Diet? I Hardly Even Know It.

A lot of people know about this already and I’ve even written about it on the blog recently…but I wanted to dedicate a post to writing about my diet. So this is that.

In July I weighed over 240 pounds. I don’t know how much more. Nobody weighs themselves at their heaviest. But I was north of 240, based on when I know I started losing weight, how much weight I’ve been losing on average in a day, and doing the math backwards. Let’s say 245. It seems fair. At the time of writing I’m in the 175 range. Let’s call that 70 pounds. That seems fair, too. Because that’s what 245 minus 175 is…

I’d wanted to lose weight for at least 3 years. Longer for sure. I got fat in and after college, like everybody else. When I was a kid/teenager I was rail-thin. Until my 20s I checked in around 125-150. If anything a little LIGHT for my height (I’m 5’9″). Then came the overeating, the stress eating, and a whole lot of sitting down all day long. And I got fat, eventually to the point that I decided I needed to do something about it. It took too long to start–it always does. I knew I HAD to do something when I saw the scale cross 225. Hell, I knew I SHOULD the first time I learned I was over 200. But laziness, salt, fat, and sugar are all dangerous drugs, especially when you combine them in the same cocktail everyday–you’re probably doing it now and some ad-wizard told you it’s one of your three squares you “need.” So it took until three years ago. That’s when I started looking at exercise bikes and asking questions of coworkers who’d recently lost weight. Yet I still didn’t pull the trigger when I first “wanted” to. Basically, I wanted to lose weight, but like everybody else in the country I didn’t want to do the work. Naturally.

So what broke the camel’s back? Because it wasn’t when I found myself going to concerts and saying, “I’d like a XXL” to the t-shirt vendor. And it wasn’t when I sat down in a theatre, complained that the seats were tighter than I remembered them being from past events and a good friend pointed out that it wasn’t the seats that had shrunk. (People think they have the shitty right to do that just because they know you.) It wasn’t that I’d gone up a size in BELTS. It was that in May I needed to buy some new jeans and khakis and I walked into three department stores and was unable to find my size of waist in any of them, in any color. Stores no longer stocked the size of pants I wore. That was devastating.

It also doesn’t make much sense, as a sidebar. I think we can agree that as a country the USA is the fattest it’s ever been, overall. Everybody you know is overweight at least by a little, and most of us by a LOT. And yet the current fashion is skinny jeans, tight fits, and slim waists. In an age where it’s not even healthy to eat vegan anymore since they figured out how to make vegan hamburgers, the stores aren’t selling pants that fit anyone (although XXL shirts are pretty easy to find). So I don’t know that it should have been a major wake-up call that they weren’t selling pants to fit ME…but nevertheless it was the thing I needed to see.

The first time you HAVE to special order pants online should change you, I think… It should make you realize the same thing I did. And that thing is still hard to think about. It’s not that I wasn’t skinny like a teenager anymore. It wasn’t that I wasn’t my college weight. It wasn’t that I wasn’t the same weight I was when I started at my present day-job anymore. It wasn’t even realizing that I was (and still kind of am) fat. It was realizing that I WASN’T fat. I was obese. And that’s a very different word from “fat.” Obese has “fat” in it, sure… But once you’re obese, you’ve got hard work to do just to get down to “fat.”

Even after that, it took a couple of months. Food is just too present and too tempting to avoid if you’re not consciously working at it. Even when you really WANT to eat better, people are throwing food in your face. Next time you’re driving to work, count how many ads and signs for food you encounter. Maybe it’s the sign for a restaurant, or maybe it’s a billboard, or maybe it’s a radio ad, or maybe it’s the wrapper of the McFuckyou you bought on your way. If you keep an accurate count, you’ll hit triple-digits in no time. Trust me. I actually counted. (“Well, but they HAVE TO have a sign on the restaurant don’t they?” Of course…that’s not the point. Shut up.)

