Practical Dieting Advice from Someone Just Like You
I am a doctor but not a medical one, nor am I a dietician or medical professional. Like many people, I struggled with weight. Once I had kids, I became the bear of the house, constantly eating all leftovers. At one point, I remember my ex-wife telling me, “You eat constantly and never stop.”
Sure, there was more there. Like many, I am a stress eater. If I feel anxious—and I always felt anxious—I calmed myself by eating. If I was upset, I ate. If I was sad, I ate. If I was happy, I ate.
Sadly, my doctors seemed to give up on even addressing weight issues during my physicals. Even when I made it a point, they avoided the subject. Basically, they said, “Earl, we will fix you with a pill when you have symptoms.” Wait until I have a heart attack or stroke, then they will fix me. This is an awful approach, but the medical profession has given up on preventive care, unless a pill offers some kind of healthy salvation.
I don’t know where it came from, but as I left my profession of nearly 20 years, I decided I had enough of being fat. I no longer wanted the teenage girls in my complex laughing at me. At least I could look good enough to be invisible, not ridiculed. Maybe I could even get a smile someday.
What I offer here is what worked for me. There is no diet. Yes, I use diet in the title, but that is just to get your attention. The word is used so often. It’s not about dieting. It’s about monitoring your food intake and weight.
Know your metabolism and proper calorie intake
The first step is to visit a health-conscious medical professional and get an assessment done about your health, metabolism rate, and proper calorie intake. Then you will sit with a dietician, and they will explain what things you can eat.
When I went in, I weighed 205 pounds. Given my body, this put me close to seriously obese, though I had the typical “dad body.” My dietician told me that I need to take in a total of 1,700 calories to lose weight but stay healthy. If I do 2,000 calories, I will gain. To give you an idea, pretty much one of those sweet cream coffees at a favorite coffee place will wipe out my entire calorie intake for a day. That was a shocker and a wake-up call.
Once I had this information, I did not exercise at all yet. I went out and got some frozen “healthy” dinners, the lower sodium that I could find and I counted calories. Every morning, I would weigh myself after using the bathroom without clothes on. Once again, doctors really are not weighing people properly anymore. Pounds do make a difference. This is critical. You must weigh yourself every day in the morning. Don’t drink yet, use the bathroom because liquid is very heavy. A glass of water will through your weight tally off. This is not obsessive. It’s monitoring.
I dropped weight pretty quickly, but as you go down in weight, it naturally slows. Once I hit about 175-180, I felt a bit discouraged. Weight loss will slow as your weight goes down.
Snacking is the Killer
You are going to hate this, but snacking is the killer. I can sit down and eat a whole bag of my favorite potato chips, all 8 ounces. This would be 13 times the recommended serving, pushing my calorie intake to nearly 2,000 just for the chips, let alone the sodium and fat. You can get chips, but allow yourself an ounce, maybe two. But two is double the calories on the label, so you need to monitor. Many companies mislead with labels so be careful. The key is not to stop eating what you love. The key is to lower your intake, and when you do meet a goal or fall under your weight, then go to town one day and eat the whole darn bag. It’s okay. You eat healthy most of the time, and you will still keep your goal. If you only punish yourself, then all you will win at is failure.
The tough part is in getting to your target weight. My target weight was between 155 and 160. That is the range where I look best.
Try to Balance your Diet
I try to be sure to eat vegetables and fruit but ones I like. Don’t force yourself to eat stuff you don’t like. Just eat less of the stuff you love. Honestly, the recommended serving of ice cream is idiotic. A baby eats twice that, ½ or two-thirds cup! That is practically a spoonful. The daily recommended portions are beyond silly. Maybe this was true when our knuckles dragged on the ground and we got one rabbit a week. No one eats such portions without being totally miserable, so you have my permission not to listen to it. Find your own sensibility, your own range. It’s trial and error.
I found that once I hit my target weight, I can eat a half gallon of ice cream in two days and am fine. The weight creeps a bit up, but if you monitor it every day, you can catch it before you gain outside your range. When you do, cut back. If you keep eating it, that is a no, no.
Of course, I don’t recommend bad eating all the time, but it is important for you to reward yourself, let go, and not feel guilty. Too many people shame us for everything. Shame does not work, especially when we shame ourselves. You made your weight goal, so celebrate. I love cheesecake. Cheesecake is very, very bad for me, but I decided I would eat cheesecake on my birthday as a reward for myself. It’s become a special occasion, especially for a guy that lives alone.
The point is to do your best but be consistent. I eat apples because I like them. There are a variety of apples and they generally taste good throughout the year. I also eat strawberries and other berries. Bananas make me sick, so they are out. I eat salads, not every day, but if you eat a salad, get grilled chicken, not fried. Cut the dressing in half. I do still eat fried on occasion, as a treat to myself when I am in my accepted range. But in the beginning, you need to suffer a bit, but it is really worth it. Please trust me.
Exercise, Yep, the Bad Word
I wanted a nice stomach so that I can compete with the boys and get back at those teenage girls. I decided that I would do crunches, squats, and pushups. Start easy, using no weights. Now, I do 180 pushups, 600 crunches, and 45 leg (abdominal lifts, and 50 squats) a day. I know I am scaring some of you. I do that in less than a half hour in a whole day. I do them in sets.
Some days I skip, and some days I do double. I do “girl” pushups, the ones where you use your knees not the balls of your feet. They are better. They are better because they are easier, and I find I can focus on my arms and chest. It’s easier to isolate these groups.
