Two types of people exists: those who love exercise and those who hate it. There is no middle ground. The former will do it daily if they could, get sad or antsy when they can’t, and love the endorphin high. The latter either won’t do it at all, perhaps they don’t like sweating, or they will do it grudgingly. It’s difficult to find people in the middle. In this installment of How I Lost over 100 lbs. & kept it off for 25+ years: Part 3, we talk about exercise.
How I Lost Over 100 pounds & Kept It Off For Over 25+ Years: Part 3
Is exercise absolutely necessary in weight loss and weight maintenance? No, not necessarily, but it sure makes it easier. And it makes sense. The experts say that weight loss is 80% what you ingest and only 10% exercise (with sleep, stress, environmental toxins/medications bekng the remaining 10%). Despite the new science coming out about metabolism, weight loss, and clinical nutrition-augmented by the current fad diet/lifestyles- we know that consuming less net calories compared to what you ingested is the most efficient way to lose weight.
Exercise helps with that net loss. Let’s say, you normally consume 2,000 calories a day. And let’s say you expend 500 calories while doing a 3-mile run, that comes out to 1,500 calories for that day. Therefore, less calories consumed. If you had not worked out, then that would have been 500 more calories you would have taken in. Voila! So exercise does help with getting that net loss.
Exercise is crucial in weight loss for other reasons. Not only will it make it easier to lose weight, but it will help recover your health. Exercise, whether it be in the form of strength training or cardio, will repair your body from the pernicious effects of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise will strengthen your heart, clear up your arteries/veins, bring better cognition and mental alertness, provide more energy, improve your metabolism, make all your organs work much more efficiently, lessen your chances of getting cancer, and so much more.
But weight…there’s more! Exercising will lengthen your life expectancy, decrease your chance of all-risk mortality, and improve your overall standard of living. As they say “sitting is the new smoking” so we need to get moving.
What type of exercise?
Now that we established in How I Lost over 100 lbs. & kept it off for 25+ years: Part 3 that exercise is not only crucial to weight loss/maintenance but it is also good for your health, let’s talk about what type you should do.
I would say early on…do whatever you CAN do. This view is based on what you are able to do given your current health. If you are 600 pounds, you are not going to be able to bike 20 miles. If you are only 30 pounds overweight, you have a lot more flexibility as to what you may employ.
For those who are in poor cardio, start with walking, hiking, gardening, and basic calisthenics. You don’t want to jump into hard strength training, Crossfit-esque High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and long cardio. You are prone to injuring yourself which will set you back.
In short, do what you can at where you are at now and work your way up. I’m not opposed to hiring a trainer or dietician if you have the money to afford. Progressively work your way up based on your current fitness level. Hopefully, soon you will be able to lift and run well. Speaking of let’s talk about my cardio journey.
My Exercise Journey
When I began doing exercise, I couldn’t even run a half-lap in gym. I was 280 pounds. It was pretty awful. At the beginning, I began losing weight solely by changing my eating habit. And trust me, it wasn’t like I started eating kale Day 1 (I don’t even think kale existed in 1991!). Once I lost 4-5 pounds, I was emboldened a little. At that point, my parents enrolled me in a nearby gym.
For the first two years of my life, my best friend and lover was the Stairmaster. Not the high-tech ellipticals you see today, but the two pedal up-and-down old, clunky Stairmasters. The reason I used it was because I could hold myself up on the rails. I was too big for the bike and I certainly couldn’t run. I would do 45 minutes on the Stairmaster daily listening to classic rock and 80’s New Wave music. It was using the Stairmaster that I lost all my weight.
In college (1992-97), I switched more to running. Read my Confessions of an Obese Child book and listen to my Confessions podcast episode College Dysfunction to get more information about my disordered eating at the time. Now I was down to 175 pounds and so I went from the weight loss to the weight maintenance paradigm.
I moved to San Antonio and joined a Bally’s gym. They had an indoor track so I would run 5 miles a day there. Every day….I remember one time during my college years tracking how many days I ran without a break. It was 36 days. That wasn’t healthy but I never had an injury.
