Almost a decade ago, I weighed 50 pounds more than I do today. I knew I did not feel comfortable at that weight, but everyone told me I looked healthy. Hence, I was not too concerned. The day that changed that was the day a nutrition expert came to our church to give a talk. After the talk, she used her fancy gadget to measure my body fat percent. I was about 20% fat. Then I did the math. 20 % of 210 pounds is 42 pounds. I had 42 pounds of fat. Have you ever seen what 5 pounds of fat looks like? Here is a picture. Each of the hosts are holding 5 pounds of fat. I was carrying more than 8 of those blobs on my body!
This info was too much for me. Something had to be done. I did a little exercise now and then. I would run 3 miles every week or two. I would jump on the trampoline with my kids. I knew however that you exercising is not the most effective way to lose weight. It can be done, but you have to be willing to make the increase in exercise be a permanent one. Besides, research shows that changing your diet is more effective than changing your exercise for successful, permanent weight loss.
If you want to lose weight, exercise is not the right place to start.
Your diet has a much larger impact on your weight than your exercise.
Lifestyle Change 1: Changing How Much I Ate
I knew that I had to change my diet. I had watched many people failing at dieting in the past. The thing that most of them had in common was that they made changes that were too drastic to be able to maintain. I decided that I would start out by only changing one variable: how much I ate. I decided NOT to change what I ate, figuring that I could change that after this part had worked. Hence, I did not stop eating fast foods and the other things that dieticians disdain. No, I just cut back on my calories for the day.
I did not starve myself. I know that that cues the body to store fat, which is the opposite of my goal. I set up a little spreadsheet with and schedule of how many calories to eat during each part of the day. I did not cut out nay meals or snacks, just consumed fewer calories at each stage throughout the day than before. I was also determined to not deprive myself of my ice cream. I saved an allotted number of calories for the ice cream that I always had in the evening. I did not have as much as before, but I had some.
No depriving. No skipping meals. I merely cut back about 300 calories a day for several months. I lost 20 pounds through this method and it never came back. It was a lifestyle change.
Lifestyle Change 2: Regular Running
I had leveled off at around 190 pounds and maintained that weight +/- 5 pounds for several years. The second stage of weight loss occurred when I started running again. I had taken about 24 years off of regular running, so any increase in mileage would make a difference. I went from maybe 3 miles a week to around 25 miles per week. Over the next several months, I gradually lost weight until I leveled off at around 180 pounds. I was thirty pounds lighter after these two lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle Change 3: Changing What I ate
The third lifestyle change was not my choice. I was sick for 6 months and eventually we guessed the problem: gluten intolerance. The transition to gluten-free living was quite difficult. I had to give up real bread (gluten-free bread is NOT the same). Especially at the beginning stages, my GI system was quite frail. I had to eat simple whole foods as much as possible. I had to avoid red meat for a few months. I still do not each it very often. I gave up all dairy products for the first few months too. My diet revolved mostly around plant-based foods: legumes, fruits, & veggies. During this time, I ended up losing about 20 more pounds and leveled out at about 160 pounds. Although I have added some foods back in, I maintained most of the changes in what I eat. as a result, I remain leveled off at 160 pounds +/5 pounds.
So there you have it.
- Exercise accounts for only about 20% of my permanent weight loss.
- Changes in how much I eat account for 40% of my weight loss.
- Changes in which foods I choose to eat account for 40% of my weight loss.
None of these changes were exercises in starvation. None of these changes were radical shifts in how much I worked out. They were relatively mild. My weight loss journey took several years.
Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run!