My Weight Loss Success Story
by Ricardo Aleman (250 lbs to 180 lbs)
I wasn’t born with great genetics. Both my parents used regular exercise and diet to keep their weight down. I wasn’t a sports kid and I’ve had weight problems for as long as I can remember. I even tried Slim Fast in the 5th grade until it made my stomach upset and had to stop. I’ve had moments in my life in High School and College where I was in great shape thru routine exercise and eating better. Up until my last year in College I was never over weight more than 30lbs. Then a combination of crises in my life sent me on a fit of depression and weight gain. In 1999 I was under a tremendous amount of pressure trying to finish both my Bachelors and Masters Degrees when I got the call that my Father was very sick. A few months later he lost his life to cancer. It was the single most devastating event in my life. I was 22 years old and drowned my misery in food and alcohol. In college you can drink as much as you want at just about any party, and you can eat as much as you want in the cafeteria. Cafeteria food isn’t the best but when your depressed you’ll like anything. Do you know how to make bad chicken taste like OK steak?... Steak sauce. I also started eating fast food so much that I was one game piece away from wining everything on the McDonalds’ Monopoly game. And on top of all that I could drink for free at the Comedy Clubs.
Over the course of 5 years I gained 70lbs. In these 5 years I had every opportunity to try and lose weight. I had lost it before so diet and exercise weren’t a complete mystery. As a comedian I had plenty of free time when I wasn’t fixing computers (my side job). And one of my computer clients was a gym in my neighborhood so I even had a free membership. I also lived in a 5 flight walk up, so you would think I’d lose weight just coming and going…. nope…. I got great calves though! So what took me so long to make it a success? Well, before I answer that question, let’s first figure out what I did right when I lost weight the first couple of times.
In high school, I had one opportunity a day to work out. I could walk to the gym after school, workout and then take the late bus home. Other than that I had no way of getting to the gym and back home. In hindsight I realize that getting to the gym was the bulk of the battle, once I was there I would work out, and I had to workout with a time limit to catch the late bus. Since I had a now or never decision to make at the end of each school day, I would always go, and it became a habit.
That gym went out of business in my senior year and I got out of the habit figuring I would start up again in college. I went to college and after my first year discovered that the “Freshman 15” was per semester. I weighed 195 lbs when I should have weighed 165 lbs at the time. I hit “rock bottom” as this was the heaviest I had ever been and I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to be overweight for my college years, especial because I attended a technical school and the girl to guy ratio was 1 girl for every 5 guys! So I joined a gym and even hired a nutritionist, my now good friend Tom Venuto. We put a diet and workout schedule together. The gym was right next to school so it was an easy walk. I added my workouts and my meals to my class scheduled, just like it was another class, and I got into the habit of going and eating right on time. I discovered in hindsight that regardless of how much free time I have, I still need a schedule that I can count on to make a habit of working out and eating right. Over the next few college years, Tom helped me lose the 30lbs of fat and gain 20lbs of muscle.
So what was I doing wrong this last time? Well problem number one was I could hang myself with free time. And when you have a ton of free time, you say things to yourself like,. “I can work out later because I have all the time in the world”... then a client would call and a day that I thought I had free would be filled.... Or a good movie would come on cable (it didn't take much to put off going to the gym).
Problem number two was I would listen to what my skinny friends would say... “Just switch to diet soda, or just don’t eat after 7 or blah blah blah.” Today, when I hear stuff like this I tell these people “Whatever you say, High Metabolism!” The fact is I wasn’t born with a high metabolism and I can’t have that lifestyle. No matter how good of shape someone is in, if they were never as overweight as you are, don’t take their advice. If they have never been fat in their life, then they don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to substantial weight loss. I had a room mate in college who was ripped with muscles. I would take him to the gym and he would just talk to people. The biggest drawer in our dorm was filled with his Twinkies... some people are just lucky to be born that way.
Problem number three was that I traveled on weekends to perform my stand-up. Working out and eating right on the road is hard without preplanning. I don’t get to pick what hotel I stay at. The comedy club arranges for that and cheap is the biggest factor. There isn’t usually a gym in the hotel and when there is, it’s not well maintained. There also isn’t usually a refrigerator or microwave in the room, so ordering out is all you can do.
Problem number four, and this is the big one. Working out when you need to lose 70 lbs and working out when you only need to lose 30 lbs are two completely different things. I had girlfriends that would get mad at me for not losing weight… like I wasn’t trying or something. “Just go for a run... Or just do this or just do that”. Whenever I hear this today I tell people “Strap a 70 lbs weight to your chest and go for a run... Tell me how you like it!” I had trouble just walking up hill to get to the gym. I would get shin splints on the tread mill just going slow! I figured, well I need to do low impact, so I tried again on the elliptical machine, and after a week.. guess what?... shin splints! That’s right, the elliptical machine is low impact, but when you do the same move for 45 minutes... It adds up! And when your workout is a dismal failure, it’s hard to want to stick to your diet. It’s a catch-22... it’s hard on your body to workout when you are overweight.
