Lessons From a Former Fat Guy

This is a guest post from my friend Jim Hodgson.  Jim went from being a really big guy to a really in-shape guy, completing a freaking Ironman Triathlon this past July.  When he asked me about writing a guest post about the fat guy perspective when it comes to food and fitness, I said hell yeah.  Here’s Jim!

This web site, Nerd Fitness, is great. I’ve known Steve in real life since around the time he started working on it, so I have a little real-life perspective to share.

Here is why it’s good: because Steve really wants it to be good. He works very hard on it, and it shows.

However, for all his hard work and enthusiasm, Steve has never been, nor will he probably ever be, fat. He does not know what it’s like to hear Kool and The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” in his head every time he eats like I do. Oh yeah baby, food time is party time to me.

I used to be around 320lbs, and as of March of 2010 I was 210 lbs, so I’ve lost over 100 lbs since beginning my journey. I’m still working every day on eating right and being more fit, but this photo is pretty much a textbook case of fat nerd.

The thing is, I have a extremely slow metabolism.

It seems sometimes that if I eat a single leaf of lettuce, I will see a pound on the scale as a result. Contrast that with Steve, who could probably eat pretty much whatever he wants and never gain a pound.

Fortunately, good advice on healthy living works for both the fast-metabolism-Steves of the world who wish to put on muscle as well as for the fat Jims of the world who wish to lose weight.  After all, being healthy is being healthy no matter what.  The challenges can be different along the way though, so I’ve talked Steve into letting me write a guest post from a fat guy’s perspective.

I believe that overeating is just like drug or alcohol addiction in that you never really shake it. What’s more, you can give up cigarettes or booze entirely, but you can’t give up food for long.

Keep in mind that I am neither a nutritionist nor a doctor, so you should ask licensed, trained professionals about everything I say to make sure you don’t explode or get a bad case of the farts or something.

You can’t outrun a bad diet

This is something I once tried really hard to do. When I started exercising to lose more weight, I bought a HRM (heart rate monitor). It tracks calories in addition to timing workouts, but no one’s really saying the calorie counts it keeps are exactly accurate, so I’d advise taking them with a grain of… caution, not salt, because we need to watch our sodium intake! Zing!

Anyway, when I got my HRM I figured a pound was 3500 calories, so I’d just do 3500 calories of cardio per week and lose a pound. Easy!

Well, that actually might work IF I ate the same thing in a week of no workouts as a week WITH workouts, but doing the equivalent of 500 calories of exercise a day is nothing to sneeze at. I usually burn around 1100 calories per hour running, 900 or so for an hour of cycling, and 6-700 for an hour of swimming, so any way you slice it that is a half hour plus per day, every day, for a whole week with no rest days.

The problem comes when I eat more because I have worked out hard and I’m hungrier, or worse, when I tell myself that pizza is okay because I just burned 1000 calories in a workout. Sometimes this is true, but it can easily get out of hand – running to the fridge does not earn me a burger.

If you are like me and you have a super slow metabolism, there is probably not a functional level of exercise where you will be able to eat whatever you want and be slim. To me that’s like saying there’s no such thing as true love — because believe me brother, I LOVE food — but that’s where I’m at right now on weight loss philosophy, or “weilossophy”.

I cut out alcohol entirely for nine months leading up to my race. I gave up sodas as well, even diet sodas. I believe that diet soda keeps you fat, or at least hampers weight loss, though I have no scientific data to support that belief.  I also used a food diary to calculate my intake of calories, and hardest of all, watch my carbohydrate intake.

Whenever I thought about cheating, or letting it slide just this one time, I said to myself “No, this time I’m going to do it right.”

Pick a course, stay the course, and do it for you

Life change can be a real pain in the hind parts. Sometimes it feels like you’re just slogging away with no measurable results, and for
what? Isn’t life too short to be miserable? Well, yes and no. Its my personal belief that some suffering is good for you, but you have to suffer smart.

I observed a big bump in people exercising alongside me in January of each year due to New Years resolutions. By June they were almost all gone. I knew I had been that person before, but not this time. This time I knew I had to stick with it.

Originally I started losing weight because I wanted to have more success with girls. I’m ashamed to admit it because I should have done it just to be a better me, but that’s the truth of the matter. As time went on, other factors came into play. My mom passed away, and as a result I had a highly increased sense of my own mortality. I’ve always thought that I would someday lose the weight and become more athletic. I just finally realized that the time had come.

During the middle of this last summer I was fighting a severe case of burn out with only a few months to go until my Ironman race. It sucked. All I can tell you is that I just made myself do my workouts anyway. I had been working for it for a year, my dad was coming to see me race, as well as my sister, girlfriend, and a bunch of other friends. I couldn’t let them see me fail, but more importantly I couldn’t let ME see me fail.

