Losing weight was simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing I have ever done.
It’s been an interesting two years, gastronomically speaking. I’ve been trying a ketogenic diet. I lost 50 pounds from my 2013 high and kept it off for a year. I’ve had some interesting observations and experiences that I never thought I’d have.
First, a preface with some back story.
When I turned 29 in 2014, I decided that I was not happy with my appearance, specifically my weight.
I’ve never considered myself unhealthy. Maybe “overweight” or, at my highest weight, “obese”, but I’ve never identified as either. Maybe I was in denial or maybe I was delusional. My weight hasn’t ever caused me health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure. It probably handicapped my dating prospects in middle school, but that was middle school. My weight was never an issue for my high school girlfriend and I didn’t really have problems with dating in college, either. I’m happily “basically married” to a beautiful girl who said and continues to say that she likes how I look.
So, this mission is about health more than anything else.
Maybe I just wanted a reason to reset my wardrobe. I’m not one to waste a good convenient moment. Maybe I wanted to look 30 and not 22, exchanging my standard issue geeky black T-shirts and hoodies from ThinkGeek, T-shirt Hell, 80s Tees, and whatnot for patterns, solids, and sweaters from Marshalls, Target, Express, H&M, or wherever else less-geeky people shop.
Maybe I’d spent too much time on /r/all, inspired by highly upvoted /r/progresspics or various other, less safe-for-work posts. Maybe I was subconsciously affected by the seemingly dozens of Facebook friends’ new fitness coach business that put me in a different mindset.
Maybe I was tired of wheezing when I was peer-pressured into taking the stairs at work. Maybe I was tired of wheezing when I climbed the stairs in my own house. Maybe I was tired of planning my trips up and down those stairs so I would minimize the amount of time I spent catching my breath.
Maybe I saw someone I’d not seen in years, and realized that they’d not changed a bit. Or they had. Or I had. Or I hadn’t. I had a stark realization during my 10 year high school reunion: no one had changed. Physically, at least, with pregnancy disregarded. We all looked 10 years older, surely. Of the 25% that showed up, none had changed. I confirmed my realization using none other than Facebook, which is quite an excellent tool to stay in touch with some folks and innocently creep on others.
A change would do you good, I thought.
I had tried to lose weight previously. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I left high school at approximately 230 pounds. I dropped to 220 during freshman year, attributable at first to the end of my high school relationship and at the end to being frustrated by a class that had me convinced that I needed to transfer if I failed. Through the next two years, I soared up to 245 before managing to get back down to 230 at the end of junior year through light dieting and exercising with my close friends.
I stayed around 230 through most of senior year, graduating around 225 and getting down to a distinctly memorable 217 on the day that I moved out of my college apartment in May 2007. The stress of that last semester was really rough socially. Although I was physically both looking and feeling the best that I had in years, I wasn’t the person that I wanted to be through most of 2007. I didn’t realize this until later.
I am, I am, I said, I’m not myself, but I’m not dead, and I’m not for sale.
When I moved out on my own, I was around 220 pounds. I starting dating again and put on some weight as I started to cook better and have less time for what little exercise I did. I took a job as a consultant and found myself traveling as much as 24 weeks in a year. Traveling like that puts a toll on the body when one lacks discipline, as I did. I tried an “eat-stop-eat diet” for a month sometime in 2012, eating for two days, then fasting for a day. It worked — I lost 15 pounds—but I was a model Snickers commercial character on the fasting days.
Midway through 2013, I was averaging 245 pound. I’d resolved to lose some weight ahead of the aforementioned 10 year high school reunion, and did manage to lose about 10 pounds through eating salads for lunch for a month. I put it all back on very quickly. I hit 250 pounds at one point during the 2013 holiday season.
Something tripped in my head at some point in early 2014. Quantum interference? A slowly flipped bit? I don’t know. It was time.
I’d been tracking my weight for a couple of years with Libra. I was given a Fitbit One as a part of an employee health incentive by my employer in February 2014 and switch to the (lackluster) weight tracking feature of its Android app. It says I was 235.2 on March 2, 2014.
