This Is How We Do It – Weight Loss

(fire up the song by Montell Jordan and pack a healthy lunch.  this is a long one!)

Okay, so here’s the part where I come right out and say I’m not an expert on losing weight.  Results may vary.  Don’t try this at home.  Tip your wait staff.

Most of my friends and family know that I signed up for a weight loss contest at my fire department.  A fellow fire fighter (let’s call him Jim since that’s his name) kind of noticed that the folks at the mighty 2260 station in Woodbury, MN were getting a little soft.  We’d all just come out of the holiday season and he thought it might be interesting for us to all compete in a Firefighter Biggest Loser competition.  It wasn’t going to be anything nearly elaborate as the 2 hour (!) TV show, but we’d simply go for 13 weeks, weigh in during our weekly Tuesday night drill and see how we’d do.

I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t need to lose some weight.  I yo-yo like there’s no one’s business and folks…I was really starting to pudge out.

Jim announced that we were going to each throw in $20, and there would be a prize for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.  He also said we’d start in two weeks.  All but 2 of us at the station signed up for this thing.  That’s like 18 dudes and one woman from the department.

You might not know this about me, but I can be a bit competitive.  The weird thing?  I’m selective about being competitive.  Beat me at tennis, no big deal.  Make me cry over a game of Scrabble, fine.  But something like this?

I told a couple of the other dudes: “These clowns have no idea who they’re up against.”

So, I began to plan.

It was the end of December when Jim announced this contest.  I had plans for those two weeks before we started.  One weekend (otherwise known as New Years Weekend) my brothers in law and I built the bookshelves in my office.  I decided then and there that I was going to eat like a complete slob.  As much as I wanted and as often as I wanted.  Weight-wise, I was somewhere around 205 pounds.  Almost every meal I ate had bacon in it.  I ate burgers, pizza, bagel sandwiches, burritos, you name it.  Still hungry?  I had a Baconator at Wendy’s and washed it down with a half-chocolate/half-vanilla Frosty.  I was on a mission.

You see, I wanted to get as fat as I possibly could before our big weigh-in, but I also had another plan.  I wanted to get all of this crap that I was so fond of eating out of my system.  I figured if I overloaded on this garbage, I wouldn’t want to eat it anymore.  Simple, right?

It sort of was, but I can’t say this is the best plan for everyone.  Some people might not be able to stop.  I knew I wanted to win this thing and I needed to start big and end small.



We’re all lined up in the officer’s office, waiting to get weighed.  I walk in and I’m already talking the talk.  I’ve got a 6 inch Subway sandwich in my hand, a bottle of water and apple slices for my dinner.  People are already talking smack, so I join in.

“What’s up, fatties?” I say.

People are getting their starting totals and I’m stunned by how much some of these dudes weigh.  I guess I thought I was easily one of the heaviest, but isn’t that always how it is?  When you’ve been a chunky person for a good part of your life, you just assume you’re the fatty.  At least I always did.

I hop on the scale, careful to take my shoes off, remove my fire pager, phone, keys, etc.  In my head I can hear a drum roll and I’m just glad we don’t have to take our shirts off.  No one wants to see this mess.

I look down at the number: 216

I managed to pack on 11 extra pounds for the occasion.  I’m almost stunned.  Jim, who is the ring-leader, asks what I hope to lose in the 13 weeks.  I tell him I’m bad at math (which I am) and that I want to weigh around 185.  He sort of blinks and shakes his head.

“You want to try and lose over 30 pounds?”

I nod.  I have no idea if I can do it, but damned if I’m not going to try.  I don’t even care about the money.  I just want to win and prove that I can do it.  I want to show myself (and I guess anyone else who cares) that losing weight or fighting any sort of addiction is really just mind over matter.  Of course, I can’t speak for people with raging drug addictions or anything, but I’d venture that a good dose of willpower would go a long way toward anything.

One thing my wife will say about me is that I am a bit determined.  Almost 5 years ago, I was HOOKED like nobody’s business on caffeine.  Seriously…and I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life.  I drank Coke, and then later, Diet Coke like it was going out of style.  It got so bad that I’d get raging headaches if I didn’t have a DC by 11:00am every morning.  It was a wake-up call for me.  I realized this stupid ‘drug’ was my master and I was a slave to it.  I decided then and there that I was done with caffeine and I quit cold turkey.  Done.

