The Barnabas Ministry

Losing Weight
After spending the first thirty years of my adult life overweight, sometimes significantly overweight, I've lost more than forty-five pounds in the last six months. How did I do it?

This article will pass along what worked and what didn't work for me, in the hopes that those also looking for real help in losing weight can learn and be encouraged that such weight loss is possible. I know how big a struggle it is, how hopeless it can feel dealing with this issue. So these thoughts are offered to help you lose weight and be healthier.

See a Doctor Before You Start
I'm not a doctor, I'm not a nutritionist, I'm not a trainer. I'm an engineer. But-- I've also finally lost the weight, so I know something about this I didn't know before. After all the various things I've tried over the years, losing as much weight as I've lost, as easily as I've lost it-- I am sharing what I've learned and what has worked for me.

But, see a doctor before you put any of this into practice or make changes your lifestyle. You need to take into account whatever medications or conditions you may have. Part of this ought to be a blood test to check your lipids and triglycerides.

Your Body Does It
You don't lose the weight, your body does it. The idea is to get your body to burn your extra weight, which is in the form of stored fat. Once it starts happening, it is amazing. What follows is how to get your body to burn the fat.

Calories and Exercise
Your body loses weight by taking in less calories than it burns. Generally, you can't exercise enough to lose weight (that you can keep off anyway). You must have diet control and exercise. I will talk about exercise later, but the battle of weight is won or lost with your diet. Part of "diet control" is what you eat, the other part is dealing with your appetite.

Time and Expectations, and a Lifestyle Change
You did not
gain your weight in a hurry, you won't lose it in a hurry. I averaged losing about seven pounds a month. Some months were "better" than others; most months I lost five to eight pounds.

Don't fall for "lose weight quick" gimmicks and fad diets. Don't think you'll lose weight and keep it off without making a significant, permanent change to your lifestyle. If you go back to your old lifestyle after losing weight, you will go back to your old weight.

Your mind and stomach are used to eating more than your body really needs. Your mind and stomach need an epiphany to get by on what is needed, not what is wanted. If there is any "will power" involved, it's here.

After committing yourself to real changes and putting them into practice, the first few days are the hardest. But once you get over the hump of eating what you truly need instead of what you crave, your appetite, stomach and mind will adjust-- and you start losing weight. Once your body is in this mode, it's much easier to keep it going. Then your body just does its thing and you adjust to it. It really works, and it really is that simple.

The Main Food Rule- No Junk
The main rule is no junk calories. Junk calories add calories to your intake but don't make you feel full, don't provide good nutrition, and they come with way too much fat and/or sugar. This type of food includes some obvious culprits-- non-diet pop, candy, potato chips, etc. These add calories but don't make you feel full and don't provide the nutrition you need. So you end up eating more of them, and never lose any weight. You need to get these out of your diet.

But there are also some not-so-obvious culprits.
Some of the biggest ones are some "healthy," "low fat" and/or "light" foods. I used to eat a lot of these and never lost weight. Now I know why. Because many of these foods are "light" they don't make you feel full. So you have to eat more of them to be filled and get what your body needs, and this makes it harder to control your caloric intake and your appetite.

Further, many "low-fat" foods usually have a ton of sugar in them. That's not really what you are looking for.

There are some other surprises too-- fruit juices, granola bars, certain healthy-sounding cereals and muffins-- these often come with a ton of fat and/sugar in them. For example, "no sugar added" hot chocolate mix is still nearly 1/2 sugar! Even fruit has a lot of sugar in it. You have to start looking at the labels and seeing what is really in stuff you decide to eat.

Of course, there are good "light" foods and balanced foods that can be a part of your diet. More about this later. But just don't fall for the packaging or the claims in the ads- check the actual nutritional components of the food. And don't think that because something is "light" or "low fat" you can eat more of it.

