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.

  • Jeff

    Great work. Maybe you’re not looking for unsolicited advice, but if you’re bored of the elliptical, a bit of strength training is a good way to convert fat to muscle even if you’re not strictly losing weight, and it can be fun compared to the grind of an elliptical. Also, now that you’re not really heavy and your knees can handle it, you might consider some good old fashioned running, which I like because it gets me outside. reddit.com/r/fitness is a good place to look for information.

  • andrew

    Wow! That’s encouraging for me as I am also trying to stick to a non fast food diet.

  • Martin Arrowsmith

    As a cardiologist, I commend you for doing what I tell all my patients to do: burn more than you eat. The benefits of aerobic exercise cannot be overstated. Congratulations!

  • Mitch Clingman

    This is the best article I have read to date. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://workmaninsurance.biz Vince

    Very inspirational story. I have battled with weight loss for some time as well. I am also using the burn more than you consume technique and I have seen results. I tend to allow a cheat day, but you are right, none of that. Do you still have beers on the weekends? That’s been the biggest obstacle for me up to this point…that and the need for a Chipotle to cure the hangover.

  • Tap

    Congrats Aaron! Another vote for Brown rice. Also try exercising in the morning as it increase your metabolism throughout the day. For dessert try Trader Joes frozen mango. No added sugar and tastes like sorbet when slightly defrosted. Might also want to swim or crosstrain so you do not overdo the elliptical motion. Could cause wear and tear on joints if you do same motion every day.

  • Moe

    Congratulations Aaron, I am a fat (relatively so) person myself, but I’m only 18. The binge-eating and general lack of discipline is my problem, and I think this will help to inspire me to stop it before it’s too late. Thank you very much man.

  • D-Luxxx

    Nice job Aaron. I’ve been working on eating healthier and working out to lower my cholesterol. I’d have to say that at 6′ 2″, I weigh about 200 lbs, and that’s a pretty healthy weight for a guy of our height.

    Keep up the good work, but don’t starve yourself to reach a number that might not be healthy for you. Eventually you’ll want to get back up to around 2,000 calories a day to make sure you aren’t starving yourself. Another reader already noted that more vegetables and fruits would be a good addition as well. Unless you are taking some sort of supplement, you are robbing your body of needed vitamins.

  • Lee

    Aaron,

    I dropped 55 lbs about two years ago and have kept it off. I did it different from you, but like you I’m chasing an elusive last 20 lbs that would get me back to my HS weight.

    People who lose weight get congradulated because it shows that they addressed and overcame a personal demon. Everyone has personal demons, it’s just that people who obesitie’s demons are very apperant and very public.

  • Amy

    Amazing, inspiring….and so honest. Thank you.

  • Chris

    Congratulations! This is fairly similar to me. I was about 320ish (I say ish because I think my scale was probably understating it) at my heaviest and one day I just snapped. Counted calories making sure not to exceed 2000. Got off my ass. Got down to 190 in about 14 months. I’m back up a little, but it’s just winter weight which will come off shortly. You’ll know soon, but seeing 199 is one of THE BEST THINGS EVER! Keep it up!

  • David

    Wow, super fantastic. Congratulations Aaron. Also, I think it’s supremely cool that, despite whatever insecurities you have, you’re willing to share it with people in an effort to help others with this problem. To me, that almost deserves more praise. Opening up a vein on the internet isn’t easy, but I think what you’ve done is going to help a lot of people.

    Congrats again. It’s really, really impressive that you took this upon yourself and just did it. Keep it up!

  • Brenden

    Outstanding, Aaron. You look fantastic.

    I have a buddy that has gone through a very similar transformation over the last year or so. It is so wonderful to see the change. I can only imagine how excited and happy your family and friends are. Are the friends you don’t see except at the SABR convention going to recognize you in June?

    You know what else I’d like to see a picture of? The frying pan you use for your fried rice. It sounds delicious, but I can’t conceive of a pan that fits 15 cups of rice along with all of the other stuff.

  • Jason

    Aaron,

    Thank you for the inspiring and provoking article. This is something I have been thinking about a lot myself lately and you have articulated so manyof my feelings. I will make a goal today to report back here a year from now. Keep it up!

  • Luis

    As someone else said, if you don’t want to mess with your routine at all I understand, but I would just like to point out that you may want to consider eating more than twice a day. Eating smaller, more frequent meals is much better for you and your metabolism than a couple larger meals spaced out with long stretches of not eating, especially if, as you say, you’re not blessed with a great metabolism to begin with. (It’s a matter of blood sugar and cortisol release…I’m sure you can easily find a more detailed explanation online if you’re interested.) It’s also great for the “need to feel full” problem. And since you’re lucky enough to work from home, working in a couple more meal times a day shouldn’t be that hard. Anyway, congratulations and good luck.

