I Ate the Elephant; I Lost Weight

04/03/2015 04:39 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2015

"How'd you like to lose weight, Fat Ass?" asked my friend Subash right after Christmas this year.

The holidays had not been good to me. Scratch that -- the holiday food had not been good to me. Without my realizing, and we never realize, I had crept up my weight again. And I was doing so well, too.

In 2006, when my wife Stephanie was pregnant with our firstborn, Sam, she gained a total of 28 pounds. I gained 33. It was pathetic. She and I would be sitting on the couch, after dinner no less, and I'd ask (or rather plead), "Can I get you anything? Satisfy a craving? Anything?"

"Well, a brownie doesn't sound bad, but I don't really..."

And I was out the door to the grocery store before she could finish her sentence. I was on a mission: a brownie for her, and a Taco Bell Cheesy Double Beef Burrito for me. Hey, she would need my strength at a moment's notice, and I was not about to let her down.

So Sam was born, and Steph lost weight, and I did not. And sure, I knew I had gained a few pounds. And yes, I found it hard to catch my breath when I tied my shoes. And don't get me started on the %*#@ing stairs.

And not a single pair of pants fit anymore. I went to buy new ones. Size 38. Holy crap. But, ah... I'll lose it eventually.

Only I didn't... and I kept getting bigger. I had no idea how much I weighed, and I didn't want to know. Besides no one could make me get on a scale, anyway. No one... except the nurse at my oncologist's office. Crap, I'd forgotten about that.

So imagine my surprise when I hopped up and discovered that I tipped in at 247. Two... forty... seven. Whiskey... Tango... Foxtrot. I was not prepared for that, nor for what would happen six minutes later.

Dr. Needles, my oncologist extraordinaire, walked in, looked at me, and said... and I quote: "Jesus. You've gotta stop coming in here looking like this. I'm not even saying work out, or Weight Watchers, or anything. Just get on some portion-controlled diet."

Portion controlled; what the hell did that even mean? It meant, as I learned quickly, to cut calories. Did I really need two sandwiches for dinner when one would suffice?

So I started eating a lot of Panera and Subway and enough salad to choke a donkey. And the first month sucked, as I was hungry all the time. But I got used to smaller portions, and slowly, steadily, I lost weight. No, it didn't happen overnight, but in the course of a year, I went from 247 to 193 -- 54 pounds erased in 52 weeks. I was a new man... happy... content... and would never gain weight again.

And my borderline starvation diet ended. And I got lazy.

By Christmas of 2012, I had started ballooning a bit again. I was at a New Year's Day open house at my friend Louis' house, and the spread was pretty spectacular: chili, finger sandwiches, and this homemade apricot jam that defied logic. My friend Subash was also there, as were other friends who were not on the small side. One of them, Butter (don't ask), said, "I really gotta lose some weight."

Subash, never one to back down from a challenge, piped up, "Dude! Duffy's a fat ass, too, as am I. Let's make a contest out of it!"

So about 10 people got together and decided that by March 31, we were going to try to lose 10 percent of our body weight. I immediately started eating double what I was going to eat at Louis' house. If I was going to weigh in that night, I wanted to eat as much salt and calories as I could. Because water is weight, and if I could retain more than the Titanic, I would have an edge as I'm good at retaining, and expunging water weight.

Lo and behold, I was not prepared for what awaited me as I got on the scale that night.

214.4. What the?! Had I really gotten that big again? Starvation, here I come.

And I worked like a demon, like I always do when faced with a challenge, and this time, without a lick of exercise, I got down to 191.8. I had lost 10 percent of my body weight (the only person to do so in this "Fat Butt Challenge"), and I won the first prize, which was about $100.

And I said to myself, like many a drunk next to the toilet, "Never again will I let myself get like that."

Fast forward to this Christmas. "Looking a little meaty there, Mr. Doofy," said Subash. Pot, meet Kettle. "Wanna do the Fat Butt again?"

"Sure, but I don't think I have 10 percent to lose. Why don't we call it 8 percent?" I said.

I was 208.6 pounds. Oof... would have to figure out the 8 percent math on that later. No matter what, though, I wasn't going to get below 192. I figured that's where my body liked to be as it stopped right around there the last two times I tried to lose weight.

