The most insidious part of gaining weight is how your brain will trick you into thinking it isn’t as bad as it is.
Even though the scale is shouting, “Get off! You’re breaking my spine!”
Even though your clothes try to run and hide when you reach for them.
Even though you can’t bend over without getting dizzy (that was the worst!).
Your brain and eyes conspire when you glance in the mirror. It’s not that bad. Just suck it in a little. Atta boy. Now have a doughnut.
And when you see pictures of yourself over the years as the weight slowly piles on, you’re able to explain it away as bad lighting or just a poorly timed shot.
Because you’re really not that fat.
Except you are.
And it won’t hit home just how fat you were until you lose the weight and go back to look at those photos with a fresh and slender eye.
That’s how it happened with me.
This is how I looked over the winter. I was at my all-time heaviest – somewhere around 215 pounds. The scale becomes an enemy over 200, so we didn’t see each other often.
And this beauty from last spring:
The story of my weight loss begins with waking up in the middle of the night with my heart hammering out of my chest.
It happened a lot, actually – pretty much every night for months. It was always preceded by some sort of stressful dream – either physical stress, like me running or exerting myself in some way or mental stress, like something bad happening.
And when I say I would wake up with a hammering heart, I don’t mean that it felt like I had just had a workout. I mean it felt like I was dying. I had trouble catching my breath, and my body would begin to quiver and shake. I would usually wake up Handan, because each time felt like it might be the last. She would have to get up, come over to my side of the bed, slowly raise me up and then help me walk around the room until my heart rate settled, and I was no longer shaking uncontrollably.
Not only were these night hell on me, but they were taking their toll on Handan as well.
Something needed to change.
I’d known for years that the combination of fat, sugar and alcohol had the tendency to disturb my sleep. I was beginning to wonder if salt was also a factor.
I was diagnosed with high blood pressure back in early 2010, and I’ve been on medication ever since. In all those years though, I never made an effort to moderate my salt intake. I wondered if watching my salt might help with my sleep.
In an effort to sleep better and preserve my poor wife’s sanity, I decided sometime in very early 2018 (I can’t remember when – probably February though) to reduce my salt intake.
But why stop there? If I was going to make that drastic change (as a salt lover, it was a colossal change), I decided to mitigate a few other risk factors.
I decided to stop drinking coffee. Instead I would drink tea.
I decided to stop using artificial sweeteners. Instead, I would use honey.
I decided to cut back on carbohydrates. Carb-heavy foods never made me feel great, anyway. Might as well try to eat less of them. I was pretty sure carbs (and sugar) were responsible for my daily heartburn attacks too. Like clockwork, I’d be crippled by searing pain in my throat each day around 3pm.
And then there was sugar. I knew it was bad. I knew that it made me feel even worse than regular carbs.
So I made the decision to cut refined sugar out of my life completely.
Now here’s the thing. At this point, weight loss was not my goal. I just wanted to sleep again. I wanted Handan to sleep again, too. So the decision to cut sugar was not made from a “diet-to-lose-weight” standpoint. It was made from an “I’m-doing-this-for-my-health-(and-Handan’s-too)” standpoint.
But cutting out sugar is a monumental decision, and it’s not one that can be taken lightly.
I made a forever decision.
Not an “until-I-lose-some-weight” decision.
Not a “holidays-are-exempt” decision.
I made a forever decision.
No more refined sugar. That meant no cakes and no cookies, no ice cream and no candy. None of it.
It’s a scary thing to think about – how entangled our lives have become with refined sugar.
So on my first morning, I put away the coffee mug, and I brewed a pot of jasmine tea which I sweetened with honey. When I got hungry, I had a small bowl of plain Greek yogurt (if I could find Turkish yogurt in this country, I’d buy it!).
For lunch, I nibbled on Swiss cheese from the deli counter and a couple of slices of roast turkey cold cuts. I figured that was about as low sodium as I could go for lunch. I had an apple in the afternoon, and then some sort of meat and vegetable for dinner. And I drank lots of sweet tea.
Normally, I like to salt meat pretty heavily – like they would in a good restaurant.
But I was watching my sodium, so I only put the tiniest bit.
And I hated it. I hated my steak. I hated everything.
And since my food no longer brought me joy, I started to eat less of it.
Well, this can only go on for so long before something has to give. Going hungry is not a viable long-term diet.
But it was working.
I was losing weight, and I started to sleep a little better.
I shed 20 pounds in about a month with very little effort and only doing yard work for exercise.
I hit a wall around 195 pounds. I stayed there for a while, and I couldn’t get lower. But I was already fitting into some old clothes that I had given up on, and I was feeling good, so I decided to take the next step.