And yes…the first week was absolute hell, but I firmly believe that you can get by without it.  Yes.  You can.

Anyway…another topic for another day.

Here was my plan for losing 30+ pounds in 13 weeks.  You might be disappointed by how simplistic it is.  Sorry about this:

1. Get Exercise
2. Eat Better
3. Don’t Eat As Much
4. Don’t Give Up

That’s really it.  OF course it’s easier said than done.  Here’s how I did it.

1. GET EXERCISE – You hear this a lot.  Commercials tell you to ‘groove’ your body for 30 minutes.  I’m sorry, but in my case, 30 minutes isn’t enough.  I need to beat the crap out of myself to lose weight and that’s just what I did and continue to do.  My problem in the past?  I don’t like the monotonous drone of cardio machines, or even being in one place for too long.  I get antsy and I lose focus if my mind starts to drift.  I’ve always been this way and in the past, this is EXACTLY why my workouts have faded or fizzled out and I go back to my old routines.

I’m here to tell you brothers and sisters…there is a solution.

Now, I know times are tough and ‘this economy’ is a real bear, but you’ll need to invest a little bit.  For me, I went out and bought a portable DVD player.  You need to get the one that can fold open and become completely flat.  I learned the hard way a few years back when I tried to balance my DVD player on a treadmill.  It slipped, landed on the track and fired behind me, smashing into three unrepairable pieces.  Get one that’s designed to hang on your backseat to entertain your kids.  All you do it set it on the ledge on (most) cardio machines (typically built for magazines or books) and you’re golden.  Of course, you’ll also need some headphones.

Right now, some of you are saying: But Thomas, why not just watch the TVs they have at the club?

Hey, if you’re cool with watching sub-par programming and commercials during your workout, go for it.  I can’t do it.  I see an ad for prescription medicine or a stupid Ford spot and my heart rate drops like a clumsy kid’s ice cream cone.  Nah.  I need to watch a commercial free show or movie, preferably something with action and guns in it to get my blood pumping.  Best DVD to watch (ever) whilst working out?  Run Lola Run.  Fan-tastic.

So, how long do I work out for?  Well, that’s simple.  For me, watching TV shows on DVD works best.  The lengths are predictable and you can set your workout accordingly.  A TV show that’s an hour televised is typically 42-45 minutes long on DVD.  A show that’s 30 minutes, is roughly 22 minutes 30 seconds.  I makes sense, right?  So, I tend to slap in a 45 minute show, get my machine going and let ‘er rip.

You might be wondering: How do I know my workout is…um, working?  This isn’t rocket scientry…  If you’re not sweating or breathing hard, you need to step it up.  Adjust the incline on the machine.  Walk (or run) faster.  Get your heart pumping and stay with it.  I’m not going to lie: THE FIRST WEEK SUCKS.  If you can’t keep up with the speed, move it down a little.  I SAID A LITTLE!  The last thing you want to do is rationalize a reason to quit or to turn in.  Your beefy body is going to try and talk you out of continuing.  Seriously.  It’ll say things like: Ah, that’s good enough.  20 minutes is better than what you were doing before. Don’t listen to it.  Ease up a little or slow it down a bit, but don’t quit.  If you punched 45 minutes into the machine, by jove, you need to finish what you started.

So, I decided to go nuts.  I decided that for the first two weeks, I was going to:

– Workout 5 times a week.
– Watch 2 (45 minute) shows per workout.
– Switch up my machines.

One thing that you might’ve heard from workout nuts is that changing your routine is important.  It TOTALLY is.  If you only like to use a treadmill, you’re only going to lose so much weigh.  Sorry, that’s just how it is.  For me, I would watch one show on a treadmill, then I’d hop off (packing up my DVD player) and move to another machine and set up showtime there.  Sure it sucked.  Sure I thought about going home, but I needed to remember the goal.  I was going to win this stupid Biggest Loser contest if it killed me.  (well, not really)

So, that’s what I did.  I have an unhealthy tendency to buy lots of DVDs and most of them remain unwatched.  With my new workout plan, that was a thing of the past.  I was ripping new DVDs open left and right.  I watched Battlestar Galactica Season 2.5, Rescue Me Season 5, Heroes Season 2, Dexter Season 3, East Bound and Down Season 1, Fringe Season 1, Battlestar Galactica Season 3, etc…  It got to the point where I was anxious to see the next episode, it would sort of drive me to go work out.

