|Chubster author Martin Cizmar, before and after losing 100 lbs.|
If you're interested in discovering how you can lose a significant amount of weight via simple calorie counting, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of Martin's book. To find out how I did it, read on. I've added an epilogue at the end, since I never really wrote a proper ending to this tale. Enjoy and happy counting!
Part 1 - Dieting: It's not just for chicks anymore (04/18/2012)
My name is Mike Meyer, and I'm a Fat Kid. I've spent the vast majority of my 38 years on this mortal coil eating pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want. I've always been tall, which helped perpetuate an illusion of skinniness, but over the past 15-20 years, that illusion has pretty much evaporated. Even XXL T-shirts are no longer capable of concealing my bulbous belly anymore.
Being fat was never a huge concern for me. Sure, all things being equal, I'd love to have a set of washboard abs, but not so much that I was willing to give up footlong cheesesteaks, all-meat pizzas, chocolate-covered peanut butter-filled pretzels, Funyuns, 44 oz. Mountain Dews, India Pale Ales and all the other wonderful things you can ingest when you don't give two shits about your physique.
But there's something else that I really like that forced me to reevaluate my eating habits: women. Pretty ones, in particular. Now it's not as if out-of-shape dudes are completely incapable of landing an attractive ladyfriend. Personality and persistence can still win the day, and I have a handful of very attractive exes to prove it. But to be brutally honest, they seem to be fewer and farther between lately, and at my age, I can't really afford to see an already shallow pool of prospects shrink much more. And to be even more brutally honest, the sight of my own naked body in the mirror before my morning shower was getting a little tough to stomach (pun intended), so I could only imagine how traumatic it must be for those members of the fairer sex unfortunate enough to behold that same pasty, bloated physique that I had become somewhat immune to over the years.
Chubster: A Hipster's Guide to Losing Weight While Staying Cool. I bought a copy of the book almost a month ago, although I wasn't really sure if I was ready to commit to any sort of regimented diet yet. Hell, the only reason I was even at Changing Hands was because I was heading to Trader Joe's to buy a bunch of scrumptious cheese and salami for a party I was throwing that weekend. But I was certain that, at the very least, it would be an entertaining read, and it felt good buying a book by an author I personally know (and from a locally-owned bookstore to boot).
As it turned out, I really connected with the whole philosophy behind Chubster. (Well, except for the whole fixed-gear bike thing. Those are just lame.) In it, Cizmar -- the former Phoenix New Times music editor and current Arts & Culture Editor at Willamette Week in Portland -- chronicles his eight-month plummet from a roly-poly 290 pounds down to a svelte 190 and wryly doles out dieting advice rooted in the oldest and simplest method of weight loss ever conceived: calorie counting. It's hardly a new idea, which Cizmar freely admits, but it's backed by hard science, and the tips, tricks, hints and "cheats" in the book are invaluable.
Throughout the book, Cizmar manages to be simultaneously snarky (he takes Morgan Spurlock and Weight Watchers down a peg or two) and non-judgmental (frozen dinners and fast food chains get the same treatment as trendy ethnic fare and high-end eateries). But the biggest selling point -- for me, at least -- was how ridiculously easy it sounded. Anyone armed with a semi-firm grasp of grade school math and either a notebook or smartphone app can count calories. And so I vowed that on Monday, April 2, the day after my annual Wine, Cheese and Wrestlemania bacchanal, I would dive head-first into the Chubster diet.
The results so far have been phenomenal. As of this morning's weigh-in, I've managed to shed exactly eight pounds in just 16 days. I don't expect that rapid pace to keep up for too long, but it's an encouraging start, especially considering I've enjoyed chicken-fried steak, pizza, pasta, Swedish meatballs, a hamburger, a footlong Subway sub, Cheetos (albeit the baked variety), Chex Muddy Buddies, more than two bags of Brach's Chicks & Rabbits Easter candy, two cans of Pepsi Throwback (made with real sugar!) and more beers than I can count along the way. Am I eating healthy now? Obviously not, based on that list. But I wasn't eating healthy before, either. The difference is, I'm eating much smaller quantities of unhealthy food than I was three weeks ago and I'm finding new and inventive ways to cut calories from my diet without resorting to a bunch of boring, flavorless swill that would send most people running to Corleone's after a day or two.
