Went to Vegas in early December 2007.  When I got back, found out that my dad was facing heart surgery.  He would go on to have his mitral valve replaced in early January 2008, and successfully recovered.  No telling how much of the damage was exacerbated by his diabetes, but probably didn’t help.


On New Year’s Eve, one of the managers at work suffered a stroke.  She still hasn’t fully recovered.  All of a sudden, the “bring it on” attitude wasn’t so damn funny…


Prior to heading out for Vegas, I’d run into a snafu where I had a refill of my blood pressure prescriptions left, but it wasn’t filled in time and that refill expired.  Couldn’t get an appointment before I left, so went nearly three weeks without my meds.  That was fun…


Blood tests were ordered, as usual.  Got the results back in mid-January, along with an order to come in for a follow-up appointment.  My blood sugar reading was too high.


Don’t know how much I weighed then, but I started cutting back a bit on the portion sizes in an attempt to lower the reading on my own during the two weeks before my follow-up.  Didn’t help much.  Still too high.  The diagnosis was in and official.


The doctor started firing off prescription orders; Metformin for the blood sugar.  Vytorin for cholesterol.  I was already on Atenolol, Hytrin and a Lisnopril/Hydrochlorotiazide combo for blood pressure; the Lisinopril was doubled.  He suggested that I might try to lose a couple of pounds, but didn’t pretend to hide his doubt that would happen.


Oh, and he gave me this lovely glucose testing meter, the operation of which his nurse ran through with me.  Two lancet sticks and I was over this diabetic crap already.  Was not looking forward to graduating from a pill to insulin injections.


Have I mentioned that I freaking hate needles?


What to do, what to do, what to do…???


Obviously, the immediate thing to do was hit McDonald’s…  A bit of a last hurrah, as it was.


Then I started planning.  Didn’t know what the plan was, but I knew I was going to start it two days later on February 1st.


I can’t recall the exact sequence of events, but several things factored into what would become “The Plan”.


First part was easy.  7-Eleven was off the lunch menu.  Brown-bagging it would soon commence.


Along with the glucose meter, I received literally a bagful of reading materials on the care and management of diabetes.  One of those had charts of recommended calorie intake.  If I recall correctly, the highest listed was for 2000 calories a day.  However, someone had handwritten notes for 2500 per day.  Wasn’t what I considered acceptable – but not for the reasons you might think.


A couple of months or so earlier, I’d had to buy some new pants.  I never go shopping for clothes.  Hate that.  I’ll go in, get something in my size and the lightest beige I can find, and wear them till they wear out.  This time, I also needed to get a larger size, as I’d been seriously blimping out.


In chatting with the sales clerk that day, it came up that he’d been recently diagnosed as diabetic.  His doctor had him on a 1000 calorie per day diet.  This guy probably wasn’t as heavy as I was, but he was maybe an inch taller than me.  Close enough to use as a measuring stick for my purposes. 


To my surprise, he was actually not bemoaning his diet.  Said he was feeling better.  His vision was improving.  Sounded hopeful about his process, and as I would be later, was motivated to avoid the insulin needle down the line.


So, I knew someone who was managing on 1000 calories a day.  Good to know.


I had no idea how much I weighed.  The doctor’s scale only went up to 325 pounds or so.  Hadn’t registered on it in years.  I’m in freight forwarding; we have a cargo scale in our warehouse.




Survey says…390 pounds.


Even in my self-delusional world, that kinda sucked.  Keep in mind, I could see how big I was in the mirror.  Still, I didn’t see that image in my mind’s eye, or to put it another way, Big Fat Geek wasn’t my self-image.


Pretty much was now, though…


Hard information to receive, but absolutely necessary.  Now the math games could begin.


Started looking around the web for calorie counters.  Not so hard to find.  On one of them, I ran the calculation of how many calories were needed daily just to maintain those 390 pounds.


Incredibly, that figured out to a whopping 3910 calories per day.  Maybe I could’ve downed that much back in the basketball days without issue, but those days were obviously long gone.


The next factoid I needed was how many calories comprised a pound of body weight.  That turned out to be 3500 calories.


Hmmm…there’s an interesting equation forming…  Conventional wisdom holds that a weight loss of 1 or 2 pounds per week is optimal.  So, theoretically, I could “drop” 500 calories a day and over seven days still lose a pound at a new daily intake of 3410 calories per day.


Sweet!  I wouldn’t even notice that.


By the way, that last sentence was a load of crap.  I hate needles, remember?  That hatred includes sticking lancets in my finger at least once daily.  (Ok, so technically, I can use my forearm, but I later discovered those readings suck.  And I’m still jabbing myself, which sucks even if it is painless.)