Watch Out for Sugar!
What happens when you eat a lot of sugar? Your body would rather burn that sugar for energy than the fat is has stored up. When your body sees sugar, it has no need to metabolize the fat. So too much sugar hurts your ability to burn fat.

You can have a little sugar. But that means a little. Any food with more than 15% sugar or 15% fat, get rid of it. And even those that have less sugar, don't eat too much of them.

Fight Back on Sneaky Calories
Extra calories hide out in all sort of unexpected places. For example, one place is in breads. Most bread, even "healthy" bread, is 150 calories a slice. That means 300 calories for a "nothing sandwich!" Yikes! Way too much. this holds true for buns as well. Low-fat, low-sugar breads are about half that. The difference makes it worth getting the low-fat, low-sugar variety.

Another way to save calories here is to not eat the whole bun on a hamburger or a sandwich. Cut it in half, or rebuild your burger/sandwich to use half of the bread (cut the other contents in half and double them over). Or, just eat everything except the bread. It's not that bread is bad, it's just that it's loaded and you don't need loaded foods that don't pull their weight nutritionally.

Recently, we had hot dogs for dinner. Regular hots dogs are pretty bad nutritionally, but... ok, they worked with the schedule (kids and parents going all over town in the space of a couple of hours). How could I make this "less bad?" The dogs were 230 calories each I think, and the buns were another 120-150. Yikes! I ended up eating 2 hot dogs with 1 bun- I just ripped the bun down and used the pieces for each dog. (Another trick is to carve out extra parts of bread in sandwiches like Philly cheesesteaks, Subway, etc.). In addition, I've seen some buns available now that are much thinner than the usual fluffy, high calorie buns.

Stay Hydrated
Water helps you metabolize your built-in energy. If your urine is yellow you aren't getting enough water/liquids.

I don't drink sugary drinks (but I'll put sweetener in tea at restaurants). Crystal Light is a great no-sugar drink. We drink that a lot. Good old water is wonderful as well.

In addition, carbonated soft drinks don't hydrate you as well as water, so don't have too many of them. One or two a day for variety is enough, and make sure they are diet drinks.

There are some great sport drinks out there too- but be careful here. Some of them are packed with extra sugar/calories and are just as bad as pop. Anything more than 25 calories for a "sport drink" portion is too much. Some of these things are 250 calories per bottle!

No beer. Even light beer is really garbage calories. It takes me days to recover from a single beer, it's just not worth it.

It's easy to see where the calorie savings start adding up when you get picky on what will be a part of your diet going forward. And you are the one who benefits from it!

Truly Beneficial Foods
In terms of dietary components, your friends are protein and fiber. Protein builds muscle and doesn't get converted into fat (unless you eat way too much of it). Fiber doesn't digest at all. It comes in, and it goes out.

Manage the Portions
If you're going to to eat less than you burn, that means eating less than you are used to eating. I will tell you where I made progress in this area, but you will need to take these ideas and apply them to your diet, preferences and lifestyle.

I usually have a bowl of "Honey Bunches of Oats" cereal for breakfast. During the work week, I will have a protein bar and Metameucil crackers for lunch.

But after work, that's where I would get into trouble. I would have "whatever" for snacks and dinner. Even though I was "being good" for 2/3 of my meals, I wasn't losing any weight. Here's the extra step that was the key: manage the portions of all meals and all snacks.

Have a sensible portion for dinner. Don't have seconds; if you do, wait ten minutes before getting them-- give your stomach and brain time to get into sync before you actually eat more. You will eventually learn you can get by on less volume of food. And when you eat less food, you will want to eat slower and enjoy what you eat even more.

Every meal where  you are on the right track is a victory, you are one step closer to where you want to be.

Another secret- don't eat while you're doing something that is not relaxing (working, doing some task, etc.). You will end up eating on autopilot and not paying attention to what you are eating. This may lead to overeating, and beside that it keeps you from enjoying your food. And if you're cutting back on the food-- you want to enjoy what you eat.