So I had plenty of free time, but an unpredictable schedule, I traveled a lot, and I couldn’t find a workout that solved more problems than it caused. Here’s what I did that worked for me, and how you can do the same.
First things first, I had to find a diet that I could stick to even when I travel. You could be on the healthiest diet on earth, but if the food makes you want to puke, or the meals are too time consuming or difficult to make, or if it has no carbs and drives you crazy… you are not going to stick to it… regardless of how well it might work. To find the solution I went back to my good friend, Tom Venuto. Tom helped me figure out the right amount of calories I should be taking in along with the right ratio of protein to carbs to fat. We then came up with meals that were easy for me to prepare, as well as stuff for when I was on the go. Whenever I leave the house and don’t know if I’ll be back in time for my next meal I leave prepared with an on-the-go meal. We arranged for me to have Sundays off when I could eat whatever I wanted. That helped me stick to my diet all week knowing I would have Sunday to look forward to. I could also change which day was my off day to line up with friends’ birthdays or other celebrations. He also helped me realize that the diet is not for the rest of my life... Once I lose weight I’ll have an easier time keeping it off. It took me two years to lose the weight, but in that time I went off the diet several times for holidays and vacations.
Everyone’s needs, tastes and schedules are different, so I can’t help you figure out how you should eat. Plus Tom’s secrets aren’t mine to give out. What Tom has to offer is more than just telling you what to eat. It’s an education... the what and why. It’s so important to understand what you are doing because it keeps you out of trouble. It makes it a lot harder for your skinny friends to talk you into doing anything stupid... because you know what you’re talking about, and they don’t! More importantly, when you find yourself stuck in a situation that you haven’t been in before, you can make good decisions, instead of just going off your diet with a “might as well” attitude.
You can get Tom’s help thru either his books at BurnTheFat.com or thru his support community site The Inner Circle. Both are a wealth of information and have everything you need to get started on a diet that you can stick to.
Protein Bar Finder on BodyBuilding.com can help you find the bar that matches what you are looking for. You input how many calories, grams of protein, fat, ect and it will pop up a list. Don’t just buy the first bar that looks good. Read the reviews or do a Google search. It’s not my fault if it looks like a brownie and tastes like a turd. In particular, I recommend the Jay Robb JayBar because of it’s high quality natural ingredients. A protein bar is not better than real food, but it is better for your metabolism than missing a meal. So don’t jump the gun here and go on an all protein bar diet. I eat them when I have no other choice.
The only other time I don’t eat real food is after my workout. I have a Myoplex shake because it’s easier on my body to digest and absorb the much needed protein. Personally, I like chocolate, but it also comes in vanilla, strawberry and a variety pack. If you spend $70 at BodyBuilding.com they will give you this free shaker which is a lot easier to clean every day than a blender, and it's also great for the road. I just add water and ice.
The next step was to find a workout that would get my heart rate up without hurting me, and I could do it both at home and on the road. This time I went with aerobic DVDs. It was 2004 and a lot more workouts were available on DVD. A DVD meant that I could take it with me and play it on my laptop in the hotel room. You also don’t do the same move for more than a few minutes so I don’t get shin splints like I did at the gym. Working out at home has other advantages... it saves time and laundry. I can work out in the clothes I slept in, which are going in the laundry anyway.
Today there are so many DVD workouts to choose from. Most are geared towards women with a few that are less dainty for men. I personaly enjoy Kick Boxing. I also alternate my aerobic workouts with weight training. Again, read reviews and decide which workouts are best for you. Many workouts will say beginner, intermediate, or advanced on them. And there are many boxed sets that include multiple levels, and both aerobic and weight training.
On top of DVDs I needed to find weight lifting equipment that I could travel with, stuff for at home that didn’t take up too much space, and a few other handy fitness tools... Thank God for the internet! Over the last few years I've bought many items that I thought would would be great. Some were terrable, here’s the good stuff I found:
For at home
I bought the Bowflex SelectTech Dumbbells. They are a pair of space saving dumbbells where you literally dial up the weight you want. It works like tumblers in a safe. You set the dial on each side to the weight you want, and when you pick the dumbbells up, the weight you want stays on bar, and the weight you don’t want stays on the floor. Also the handles are so comfortable and don’t give me calluses like I used to get at the gym. I didn’t buy the dumbbell stand because I wanted them to slide under my bed, so I bought furniture sliders and put them underneath. At the time they only came in the 5-52.5 lbs variety, but now you can also get them much cheaper if all you need is 2.5-20 lbs.
I also found this Dumbbell Bench that collapses completley and goes under my bed. It easly goes from decline, to flat, incline and upright. It’s not designed for men, though. I’m 5' 10" and it’s big enough for me, but if you are any taller, it might not be for you. Also if you use a lot of weight in the decline position, you’ll slide right off unless you can anchor your feet to something. Other than that it fits my needs and then disappears when I am done with it.