For graduate school (1997-2000) I moved to Alaska. Confessions episode Food As My Mistress covers this period well. I used the university’s gym to run the proverbial 5 miles/day. On occasion, I would stair do the Stairmaster to mix it up. In the summer, I began to run outdoors, something I never did in San Antonio.
Upon returning to Houston, the next 7 years were pretty similar with one addition. I continued to run or use an elliptical daily. Always 5 miles/day. But I began to incorporate nightly walks. This was mostly done as another mechanism to burn more calories. In my mind at the time, I thought there was always more opportunity to burn more. That being said, there was never a time in my life where I worked out two times a day.
Also during this time, I began to experiment with longer runs. For a year or so, I started to double my runs. I remember in particular Thanksgiving Day of 2002 when I ran 12 miles. That was the apex of my cardio. My rationale for returning back to 5 miles was that running 12 miles took up too much of my day and I didn’t want to overwork my body. Even to this day, I have never done a half or full marathon. Just not interested.
In the late 2000’s I added a new cardio “weapon” to my arsenal: the rower. It was the first time that I joined a gym that had a rower glider. It was difficult at the beginning to get the form down but I soon fell in love. Even today, I row a few times a week for about 30 minutes.
From 2007-14 not much changed. I would mix it up with the elliptical, glider, and running. If I felt lazy I would opt for the elliptical since it was the easiest. If I was in the mood for fresh air, it was running time. If I was in the mood for a challenge it was the glider. Always, 5 miles. And always my 30 minute night walks listening to music or talk radio/podcasts.
The one thing you will notice that is missing from this equation from 1991-2014 is strength training. Why? I hated it. Why did I hate it? Because I wasn’t good at it.
Going back to two types of people, you can divide gym rats to two groups: the lifters and the cardio junkies. The lifters love lifting but avoid long-distance cardio; the cardio junkies typically hate lifting. I was one of those. It was also because I was intimidated by the “meat heads” in the weights section of the gym. Sure, I would do a little lifting but it was light weights, low rep, and normally using the circuit machines.
What I did begin to do during the late 2000’s and most of the 2010’s is push-ups. If you listen to the Confessions episode The Presidential Fitness Test, back in middle school I couldn’t even do one push-up, sit-up, or pull-up. In my 30’s I knew that I had to increase my chest muscles so I wouldn’t look like the Cat in the Hat.
So I began doing push-ups. At first as a high schooler I did them on my knees like they teach girls to do, but I eventually got better. By my 30’s I was doing reps of 40-50. My goal was to do 500 push-ups a day and for a good two year period in 2007-09 I did it on alternating days. It might sound difficult but it really isn’t. If you do a set of 30 every hour that you are awake, you can get to 500 pretty easily.
The reasoning behind doing the pushups, mixed in with my 5 mile cardio, was increased calorie burn. I wanted my metabolism to be revved up every second of the day. I knew that the metabolism burn you get from cardio dies off in a hour or so, so by doing push-ups and night walking, I was finding ways to biohack my metabolism and keeping it revved up all day. Or at least that’s what I thought in my head.
So let’s review. From 1991-2014, I did 45-50 minutes of cardio mixed in with night walks and alternating days of push-ups. No lifting. During this time, I was able to maintain my weight despite the fact my eating was still rather disordered. Listen to Food As My Mistress for my info on that.
In 2014, things began to change. I embraced a more Paleo-aligned diet, I began to fast daily, and I began I began to lift. Why? Because in the Paleo world they tell you to “shock the body, move the body.” I wasn’t shocking it enough with sprints or lifting heavy things. I needed to do more of it.
What does my lifting entail? Not too much. I bench press. I start at a pretty heavy weight and try to max out at a weight where I can only do one rep. I then do lots of pull-ups. That’s pretty much it. Per the paleo way, I try to do all my lifting fast…all within a 30-40 minute window.
I would like to say that I do squats and work on my arms but I don’t. So please don’t take any lifting advice from me. This area is a deficiency of mine, but I did realize that entering my 40’s I needed to begin to lift. And so now I lift, even if it isn’t perfect.
