Weight Loss

This is the story of how I lost 50 lbs in 4 months. This story is awesome.

In my life, bicycling and weight loss have been tightly coupled on several occasions. Prior to the bicycle, my main means of entertainment had a name: "Super Nintendo." As a youngster, I was quite overweight, unathletic, and always last pick whenever we played any sports. When I first started riding my bicycle seriously in middle school, it was the first time in my life I was getting regular exercise. Somewhat disturbingly, I noticed that the slimmer I got, the nicer everyone was to me.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I was weighing in at 180 lbs.

I blame MIT for stealing my focus and replacing it with pounds, though I realize that I only have myself to blame. As a freshman, I was forcefully thrust into a new world, one with far more complexity and less structure than my previous environment. I was burned out from bicycling, and had no plan, no track, and no destination. I joined the MIT Crew team. I both used food to compensate for the misery of life as an undergrad, and overestimated my daily calorie expenditure. The "Freshman Fifteen" was a conservative myth. In my case, "Freshman Fifty" was the most appropriate description of my situation.

I stopped rowing due to burnout at the end of freshman year. Though my weight stayed about constant, at around 230 lbs, I lost muscle mass and gained body fat. At my worst, I was about 27% body fat. The numbers confirmed what I could tell by looking in a mirror: I was overweight.

The combination of Bike and Build, and returning to the crew team in my senior year at MIT, helped but did not solve my weight issue. I was able to lose body fat, and gain muscle mass, but my weight hovered between 210 and 225 pounds. I was certainly athletic, and had a fearsome cardiovascular system, but my appearance did not match the power that lay within. I had a V10 engine in a Buick body; I wanted to be the Ferrari. When I left MIT Crew again, and finally left MIT, I stopped exercising entirely and started putting on the pounds.

One fateful evening in August of 2007, Jane, my lovely girlfriend of now 21 months, called me out. She said that, as wonderful as she thought I was, and as horrible as she felt for feeling the way she did, she was frankly starting to become less attracted to me on account of my weight. The last domino had fallen into place. I knew it was time to act.

I spent the better part of the next five hours doing all of the research I could about diets, eating healthily, losing weight, and human metabolism. I looked at what every Web site recommended. I noted which facts kept appearing on different Web sites. I tried to scientifically prove or disprove every fact I saw. By the end of the process, I had compiled the following list of principles and philosophies:

* A diet is, by definition, starvation to a degree. There is no getting around this.
* Hydration is crucial; people occasionally confuse dehydration with hunger. Water is calorie-free and this preferable.
* Smaller, more frequent meals are better than large meals, since they keep your blood sugar closer to constant and keep the metabolism going at all times.
* Strict calorie control is sufficient for weight loss. The only way to accurately count calories is to weigh and measure food. Beverages have calories too!
* It is best to eat the same amounts of food at the same time every day, since the human body seems to benefit from habitual, repetitive actions.
* Since the body benefits from habit, the only way to truly lose weight was to change my lifestyle and implement changes slowly.
* Every person has a basal metabolic rate, a sort of minimum number of calories required to sustain the body for a day. This is a function of age, gender, height, and weight.
* Humans can healthily lose about 1-3 pounds per week.
* A pound of fat is 3600 calories; thus, to lose a pound in a week, one must be in a 500 calorie deficit.
* Measurement keeps you honest. You must never allow fear to prevent you from monitoring your weight.
* Writing everything down keeps you focused.

The diet I adopted implemented all of these principles with resounding success. As an example, here is what my diet looked like in October of 2007, when I was losing about 2-3 lbs a week.

Jose: 22, male, 5'10.5", 190 lbs. BMR: 1900 calories. Daily activity allowance (sedentary): 400 calories. Daily goal: 1800 calories.
7am: Breakfast. 400 calories. Cereal, milk, banana.
10am: Morning snack. 250 calories. Clif bar, or fresh fruit and granola bar.
1pm: Lunch. 400 calories. Lettuce, tomato, veggie burger, pasta, pasta sauce.
4pm: Afternoon snack. 250 calories. Same as morning snack.
7pm: Dinner. 400 calories. Same as lunch.
9pm: Evening snack. 100 calorie treat. Chocolate, wine, juice, or fresh fruit.

That's all I would eat in a day. I didn't cheat. I had diet soda, if any soda at all, and no candy or sugar!

The diet defined me for the months I did it. Friends got used to the fact that I weighed every single piece of food I ate with a portable scale, and knew that going out for food or drink was simply out of the question. It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

On August 15th, 2007. I was somewhere between 220 and 225 lbs and 19% body fat. On December 31, 2007, I was 170 lbs and 11% body fat. I lost the weight, and kept it off. Mission accomplished.

Now that I am vigorously active on most days, I try to keep my body weight between 170 and 175 lbs. The discipline of the diet taught me to have smaller portions, not pick at food, and to deal with hunger.

One of my guiding principles in life is that anyone can do anything. If I can lose 50 lbs, you can ride a bicycle across the country.