Monday, October 21, 2013

My weight loss story: How I lost and maintained it off

My battle with learning to love my self and make healthy decisions

This is quite the loaded subject, my weight loss story is both long and has had a few failures. My weight problems began when my family immigrated to the United States from Mexico. I was 8 and we went from having fresh made food using fresh veggies and little meat (meat is much more expensive so it was a luxury) to a whole new world. My school fed me things like pizza, nachos, fast food was everywhere and extremely cheap. For a family with two parents working as much as possible to provide for us it was much easier for our parents to grab some burgers on the way home. Soon I’d gone from a fairly thin boy to quite chubby kid. I even remember the first time someone called me fat, I cried and somehow found that eating one of the many snacks our parents had in our home for us to eat made me feel better. I don’t want to put all the blame on my parents, they were doing what they came to the states for. They were working hard and providing us with things we didn’t have before.

 My weight yo-yoed from age 9-early 20’s. Many people don’t really speak about the effect of body issues boys deal with. Girls have a lot of attention talking about body image but there’s not much for boys, being left to just deal with it in silence. My parents tried to feed us well but having the freedom of picking your own meal when your parents are working, I took advantage. I tried more times than I can count to diet and tried every type of diet I heard of. You'd be shocked at how many different types of diets there are to try but I tried any. Growing up being the fat kid is hard enough. Add being a bit weird and it made me a target for many people’s bullying and mean jokes, this lead to a lot of self-hatred and isolation. I was a very self-destructive teen both mentally and emotionally torturing myself and letting what people did and said to me mold my views on me. My weight went up and down throughout my teens but as a junior I made the choice to become vegetarian. This began my weight loss since I couldn't eat a lot of the bad stuff at school and I began eating healthier. In my senior year I finally made some friends that were a positive influence on me. I joined the tennis team with my best friends (one was the captain of our school's team and the other was our tennis manager) I was suddenly a lot more active and the pounds began shedding off. What most people didn't know was that I was dealing with an eating disorder. Being vegetarian I could just make the case that I couldn't eat the things at school. I was only eating a single cup of fruit I would bring from home for lunch. At night I might have a bowl of cheerios to stop my stomach from hurting and of course the occasional real meal every few days. I lost about 45 pounds my senior year playing tennis and barely eating.  Suddenly I had friends, things to do, was invited to events and even attended my senior prom. This only proved that I was worth more thin than fat. People constantly complimented my achievements but somehow I never felt happy with myself.  After high school my friends began to move away for college, I stopped playing tennis and became isolated again. Before I knew it I’d gained all the weight back and then some stopping at 280 pounds.

Fast forward a year at 19 I looked in a mirror and could not even look at my reflection without nearly bursting into tears. I decided enough was enough. I’d finally come to terms with my sexuality and I wanted to come out of the closet. I was met with the reality that gay men are not the nicest people in the world and that being a fat gay would just be highschool all over again. I began to cut bad things out of my diet and working out. I lost 30 pounds and that alone was such a confidence boost. Guys were actually beginning to become interested in me. Then I met a man named Daniel, he somehow looked past my weight and saw me for who I really was. He never made me feel ugly he wanted me the way I was and it was actually a scary thought. Since at the time I could not imagine why anyone would be interested in me. He and I remained friends and casually dated for about a year. During that year I kept up with my healthier eating and working out. Slowly losing weight I began to explore the gay scene of Atlanta. Attending my first pride, going to my first gay club and it was intoxicating. I made some pretty cool friends and was feeling accepted by people. Sure I was still the fat friend but here and there boys would actually hit on me. After a year of playing around in the scene I realized I was looking for something I already had. Someone who loved me, not my body but me. Daniel and I became officially a couple and have been together since. He never once complained about my weight, he taught me I was worth more than my physical appearance. Being loved is one of the most powerful things that can happen to someone because it teaches you that you’re worth loving. That’s the first step to making this change something that actually stuck. He and I began working out together, I dropped to 210 pounds and I was actually happy with the way I was starting to look. I began dressing in dress shirts and bowties. People were complimenting me on my style and my confidence grew. However once I turned 21 the amount of alcohol I was consuming did cause me to gain weight and I went up to about 230 pounds. On August 2012 I decided due to my love for fashion that I wanted to be thin. But not because I hated the way I looked, because I knew I deserved to be healthy, wear the things I wanted, not having to un-tag every picture I looked fat in and I just wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin.  That’s when I began my quest for a healthier, thinner version of me.

Now that I spoke about what drove me to want a healthier life I can tell how you I managed to go from 223 to 160 in 9 months. First I'll start with how I changed my diet.