I didn’t take any progress pictures during this diet, except for belt pictures. I wanted the physical changes to be reflected by people and by life. I wanted to see someone I’d not seen in years, and them notice a difference. My parents hadn’t seen me for two months after I started actively dieting, by which time I’d lost approximately 20 pounds. I wanted to observe my own progress in retrospect through pictures of me enjoying life.
Now, two years later, I am regularly told “Wow! You’re looking good! You’ve lost so much weight!” Sometimes, I see people who I’ve not seen in six months and they say the same, even though I’ve stayed within five pounds of 202 pounds for all of 2015. I’ve averaged under 200 for almost all of 2016 thus far.
A feature of keto seems to be period of rapid weight loss as the body diminishes its water retention. Another feature of keto is the dreaded “keto flu”, a period of feeling pretty crappy as the body “switches” from being carbohydrate-fueled to fat-fueled. This flu comes back in small, much more tolerable bouts when one binges on carbs for a day or two. One particularly high carb day can be dangerous, though: diabetic shock can be deadly in severe cases. I unintentionally tested my limit more times than I would have liked, but my suffering wasn’t without reward of a few extra pounds lost in a weekend. This was probably not healthy, physically or mentally, and I realize that now, however.
I didn’t tell anyone that I was “dieting” until I’d already lost about 10 pounds. It helped that I was doing my last bit of consultant traveling at that time, before switching to a much desired engineering role.
If I recall correctly, Brigette, my long-time girlfriend, noticed and asked me about after those couple of weeks. That’s when I clued her in on my intended diet. I didn’t really understand all the reasons for dieting until I started writing this post in September 2014. I got her into it too, albeit at a much less aggressive daily carbohydrate limit than myself.
I don’t exactly remember when I let it slip at work, but within a week I went from the quiet dieter to the “OMG COLIN SHUT THE HELL UP” dieter. Bitcoin or keto. To mention one of those was to open Pandora’s box; either started a conversation that could only be escaped by someone scurrying off to a meeting.
Keto dieters are much more lifestyle dieters than “I’m on a diet” dieters. Short term losses are common due to its aggressiveness in the early stages, then progress slows and the loss becomes a long tail.
I’d always thought I was already eating healthy. I was not a pop drinker, nor did I feast on sweets, chips, or other stereotypical “fat kid” foods. I loathed Twinkies and Slurpees, primarily because of their connotation in our culture at the time.
I was addicted to orange juice, up to two gallons per week. I was addicted to pasta and rice, which I ate one or the other for just about every meal. You know, the things an energetic soccer player needs when they’re growing up. I haven’t played soccer in 12 years.
I needed a lifestyle change if I was going to eliminate as much of my standard carbohydrate intake as possible. Brigette’s buy-in facilitated this.
Meat. Vegetables. A few select fruits. Eggs galore. These are a keto dieter’s staples.
Bread. Pasta. Rice. Beer. Most other fruits. Nutella. These are a keto dieter’s kryponite.
Keto isn’t exactly cheap, because of the focus on fresh stuff. The big way people save money is by exploring preparations and effective use of spices and herbs to change flavor of potentially lower quality meats. Cooking sous vide has changed how we prepare meat, so I really don’t mind eating steak or chicken two or three nights a week. Salads with meat have also become common place, especially shrimp diablo. Brigette is really good at finding interesting and tasty things, and even my parents and chef uncle try to find new things to gracious accommodate me.
My first real test of my new form was at the end of September 2014, when I attended an alumni networking event at my collegiate alma mater. I enlisted a friend to help me buy some dress clothes at my new Men’s Large shirt and 32" x 32" pants size, down from barely fitting into XL and 38" waist pants.
I wasn’t really a bow tie guy. Ever.
This was the first time I’d bought dress clothes since I started going to CES (2008!) and doing consulting (2009!). This was an opportunity for me to change how I saw myself, and thus how I presented myself to the world.
Purple shirt. Gray pants. Teal bowtie. Checkered socks to match. Cloth belt. New haircut. Trimmed beard. It was my public debut as “skinny Colin”, who’d lost nearly 30 pounds since the previous alumni event in the series.
I felt great. I thought I looked great. I finally looked healthy. I weighed approximately 205 pounds at that point. I wasn’t done yet.