Since 2014, my cardio has dropped. I still go to the gym 5/x a week. I typically alternate. On days I lift, I might do only a 20-30 minute cardio, normally running or gliding on the rower. On non-lift days, I do 45 minutes of something cardio. Just like I did 25 years ago. On all days, I do either the steam room or sauna for 10-20 minutes. And of course the night walks and on occasion, morning walks.
I’m a creature of habit as you can see. I’ve been doing 50 minute workouts for 27 years. I like the time. To me it is not too much or too little. I’m never going to do long-distance running because, honestly, I don’t think evolutionarily-speaking we are meant to run long distances.
That being said, in my 45-50 minute work outs, I’m going full-throttle. At lead for the first 23 years. I would put the Stairmaster/elliptical on the maximum resistance and/or I would run/row the fastest I could. My clothes would be drenched. I wasn’t the type to half-ass it. Partly because I would imagine that if I did, I would regain the weight.
And that is where motivation comes in. What was my motivation? The petrifying fear that I would regain my weight if I didn’t go full throttle pretty much every day of the week, every year, for decades.
I don’t feel that as much now in my mid-40s. I have toned down to a certain extent my cardio. I try to keep my heart rate around 135 beats per minute to keep it in optimal fat burning mode. Optimal fat burning mode is 180 beats – your age. That isn’t to say you should go above that threshold. Going above that puts the body more into glucose burning mode. But that is neither here nor there.
So nowadays, I lifted on alternating days with moderate cardio and I do longer cardio on the other days with 200-300 pushups on that day. I sprint every 10-14 days and go all out for 30-40 seconds for 7 intervals. When I row and run, I try to keep my pulse under 135 beats per minute.
I’ve have worked out a lot in my lifetime. 5 miles a day for 5-6 days a week for 28 years. That has totaled approximately 33,600 miles, more than 1 1/4 times around the earth. That is amazing! What’s even more amazing is that I’ve never had serious injury (aside from the ankle sprain). I can seriously say I never would have kept my weight off had I not done so much exercise.
Back to You
Let’s go back to you. A couple of things you need to know about exercise. Exercising may be a double-edge sword. Some people will overeat after working out and thus nullifying the calorie expenditure. Let’s say you just burned 500 calories, but then you binge/splurge and consume 2,000 calories for dinner. Well, aside from the ancillary health benefits of exercising, you have just consumed more than you have burnt!
Why do people overeat after working out? Two reasons. One, if you work out too much, it may release the “hunger hormone” ghrelin which makes you even more hungry. Secondly, and I feel more common, it’s the psychological reason. In our mind, we think we just worked out (normally not as hard or as long as we thought) and so we rationalized “I just worked out hard, now I can splurge a little and eat more.” This mentality will provide multiple pitfalls and trap doors to your weight loss. Don’t think this way. Be cognizant of this and eat a normal meal afterwards.
My big takeaway is this. In order to effectively lose weight and maintain it, you must increase your exercise. But just like the 1st Installment of this series, you already know this fact. You know how you need to eat, so eat the right foods. You know you need to exercise. Try these items on Amazon which fit various forms of exercise.
The only excuse not to exercise is your immobilized. Fully immobilized. There was a time in college where I had to wear a cast on my ankle for 6 weeks. I didn’t stop working out. I did the glider and only fastened one foot in, but still was able to exercise. Low-grade fever is not an excuse NOT to work out. You can still do low-level exercise, like walking.
“Move the body, shock the body.” Every day. Whether it be sprinting, gardening, walking, running. Going back to Installment 2, this is part of that paradigm shift. You must completely change your worldview & mindset. A small, but crucial part of that is exercise.
With exercise, you almost have to become a fanatic and slightly-obsessed. You must find ways to incorporate it into your daily life. Almost nothing is more important if you really want to lose and maintain the weight. This type of obsession is a good one…so long as you aren’t overtaxing your body or spending several hours a day at the gym. It is unneeded.
If you need helping losing or maintaining your recent weight loss, contact me. I’m a dual-certified health coach. I can be your trainer, therapist, guru, all wrapped in one. Who else do you know has lost so much weight and kept it off for longer than the age of most millennials? Check out my prices. Hope you liked How I Lost Over 100 pounds & Kept It Off For Over 25+ Years: Part 3, Exercise. Read Part 1, Part 2, and future installments.