Dieting vs. Nutrition vs. Rethinking my lifestyle

Markus Eisele

Found this at #AMS this morning. 

I talked to some people about how I managed to lose weight. Some were honestly surprised and happy for me but still curious about how I made this happen. Some other might want to learn from what I did and start over themselves. While trying to explain it with many words person to person, I finally had some time to write down my thoughts a little more detailed and cohesively. This is somewhat a self-reflective retro perspective and not advice or self-help blog. I summarise what and why it worked for me. Take what helps you and leave the rest. I am not looking for recognition, I am not looking for cheers, I love sharing and something in me hopes that this might help someone else. This is why I’ve written it down. Keep your negative thoughts or advice to yourself. 

I'm not a doctor or have any medical background. So, take this as what it is: an opinion from a single guy. I've been under medical surveillance on my journey. Still am. You should be too. Get a blood check, take a look at your vitamin levels, make sure you know how much and what kind of sport you're allowed to do at the weight you're at. That means, you’ll need to see more than one doctor. Also, don’t go to my GP. In general they should be the first to help you. Mine is different and I had to find a specialist that knew how to balance medication and sport. More on this later. Generally: Don't make it worse! Also: this is not your medical advise posting. I'll focus on what worked for me and my personal approach. This might not work for you. This probably isn't the wonder pill you're searching for. Just food for thought. The only food without calories, btw.

I see all of this as a journey by now. After almost a year, I can confidently state that I've somewhat found my pace but it'll not be back again to the old life. I'll explain the why later on, for now it's important that I consider what I'm doing not a diet but a change in lifestyle. In my eyes this is crucial because it takes out the timeline. Many times before I thought, I'll loose a couple of kg and be done until the next time. Thinking about dieting in terms of sprints or exceptions from your life makes it sound bearable. But to me that is part of the problem and reason why I went through this some times before. I've always seen it as dieting and as such as an exception. It never stroke me that "my normal" could be part of the problem. I've always been and still am pretty self confident I guess and not questioning myself enough ;-) So, turns out, I had to rethink what I considered normal and adjust my approach. 

Being successful in changing it started with changing my mindset. I've lost weight before and gained it again. What drove me on this journey were side effects of medication I had to take because of me being overweight. Your motivation will for sure be completely different. What's important in my eyes is that you realise for what you're doing this. For your health and for yourself. Misinterpreting other people's expectations or felt standards and trying to be motivated to reach them never worked for me before. Having a medical reason to do this was key for my mind to finally click.

Let's talk about how I envision this calories thing to work. In my mind, my body is like a car. With extra gas tanks in the trunk and some other places. Like with a car, the amount of gas I'm using is equal to the distance I can travel. If I travel longer distances, I need more gas. Idling requires less gas. Thankfully, unlike a car, you can't turn your body off. Your body is idling even if you're not moving. It consumes “gas” all day and night. This is what I call base calories or resting energy. When I'm taking my body out for a drive, it'll consume extra or active calories. When I am putting more gas into my tanks than I need, the car get’s heavier and grows in size. I'm smirking by the thought that my butt grows when I'm putting too much gas into my car. And yes, it’s more complicated, sugars or other good/bad carbohydrates and proteins and vitamins and and. Simplification always helped me to understand complex things better. Might be the reason I am fine with this simplistic world view. The formula to success for me is: “base calories + active calories >= calorie intake”. That is basically my mental model of how all of this works. You have all rights to scream: “that is not correct”! and be done reading this post if you like to. But this simple picture helped me to understand what’s going on. I needed to make sure there’s relatable and easy to apply logic available to me whenever I got to the point arguing about a cookie or two extra ones. Remember when I said, find a doctor? This is why! You can fulfil this equation and be successful by eating just cookies and other simple carbohydrates all day. But your car also needs more than gas: Oil, engine checks, break fluid, new wipers, wheels from time to time! 