"That sounds good. And why don't we open it up to anyone who wants to do it?" said Subash. I thought it not a bad idea, so I shared it on Facebook.

Well slap me and call me Brenda, a ton of people wanted to get in on it, though I didn't even really know what "it" would entail. So I talked with my friend, and we came up with a plan: $50 mandatory entry, goal is 8 percent of body weight, winner gets 60 percent of the pot, second place gets 40 percent. Third place? A handshake... maybe.

Next thing I knew, 20 people were involved. $600 to the winner sounded mighty nice, and I was planning on putting it toward our vacation this summer.

I was not planning on, however, Bill and Jen. If I took things seriously, these two took it to a whole new level. Bill, in his 230s, lost 17.3 percent of his body weight. Jen lost 17.2 percent. Needless to say, they won first and second place by a landslide.

However, I was happy with two things. Number one, I lost over 10 percent of my body weight. Barring cancer, which doesn't count, I got down to 187.4. I haven't seen that since 1995. And second, I think I finally figured out my key to losing weight and keeping it off.

Now, I'm not saying that this will work for everyone, as everyone has a different metabolism, etc. But, it did work for me, and it's a very common sense approach. So with that, I give you...

My Utterly Unscientific Way I Shed Some Fat!

1. You have to sweat, but it has to be something you either like or can tolerate.

When I lost my weight both times previously, I had not worked out a lick. This time, though, I knew that if I was going to get to 8 percent lost, it would take more than just calories. I have been going to Tae Kwon Do twice a week with Mr. Lee at ATA for about a year, and I love it. Not only that, but I have absolutely noticed a difference in my body. It's fun, I'm more flexible, I have better cardio ability, and my lower back and left knee issues have almost disappeared.

But I can't just go do it every night... I don't want to make the time. So we have an elliptical in our house that I started using twice a week. I turn on a documentary or a movie while I go as fast as I can for 30 minutes.

Don't have an elliptical? Walk around your neighborhood, but not a Sunday walk. You need to walk like you're in a race... or like someone is chasing you. Or walk a mall. Or walk a track near your house. But definitely work up at least a little bit of a slather.

The trick to exercise is that you have to at least be able to tolerate it, if not look forward to it. I don't do Pilates, or lift weights, or aerobics, or... God forbid... run. If you hate what you think you have to do, you'll never do it. Tae Kwon Do is fun. Elliptical while watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is tolerable. And it works. I have no doubt that five of my pounds came off by exercise alone in three months.

2. Diet like a fireman.

Firemen and women tend to be shift workers... like nurses, doctors, and pharmacists. They work a block, and then rest a block. Your diet has to be the same way, and you have to be prepared for what you are going to see on the scale.

If you can be disciplined from Monday through Friday early evening, you should be able to lose weight. I stopped drinking beer or wine from Monday through Friday early evening, and I watched what I ate (for the most part). Coupled with exercise that I actually liked, I lost weight every day.

But from Friday evening through Sunday at bedtime, it was anything goes. Did I have a burger for lunch on Saturday? No, but I was not rigorous in weekend meals. And I used to eat anything I was in the mood for on Saturday night and Sunday night. Never even thought about what I was eating at those meals, and never thought about the consequences, because there weren't any. You see, I had a method to my madness.

I did not touch the scale until Tuesday morning, a day after I started disciplined eating again. The number was always higher than Friday morning, but by the next Friday morning, I was always invariably a pound less than the previous week. Meaning, I was losing about a pound a week... and a pound a week is not a bad thing. It's a healthy speed, and in a single year, you can drop over 50 pounds. Watch what you eat on weekends, and it could even be higher.

No, I would not win on The Biggest Loser... and I'm good with that.

3. On strict days, find something you like, and keep eating it.

It took me a while, but I finally found something I liked enough to eat just about every day. Yes, I'm boring like that, but boring is a good thing when you're trying to lose weight.

And no matter what people say, calories matter... every single one of them. Just 200 calories is the difference between losing weight and plateauing. So how do I lose them? It was actually easier than I thought.

For breakfast, I dice an apple and slice a banana, and I pick over it for two days, and then I repeat the process. And I have a cup of coffee with milk every morning.

