Monday, August 23, 2004

I'm going to tell you how to lose weight for free. You have everything you need, right this minute, to do it. It requires no drugs, no special clothes, no expensive foods, no restrictive menus, no guru. I know this works because I did it myself: I lost 55 pounds in 4 months. (I've since gained it back, and more, so I'm now re-acquainting myself with this process, sadder and wiser. It wasn't the method that failed, it was me falling back into old habits.) This does require an ability to do simple multiplication and addition, so grab a pencil and some scratch paper.

FIRST: If you decide to give this your best effort, the VERY FIRST THING you need to do is to print this off, the whole article, and go to your physician and have her check it out and you out and give you the go-ahead. Consulting your doctor may sound spooky but it's just common sense. Everything that comes after this paragraph assumes you are in basically good health, and you've consulted your physician before going on, and she has said "Go for it!" I will NOT be responsible if you don't do that!!! I'm NOT a doctor, I'm not a dietician.

Here's the lynchpin of my method: Dieticians say that on average, for a healthy adult, it takes about 15 calories per pound to maintain your body weight. That's a very rough estimate and a scientist will go into fits trying to qualify it to death, but it's a good rule of thumb. What does that mean? It means you only need one number to know how many calories you need to eat each day to lose weight. You need to know your target weight. That's all. You don't need to know your present weight, just the weight you want to be. Now--be sensible. If you're 38 years old with three kids, chances are you're not going to ever look like Imam unless you come down with some dire disease. Go for a weight where you can feel good in (or out of) your clothes, that you can be as active as you need to be, and where you have plenty of energy, and you sleep well. Back in 1994, when I lost that weight, I got down to my ideal weight: 125. I felt better, at age 44, than I ever had in my life. I was bursting with energy, my writing ideas just poured out so fast I couldn't ever possibly write all those stories, I had stamina, and heat didn't bother me. So I'm going to shoot for 125 again.

Got your pencil? Take your target weight times 15. Mine's 125 x 15 = 1875. I'm going to try to keep my calorie intake down to 1875 per day. Often, doctors will hand their patients a 1200-calorie per day diet plan. There is no way on God's green Earth that I am going to be able to stay on a 1200 calorie a day diet. But I can do 1875.

See, given that you're in basically good health, the only reason a person doesn't lose weight is because their calorie OUTPUT(body maintenance plus physical activity) does not exceed their caloric INPUT (eating). That's it, right there. Totally simple. And there are calorie charts galore all over the Internet, free for the looking, to help you add them up.

So, theoretically, if I just reduced my calorie input to 1875, I would lose this excess weight. I'm older now so that's not quite as much of a given as it used to be. Drat it. Back in 1994, though, I learned: add exercise, and those pounds do come off. One by one by one, there they go. And it feels GOOD.

Trouble is I HATE TO EXERCISE! Well--that's not 100% true; I hate to START exercising. I work out in my basement, where we have a very nice Tunturi exercycle, a "businessman's" weight set, and a stationary weight set. Once I get down there, and start working out, my bod loves it. It's the GETTING DOWN THERE that's murder, and played a big part in my dropping off my good program a few years ago and getting back out of shape and overweight. I HATE going down those stairs. It's not logical, it's irrational, but there it is.

So I have to work around my own stupid mind. This time, I've come up with a winner. I've pledged TO MYSELF (the only one who counts in this game) that ALL I have to do to satisfy my promise to me, is "15 @ 15" -- that's 15 minutes on the bike at Nm level 15 (whatever that is; I gave up long ago trying to calculate the ergonomics of our ergonomic bike). That's a pretty low
setting, but it's enough at my current conditon to make me break out in a sweat, and for my legs to have that familiar "giant redwood log" feeling when the bell rings and I finally crawl off. If I make that 15 @ 15, I can be done and I can feel great about myself and go on about my business. Usually, though, I mess around with the weights a little bit, do some stretches. Eventually, when I've lost a few pounds, I expect I'll resume the sit-ups (when I reached my goal weight 10 years ago, I was doing 100 a day). If you can feel your pulse on your wrist or throat, by all means have your doctor help you figure out how many heartbeats per minute you should try for to get aerobic benefits -- *I* can never find my pulse so I just wing it.