Eating right is the key to get your car everything it needs. I think I am done remembering you about your maintenance windows (doctor!), but continue to refill the necessary working fluids and ingredients. Learn a little about what you are eating. I had to start with a very simple diet to get onto the right track. As I am a very binary person, I needed simple guidelines I can easily execute on at the beginning. I started changing my breakfast. From a full English breakfast to cereals. 40g oatmeal, 110g yoghurt, a handful of various nuts crumbled into it. Add some milk and you guessed it: Coffee. Roughly 500kcal to start the day. A year after, that is still my breakfast. I find it surprisingly hard to find the simple ingredients at hotel breakfasts, but I manage to replace/resize the portions/ingredients as I have choice in the meantime. Lunch and or dinner were a little more tricky. First action I took was to scrape all takeout from my list of options. And skip as many carbohydrates as possible. Replace normal pasta with pea or soy based versions. Leave potatoes and derivates out. It came down to a lot of vegetables and very little meat. While my girls slowly turned into flexitarians over the last years with little exceptions for white meat, this didn’t had to change a lot. We’ve skipped minced meat more often and switched to a mainly plant based nutrition. Salad included. I’ve tried keeping my palette very small in the beginning. To give me the guardrails I am talking a lot about in technology but also to understand the amount of energy in my food better. Yes, I have been counting calories again. It is somewhat unavoidable if you need to figure out the distance you can go with your car. Over time I started adding things back in. Going almost all vegetarian had a couple of positive side effects. I’ve never been hungry. I could eat as much as I wanted (almost). And all I had to concentrate on was the urge for things I did not allow myself.
I almost forgot one of the bigger pieces here though. I am not drinking any alcohol anymore. Since last December. Remember that I told you that I am a binary person? I can only do or don’t do things. There’s very little in between. A decent Gin-Tonic has around 250kcal. My go-to drink very quickly becomes the equivalent of a full day's energy demands! So that was not cool and had to stop.

So much for the intake side. You also need to find out about base calories and resting energy. There are very good and medically approved ways to find out about it and your doctor can help you with figuring it out. I did this on my own. Or almost at least. Apple to the rescue. Not the fruit but the company. I’ve had various Watches before and they turned out to be an easy health device to built into my days. If you open the fitness app (won’t hurt, go for it!) and take a look at the hated rings, you’ll clearly find your move and total calories. Subtract move from total and you have your resting calories. Consider it an estimate. And it ultimately didn’t matter to me in the first few months because I wanted to reduce intake aggressively to lose some of that excessive “gas” storage in my butt. But now I found out where my base is. My resting energy hovers around 2k calories/day. Whatever exercise I do on top consumes extra. So all I had to do is stay below with my intake. And this went insanely well. I lost the first 10kg within the first four months. 

I just recently were able to run almost 3km distance. That is 20 minutes. Running. Unthinkable for me, just some months back. Sitting at the airport right now waiting for my flight back home, I am aching to get moving again. It hasn’t been like this from the beginning. Moving has been a burden for me. Sport an unthinkable activity. BUT it is your magic key. I understood this from the beginning. But understanding and the ability to execute are two different things. I had to overcome a lot of mental hurdles to get myself moving at first. Again, a praise to Apple. Because with every new Watch you get a free couple of months worth of Apple Fitness+. And while I’ve paid for various gym memberships in the past few years, I’ve started working out at home. Alone. For myself. Without anybody (!) watching. I wanted to be left alone. The sweating, hard breathing mess I was making some first movements in front of the TV. And I have to acknowledge that I have never been excessively overweight. According to my BMI back then I just slid into being considered “overweight”. Still did not realise at that time how many limitations I already silently accepted in my movements. Jamie-Ray Hartshorne and his 20 minute beginner HIT workout marked the start of my success. While he almost killed me at first, it got easier over time. I’ve done this workout every single day. For a couple of months. Nothing else. I did not care about move or activity rings. I just did that workout. Until it started to be too easy. I slowly and steadily expanded my choices of trainings and started mixing in other trainers and programs.

HIT is amazingly exhausting. HIT or High Intensity Training aims at intervals of excessive heart rate and rest times. It basically drives your car in the upper RPM ranges. And while this can be fun, and for sure helps burning calories, it isn’t the only thing my car needed. Our cars are pretty amazing things. The extra “gas tanks” they build out over time are meant as savings for bad times. Unlike with bank accounts, these savings quickly build up but can’t easily be withdrawn. Protein is a lot easier to convert into energy for our “cars” than fat is. What happens mostly, when you start loosing weight, you start losing muscle mass. Which is exactly the opposite of whats desired. Because muscles not only protect us, they also burn more base energy as fat does. This made me switch to strength trainings over time. Still in front of my TV. Still with Apple Fitness+. Up to today. I am bringing in more variety for sure. Extensive walks (sometimes up to 9min/km for as long as 12km length) or indoor cycling when I am travelling or just recently running. My overall “move goal” is around an hour a day. And move in this case really means: Sweating. Getting my heart rate up to at least 120 bpm for a reasonable amount of time. 

That’s it. The whole secret. I am off medication since a while. My blood pressure normalised and I can walk AMS Security to gate without breaking a sweat. I can wear cloths and brands again, I thought I’d never own ever again. (If that is a good thing or not might be a different blog post though…). Most importantly, I feel good. Like in: am at peace with myself. No feeling of restlessness anymore. I sleep better. I am more relaxed (most of the time) and have a lot more energy to focus on things. It has been a challenging but baseline positive experience for me. And even if your reading comes to an end here, my journey doesn’t. There’s no going back to what I used to call normal before anymore for me. THIS is my new normal. Eating (more) healthy, exercising (a lot) more, taking care of myself (more than ever before!). Stay healthy y'all.

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