And that’s just the drive to work. Don’t even try to keep track of the people in your life actually trying to push food on you. The coworker who brings in the box of donuts. The friend who wants to “grab a burger” as an excuse to spend time together. (Although most of them really just want the burger and you’re their means to an end–don’t think otherwise.) The “business lunch” meeting where neither of you says a word about business. The family member who insists that you get seconds or have pie because it’s Thanksgiving. The neighbor who gave you Christmas cookies. The uncle that gives you a candy cane.

Everyone WANTS you to eat. You have to want to stop pretty badly to pull it off. And even then, you’re going to fail. You’re going to be out late and pressed for time and someone will stop at Wendy’s and you’ll eat the Dave’s Doublefuckyou and you’ll wonder why you put on a half-pound overnight when “all I had was the burger, I didn’t even eat the fries” (because Wendy’s fries suck). You didn’t have a burger. You had processed fat, salt, oil, and sugar–and I don’t care if Wendy herself swears it on a stack of Bibles, that shit was frozen for a month before it hit the wrapper, guaranteed and most of it wasn’t even MEAT. (Even if I’m wrong and it really is “fresh, never frozen” everything else I said about it is Gospel.)

Additional sidebar — Wendy’s “funny” social media presence that picks on people who tell the truth about them is a disgrace. Dave Thomas was a good man and he would be ashamed of what the company has become.

Anyway…

It’s hard to escape food. Here’s how I’ve done it…

I had to change EVERYTHING about how I eat. I can’t do “portion control.” That’s bullshit. And if you’ve ever tried it, you know I’m right. You’ll eat the entire fucking ham. You will. Don’t lie to yourself. Portion control is for people who don’t want to change and just want to make conversation. I knew that was a losing arrangement. Portion control was out.

I also haven’t exercised. Not at all. I’ve remained active. I’ve kept my same routine. But I did not add even so much as a sit-up. Exercise is bullshit when it comes to weight loss too. It’s good for BODYBUILDING. And exercise is a very healthy thing to do–once I get down to my goal weight I will start a routine. But exercise has nothing to do with weight loss and in many cases it’s a hindrance. Muscle legitimately DOES weigh more than fat. And when you’re working out you’re burning a TON of calories and carbs and…other shit I don’t know about because I’m not a nutritionist…and you’re going to end up eating (or drinking) things to supplement that. So you’re going to hit the gym then be shocked that you’re not losing anything…because your diet matters more than how much you bench. I bench 0 and I’ve lost 70 pounds. Diet is for weight loss. Exercise is for muscle building. Exercise is important too…but it won’t make you skinny. It just won’t. I knew that wasn’t the right route to take.

I was hitting fast food or the microwave every day. None of that is good for you. And I knew it and so do you. Even when I’d “cook” 99% of my food came out of a can or with microwave instructions on the back of a cardboard box with shrink-wrap over the entree. Not good. Maybe some of it was okay in moderation. But it wasn’t meant to be a lifestyle…and it’s all any of us eat. Now…I’m sure there’s a way to do that and be somewhat healthy. I’m sure there’s a way to do that and be thin, too…but in my case, that shit had to GO. So did the chips, the pretzels, the salsas, the candy, the SODA… In fact, fuck snacking in general. I don’t SNACK anymore. I eat when I need to eat. Snacking is just another word for “I don’t know what to do when I’m not eating.” It serves no purpose. It doesn’t help.

So the snacking stopped. The refrigerator got cleared out. Pretty much if it had microwave directions, it went in the trash. There wasn’t much left. I had to eat something other than what I was eating before…and this is where Penn Jillette enters my story.

As readers of the blog will know, I recently went through some bad stuff personally. I won’t go into all that…but it factors in here. It was a time bad enough that I didn’t really WANT to eat much, so I was somewhat on a “depression diet” anyway toward the middle of August. And in the midst of that I was avoiding a LOT of things I normally like. Because I didn’t want to associate stuff I liked with a bad time in my life. So I wasn’t eating as much (though it was still TOO much) and I wasn’t really listening to music or watching TV. I got pretty bored, as you can imagine, so I started looking for things that were just a little outside of my usual rhythm to entertain myself. So I went to YouTube and started watching magicians.

