Regular Guy Loses Over 75 Pounds of Fat
Billy is just a regular guy who decided to give his attitude, and his life, an overhaul. Fed up with his doughy physique, he engaged in an insurgency against the occupying forces of flab by starting "Billy's Lean Body Quest".
From day one he blogged about his weight loss trials and tribulations, and to date he's lost about 75 lbs - almost 30% of his body weight.
CB: Okay Billy, taking a look at your site, everyone wants to know, "how did you do it!!!". But first, tell us what put you in the "before" situation in the first place.
Well Craig, I've been heavy all my life. Not obese, but heavy.
As a kid I was never athletic, and preferred TV and Doritos to exercise and vegetables. When I got to college, all hell broke loose. I had no self control. I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and I put on another 30 or 40 pounds by the time I graduated.
After that, I went from office job to office job, eating mindlessly, and my exercise levels could be described as "borderline bed-ridden". Driving to and from a desk job and mainlining burgers and cheese fries continued to take it's toll on my body.
CB: And what finally made you change? Had you tried before? Did the accountability of the blog increase your chance of success? Was it smooth sailing all the way or did you have some battles?
I've been battling excess weight all my life.
Even as a kid my parents would put my brother and I on diets that only served to make us hate "healthy" food. (Think: Broiled fish and steamed broccoli).
All my life I would go on diets and lose 10 pounds here, 20 pounds there. I even did the Atkins diet once, eating steak with butter on it and pork rinds. Needless to say, I always gained the weight back.
About 4 years ago, I tipped the scales at a walrus-like 270 lbs, and I decided to do something. I read Andrew Weil's book "Eating Well for Optimum Health" and it really resonated with me. Using his nutritional guidelines, cutting down, and exercising helped me shed about 50 lbs.
Unfortunately, I lost focus, and as soon as I started avoiding the scale, the weight started sneaking its way back.
Let me tell you, I avoided that scale for 3 years Craig. Now I realize that's the BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU CAN MAKE! By the time I worked up the courage to step back on that scale and face the music, I weighed in at 260 lbs.
I had just turned 30, and I was having a kind of premature midlife-crisis of sorts. My previous attempt and then failure at weight loss really burned a hole in me. I realized that I had wasted my 20's being fat, and now I was 30. I'm a single guy, and this was simply unacceptable!
That was it. I drew a line in the sand. I said to myself "A year will come and go regardless of what I do. If I dedicate myself to getting in shape, then when it does, I'll be in shape." Something about phrasing it to myself that way took away the "instant gratification" part of it and made me focus on the bigger picture, the long term goal. When a year came around, I was gonna be fit.
I'm not sure what inspired me to start the blog. I think it was because I didn't really want to talk to anyone I knew about what I was doing. I was embarrassed by my weight, and I didn't want to draw attention to it by announcing "I'm trying to lose weight".
People do that all the time and everyone expects them to fail. I wanted to be the guy quietly losing weight in the background until one day everyone was like "Wow!". At the same time, I was somewhat obsessed with learning and discussing all things nutrition and fat loss, and I needed an outlet. So, the blog was born.
Between the blog and my weekly photo ritual (I take a front and side shot every week, which I post on the blog and will eventually animate), I have been more motivated and accountable than ever before.
As soon as people started reading and commenting on the blog and my photos, I felt accountable to them. Now, I feel like I need to lead by example, because more and more people are just starting out and joining the blog ring every day. I've met so many great people who are all doing the same thing I am, many who have a lot more weight to lose than I did.
We motivate each other and swap stories, advice, frustrations, etc. Checking in with them every day is something I look forward to. Having to confess something to them is not ;)
CB: What were the 3 biggest factors that helped you at the start? How were you exercising? What eating changes did you make?
The biggest factor that has helped me this entire time is my attitude.
My mindset is not one of depravation, but rather one of exploration of the abundance of healthy flavors and textures out there. Rather that seeing my situation as a burden to bear, I see it as an opportunity to find out what I'm made of.
Rather than trying to make myself into someone others will like or accept, I am trying to realize my own potential. Rather than blaming something or someone else for my situation, I accept that it's my own choices, and nothing else, that decide whether I succeed or fail.
When I started this quest I took a look at my dog, a beautiful, 100 pound Akita. He doesn't get as much exercise as he should (we live in the city), but he's in great shape. Why? Because I made rational, educated decisions about what and how much to feed him, and I stuck with them. So, why would I do any less for myself? I decided that I could control my own actions with just as much consistency.
I see the American culture as one of excess, laziness, gluttony, and carelessness. I've been trying to weed these qualities out of myself, and in the process I've given up my car and started commuting by bicycle, walking to get groceries and run errands, and become more mindful of what I put into my body and how my choices affect my health, my environment, and my society.
In a way, being fat is a symptom of this disease of excess, and by treating the disease, the symptoms will also disappear. Not to oversimplify - I've been very focused on the singular purpose of losing fat - but underlying my attitude are these principles. I get so much additional exercise from riding my bike everywhere, and I don't even give it a second thought.