I have the same thing every day for lunch (which I make here at work). Every Monday, I bring in 2/3 of a pound of Boar's Head buffalo chicken breast, a big bag of chips, snacks, and a loaf of bread. However, instead of putting it on high-calorie bread like I used to do, I switched to the low-carb stuff. It tastes the same and has up to a 100 calories less per serving than other breads. Add in low-fat mayonnaise and those new Cape Cod 40 percent reduced fat chips, and you've got a healthy, low-calorie lunch that is not settling for a salad.

The one thing that I found when I started dropping calories, though, was that my body was hanging on to the calories I had. Meaning, I was having problems... evacuating. It cleared up when I added two low-fat Activia yogurts a day... one at 10 a.m., one at 2 p.m. It also helped me from being starving before lunch, or before dinner.

For dinners, they're actually easier than you think. In every produce section in every grocery store in the country, they sell pre-made salads. Get every different flavor that looks good, and have one per night. In the winter time, change it up with any good made-in-house soup from your grocery store.

And to add to the salad, I grill a few chicken breasts every Sunday, and I just have one either beside, or in my salad every night.

And every night, I have a cup of tea and two sugar-free cookies.

(And yes, I'm sounding like a grandparent now. I don't care.)

4. Water, but in moderation.

Monday through Friday early evening, I drink nothing during the day but water. No diet soda. Ever. Need caffeine? Drink Iced Tea.

My friend Jen, who won second place, lost her first 16 pounds by over-hydrating on water. She soon learned, though, that too much water was too much of a good thing, so she had to back it down.

5. Do it with others.

When we did the "Fat Butt Challenge," we made it fun. Sure, there was money involved, but to be honest, the most fun was when we created our own little super-private Facebook page. The only people invited were the only ones taking part.

We razzed each other. Matty, our chef participant, used to post pictures of what he called "Food Porn." But mostly, we built each other up. When someone had a breakthrough, we all chimed in with, "Congrats, asshole!"

When someone hit a wall, we rallied with encouragement. This was a safe place, and it still is, with some of us continuing on our path even though the contest part is over. I know I still have another eight I want to lose, and I'll be sure to let the other amazing people know if and when I pull off my goal.

6. You can do this when you're ready.

I tried 50 times to quit smoking before I eventually succeeded, and what did it for me was the fact that I kept telling myself, "I love my children more than cigarettes" until I actually believed it. I was finally ready to quit, and being truly ready in my gut was what gave me the internal strength to do it.

It takes a lot of internal strength to lose weight, as well. It's easy to half-heart it, only to quit when it doesn't happen fast enough in our instantaneous everything society. I've done that more times than I can count. But when I finally came to grips with myself, when I finally said, "Enough is enough," I jumped in, and I wouldn't let myself quit.

And trust me, I wanted to quit at least twenty times during this contest. I knew I wasn't in the running for the money, and it would have been easy to say, "What's the point?"

But then I realized that the money wasn't the point; it was making myself healthier. I'm 42, and statistically, over half my life is over. I want to do everything I can to see my grandchildren, and maybe even my great grandchildren.

And 7. This has to be a life change.

This plan is not a diet that you quit once you reach your goal. This is a different way of doing things. This is changing your habits forever, and it's the power to know that if you get off track, it's not that hard to get back on track. In fact, it builds in "going off the rails" every single weekend. How cool is that?

I've tried the low-carb diet before, and yes, it did work... until I started eating carbs again. I love carbs. I crave them. I have to be able to eat them.

With this life-change, I don't ever have to stop doing it. If I get below where I want to be, I only have to add a few calories here and there... a slice of cheese on my sandwich, an extra piece of toast in the morning. I can tailor it however I need to tailor it.


In the end, will this work for everyone? The answer is simply no. It takes discipline, dedication, a willingness to permanently change, and at times, a boring palate.

It also depends on the metabolism of the person, as well as any potential medical issues like high blood pressure or diabetes. In fact, a nutritionist might look at this and think, "It's by dumb luck that this works." What it did was help me lose meaningful weight, while still eating normal food, and without killing myself in the gym seven days a week.

It's about being smart, making good decisions, and not beating yourself up if you aren't perfect. This is what worked for me... and hopefully, it might work for you. And always remember that losing weight is like eating an elephant; you pull it off one bite at a time.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm 52 minutes late for my fat-free peach colonic.