How I Lost Weight For My Wedding (and why I'm struggling now)
My attempt at losing weight this year has been pretty dire. In fact, with all the peaks and troughs, I've actually gained seven pounds and change since January 1st.
It did take a few months for me to reign in my eating. My mental health was in the gutter through January, and I wasn't counting calories until the end of the month. My physical health was screwed too, with the month long cold I was suffering with, so my gym sessions were tiny or non-existent, and walking the dog was largely delegated to my wife. I was gaining about two pounds a week on average.
The cold passed, and I needed to get a grip, so I started calorie counting without adjusting what I was eating at all. This was to get a baseline for how many calories leds to how much weight gain/loss with my current physical activity. My initial average was around 3,800kcals with a negligible weight gain/loss per week, so I took 500 off that and used that as a new target. That was a tough target, and it moved the needle but not enough, so about a month ago I lowered it to the 2,800kcal range.
I actually averaged 2,800-2,900kcals, and was slowly losing weight at about a pound a week, but now the struggle was real, and it wasn't long before I fell off the wagon and gained it all back again in a week.
I'm slowly climbing back on, like a boxer pulling himself up from the mat after his third knockdown. I've been off work this week on PTO and it's my deload week in the gym (where you do your exercises at a lower weight to give you body a small break before piling back on again), plus I've been adding cardio, so there's a little boost. But I can't help remembering a time when it seemed to have been so much easier than it is now.
I got married a couple of years ago on a modest budget of around £2,000, including church, the food, wedding bans, the rings, the dress, hair and make, and the wedding party's outfits. It was to be a pandemic wedding; not in the full throes of 2020, but it the 'carefully getting back to normal' times in 2021.
That meant we could have the ceremony indoors, with a top end limit of 15 guests (stretched a little bit to include my best friend's son), everyone had to be masked apart from my wife and I (and only so the vicar could see we were actually giving out vows and not under any duress), and distancing was still in place. It also meant we could have a small reception at a local gastropub, but again with a set limit of heads per table and thankfully, no group dancing.
It also meant renting, rather than buying, the suits for my best person and I. This suited me fine, but it did mean accepting certain limited regarding style, fit, and size. Specifically, all their rented suits were slim fit, which to an obses man spells trouble, and their highest waist size was 44 inches, which I was definitely over. Chest blessingly went high enough for me, but waist was going to be a killer.
The gyms had thankfully opened that year, and that meant I had a little under three months to crush it so that I could fit in the absolute highest size they could give me. I was much heavier then, walking around at about 295 pounds, and eating around 3,400kcals per day. But I had a mission objective: lose as much weight as humanly possible so I don't look absolutely ridiculous on my wedding day, squeezing into a slim fit suit that doesn't fit me.
I had no idea what that goal weight looked like, so I treated that as a distraction. I reasoned that if I even tried to limit myself to a goal weight that might be enough, I'd be putting my effort towards a potentially incorrect goal and miss my objective entirely. This wasn't a goal were I would gain marks for effort; it was pass/fail, and I needed to pass.
Immediately, I cut calories down to the 2,800 to 2,900 range. Then a few weeks later, I knocked another 200kcals off that, and then another for the final few weeks before the wedding. I was averaging two and a half hours of exercise per day, but that included two trips to the gym daily, six days a week. It was half hour for cardio as soon as the gym opened, following by weights straight after work. I was working through the basic bodybuilding program in Arnold Schwarzenegger's New Encylopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, and I was crushing it. Add walking the dog at least once a day and about 20 minutes of yoga, and the minutes were piling up.
And it showed. I average the weight loss over a week to account for highs and lows, but even with that I was losing about three pounds a week. When I really hit the bodybuilding phase, I cut a record of 5.34 pounds that week. By the day of the wedding, I had lost 30 pounds in 10 weeks.
Given I had a fair amount of success in the not so distant past doing what I'm struggling to do now, it would seem obvious to copy whatever it was I was doing then. However, that would be like trying to copy the routine of a celebrity, or even a friend from the gym. I might get some results, but it'll always be hindered by missing the core of their progress, why they're getting their results.
I read a blog post years ago by YouTuber/podcaster CGP Grey called I Have Died Many Times. In it, he likens a persons development to the Ship of Theseus, our minds ever changing and pushing out the old for the new. Memories fading, personas dying, and a new, changed individual walks onwards.