I'm so psyched on the progress I've made that I asked another good friend, Megan Dobransky, if she'd let me chronicle my dieting misadventures here on her blog, Fat Kid vs. Fit Kid. Thankfully, she agreed. Sure, I have my own blog that I could use for the same purpose, but Tempe Carnivore has always focused more on music and culture over the past couple years, and I'd like to keep it that way. Plus, I admired the hard work Megan had put into this blog, so when she announced she was taking a hiatus from writing about her own fitness and dieting regimen, I thought this blog might benefit from a new voice. So after hours of tense negotiations between our respective teams of lawyers, agents, managers and publicists, Megan and I hammered out an agreement whereby I'd write about food and dieting here, and she'd write about music, art and culture on Tempe Carnivore.
In future posts, I'll keep you updated on my progress and share some of my own tips and tricks (and maybe even a recipe or two) that I've picked up along the way. I hope you'll follow along on my path to becoming a Fit Kid. It's a long ways off, to be sure, but I feel like I'm off to a good start. Maybe I'll even mix in some exercise at some point...
Part 2 - Calorie counting and OCD: Why two scales are better than one (04/21/2012)
OCD isn't always a bad thing. When it comes to calorie counting, having an obsessive-compulsive streak can actually be quite beneficial. I don't mean to make light of a very real disorder that plagues roughly 2 percent of the U.S. population. Obviously, if you have to turn every light in your house on and off seven times before going to bed or carry hand sanitizer with you wherever you go, you're probably not leading a very happy or productive life. But if, like me, you just tend to be very... meticulous about certain things, then there's a good chance you're cut out for calorie counting. With that in mind, I recommend that you have two scales at your disposal if you're going to commit to counting calories.
|An ounce of baked Cheetos (130 calories)|
As an ancillary bonus, if you ever decide to enter the lucrative world of dealing drugs, you'll already have a head start on your competition.
Part 3 - Beware of good days... (04/24/2012)
I just seem to have a knack for making fantastic health choices. In addition to being a confirmed Fat Kid, I've also smoked cigarettes since my teens. I've tried to quit several times, all unsuccessfully. I'm not in any particular hurry to quit right now, but I would like to eventually. In fact, part of the reason I started my diet was based on the hope that losing weight might lead to an increase in physical activity which, in turn, might lead to a decrease or, ideally, a complete cessation of my smoking habit. But for now, I'm just focusing on the weight loss aspect.
My day started off great. I got out of the shower and stepped on the scale to find that I was down to 222.8 pounds. I was 233.2 when I started this diet on April 2, which means that I had officially lost more than 10 pounds in just under three weeks! I was pretty stoked.
I then proceeded to have a good day at work (or at least as good a day as you can have while still working). We were busy throughout the day and I went home with about $140 in my pocket. Feeling pretty good about life, I headed down to Wild Horse Pass casino, sat down at a poker table and, over the course of two hours, proceeded to turn my $100 buy-in into a $300+ stack of chips. I cashed out and headed home feeling downright giddy about my day. That's when things took a turn for the worse.
I had already been thinking about "rewarding" myself once I cracked the 10-pounds-lost threshold. I'd had three pints of Bud Light during my poker session, so my inhibitions were slightly down, but I still resisted the urge to drive through Carl's Jr. on the way home. "If I'm going to reward myself," I thought, "I'm not going to blow it on fast food." I had a cheesesteak in mind, actually, but that would have to wait until the next day, at least.
Even after the Bud Lights (438 calories total) I still had about 650 calories left on my daily budget, so when I got home, I decided to treat myself just a little. I poured myself a one-ounce shot of tequila (69 calories) and chased it with a can of regular Budweiser (145 calories). Then I started in on the snacks. I weighed out the remainder of a box of Baby Swiss-flavored Cheese-Its that came to about an ounce and a half (225 calories). Then I weighed out some Chex Muddy Buddies (130 calories). I was getting close to my daily limit of 2,000 calories, but I wasn't particularly concerned. I had gone over by around 300 a couple times in the past without seeing any significant change in my weight loss.
