Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How I lost 100 pounds

How I lost 100 pounds--
without strenuous exercise, surgery, dietary supplements, expensive pre-packaged diets, or giving up junk food!


As I lay in the emergency room writhing in agony the nurse asked, “On a scale of one to ten, how bad would you rate the pain?” “Let’s put it this way” I responded, “If I owned a gun I would not be ready to use it yet, but I would be comforted just knowing it was there.”

She did not think my lame attempt at humor was funny.

I’ve had back pain before but never anything like this! There were some precipitating events that led up to my emergency room visit, of course, but one of the underlying factors was the fact that at only five feet ten inches tall, I weighed 318 pounds!

This was the final straw. I simply had to lose weight. But like most other overweight people, I had tried all kinds of diets and they never worked. In my case I would always loose an encouraging amount of weight at first and then hit a plateau. After a few weeks on the plateau I would decide, “What’s the point of missing out on the food I love when I’m not losing weight anyway?” and that would be the end of the diet.

But clearly I needed to do something. That’s when I discovered that there are free online websites that make calorie counting easy.

It’s all about calories! 

Most overweight Christians are painfully aware of what the Bible says about gluttony. For example, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor…” (Prov. 23:20-21a, NIV). Or, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach…” (Phil. 3:19, NIV). One of the roadblocks to my weight loss, however, was that I was convinced that I was not one of those people. I really didn’t think I ate all that much.

What I didn’t realize was that weight loss is not just about the quantity of food we eat, but about how many calories the food contains. I discovered that the amount of calories a food contains is not always very intuitive.

For example, I never would have dreamed that a single “healthy” taco salad at Taco Bell can contain as many calories as three delicious jelly-filled Dunkin Donuts! I didn’t realize that I could stuff myself with four servings of Culvers’ mashed potatoes and gravy (which I love) for about the same amount of calories as a single Big Mac. It’s not just about quantity. It’s about calories. Understanding this fact, allowed me to eat enough food so that I did not go hungry, while staying within what I soon called, my “budget.”

The Budget 

To make calorie counting easier, I signed in to CalorieCount.com (later changing to LiveStrong.com) and selected a goal of 230 pounds. This was not an ideal weight, of course, but I thought it was a realistic target. The website asked about the level of my physical activity and I selected the lowest level. I admit it, I was a couch potato (mmm, potatoes!).

According to the website, if I ate 2,400 calories per day I should achieve my goal in about 18 months. I knew, of course, that I could lose more weight—and lose it faster—by lowering my calorie goal, but I wanted a calorie total I could live with permanently. I figured that there was little point in struggling to lose weight if I was just going to gain it back again anyway.

Once I signed up, it was just a matter of keeping track of my calories for the day. Both CalorieCount.com and Livestrong.com make that easy with extensive databases of foods and restaurants which include calorie and nutrition information. All I had to do was type the name of the food and/or restaurant in the search box, fill in the quantity, and click to add it to my list for the day. The websites automatically tally up the calories and other nutritional information. Since I am on the computer every day anyway, searching for foods and recording calories turned out to be easy and even fun.

I have come to call this weight lost program my “budget” rather than my diet. To me, diet implied something I discarded after I reached my goal. I knew if I discarded this, I would immediately begin to gain weight again.

It’s about choices 

Next to losing weight, the main goal of my “budget” is to make the right food choices to ensure that I do not get hungry and do not run out of calories before the day is over. After awhile, I discovered that this was relatively easy to do.

It’s all about choices, but contrary to popular opinion it is not always about healthy choices. For example, I significantly cut down on the amount of healthy milk and orange juice I consumed and replaced them with Crystal Light and Diet Coke. Diet Coke may not be the most healthy choice, but for me it cut hundreds of calories out of my daily calorie budget.

In fact, one of the great features of this “budget” is that I can eat just about anything I want. I did not have to cut out the sweets or fast food which I love. I just have to “budget” for them. So for example, I will sometimes cut down on the amount of food I eat during the day just so I have enough calories left over at the end of the day to enjoy cookies or ice cream! This may not be the most healthy choice but being able to enjoy the delicious foods I love is one of the things that has kept me on this “budget” for so long. Besides, when it comes to being unhealthy, weighing 318 pounds at my height has to be near the top of the list.