Someone is bound to ask this, so I’ll address it: What about your kids?

As it happens, the club I go to (Gold’s Gym Woodbury) has a cool Kid’s Club.  There are all sorts of really great things for kids to play with, so Travis (5) and sometimes Jake (1) will go with me.  They get to play with a bunch of other kids and I get to beat the snot out of myself.  Awesome.  Also, it gives my wife some peace and quiet time to herself before the Troupe boys are back for the night.  Everyone wins.

Anyway…after one week of doing 1.5 hours I lost 8.5 pounds.  Bam.  I got accused of cheating and putting weights in my pockets during the initial weigh-in.  But nope, that’s not how I roll.

Week 2?  I lost another 8 pounds.  Just like that I was already halfway to my goal.

Once Week 3 rolled around, I decided I needed to also incorporate strength training.  So, I would alternate.  One day I would do my 1.5 hours of cardio, the next I would do 6-7 weight-type machines and then hop on and do 60 minutes of cardio.  It seemed to work.  While I didn’t drop big numbers over the next weeks, it was a steady decline.

2. EAT BETTER – Anyone who knows me knows I’m a picky eater.  I won’t go into it here, but I could write a book about it.  Seriously, it’s bad.  Also, I’m lazy about cooking.  If it takes too long, I won’t make it.  If there are more than a few ingredients, I won’t do it.  I don’t eat to be all fancy.  I eat to survive.  Also, I’m all about convenience…just like 85% of America.  Why do you think Drive-Thrus are so dang appealing???

So, I started from scratch.  I know what I liked to eat.  Here’s what I pick from on a day to day basis, for each meal.

BREAKFAST: Weight Control Quaker Oatmeal, Plain Cheerios, Special K Fruit N’ Yogurt, Skim Milk, 100 Calories Thomas English Muffins, Health Nut Bread, Smart Balance butter spread, Egg Beaters – Egg Whites, orange juice.

LUNCH: Progresso Light Soup, Subway 6 inch club or turkey (no cheese, oil, or ugh…mayo), apple slices instead of chips, Arby’s Medium Roast Beef sandwich (but have ’em put it on wheat bread instead of the bun).

DINNER: Chipotle Chicken Bowl (no cheese, sour cream, guac or too much rice), chicken and broccoli, boneless chicken breasts cooked with canola oil, broccoli, mother shells (shell pasta, tomato sauce), turkey hotdogs wrapped in a whole grain torilla.

SNACKS: 100 calorie packs of Doritos, Cheetos, cookies, etc, Granny Smith Apples, pineapple, bananas, small amounts of peanuts, Swiss Miss 100 calorie fudgsicles, etc…

Obviously, this isn’t a COMPLETE list of the foods I eat, but there’s a theme.  I don’t eat much cheese, I stay away from creamy crap.  I drink water and skim milk.  If I have to have a soft drink, I go for Caffeine Free Diet Coke.

I think I’m lucky in that I don’t get bored eating the same thing over and over.  I really don’t care if I have soup every day for lunch.  I’m actually growing quite attached to it…  Who would’ve thought?  You might also notice that I don’t list salad as one of my choices.  I’m not big on salad.  I think they taste all right, but it’s too much work to prepare.  When you’re busy working out, feeding kids, working full-time, and writing books, who’s got time to cut up a bunch of cucumbers?  ANSWER: Not me.

The big thing?  Eat in moderation.  Which brings us to our next topic:

3. DON’T EAT AS MUCH – I used to think I had to eat until I was stuffed.  So, I did.  Almost every stinking meal.  Afterwards, I’d be mad at myself and I’d feel all uncomfortable and well…fat.  Before I started this stupid contest, I did an online thing to figure out how many calories I needed in the day.  It was somewhere around 2,300, I think.  I began to look at labels on foods and figure out how much I wanted to eat.  To me, 2,300 seemed like a lot for one dude.  Then I looked at how many calories are in a double cheeseburger at Dairy Queen (delicious) and I almost had a heart attack.  It’s something like 900 calories.

