Understanding Weight Loss

Understanding weight loss

Losing weight was always on my mind. Especially when I first got sober. This last go-round I was getting sober in jail. And while incarcerated, I would spend most of my free time obsessing about losing weight. Weird place to think about how you look, right? Regardless of how odd it seems, I could never shake the feeling that I was fat and desperately needed to lose weight.

When the jail had rec time, I would go outside and run laps in the rec area. The rec area, if you could call it that, was this tiny area that was probably 20X30 yards, about 50 yards high, with concrete walls and a cage covering the roof. It certainly wasn’t a country club, but it was sufficient. Not that I had a better choice!

I was outside every day, listening to my tiny hand held radio, running in small circles (actually I was running in small squares). I would run about 2000 circles a day. I would run so many circles that I would lose count. In total I probably ran around 6 miles a day. Today, I realize that not only is running in a straight line better, but that I can run longer when I am not running in a concrete box. 

After a few months of consistent exercise, I became frustrated. Not because I was in a prison yard trying to lose weight, but because I wasn’t losing weight at all. In fact, I was gaining weight. 

Now, if you are accustomed to incarceration, I don’t have to get into the specifics of state provided culinary programs. But, if you are a normal person, who has never seen the inside of a jail cell, then I shall elaborate. The food is not overly nutritious. Nor is it calorie dense. I would venture to say that between lunch and dinner (If you woke up at 6 AM you could eat breakfast) the calories in total would be about 1,600. So, how was I gaining weight in jail, if I ran and only ate 1,600 calories daily? The answer is commissary.

Diet and Weight Loss

Obviously I was not only eating 1,600 calories a day. Based on my BMR (Base metabolic rate) I burned around 2,400 calories per day (at the time of my incarceration). I was a bit chubby, but I was active in running, cleaning my cell and pacing the floor. So, if I would have only eaten the provided lunch and dinner, I would have lost weight. But, I did not only eat lunch and dinner. Instead I ate lunch, dinner and every piece of commissary I could.

Commissary

Commissary is the best part of eating in jail. Commissary is basically a way to pay cash to the jail to get specialty foods. Now, when I say specialty foods, please understand the context. By “specialty foods” I mean Ramen, off-brand sodas, pretzels, hot pickles and the king of all commissary items: The Iced Bunnee (honey bun). 

I would spend the max amount ($100/week) on commissary. I was hood rich. A jail legend. I had ramen stacked to the ceiling. Unfortunately, having tons of terrible food at my disposal did not help my weight loss journey. 

Weight Loss Delusions

At this time in my life I was not the most educated individual. After all, I was just a cheeky dope fiend who was incarcerated. I knew zilch about caloric balance. And my problem was simply ignorance (acting on ignorance). I truly believed because I was exercising so much that, no matter what I ate, I would lose weight. Oh, how I was wrong!

It wasn’t until I got into treatment, and later into sober living, that I began to study the human body. More specifically, I began to study calorie balance. And after learning this simple science, I began to understand why I wasn’t able to lose weight in jail.

Simple Calorie Balance

Calories in Vs. Calories out

When you want to lose weight, you must first understand calorie balance. The only possible way to lose weight is to consume less calories than you burn. That’s it. There isn’t any magical science required. If you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight. If you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight.

My Experience

After I left the halfway house, I was on my own and learning to live properly. My life had changed in so many ways. Not only was I in the free world, but I had responsibilities. Life had taken on a new meaning. I was happy, joyous and free. But I still wasn’t where I wanted to be physically. 

As you might have guessed, I didn’t lose weight until I began to practice the scientific principals of calorie balance. It wasn’t until I began to track my calorie intake that I lost a significant amount of weight. So, how do you count calories and how do you lose weight doing that?

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Counting Calories

Counting calories can be a bitch. And I wouldn’t suggest living 24/7 as a calorie Nazi. It is boring, overwhelming and unnecessary. If you are a body builder, it might be required to meticulously count each morsel of nutrient, but for the vast majority of us a general count will do. Focusing all of your energy on counting calories will be an exhausting way to increase anxiety and can lead to a pit of depression.

Counting calories

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

First, you will need to check your estimated daily caloric intake. Easy peasy. Then, you will know where the cut off will be. Once you find your total amount of daily calories, the fun begins. To make this even more simple we will use an example. Below is an example of our good imaginary friend Ron. Ron is a good guy, nice family, hard worker, but is sick of being overweight. So, we are going to devise a simple plan to lose weight by counting calories.

Ron's Weight loss via Calorie Counting

Ron:

  • 35
  • Male
  • Sedentary 
  • Basic daily caloric Intake: 2,000

In order for Ron to lose weight, without changing anything to his current life, he would have to eat less than 2,000 calories a day. If Ron decides he wants to lose a pound a week, he will have to eat around 1,500 calories a day (because one pound is 3,500 calories).

So, what does Ron eat? Ron can eat whatever he wants as long as it adds up to no more than 1,500 calories. He could eat a few donuts, a shit ton of ice cream or he could eat nutritional foods. When you are attempting to lose weight, it does not matter what you consume. I will repeat that: if you are wanting to lose weight, it does not matter what you consume. As long as your total calorie intake is less than your total calories burned, you will lose weight.

Diet Fads suck

Diet fads exist, fail and repeat. However, the problem is not the diet itself. It is the individual’s adherence to the diet that produces failure. Anyone can lose weight (barring a legitimate physical barrier like thyroid issues). It doesn’t matter if you use Keto, Paleo or any other -O diets. You can lose weight if you eat less calories than you consume. 

Why do certain diets work while others fail? Put very simply, its because the individuals participating in the diet illicit a calorie deficit. Everyone has extremely unique preferences. Some people may be able to shove copious amounts of fatty meat into their mouths without wanting to taste the sweet deliciousness that is carbohydrates. Those insane people will thrive on the Keto diet. Other normal people, such as myself, can not successfully maintain the keto diet. And if we do not maintain the diet we fail. Then we try again. And the cycle continues. 

Popular Diets

This may seem cliche, but, “it works if you work it”. Whatever diet works for you will yield results. It does not matter which diet plan you decide to follow. With all that being said, I will list some popular diets, what they mean and who would benefit from them.

Intermittent Fasting:

Intermittent fasting is not technically a diet. It is more of a “when to eat” plan. Intermittent fasting is the pattern of eating that rotates between a fasting period and an eating period. You can fast for 16 hours a day, 24 hours twice a week, or eat 500 calories two days a week. People that would benefit from this way of eating would be those who can function highly without constant snacking. IF (Intermittent Fasting) is a really good program that any can follow, but be weary of it’s time restrictions.

Ketogenic Diet:

The Keto Diet has become extremely popular recently. I am certain that Keto is the hardest to maintain, but it does provide quick results. The reason for this, in a quick statement, is that protein is less in calories and requires more energy to process than carbohydrates. Also, the basic principal of ketosis states that our bodies, when restricted on carbohydrates, uses the fat stored in our bodies for fuel. Thus creating weight loss. However, if you still ate more calories than you burned you would gain weight over time. The Keto diet is for anyone who wants to try it. However, Keto will be best for those who naturally prefer salty foods over sugary foods. 

Mediterranean Diet:

The Mediterranean Diet is a heart healthy diet with a focus on healthy fats, whole grains and fruits and veggies. The diet’s origins are in the Mediterranean (obviously) and in that part of the world the diet produces longevity, heart health and much less disease. The Mediterranean Diet is best for those who love fruits and veggies and can maintain eating smaller portions of protein. 

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