Eating Out
One big challenge is eating out. Most restaurants serve portions way bigger than anybody needs to eat. I think it is because they want to charge more for each plate-- and they can't very well charge more for a dinky or regular-size portion. How do you get around this? Some restaurants have half-portions or "petite" portions-- ask and order those if they are available. If not, split your portion with someone, or cut the meal in half before you start and take the other half home. Or, eat just the meat and a little of everything else and throw the rest away. Your stomach is not a garbage can, and the "starving children in China" can't eat what you throw away anyway! If it's too much to eat, don't eat it. Stop trying to "get your money's worth" and start taking care of yourself.

Also, watch out for sauces, salad dressings, breads, etc. These things are often loaded with sugar and or fat. Have your sauces and condiments all served on the side. Use them sparingly. Don't undo the good of a healthy food choice with these things.

Many restaurants have low-fat/low-calorie menu items marked. Eating these items will help you keep things from getting out of hand.

Snacks offer an opportunity to make a big difference in your caloric intake. Snacks aren't bad, in fact they are good. But you have to learn to snack in a way that helps you.

Do not "graze" out of the box or bag for snacks. Pick good snacks (more on that later), and have conservative, measured portions of them. For example, I will have some Kashi Go Lean or Cheerios cereal for a snack, but I'll have it in a cup or small glass that is between 1/2 cup and 1 cup. And that's it. I may have 3-5 individual "snacks" like that a day. But each portion is small.

It's actually good to nibble on snacks throughout the day.  By having smaller, decent snacks, you satisfy the need for a small amount of energy without getting in trouble on the total calorie intake.

Often, people trying to lose weight starve themselves, but this can hurt you in two ways. First, it makes the body store more fat when you do it because the body wonders when it is going to get more energy. Second, people who starve themselves often eventually binge on food. Having periodic, controlled snacks is a much better way to go-- it is a lifestyle change that will make the difference, not some "lose weight quick" gimmick.

Getting the Most out of your Calories- Specifics on Foods
Since you are cutting back on calories, you have to get the most out of your calories. You want calories that are filling and satisfying.

I use a spreadsheet to look at various foods I often eat. This helps me to know what I'm getting. Looking at the data, you sometimes learn surprising things as well. Here's what is looks like.


size g

Total Carb g
Protein g
Cheerios Regular 1 cup 28 100 15 2 20 3 1 3 7.1% 3.6% 10.7%
Cheerios Multigrain 1 cup 29 110 10 1 24 3 6 2 3.4% 20.7% 6.9%
Cheerios Frosted 1 cup 28 110 10 1 23 2 10 2 3.6% 35.7% 7.1%
Kashi Go Lean 1 cup 52 140 10 1 30 10 6 13 1.9% 11.5% 25.0%
Honey Bunches of Oats, Almonds cup 32 130 25 2.5 25 2 6 3 7.8% 18.8% 9.4%
Kashi Crunchy- Chocolate Almond 1 bar 45 170 45 5 27 5 13 8 11.1% 28.9% 17.8%
Premier Chocolate Crunch 1 bar 72 270 60 6 26 2 9 30 8.3% 12.5% 41.7%

Notice how Kashi Go Lean is great, while Kashi Crunchy is terrible (on the pct of sugar and fat).

The protein bars I get are Premier Nutrition bars, I get 'em at Costco. A cup or less of decent (non sugar-laced) cereals is also about 100 calories. Nabisco has those 100-calorie snack-packs, but watch the sugar on those things.

Another great website I've found is Nutrition Data. You can look up all sorts of foods and see what's in them- both grocery type foods and restaurant type foods.

In addition, most restaurants have websites with their nutritional data provided. Some even have it on-site. Take note of what's good and bad on the menu. You can enjoy the eating out experience without taking steps backwards on your new lifestyle.

The point is-- start paying attention to what you're eating and incorporate this into your new lifestyle. It will pay off in a big way.