  • Jon

    I know praise is awkward to you, so here’s my take. As a naturally thin person, I inherently disliked you for being fat. Now you’re not, so we can get along. Congratulations.
    I thoroughly enjoy your writing and podcast, regardless of whether or not it deals with the Twins. What you’ve done really is awesome and I’m glad to hear so many people have become even slightly motivated by your story. Apparently you appeal to a target demographic… I wish more people I know would do this.
    I would say that I agree with a few others in that you should change your workout routine once you are comfortable. Even though an elliptical is easier on your joints than running, I think you will see even better results if you vary your workout with strength training and other forms of cardio.
    Either way, way to go. I take it for granted that I’m genetically thin, so this gives me an appreciation for what I’ve been given.

  • http://diamondhoggers.com Clint

    I’m inspired. Keep it up!

  • ScottB

    Aaron, I’ve been reading your blog since Batgirl was still writing and this may be the best thing you’ve ever written. Keep it up. The best part about losing weight (I’ve lost 40+ myself and have kept it off for 7 years) is that once you get there, it’s easier to stay there than you think, especially with exercise.

    If I can give 3 pieces of advice:
    1) Go outside. It’s great that you have the eliptical. Stay on it, but try running or biking outside. Start with 15-20 minutes. As a workout it may or may not be better than the eliptical, but it’s so much more enjoyable that it’s easier to stick with and extend, especially in the MN summer. Plus, there are girls outside.
    2) Be careful about sodium intake. A lot of the diet foods are high in sodium. You don’t want to trade one problem for another.
    3) Vegetables. Learn to cook vegetables (roasting in a bit of olive oil is ridiculously easy). Great for actually being full. Also impressive to girls you meet while exercising outside.

    In any case, what you’re doing is clearly working for you. Be proud of yourself. And maybe get some cooler glasses.

  • es16

    Congratulations… That’s very impressive… One of the most difficult thing to do in life is to conquer an addiction… It’s an ongoing battle, but you’re on the right path… And how much money have you saved, not buying all that take-out and fast food?

  • AM.

    Congrats Aaron. You started this hoping to lose more than the Twins won. In fact the bigger challenge–which you also amazingly beat–was to lose more in the season than the Twins. That was a close call though….

  • AlanM

    Aaron, Great job, and very inspiring. Keep up the good work (and the terrific baseball writing)!

  • Jeff Y.

    Aaron- Nice!

  • Steve

    Aaron, I read your site all the time, but never felt moved to comment. It’s probably because in the grand scheme of things, baseball isn’t that important. But what you’ve done, changing your life, is inspirational. I hope that your readers can see what’s possible with a plan and a lot of discipline and that you’ve inspired some of them to do the same. Congratulations!

  • wrong em

    Congrats!

    Substitute brown rice for the white and the same # of calories will feel more filling still. Most people don’t grow up eating brown rice but it’s easy to like once you get used to it. If you soak it overnight before cooking it cooks faster and it’s easier to digest.

    Or, you know, don’t. Whatever works.

  • Drew

    Great job, Aaron, and thanks for writing this!

  • Travis

    Congrats Aaron. Long time reader, first time commenter. The beauty of your weight loss is in its simplicity. Very impressive, keep up the good work. Go Twins.

  • Leslie

    My husband forwarded me this link. March 2010 I was a 261lb, 5’9 woman, definitely obese and unhappy and 2 years later I’m down to 185, still another 10-15 to go at least, but I don’t want congratulations. It’s encouraging to hear what I have been telling myself from day 1 “why are they praising me for doing what I should have done a long time ago?” Regardless, way to go Aaron, now that it’s a lifestyle change I guarantee you’ll keep it off!

  • Phil

    Congrat, Aaron, shows what discipline can do! I agree with many of the additional suggestions – brown rice, more meals / day, do other exercises. The lower you go in weight the more your body will fight you, and the less change you’ll see.

  • AMR

    Aaron, that’s great. I doubt I would have recognized you.

    I do want to warn you, though, that I projected your future weight loss (which has been very linear, Rsq of .959). If you keep up at this pace, you will disappear completely by July 23rd of next year. I wouldn’t worry unless you drop below 100 before Thanksgiving though.

  • Christian

    Aaron – congrats, and excellent work. The most impressive aspect is the extreme discipline your weight loss required.
    I’d really recommend meeting with a nutritionist at some point once you transition from weight-loss to day-to-day maintenance. I’m sure you have a decent working knowledge, but a nutritionist can customize a set of meal requirements for you based on your lifestyle and whatever exercise goals you wish to accomplish. It’ll be super helpful for, especially once you get sick of what you’re currently doing.

    Also . . . I can’t say this for sure, but it seems as though you have yet to discover the magic that is black bean soup. You can get a bag for a couple of bucks, soak and stew the shit out of ‘em and add in whatever flavorings/veggies/smoked meats you like. Add in some hot sauce and a little cheese (if you like), or maybe get crazy and top with a little slasa fresca and cilantro. Damn good.

