It’s been a while. People have been wondering where I’ve been. One of the more challenging times of my life lately. But we all have battles and I’m still kicking.
So instead of asking for what I wish I had right now, I’m going to give something.
If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve been waging a rather successful fight with my health and weight. I’m down more than 100 pounds from where I was a little over a year ago. It’s hard not to notice. People ask me all the time how I did it.
I finally wrote it all down and I’ve been emailing it to those who ask because it seems like people are always dieting and sacrificing and they never really get anywhere. I know dieting never worked for me.
Dieting involves pain and sacrifice and we have enough of that in our lives already without setting the dinner table with more of it. So here is the email I sent to everyone who wants to know.
Okay. You asked for my plan? Get comfortable. Here it is.
First a little background. I’ve struggled with my weight all my life. I imagine it’s something I will continue to struggle with my whole life. My dad is rail thin. Same body type as Don Knotts. Always made me wonder if I was adopted.
Anyway, about three years ago, my good friend Jillian Ann, a model I photograph all the time, was in town and she told me she was concerned about what I was putting in my body. She wanted me to be around to photograph her for a long time and at the rate I was going, that wasn’t going to be the case.
During a break from shooting one day, she took me to a bookstore and we walked down the aisles until she found a particular book. She made me buy it for myself. I promptly took it home and put it on my shelf. For a year.
Something happened a year later that made me pick it up again. I wanted to live and I knew I wasn’t going to be around much longer if I didn’t do something to change the direction I was headed. I guess the thing was that this time, I didn’t want to get healthy because I wanted to be liked or get laid or something like I used to hope for when I would think of dieting in the past. No this time it was much different.
I just wanted to live.
I had too much to do and the idea of my life being cut short by my weight just didn’t make sense to me any more.
Okay. That’s the background.
The book is called Fit for Life.
I actually never even finished reading it. I think I only read the first 60 to 100 pages, but like so many things we experience in our lives, we take what makes sense and we make it our own. So I took what made sense, and 100 pounds later, here I am.
I’m giving you this background because this worked for me because of my particular set of circumstances. What makes sense to me, may not make sense to anyone else. Everyone has to come up with their own reasons to decide to be healthy. But the key thing is that it’s YOU who decides to do it for yourself. Not someone nagging at your to lose weight. This isn’t about losing weight, this is about becoming healthy.
The most important thing is that being healthy is not a diet. I’m not on a diet while I lose this weight. It’s not something I’m going to do for a few months or a year until I my weight gets to some number. This is something I’m going to do for the rest of my life. It’s now my lifestyle.
To that effect it can’t be painful. I can’t feel like I’m sacrificing something. Like I’m not living. Food is life. So much of our being social animals depends on eating. We eat together as a family when we’re kids. When we being to notice boys or girls and ask them out, a lot of the time we go out to eat. Celebrations and gatherings of every kind usually involve food.
So to deprive ourselves of food is depriving ourselves of truly living.
So it’s not really about eating less, it’s about being aware of what I’m putting into my body together at the same time.
Fit for Life basically talks about food combining. I’ll try to sum up what the book said. When you put certain kinds of food in your stomach, your body throws different types of chemicals at the food to get it to digest. But a problem occurs when the combinations of food you put in your body require two different kinds of chemicals to digest the various kinds of food waiting to be digested and those chemicals happen to cancel each other out. So your stomach throws more chemicals at the food. They of course cancel each other out again, so your stomach tries again and again, before finally giving up.
The result of this is that you never really get the nutrients from the food you should if you would have managed to digest it properly, AND, more importantly, your body is exhausted from trying. In other words, you’re not getting the energy you should from your food and you’ve wasted a lot of energy trying.
For me that always resulted in feeling lazy and lethargic. And hungry.
You’re not going to be healthy or lose weight if you’re too tired to get off the sofa.
So by simply changing the kinds of things you eat at the same time, you can give yourself a little more energy without doing too much of anything. And if you’re not too tired to get off the couch, maybe you go for a walk. You use the energy you would have used to digest incompatible foods to walk. You break even on the energy, except, oh look – you’ve accidentally exercised now.