I decided to say "fuck it" and just go over one more time. I weighed out some candy corn (140 calories). Then I grabbed a bag of fruit snacks (100 calories) and an ounce of mixed nuts (170 calories). That put me about 310 calories over my daily limit, but still, those damn Chicks & Rabbits beckoned. I decided that, just this once, I'd allow myself to go 500 calories over, and I munched down six of those bad boys (180 calories) and finished the day at 2,490.
I got on the scale Monday morning for my three-week weigh-in, and I was at 223.4. The thrill of losing 10 pounds had lasted all of one day. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, losing 9.8 pounds in three weeks is still pretty good, but that's just rationalizing, and you and I both know it. I was an idiot, and I paid the price for it.
So the reason for this particular blog entry is to warn against the danger of having a good day. When you're trying to quit smoking, it's usually an especially bad day that's gonna make you cave in and light one up. But with dieting, I feel the opposite is true, at least for me. I tend to associate food with celebrating, and that's exactly what I did on Sunday night. But just as I don't truly need cigarettes to cope with the numerous stresses in my everyday life, I also don't need to overindulge on empty calories to properly celebrate a happy occasion.
I'm chalking it up as a lesson learned. Unfortunately, it looks like I might have to reconsider that cheesesteak as well. Maybe after 20 pounds?
Part 4 - Dealing with naysayers (04/30/2012)
I don't mean to pick on my little sister here. God knows I did enough of that during the first 16 or so years of her life. (She might argue that I still do.) But I use this anecdote as an illustration of how far the Organized Dieting Industry has infiltrated popular opinion. The majority of people assume that in order to lose weight, you not only need to cut calories, but also drastically reduce your intake of fat, carbohydrates, sodium and whatever the new foodstuff is that the ODI arbitrarily chooses to demonize. People think that if you're not paying monthly fees to Weight Watchers and a personal trainer, you're destined to fail.
In fact, you can probably place part of the blame for this country's obesity epidemic squarely on the shoulders of the ODI itself. If your only two options are to exercise an hour a day and subsist on steamed veggies, fat-free yogurt and tofurkey or just concede to being a fatass your whole life, you'll probably opt for the latter. I know I would.
But the simple truth is, calorie counting works. Martin Cizmar proved it by losing 100 pounds in eight months, and I'm in the process of proving it right now. Today was my four-week weigh-in, and I finally broke the 220-pound threshold, coming in at 219.8. That's 13.4 pounds lost in just four weeks, doing nothing but counting calories.
Still, the naysayers persist. Another good friend of mine was also very down on calorie counting when I told him about my plan. After losing three pounds in my first week, he tried to convince me that it was just "water weight." After I kept that pace up for another two weeks, he started rambling about "body fat index" or some such nonsense. I don't think my friend or my sister were intentionally trying to sabotage my diet. They've just just bought into the ODI's propaganda that losing weight needs to be really complicated.
Naysayers aren't limited to close friends and family, either. They're all over the interwebs as well. Just do a Google search for the term "a calorie is a calorie," and the overwhelming majority of the results will link you to websites and articles trying to convince you otherwise. So it's not surprising that my friend also believes in "good calories" and "bad calories." It seems like almost everyone does. Never mind that a calorie is simply a unit of measurement and is incapable of being inherently good or bad. If I tried to convince you that there were good and bad inches, ounces, pints or cubits, you'd look at me like I was crazy. Yet most people still believe in the myth of good and bad calories.
That's not to say there aren't good and bad foods. You'll get a lot more vitamins, nutrients and whatnot from 200 calories of broccoli than you will from 200 calories of Peanut M&Ms or 200 calories of bacon grease. A 200-calorie portion of broccoli is also going to be a lot more substantial and filling. But ultimately, all three 200-calorie portions will make you equally fat. You can argue all you want, even call me a liar, but I've got science (and my bathroom scale) on my side.
And just because calorie counting doesn't require you to set a finite limit on the amount of fat, sodium, carbs, etc. in your diet, you're going to wind up eating less of them anyway. Why? Because you're eating less of everything. Kinda funny how that works, huh?