When I think back to how I was just two years ago, I was intensely driven. I was getting married, it was going to go smoothly, no-one would take that away from us, not even me. I didn't want to lose weight, I needed to lose weight. More, I was absolutely going to lose that weight. Zero doubt in my mind. It was just a fact, whether I liked it or not.
It did cause a bit of friction along the way. When I get that single minded, there's not a great deal of room for budging. Unless I was sick, injured, or something of higher priority came along (pretty much only something to do with the wife or dog by that point), I was skipping take outs, hitting the gym, and doing whatever I could legally to get what I wanted (a lot of the guys at the gym I was going to were pretty far from pissing clean).
And I achieved my goal. I lost weight to the point where I actually needed a belt for the suit trousers, they had that much room in them. The slim fit didn't look quite so tight any more, and I looked as good as a 265 pound man could.
But that was then, and this is now, and I don't think I can recapture that same essence. That me is dead; I am what remains.
Which is, by and large, better. I might not want to think so, especially faced with the hard evidence of daily weight logs and calorie counting, but it is. I miss the drive, the single minded fury of it. An intensity I felt in my bones. But it lit my head on fire, and I had no give. If I had failed, and I couldn't even get into my suit, there's a decent chance I would have been back in front of an emergency mental health professional on the morning of my wedding day rather than waiting for my wife to walk down the aisle.
Been there, done that. Got some funny stories out of it, but don't really want to revisit it any time soon.
Instead, I am more mindful. Mindful of the effect I have on my wife, my family, my friends, and myself. My burning drive leaves me stubborn and unforgiving. Again, I might not like this, but it's fact. I might be capable of going as far as I want, but even then I have limitations, and the math doesn't work out anymore.
I can't sacrifice connections and love for personal gain.
That doesn't mean I can't learn from the past, and use them in new ways.
As I talked about yesterday, my priorities have shifted in the mornings and I currently can't fit in the extra workout. I can, however, plan to do so, by gradually shifting my wake up time from 6:30am to 6am. I function just fine on the seven hours sleep I'd get from going bed at 11 still, so as long as I treat it as a gradual process I'll get there and by myself the extra time for cardio.
I do, however, need a stronger focus on cardio. It's not the be all and end all of weight loss, and weight training has more benefits for weight and fat loss than you'd think, but it does make a lot of things much easier. Plus, a return to a recomposition based bodybuilding focus over heavy strength training might be in order. As good a reason as any to crack open that Encyclopedia.
A lot of the success I had from my diet was through careful planning. Meal prep wasn't a big factor; instead, I usually made larger portions of our dinners and planned for the leftovers to be the next couple of day's worth of lunches. This will help cut down on some food waste issues I have as well (post for another day).
There was also what I ate, which had a greater focus on protein from bars and shakes, with eggs and fish thrown in for good measure. I aimed for around 25% of calories coming from protein, and largely hit the 22-23% mark. However, some studies suggest 30% of daily calories coming from protein is ideal for weight loss, and that can be achieved through careful planning. Easy to do, if I make myself.
Importantly, I didn't care too much about the other macros, so long as I was within my calorie targets. I tried to prioritise better sources of fats, like the aformentioned eggs and fish, but also nuts, both nut butters and roasted, plus seeds and olive oil. I also tried to reduce my sugar intake, getting carbs from better sources than junk. I didn't always manage it (especially when my wife bought Kristy Kreme for my birthday) but the intent was there and planned for, and the lack of strict focus on x amount of fats and y amount of carbs meant I had enough freedom to allow a range of choices. Combine that with my current planned cheat day and I might be onto a winner.
But I have to use my newly learned mindfulness skills to push past what I'm telling myself is the only solution: a return to the single-minded fury of the past. This attempt to recapture a spark I don't have, and only really had because of the situation I was in, is preventing me from making any real progress. Rather than motivating me, it's beating me down into submission, into stagnation.
I can't improve by trying to be a me that died years ago. I can improve by taking the practical things I learned along the way, and slowly integrating them into my current daily life. I don't have a once in a lifetime event to prepare for in three months, there's no dying need to improve instantly.
Just gotta take it slow, one step at a time, and breathe.
I'll get there again, and next time, it'll be better.
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