44 years old. 5’0″ (on a good day, before gravity takes hold). Current weight: 104. Target weight: 102.
I am down 15 lbs (12% of my original body weight) since January 1. I had some requests to post about various things, so I’ll cross post this to Facebook for those that follow me there.
Settle in, this is going to be long..
Why I Did It
It was for many reasons, from health to aesthetics to performance. My weight had creeped up in the last few years from various factors. As we age, our metabolism slows from 1-4%/year after about the age of 25. My TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is already low due to my age, gender, and height. This isn’t helped by my metabolic condition, nor by the fact that my entire job is wine, beer, and food related. I eat my feelings, but in reverse of many people: if I’m happy, I celebrate with sharing food and drink (if I a depressed, I can’t keep food down). I am happy. Ergo, lots of awesome (calorie-rich) food and beverage. Diabetes runs heavily in my family, and I have always known that is a risk for me.
Overall, this meant I was uncomfortable in my own skin, felt sluggish and my athletic performance had really suffered. Hiking, backpacking, paddling–none of this was as pleasurable for me as it had been when I was at my best weight. It was time to make a change, to get things back under control, and to develop an eating style that was sustainable long-term.
How I Did It
I am already pretty active, especially since my job is active, and the reality is you can’t out-train a bad diet anyway. I did start keeping better track of my activity and lifting heavy again, but really this was more for building muscle than losing weight. Weight is, for almost everyone, 90% diet. So, here goes:
- I figured out my TDEE. There are a lot of calculators for this, but I used this one. Then, I dropped my estimated by TDEE by 500 calories a day to get a target of what I should be eating, and did that for two weeks to see how it went. I ended up having to adjust down more (the shorter you are, the farther the algorithms tend to be off. This works the same way for tall people, as well). Every 5 lbs, I revisited this, because the less you weigh, the less calories you need.
- I started logging all my food–all of it–in an app. I chose MyFitnessPal primarily because I wanted something that would work well with my phone. I set my macros (protein/fat/carbs) to a higher protein diet because it works well for me.
- I gave up grains and “simple” carbs, processed food, and processed sugars. Not because they’re bad or that not eating them was going to magically reduce my weight. Weight loss is primarily what is known in the fitness world as “CICO,” or Calories In Calories Out. Protein isn’t a macro I can really reduce much if I want to keep muscle (which I definitely do!), so the calorie cut had to come from the other two. It’s easier, at least for me, to replace pasta with shirataki noodles and vegetable noodles, rice with riced cauliflower, bread with lettuce wraps, etc. than it is to give up enough fat to make a meaningful difference in calories.Essentially, this means I bulk absolutely everything with fibrous veggies. Taco salad? Sure: mixed greens, broccoli, tomatoes, diced zucchini, Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, 1 oz of shredded cheese, and a chicken/eggplant mixture for the “taco meat,” topped by salsa. I also snack on raw veggies (carrots, red & green peppers, cucumbers, etc.) and salsa, or cauliflower hummus (I also don’t do beans, or do them in very small portions, for the same reason I don’t do grains). The bulk helped to keep me full, so I didn’t overeat or make poor snack choices. If you do this, be prepared for the first few days to be interesting. It’s a LOT of fiber. Your body is going to notice and react. Proximity to a bathroom is paramount. Just sayin’.
I eat a lot of fruit, as well. Theoretically, it’s “high” in sugars; but, in reality, it’s a much better way to satisfy a sweet tooth (from a calorie standpoint) than almost anything else, and helped me hit my vitamins and minerals. I don’t eat bananas, but that’s as much because I don’t really like them as it is because they are really starchy and high-calorie as fruit goes.
- Protein choices. Seafood became a real thing for me. Especially shrimp, canned tuna, and wild-caught salmon. Good fats, good protein, lower calories than some other forms of protein. I love pretty much all seafood, so it wasn’t a hardship from a dietary choice standpoint, but it’s also expensive. I supplemented with chicken, venison, and TVP (textured vegetable protein). I still ate other red meat, but not frequently (again, not because it’s “bad for you,” but because it’s higher in calories than other protein sources). And, sometimes, protein powder. I don’t like the last because I haven’t found one yet that isn’t somehow disagreeable to me (taste, gritty, too sweet, or some combo), but I use it when needed.
- I tracked my macros. My TDEE is low. It’s hard to hit all the vitamins and minerals I need within my calorie counts, but it’s possible. It just takes a lot of dedication and management. I do still supplement some calcium and iron (the latter has always been a thing I’ve had to do), depending on the week, as well as fish oil.
