March 7, 2012

How I lost 150 pounds in one year

As a little kid I was always skinny, but when my growth spurt to 6-foot-2 began around age 15 that turned into chubby and by the end of high school I was fat. After a year of college fat gave way to obese and, for the most part, that's where I stayed. I lost significant amounts of weight several times since then, including a huge loss about five years ago, but inevitably I always put it all back on and then some.

Last winter I got Chinese takeout or had Pizza Hut chicken wings delivered nearly every night, with various other fast food meals and plenty of late-night snacking mixed in. All that gorging made me the fattest I'd ever been, which was incredibly depressing and in turn led to even more gorging. I was a mess, physically and mentally, but thankfully for whatever reason something finally clicked in my brain in late February of last year.

I was 28 years old and getting fatter by the day, which seemed like a recipe for a terrible life followed by an early death. I committed to attempting another weight-loss effort, knowing that if this one failed like the rest of them I'd probably just have to make peace with always being obese. And like a true addict I couldn't just start the diet, so instead I decided to give myself one final week to gorge on all the bad stuff I could possibly think of eating.

I can even remember my last bad meal. I ordered my favorite dish, hunan chicken, from my favorite Chinese restaurant, Yangtze in St. Louis Park, and then topped it off with some donuts and ice cream. I went to bed that night miserable, knowing how long the road ahead of me would be and how unlikely it was that I'd see the end of it. I woke up the next morning, sluggish from my final binge the night before, and stepped on the scale: 355 pounds.

That was March 7, 2011. Today is March 7, 2012 and this morning the scale read 202 pounds.

I lost 153 pounds in 366 days, and I did it without stomach stapling or crazy diets or a trainer. And as "Gleeman and The Geek" listeners know, I never stopped drinking beer. Throughout my previous weight loss ups and downs I learned that the simple balance between calories consumed and calories burned is the driving force behind any lifestyle change and as a baseball stat-head the knowledge that things work on a linear scale was reassuring.

My goal early on was simple: Eat fewer than 1,250 calories per day and force myself onto an elliptical machine for at least 10 minutes. I completely cut out all the foods I loved, going cold turkey on takeout and delivery and snacks, and also focused on eating at least two meals each day instead of letting myself get so hungry that dinner became a smorgasbord. I ate oatmeal and bananas and chicken soup and Lean Cuisine microwave dinners.

And the weight came flying off, as I shed 40 pounds in the first six weeks. That was certainly a positive thing, but because I'd done that (or something close) several times before I knew it was merely the first step down that long road. In the past my undoing always stemmed from slipping up once, which seems like a harmless thing at first but eventually leads to falling completely off the wagon.

My brain has proven incapable of occasionally going off the diet, so even after losing 40 pounds if I allow myself Chinese food or a few slices of pizza I know within a week I'll be back where I started. I've now gone one full year without consuming even 2,000 calories in a day and likely haven't topped 1,500 calories in a day more than a handful of times. It's been tough, no doubt, but my mantra of "why do I need it?" has talked me out of numerous slip-ups.

Along the way I upped my elliptical machine workout to an average of 30 minutes per day and developed a routine of working out around midnight, propping my laptop up on the console so music or a movie or a live sporting event could keep me occupied. I can remember barely being able to make it 10 minutes that first day, breathing heavily and sweating and feeling like my lungs were going to explode, but if not for boredom going an hour would be easy now.

I also gradually began to incorporate different, more fulfilling foods. I still eat microwavable meals about once a day--my favorites are chicken enchiladas suiza from Smart Ones, Thai-style chicken spring rolls from Lean Cuisine, and barbeque seasoned steak with red potatoes from Healthy Choice--but about six months ago I started to cook my own chicken-and-rice concoction that has become a daily and sometimes twice-daily meal.

Here are the ingredients for the huge batch I make each week:

- 15 cups of cooked white rice (which is about five cups uncooked)
- 28 ounces of Kame oyster sauce
- 12 ounces of Hormel natural choice chicken, cut into small pieces
- 4 ounces of John Morrell diced ham
- 12 ounces of Green Giant valley fresh steamers mixed vegetables
- 32 ounces of egg beaters, scrambled
- 2 ounces of soy sauce
- 0.75 ounces of minced onions
- 0.25 ounces of ground black pepper
- 1 ounce of salt

Put it all together in a big fry pan and what you get is a variation of chicken fried rice that tastes good, isn't terrible for you, and will keep you feeling full enough to avoid going off the diet. And as someone with zero cooking ability I can assure you it's incredibly easy to make, with the added bonus that the above recipe will feed you for an entire week and needs just a few minutes in the microwave for each meal.