So what, then, is the best way to deal with Negative Nellies? I have to admit, my initial response was basically my go-to weapon against anything that annoys me: biting sarcasm. After a week on my diet, I texted my sister to let her know I'd lost three pounds on my "I don't give a shit how much sodium is in my rice crackers" diet. After three weeks, I texted my friend to brag about how I'd lost more than 10 pounds of "water weight." But in retrospect, I kind of regret those texts. I know my friends are just concerned about me and my health. They're just not quite ready yet to believe that dieting can be this easy.
So from this point forward, I'm going to make a concerted effort to be a little more humble about my dieting success. Nobody likes a braggart or a know-it-all, and I have admittedly been both at times over the past four weeks. Not to mention, there's always the possibility that this whole thing blows up in my face and all that sarcasm gets returned in spades. So from now on, if people want to go on believing in good and bad calories, so be it. If that's what helps them lose weight, more power to 'em. Eat and let eat, as it were.
Part 5 - A major milestone surpassed... (05/21/2012)
I got on the scale this morning for my Week Seven weigh-in and I'm down to 209.2 pounds. That means I've lost exactly 24 pounds since April 2. Even more significantly, this may very well be the first time in my life that I actually weigh less than the weight listed on my driver's license. That's pretty cool, right? Here are a few random dieting thoughts and tips to celebrate this momentous occasion:
Roast beef is an under-appreciated breakfast meat. Counting calories can be tricky for us carnivores, especially at breakfast. Pork sausage and bacon are pretty much out, and their turkey-based equivalents are pale imitations of the real deal. That leaves you with ham and, well, more ham. But don't discount roast beef. It's a lean, low-cal way to get your steak & eggs fix. Deli-sliced roast beef has just a few more calories than ham or turkey and makes a nice change of pace for your breakfast sandwich/wrap...
Dieting is a great excuse to sleep in. Getting a good night's sleep isn't always on the top of my priority list, but I find that when I do, I tend to eat less the following day. Part of the reason is obvious: if you're sleeping, you're not eating. But I also think that getting a decent night's sleep also gives you more energy during the day. It could even be more important than breakfast in that regard. Now if only I could just force myself to go to sleep earlier when I have to work the next day...
When shopping for frozen entrees, don't rule out the non-diet options. Brands like Smart Ones and Lean Cuisine are nice because you know every entree is going to be low-cal, but it's definitely worth looking at some of the "full-flavored" brands as well. Banquet makes a chicken-fried steak meal with corn and mashed potatoes that comes in at only 360 calories, and the chicken-fried chicken version is only 340. Their cheesy smothered charbroiled patty meal is only 280, and Salisbury Steak comes in at a mere 230. Plus, they're typically less than half the price of the diet meals just a few feet down the aisle. Michelina also has a few relatively low-cal options outside of their Lean Gourmet line. Basically, if something grabs your eye, it never hurts to check the back of the box. Sometimes you might be surprised...
Ultra-thin sliced cheese is your friend. I've recently noticed that a couple of the popular cheese brands, Sargento and Kraft, have begun selling ultra-thin sliced cheese. This is a calorie counter's godsend because you not only get lower-calorie portions, but you get more slices per package as well. The only downside is that the selection appears to be limited to Swiss, cheddar and maybe Monterey Jack. Your options expand exponentially, however, when you consider that you can buy cheese from the deli and ask them to slice it as thin as you want. When you get home, just weigh a slice on your digital scale and then look up the nutritional info for that particular brand of cheese online. I picked up some 2% milk white American that came in at only 30 calories per slice, even less than the pre-packaged stuff...
Sugar is not evil. Just enjoy it in moderation. There are plenty of people in this world who can stomach the chemical-y taste of artificial sweeteners, but unfortunately, I'm not one of them. I'm proud to say I've lost all the weight I have without ingesting any artificial sweeteners. If you can handle the foul aftertaste of diet soda or sugar-free candy, more power to you. You'll probably have a much easier path to weight loss than I will, but I just can't stand the stuff. But really, how hard is it to budget for the occasional soda, especially when they make them in 7.5 oz. cans now? A baby can of Mountain Dew (aka the Nectar of the Gods) is only 110 calories, and a baby Coke is under 100. Even full-size 12 oz. cans aren't that hard to sneak into your budget on occasion. Just avoid the 44 oz. fountain cups at Circle K or Quik Trip and you'll be fine. When it comes to candy and other sweets, again, moderation is the key. Generally speaking, fruity candy like Starburst, Skittles, SweeTarts, AirHeads and gummy bears are going to have fewer calories by weight than chocolate candy like Snickers, Reese's, Twix or M&Ms. Proceed with caution and restraint whenever real chocolate is involved, but you can get lower-calorie chocolate fixes from Tootsie Rolls, chocolate graham crackers and even Three Musketeers. Chocolate-flavoered cereals like Cocoa Puffs and Reese's Puffs also make good low-cal (and even somewhat nutritious) chocolatey snacks right out of the box, no milk required...
