This post, in a way, undermines the entire purpose of this blog. You see, I started out on the Ironman journey (which I have yet to complete) with the expectation that training for an Ironman would result in me losing my excess, unhealthful weight. I have lost weight. More importantly, I’m much healthier today than I was in 2007 when I started the journey. I’ve also learned a lot about health and nutrition, and if there’s one thing that has been drilled into my head the past few months, it’s that it’s more about what you eat, than how much you exercise.
In 2010, I ran my first marathon. I did my second half-Ironman. I worked out a LOT. And yet I barely lost any weight. Why? Because I was eating tons of nuts, protein shakes, and not doing a lot to restrict the rest of my diet. I felt pretty good, but I weighed around 210 lbs most of that time. Although better than my peak at 236 lbs, I really should be at 170-180 lbs.
In October of 2010 I got sick with a minor cold that didn’t go away. I stopped working out, thinking “Next week I’ll start again.” But it seemed like I would get better for a day, start working out again, and get sick again. This went on for months. During those months came Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that means pie. I gained 13 lbs in between the two holidays. I had gotten down to just under 200 lbs at the beginning of October, but when I stepped on the new, digital scale my wife bought me for Christmas, I was at 213 lbs. How depressing. And I was still sick, so I didn’t feel like working out.
About a year before, my parents had bought us a book called Original Fast Foods. It advocates what is more or less a vegetarian/vegan diet. My wife started reading it, and in January we tried it out. In a nutshell, the diet is lots of fruits and vegetables, virtually no meat, no dairy, etc.
Within a month of starting this, the weight started dropping off rather fast. Then something else serendipitous happened–I developed some sort of food allergy. I didn’t know what it was, but it made my stomach hurt quite a bit, and since I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t want to eat much of anything. I thought it might be all the nuts I was chowing down on, so I cut those out. I also decided I wouldn’t eat sweets until I got down to 190 lbs.
In other words, between January and February I moved to a mostly vegetarian diet, and cut out nuts, a high-calorie snack. No dairy, no meat, no nuts, no sweets, and lots of spinach, fruits, and other vegetables. As of today, I weighed in at 188 lbs, or 25 lbs down from where I was on Christmas. I haven’t weighed less than 190 lbs since around 1997. And I feel great.
Now, given how much I was exercising before, and that I stopped, you might suppose that I’ve lost 20 lbs of muscle mass, and only 5 lbs of fat. That would seem to be a reasonable conclusion, but I did start working out again a few weeks ago, and the weight has kept coming off as steadily as before, if not more so. Also, if I were merely losing muscle, I don’t think my face/neck would change much, but I look a lot thinner, and it doesn’t seem to me that losing muscle mass would do that. My pants are looser in the waist area, my shirts are looser around my tummy, and generally I seem to have lost mostly fat, not muscle, as near as I can tell.
Tangent: As of today my food allergy appears to be triggered by once-cooked beans, or refried black beans. Refried pinto beans I do fine with, but whole beans of any type or refried black beans kill my stomach. A whole banana can cause a little stomach pain as well, it appears.
1. If you want to lose weight, focus on diet, not exercise.
2. Your diet should be entirely or mostly vegetarian. Don’t get me wrong, I cheat all the time. I’m more of a flexitarian. I get bean and cheese burritos, pork salads, and sushi. I could go for a steak right now. I do eat this stuff, but not as much as before. Perhaps the biggest difference is that we don’t buy much meat to eat at home, and no milk or cheese, which used to be staples. It’s all almond milk now.
I’m not just convinced that vegetarian is the way to go to lose weight, but I’m also convinced it’s the way to go in terms of general health, even for endurance athletes.
The book Original Fast Foods is $20. Don’t get it on Amazon, get it from the Daniel’s Challenge website. It’s full of recipes–enough to give you plenty of variety. One warning–it is more expensive to eat this way, unless you have a garden. Our grocery bills went way, way up at first, although we’re still learning and perhaps they’ll settle back down eventually. But I couldn’t recommend the book more highly. It’s changed my entire life when it comes to health and nutrition.