Disclaimer!!!! I am no fitness expert or nutritionist!!
Losing weight is one thing, it’s an entirely different story to maintain and keep the weight off. There are a lot of fundamental variables to consider before dipping your toes into any pool of diets and exercise plans. You need to be aware of your family history, your body type, whether your plan of action is sustainable. Put differently, can you make it a lifestyle? And lastly, are your goals achievable? Honestly, you will never know until you come to terms with what you are made of in terms of resilience. Above all remember, what works for one person, may not necessarily work for another.
Knowing my history
I was a chubby kid but lost quite some weight by the time I got to high school. Thanks to countless hours of playing football and tennis, I did maintain and keep the weight off. After high school, I moved to Germany and life happened. There wasn’t any noticeable weight gain until I went to the US for a student exchange program. I spent one year in the US and came back to Germany a changed man…in size, that is. Up till this point in my life, I had never bothered about watching what I ate. I ate all the good stuff the US had to offer. I should have known better, given my family’s genetic makeup.
If your plan is not sustainable, you won’t maintain and keep the weight off
Back in Germany, my friends generously commented on my new look. I took the critic like a man, and for the first time in my life, decided to go on a ‘diet’. I had no information on how best to go about it, and never cared to look. Mainly because in my mind, the solution was simple; eat less, do more sports. And that’s what I did. I played more football and drastically cut down my portions. Guess what? It worked! But that was my first mistake. Not making a sustainable plan. Not sustainable because I couldn’t stick to eating very low calories. I eventually crept back into my ‘normal’ eating habits and could not maintain and keep the weight off this way.
Four years later, I graduated from university and was job hunting. That dream job was taking a little longer to materialize than I had imagined, and I started to feel a little down. So I thought, why not do something for yourself? And guess what immediately came to mind? Correct, lose weight! I thought “how can I do it differently this time?”
Avoid quick fixes
I remembered being told about a ‘magic’ weight loss drink; Almased. “There’s no harm in trying”, I said to myself. I got some packs, and for two weeks, ate nothing but Almased. I lost about 5 kgs. So of course, Almased passed the test! I lived on Almased alone for about four to five more weeks before I started to incorporate solid food. Yes, extreme, and that was not the recommended way to use the drink. But hay, it was working and I was simply carried away. After about four months I had gone from about 115 kgs down to 79 kgs. Wow! I was proud of myself. “I had done it, and would stay this size for the rest of my life, I thought”. And that was my second mistake. Seeking out a quick fix route.
The much-dreaded yo-yo effect
The big disappointment came. In retrospect, it was inevitable. As soon as I started eating ‘normally’ again, there it was, the much-dreaded yo-yo effect. The weight gain was gradual, and I noticed but didn’t care anymore. I was getting married, our first kid came, life was good. Then in the summer of 2017, something happened [as described in the previous post], which has changed my life forever. And this time in the right direction. I was at my all-time heaviest; 129 kgs. This hit me hard! This time, whatever I chose to do, had to be really, really different. Simple calories in, calories out hadn’t worked, and neither had a weight loss drink. So, what could the answer be?
Start somewhere – Do your own research first
Weight loss in this era is a trend. And with everything trendy, everyone has an opinion on the subject matter. While you can take advice from people who have treaded the grounds of weight loss before you, doing your own research is paramount and cannot be overemphasized. A friend of mine, Victor, had lost quite some weight the previous year.
Each time he saw me loading on things like white rice or cake, he would go ‘Atte, boys, boys leave that rice so!’ The only person who ‘called me out, (apart from my wife, as we all know), and gave a suggestion that changed everything for me. I didn’t immediately give it a second thought though, as I was under the impression I wouldn’t survive a day if I let go of some of those carbs. But he did maintain and keep his weight off, so I decided this time to do my own research first.
Consistency in nutrition
I read a lot about low-carb diets and healthy foods as a whole. Research on workout plans and reading about people’s experiences became my inspiration. I came to the conclusion to start by giving up fast food, packaged foods, sugar, white flour products, rice, pasta, alcohol, fizzy drinks, and fruit juices. I wasn’t sure of how long I would last without the aforementioned but I needed to start somewhere. That’s how it began.
My research told me that highly processed carbs and sugar spike insulin, which is the fat-storage hormone. So apart from calories, there is the hormonal aspect. I learned that there are certain carbs, which aren’t processed, have high amounts of fiber, and don’t spike insulin too much.
