Sorry for the long post. There’s a lot to cover. The TL;DR is at the end, but I’d recommend reading the whole post if you actually want to try what I did, because there were a lot of little (and not so little) lessons that I learned along the way, both good and bad.
On June 1, my life was fucking awful. Two months prior, my wife moved out with 2 days’ notice. I had no idea anything was wrong, and she wouldn’t even tell me why at first. I found out later that she’d just been putting on a smile and pretending everything was fine, when it wasn’t.
I was in school, and my grades had tanked. I was in danger of losing financial aid. I was about to have to move. I was losing my wife, and she wanted to take my 5-year-old daughter 50% of the time, with that same 2-day notice. On the Holms-Rahe Stress Inventory, on a scale that maxes out at 300 points to determine how close to a stress-induced health breakdown I was, I scored 753 points. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, anxiety, depression, and really severe ADHD. Life fucking sucked.
But I decided I was going to work on personal improvement instead of wallowing in self-pity. I started weighing myself while trying to figure out how to change the numbers on the scale. I wanted to try something like calorie counting and intermittent fasting, but I just couldn’t stop eating crap. Tons of it.
When you’re diabetic, and you don’t eat, you kind of get the shakes. You feel a little uneasy, maybe stressed out, irritable, and possibly dizzy or nauseous. But when your whole fucking world is dumped on its head, you feel like that all the time. I forgot to eat for three days, because all of those warning signs were just what it was like to exist at all, all day, every day.
At 8:30 pm one night, I realized I was hungry. I thought to myself “Huh. I’m hungry. When did I last eat? Wait, when did I last eat?” And that’s when I realized it had been three days.
I weight myself. The scale said I’d lost 11 pounds in those three days. I was shocked, for two reasons: I had lost an astonishing amount of weight during that time, and I had managed to fast after all. The next day, another two. 13 pounds in 4 days. I decided I’d better call my doctor, because there was no way that was safe. I wasn’t able to schedule an appointment right away, so I had to wait a week or two. Meanwhile, I decided to use my new-found willpower and try out this whole r/intermittentfasting thing. Specifically, OMAD, or One Meal A Day.
Surprisingly, my doctor wasn’t concerned when I finally reached him. By that point, I’d lost roughly a dozen more pounds, and had started to exercise. But he said it was normal to experience extreme weight loss with extreme changes to diet and exercise. He put me on a blood glucose monitor to ensure my blood sugar didn’t drop to dangerous levels since I’m diabetic, and warned me that I wouldn’t keep losing at that rate forever because it wasn’t sustainable. Much of it was water weight, and eventually it would slow down. But until then, “Enjoy it while it lasts,” he said.
I targeted 1,250 calories per day, all during one meal (over roughly an hour, since I often snacked on the meal’s ingredients as I cooked), and tracked everything using MyFitnessPal. Just the free version – I haven’t needed to upgrade to the paid version yet. I also tracked my exercise using a smartwatch. I started setting goals, like targetting 175 pounds by December 15, or 6 months after I started. According to the math behind my loss so far, this appeared to be possible.
A side note on MyFitnessPal: don’t link it to your smartwatch. If you do, it starts to give you calories back as if you’ve “earned” them. But if you do that, you’ll eat more than your target, and you’ll stop losing (or worse, start gaining!) weight again. The paid version allows you to disable this “feature”, but I found that you can just unlink your smartwatch account and that works just as well.
And I kept losing weight! With the guidance of a dietician in my doctor’s office, I started targeting the following proportions on my plate:
25% (or less) carbs
At my request, my dietician agreed to let me switch protein and veggies. (She said it wasn’t ideal but it also wasn’t a huge problem. My dietitian was blown away by my weight loss. I’d also recently had an A1C panel done (A1C is your blood sugar over ~3 months, as opposed to the instant, but short-term result that a glucose monitor provides), and my A1C had dropped from 10.1 to 8.6! My dietition mentioned that, with my latest A1C test result there was actually the possibility that I could eventually reverse type-2 diabetes!
So, at this point, I was on 1,250 calories per day, with specific targets for food type proportions, and eating it all in a single meal, usually at night. And I was losing an average of ~6 pounds per week this way. My doctor eventually asked me to start eating my one meal in the morning instead of the evening, since I was getting irritable and shaky in the late afternoon. By doing this, that feeling didn’t occur while I was awake, and disappeared by the time I woke up the next day. In addition to losing all of the weight, I started paying more attention to my diabetes and blood pressure mediation. After a couple of weeks of doing so, gradually increasing the dose of my BP meds, I finally got my blood pressure under control, and my doctor was finally comfortable with me taking my ADHD meds without risk of a stroke. But he warned me about rebound weight, and how quickly I could gain it all back if I wasn’t careful. I needed to stay true to my goals. He also expressed concerns about my goals. He wanted to be supportive of my desire to get to 175 pounds, but he felt that doing this in 6 months, and my thoughts of reversing diabetes by then as well, might be “ambitious”, as he put it.