I told myself, okay, if you’re hurting or tired or whatever, that’s fine, but you have to show up. Everyone has bad days or feels unmotivated, but I made myself show up every time.

I knew if I let myself skip workouts entirely I was finished, and I found that once I got myself to go I was usually okay.  Just moving my feet and starting the workout was usually the hardest part.

I think that is the biggest difference between me now and me then. I might not be at my best every day, but I’ll be on time and in the game.

Wow, if only there were a handy forum where people who are working on fitness and weight loss gathered to discuss these sorts of things. Oh wait, there’s one right here! My name is Jim on the Nerd Fitness forums, and I want to hear about your goals.

Be mentally ready for change

One of the things I noticed after I lost the first 60 or 70 pounds was that I was no longer invisible. I would say something in a group of people and someone would laugh or agree with me and I would be shocked. I hadn’t even realized until that moment how disregarded I was when I was a wobbling stack of ham.

I’m not sure if this happens to people who gain muscle or not, but I suspect that it does. I can only speak from my own fat experience.

Mind you, I am not a fatness apologist. I try not to tell people their business, and I believe that increased kindness and understanding between human beings is ultimately a good thing, but I also think that if I can lose over 100lbs, anyone can.

After all, in many ways I am a buffoon.

For better or worse, though, when you go through your body shape changes, people will treat you differently. Don’t let it shake you.

You picked a course for yourself and now you will stay on it. The people who love you for you are still going to love you when you’re more fit, and you’ll be alive longer to enjoy it!

-Jim

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33 thoughts on “Lessons From a Former Fat Guy

  1. Thanks for this great post, Jim. (And thanks for opening up your blog to him, Steve.)

    As a former (fairly) fat guy, this really resonated with me. I lost ~35 lbs in a few months through portion control and cardio, but like you say — the food cravings haven't stopped, the rationalization hasn't stopped, the love of eating hasn't stopped.

    But you know what has stopped? My workouts. I met my goal and haven't been to the gym in months. Luckily, I haven't gained any pounds in the meantime, but I know that this battle is one I will soon lose if I don't do what you say — get in there and get moving. So, I'm planning to be back this week. Just have to make myself get there. Your post helps.

    And you're definitely right about people noticing you once you're a “normal” size. I can remember a few specific occasions when I was dismissed/ignored for what certainly felt like weight-related reasons. That doesn't happen anymore. It's also enjoyable to look half-decent in clothes that fit properly.

    Thanks again — and continued good luck on your own path.

  2. How did you determine you have a “slow” metabolism and what was the variance?

    It's just that I remember using that excuse for years as the weight went up. I'd tell myself that I was eating the same or less than my friends, yet they never seemed to gain weight. I'd block out the fact that between meals, they would be running around twice as much as me.

    Once I started losing weight, I found that the only “slow” part of the equation was me and that I lost weight with no trouble once I actually watched my intake.

    I've read several accounts of people who had their metabolism tested and a “slow” metabolism was usually only a couple hundred calories off the average (like 2200 vs 2400).

  3. The short answer is you're absolutely right.

    I have no scientific data that says my metabolism is significantly slower or faster than anyone's, but I know I have to be seemingly far more vigilant than other people are. The best time for me to eat out, for instance, is almost never.

    My friends go out and drink, eat cheeseburgers or pizza or what have you, and don't seem to move much on their weight. The temptation for me is to do the same thing, particularly since I exercise way more than those people do. But if I let my diet slip, or drink too much, or eat restaurant food, I will stop losing at least if not gain weight.

    It's a helpful mental device for me to be able to say “yes, these people eat this stuff and go out every weekend and drink beers and never gain weight, but you can't do that”. The name I give that difference is “slow metabolism”.

  4. Great article Jim. It's nice to hear from someone that's come out the other end of this journey. I'm working my way to join you.

    Part of the hardest part for me about reading this site and other fitness type blogs is that they tend to be directed at people that are healthier than I was/am (although, significantly less so than before). Steve does a great job trying to make things available to everyone, but I will never have the experience of not eating enough calories in a day; I can't (currently) comprehend going all out for any meaningful length of time on a CrossFit workout.

    I was thinking about food, eating and addiction the other day. I often hear/see healthy people saying how disgusting/not appetizing fast food, desserts, and buttery loaded carbs are to them. I can't imagine that mindset. I see a KFC bowl and my brain registers, “Holy crap that's horrible for you!” but my tummy thinks, “Yum!” I know it's bad for me. There's no arguing that. Thankfully 99% of the time my brain wins out. However, it's a constant battle. Part of me wonders how much like an addiction to alcohol and/or drugs that is. I imagine most addicts know that bottle of vodka isn't going to do them any good.