I lost 25 of pounds simply by making huge changes in the way and how much I was eating. The reason I didn’t work out during this was because I cut out most carbs and sugars so I didn’t have the extra energy or calories to burn. Also in prior attempts to lose weight whenever I’d start working out I’d use it as an excuse to indulge, keeping me at a plateau. Cutting my portions in more than half and cutting out a lot of the things I was eating was the first step. It was a bit extreme but my body needed a detox. We don’t really realize how dependent we are on the bad foods we eat. Yes it was hard, I even had to do the entire holiday season not eating many sweets and few healthy carbs. Just remember it’s temporary. You have to take control of your body. I only ate veggies and low calorie vegetarian protein foods from September to January.

A good tool to use is the phone application My Fitness Pal. This teaches you how to calorie count and once you actually see the numbers it shows you how many calories are in the foods you’re eating. You can search or even just scan the barcode and it will give you the calories per serving and serving size. If you want results you have to keep updating it every time you eat. Persistence is the only real way to stay on track. I lost an average of 2 pounds per week. I only weighed myself once a week and wrote down my progress, this really helped encourage me.  Sometimes you don’t lose any weight or not as much as the week before but you should always give yourself a 2 pound leeway. This can be water weight or just one of those days were you weight a little more. I always weighed myself at the same time of the day, right after working out and before lunch. Your weight does change slightly throughout the day.  Here is a screen cap of my notes where I kept track of my weight loss. You can see I averaged about 2 pounds a week but sometimes only lost one or half a pound.

I stopped recording my weight at 168 because my original goal was 170. However I did drop down to 160 before I increased my calorie intake and now I'm at a healthy 165-168.  

After my 4 months of very strict dieting I thought it was time to start working out and this meant increasing my calorie intake. My Fitness Pal does take working out into your program. You put in how long you worked out/what you did and it tells you the amount of calories you’ve burned. I personally used an elliptical. You have to remember when you’re first starting that you can’t jump into it full force. You need to ease into it. I began by doing 15 minutes with low resistance and low incline. I added 5 minutes a week and slowly built up my leg muscles by increasing the resistance until I was doing 40 minutes a day on the elliptical. I know that working out can be boring but one thing that really helped me was finding shows on Netflix and only watching while on the elliptical. Find a good show or if you like books do an audio book. Keep yourself entertained this way you’re not just counting down the minutes until you’re done. The key is to find a workout routine that works for you, find a diet that works for you. Even now after I reached my weight goal I still read the calories on everything I eat and choose healthier options. I may not write down everything I eat but I have a much clearer view on the things I eat. I know it’s hard being the one friend at the table who orders the salad or salmon while everyone else gets French fries and a huge burger. People even like to make you feel bad for making healthy choices but at the end of the day it’s your body, your decision and screw what people think. You are in control of your own body and how you treat it, Eat healthy, think healthy and act healthy.

Here is a list of some of the things I didn't allow myself to have during my 4 month detox. Some of these I still don’t have because frankly I've found more delicious, healthy snacks to replace them with.

-Processed sugars
-Non-Wheat breads
-Ice cream
-Cake and other pastries
-Fried foods of any kind
-Cow milk
-Potato chips / any type of chip like product
-Fast food 
-All junk food really.

I know it sounds terrible to cut out your favorite foods but it’s only temporary (well some of them) By the end of your detox and once you’re starting to workout you can start having healthier versions of your favorite things.  I replaced cow milk with unsweetened vanilla almond milk (only 30 calories per serving). I don’t drink any soda and to be honest I don’t crave the sweets anymore. If I feel the need to snack fruits and nuts are a great alternative. Even peanut butter (be mindful of the high calorie content and how much a serving actually is) one of my favorite snacks is a banana with some peanut butter. It’s filling and rich in flavor. For me chocolate is a huge weakness so I get to enjoy chocolate in my daily protein shakes after I workout. That’s also a fantastic incentive to get it done!  Find ways to reward yourself by the time you’re done with the first part you make much better decisions. The best thing about reaching your ultimate goal is that you can start indulging in your favorite things, even chocolate! or whatever your vice is.  You’re just smarter about your choices in food. If you love pasta, enjoy pasta. Go for the whole wheat pasta and only have it once or twice a week. Adding lots of veggies or lean proteins to your meals is great, this will take up some your servings but replacing the bad parts with just as filling healthy ingredients. Always use a smaller plate it’s a way to trick your mind that you’re eating more than you actually are. If you want seconds after you’re done with your first plate don't just go fill your plate again. Remember that the feeling of being extremely full is not a positive thing. Give yourself 10-15 minutes between servings this gives your body time to get the food if you eat a plate back to back before you know it you’ve over eaten. Another tip is to drink lots of water, I drink at least two litters of water not only will this help you lose weight, keep you hydrated but it will keep your skin clear and glowing. Before I began this strict 2 litters of water daily I’m sure I didn’t even drink one a day and my skin was terrible. I broke out on a regular basis but now if I do break out it clears out with in a day or two and it’s rare I get a real breakout. I personally don’t do sugar free and fat free things because overly processed foods are harmful to your body. Fact is that “sugar free” things have to use chemicals your body is not meant to intake. Fat free things use other things that turn into fat after you eat it.  Be as natural as you can, find a farmers market near you. They make finding seasonal and local veggies easy and that’s the key to a healthy and diverse diet. I’m not saying be a vegetarian like me but eating more veggies will cause you to replace the fatty foods and remain full. Farmers markets will also have better quality produce at a much cheaper price than regular stores.