In search for a little workout variety, I bought a cardio machine for when I’m bored of the DVDs or want to watch TV. I did a lot of research and discovered that unless you are willing to spend over a grand, the only type of machine worth anything is a rowing or gliding machine. Other than that if it doesn’t have a motor, it’s crap... and machines with motors are expensive. The machine I went with is the Stamina Body Trac Glider, which collapses and goes against my wall. Personally, I’ll get bored of any machine quickly, so I only use it when I really want to watch TV, or only have time for a short workout. The more options you give yourself, the less easy it will be to miss a workout.
One of the most important aspects to an aerobic work out is going at your own pace. If you don’t workout hard enough,, you don’t burn that many calories… BUT did you know that if you work out too hard, you don’t burn that many calories either?! That's because your body cant get oxygen at the rate that it needs it and you end up cramping and losing muscle!!! If you are very motivated to lose weight, and go from not exercising at all to exercising regularly, then it's very easy to over do it your first week. You are not a sports car yet, so don’t try to go from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds, because you will end up crashing. To keep track of your pace you will need to measure your heart rate. You can simply take a measurement using a watch and putting a finger on your neck, or if you got the cash to spare, buy a heart rate monitor. This Polar F4 Heart Rate Monitor will figure out your target heart rate and beep when you are too low or too high. It will also calculate calories burned.
On your diet you’ll be drinking a lot of water, and it can get expensive if you are not willing to drink from your tap. Water is the vehicle that gets the excess toxins out of your body. Basically, if you don't pee clear at the end of the day, you haven't had enough water. I bought this great in-line faucet filter from PUR. It installs easily and it’s a lot faster than having to wait for a pitcher to fill up.
On the Road
Well, I cant take the SelectTech dumbbells with me when I travel. Instead I have two other solutions made for the road. First I pack resistance bands. The bands are easy to use. You step on them to create tension and curl, or press or whatever. The Bodylastics bands are a great value because you get a variety of bands with different tensions and a circuit training DVD or VHS.
Next I pack my AquaBells. These are brilliant. They weigh only 2 lbs for travel. Then when you get to the hotel, you fill them with water and have 8 lb to 16 lb dumbbells. They are guaranteed not to leak. I had one that leaked and they replaced it no problem very quickly.
The hotel rooms tend to have a slippery carpet. I think they use more shampoo than the carpet will hold. To keep my grip, I travel with a roll up mat like this one from ironman.
Tracking Your Results
It’s very important to know how you’re doing so that you can make adjustments. Every Sunday, before I go off my diet, I weigh in, measure my fat, and measure my inches. It’s important to check everything because you may be losing weight, but it’s more muscle loss than fat. That could be a sign that you are working out too hard (check your heart rate), or you are not eating enough and your body is in starvation mode. Or you may discover that you have gained weight, but you’ve actually gained muscle and lost fat… well that’s great news, and if all you do is weight yourself and see that it went up, you might get angry and give up. There is nothing like hard numbers to tell you what’s really going on.
Tom’s books as well as his membership site offer everything you need to know about how to measure your fat. You can buy a very inexpensive caliper to do it. These can be very accurate if you know what you are doing. It takes a little bit of time and practice to get it right, but Tom gives you plenty of instruction.
Also there are several devices to help you estimate body fat. I have a Tanita Fat Scale. I stand on it barefoot and it gives me my fat percentage as well as my weight. These tend to be inaccurate, but they are still good to show you a trend of fat loss or gain. You will also want to get a measuring tape to measure your waist, hips, chest, legs, and arms. When you are not quite sure what to make of your weight of fat percentage that week, the inch measurement will clear things up. It’s undeniable proof that you are getting thinner.
Focus and Set Reasonable Goals
Last but not least, there are several things I did to stay on target.
First, I knew I wasn’t going to lose all 70lbs in a week. My average weight loss was 1-3 lbs a week. I lost more like 5 lbs a week in the beginning, but it settled around 2 lbs in a few weeks. And I'm sure you've heard that the last few pounds are the hardest. So I was going to do it a little at a time. My first round was 6 weeks and I lost 25lbs. I worked out and ate right 6 days a week with a Sunday off to look forward to, and I set up a calendar where I counted down the days. You have to tell yourself it’s only six weeks. You’re going to be making a lot of sacrifices, but it’s only for 6 weeks. Overindulging is what got you in trouble, and sacrificing will get you out. Take a look at the last six weeks of your life. Would you trade all the indulging for 25 lbs?
Next, I forced a schedule on myself to get to bed early and get up early before any of my clients would call to make sure I got my workout in. As a comedian I was up most nights till 4am, so I made sure to get home early and I took Unisom and Melatonin in the begging to help me on the new sleep schedule.
My last bit of advice that helped me a ton is, tell the world. Let it be known that you are on a diet and are losing weight.... “Oh, you’re trying to lose weight?” people say... “NO, I am using weight!”.. you say. It’s hard enough to stick to a diet when you’re keeping it a secret, because people will offer you drinks and want to go to lunch, and they don’t take no for an answer when you sound like you are lying to them. I also made a point to tell everyone I respected that I was losing weight. I have a much easier time letting myself down than other people, especially those I respect. Proving something to them in addition to myself gave me more to feel proud about and helped me stay focused.
That’s all folks, I hope I have inspired and helped. Please feel free to get in touch with me with your stories and questions.