I’ve always liked magic, but it’s never been something I’ve actively gone out of my way to watch. I’m not even sure what made me start watching it on YouTube–probably an ad for Fool Us or something. Nevertheless. one of my favorite magic teams has always been Penn & Teller, so I was gravitating to their stuff online. And I started to notice that in recent years, Penn has lost a TON of weight. He looks great. I wondered about the how/why and started researching his weight loss. Long-story-short, he had a bad blood pressure problem and needed to lose 100 pounds. So he did it. And he has been very open about what he did both in interviews and in his book “Presto.” I watched the former and bought the latter and applied what worked for me… This is probably the only time I’ll ever say it, and I don’t recommend it to anyone else…but in a lot of ways the “depression diet” was helpful. I’d already started eating differently by volume. So when I came out of that stage, it was easy to just change WHAT I ate.

From here out, I might sound a little crazy. It’s okay. Change always sounds crazy. Somebody doing something you’re not doing always sounds nuts…and in this case it’s also stuff you might not even *consider* doing. At least, not until stores don’t have your size of pants anymore… To that end, please bear in mind that Penn Jillette is always careful to warn people that he is not a nutritionist, he’s a Vegas magician. And I’ve heard him indemnify himself by saying a few dozen times, “If you take health advice from a Vegas magician, you are an asshole who deserves to die.” Well…that makes me an asshole who deserves to die. And if YOU take health advice from an asshole who deserves to die, then you deserve to be reincarnated as a member of the Trump family (probably Eric). Okay? Let me state clearly that you should consult your physician before making any changes. I’m not telling you to do what I did. I’m just telling you what I did.

Now here’s how you can do what I did.

After exploring Penn’s diet in which he basically started by eating nothing but potatoes (with nothing on them–not even oil or salt on the skin) for two weeks then went to a low-calorie vegetarian/vegan plan I decided to give a similar plan a shot. It’s not identical. There are parts of Penn’s plan that wouldn’t work for me…but at the core, there are some parts that I thought were really great. And not just because I happen to really like potatoes…

My diet now is mostly composed of whole plants. And by “whole plants” I don’t mean I eat an entire geranium every meal. I mean that my food is made up of ACTUAL PLANTS (Vegetables) bought in a produce department that look like they looked when they were pulled out of the ground. Not canned, not processed, not dipped in butter. Spinach, potatoes, mushrooms, corn, brussel sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots…  PLANTS. And fruits. And grains like rice and beans–red beans and rice has become a favorite lately. Things like that. Red meat and chicken VERY RARELY make it into my diet (more on that in a moment). Still no snacking–not even using vegetables. And I’ve limited myself to what is called a “fed window,” which means there are only certain times during the day during which I can eat. In other words, I only eat about once a day between the hours of 5-9 pm. And instead of soda, I drink water–as much as I want with no ill effects! If I’m feeling adventurous I’ll have some milk, too, just for the Vitamin D.

Crazy, right? Again. I’ve lost 70 pounds. Crazy fucking WORKS.

And I don’t feel bad. I’m not constantly hungry. My stomach growls once in a while, but it did that when I was eating non-stop too. (It’s almost like that’s not a sign of starvation.) I’m not lightheaded, I’m not any crankier than usual, I’m not weak from lack of food, I’m not going through ketosis (Keto diets are a scam), I’m not overly tired…  None of the questions you have apply. I changed to a diet that is actively helping me lose weight, and it’s not killing me, like you’re afraid that it would if you did it.

Everything about how you eat is a habit, and most of those habits were born from marketing, and marketing is always always always a scam. Why do you eat three meals a day? Because somebody (probably your parents–and THEY’RE super on the ball, right?) told you you needed to in order to be healthy. In a country where everybody is fat and unhealthy.

Why do you get hungry before meal times? Because you’ve trained your body to expect food around those times. And those times weren’t even established by YOU, they were established by someone else. The entire world shuts down at noon because it agreed to be “lunchtime.” And yet you want to NOT be fat like everybody else? If you want to be different, you need to behave–stay with me–DIFFERENTLY.