  • Rob

    This is so cool. I know you don’t think you could ever be someone viewed as an inspiration, especially when it comes to health…but that’s exactly what you are. I actually think stories like this are even more encouraging because you are so much more relatable than someone in a magazine or on Biggest Loser.

    It’s impossible to read one person’s story like this and not feel extremely happy for them. Well done and keep us informed from time to time about changes in your plan or anything else that comes along. Congratulations!

  • Mikey

    Could a newspaper writer say that you are in the best shape of your career this spring training?

  • http://twins.gearupforsports.com/blog Steve L.

    Truly awesome AG! Not sure if this comment will make you (or me for that matter) feel any better than you already must, but you’ve officially lost 1 complete me q;)

  • JessicaJo316

    Congrats, Aaron!! I’m truly impressed with your mental toughness. You made the decision to get healthy and follow it through. I hope more of us are able to follow your lead and do the same, whether our challenge is weight loss or some other struggle. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Scott Stahoviak

    Wow Aaron – Congrats on the accomplishment. It’s far from over, but you’re at a great point to look back on your accomplishments from the past year.

  • Anne

    Nice work – you look great!

  • Greg

    Congratulations! Thanks for sharing. Your experience gives me hope. I recently started a similar path of ‘simply’ eating less and exercising more. Dec 1st I weighed 255lbs (5’9″)and felt terrible. Today I weigh 225lbs and I’m shooting for 190lbs. Great job Aaron.

  • http://weareoffthemark.wordpress.com Bryz

    Excellent job, Aaron!

  • Josh

    Fantastic job, Aaron! Keep it up! You’re doing it for all the right reasons and I hope that others read your story and feel the urge to make a change themselves.

  • Rob

    You’re the opposite of lazy. Getting a well-thought product out to your readers just about every day, and adding a workout and a total lifestyle change? That’s discipline in the extreme. Courage is also somewhere on the other end of the spectrum from lazy, and you’ve got that, too. Being lazy is doing the same thing, taking the easy job, following the pack. Courage is blogging about your favorite pastime and making that your job, even though it’s an extremely risky way to try to make your living. And courage is changing long-ingrained habits through hard work and belief in yourself. That’s why you deserve praise, man — you’ve got courage and discipline to inspire us all. You made this happen — this new body, this website, this community. It’s all you, Aaron.

  • Jeff S

    Congrats Aaron! We have never met, but I am proud of you man, well done! Go get those last 20 pounds.

    I have been following the blog for several year, and the Friday Links are the first thing I do every Friday morning at work.

  • old person

    very proud of you you look handsome and much younger you are an expert chef now as well as a ba

    UD ebal l expert one year to lose a person

  • FMelius

    Rock on, Aaron. I’m a longtime reader of you here and elsewhere, and am more pleased to hear of this particular accomplishment than of your many writing-related successes…which are awesome in their own right. Well done, and KEEP IT UP!

  • http://www.knuckleballsblog.com JimCrikket

    As someone who’s fought the fight (less successfully), I think what you’ve accomplished is terrific and I’m jealous of your dedication and success. Keep it going, Aaron.

  • Brian

    My heartiest congratulations! Also thank you for you open and sincere words about your journey. May you be an inspiration to others.

  • TMW

    This is astonishing. Great work!

  • ML

    Mazel Tav, Aaron!

  • http://myronangstman.com Myron Angstman

    A very well written account, which could be helpful to many readers

  • mike wants wins

    Congratulations sir. Good work. As for a commenter above that being skinny comes naturally to “most” skinny people, no, I don’t think so. Most skinny people I know keep their calorie count down, and at least walk or something else…..

  • Kevin

    Congrats, Aaron!

    I’m in a similar situation. I never really struggled with weight through the end of high school, as I was playing soccer about 10 months a year (playing for the school and my club team in the fall, in an indoor league over the winter, and then for my travel team in the spring). But then I graduated high school and started putting on weight. I put on about 10 pounds every year. Occasionally, I would make an effort to lose weight (usually doing something like the Atkins diet) and the weight would come off until the cravings for carbs got bad enough for me to give up. And then the weight would come piling back on.

    Finally, last summer, I stepped on the scale on July 14 and saw the number 375. For some reason, that was the number I needed to see in order to make a commitment to change. I realized that if I didn’t do something soon, I was going to weight 400 pounds in a couple years. At that point, I started tracking my calories in an attempt to get things going in the right direction. And to my surprise, it was much easier than I expected. The weight started coming off, and has kept coming off. As of Sunday, March 4, I weighed in at 276. I still have quite a ways to go, but I’ve lost 99 pounds in a little under 8 months. I’m shooting for 125 total by the 1-year mark.

    This is the first time in probably 15 years that I feel like it’s actually possible for me to weigh something approximating a “normal” weight again.