Weight Loss = Hard Work

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s not easy being lean. I’m thinking it is unlikely I will ever be lean again.

Something happened to me over the years. I think I ate too much and didn’t exercise enough. I joined the majority of Americans who are overweight or obese. I didn’t intend it to be that way, of course; it just sort of snuck up on me.

I first discovered that I could gain weight in my early 20s. A couple times a week I bought milk at the local High’s store in downtown Gaithersburg, Maryland. The Entemann’s pastries were right there and they sure tasted good. So I’d bring one home. And one day I weighed myself and was shocked to find I had put on some weight. I exited my teenage years a healthy 180 pounds (I am 6’2″). And suddenly I was 200 pounds.

Solution: eat less and exercise more. Basically I wasn’t exercising. I never got in the habit. So I took up running, starting with mile runs around the local high school track and working up to mile and a half runs four to six times a week. I was really out of shape and it took a long time before I could run and not feel winded. But I did lose weight and got back to 185 pounds or so, and I was more careful about what I was eating. Mostly though I was more concerned about exercising more than eating less.

And for more than 20 years I have been running and exercising regularly. So why am I not a skinny thing?

Those of you have met me would probably not call me overweight or obese. And yet technically I am. I should not get above 190 pounds, and I’m probably somewhere around 195 pounds. And I’m having a hell of a time staying where I’m at. It’s been hard work. It continues to be hard work. It’s a continual war I fight with myself. Emotionally I want the satisfaction of those lovely high fat foods. But my forebrain says I don’t want to in my 50s and having coronary artery disease. Every day is another skirmish with the Mr. Hyde lurking inside of me.

Back in 2001 I hit a new high: I was at 223. Bill Clinton and I had something in common. I had been overweight for years and years and though I still exercised I must have been packing on the calories. But I figured I was still running and thus healthy.

To some extent I think my overeating was facilitated by the excellent and cheap lunches conveniently available at the Ford House Office Building cafeteria. Those steak and cheese subs were hard to resist, and I would often throw on a chocolate chip muffin for dessert. I rationalized it by having a light dinner. It didn’t help that my personal life was in a great deal of stress in the late 90s. Eating became one of the few pleasurable things in life. It was agony to pass a Dunkins and not grab a donut or two.

Nonetheless I lost the weight at least twice before. In the early 90s I got to around 205 and brought myself down to 190, mostly through a lot more exercise. But then slowly, incrementally, the weight came back on.

It took me years to summon the energy to do anything serious again about weight loss. But my joints were beginning to notice the effects of my weight. My knees were hurting and the tendons in my foot were often inflamed. But one day, perhaps as a result of being on antidepressants, I suddenly had the will again.

Like most dieters I looked for a recipe for weight loss. For a while diet and exercise worked fine. I was losing a pound a week by eating salads for lunch and a bowl of cereal for breakfast, plus putting in a lot of time on the elliptical machines at the health club at work. I got below 200 and felt like cheering. And then I stopped losing weight. For weeks I hoped things would improve and I didn’t change strategies. I continued eating sensibly, and I still peddled the metal machines hard and burned off those calories. What the hell was going on?

I stumbled on the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet and tried that. Carbohydrates, according to the book, can be evil because they boost blood sugar and make you hungry for more food. So eggs or Egg Beaters for breakfast, a lean salad for lunch, and a modest (sometimes more than modest) dinner with carbs in my “reward meal”.

It worked, sort of. I lost maybe half a pound a week. But it was tough. I weighed myself every day to a tenth of a pound. I kept meticulous records. And I did it. I got to 190. One day I weighed myself and I was 188.8.

It’s been all up since then. My goal was to get to 180, the weight I had when I was married. But it wouldn’t work. This diet wasn’t working anymore.

My pal Lisa told me about her trainer Jason and his emphasis on building muscle mass. I went to see him and tried that approach for a while. But … I hovered between 190 and 195. Using all those weight machines helped I am sure, and maybe I have become more lean. I just wasn’t losing weight.

I finally went to see my doctor. What was going on? Why couldn’t I lose more weight? He didn’t have an answer but when he did say that where I was at, 195, was on the high but acceptable level. Maybe that’s where my body wants me to be because it is the right weight for me now.

So I’ve been maintaining it through a LOT of exercise and a LOT of modest eating. I’d like to lose more but I don’t know how.

Oh wait, I do know how. I’m sure I could do it. But it’s a question of how much pain I want to endure. I could increase aerobics to maybe 60 minutes at a time. But in the process I have to give up something: more time. And that’s the crux of the matter at the moment. Time is a limited quantity. I am fortunate I can exercise at work; it would be much tougher to do it in the evenings with all the distractions going on then. My days start at 5:20 and it is over 12 hours later before I stagger home.

What am I doing now? I exercise, with aerobics, 4-6 times a week. Most of the time I am on the elliptical machine, but I still run periodically. Every other day at the health club I add on weight training. In a week I can go through pretty much every machine they have. I do weight levels that would astound most people. I leg press 150 pounds, for example, and I do 125 pounds on abdominal machine.

Eating? A bowl of cereal for breakfast (all those eggs worried me), and usually something fairly lean but tasty for lunch. I like the broccoli and beef down in our cafeteria: a small portion, no rice. And for my midday treat, one or two Special K treats (90 calories each). Then a fairly large, but not obscene dinner.

All this diet and exercise though and here I am: 195.

Yes, I am sure my evening meals could be better. But they are not obscene calorie fests, and they usually start with a big salad.

On weekends my strategy is two meals a day: a large breakfast and a medium to large dinner. If I get hungry I’ll have a slice or two of cheese. I work out at least one day on the weekend too.

It’s something about being middle aged, I think. It doesn’t help that I sit at a desk most of the day, but the midday break at the health club burns a lot of calories. I am sure I could add more exercise on weekends: bike trips, walks etc. Mostly I just do the standard routine.

The good news is that my weight is stable and while technically overweight I am just barely overweight. Still, it’s discouraging. It’s quite a bit of work for me just to maintain my present weight. I must burn calories much more efficiently now. My health is excellent: I pass physicals with flying colors.

But if I set a goal why can’t I make it? It is discouraging. I watch what I eat very carefully now. Some days I do really good, some days I feast more than I should, but I am conscious of every mouthful and the consequences. If I eat more than I should one day I usually eat less the next day.

I’m lucky I have something that works, and I am glad I got rid of the gut and my love handles are largely gone. But I don’t understand why my body won’t let me be lean again.

What strategies have you used that have worked, particularly in the long term, at keeping weight off?

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