So what you need to do is figure out an activity that's easy for you to get TO--whether it's taking a walk around your own block, swimming two laps up and down your pool, doing 100 skips with a jumprope--pick something that doesn't require you to go very far out of your way. Talk to yourself about this for a few days. Let yourself realize that this is something you can do to take care of yourself in a meaningful way. Think about that real hard, because I know for me it's a lot easier to make myself feel better when I'm blue by chomping a Snickers bar, than by dragging my ass down to the basement to ride the bike. But the former will only end up making me sadder, while the latter will really be good for me, really show myself love and concern that I would show anyone else in a heartbeat.

This activity that you choose should be small enough that it's not daunting or intimidating. The instantaneous reward is that when you're done, you have another 24 hours during which you can feel *very* superior and proud of yourself. But there are a lot more rewards than that, very quickly.

The FIRST NIGHT I started this, recently, I slept all night. Big deal? Yeah--if you haven't slept all night for years. The next day my hips, knees, ankles and feet felt better than they had since I don't remember when! I wasn't stiff! I felt - dare I say it -- *limber*! And I actually felt more energized that day. I was astounded. Never did I expect such physical bennies after just ONE session! I can't guarantee that for you--but I can guarantee that you'll feel more empowered, less dragged down emotionally, because you have taken that first step toward helping yourself feel better.

Set yourself intermediate and long-term goals. Use family reunions, graduations, birthdays, as goalposts. This is not so you can beat yourself over the head if you're still ten pounds heavier than you want to be by Aunt Gladys's birthday--it's just another incentive to help you talk yourself into doing your daily "15 @ 15" (or whatever you end up calling it -- that's another trick: give it a catchy title. I might even get a tee shirt made of mine, to wear on the cycle). If you just can't make yourself do your thang one day, don't agonize over it. Just get up the next day and make sure you get back in the saddle. I mean it--two days off is death. Likewise, if you stumble and devour half a gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (my favorite), don't hate yourself. You're human! We stumble! Next day, though--back to the 1875, or 2000, or however many calories your goal weight requires.

One more bit of advice, you might not see much weight loss in the first couple of weeks. If not, keep at it anyway. If you know you're eating right and you're doing your exercising, it WILL come off. It's simple biology, it has to. What might be happening is (ready for it?) you're increasing muscle mass, and that's masking fat loss. This is a very important concept, because for one thing, it should make you aware that JUST watching the scales is a sucker's game. Those numbers are just dumb numbers, they don't really know what's going on. The most important thing about being aware that you're gaining muscle mass is that you need to be conscious of your body. When you work out every day, that improves your muscle mass, and let me tell you, that is a VERY good thing, even if it makes the scales seem demonically stubborn. Why? Because well-toned muscles use up more calories, even when you're not working out. Even when you're just sitting there reading a novel, if you have well-toned muscles, they're burning calories. What's not to love about that??? So do NOT be discouraged if the scales seem stubborn. Keep at it every day! If you're reducing your calorie intake, and increasing your calorie output -- you're GOING to be a LOSER!! I mean a WINNER! Heh.

Forget deprivation diets (no carbs/low carbs? Are you KIDDING????), single-food diets, blah blah. Eat smaller portions, eat as many fresh fruits and veggies as you can daily. Eat according to the standard food pyramid (they're trying to change it but until the experts have settled their differences and devised a new one, the old one will work). Balanced meals. Nutritious snacks. Measure your food! DOn't trust your eyeballs! *My* eyeballs tell me that enough to feed three people is ONE SERVING!! Train yourself by measuring your food. Have "good" snacks with you so you're not tempted by candy machines. Portion out your lunches and package them up so you can just grab them and go to work in the morning.

This is all winner's stuff. Think ahead. Treat yourself right. You deserve it!

(This was written because when I lost weight before, several women came to me privately to ask how I'd done it. I was taken aback, and I'm afraid I did a poor job of explaining it. Maybe this will help someone, somewhere. Well--I know it will, because I wrote it to help me, too. I hope others find it useful as well.)

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