I gradually started to change what I ate, as well. Calorie counting meant I had to immediately dump some things, like candy bars, but others (like boxed mac n’ cheese, milk, etc.) were still fair game. They increased my carbs and didn’t give me much that was healthy, but this was a stepping stone. I started having smoothies for breakfast every few days. Eggs and bacon instead of sugary cereals. Broccoli or green beans with my meals. Etc. And, over time, I discovered that I was craving unhealthy stuff much less, and started enjoying things like dried fruit for snacks (apricots and mangos, mmm!) that I didn’t used to go for much. Tastes change when your body starts getting used to the idea of not having everything be oversaturated with added salt and sugar.
At this point, I also started seeing a therapist. I wanted to address my anxiety and depression before I did something stupid, and I wanted to stop letting ADHD run my life. Even more than I knew it was, at the time. I was also concerned about the possibility that I was a narcissist, which is something my ex accused me of being when she finally told me why she left.
But then a new problem cropped up. (Warning: poop details.)
So, there’s a thing called “dumping syndrome”. It turns out that, when you eat a gigantic meal, it isn’t all going to fit into your stomach where it can be digested and used by your body. Instead, your body “dumps” it into your small intestine once it runs out of room in your stomach. Well, when non-digested food ends up in there, it acts as a solute and pulls a bunch of water out of your intestinal lining, resulting in cramping and somewhat uncontrollable diarrhea. This is the same reason those with lactose intolerance get cramping and diarrhea: lactose is a sugar that your body can’t process, and it does the same thing once it ends up in your intestines. So, yeah. I’d eat a huge meal, then I’d have to make sure I was always close to a bathroom because there was going to be a reckoning real soon now. And, sometimes, I didn’t make it in time, or I made the mistake of leaning too far, too fast, while trying to get there. It wasn’t pretty.
I asked my doctor about this, and also if there was a significant difference between OMAD and just limiting calories, but over multiple meals, he said no; there was no data to demonstrate that there was a statistically significant difference between the two methods. The only differences were that it can be hard to stretch 1,250 calories over three meals, and you’ll spend more time making three meals instead of one. When my doctor explained all of this to me, we both agreed that I should stop doing OMAD and try to switch back to three meals a day, still restricted to 1,250 calories. At this point, I’d been on OMAD for roughly 8 weeks and had lost somewhere around 40 pounds. And, after a little while, the dumping syndrome symptoms mostly disappeared.
At this point, I decided I wanted to put more effort into my exercise. I joined the same dojo as my 5-year-old and started taking kempo karate. And I discovered a new problem: head rushes. When I started exercising intensely, I started to get pretty severe head rushes. I had already experienced them, and my doctor said that, yeah, that can happen when you aren’t eating much. But they were WAY worse during karate sessions. I started to lose vision at the edges as it disappeared into a sort of grayish-brown static, and then it wasn’t just at the edges. Eventually, the static turned red. Yikes. I was pretty sure that hallucinations weren’t a good sign, and I was worried I’d have to change my diet enough that I’d stop losing weight.
Fortunately, it wasn’t that bad at all. My doctor said that, basically, my brain was getting starved of glucose because my muscles were using it. This resulted in my visual cortex getting starved as well, and the aforementioned light show. He told me to stop exercising when that happened. I suggested upping my calories to 1,500 per day, and he agreed that was a good idea. It also had the benefit of being easier to spread over three meals. The head rushes and hallucinations disappeared. But I kept losing weight. Awesome! But my doctor had warned me, fairly early in the process, about the potential of gaining it all back too quickly if I didn’t stay on top of my diet.
Then I met a girl. We went on some adventures. I stayed at her house a few days at a time. I started forgetting to take my meds, because they weren’t in front of me, because I wasn’t staying at home anymore.
But… about those meds. I hadn’t realized that I’d forgotten them until I was in my doctor’s office for a follow-up on something else. When they pulled out the cuff to take my vitals, I immediately thought “Ah, crap. I’ve been forgetting my meds for DAYS! My BP is going to be high again.”
But it wasn’t. It turns out that, when you lose 40+ pounds, start paying attention to macro proportions, and start hiking regularly, it lowers your blood pressure. Who knew? My doctor was pleased. I was ecstatic. Two days later, he permanently removed high blood pressure and high cholesterol from my chart. That’s two out of three pills I didn’t have to take. And then he started talking about something else. “So, here’s the process we follow to remove diabetes from your chart,” he said. He described continuing to test A1C levels until they are at normal, non-diabetic levels of ~5.7. Then they take me off my meds, and keep testing for a year after that. If I remain at non-diabetic levels, he said, they’d remove diabetes from my chart. He just said it matter-of-factly that day. As if it was a matter of when, rather than if. As if it was a foregone conclusion. I guess he changed his mind about me. 🙂
So, that girl. We were having a good time togehter, and I stopped worrying as much about specific calorie counts, allowing myself to go a few hundred calories over each day. After all, I was still NOWHERE NEAR my original calorie count before this insane diet, right? And I gained 11 pounds back in only 6 days. Holy cow! My doctor was definitely right about the rebound weight! Fortunately, I got it back down after about 10 days. But lesson learned!
