I was always a slim person on the lower end of a healthy Body Mass Index for my height. But that all changed once I hit 30. For the past 5 years, I've been trying desperately to lose weight but couldn't drop even ONE POUND. Going to the gym for 30 minutes 5 days a week, lifting weights on the weekend, taking stimulants, counting calories like a madman...none of it would make my weight budge even a pound. I can't lose even one measly pound on the migraine drug Topamax--a med that causes most to shed weight with no effort at all. I was firmly in the 'overweight' BMI category & headed for obese.
This problem of rapid weight gain began when I started using benzos (etizolam) in 2013. This substance played havoc with my metabolism & endocrine system in many ways, one of which was causing weight gain of about 45 lbs. I thought quitting the pills would help me lose some poundage, but instead I was hit with the most ravenous hunger imaginable for a solid 2 years after quitting, along with other symptoms that lead to 2 suicide attempts. But that's another story for another day. Long story short: don't abuse benzodiazepines.
My obsession with losing weight plus my terrible mental health from benzo withdrawal eventually caused the breakup of my 13-year relationship. Another crushing blow. I turn 35 this year & decided I was not going to be old AND fat AND single, hehe. So I adopted a weight loss plan based on logic & common sense: the CICO plan. CICO stands for "Calories In, Calories Out" & it's a very simple premise. We lose weight when we eat fewer calories than we expend at rest doing things like breathing & dreaming. And what do you know? It actually works! I've lost 26 lbs so far and have no intention of stopping until I'm at my goal weight. I'm back in the 'healthy weight' BMI category & enjoy clothes shopping again. I started in September of 2018 so it didn't take long to get here. There's no real effort involved at this point because I've gotten into the habit of doing the "hard stuff" already. Yay.
I'm no weight loss guru, but I wanted to share my tweaked CICO plan here for anyone who's struggling. You can play around with it & tailor it to your needs as necessary.
Calories In, Calories Out - My Personal Twist
Step 1: Positive reinforcement: Choose a body image icon. Someone with the absolute ideal body that you would choose if you could snap your fingers & look like them. Create a (private) Pinterest board or simply keep photos of them handy somewhere for inspiration. (Yeah, this sounds sort of creepy but it is important to think positively & have something to strive for). It's a good reminder that it IS possible to have a lean/muscular/healthy body. And it's not 'unrealistic' because whoever you choose is a human being like you...not an alien of a different species. You may never look just like them but you can be just as healthy & transform your entire life in the process. Think about or look at your motivational pics often to stay on track. The goal isn't to become this person but to aim high so that even if you miss you'll land among the stars (lame cliche, sorry).
Step 2: Calculate your TDEE. There are many websites where you can do this. It's very simple: just enter the info such as your gender, age, weight, activity level (be honest!) & height. Then the calculator will tell you what your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) are. Once you have your TDEE, subtract 15-20% from it & you'll have the number of calories you should be eating each day for your metabolic needs. (If you have a hard time with math like I do, use this percentage calculator). Go with 15% if you want to start slow & 20% if you want faster results. Some TDEE calculators will automatically do the percentage calculating for you. Write this number down & put it somewhere prominent. It will be the most important number in your journey.
Step 3: Jumpstart your plan with a Very Low Calorie Diet: VLCD. This will entail eating a mere 800 or 900 calories per day for the first 2-3 days. The longer you can maintain this, the better. (Don't exceed one week of VLCD without a doctor's supervision). The purpose is to help shrink your stomach & get used to coping with hunger pangs. It also makes your permanent calorie budget feel SO much more reasonable by comparison! If you can make it through these first few days you can certainly handle the actual diet plan. Start on a weekend if you need to so you're not stressing & feeling hungry at work. You may want to use an appetite suppressant like white or green-vein kratom during these first few days to help meet your goals. Just don't become dependent because these appetite suppressants don't tend to work long term. It's a tool; not a magic bullet.
Step 4: Begin your permanent TDEE calorie intake plan. Eat the amount of calories suggested by the TDEE calculator. That's it. It will take some time to get used to checking & recording the calories in everything you eat, but after a while it becomes second nature. There are apps but I find it quicker to just write down on paper & keep a running tally. If something doesn't list the calories on the container, you may want to reconsider eating it. You will quickly realize that choosing foods that are filling & reasonable on calories will allow you to eat more total food, preventing hunger later in the day. Spend some time shopping on your local Walmart.com or other online grocery retailer & find some tasty items that are nutrient-dense & low in calories so you don't have to bother with as much label-checking in the store.