Genuinely Low-Fat Meals
My cardiologist has a web-site with some low-fat recipes on it. Find resources that will help you with preparing low-fat meals. There are a few tricks to making this work: use spices, not salt and sugar for flavoring. Watch out for fatty additives. Many recipes use fat to make foods taste "better" but they really just taste fattier. Use low-fat cheeses, milk and other products as you can.

Again, watch the portions.

Watch the red meat; I really like red meat but only eat it a couple times a week. Get the leanest red meats you can. Fish and white meat are better.

Get After Your Weak Spots
After you start putting this in practice, you will find your "weak spots." For me,
it's eating in the evening after dinner. So I have to be careful to not eat much after 9pm. A small cup of cereal or two is about it. You will be amazed how much of a difference it makes taking on the weak spots and winning.

If the idea is to burn more than you consume, then all you need is a margin between the two and you'll lose weight gradually without feeling starved. So if you've been "good" all day and decide you need that bowl of ice cream during the late news, well, you probably just blew the whole day. Fight hard to win over your weak spots, your body will reward you in time!

Exercise-- you still need to do this. But you need to be smart about it.

Don't over-exercise. I cringe when I see overweight people jogging or otherwise exercising much too hard considering the shape they are in, no doubt thinking they are "getting in shape." That's another one of those short-cuts where people think they can lose weight quickly and not make real lifestyle changes. Don't do this.

A lifestyle of getting reasonable exercise is not about effort-- it is about training your body, and exercising too vigorously does not help you lose weight. All you do is burn muscle and get worn out. That's very discouraging in the end, and you don't lose weight.

I walk for about 35 minutes (3 miles) a day about 25 times a month. I walk briskly, not leisurely. I usually walk on a level track at the rec center or nearby high school. Neighborhood walking can be OK but hills, traffic, distractions, etc. can keep you from getting the consistency you need. Walking is also pretty easy on your body, joints, etc. compared to jogging. Treadmills and the like may work, but the point is to have the right pace and consistency. Dont' get into competing with other people at the gym or rec center. Stick with the pace that is right for you.

Find what works for you and be consistent with it. Walking with a spouse or friend is more fun, but it will be hard for you to get the exercise you need doing it that way. Speaking of companions, it will also be harder to get the exercise you need if you bring the dog with you, so leave Rover at home.

My ideal exercise pulse rate is about 120-- this is 70% of my max rate. Anything below 60% doesn't work well for me. Your proper exercise pulse rate depends upon your age; check this website for more info. P
ulse rate should be the gauge of your exercise, not speed or effort. However, in time you'll know how much effort and/or speed it takes to get the right pulse rate. Too high a pulse is bad, don't think you'll go "a little harder" and get in shape "a little faster." It doesn't work that way.

Exercise also helps your HDL's, which in turn helps your LDL's and gets fat out of your bloodstream.

I keep a spreadsheet and track my walk dates, times, lengths, and weight so I can follow my progress. It's great to watch the improvement!

Weigh In Regularly
Weigh yourself with a good scale (go buy one if you need to). Weigh yourself in as identical a circumstance as you can daily. For most people, this is probably sometime in the morning around shower time. Don't freak out if your weight bumps up a pound or two after a "good" or a "bad" day. Just stay on track.

Fall off the Wagon? Get Back On It!
There are times you mess up. You eat out, eat too much, or have some big fatty meal or ice cream or something with the kids, or the schedule is just crazy and your routine gets messed up. OK, stuff happens.

Just get back on track as soon as you can-- compensate with the next meal, or the next day's meals, and get back on track. M
ake sure for the next couple of days no more "stuff" happens.

Exercise helps me "reset" my body when other factors get me off-track.

Don't ever succumb to the thinking, "oh, it's no use" after falling off the wagon and then pig out. You gained the weight over a long period of time, you will lose it over a long period of time. Say on track with your new, healthier lifestlye and you will see the improvement!

Copyright 2009 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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