It starts to snowball.
All of this coincided with my moving into my new place in the West Loop and there was no really good method of public transportation to get me to downtown to work. I could get pretty close, but there was still a lot of walking involved. I realized that I could get here just as fast by walking as I could a combination of walking to the bus stop… waiting… and waiting for a bus and then taking the bus the rest of the way.
So I started to walk the two miles each way. At first I couldn’t make it without taking a little few minute break about the middle of the walk. I was winded. But I think because of just doing it, and beginning to eat food that didn’t drain me of the energy I needed to walk, it got easier.
So here’s how I eat. This is what I do. If you read the book, even part of it, you’ll get the why of what I’m doing. If you don’t want to read it and just follow blindly, it might work for you anyway.
I have fruit in the morning. That’s it. No bread, no bagels, no donuts. Sometimes I have a little coffee to jump start. But I don’t use sugar or dairy. Maybe a little Agave Nectar to add a little sweetness, but the idea is that fruit is free energy. It doesn’t require any energy to digest. You’re basically starting the day by giving yourself a little boost without requiring your body to work for it. It’s a great way to start the day. Don’t muck it up by combining your morning fruit with something that is going to make your body work to digest it.
Yeah, I know. Fruit = boring. Here’s where you have to be a little creative. At first. Find fruit you like. You may have to try a few things. A lot of things maybe before you find a fruit you actually look forward to eating instead of it being something you’re sacrificing a bagel for. For me it was pineapple. I learned how to take a whole fresh pineapple complete with it’s spiky top and cut it up and… oh man… delicious! Sweet!
But even a good thing gets boring and besides that, pineapples are one of the more expensive fruits you can buy, so I mix it up with apples and bananas and oranges. Sometimes grapes. After a while, you actually start to crave your morning fruit. Your body knows what a great deal fruit is. Free energy.
OK… now the rest of the day.
Some people who want to be healthy say you’ve got to be a vegetarian. I think that works fine for many people, but I think you can still eat meat, poultry and fish if you choose, and still be healthy. Some people would say you can’t get protein and other essentials without it. But like anything else, you have to be smart about how you do it.
No one really teaches us how to eat. Eating becomes a series of habits. Some good and a lot bad.
Besides the idea of food combining, it’s good to think about the makeup of our bodies. We are mostly water. Lots of bones and stuff, but really, mostly water.
So when you look at your plate, ask yourself: Is what is on my plate similar to what I’m made of? If I throw it all in a blender, which is really kind of what your teeth and stomach are, am I going to end up with something that’s liquefied enough to pour into a glass, or am I going to end up with a thick paste that is going to make my body work harder to move it through?
Perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but again, not a bad place to start.
So after my fruit for breakfast, I don’t really have fruit the rest of the day because you lose the benefits of fruit if you eat it with other things. Sometimes I’ll eat a piece by itself as a snack later in the afternoon, or if I have a craving in the late evening before bed. Again, there’s information in the book as to exactly why, but you should always wait a half an hour between eating fruit and the next thing you put in your body.
Lunch. It is probably my biggest meal of the day. Not always, but most of the time it’s my biggest meal. If I’m going to have meat during the day, it’s usually here that I will have it on a salad. Or with steamed vegetables. Meat combines pretty well in your stomach with vegetables. What meat doesn’t combine well with is starchy foods like rice and potatoes. So yeah, meat and potatoes, not so good. It’s all in the book.
But most of the time, I try to only have vegetables for lunch. It just makes me feel better to work less at digesting throughout the rest of the day, if I’m putting things inside of me that are easier to digest than meat. Ever have a 3pm crash? You know where you hit a wall at 3pm and you go looking for something sweet to get you through the next few hours? That’s the real tangible result of being exhausted from digesting your lunch. You used up all your energy digesting and not getting the energy you should have from the food you couldn’t properly digest, and you’re drained.
