Thursday, January 08, 2015

How I lost 40 pounds over the course of a year

I started 2014 tipping the scales at almost 200 lbs. That was the result of too many croissants and three-in-one coffees over the many months of the previous year, compounded by the many feasts of Christmas towards its end. I was on maintenance medicine for hypertension and any little physical exertion would send me wheezing for breath. On top of that, I was getting sick every month with cough and colds.

I'm starting 2015 at 160 lbs., give or take a pound. If there was ever a New Year's resolution that I am proud to have kept, it would be this one. Over the course of several months last year, I shed almost 40 lbs. and I've managed to keep it off. Sometime in the middle of the year, the doctor took me off my maintenance medication because my blood pressure had gotten too low. While I'm not Olympic quality, I can now do ten to fifteen laps in our community swimming pool without pausing. I feel great!

I wish I could say there was a magic pill that I took to trim down to where I am now. I'm sure that would be worth a lot of money. But really, there isn't. At the end of the day, it came down to diet and exercise and what was essentially a lifestyle change.

A visit to a dietitian in January last year kicked off my quest. The doctor took me through all the food combinations -- what to eat, what to avoid -- and as usual it was getting all complicated and daunting. But at the end, she summed it up to a neat guideline. "Take your usual 9-inch dinner plate," she said. "Half of that should be vegetables, one fourth meat, and one fourth carbs." Okay, that seemed easy to theory. In practice? I didn't like vegetables very much.

A few days later I was invited to dinner at Vikings, the massive eat-all-you-can buffet franchise. That would have scuttled the project before it could even begin but I managed to turn that almost-disaster to an advantage. "The food is paid for, whether I eat a lot or eat a little," I reasoned, "so it doesn't matter what I get." That night I turned away from the roast beef, Peking duck, chicken cordon bleu, bulgogi, pizza, and other gastronomical temptations and ate only...salad.

It seems stupid to pay P1,200 for a buffet meal and eat nothing but lettuce and tomatoes with a side of cheese and crackers, but as I said, the dinner wasn't coming out of my pocket. Somehow that sacrifice turned out to be a transformational moment. Salad, I realized, wasn't so bad. In fact, with the right dressing, it could be delicious!

And really, that was the whole beginning. The next visit to the grocery, I went, for the first time in my life, to the produce section and picked out lettuce leaves for myself. I also got tomatoes and cucumber and experimented with a couple of types of dressing. The following day, I started preparing my own salad.

Along the way, I discovered a really surprising thing about vegetables in my diet: I was getting hungry less. It's very strange, counterintuitive even, but I found out that if I ate only rice with my meal, I would get hungry again after an hour. If I ate my meal with salad, I could go on for two to three hours before I felt hungry again.

Eventually, it came to a point where I could go without rice at all, only fresh vegetables for my meals! That's the way I am now. On the rare occasions that I do take rice, I go for at most half a cup only. This, I think, accounts for the biggest factor in my weight loss.

Next: Exercise