My goal is not to be a tough guy or to impress The Rock. You will find that many of our toughest guys got a speed pass to the cemetery. I like The Rock, I really do, but I don’t want to look like him. I want to be the best version of myself that I can be. So can you. Find the exercise that you can do and stick with. I don’t always love my routine, but the results alone keep me disciplined. Find an activity you like. Don’t let your age stop you, whether young or older.
Our Bodies are Like School Buses
Exercise is critical to heart health and general health. If you do still eat less than healthy stuff, it is even more important to move your body. Like a school bus, your body is meant to be used. Nothing is worse for a heavy truck than sitting there unused. They need to be driven hard. You do, too. You must use your body.
Other tips: do not park close to the store. Park far away and walk. Ride a bike. Many communities are becoming bike friendly. I am moving to a bike-friendly community. Take the stairs, and screw the elevator. Don’t be lazy. We live in a very lazy culture of convenience. It’s killing all of us.
Oh, that H20
Most of us are constantly dehydrated. Drink plenty of water always.
Fast Food and Deli are the Devil
No, no, no! Nothing will kill you faster. Yet, it’s okay to flirt with the devil a bit. I have been known to get hotcakes and sausage at such a place. Deli meats are highly processed and are known to kill the heart. Besides the meat is often loaded with germs and impurities.
But the hotcakes fit in my calorie intake range and, though evil, it’s less than the very evil lunches that are packed with awful things meant to hook you: sugar, fat, and salt. But keep the quantity down.
Again, if you love these places, go. But do that as a reward for yourself when you have maintained your goals. Still, be very careful. I am convinced that if you eat at such places every day, not only will you die faster, but your quality of life will totally suck if you live. In my opinion, the high COVID death rates pointed to this issue. Yes, we may live longer, but our quality of health and life is very low. Many people’s bodies were so unhealthy that they could not overcome such a virus.
Sugar is the Greatest Evil
There is a reason why people got a whole lot fatter once we created the low-fat industry. They replaced fat with sugar, and sugar creates fat, diabetes, and all kinds of awful things. You are better off eating fat but less of it. Look at one can of cola. The total sugar intake for a day is 55%. Ouch! I do drink zero colas at times, but some of these drinks trick your body into making sugar. Moderation, please. If you must have cola, you just cannot survive, then get the little cans and have one a day. But eliminate sugar in coffee and tea. That seriously adds up, and no juice. That is just sugar water.
Be with a person that cherishes you. Cherish is the word. They must love and adore all of you. The same is true here. Maybe you need a cola. Maybe you need that fast food burger or a cheesecake or that deli sandwich. You work there after all. Maybe you need to wolf down a bag of chips. But train yourselves to cherish the moment when you drink and eat these things. Slow down, enjoy the taste but eat less or space them way out. This takes practice, but it does work.
The greatest problem with failing diets, and diets almost always fail, is that we think we have to deny ourselves what we love. You don’t. You just have to appreciate what you eat, just like you should appreciate who you love.
A few years ago, I was killing myself with bad food. I was pre-diabetic, had high cholesterol, and had constant digestive issues. I had back problems, and trouble with stairs, and I would huff and puff. My clothes kept getting larger and it was more difficult to move around.
Now, I run down lots and halls. I can fly up many flights of stairs, often better than most 19-year-olds, and I have little to no back or knee pain. I used to have a bad back. My one doctor said to give up, that the pain will only get worse. That was a lie.
What I found on my own was that because I built up my abdominal muscles and back muscles in a safe way, my back is 98% better. I rarely have pain and when I do, I recover much faster. I am now at 155 to 160 pounds and have the same waist and better abs and arms than when I was seventeen. I am now cycling after believing I could never cycle again. I am in better shape than most 20-somethings. You can be too, with a little effort after you get used to the routine. I think we all owe it to ourselves to take care of the best gift we have, our bodies.
The best part was going to my doctor. He was very impressed and took me off my cholesterol medicine. Though I still need uptake inhibitors for reflux, I was able to cut the medicine in half daily.
I am not trying to be 18. I just want a good quality of life. I had to learn to care about myself first. You all will have different calorie requirements. Some of you can eat 4,000 calories, while others can eat only 900. As you work out, you may find, like I have, that you can eat a lot more.
You may gain good weight that makes you look better. The point is to find your spot and be reasonable. Once you get results and have done this for three months, you will stick with it. It will become part of your life. You will look in the mirror and be proud of yourself. You still eat things you like but don’t take those things for granted and shove them down your throats. Cherish, enjoy, and be kind to yourself. Then the next time you encounter teenage girls, you may even get a smile.
Earl Yarington (LMSW) is a social worker and school bus driver. He taught literature and writing for nearly 20 years and spent 3 years working in forensic social work internships with offending populations, including work at Delaware Correctional facilities and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He has a PhD in literature and criticism (feminism/women writers) from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Master of Social Work from Louisiana State University, and an interdisciplinary Master of Liberal Arts from Arizona State University, where he studied the impact of visual image and girlhood in media/social media. He also has an MA and BS in English from SUNY College at Brockport. He is currently in the later stages of his MFA program at Concordia University-St. Paul, where he is studying and writing about Anne Frank. The opinions and analyses that Earl writes are his own and are not necessarily the positions or views of his employers, the agencies he supports, or that of his colleagues.