For dinner, I got myself a nice but cheap metal vegetable steamer. I taught myself to shop for fresh vegetables every other day rather than shopping once a week or every two weeks for things that were frozen or in cans and boxes. So I would always have very fresh food to steam for dinner. I rotate what I eat. I love corn on the cob. String beans. Broccoli. Carrots.
Wait, I know… steamed vegetables sound pretty boring and tasteless. How do you make them taste good – more like the unhealthy foods I had been eating? You’ve got to start somewhere. I decided that even if I lathered butter all over the vegetables, it was still better for me than having a pizza for dinner. So I did. Sometimes I would use a third of a stick of butter every evening.
But it worked. Then I started to cut back on the butter and add things like garlic and onions and seasoning to the vegetables to give them flavor and ween me off so much butter. Same thing with salads. You like ranch dressing? Fine. Pour it on. Start there and after a few weeks or a month move to something a little more healthy. Your body will get used to it. I promise. It won’t feel like a diet if it tastes good. Do what you have to do to get started. Baby steps.
I should add here that while it seems I’m advocating “rabbit food,” I’m not saying anything about how much of it I’m eating. The good thing about eating fruits and vegetables is that I really feel like I eat as much as I want. And I never feel bloated. I feel completely full, but not bloated.
When I used to eat McDonald’s years ago, I remember feeling the grease coming back out of my pours on my face. I mean literally a few hours after I ate, I would have to wash my face because I felt the grease oozing back out of my pours. I never have that feeling when I eat fruit and vegetables.
I still eat meat a few times a week. Red meat, chicken. Lots of fish and seafood. But it’s a relatively small proportion of the food I eat.
I swear to you I don’t feel like I’m on a diet. I eat very well. Never hungry.
Now no one is perfect. The next thing about how I manage to do this is that I know I’m human. Sometimes I find myself jonesing for a tasty hot pizza. And you know what I do? I have a pizza. It’s like a pressure valve. If I constantly deny myself something I’m having a craving for, it will become an obsession. If I release the pressure once in a while, it’s easier to keep on a healthy track.
As Jillian Ann told me… and these are wise words… make this your mantra…
PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION.
It’s a good thing to remember in the non-eating parts of your life as well.
Then interesting things started to happen…
After I few months of eating better, I started to notice things. A cough I constantly had went away. I had it for years. I thought I would always have it. It’s gone.
I used to get a little burning in my throat a few times a week. That’s gone.
Without getting too graphic, I never feel backed up in my intestines anymore. Life is easy.
I don’t wake up in the morning starving to death because my body is exhausted from trying to digest a complex combination of food all night.
And yes. I have more energy.
So yes, when people ask me how I did it, the simple answer is that I eat right and exercise. I’m not on a diet. I like what I eat. I mix it up. I have a pizza or a hamburger only once in a while to keep things interesting and not feel like I’m depriving myself of something I have a taste for. If someone at the office has a birthday, I have a piece of cake. Not a little sliver of a diet-sized piece of cake, but a nice real sized piece of cake, dammit.
I don’t beat myself up about it. I enjoy it. And then I have fresh vegetables for dinner.
Everything in moderation, including moderation.
Stay off the scale. That will make you crazy. Go by how your clothes fit. Are your jeans suddenly a little looser? Hey, what do you know?! They are!
The holidays are coming up. Always harder to eat healthy. But that’s OK. Celebrate and live, but just try to make good choices when you can. I have managed to continue to lose weight during the winter and even through the holidays. Not as much as during the rest of the year, but really, anyone who even loses a pound or two during the holidays is doing something right.
So there it is. Take some of this or none of this. Like I said, what works for me, may not work for you. If some of it makes sense to you, take that and change what doesn’t make sense.
The main thing is that losing 10 or 25 for even 150 pounds isn’t going to happen overnight. But putting healthy food in your body is something you can start today. You can already be healthier in a week. Don’t worry about the pounds. That will follow automatically. Worry about being healthy first. Worry about doing what is necessary to make it easier for your body to do it’s job.
Decide you want to live. And then eat like you do.