When eating, do so slowly. Take sips of water between bites. Put the utensils back down on the plate. Allow yourself to truly enjoy the taste, smell & texture of what you're consuming instead of just inhaling it. It takes the brain about 20 minutes after finishing a meal to realize you're full, so this isn't just about manners or appearances. If you're eating something calorie-dense at a restaurant, offer some of it to your friend or take half home for later to save on calories. Whether you eat three big meals per day or 6 smaller ones (or some other variation) on this plan is up to you, but I find that snacking more regularly keeps my mood stable & cravings at bay better than chowing down a few on big meals. It's all about the total daily calories. You can apportion them any way you like.
If you were raised to always eat everything on your plate no matter how big the serving, you'll need some major thought adjustment. You must remove yourself from the scarcity mindset that tells you to make a "Happy Plate" or not to waste food. Portion sizes are far too big these days & we are swimming in an abundance of cheap, unhealthy refined food. Exercise will allow you to eat a few more calories each day than being sedentary, but remember: weight loss is 80% diet & 20% exercise. It takes an hour of running to burn off the calories in one chocolate chip cookie. Don't fool yourself into thinking you can overeat & then just do some mild activity to neutralize it.
Step 5: Weigh yourself at least once a week. Do this in the morning after going to the bathroom & before eating breakfast, preferably with your clothes off to get an accurate reading. However you weigh yourself--with clothes on, naked, mid-day, evening, etc--do it that way every time to ensure accuracy. You can also measure your waist if you like but I've never felt the need. The numbers on the scale don't lie.
Step 6: (Optional): Negative reinforcement. Watch shows like My 600-lb Life & other brutally honest depictions of life as an obese person. With so much "Healthy At Every Size" propaganda out there, it's easy to convince ourselves that a little extra weight isn't harmful, but these programs, while extreme, DO serve as reminders of the consequences of continual weight gain. Reddit's forum /r/fatlogic has been instrumental for me in highlighting the damage this delusional thinking can do & is a great welcoming place for people of all sizes, provided you don't spew anti-science rhetoric.
That's it! You may be wondering how to deal with cravings, emotional eating & other practical things that make weight loss so difficult. I wish I had the answer but unfortunately that's part of the journey that you'll have to figure out yourself. Keeping a journal of your overeating triggers & what foods kept you full vs. which ones didn't can be helpful going forward. Try to build as much variety into your diet as possible while keeping a few reliable staples around that you can grab in a pinch. This will take time but is well worth it. You don't want to get bored with the food, and there's no reason to.
That said, much of today's "food" is made to be as addictive as possible while lacking any sort of nutritional sustenance. Items like Oreos & chips are literally calculated to have the perfect ratio of fat:sugar:salt to hit the addiction centers in your brain that make you overeat. The saying "Bet You Can't Eat Just One" is more than a slogan. The best way around this is to limit your intake of these packaged junk foods--particularly the ones you find yourself binging on most often. If you're going to eat popcorn or chips w/ your meal, count out or measure the amount onto your plate BEFORE eating--don't just take the whole bag to the couch with you. Get used to checking serving sizes & counting out your portions. Buy a cheap food scale for your kitchen. If you're worried about not getting enough nutrients, take a prenatal multivitamin or other complete vitamin/mineral supplement.
|THIS IS NOT FOOD. (It's a science experiment).|
When it comes to calories, you can get them from any source & still lose weight. (Yes, even the non-food in the photo above). It's the total daily number that counts. Just know that drinking a 200-calorie Pepsi is not going to be very filling & will likely leave you feeling starved by the end of the day. Same with donuts or other junk. You don't have to eat broccoli & celery all day, but choose your calorie expenditures wisely. High-fiber foods will keep you feeling fuller longer than refined carbs like white bread, white rice & sugar. Whole grains & veggies are a better choice in this regard because you won't feel starved an hour after eating them. And you MUST count the calories of everything you ingest, which includes beverages, sauces, dressings & other toppings. No free rides.
Realize there will be slip-ups. Holidays, office parties, times where you can't access the calorie info of the food you're eating. Just try to minimize the damage by eating rational portions & get back on the wagon the next day. If you slip up for a week or more, you'll need to revert back to the Very Low Calorie Diet for a couple days to get your stomach back down to size. Ideally. But if the thought of that is making you stall, just return to your normal TDEE calorie limit as soon as possible. Some effort is always better than none.
On the flipside, if you're doing well, don't get into the habit of rewarding yourself with food. That reinforces the idea of food as a "treat" when it should be viewed as fuel for your body. Eat to live, don't live to eat. Find other ways of rewarding yourself that are both healthy & fun. You will need to change your whole outlook on food if you've been overweight for most of your life, and that will likely require the help of a nutritionist or therapist. Which I am not.
This is all part of a healthy lifestyle, not a fad diet plan. And it does take some effort...at least at first. But so does being obese & having all the health, financial, social & personal struggles that come with it. This isn't about beauty standards or loving yourself--you should love yourself regardless of your weight. It's about healthy living, self-improvement, striving to be better & setting a good example for the next generation. And the payoff is SO worth it.