Real-life Stories of Weight Loss
When my brother was teaching me to drive a stick shift, he did a lot of talking. "Okay, bring up your foot," he would say. "Get it to that point where you feel it's about to give. Do you feel it? Okay, slowly, slowly, release the clutch." I kept stalling out. Then, on one of our driving excursions, we stopped at a crowded tollbooth. I could feel the sweat build on my forehead in anticipation of stalling as I tried to pull away. My brother started to speak. "Shut up," I told him. He had been talking so much about what I should feel as I went from neutral to first gear that I couldn't feel a thing. I was too busy trying to listen. But when he kept quiet, everything fell into place. I smoothly shifted gears, and another stick-shift driver was born. In many ways, that's how it is with dieting. You can be told how to do it, but in the end you have to feel your own way through it, at least to some degree. The problem is that that there are so many opinions about what to do to lose weight that nobody can feel his or her way through anything. However, what it takes to lose weight is different for different people.For me it was giving up sweets for a while. I had always eaten pretty healthful meals, but sugary foods of all kinds were what kept me obese as a grade schooler and overweight throughout my adolescence and university years.That is why, during my last term in school some 20 years ago, I kept all cakes, cookies, and ice cream out of my off-campus apartment. I also was strict with myself about not having seconds of anything, no matter how much I liked the taste. For instance, I would buy a package of 6 little chicken drumsticks and broil them all at one time, but only have 2 for dinner and use the other 4 for 2 other meals. I bought those tiny boxes of raisins and would use only 1 per bowl of breakfast cereal.I had 2 things going for me to make dieting work. One was that, living by myself, I was not lured into eating for social reasons. Most of the time, I completely called the shots. Those times that I did eat with others, I was so motivated by my continuing success that I was able to control whatever urges I had to stray from the diet. The second thing in my favor was that I knew what a meal was. I knew how to get a protein, a starch, a green vegetable, and a salad on the plate. Meals were not fancy, but they did the trick. The result: between September and December of 1978, I dropped from about 160 pounds to 135—a notable difference on a guy who is 5 feet 5 inches with a wiry frame. But mine is only one story. Even in my own circle, there is a lot of variation. My friend Fay dropped from a high of 200 pounds at age 12 to 115-120 pounds using a variety of methods at different times in her life. The first 40 pounds came off with Stillman's, a precursor to today's high-protein diets that allowed her only beef and chicken and loads of water—no bread, vegetables, or fruits—although she did allow herself ketchup. Then, she gained back about 15 pounds and kept trying to go back on Stillman's, but recounts that "it didn't work for me." After that, she tried a combination of "starving as much as possible," as she puts it, Weight Watchers, and other plans and "got into the 130s." Then, after she gave birth to my godson, she went with the flow of the extra calorie burning that occurs during breastfeeding and lost another 20 pounds.At 5 feet 5 inches, she weighs a decidedly svelte 115-120 pounds. One of her most important strategies, she says, is eating more food earlier in the day. "I don't starve all day like I used to," she comments. "I also exercise a lot more—spinning, running, weight training." For my brother's friend, Wayne, weight loss began with exercise. In 1987, he says, "somebody recommended Nordic Track to me. I bought it, started using it, realizing what bad shape I was in. As I exercised, I felt better. As I felt better, I started eating better." Part of his new eating style was having more fruits and vegetables. "That was a big thing," he comments. "That really made a difference." The lowest weight Wayne got down to was 168, from a high of 225 on a 5-foot 8-inch frame. "I stayed there for 4 or 5 years," he says. "Now I'm probably about 190."