I really didn’t change my diet much in the early days of getting fit. I didn’t think of myself as a poor eater. Maybe that was part of the underlying problem. I didn’t (and still mostly don’t) see different foods as necessarily bad. Nor is my gut reaction to say that making a small change will matter that much. While that is a type of thinking that I struggle with, I have seen where the little changes have made a huge difference.
When I started
The only thing I gave up initially was full sugar colas. As a Dr Pepper drinker I had limited access to my favorite drink when we first arrived in Mexico. It was available in Mexico City back then, but not in Merida where we lived. That has since changed, but it was a big help to me at the time.
What I discovered by trying different drinks is that I really didn’t care what I was drinking. If it wasn’t Dr Pepper, then my only requirement to make me happy was that it had bubbles. I tried Diet Coke and found I liked it as well as anything else. I couldn’t go with just the soda water, though that is very popular in Mexico. I never took a liking to that stuff.
My first big change was to switch to drinking diet colas. I know colas of any kind aren’t the best for the body, but I learned something in my quest to get healthier–if I gave up too much at once I was setting myself up for failure. I have seen too many people try to go whole-hog on their diet changes and are not able to keep at it.
The next thing I changed was trying to think about food as fuel. With that change of mindset I did not go on any kind of starvation program. I just cut back a little bit at first. Instead of eating until I was stuffed, I tried to eat a bit less. That was a big change for me. I had for years eaten way more than I should. It always seemed to me the goal at a meal was to tank up and make sure you would be alive until the next meal. When I started thinking about food as fuel it helped me realized that I was carrying more fuel than I needed to accomplish the physical tasks I needed to before I ate again.
As time went on the amount of food needed to sustain life and feel good about it became less and less. However, at this stage I never felt like I was starving myself nor that I was “on a diet.” I just realized that I did not need to take in as much food as I had in the past. I was very active attending an exercise class 3 days a week and running 3 to 5 days a week on top of that. I needed fuel, but I only wanted to carry enough so that I would not hinder my play time. And, yes, I did see my running and exercise as play. It was no longer work by the time I had started to see the results of a stronger healthier body.
Second round of pruning
I continued with the changes of drinking diet colas and thinking of food as fuel for almost 2 years. I lost the vast majority of weight that I ended up losing with just those 2 diet changes. It was not until I had lost over 70 lbs. that I started actually paying attention to the specific foods I ate.
I had stagnated in my weight loss. I knew that I was still carrying more fat than I needed to. I was not looking for a “perfect body.” But I did want to have a healthy one. To trim the next 20 lbs. I finally had to start dieting. Exercise alone wasn’t going to cut it.
French fries with lots of ketchup. Yum! We usually only went out to eat once or twice a week, but it was almost always to a hamburger joint. I switched to chicken sandwiches and no fries. I still ate fries off the kids and my wife, but I would not have any of my own. As I thought about food as fuel, greasy fries did not sound like what my body needed to make it around the track faster. A handful of energy packed granola (which I honestly enjoy more than fries) seems like a better choice. If I prefer the granola anyway, why make it harder to do what I want by eating things that are bad for me? Eventually the fries were gone.
What I am doing now
I would like to say that I have been faithful to the mindset that food is fuel and that I have kept the junk out of my diet, but I haven’t. I still don’t think I eat too poorly, certainly not as bad as I had before. But while on furlough, and currently in Argentina, I have cut my exercising back to just running. While running will keep you in good cardiovascular shape, it isn’t that great for overall fitness and weight loss.
Next post I will talk more about my progression of exercise routines.
Don’t forget to start at the beginning with the first post in the series.