A pound a week?  Pretty much not acceptable here.  I knew I was going for triple digits in the loss column.  I’m not patient enough to wait a year or two to get there.


If I dropped 1000 per day – or down to an intake of 2910 calories daily – that would get me to two pounds a week.  Still about a year.  Still too long.  Trust me, I can be really impatient…


Flashback:  Sales Guy was getting by on a total of 1000 per day.  My literature said anything under 1200 daily for an adult male was starvation level.  Ok, forget 1000.


How about going to 1500 a day?  What the hell, if you’re going to go, go big.  (Go big?  To get smaller?  Ok, whatever…)


So, the first decision was made.  The target intake would be no more than 1500 calories per day.  Next problem, what would the menu look like?


Counting calories would be bad enough.  I decided I wasn’t going to overload myself by counting every component of every food product I was going to be putting in my mouth.  To get through this, I needed to focus on as few criteria as I could and still be successful.


Easy choice:  Carbs bad, but necessary.  Protein good.  I would try to, at minimum, balance protein and carb grams.  If anything, I would err on the side of more protein than carbs.


Why, you may ask, did I not bother with counting fat grams?  Fair enough.  Frankly, fat is pretty high calorie stuff.  The more I ate fatty foods, the faster my available calorie balance would be depleted.  The question in my mind was moot; counting fat grams was just unnecessary.


Fifteen hundred calories a day is pretty extreme.  Even more so when comparing it to a “maintenance level” of nearly four thousand per day.  The temptation to cheat would seem overwhelming.  Easy way around that; build in some cheats.


My consumption of soft drinks had to stop.  Makes no sense, but I’d already discovered that it was true that diet colas and the like weren’t nearly as helpful as plain water if you’re looking to drop a couple of pounds.  Problem is, I drink most of my beverages at room temperature (I know, practically no one I know gets that either).  Plain water at room temperature sucks.


Compared to diet sodas (or as we call them back in Michigan, “pop”), Crystal Light has a higher calorie content.  If you call five calories per half-liter “content”.  I don’t, so there was one of my “cheats”.  Crystal Light would not count against my 1500 calories.


Gotta have something to snack on.  Sugary snacks were by definition out of the question.  “Sugar-Free” candy, forget about it. That description crosses the line from marketing ploy into a lie in my opinion.  Check out the nutrition information on those things some time.  Calorie counts aren’t any different than sugary candies.  Ok, so they use “sugar alcohols”.  Big deal, those are still part of the carb family.  Personally, I’m not up for replacing carbs with other carbs and to no calorie advantage.


Strolling down the supermarket aisles, I came upon the pre-made Jello product line.  Seemed that a six-pack of sugar-free Jello cups only racked up ten calories per cup.  Hmmm.  So if I wanted to give myself the appearance of indulging in mass quantities, I could eat the whole six-pack and still only ingest sixty calories.  Not bad.


So there was cheat number two; sugar-free Jello didn’t count, either.


Two cheats…good enough.  One more choice to make and the core of my program is complete.


I’ve always been a night owl.  When I was eight, I begged my parents for a telescope for my birthday.  It was a sweet telescope.  That summer, all the really cool planets weren’t out until after midnight.  Maybe 2 or 3 am.  That’s when I discovered just how funny Johnny Carson was.  Also started a lifetime of insomnia.


In college, I was the king of the all-nighters.  Sometimes even for studying.  When I was finishing up my degrees in recreation and community education, I helped run an adult night school program.  Usually got home after ten or eleven pm.  Most of the jobs I’ve had in the past fifteen years got me home after nine, ten, even after midnight. 


There’s a belief – though I’ve never researched it – that if you eat right before you go to sleep, you’ll be more likely to gain as you snooze.  With the late hours I’ve kept, most of the time I’ve done just that.  Not certain that I really believe that, but here’s a chance to make a minor change that might pay off.  Since I was usually up till 3 am, I chose midnight as a cutoff point. 


Thus were my four basic rules established:


  1. No more than 1500 calories per day.
  2. Carb and protein grams balanced equally, if not, err in favor of protein grams.
  3. Crystal Light and sugar-free Jello calories won’t count.
  4. No calories of any kind after midnight.


And before you ask, yes, I eventually broke every damn one of those rules.  But not immediately.  And one only relatively recently.  But that’s not important now.


The first week went pretty smoothly.  Lost a pound a day.  Not on average, I mean I literally lost a pound a day.  Instead of doing the smart thing and weighing myself only once or twice a week, I weighed myself immediately after clocking in every morning.  I can be very patient about some things, but for others, I need immediate gratification.


