gym by myself. My sister was a huge motivational factor behind why I got fit – we were both obsessed with maintaining the habit of going every day – not one could be missed. My concerns were mostly right – I didn’t continue the gym habits once I got back home; however, I did hang onto the dietary rules that I established while over there. The result was that my weight remained roughly the same – it would just fluctuate between 230 and 235 based on how well I followed my own rules.
Fast forward a few months, and I started working as a consultant for another organization. Unlike my past programming life, the role I played in that organization was much closer to what I was looking for – something that used my writing abilities, and my interest in web publishing. I had officially moved away from a development path, and it felt great. (It should be noted, however, that the programming life was not necessarily bad – it’s just something that I wanted to do, did, and then felt like I needed to move on. I have much respect for my past employer and the time that I spent growing as part of their team.)
After a while of offering my consulting services to this new organization, I found myself looking at an old weight loss app that I had on my phone – Lose It. It was still set for the weight goal of 225, a goal I established many years before, and also the lowest weight I remember being as an adult. In an effort to finally achieve that goal, I decided I’d started logging everything I ate. Every. single. thing. Since I told the app I wanted to lose two pounds a week (the maximum it allows), it provided me with a calorie count that I had to respect every day. As long as I did that, I knew that I was doing everything I could do to get my weight under control. In addition to logging what I ate, I also logged the exercise that I did – even the time I spent walking to and from work.
The result was interesting: exercise became something that could allow me to eat more tasty food, rather than something I had to do to lose more weight. After all, I could eat absolutely anything I wanted – all I needed to do was log it, and ensure that the total food consumed per day would not push me above my calorie budget. Naturally, I learned that certain foods were simply “not worth it” from a calorie point of view, and would instead focus on tasty but reasonable foods that I could fit into my daily life. Not only that – I also saw the calorie limit imposed by the application as more of a target to hit, rather than a limiting factor. The way I saw it, eating the number of calories it asked was ensuring that I wouldn’t lose weight faster than 2 pounds a week. This meant that I saw the limit as something I needed to reach, rather than something I needed to evade. I’m convinced that this positive outlook was helpful in maintaining my weight loss progress, and it also helped create a controlled decline. The unfortunate reality of being obese is that one’s skin stretches to accommodate the added fat. When I began losing weight, I wanted to do what I could to help my skin to return to its original tightness. To me, controlling the rate of weight loss seemed like a perfectly logical way to do so. I exercised also – but the main effort was in making sure that I had a that controlled drop, rather than a sudden one.
Nutritionally speaking, the approach I took was quite simple: calories were the main metric that I used in determining what I should and shouldn’t eat. I also kept an eye on the protein, sodium, cholesterol, and carbohydrates, and chose my foods to be best aligned for health. Protein needs to be high given my height and build, sodium and cholesterol values had to be limited, and carbs – well, I had an unfortunate issue with carbs. If I consumed too much sugar too fast, I’d get migraines – so I was careful not to overdo it – but aside from that, I didn’t really do much planning, nutrition-wise. I just limited consumption along with the app, and tried to stay reasonable.
It wasn’t long before I saw results from this app-based approach. I would weigh myself every day, and log it in the application – this allowed me to see my progress. I quickly learned that the weights would vary slightly every day, but that the average was the key. Sure enough, as long as I met my daily calorie budget, my average weight readings would gradually drop. To the point, actually, where I had reached 223 pounds – achieving the goal that I had sought for so many years. Eventually, though, I reached the limits of my app-based consumption, and I had to think of another way to lose the weight.
Exercise, the logical next step. I remembered what made me successful back in Atlanta – a strict schedule that had to be followed every single day. I came up with the idea of a 30 day challenge – whereby I defined a set of rules that I would follow, where fitness was the focus. Basically, what those 30 day challenges meant was that I returned to having a strict regime of exercise every day. When this particular endeavor was combined with my intake control, the results were astounding – after two months, I lowered my weight down to 210.
I was absolutely thrilled, as you might imagine, considering the weight issues I struggled with, up until that point. After I completed the 30-day challenges, my weight eventually found its way back to 225, and it would bounce around there every month or so. I learned to be comfortable with that weight. Yes, according to the BMI charts, I was still considered overweight, but at least I wasn’t labelled obese anymore. And, quite frankly, I still enjoyed plenty of good food, and still felt pretty fit despite my so-called overweight status. I could even misbehave for a day every now and then, calorie-wise, as long as I was careful to compensate in the days that followed. And that system worked, and worked well.
Then, the year 2015 hit me like a semi. My life changed drastically, and I quickly found myself in a world where I could not find that feeling of peace that I had learned to use as my compass. Changes happened too quickly, without enough thought and comfort, and, as a result, my stress skyrocketed. My weight rose to 238, and would go up and down a few pounds every week or so. (If you look at my blog archives, the year 2015 has only two posts. Extremely abnormal for me.)
2016, thankfully, restored a huge amount of stability. I’m happy to say that I’m starting to feel that feeling of peace again. I still have a ways to go before I feel 100% back to normal, though, and my weight tells the same story: 238 pounds. Not catastrophic, not great, but totally forgivable considering how drastically my life changed recently. I’m pretty confident than when I feel fully at peace again (or more so), I will find myself in the right mental state to achieve that weight of 225, that sweet spot.
So, to anybody out there that has been dealing with weight issues: I hope my story at least provides a certain form of insight. I can’t guarantee that my unique interpretation of the events will be useful to anyone, but I like the idea that it’s described and out in the open, for general consumption and consideration. Hopefully my story helps someone, even if in a really tiny way.
And again, everyone, when in doubt, check with professionals. I’m just a dude that did things one way, and had good results. My success could very well have come at the cost of something else, which I didn’t necessarily understand or see. Best of luck!