This post’s title was updated on 2020-09-01 for accuracy in accordance with the CDC’s data.
I’m no health guru, physical trainer, or athlete. The last time I was in a good place with my health was at the end of college. Since then, efforts to get back on track have been mostly no hit and all miss.
To be fair, for the most part, most of my efforts occurred asynchronously, i.e., I didn’t do heavy exercise AND start watching calories. Obviously there’s error in that thinking… it never produced any real results.
But finally, I found something that did.
Sharing here what didn’t work for me in the past, and what has been working for me this year.
What didn’t work
Counting calories (on its own) didn’t work. It made me feel like I was trying to squeeze out every calorie that I was “allowed” to eat. It made me obsess over how much I was eating, more than whether or not I was eating what was right for my body, specifically.
Exercising regularly (on its own) didn’t work. I was always extra hungry, felt entitled to eating more and more carelessly, and while I was able to build some muscle, I didn’t shed the weight I wanted, which made it hard to stay motivated, as that was generally my primary goal.
Kicking snacks and desserts (on its own) didn’t work. I just ate more at meals to cover the extra hunger.
What’s working for me nowadays
The secret‘s in the sauce…
A combination of intermittent fasting and portion control has yielded tremendous results.
I started intermittent fasting near the end of February after coming across some random posts about it on Reddit, and hearing from some family who had given it a go recently. My current schedule looks something like this each day:
- I start my day with coffee (programmed the night before).
- I skip breakfast.
- I eat lunch around 12:30 PM or 1:00 PM (breakfast food for lunch — eggs cooked with ham and veggies are my favorite).
- I eat dinner with my family everyday between 5:30 PM and 7:00 PM.
- After dinner, I fast until lunch the following day.
Typically, this puts me at a ratio of 18 hours for fasting and 6 hour window for eating each day, or 18:6.
I’ve also started watching my portions. I try to stick to one serving at meals instead of going back for seconds. I try not to “supersize” portions. I know that my eye is bigger than my stomach. Instead of eating another serving, I’ll often go for an apple and a La Croix.
I’ve cut out most of my snacking and desserts. I used to say yes to every ice cream opportunity, pizza-food opportunity, and Late July Jalapeño Lime Tortilla Chips & salsa opportunity (worlds best snack). Sometimes I’ll have a small handful of chips with lunch, or a small dessert on a special occasion, but it’s become very easy to say “no” to snacking and “yes” to feeling great and eating healthy. (A bag of chips that used to last less than a week now lasts more than a month in our home.)
Lastly, I gave up all forms of alcohol. Bourbon used to be my favorite evening treat when relaxing with my wife after a long day’s work. When we lived in Orlando I was always trying new whiskies and beers. As of today, I haven’t had a drink in about five months. I’m positive that’s helped to some extent.
…plus some very light exercise
About a month and a half in, I added really light, habitual body-weight exercises. Just one rep of pushups a day, and one rep of crunches, increasing the number in each rep as I got comfortable with my max limit.
Now, I enjoy a rep of pushups whenever I get up from my desk throughout the workweek, just to keep the blood pumping, since I’m otherwise sitting or standing at a desk all day.
The results are in!
I’ve lost 30 pounds since I started these habits in February!
I feel about as good as I did in college. I’m about five pounds away from goal-weight, and when I reach it I’ll introduce more frequent body-weight exercises and twice-weekly aerobic exercises on my bike, which I’ve missed a lot since we moved from Orlando to Columbus.
Some other fantastic side-effects I’ve experienced so far:
- Almost no heartburn since the get-go. I can’t express how elated I am over this.
- A noticeable amount of extra energy.
- Decreased random soreness in a given week & now rarely accidentally pulling muscles.
- Clothes that I haven’t fit into comfortably for a long time now fit, and are even a bit too big.
My biggest learning in this season, so far, has been that:
Effective habits are sustainable over a long period of time, and are able to coexist harmoniously with the responsibilities I have in a given chapter of life.
I gave up on being intentional about my health for a long time because of the discouragement caused from seeing no results after trying a bunch of one-off methods for getting back on track. I waited too long to try something new, and got lucky when I found that these habits worked for me.
Don’t get discouraged when you find that something you try for a while isn’t working for you. Define your goals, give yourself grace, and move on when your methods don’t move you closer to your goals. If what you’re trying isn’t working, stop it. Try something else. I think our bodies need diets and exercise regiments that are good for each unique individual. It takes experimentation to find it, and to fine-tune it.
Image credit: Louis Hansel on Unsplash