Granted, much of that was likely water weight.  Most early weight loss is written off as water weight, plus, I was on a double dose of diuretics for my blood pressure. 


But for all those who blithely dismiss these losses as “just” water weight, I would respectfully say, “SCREW YOU!”


Lugging around pounds of water isn’t a good thing.  Though it may not be as valued a loss as fat loss is, any weight you can get rid of early on is a positive.  Shows up on the scale just as much as fat loss does.  The less you have to carry on your frame, the better.


So I would never dismiss a water weight loss as insignificant.  Personally, I needed the reinforcement to continue; whatever motivates one is a plus.


Soon I’d discover that positives were at a premium.  Very soon.


The first week was a breeze.  The second week was filled with rage.


You’ve all heard the stereotype of dieters getting cranky once they start their diets.  The first week lulled me into a false sense of ease.  Frankly, I could’ve lived with a little crankiness.  I wanted to kill everyone in sight.  Good thing I was raging so badly that I couldn’t keep a coherent thought in my head on how to do it and get away with it.


How can I describe the support of my co-workers during this time?  They all thought my rage was just soooooo cute…




Lucky for them that I liked them enough to try to hold back…


To tell the truth, my co-workers did play an important, if largely passive, role in my process. 


I’m the biggest loner you’ll ever meet in your life.  There are bigger loners out there, but they’re living in the wilderness.  You’ll never meet them.


Even a loner like me needs a support group to get through such a life-changing process.  Doesn’t mean I like the idea of finding one.  The trick for me was to put out just enough info on what I was doing without broadcasting any specific goals. 


Granted, this makes me as wishy-washy as Charlie Brown.  Going for accountability, while leaving the back door of failure wide, wide open.


My preferred course of action would’ve been just to quietly go about my business.  Unfortunately, as I’d said earlier, everyone knew of – and participated in – my daily 7-Eleven runs.  Such a drastic change in behavior pattern wouldn’t go unnoticed.


No choice here, I had to let my co-workers in on my diagnosis and my intention to make some changes in my eating habits.  However, I didn’t give out any specific goals or even mention that I had a goal in mind. 


And I did have a goal in mind.  A goal that would’ve seemed so ridiculous to anyone who knew me back then, no one could have taken it seriously.


My goal:  To lose 120 pounds by Thanksgiving, and be able to eat a traditional holiday dinner without guilt or apology.


Told you it was ridiculous.  I’ll tell you later if I made it.


Here, at long last, is how my meal plan initially started.  I decided to try to divvy up the calories among three meals a day.  Which meant that I’d have to start eating breakfast.  Hadn’t done that regularly in decades.


In my research, I noted that among others, dairy and nuts were said to help promote weight loss.  A cup of low-fat yogurt and a serving of almonds would usually start my breakfast.  Occasionally, I’d switch out the almonds in favor of stirring some Grape-Nuts into the yogurt.  To get some fruit into the mix, I’d add a serving of orange or apple juice.  On other occasions, I’d opt instead for a bottle or two of Boost nutritional supplement.  The goal was to keep breakfast between 300-500 calories.


Lunch would consistently be two 80-calorie tubs of Chicken of the Sea tuna or salmon, doctored up with mustard and garlic powder.  Replacing potato chips for crunch, and to add some whole grains to the diet, were between seven and ten reduced fat Triscuits.  That racked up about 300+ calories.


As far as snacks, if I wanted something before dinner, I might have a couple of sweet pickles, maybe 35 calories each.  After dinner, I’d have some sugar-free Jello.  That’s pretty much the extent of snacktime.


Dinner was pretty much all protein.  Some lean beef one night.  A turkey thigh or drumstick the next.  Maybe a ham slice topped with a slice of cheese or some scrambled eggs.  Whatever the night’s menu was, I didn’t mind going over 500 calories, but I soon discovered that going over 700 jacked up the blood sugar level in the next morning’s fasting test.


And so I was off on this journey.  If there is one thing you should never, ever, do when starting a diet program, it is weighing yourself daily.  So, naturally, that’s exactly what I did.


Fortunately, I saw results daily.  I lost 28 pounds in the first thirty days.  Sweet results…though ironically caused by a nearly complete lack of sweets.  Ok, so I had a couple of Hershey’s kisses around Valentine’s Day at the prompting of one of our office temps.  Other than that, no cheating.  Actually, it technically wasn’t cheating, as in my plan, no foods were off-limits as long as the guidelines were met.  I did factor the calories into the day’s intake, stayed under the 1500 mark…so, yeah, I didn’t cheat at all.



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Originally posted February 1, 2009

Updated February 23, 2009