My recent contribution to Long Leaf Law about losing weight and keeping it off left one reader hungry for more:
“I just thought it could be very valuable to dig into the specifics of how you lost weight and kept it off over the long term. I presume that you have come to enjoy and value your lifestyle, and some concrete examples of what you did and the mindset that you brought to it might inspire others.”
Such kind and insightful words merit a thoughtful response. Over the years, others who have heard my story about losing 140 pounds during my senior year of college have also asked how I lost the weight and how I’ve managed to keep it off.
Some have even stuck around long enough to hear my response. Most, however, have scattered like bowling pins in the aftermath of a perfectly rolled strike. Some look at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. Others think I’m from Mars.
How I lost the weight, in and of itself, could fill an entire book, and perhaps one day it will. For the purposes of this blog post, though, I will stick with the keywords and save the stories – oh my God the stories! – for another day.
Step one, I stopped gaining weight. More specifically, I stopped overeating. Combined with a modest dose of activity, which increased as my weight decreased, I lost a lot of “easy weight” in a hurry. Big people will know what I’m talking about.
Step two, in which I broke through the proverbial wall, I said goodbye to cheeseburgers and pizza, the staple diet of any college student, and made new “friends.”
There wasn’t a wealth of nutritional information on package labels back then, much less in fast food restaurants, but I discovered one food that I really liked, mushrooms, didn’t have a lot of calories. Some even referred to my diet as the “mushroom diet.” Lord only knows how many cases of Green Giant mushrooms I went through, straight out of the jar.
By the time I reached the 100-pound milestone and discovered that I actually had a rib cage, it was game on. I focused more and more on portion control, and added soup, salad, fish and broccoli to my roster of friendly foods. If the can indicated a low calorie count, I gave it a try. Veg-All was my go-to, even if it wasn’t my favorite.
Much of what I have said about losing weight applies to keeping it off as well. Over time my strategies have changed as my age and situation have changed, but the thought process behind turning the ship around and steering it in the right direction remains the same: stop overeating.
As for my lifestyle, I would say that I value it more than I enjoy it. Let’s be honest: Some days it is living hell not to let loose and eat whatever I want in whatever quantities that I want it. This may well be what distinguishes the overweight from the obese: overweight people can taste and smell food; obese people – or at least this formerly obese person – can hear it.
But therein lies the mindset, and of all the words my valued colleague used in his response to my previous column, I believe mindset is the most important. Some people call it willpower; others have referred to it as dedication, determination and discipline.
I call it fear, and I mean that in the most positive way imaginable. Fear of being fat again, fear of being uncomfortable in my clothes and in my body, fear of not being able to go and do as I please because I have chosen instead to eat myself to death; that’s the motivation that stares me in the face every morning.
It will never go away, and I don’t want it to. Instead, I accept the challenge as the hand that I have been dealt, and I look around at the hands other people have been dealt and realize that I’m lucky. I’ve got it made. My biggest problem, aside from what comes out of my mouth, is what goes in it. I can live with that.
And I can live with people not being interested in losing weight the way I lost it, or keeping it off the way I have kept it off, which at present involves a lot of walking and a steady diet of fruit, vegetables, poultry, fish and Ezekiel bread.
It’s not about the diet, it’s about the attitude.
That is the most important lesson I learned back in 1978, and that is the lesson that I will carry closest to my heart until the day that I die.
Thanks for asking.
Russell Rawlings serves as director of communications for the North Carolina Bar Association and welcomes every opportunity to write and talk about wellness, weight and walking.