Looking back on a year of better living.

A lot of people have noticed the changes in my physical appearance over the past year and asked about it. Obviously the people in my life are aware of the effort I’ve been putting in, but among my friends and acquaintances online, it’s come up more than a few times. It’s been about a year, and I’ve been thinking of writing about it, so it seems like it’s time to do so.

A bit of history first: at some point in my mid-20s, I made the implicit agreement with myself that I’d probably drop a few pounds in the warmer months when I was more active (surfing) but then I’d put the weight back on again in the winter. Summer body vs. winter body. It was a joke for a while. I’ve never been dangerously overweight, just enough to dislike myself. Last June, I looked at myself and decided this summer would be different. This summer, I was really going to try to lose weight –for real– and keep it off. I’d never actually made a real effort to do this; it was always some half-assed thing that didn’t hold up. I knew this time had to be different. I would have to fundamentally change myself from the ground up in order to make this work. It was a radical, multi-faceted approach, the kind of thing people say is unsustainable because too much of your life is in flux and changing. I made the agreement with myself this time that I wasn’t going back.

June 2011

The regimen begins. I change my diet, eating huge amounts of vegetables (mostly salads, since they’re great in the summer). I drink tons of water. I go for walks. I try a standing desk. I substitute a few things. I’m a huge dessert fan, so instead of eating a pint of ice cream, I eat a few bites. Or I eat a 100 calorie almond milk ice cream sandwich. The first part was all about getting through the gate quickly and getting motivated.

The hardest part of all of this is the self-control involved. Everyone knows this, but it doesn’t make it any easier. To have a plate of food and not eat everything on it, no matter how delicious, is tough. But your body doesn’t need all the food you can ingest – it needs a fraction of it. Once you learn this, and can control your mind in spite of what your body thinks it wants, you’re on your way. It’s surprising how much of a mental change this all takes. You have to basically reset your physical expectations based on a new mental model of what you know to be true. After years of eating yourself sick, stopping halfway and having tight portion control feels so bizarre. But it’s the thing that makes the most difference. It cascades into the rest of the process, but it’s very hard to see that when you’re sitting there staring at your plate.

Throughout the summer I was pretty hard on myself. Substituting fruits and nuts for other snacks. Eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of gorging. Basically being acutely aware of everything that was going in and what I was doing to make it go out. However, contrary to how most people do this, I chose not to weigh myself or count calories. I know that’s a familiar metric that people like to use, but I based this entire thing on how I felt as opposed to the numbers. It seems counterintuitive, but you’ll get (at least I did) a lot more satisfaction out of looking at yourself in the mirror and feeling good than knowing you’re exactly three pounds lighter. For me, obsessing over the numbers would have just slowed my progress and focused me in the wrong places.

As I headed into the fall and winter, the challenge became not putting the weight back on. By this point, I’d spent a few months following my regimen, continuing the walks, the good choices, the water (you really can’t believe how beneficial water is to this effort). This winter was going to feel different already; I could tell. I kept going as strong as the summer – in fact, I redoubled my efforts and made sure that I was still as vigilant and observant as I was when I was wearing less and more aware of my body.

I still allowed myself the things I liked – I just didn’t do it in nearly the volume I did before. For instance, since I was a kid, I loved eating cereal in the morning. Well, I love eating super sweet cereal in the morning. So I made my cereal the tradeoff for the day. Cinnamon Toast Crunch and 1% milk to kick it off, good choices throughout the day. Having something to go to like that is nice, because you don’t feel like you’ve completely abandoned yourself. It’s like a little life raft of comfort. And if you’re gonna cheat, better make it breakfast anyway, when you have all day to burn it off, and your metabolism is chewing at you for something after a night of sleep.

It was around this time that I needed to start buying new clothes. That’s a great feeling.

Throughout the (thankfully) mild winter we had, I walked. I walked in the snow, too. Every day, more on weekends. (1-2 miles on weekdays, 3+ on the weekends. Podcasts are your friend.) I continued to impress myself by eating sensibly, when in the past, I would shovel down burgers and pastas and all manner of heavy foods in the cold. At this point, the habits had taken hold. I’d changed enough of my daily routine and been doing it long enough that it had supplanted what I thought I would do with what I actually did.

We went to Aruba in March, and I had to buy all new shorts and board shorts. Again, exciting. Polo shirts I hadn’t worn in months suddenly fit better. T-shirts I had long since written off were now fitting. It was working – hell, it had worked – I kept the weight off all winter. I was in the home stretch.

August 2012

Here we are. In the past year the following has happened.

  • I downsized from a 38 to a 34 inch waist
  • I lost approximately 30-35 pounds (remember, I wasn’t really counting, but I did weigh myself once or twice along the way)
  • I no longer have any of the digestive issues I would occasionally experience from overeating (reflux, indigestion, etc.)
  • I sleep better
  • I feel better when I get up
  • I prefer motion to sitting around
  • I actually can’t eat crap anymore (my body craves and prefers healthier foods, more veggies, less grease – really)
  • I added other light exercise into the routine. I do push-ups or light (20 lb) curls in the mornings on weekdays; I’m using this app and I’m up to 97 in a single session as of this writing.

There’s nothing special about me. I hate going to the gym. I’m not obsessed with fitness. I made some simple yet tough choices. I chose to not feel like crap every day. I chose to be mobile, because I want to remain so into my old age. I chose to moderate all intake into my body, and the net result is that my body has paid me back in the healing it’s done.

Anyone can do this. It’s slow, but it’s worth it. Like most things worth having, you have to work at it. I didn’t think I was capable of sustaining it, but it’s permanently changed me. Better late than never, I guess. It wasn’t easy; in fact, it was very hard. Now that I’ve lost weight, I’m more focused on the parts of my body that still need work, and while the rest of the world sees this tremendous effort, I’m seeing flaws. The change in myself has been infectious but in a good way – I’m certainly in no danger of developing an eating disorder, I just think my metabolism plateaus at certain levels and I need to up my activity or restrict my diet a little more to kick it into the next phase. But I’m eating and enjoying life – a healthier life – and I wouldn’t go back.

Thoughts? Let me know.

Author: Seth Clifford

I'm here for the open bar.