I use that chicken-and-rice mashup as the baseline for most meals. For lunch I'll heat up a couple scoops of it along with the aforementioned Thai-style chicken rolls or a cup of microwavable Kraft macaroni and cheese. For dinner I'll heat up a couple more scoops along with the aforementioned chicken enchiladas suiza or barbeque seasoned steak with red potatoes. Every day and every meal, with Minute Maid light orange juice or water to drink.

Nothing crazy and no tricks, just find some reasonably healthy stuff that fills you up and tastes good, and eat it every day while avoiding slip-ups. I'm not sure if that approach is the healthiest or the smartest or even sustainable for the long haul, but I do know that it, along with 30 minutes per day on an elliptical machine, allowed me to go from 355 pounds to 202 pounds in 366 days with the following progression:

March 7, 2011: 355 pounds
May 11, 2011: 305 pounds
August 12, 2011: 265 pounds
September 9, 2011: 253 pounds
October 21, 2011: 245 pounds
December 1, 2011: 235 pounds
January 27, 2012: 215 pounds
March 7, 2012: 202 pounds

I'm certainly proud of myself for losing so much weight, but I'm also incredibly embarrassed on a number of different levels. For one thing I've lost 30 or 50 or even 90 pounds before several times, often writing about it in this space, and then I've always put it back on. That sucks, plain and simple. Beyond that, the biggest key to losing 150 pounds is being incredibly obese to begin with and ... well, that's not particularly fun to talk about either.

Praise for losing weight has always seemed odd to me, because no one is ever praised for simply being thin in the first place. It's like praising a shortstop for improving his defense from horrendous to mediocre, but not praising a different shortstop for always being a good defender. I'm also not in anything resembling great shape, as I still want to lose about 20 pounds and will never be accused of being toned or muscular.

I'm not an expert, I'm not bragging, and I'll probably always be embarrassed about my struggles with weight and how I look. But what I am, for now at least, is someone who stopped his downward spiral enough to shed 153 pounds in 366 days and my hope in writing this is to encourage myself to avoid yet another backslide and perhaps to encourage others to make a change for the better.

Being fat sucks and, if you're like me, being ashamed about how you look fuels depression and then depression leads to over-eating. As happy as I am with how I look and feel now, it makes me retroactively depressed about times in my life when, looking back, people may have been embarrassed to be seen with me or not wanted to hang out with me. Or even just judged me differently because of the person I presented in public.

I'm a lazy 29-year-old guy who's been fat since high school, doesn't have great metabolism or genetics, works from home, barely leaves the house, and can't cook. If I can get on a simple diet and stick to it for a year, then literally anyone can do it and probably do it even better. Find some low-calorie foods you like enough to eat on a regular basis, learn to cook a meal or two that you enjoy, and push yourself to exercise just a little bit.

My issue has always been needing to feel full and binging, but by building a diet of low-calorie foods and a rice concoction I've managed to feel full most of the time and by going cold turkey on everything bad I've stayed binge-free. Whether it's analytical or obsessive-compulsive, knowing that burning more calories than I take in equals weight loss and establishing a consistent routine of what I eat, when I eat, how I work out, and when I work out was crucial.

I eat at approximately 10:30 am and 6:30 p.m. every day, consuming some combination of those same half-dozen or so low-calorie options for each meal, and then do the same workout around midnight. Immersing myself in those patterns kept me from slip-ups, helped me stay confident that my plan was working, and perhaps most importantly kept me from having to think too much about eating or working out in general.

Because for a longtime fatso whose over-eating comes partly from depression thinking about your life and diet and body can be the worst thing for any weight-loss effort. So instead of thinking too much I just eat the same stuff and do the same workout I did the day before. Stick to your routine, without exceptions. No cheat days, no slip-ups because you're out with friends, no skipping a workout because you're tired.

Do it, every day, and one year later you'll have changed your life.

  • Ryan

    This is extremely impressive – congrats Aaron!

  • http://albethke.blogspot.com Al

    Congrats Mr. Gleeman, and good luck getting to your goal.

  • Scott

    Great article. Your plan is very similar to the Hacker’s diet.

    http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/www/hackdiet.html

    For people who work and play behind a desk all day.