I started to see the error of my old ways.

So, I started rationing out my meals.  A bowl of cereal and couple pieces of (healthier) toast for breakfast.  Done.  An apple for a snack.  Bowl of soup totaling 160 calories for lunch.  I wouldn’t allow myself to eat a whole sleeve of crackers with it.  Only 1/3.  You see?  It’s the little things you don’t think about that kick you in the groin.  Cream on coffee, the rolls that come with a meal, fries, etc…  The occasional cookie here and there.

The hugest help in all this?  My wife, Laura.  I told her from the onset that it will probably suck to be married to me through this.  I know how easy it was in the past (while she was pregnant) to eat more meals than I needed to and in excess.  She gets it and has been great through it all.  It’s sort of a la carte at our house, but it has to be for now.  I think once I get to a comfortable pace and weight, I’ll be in maintenance mode and it’ll level out.  At least, that’s my hope!

Good lord…this post is getting out of hand.  Okay, final stretch.

4. DON’T GIVE UP – I know I’ve sort of painted myself as being completely iron-willed and steadfast.  Truth is?  I’m really not.  I’m not starving myself and I’m not eating like a monk.  I grant myself a cheat meal every week.  A no-holds barred, eat-whatever-you-want meal.  Jucy Lucy’s from Matt’s, a meat-lovers pizza from Papa Murphy’s, a filthy, greasy burger from SmashBurger, etc.  I can’t help it.  I still love eating crap, but I’ve come to realize I don’t need to make EVERY meal a crap meal.  Here’s an eye-opener…when you make a cheat meal a special occasion?  It tastes THAT MUCH better.  For reals.

I’ve also slipped up, too.  After a night of tom-foolery and skull-duggery out with friends singing karaoke and what-not, I ended up going to White Castle at 2am.  That breaks a HUGE rule!  Don’t eat anything (much) after 6:3opm.  I woke up the next morning (not feeling good anyway) thinking I’d gained all my weight back.  The last thing you want to do is give up.  Seriously.  Think of all the work and time and energy you put into getting to that point.  To hang it up after a minor slip up is just crazy.  Dust yourself (and your gut) off and climb back onto the eliptical.  It’s not over until (some other) fat lady (or guy) sings.

Here’s a secret: I am a fiend for cookies.  I can even tell you where in the Twin Cities to get the absolute BEST Monster Cookie.  (Gingko’s Coffee Shop, Snelling Avenue)  It’s like Kryptonite to Superman.  I get weak.  I salivate.  I want to put many into my mouth.  And yes, I will occasionally go out of my way to get a delicious baked delight.  I’m not indestructible.  I have needs.  I need cookies.

But…even so, I try and show restraint.  I try and save that magical moment for CHEAT MEAL NIGHT.  I workout extra hard that night if I slip.  I eat less for other meals to make up for it.  Is this what an expert would do?  How the hell should I know?  I was just a fat guy trying to win a dumb contest.  I’m definitely not an expert.  I just know what’s working for me.

So…in a nutshell, this has been my plan and it’s been working for me.  I don’t FEEL like I’m on a diet or that I’m spending my life at the club.  I’m still a week away from finding out if I’ve won this thing.  I’m down around 30-something pounds, weighing in last at 185.4 (or something, depending on scale and amount of clothing).  I’ve taken the lead and haven’t given it up yet.  I think I’ve crushed a few spirits with the amount (and speed) of weight I’ve lost.  But…

People say they can see it in my face.
My clothes are more loose.
My wedding ring needs to be re-sized.
I don’t get back-aches nearly as often.
I’ve lost my mini man-boobs.
I definitely have more energy.
I don’t curse at seeing pictures of myself (as much).

Bottom line: You have to WANT TO lose the weight.  If you don’t think you can give up some of the things you’ve clung to or you don’t think you can get off your butt to go to the club (getting up is the hardest part), then you’re just not ready.  That’s cool.  I wasn’t ready until after I ate like a filthy slob and got it out of my system.  Just know that when the time is right and you’re tired of where you’re at, weight-wise, you can do it.  Seriously.  If I can do it, you can TOTALLY do this thing.

(Dang, I should be a motivational speaker)