Part 6 - On cheat days and (possibly) hitting the wall... (05/30/2012)
Saturday turned out to be the "cheat day" to end all cheat days. I didn't plan it that way. It just sort of happened. The following story is a prime example of why I would recommend against scheduling cheat days into your diet plan. I'm not saying you should never just say "fuck it" and spend one day eating whatever the hell you want every now and then. God knows I did just that on Saturday. I'm just saying don't schedule or plan them, because they seem to have a way of just happening on their own.
My sister texted me Saturday morning asking if I wanted to get some breakfast. I'm a sucker for a big, hearty, calorie-laden breakfast, and I had deprived myself of them for nearly two months, so I figured I could afford to splurge. I told her I was down as long as she agreed to go rock climbing with me afterwards. She agreed, and I felt better about splurging if I knew I'd work some of it off right afterwards.
We went to my favorite breakfast spot in Tempe, Mark's Café, and I proceeded to order the special of the day: surf & turf Eggs Benedict, featuring two flank steak pinwheels stuffed with seafood crab stuffing atop English muffin halves, topped with the obligatory poached eggs and smothered in Mark's mouth-watering, made-from-scratch-daily Hollandaise sauce. Oh yeah, and home fries too. Needless to say, it was fucking amazing. (To her credit, my sister ordered a Spanish omelette that likely came in a few hundred calories below my absurd breakfast, but after trying a bite of my Eggs Benedict, she agreed that it was unbelievably awesome.)
Even after calculating that ungodly breakfast at just less than 1,100 calories, I felt confident that I could eat light for the rest of the day and come in under, or, at worst, a little over my 2,000-calorie limit. Plus, there was the rock climbing. We went to Phoenix Rock Gym and climbed for a couple hours, so by midday, I was still feeling pretty confident. Then my friend texted me and asked if I wanted to come over and watch the UFC fights that night. Uh oh.
I showed up at my friend's house with cheese and crackers, but another friend at our little get-together had other plans that involved three gigantic NY Strip steaks and potatoes. There was also Hop Knot on tap. After all was said and done, I had nearly doubled my calorie limit for the day. I'd love to tell you how horrible I felt afterwards, but honestly, the whole day was pretty awesome and totally worth it.
But the moral of the story, as I touched on earlier, is that it's probably a bad idea to plan out cheat days, because you never know when one is just going to sneak up on you. That's probably why I didn't feel too bad about it when it happened. I made it almost eight weeks before I just said "to hell with it" and gorged myself in a manner that I wouldn't have thought twice about just two months ago. If I can manage to limit myself to one of those days every couple months, I think I'll be OK.
The bigger concern for me, though, is the Week 8 weight gain. As bad as that Saturday was (at least in terms of my diet), I highly doubt that it alone was bad enough to completely halt my weight loss pace of more than three pounds a week. My big fear is that I may have hit the wall, or "plateaued," to use the more politically correct term for when your diet suddenly stops working. It's possible that I'm at (or at least close to) the weight at which eating 2,000 calories a day is no longer enough. Since I'm still about 19 pounds shy of my goal weight, that would mean changes are in order: either a calorie reduction, an increase in my exercise regimen or some combination of both. Since my current exercise regimen is essentially nonexistent, that'd probably be a good place to start, right?
For now, I'm going to give it another week or two. If the weight loss picks back up, cool beans. If not, it's time to move on to Plan B. Hey, at least I have a Plan B. Two months ago, I didn't even have a Plan A. Either way, I'm pretty stoked to have already lost about 25 pounds doing nothing more than calorie counting. I'm hoping that number increases, but if not, I'm ready to take the next step. All I need to do is find some form of exercise that doesn't completely suck. Rock climbing fits that description, but it's a little pricey and requires a partner. Tennis is pretty fun, but it's also dependent on someone else showing up. Anybody have any suggestions for me? Fair warning: if you say "running," I will find you and slap you...