  • Onomous

    Way to be Aaron. Wonderful story, and an inspiration for all to follow.

  • Tracy

    Congratulations, Aaron! Absolutely fantastic.

  • http://dodgerthoughts.com Jon Weisman

    I’d say this is better than a mediocre-fielding shortstop. The effort is All-Star. Congrats, Aaron, and thanks for sharing it.

  • Eric Johnson

    Awesome. As a fan for almost a decade I’ve enjoyed your self deprecating fat humor. Im ashamed to say I never realized the honestly and truth behind the jokes. I’m happy for you and I’ve been thankful for your blog ad sharing your lives with us

  • Katz

    I can’t believe the Yangtze is still open. Is David Woo’s still there on Cedar Lake Road?

  • http://ElephantsinOakland.com Zachary D Manprin

    Good to read and good to see. I have lost the 50+ before following the same basic principles; “get off the couch and put down the fork”.

    Of course, there’s more to it than that. You made a big step by fending for yourself in the kitchen. Not eating anything that comes from a drive-thru window or from a delivery person is an easy way to get started.

    But I hope you do follow up. I’d like to read about the fat clothes vs the skinny clothes vs in-between. I still think there is grant money out there for someone to do a study on the noise it takes to put on shoes or get up from a chair for someone who loses 50+ pounds.

  • https://twitter.com/achester99 alex

    congrats, it’s really impressive.

    but jim souhan must be pissed, what kind of stat-nerd blogger are you?

  • Jeff

    Found your article re-tweeted on Twitter. I’ve struggled for a long time and am currently my heaviest and have fallen into a pattern of laziness and overeating and thinking the road back is just too long. I’ll use this article to get going. Thanks and good luck.

  • John Ursu

    An inspiring story. Aaron. Thank you sharing it, and good luck on staying the course. We love your work and want to have you with us for many years.

  • neil

    Wow, this is fantastic.

  • Parker

    Pshaw. How it really happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0i0Q5EVC8Sw

  • mrgerbik03

    Awesome. You lost 150 pounds and from that pic it looks like you got 5 years younger.

  • Carlos

    Outstanding job, Aaron! Inspiring.

  • TS

    great work! keep it up brother

  • Michael

    Awesome! All you had to do was change your eating and physical habits. You are a great example that A) Change is possible, and that B) there is no silver bullet. Just change habits. It’s easier said than done, but anyone can do it. Besides the obvious societal impact, I bet you feel much better doing everyday things too. Congrats, keep up the good work, and I hope others are inspired by you.

  • AJ

    Congratulations. Awesome story. Maybe you should get yourself some cookIng classes as a one year reward.

  • Chris

    awesome. thx for sharing. been reading your blog for years.

  • http://twitter.com/joe_kehoskie Joe Kehoskie

    Congratulations, Aaron. Very impressive. Best of luck.

  • Mat P.

    Way to not let your previous failed attempts stop you from reaching your goal. Like the famous Babe Ruth quote, “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way”.

  • Navorskiy

    Great to hear that you found something that works for you.

    You look happier, and hopefully the increased health will help you with your daily workload.

    Here’s to hoping the Twins don’t depress you into another downspin.

  • By Jiminy

    You’re awesome, Aaron. You already were awesome, but your awesomeness apparently knows no bounds.

    Not that you need advice, obviously, but have you tried brown rice? Once you get used to it, the flavor is actually much nicer, especially once you start mixing in things like fresh ginger and more vegetables. For instance if you cut up a fresh onion or two and some garlic, and sauteed them, that would make a great addition to your fried rice dish. Add a little grated ginger root to the pan and it will start tasting like restaurant food. You can also throw in a chopped red pepper. Even a can or sliced bamboo shoots or baby corn…

    I think if you keep this up you will eventually enjoy eating more fresh vegetables and fruits. I’m not an expert but I think weight watchers counts vegetables as zero points, meaning you can eat all you want without worry. Try those precut baby carrots, or slice red peppers into strips; they’re really tasty. Those boxes of prewashed lettuce and other greens are great too. And once you get to a maintenance weight, I’m sure you’ll find some fruit you like. If you can find a farmers market, those apples are a hundred times tastier than red delicious.

    I have a feeling you will become a good cook if you keep this up. You can make some really good stir fries that taste better than takeout would let you stuff yourself on vegetables; that’s an easy way to start, but the sky’s the limit.