Why do you eat so much meat? For the protein, right? Because the beef counsel convinced everybody it’s the only way to get protein? As though there’s no protein in plants? As though the animals you’re eating aren’t eating the plants and getting THEIR protein from them? Almost every vegetable you pick up is full of protein. Maybe DIFFERENT protein. But protein. Your body knows what to do with it. The only thing really lacking from a vegetarian/vegan diet is Vitamin B, and if worse comes to worse you can take a supplement. Personally I’m too lazy for that so I’ll put some chicken in a salad or have some beef in a burrito once in a while…but hey, that’s me.

The point is, there are a LOT of food practices you have not because you NEED them, but because you’ve just always DONE them. I set out to break as many of those habits as I could. You’re talking to a guy who stopped drinking for five years just because he thought he might SOMEDAY develop a problem that he didn’t have at the time. Habits are stupid and I try to avoid them. I fail at it a lot. But isn’t the journey the reward? So yeah…no junk food, no soda, no frying in fat and grease, no donuts, no candy canes, etc…

Except for when I decide to have that stuff. Because this program (or should I say “lifestyle?”) has “Rare and Appropriate” days as a part of it.

You know how most people on diets will at some point suck the will to live out of you a little bit by having a piece of cake and then saying, “I’m being BAD because this is my CHEAT DAY!!!!!!” and then they laugh like they just heard Carlin’s 7-words bit for the first time? Those people suck. Cheating sucks. We’ve agreed on that, right? You cheat on your wife, she divorces your ass. You cheat on your taxes, they fine or imprison your ass. You cheat on your diet, you add 5 pounds to your ass. Cheating is bullshit. I don’t cheat.

I have days AS PART OF MY PROGRAM where I’m allowed to have food that is more decadent. Days that are RARE–about once every 4-6 weeks–and in circumstances where it would be APPROPRIATE to indulge. So…not every Saturday just because “it’s the weekend so I’m being SO BAD aren’tIafuckingrebel?” But once in a while. When it’s Christmas and someone worked their ass off on preparing a full meal then invited you over. It’s not only appropriate to make a full plate, it would be INAPPROPRIATE not to. Or if you’re at the movies and your kid wants to split a bag of popcorn and it’s been a few weeks of potatoes and salads, EAT THE FUCKING POPCORN. Then eat right the other 40-60 days. Go nuts at a buffet. Once. Eat a whole donut (fuck people who cut them in half and leave them in the box, by the way) and dunk the bastard in chocolate and coffee. One time this month. You’re not cheating if you’re allowed to do it. No one’s going to divorce you, fine you, put you in prison, or do anything to your ass. Unless you ask nicely and we’re all clear on consent.

Otherwise…eat stuff that’s good for you. And look forward to the days where you can’t. Your cravings for the bad shit shift so much anyway, by the time you get to a Rare & Appropriate day you might find yourself thinking, “Eh…a baked potato and a salad will be fine.” Seriously. In the past I’ve gone through days that included thinking that on my way home I might stop and pick up either a pizza, hot wings, a burger, a burrito, or fried fish, or one of EACH; my tastes changed that rapidly throughout a work day. Now, yeah sometimes I want that stuff…but more often I find myself thinking, “What would be good in my baked potato tonight?” (Last night I had a baked potato with habanero hummus, mushrooms, and sweet peppers–it was aces! Don’t overlook the value and flavor of a good mushroom or pepper, man.) You’d be surprised how quick you’d be to settle into the new foods.

I’m sure it helped that I’ve always liked vegetables. It’s probably a bigger struggle if you don’t. But I’m happy making a meal out of broccoli and cauliflower. There’s a company that sells bags of broccoli, cauliflower, and baby carrots at my grocery store. And you take that bag, throw it in the microwave (I’ve recently discovered that real vegetables are fine to put in the microwave!) for about 4 minutes and you’ve got a full bag of steamed veggies that’s flavorful and good for you. I’ve never been able to eat a full bag, yet it’s like 100 calories and I’ve typically lost weight in the morning. Vegetables are filling and also tasty. And you’re an adult. Stop pretending you’re five and they’re a problem. And by the way–vegetables are cheaper than pizza rolls. I’ve cut my grocery bill in HALF doing this.