- I took BCAAs to help me maintain muscle while cutting weight, and lifted heavy weights to keep strength and bone mass. BCAAs taste awful, there’s no real getting around that. But, there was a definite, noticeable improvement after I added them.
And that is about it. I tracked, I stuck with it. I don’t really get cheat days, and if I take one it’s more like a cheat item very infrequently, because my TDEE is so low it’s hard to make it up. Yes, that sucks; but, feeling as much better as I do has been enough to mostly keep me on track.
What I Learned
- There’s a lot of “bro-science” out there. Weight loss, at it’s heart, simple: CICO. Not necessarily easy, but simple.
There is no set “minimum” healthy calories for all adults (a 6-foot dude is going to have a much different “minimum” caloric need to function than me, by a good bit, for example). My maintenance at 102 lbs, which is a very healthy weight for my age, gender, and height, is going to be about 1000-1100 calories (which is what I am eating at now, and why my last 2 lbs is going to come off very slowly), and people tend to freak out when they hear this. “BUT YOU NEED 1200/1500 CALORIES A DAY! OR…THINGS WILL HAPPEN!” No, no they won’t. Everyone is different, and having a tested TDEE that low is just the genetic lottery ticket I happened to pull. What it means to me, having done this for 4 months now with meticulous tracking of macros and micros, is that I have a better handle on my nutrition than most people do. My blood work came back excellent, I have a lot more energy, a lot less pain, and I am sleeping better than I have in years. It also means I decided to not aim for my original goal of 100 lbs (which is still in my healthy weight range of 97-120 lbs–yes, that’s a huge range) because there’s no way I’d ever stick to the low calorie intake required and I know that.
Starvation mode isn’t a thing for pretty much anyone who isn’t, well, starving. It takes huge calorie deficits for long periods of time to kick your body into what people think of as “starvation mode.” Eating at a 500 calorie deficit isn’t going to do it. People who’ve had lap band surgery eat about 800 calories a day, if they’re following recommendations, and their bodies do not go into “starvation mode.” (Don’t get me wrong, there are other issues with losing a lot of weight really fast, such as hormone issues). I am not saying folks should embrace huge calorie deficits, I am just saying this “starvation mode” needs to stop being bandied about as what happens when you lose weight in a reasonable, healthful manner.
- Being hungry sucks, but you get over it. The worst parts for me were the first two weeks of my cut, then again when I hit 107 lbs. The first two weeks were just getting over the bad habits, adjusting to the dietary changes, and coming down off holiday sugar. Once that was over, it was much easier. Until I hit the place where I had to come to terms with what my actual TDEE clearly was going to be at my best weight, which was below what I’d hoped it was, and what that meant for me for the rest of my life: be more vigilant than most people have to, and make a lot of sacrifices, or become pretty unhealthy as I aged and my metabolism continued to slow. That was hard. It did push me to more weight lifting, and to research more food options that would keep me from totally blowing it because I felt so deprived and/or hungry. It took about two weeks for me to really come to terms with that, mentally and emotionally.
- There are people who don’t want to actually know how you did it despite asking you for advice. They want to hear it was easy, that there’s a magic diet or food, etc. It took me a while to realize this. Rarely do they want to hear that I track everything that enters my face, every day, all the time, and that I ate at a calorie deficit, and that was really it. I eat almost no processed foods, and I almost never eat out (in part because it’s really hard to find things that fit in my calories for the day). So, yes, I am eating healthy, too;but, really, that is a side effect of me wanting to not be hungry all the time and needing to hit some pretty specific numbers to stay healthy.
- People want to give you advice, even when they have no idea what they’re talking about. I’ve learned to do a lot of smiling and nodding, because telling someone that no, upping my calories will not “reset” my metabolism so I can eat more isn’t scientifically sound never goes well.
- I can manage this lifestyle, and stick with it.
- It’s amazing to have supportive people around you. Joe’s been incredible: helping with meal prep, including my least favorite tasks (I hate ricing cauliflower–it goes everywhere!) and eating the same foods as me (with tweaks–he needs a lot more calories than I do, so we add some extra things into his meals). He, too, has lost 15 pounds, and is excited about it.
- I don’t get to “cheat,” really, because…maths. At this point, and once I reach my goal weight, eating at a deficit if I overdue is going to be, at best, a real challenge. If I want a treat, I have to fit it within my daily goals. This means I am a huge pain in the butt with food, so I try to take my own and not impose on others.
And, I think that covers it.