Part 7 - Closing in on the goal (06/16/2012)
I got on the scale this morning and reached another milestone. I weight 199.8, which puts me under 200 lbs. for the first time since probably high school. I've now lost more than 33 pounds since April 2 and I'm less than 10 pounds away from my goal weight of 190. I think I'm actually gonna be able to pull this off.
As much as I'd like to spend a whole blog post just patting myself on the back, I figure I should probably try to add something a little more substantive, so here are three of my favorite low-cal recipes I've concocted over the past few months - one for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner. Try them out and let me know what you think. I even included a vegetarian recipe for all you weirdos out there...
Ham & Swiss Frittata with Tater Tots
3 large eggs (1 yolk removed)
2 oz. thin sliced deli ham, shredded
3/4 oz. Swiss cheese, shredded
8 tater tots
salt & pepper to taste
Start baking tater tots in a toaster over or conventional oven according to directions on package. Crack eggs into mixing cup, remove one yolk and scramble thoroughly. Lightly coat a skillet with cooking spray and preheat over medium heat. Tear up the ham by hand or finely chop it and add it to eggs along with shredded cheese, salt and pepper. Mix well and pour into pan. Cook until bottom is set, then flip and cook until done. Serve with tater tots and season with hot sauce, if desired.
Total calories: 420
Dark Chocolate Raspberry Salad
2 cups spring mix (about 3 oz. or half a bag)
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) Kraft light raspberry vinaigrette
1 oz. crumbled goat cheese
3 oz. fresh raspberries (half of a standard 6 oz. container)
1 oz. Emerald Cocoa Roast almonds
Directions: Toss spring mix with dressing. Top with remaining ingredients. Enjoy.
Total calories: 345
Quarter-Pound Pesto Cheeseburger
4 oz. ground beef (93% lean)
1 slice Sargento ultra thin sliced Swiss or Provolone cheese
1 multigrain sandwich thin
2 tsp. basil pesto sauce
Directions: Toast sandwich thin. Shape ground beef into patty (or just buy the frozen pre-made patties). Cook patty to desired doneness in cast iron skillet or on grill. Spread 1 tsp. pesto on each half of sandwich thin. Add burger. Top with cheese. Enjoy.
Total calories: 355
|Me, before and after losing 40+ pounds|
I hit my goal weight on Aug. 2, four months to the day after I'd started the diet. I actually wound up losing more weight than I'd planned to, as dropping below 190 coincided with the start of my teaching career. Between getting up at 4:30 a.m. five days a week, the stress of starting a new job and the sheer magnitude of the workload I faced, my apetite was almost nonexistent for my first week on the job. I wound up dropping below 183 at one point, to bring my total weight loss to more than 50 pounds.
As of this morning, I'm at 190.6, which is right where I want to be. I haven't been counting calories at all lately, just because dropping down below 185 actually scared me a little. I'm hoping that just eating sensibly will help me maintain my current weight, but if start to inch my way north of 195, I can always start counting again.
While it's kind of cool that I lost so much weight without any sort of exercise regimen, I feel compelled to add a caveat. At the risk of stating the obvious, simply losing a lot of weight doesn't automatically make you fit. I'm significantly skinnier than I was six months ago and I feel much better about the way I look, but make no mistake; I'm still flabby. That's where exercise comes in. Sure, it's possible to lose weight without exercise. Easy, even. But if you want to actually get in shape, you're going to need to exercise. That's the challenge I'm still working on now. I suspect a decent exercise routine would also help with management/maintenance once you actually hit your goal weight.
The simple truth is, if you're serious about losing weight, you don't have to exercise or even stop eating the foods you love to do so. You'll need to scale back on many of those foods, of course, but the beauty of calorie counting lies in its simplicity. Nothing is off limits. Just use moderation and common sense. I hope you found my story entertaining and maybe even a little inspiring. If you have a success story of your own, please feel free to share it in the comments below. Thanks for reading.