    Sorry for the advice — probably the best thing is to not mess with your routine, and keep on with what’s working! Just know that when you start to branch out, your amazing research skills will quickly lead you to things that taste much better than what you ate before, are better for you, and are easy to make at home. What you’ve done is the hardest part. Eating healthier long term will be more fun, because you won’t have to starve yourself, and you can use your brain to make yourself happy. Good food tastes good!

    I’m glad though if posting this stuff helps you keep yourself accountable; then we can feel like we helped, by doing nothing. And yes, I would congratulate the bad fielder who worked hard and got better much more than some lazy guy who was a born athlete. Way to go.

    The only quibble I have with your post is the thought that other people were judging you as harshly as you were; I think when people saw you most just thought, hey, he’s that amazing writer guy!

  • Mike Whitaker

    Awesome. And an inspiration, since I need to lose about 100 lbs.

  • The Kid NYC

    Very inspiring and congrats. I’ve been reading since Free Johan and was as happy to read of your weight loss progress as anything you’ve ever written.

  • Michael David Smith

    You’re an inspiration, Aaron. Congratulations.

  • MC

    Sh*t… now what’s my excuse. Great job! Now I better figure out my plan.

  • http://sirfwalgman.blogspot.com sirfwalgman

    The reason we do not praise skinny people for being skinny is it comes naturally to most of them. Some people just have better sense of when they are full or better metabolisms or just were brought up eating better foods… I think you should be proud of your weight loss because it took some hard work and you accomplished something very hard. I know, I am working on changing my eating habits much the same way you did and it is hard work.

  • travis

    Aaron- thank you for sharing the emotional side of your struggle as well as the practical side. This sounds so much like my struggles to quit smoking that its freaking me out a bit. Keep up the good work and the great writing!

  • http://www.nealpolister.com neal polister

    Congrats, Aaron! Well done and you look terrific! You seem to have found, as I did, that healthy eating and living can be just as addictive (in a good way) as the opposite…and it feels weird or “wrong” to do otherwise anymore. Kudos. You should feel very proud of yourself!

  • Nate

    Aaron, I’ve been reading your website for close to a decade now and I am thrilled for you! Congrats, keep up the good fight!

  • Tfg

    Very, very cool.

  • http://twinsfanfromafar.blogspot.com AW

    Amazing story, Aaron. Congratulations!
    I take the chicken enchiladas suiza to work about once a week; they are my preferred frozen Mexican meal, also.

  • GroverGopher

    Congratulations Aaron :) I have followed your blog for six years and have greatly enjoyed your thoughts on the Twins and the Friday Link-o-rama. I spent most of my college life in the house and know the depression you must have dealt with. Hopefully your weightloss will lead to new and enjoyable opportunities in your life. Once again congratulations and continued success.

  • Steve

    Sounds like an MVP year, Aaron! Your last year is equivalent to .344, 217 hits, 44 HR’s,131 RBIs and 380 total bases! Congrats!

  • Enrico Caruso

    Well done..

    My story is 110 pounds in ten months. It started as a very strict Atkins and is now more of a paleo type diet. (And no misinformed replies on why we “need” carbs….ive kept it off for eleven years, and I promise you I know more about what low-carb eating is than most everyone!)

    Bottom line, you’re absolutely right….consume fewer calories than you need to lose the weight, and never, ever think that once you’ve reached your goal weight you can simply “stop your diet.”

  • David

    Inspiring story, Aaron. Can’t add much to what’s already been written, other than to point out a powerful psychological principle that accounts for why so many of us fail where you have succeeded.

    It’s called “present bias.”

    The following is excerpted from a terrific article on present bias as it relates to procrastination:

    Many studies over the years have shown that we tend to have time-inconsistent preferences. When asked if we would rather have fruit or cake one week from now, we will usually say fruit. A week later when the slice of German chocolate and the apple are offered, we are statistically more likely to go for the cake.

    This is why our Netflix queues are full of great films we keep passing over for “Family Guy.” With Netflix, the choice of what to watch right now and what to watch later is like candy bars versus carrot sticks. When you are planning ahead, your better angels point to the nourishing choices, but in the moment you go for what tastes good.

    As behavioral economist Katherine Milkman has pointed out, this is why grocery stores put candy right next to the checkout.

    This is sometimes called present bias – being unable to grasp that what you want will change over time, and what you want now isn’t the same thing as you will want later. Present bias explains why you buy lettuce and bananas only to throw them out later when you forget to eat them. This is why when you are a kid you wonder why adults don’t own more toys.

