Tuesday, June 12, 2012

You Don't Need the Government to Tell You What to Eat

This post is specifically for readers who might want to consider losing weight and being healthier.  Those who do not have a weight problem or are satisfied with their health can move on to something else. 

Some time ago I noticed that my pants were getting tight around the waist.  I have never been skinny.  I have relatively short legs versus a relatively long and wide upper torso, no neck to speak of, and a fat head.  Basically I am built for lifting, pushing, and carrying heavy stuff.  I never matched the BMI thing even if they had it around when I was younger, but I could legitimately call a lot of my weight “muscle” -- twenty years ago.  Then I started telling myself that people just gain weight as they get older.  I could always find an excuse.  One day I was looking at old pictures, and there was one of my father in profile when he was older than I am now.  He was wearing a pair of bib overalls.  Now bibs are comfortable, but there is no concealing or camouflaging a gut in them.  Dad, who was built just like me except one size smaller, had no gut.  In fact, he looked as fit and strong as a man half his age, and I knew that was the case. 

As a result, I stepped on a bathroom scale and decided I needed to lose about fifty pounds.  Instead of buying the latest and greatest fad diet book, I turned to John Walker, the founder of Autodesk, and his Hacker’s Diet.   Walker talks about his own issues with weight and how he went from being overweight his whole life to being normal weight.  Anyone who is interested in being healthier – and every prudent person should be – should go to the site and read what Walker has to say. 

But I will summarize.  There is no gimmick.  Losing weight is very simple in that one must eat less than one expends.  The key is finding out how many calories are in a given quantity of food and PAYING ATTENTION to what one is eating.  That’s it.  I lost fifty pounds in about three months.  And, yes, I was hungry a lot of the time, especially early on.  It was painful but bearable.  I found out, contrary to what my mother seemed to think, that being hungry is not a fatal condition.

I took a little notebook I could carry around with me and recorded my caloric intake every time I ate.  Anything.  At all.  At the end of the day, I would total my calories.  It took a while to pick up the habit, but once I had it, it was pretty easy.  I still do it, for reasons Walker’s book explains, but now I do it to maintain.  Walker includes a spreadsheet with calorie counts for common foods.  Other sites offer similar information – this one is helpful. 

My point is anybody can do this.  I joke about writing my own book called The Three Day Diet Plan in which I will explain that to lose weight a person can eat the same foods and the same amounts as always – except that you have to eat that amount over three days instead of one.  I’m sure it will be a bestseller, and I can get on that doctor show my wife watches in the afternoon. 

It is not prudent to pack around more weight than you need.  Exercise is good, both endurance and resistance work, but that alone is not enough unless you have the time to do it, say, four hours a day.  Most of us sit on our asses eight or ten hours a day trying to make a living.  I get some extra work around the homestead here – especially during the summer, but, otherwise, I don’t have time to “work it all off”.  Besides, self-denial is good for character. 

It is possible to lose weight eating almost anything.  I had half a cup of ice cream maybe once a week.  Mostly, of course, I tried to stick with healthier foods.  Watermelon works pretty well as it is low calorie and nutrient-rich as well as being satisfying.  For me, the same is true of naval oranges.  I can eat one orange – 70 to 120 calories depending on the size – and have my appetite appeased for a couple of hours.  Vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage are better than potatoes and bread, but what matters is how much.  I am pretty sure it would be possible to lose weight eating at McDonald’s or Taco Bell – not to say that would be particularly healthy or wise, just possible.  In other words, don’t let the government food pyramid or all the propaganda about “food deserts” and “healthy eating” fool you.  Eat good food when possible.   Eat food you like, just not as much.  You need fat.  You need protein.  You need carbohydrates.  You need vitamins and other nutrients.  I reduced my calorie intake to between 1200 and 1700 per day.  Stick to that and the weight will come off.   I lost the first twenty pounds very easily.  The next twenty took longer, and the last ten were very slow to come off. 

Again, there is no trick to this.  It is simple but not easy.  It requires self-discipline – not willpower, self-discipline.  Make up your mind before you start.  You will be hungry, and it will be hard, especially the first week or two.  I highly recommend reading Walker’s book and downloading it along with his spreadsheets and guides.  The book goes into this in much more depth than I have done here. 


  1. 50 lbs. in 3 months is impressive! I did the calorie counting method about 15 years ago. It definitely works. Although, I got a little nutty about counting and checking my notepad and avoiding foods that were just too much of a hassle to calculate. Just these last couple of months I've been working on dropping 20 lbs. 11 have come off so far. I'm not counting this time, I'm just consciously keeping my portions small and trying to get real hungy between meals. I remember when I was a skinny kid I was always starving between meals, not for lack of food mind you, just youthful metabolism. Feeling hungry is a good mode.

  2. That's good. I think once you have done the counting for a while -- probably especially true of guys like you and me that are kind of number-minded anyway -- it begins to happen almost subconsciously. I find myself looking at a plate anymore and notice that I'm thinking, "About 500."

    And you are right, having a little edge of hunger is positive.