Paradoxically, although my budget has allowed me to make some less than healthy food choices, overall, I am actually eating more healthy now than I ever ate before! This is because, first, the budget has required me to limit my overall intake of sweets, which is certainly healthier. Second, in order to make my calories stretch for the day, I tend to chose lower calorie (and more healthy) foods like turkey or grilled chicken rather than high fat, high cholesterol (albeit delicious) cheeseburgers or fried chicken. Or, as another example, since I love mashed potatoes, I order Culver’s mashed potatoes and gravy instead of fries. This is not only a more healthy option, but a more filling and lower calorie option as well.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy my cheeseburgers and fried chicken. I just have to budget for them. The point is that while I still eat some junk food, overall I am making more healthy choices than before I was on my budget.

Exercise and going over budget 

So what happens when I go over my budget? Simple. I never go over budget on purpose. I have discarded too many diets by thinking, “Well, I’ve blown it again. What’s the use?!” But on those rare occasions when I have accidentally gone over, I compensate by cutting back on calories the following day.

Another strategy for some might be to make up for the added calories by exercise. Both CalorieCount.Com and Livestrong.Com give the option of factoring in exercise. The more I exercise the more calories I’m allowed to consume. I decided against this option, however, because my goal was to lose weight not to exercise so I could eat more.

Speaking of exercise, at first my new “budget” was almost entirely about counting calories. I was, after all, in physical therapy for back pain and even the required walking around the block was uncomfortable. When the back pain went away, however, I began walking more and more. While walking, I often pass the time by listening to an ipod or wrist-radio, talking on my cell phone or praying. This makes walking even more enjoyable.

Once my back was healed, I even began using weights. Nothing serious, mind you. All I have is a cheap incline bench and a couple of dumbbells. Muscle tone helps increase metabolism which helps lose weight!

At 318 pounds, exercise was drudgery but I discovered a happy--rather than vicious--cycle. The more weight I lost, the more I enjoyed the exercise. I discovered, however, while exercise is essential to good health, it did very little to help me lose weight. Losing weight was all about calories.

Other strategies 

One of the websites suggested that I should eat all of my allotted calories for the day. If I consistently come in under my target for the day, it may cause me to start becoming hungry which would make it harder to stay on the budget. I love this rule because if I get to the end of my day and have calories left over, I can eat the rest of my calories just for the sheer pleasure of eating— and do so entirely guilt-free! This was one of those features that helped me stay on the budget for so long.

Finally, I mentioned earlier how those pesky plateaus have been the downfall of many of my previous diets. I found a simple solution. I only weigh myself once a month. This turned out to be great strategy! There were times—especially as I got closer to my goal—that my weight loss for the month would be minimal, but I almost always lost something each month and that was enough to keep me going. Even if I only lost a couple pounds for the entire month, I would look at a pound of hamburger in the freezer to remind myself that losing two pounds is no small accomplishment.


I’ve now been on my “budget” for over two years and I have exceeded my initial goal of 230 pounds. In fact, after I got down to 230 I was able to comfortably lower my calorie limit to 2,000 and am now down to 210 pounds and still dropping. I feel better, look better, and have much fewer back problems. In fact, I think I’ll celebrate by having some cake and ice cream—but only if it fits within my budget.

UPDATE: JUNE, 2012: I'm coming up on four years now since I started this "budget." Not only have I been able to keep the weight off, I've dropped my calorie intake to 1,950 and am now down to a reasonably muscular 196 lbs and falling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The wrath of God

I've been reading Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. In this book he quotes "Yale theologian Miroslav Volf" who "was born in Croatia and lived though the nightmare years of ethnic strife in the former Yugoslavia that included the destruction of churches, the raping of women and the murdering of innocents." Volf writes,
I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn't God love? Shouldn't divine love be beyond wrath? ?God is love,and God loves every person and every creature. That's exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God's wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, a region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed, and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalize beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming th perpetrators' basic goodness? Wasn't God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God's wrath, I cam to thin that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn't wrathful at the sight of the world' evil. God isn't wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love (Miroslav Volf as quoted in Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan, 192).