    Present bias is why you’ve made the same resolution for the tenth year in a row, but this time you mean it. You are going to lose weight and forge a six-pack of abs so ripped you could deflect arrows.

    You weigh yourself. You buy a workout DVD. You order a set of weights.

    One day you have the choice between running around the block or watching a movie, and you choose the movie. Another day you are out with friends and can choose a cheeseburger or a salad. You choose the cheeseburger.

    The slips become more frequent, but you keep saying you’ll get around to it. You’ll start again on Monday, which becomes a week from Monday. Your will succumbs to a death by a thousand cuts. By the time winter comes it looks like you already know what your resolution will be the next year.

    The complete article can be found here: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/10/27/procrastination/

  • eric

    Longtime reader, first time commenter, but this seems like a good a time as any — great job and great post.

  • http://tenthinningstretch.blogspot.com/ thrylos98

    Congratulations! Well done!

  • Ace

    Congrats Aaron.

    I’m down about 25 pounds over six weeks myself, using similar methods. The difference is I’m always out of the house or on the road for work, visiting family, or going out w/ friends. I’m VERY social (even though sometimes I don’t want to be). Your methods are NOT just for people who never leave the house. It is possible to use most or all of your strategies even if you’re out and about every other night.

    The challenging part is dealing with those friends, family and co-workers.

    The first night of my “diet” was at my nephew’s bday party. Kid’s bday parties are always a disaster food-wise. There’s a giant smorgasboard of unhealthy food, followed by cake and ice cream, followed by taking another few trips through the smorgasboard (all while pounding beers and whiskey cokes with your father-in-law and brother-in-law).

    The first night of my “diet,” I made only one trip through the smorgasboard, refused cake and ice cream, and limited myself to two beers. My in-law’s reaction was the perfect example of why my previous efforts at eating better always failed. Everyone sort of looked at me funny, making comments like, “What? Are you going to be a 13-year old anorexic girl now?” “Are you too good to have another beer with us?” “Since when are you trying to be all healthy?” “Are you a liberal now?”

    It was good-natured ribbing — they weren’t being mean — but I always used to eventually cave in and succumb to the temptation of more food and more booze. I’m not blaming my previous failures on others, but something clicked in my brain that night. It’s almost like I said the hell with losing weight because of my health, looks, energy level, waist size, etc. I decided to lose weight just to prove to myself that I could.

    It’s hard to eat right when you’re always on the road, or having beers and appetizers w/ co-workers, or going out with friends, or grabbing something quick to eat between jobs. But it is possible. At least it has been for me over the last six weeks.

    I don’t know if turning weight loss into a game is the correct mindset to have or not, but it’s worked for me so far. I still eat all the foods I enjoy, just far less of them. When I’m tempted to go for another helping of my wife’s spaghetti and meat sause featuring grass-fed beef from my in-law’s farm, I think about those extra pounds that will show up on the scale and might cause me to lose the internal weight-loss battle that started the night of my nephew’s bday party.

    I guess this post is just a long, rambling way to say that Aaron’s methods are not just for people who rarely leave the house. I’m rarely home, which prevents me from following a routine, and I’ve been able to use similar methods with great success. (so far).

  • Jeff

    Way to go, Aaron!

  • The Original Matt

    Congrats on the success Aaron. I think almost everyone can relate to this in some way whether its weight or some other personal demon. Here’s to hoping you’ve conquered yours and can keep the weight off.
    Thanks for all the great content over the years (and for introducing me to HBD even though I’ve given it up for now), keep up the good work.
    I also think you and Craig should have some sort of worlds strongest blogger competition. It could be televised on the mew NBC sports talk network!

  • spoofbonser

    !!!!

  • Nick S

    Congrats Aaron! In our instant gratification society very few people have the discipline to do what you just did. Most people want the easy/quick solution. Keep up the good work and fantastic job on the last 12 months!

  • http://glanzer.wordpress.com RCG

    Congrats! I had a similar experience losing weight that sounds a lot like your strategy, but I only went from 273 to 228. Maybe your story will be motivation for me to get down another 20.

  • Mark R (Columbus)

    You are my Jared! Can’t wait to see you on the pre-game shows!

  • Tom

    Now you’ll need a new photo for your column header on MinnPost.com.

  • Sinking Liner

    Aaron, this is your greatest story yet. Looks like you’ll need to update your Twitter avatar.

  • Andy

    What a great article to start my day! Keep up the great work Aaron!