One of the recurring themes in this journey was the need to listen to my body. I needed to listen when I was getting head rushes. I needed to listen when I was suffering diarrhea. And I needed to listen when I was full. After a while, I started forcing myself to slow down, and I realized that I could get full WAY faster than I thought, but I just hadn’t given my body enough time for my stomach nerves to figure it out and signal my brain “Hey. I’m full, dumbass. Stop eating.”
I discovered a bunch of non-scale victories along the way, as well. Clothes not fitting was a big one, but there were some seemingly small events that had a REALLY big emotional impact when they happened. I went on a cave tour, and someone had to squeeze by at one point. Well, prior to that, turning sideways did nothing for this. I was basically a circle from above. But this time, I sucked in my gut and turned sideways, and it made a difference! Man, things like that felt good. I’ve also started out outpace my friends on trails and other activities. And when I dropped below 250 pounds… man. Okay, so there is a ton of stuff in life that has a weight limit of 250 pounds. That’s basically what the country thinks is the limit of “normal” weight. And don’t get me wrong; I’m not faulting this. It’s basic structual engineering: things can only take so much weight. But it sucked when ladders creaked and bent, or I couldn’t go on a trampoline, or I wasn’t allowed to go skydiving. Now, I can! I got a monthly membership for my kid to go to a local trampoline park, and I’m allowed to jump with her! Ladders don’t flex and move around when I stand on them. Hell, I can even go skydiving now, something I’ve always wanted to do! (Not that I can afford to, but at least I’m allowed now!) The number of life changes that have occurred is staggering!
It’s been three months, as of today, since all of this started. Here’s a before and after from the last 3 months. Yeah, I’m still a fat fuck. But I’m WAY LESS of a fat fuck than I used to be, and I’m continuing to lose weight every week. I’ve lost almost twice as much as my kid weighs! And while it’s slowing down a little, it’s definitely still going strong. None of my clothes fit anymore. Nothing I’ve purchased in the last 3 years, anyway. And roughly 3 years ago, I packed a ton of things that were too small into plastic bins for “when I lose weight”. Yeah, those clothes? Most of THEM don’t fit anymore, either! They’re too big! That’s the difference 65 pounds makes! But now I have to buy new clothes and I can’t because I’m a broke college student that’s also a recently-single dad. Oh well. I guess that’s a pretty good problem to have!
So, for you.
This is the beginning.
This is how it starts. With the moment looking in the mirror. With the moment of realization: “I DON’T LIKE THIS.” And, then, “so I’m going to CHANGE this.”
And then you do.
And it sucks, and it takes time, and some days you move forward, and some days you move back, and it feels like a yoyo sometimes.
But you keep going.
And, after a month, you look at yourself in the mirror again.
And you’re disappointed. Maybe even disgusted.
But you keep going.
And after two months, when you look in the mirror again, you shrug and go “Huh. Okay. This is actually starting to look a little different.”
And then you keep going.
And then, three months later, you look in the mirror again.
And then you smirk.
And then you smile.
And then you can’t stop smiling.
And then? You keep going, because you’re committed to the change you started…
Congratulations on taking this first step. It’s the hardest one. Some others will seem harder in the coming weeks/months. But this one, this first one, is the big one.
And you took it.
Sometimes you just need a fucking catalyst. The biggest obstacle to getting started was my belief that I couldn’t.
Use an app like MyFitnessPal RELIGIOUSLY. Don’t fail to log a SINGLE THING, even when you feel crappy about your calorie choices.
Losing weight can sometimes go ridiculously fast, but be careful and check with a doctor as you go.
Losing weight leads to good things, like lower blood pressure and cholesteral (and maybe reversing type-2 diabetes!), but can also lead to head rushes, dizziness, mild hallucinations, so listen to your body.
OMAD can lead to nasty things like dumping syndrome. Again, listen to your body.
Try some new foods. Start with things you like in them, even if they aren’t as healthy. You’ll be surprised how much your tastes change as you get healthier.
You are going to be successful. It’ll take time, but it’ll work, and Enjoy yourself! It’s going to suck at first, but things are going to be AMAZING in a month or two. You’ll feel completely different, and you’ll find that it’s much easier to stick to things as time goes on.
I hope this helps someone. It sure as hell helped me. 🙂