Most of the time, my diet hasn’t been a major challenge. I wake up most mornings having lost weight. Usually ounces, not pounds…but on average I’m losing 2-3 pounds in a week. And that’s pretty damn good. But if I’m honest there are times it’s difficult.

I come from a fast food family. I don’t think any of us would state otherwise. So when I get together with my brother on Friday night and neither of us has eaten yet (in his case dinner, in my case I’ve not eaten all day) we’ll often stop someplace with a drive-thru. Although in recent days, Dave has been trying to eat a little healthier too, so we’ve had a lot of soup and salad at places like McAllister’s or Bread Co (Panera). But even then, those places still use fatty meats and a lot of salty, sugary crap to cover up the fatty meat. That can be a struggle.

Or my Dad and I have dinner together every Sunday night. And sometimes that’s not easy. Dad’s not on a diet. In fact after his recent health concerns if anything he needed to put a few pounds ON. Neither of us is cooking, and frankly the stuff I cook on my diet probably wouldn’t be to Dad’s taste. So more often than is rare or appropriate I’ve had fast food. I gained a full pound and a half the night we got Chinese food and I only ate a half portion of what I would’ve normally eaten from there in the past.

And Christmas? Fuck me. Between the ham and turkey and other things that have been around this is the first week in four months that I’ve ended HEAVIER than I was when I started it. Which was very soul crushing and made me want to just give up. The 70 pounds gone suddenly didn’t feel like an accomplishment when I put two back on. (People who don’t diet will never understand that.) But instead of giving up, I’ve put out a notice on social media (so you KNOW I mean it) that no one is to offer me any food that is not a whole plant that I prepared for myself. (Although today I’m having rice and beans because it’s what I had available…but same principle. I know the calorie count.) I don’t know what that means for dinner with Dad on Sunday…but maybe McAllister’s can give me JUST a potato with no salt or oil or so on…or maybe I can bring one from home, like an idiot.

Sometimes when you diet you have to do shit that makes you look like an idiot to keep it going. Everybody else in the world wants you do have a “rare and appropriate” day every time they see you. That’s the hardest part. It’s easy when you just go home and fend for yourself. Social eating? That’s what really kills you. And it sucks to turn it down sometimes. Because it’s MY diet and it shouldn’t be anybody else’s problem. And even though saying, “I’m on a diet and I can’t eat that” SHOULDN’T hurt anyone’s feelings, it does–which is more about them than you, but it still sucks. It just sucks.

But…in general, the diet has gone very well and I think will continue to do so. I’m not too far away from my goal weight now. Although my goal weight has already changed a little because I thought I’d be happy at a certain number, but there was still a gut there (and also I’d miscalculated based on my height–whoops) so I moved it down a little. If I hit the next goal and there’s still a gut it might get moved again. But I’m hoping to wrap this thing up before St. Patrick’s Day, anyway. Probably much sooner. I’m really not far away.

Then comes the tricky part. Staying thin for the rest of my life.

Honestly the thing I’m most worried about is eating too LITTLE once I hit my goal. It’s easy to not go back for more and to develop a routine of knowing “If I eat this much, I’ll lose weight.” I’m not sure what “maintaining” amounts of food are. I’ve only ever known gaining and losing. So that’ll probably bounce around by 5-10 pounds for a while.

But 5-10 is way better than 70. Or maybe more like 80-90 by the time I’m finished.

Okay…I think we’ve done good work here today. I explained my diet, called a lot of things bullshit, and wasted a lot of time I could’ve spent being productive on something else in my life. That’s a successful blog post.

In closing…once again…don’t take my advice. Find what works for you. This is just what worked for me. But even so, I think I can close by saying this, because it’s probably true for all of us…

Eat better. You’ll thank yourself for it.

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