So the attitude shift was and continues to be the biggest factor in my success. When I started I already had a wealth of nutritional knowledge and knew my way around a weight room. That was enough for me to hit the ground running, and then I continued to learn more and more as I went.
I had read John Berardi's book "The Metabolism Advantage", and while I didn't start doing his prescribed workouts for a little while, I was following most of his advice and was eating a high-protein, vegetable rich, low-ish carb diet.
In the gym, I started out doing a traditional bodybuilder routine (isolated body part workouts) with 1 day of intervals and 1 day of cardio. Since then, my diet and exercise routine have at the core been the same (lean, green, strong, and fast) but have undergone tweaking as I learned what worked and what didn't.
CB: Did you have social support at the start? Were people resistant to your change, and if so, how did you deal with it?
Like I said, I wanted to lose weight in a vaccuum, but eventually people started noticing.
I'll be honest, not many people had very constructive attitudes about my transformation in the beginning, which is surprising. I think people either don't take your attempt seriously, or become annoyed by it, or both.
One guy kept asking me why I didn't eat my rice, or why I didn't eat or drink that, constantly. It took me losing about 50 lbs to finally shut him up. And a lot of people would get angry that I skipped happy hour to go work out, or because I didn't want the alcohol calories.
These were the same people who would tell me I looked good, and even ask me for weight loss advice! You want my advice? You're going to have to make some sacrifices!
Now of course everyone is on board with my program because they see that I've followed through and that it's actually worked. I swear, you could lose 100 pounds, but it's when you start to actually look like a lean, thin, person that's when people really stand up and take notice.
CB: Okay, what have been your favorite workouts during your transformation? Oh, and at this point, I need to be clear, Billy wasn't using any TT workouts...he is a success story of his own making. Okay, Billy so tell us about your favorite workouts? Anything you want to mention that didn't work for you?
Fortunately I sort of knew what I was doing from the get-go, so I never ended up going down a dead end path workout-wise.
Everything has been working. I remember the first time I made myself follow John Berardi's workouts from the book. For some reason I had been resistant to the idea of following someone else's structured workout routine, but it ended up being great.
I change my workouts up every 4 weeks, so I've done a lot. From the traditional isolated exercises to the full-body ones, to the "Lactic Acid Training" one that I just completed, to your "TT: Hardcore Fat Loss" one that I'm doing now.
The biggest thing about going to the gym is knowing what you're going to do. I have a clipboard and I make up workout sheets and take them to the gym. They take the guesswork out and make you try to outdo yourself each time. And listening to Metallica and Gogol Bordello on the iPod helps too ;)
CB: What type of training are you doing now, as you get into the more advanced phases of your change? And going back to your beginner status, what can you tell us trainers that we need to understand about overweight bodies, and how much we can ask of them at the start?
I've been evolving more toward intense compound-movement circuits.
These are where it's at for muscle building and fat loss. One of the Lactic acid training workouts I did was, for example: 10 chinups, 10 squats, 10 pushups, and 10 deadlifts with no rest between, rest 120 seconds, then do that circuit 2 more times.
Then another circuit of 10 hanging leg raises and 10 decline crunches with 60 seconds rest. By the time I was done they were peeling me off the floor.
The "TT: Hardcore Fat Loss" program is similar, but is slightly less intense and more volume. I also find interesting the dynamic warmups and the intervals conveniently placed at the end of a grueling workout ;) At this level, these types of workouts are great for me.
When I was just starting, however, I never could have gotten through these. I think it's important for beginners to feel challenged, and make progress with a program that they can just barely complete without killing or discouraging them. But I also think the mental attitude is a big aspect of being able to push yourself in a workout. If that's not in place, no exercise program will work for you.
CB: Let's switch to nutrition. What has been the hardest thing to stick to, and can you give three or five tips to help people make the switch from bad food to better eating?
Not to sound like a broken record, but once again attitude can be the biggest obstacle for people to overcome when it comes to nutrition.
In the past, I would pine for the old foods. I ate for comfort. I ate out of boredom. I ate to alleviate depression. I ate because frankly, it was the highlight of my day.
In order to succeed here, I needed to change the way I thought about food. Food is fuel for my body, yes. But it also serves many other functions, from providing nutrients, to giving pleasure, even to forging social bonds and serving tradition. At the same time, it doesn't always have to be the center of the living universe.
I guess the major change in my thinking was to let go of my preconcieved notions of food, and be more open to what tastes good. Now, a freshly made hummus with tomatoes, olives, and feta sounds MUCH more delicious than a bag of Doritos. And an artfully prepared gourmet fish with vegetables much better than a good old fashioned Philly Cheesesteak.
I'm not sure if I can really describe the change in my thinking about this. One key factor that I found was that you can get used to any food's flavor, within reason. I used to literally gag when I ate fish, but I made myself eat it in different preparations, and now it's one of my favorite foods. I never liked green and red peppers, now I do.
Give things a chance, and appreciate them for what they are, and a whole other world of flavors and textures will be available to you. Don't do this and you'll find eating healthy to be very limiting and ultimately not maintainable.
One of my biggest challenges was alcohol. I totally abstained for one month, but other than that I switched from beer to mostly drinking whiskey on the rocks.