I decided to cut sugar all together – meaning the honey had to go, too. Around this time, I started reading a little more about the ketogenic diet. I’d been aware of it and paleo and Atkins and all the other fads that have come and gone. But keto (and paleo) made a lot of sense. In a nutshell, the ketogenic diet requires you to restrict carbs to less than 20 grams per day. The majority of calories on a ketogenic diet come from fat. When the body is starved of carbohydrates, it turns to fat as an energy source through a process known as ketosis, and the pounds start flying off.
So there I was, already doing some sort of keto/paleo hybrid. But by cutting all sugar and maintaining my carb abstinence, I was heading firmly over in the keto camp. I even started checking out keto websites.
And that’s where they lost me.
Counting grams of fat?
Hitting daily “macros?”
Ugh, no thanks. Food should be eaten, not analyzed, weighed and counted.
I decided just to do it my own way – to employ a common sense approach to the keto diet that didn’t require any effort of thought. As I said – food is to be enjoyed!
One good thing that I did learn is that there are some excellent sugar substitutes out there that are much healthier than Sweet & Low or Equal.
I started to drink coffee again, and I now take it with a big dose of light cream and a combination of two sweeteners: erythritol and stevia extract. The benefit of these sweeteners is that they do not impact blood sugar levels like some of the other artificial sweeteners do.
I also brought more salt into my diet. It’s a requirement on the keto diet to eat more salt, since the body flushes a lot of it out during the process of ketosis. I try not to overdo it, but I am definitely salting until the food brings joy.
Once I cut out the rest of the natural sugars in my diet, I dropped from 195 to 185. From there, it was a slow drift down to about 182.
And that’s where I stand today: drifting between 182 and 184.
I never go hungry.
I eat all the meat I want.
I won’t ever turn down cheese.
I drink real cream in my coffee.
I eat any and all vegetables (keto forbids most of the good ones).
I eat full-fat plain yogurt.
I eat fruit in moderation (all fruit is forbidden in keto).
And maybe once a month, after a few martinis, I may break down and eat a few handfuls of corn chips or potato chips.
I don’t eat pasta at all.
Pizza is a thing of the past.
Bread? Maybe twice a month, I’ll grill up a piece of ciabatta and eat it with a steak.
I’ll eat some rice in very small quantities from time to time.
But I have never eaten – and I will never eat – processed or refined sugar.
I should also mention that I have always cooked from scratch. Even when I was a chubby chicken, I rarely ate, or cooked with, or fed my family any processed food. That was a big help when cutting carbs and sugar.
And that’s it! It’s so incredibly simple, but impossibly hard if you’re not committed. If you can make the decision (and as I said, it is not easy and cannot be made lightly – you can’t lie to yourself) to cut refined sugar from your life forever, you will never have to be overweight again. It’s hard at first – your body will demand its drug! But if you make it a week or two, your cravings will fade into the past.
Though I’ve made the decision to only taste “sweet” with my morning coffee, there are a million keto-friendly dessert recipes out there that go heavy on the fats and use keto-friendly artificial sweeteners.
I’ll be making some eventually, just for kicks, but I think the best way to beat a sugar addiction is to steer clear of anything that tastes sweet. Make no mistake – sugar is the most addictive, destructive and insidious drug on the planet. It is as addictive as cigarettes. In fact, I would argue it is far more addictive. I’ve smoked plenty in my day, and when I quit, it was easier than quitting sugar. Sugar holds on tighter. And it is so much easier to come by, especially for kids! You don’t have to be 18 to buy an ice cream sundae, and you won’t have baby-toting moms glaring at you like you’re the antichrist if you’re nibbling on a candy bar in their vicinity. There’s a reason diabetes is becoming an epidemic in America. You can thank the powerful sugar lobby for that one. Oh, but that’s a different rant for another day.
Anyway, I’ve got sweet fix reduced to my morning coffee, and I’m pleased with that.
So here I am, down over 30 pounds from my heaviest. The jeans I’m wearing in the picture below I bought with Handan from a department store here in Connecticut just before leaving for Vietnam. They were too small when we bought them, but I figured I’d lose weight overseas.
I never lost the weight, and those jeans have been sitting unworn in my various closets ever since.
When I wear them now, they are a little bit loose.
I’m happy with where I am, but I’d like to take it further. Since I’m not willing to go hungry, I’ll probably start incorporating some walking into my routine. If I could get down to 170, I think that would be ideal.
But for now, bring on the martinis, the fat-marbled steak and the blue cheese!