With this information, I designed a plan for myself, one which I was sure I could stick to. I haven’t completely cut out carbs but simply replaced the likes of white rice and bread with healthier options like oats, quinoa, and bulgur. I mostly eat fruits with less sugar. I’d rather have strawberries and blueberries instead of apples. At the start, my mind was telling me this wouldn’t be possible. But I simply gave it a try, and I now see that it was all just a mental barrier. The alternatives I now eat taste just as good when well prepared.
One year into my weight loss journey, I also incorporated intermittent fasting into my plan. It helps keep insulin levels low as well as manages calorie intake. Intermittent fasting is not absolutely necessary at the beginning of your weight loss journey but can be a powerful tool along the way, especially if you plateau.
Make it a lifestyle
One thing I knew was, whatever I chose to do had to be something practical. A sustainable plan I could make a lifestyle of without feeling deprived. It had to be fun! I was not aware of all the healthy alternatives out there. And now that I am, it is one thing that has helped me maintain and keep the weight off. Three years later I am down to about 94 kgs, and from XXL sized clothes to an M. Most of my clothes and belts feel looser. I don’t really care much for how much I weigh, but how I look and fit in my clothes.
During this time, I have found out that I am not as dependent on those seven items I mentioned before. Funny enough, I do not miss them as I haven’t had any for three years now. I have, on very few occasions, made not-so-healthy choices, or have had way too many calories on a given day. These don’t bother me as I am looking at the overall. I don’t beat myself up about it, and I just keep going. I have learned that it is ok (and even needed) to go off track once in a while. In my mind, I am in this for the rest of my life, so a few ‘off’ days won’t make a difference. So not being overly strict with myself has kept me going as well.
Schedule workout sessions
Scheduling is like telling your mind, “we are up tomorrow at the crack of dawn and heading to the gym”. You cannot be casual or spontaneous about working out. Especially if you are a novice. By scheduling, you unconsciously psych yourself into doing it. And here is the good news, the moment you start seeing real results, you won’t need much planning.
At this point in my life, it was not only about getting rid of the weight but most importantly, maintaining and keeping it off. I worked out every other day. Shifting between cardio, high-intensity exercises, and lifting weights. Irrespective of whether I’m traveling (hotel gym), can’t make it to the gym (home workout) or feeling a little sick (rest and make up for it on a day I had set aside as a rest day). This has become a life long journey. I strongly believe that staying consistent with regard to exercise and nutrition has been dictated by how I approached this mentally.
Quick side note, there is a common misconception especially believed by women, that if you lift weights, you will become muscular. That assumption could not be further from the truth. On the contrary, it is the backbone of keeping weight off. The scale may tell you a different story, but gaining muscle is good for you. I don’t obsess about the number on the scale. This number has discouraged me many times in the past.
Avoid long terrifying workout sessions
I have learned that workouts don’t have to be hours long. Workouts that are too long can get boring and discouraging at some point. Also, trying to overdo things can give the perception that exercise is too difficult and can as well lead to injury. To stay consistent I work out a maximum of one hour at the gym. At home, I do thirty-five to forty minutes workouts. I do a variety of different workouts to keep things interesting and to stimulate different muscle groups. When weight training, I always start with lighter weights and work myself up. Enjoying my workouts has been key to staying consistent. At this point, I actually look forward to my next workout.
I do of course feel lazy on some days, but then I tell myself ‘come on it’s just a thirty-five-minute workout’. Also, I think about the gratification I get afterward. So now I know that sometimes laziness is not physical, but just in the head. If I don’t manage to work out as planned, I try to make up for it on another day. Or if my performance level drops, no worries, there’s another day. So just as with nutrition, I have in my head that this is for the long run. I don’t beat myself up and just keep going.
In a nutshell, to maintain and keep weight off, make it your life journey. And that would mean being consistent which is the most important ingredient to every life endeavor. I should add that what keeps me consistent the most is the thought that I am on a mission to transform my health. It isn’t about weight loss alone, but overall health. With this, I make smarter decisions and weight loss is a consequence of that. My meal preparations, a story for another day…
“Quick fixes do not work. All lasting inner change requires time and effort. Persistence is the mother of personal change. You will be astonished at results when you diligently practice something daily. You will begin to tap into the highest levels of your own capacity. But to reach your destination, you must not get hung up on the outcome. Instead, enjoy the process of personal expansion and growth. Ironically, the less you focus on the end result, the quicker it will come”-
Robin S. Sharma, The Monk who sold his Ferrari