So here is a list of things to remember

-Learn to calorie count using the app My Fitness Pal or something similar
-Drink 2 litters of water daily
-Wait 15 minutes between servings
-Use smaller plates when serving your food
-If there’s a healthier version of the thing you like go for that instead
-Find your local farmers market and make weekly trips for delicious, fresh produce at an affordable price
-Find a tv show you like and only allow yourself to watch it while working out (or a book you like)
-When you start working out do it slowly, don’t overdo it or you’ll make excuses next time
-Find a support group within your friends and family
-While dining out you can use your phone to look up the calorie content of most well known restaurants
-Don’t get discouraged even if you gain a pound or two one week that shows you that you need to make adjustments to your routine
-Carry a bag of almonds of other nuts with you, this way if you get hungry you can eat a handful of that instead of a candy bar 
-If you want to snack get healthy snack like baby carrots and other very low calorie veggies. They fulfill the craving of something crunchy for me rather than chips. (or any veggie/fruit that you prefer)
-Best way to avoid snacking is to not buy any! Don’t temp yourself
 -While still losing weight, only weight yourself once a week. Your weight varies from day to day and it could lead to discouragement

The key to maintaining your weight is to stay strict about your workouts but allowing yourself to have the things you like to eat. If you choose to drink red wine is a great way to go but always limit yourself to 2 drinks (of course if it’s your birthday or special occasion and you want to party then do so) it just can’t be a regular thing. The key is to enjoy the things you like without making it something you do on a regular basis. Never bring a whole box of cookies or bag of chips near you. Serve yourself a small portion and put them back in the kitchen. This way you have to walk all the way back to get more that alone makes me second guess hmmmm do I really want to go get more? A lot of people warned me that once I stopped my diet I would gain all the weight back and more. The reason a lot of people think that is because they are used to these fad diets that don’t really work. The key is not to diet but to make changes in your life. Temporary changes will only have temporary results.

I want to mention is that you have to learn to love you at whatever size you are. When I first lost the weight in high school I did it out of self-hate in a very self-destructive manner. To this day I suffer from my anorexic past. Don’t lose weight because you hate yourself do it because you love yourself enough to want more for you. Trust me this summer was the first time in so many years that I took my shirt off at a pool. It was the first time I wore a tank top in public and living in Atlanta we get some pretty brutal summers. I don’t ever have to worry oh man I have to make sure I untag myself from the pictures my friends just took because I’m sure I looked terrible. Losing weight only changes your body not your mind. With that being said the first time I looked in a mirror and thought “damn you look good!” it was the most rewarding feeling because I knew I had worked very hard for it. I see these ads for so many miracle pills but have you actually met someone whose taken these pills and are healthy, fit and happy with themselves? Other people telling you that you look fantastic is just the cherry on the ice cream cone you can now have guilt free! Once you’ve found a healthy diet and exercise routine that works for you maintaining your weight is not that hard. Always give yourself a 2-3 pound leeway and don't freak out if you've randomly gained a few pounds. Stay focused and you'll be back to seeing those lower numbers. 

I hope that my journey helps other people find their own path. I’m not saying my way will work for everyone just like all the mainstream diets work for everyone but it’s really just common sense. Eat less, eat healthy, be active and stay positive. This is going to affect you in so many other ways than just your pants size. Working out is a fantastic stress reliever and for someone who deals with some anxiety I’ve found it as a great way to get my mind back to normal. Good luck on all your goals and remember that you're not alone. 

With my love and good wishes, Luis. 

now for some pictures showing how much my appearance has changed from last year.
June 2012 

September 2013 

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