The thing to remember is to try to limit it to once or twice a week, and whatever you do, don't eat during or afterward! The only times I've really slipped up and made bad decisions with my diet was when alcohol was involved. But then again, you could say that about any aspect of life really.
As far as tips, I'd say:
Cut out fast food and soda altogether. Never again.
Get out of the "sandwich" mindset. Our society eats sandwiches constantly and all those processed carbs in the bread (plus crappy contents) is no good. I look at bread and wraps as nothing but "handles" to make eating easier. Don't be afraid to bust out the knife and fork.
Vegetables, seriously. I remember hearing that a pile of veggies should take up 2/3 of your plate, and I laughed. Don't laugh, because it's not a joke. Do it, tubby.
As a snack, try cauliflower/broccoli/celery/carrots/tomatoes dipped in hummus. All natural goodness, and filling.
It's uncomfortable to start new unfamiliar habits, but I promise, you can get through it, and once you get it down, it'll be smooth sailing.
Don't forget to develop a smug sense of nutritional superiority as you watch slovenly coworkers scarfing down pizza and hoagies every day.
CB: What kind of beverages did you drink along the way?
I stopped taking in virtually all liquid calories, and that had a huge impact.
This change alone would probably help someone who drinks soft drinks all the time drop a good amount of weight!
I drink black coffee, (unsweetened) green tea, water, seltzer, and unsweetened iced tea (I still have a little V8 in the morning). Occasionally as a treat I'll mix about 1/3 glass pomegranite juice with seltzer to make a slightly sweet beverage. Also, Honest Tea makes some good low calorie iced green tea drinks that are all natural.
CB: Anything help you on this quest that might surprise us?
Like I said, the blog and photos helped immensely.
Without photos of yourself, it's easy to think you're still as fat as you always were. When you have photos to compare, the differece smacks you in the face.
Make sure to look as terrible as possible and sleepy also in your before pic (see mine). Have a beard that hides your double-chin so you can shave it off when you're done and have everybody tell you how young you look. Be aware that if you have a hairy chest, you will appear hairier because the same amount of hair is now packed into a smaller area. Also, I think the chest hair will actually get longer somehow as well.
On a more serious note, it also might help to acknowledge something I like to call "Inner Fat". If you are like me and have had weight issues all your life, you need to acknowledge that there is a deep-rooted psychological imprint of you as a fat person sitting smack dab in the middle of your self image.
Just losing the weight won't make that go away on it's own, it's something you need to face and deal with seperately. I'm still working on dealing with the spector of Inner Fat.
CB: How important was "education" in this whole process? What resources did you use?
Like I said, Andrew Weil and his book really changed my life by starting me down the path in a way that didn't focus on weight loss, but more on health and wholesome nutrition.
I've found great information on Men's Health, from experts like John Berardi, yourself, Brad Pilon, and Alwyn Cosgrove.
I think it's also important to not get too bogged down with scientific mumbo jumbo. If you eat less, cut out processed foods, lift weights, and do some intervals or cardio, you'll have success. I've seen too many people get so bogged down with the minutia and paralyzed with indecision that they never get started.
Motivation trumps education any day in my book.
CB: Great point. That's actually why I prefer to deliver workouts only as products, rather than books on theory. People don't need theory, they need step by step guidelines to success.
So now what's next for you? Any final points on motivation or compliance you'd like to leave us with?
Well Craig, I still have (I'm guessing) about 10 lbs of fat to lose to reach my goal of 10% body fat.
(I'm giving myself until 11/13/07, one year from when I started). Once I hit that, I'm going to focus on maintaining and increasing my fitness levels.
I'm not going to say "I'm done" and walk away. I'm going to keep at it, but with goals being more in line with building muscle, endurance, strength, and flexibility rather than fat loss. Fitness is not a destination, it's a journey. And it's one you need to be prepared to spend on for the rest of your life if you want to have lasting weight loss success.
It's all about mental strength, self discipline, and confidence in yourself. If you believe in yourself, and remove all doubts, maybe's and try's, what you are left with is an attitude that will get you where you need to go.
Every time I hear someone say "I'll try not to overeat" or "Maybe I'll go to the gym" I cringe. They're opening avenues of escape for themselves, and believe me, they'll take them. Say it with me: "I will get in shape, I will lose this weight, I can do this, I have no excuse not to."
With each success that mental strength will build. People are experts at convincing themselves to do what they shouldn't, and not do what they should. You need to become an expert at the opposite.
Get into the habit of weighing yourself every day, even if you aren't doing well. ESPECIALLY if you aren't doing well. This will help you cut off any weight gains at the pass. Don't forget what happened when I avoided the scale.
One more thing: be aware that as you get thinner, your sense of humor and general jolly demeanor will slowly diminish. This is an unfortunate side effect of being thin.
CB: Thanks Billy! There are so many lessons in there that might be better coming from you than from me.
I hope people listen up and realize no matter what situation they are in, they can do it, just like you did.
Please visit his blog if you need a kick in the butt: http://leanbodyquest.blogspot.com/