I continued the diet. In November 2014, I flirted with 200, getting down to 203.2 pounds just before Thanksgiving. Spending that holiday with family drove my weight up, even though they were incredibly gracious and thoughtful in their attempts to work within my diet.
Every time I’ve gotten a raise for the last several years, I’d tell my consulting boss that I was going to finally join the local JCC, which is next door to our office. It features primarily to me a state-of-the-art exercise facility. In December 2014, I joined, committing for a year. I set out to spend a good chunk of my three week holiday vacation there.
I did: I worked out at least three times per week in December. This is the most physical exercise I’d had since that semester during my junior year when I lost a bunch of weight.
It wasn’t a big change, but it was the last little kick I needed to reach my goal of 200 pounds.
The real last kick was a really bad final weekend of 2014. Something happened within an organization to which I contribute occasionally. I found myself without energy to do anything, including organizing my annual New Year’s Eve party. I barely slept or ate for a week. The details of the event aren’t pertinent, only that it required my full attention for a week that I was supposed to be vacationing, at least in the eyes of my employer.
I awoke on January 2, 2015 with the knowledge that “today might be the day.” The morning of the first day of 2015, I’d been just over 200 pounds.
It didn’t last long. I was shortly back to work and eating normally. I trended upwards for a week or two, averaging around 201 pounds. I’d kissed the goal, and thereby met it, but I wanted that weekly average goal.
It happened the week prior to January 25, with an average of 199.4 pounds. That was an even worse week than the week of New Year’s, with a few concurrent 24/7 support issues demanding my attention as tech lead of my development team. Six consecutive 16 hour days took its toll on me. I worked from home that entire time, so that I would not be distracted. I barely ate, and have Brigette to thank for what little time I did spend eating incredibly tasty and healthy keto meals.
With that behind me, I crept back over 200, but only for a few days. February came and I stayed under 200 for almost the entire month.
It took until January 2016 to get back under 200 for a whole month. So far in 2016, I’ve not seen a weekly average over 200 pounds.
My wardrobe has gotten a lot better. Things fit better and I’m wearing larges most of the time instead of extra larges. People who’ve known me for a long time comment about the change from time to time. It’s a great confidence booster when I’m having a crappy day. Trying on old clothes is another booster.
These days, I generally go for size L shirts and 32 inch waists. I’m actually a 31, but most pants that size don’t fit my calves.
As of March 12, 2015, one year after I decided to start actively losing weight, I was 200 pounds. As of March 12, 2016, I am 198 pounds. I achieved my goal of losing weight and keeping it off. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it felt so easy. Integration of the diet into my life was easy. Developing discipline was hard.
I had excellent support from:
- my girlfriend, Brigette,
- a few friends whose weight loss inspired me to keep going,
- Dave Weber, who introduced me to keto,
- /r/keto and /r/ketorecipes
- Fitbit, with a shout to IBM for having a decent employee fitness program that provided the Fitbit One device
- JCC Pittsburgh, for being incredibly welcoming to the guy who has no idea what any machine does
I go to the JCC at least once a week, generally three if my schedule allows it. You can generally find me on the ellipticals or bicycles, watching Farscape or some other sci-fi show. You can dress up the geek, but you can’t change their taste in television.
So, what now? It’s taken me nearly 18 months to write this post!
At 200 pounds, I don’t quite look like how I thought I would at 200 pounds. I still have some work to do. I will continue my keto diet and regular exercise, with my strategy having been validated at a physician checkup. Even if I decide to go back to a regular diet, keto has changed me forever. I don’t crave pasta, rice, or orange juice anymore — those were my three diet staples. I’ve found alternative preparations and full replacements with even tastier options than what I’d previously contrived.
I’ll admit that I’m not the most conscientious keto follower: any of my coworkers can rat me out for violations here and there. I’ll take that over eating carbs with wanton abandon, and I’m honestly getting better at not snacking on even low carb things during the day.
My new goal weight is 185, but it doesn’t really matter. My goal is to be healthy and be confident and happy with how I look, and for Brigette and my parents — the three people who matter most to me — to be proud of me.