    Unfortunately, I have to eat. I'm constantly faced with options (and sometimes even encouraged) to eat stuff I know is unhealthy. Yes, I'd love to go to the Chinese buffet with you for dinner and then stop by Dairy Queen on the way home. That sounds amazing to my stomach. However, I know what will come from it. Avoiding it is just the best option.

    Thanks again for the post. It's always great to hear from other people's experiences.

  5. good to hear a success story from a big guy. I am on the road, but I have a long way to go. Currently I am 265lbs and I should be around 200. Would you mind breaking down a typical “eating” day for you? Are you a proponent of Paleo or Marks Daily Apple? I have spent a lot of time reading Steve's aritcles (which are awesome) and reading on MDA, and the whole “primal” thing makes sense to me. What is your stance on that? Thanks for the post, keep it up you look awesome!!

  6. Great work Jim,

    I originally started the weight-loss thing because I wanted to be more attractive to women/had body image issues… so you're entirely not alone there. Cutting out the soda in all forms being tantamount to weightloss is also a very accurate statement. That stuff is just diabetes in a bottle. Articles like this inspire the hell out of me to stay the course and keep going.

    I'm also a computer nerd with some weight to lose, love food, have a traditionally slow metabolism, and this article really hit home for me. Thanks for writing it and sharing your insights. Awesome work on the weightloss, and great work on the article.

  7. Hey adm,

    Congrats on your 35 pound loss – if you keep your diet under control you can get away with little to no exercise and remain slim…although exercise is super important as well.

    Get back out there!

    -Steve

  8. The Paleo thing makes a lot of sense to me. Although I'm not a strict follower, I definitely try to eat “real” food. I go along with the smaller, higher frequency meals thing as well.

    I try to think of hunger like kinetic energy. I don't want to let it build up too much. So, I snack all the time, but I do it on fruits and vegetables.

    My will power is mostly crap, though, so I control it by not buying foods I don't want to eat. If I have Clif bars or some easily accessible non-fruit snack foods, I'll eat them up and be way over on my calories/fat.

    I try to avoid HFCS at all costs, carbs if I can help it, and I cook meats on the George Foreman to try to cut out some fat. I also try to keep myself hydrated, as I've had bad problems with cramps during prolonged exercise.

    I'm lucky in that I have a nutritionist for a sister, so I pester her with questions a lot, but there are a lot of resources on the internet also.

  9. thanks for the comment RobotRogue

    Honestly, who DOESN'T want to look better for the opposite sex? I'm pretty
    sure we're wired to do exactly that. I know I want to be a good looking
    dude while still staying true to who I am as a person.

    Nothing wrong with taking care of how you look!

    -Steve

  10. You'll be amazed how far you can go if you put your mind to it, in terms of exercise. Your body will get stronger and develop more stamina really fast if you tell it to.

    I wouldn't say I came out the other side of it, though. I still work on it every day and I still need to lose pounds. I don't consider myself a “former” fat guy, actually. More like a “recovering fat guy who works every day on it”.

    Some days better than others!

  11. Awesome post! I totally know where you're coming from, Jim.

    I'm 8 months away from my first IronMan and I know how hard it is to motivate yourself sometimes. Depression was one factor for me to turn my life around, another was the mortality sting that you spoke of: within a year of each other, two of the most important women in my life were diagnosed with cancer. My sister was successfully treated for Thyroid cancer (while raising three very young children), and my grandmother, who we almost lost completely, is in remission from lymphoma. One of the biggest motivations for me is that my sister and grandma will both be waiting for me at the finish line. These women are my heroes, and when I feel like giving up or slowing down, I see them at the other end of the pool, or further down the path – telling me to keep on.

    I'm amazed at how much this training eats up my time. If I'm not at work, I'm training. If I'm not training, I'm sleeping. I had to hire a coach to keep me on track, as I showed up for the Boulder Half IronMan last year totally undertrained. (I finished, but I got my rump handed to my by a 68 year old woman in the run!)

    I'm making small discoveries all the time- about fitness, about diet, about human endurance, and most of all – about myself. This pilgrimage is a (holy/religious/spiritual/mecca) type experience that I don't think I would trade for anything in the world. (And like Triathlon, it's addicting. I'm already thinking about IM #2 and a channel swim.)

    Thanks for the great post, and congratulations on your victory!

    http://blog.getmoosed.com/2009/11/my-ironman-ma

  12. Great stuff. Am super impressed with the attitude (which lets face it, is everything!!) Love these sort of success stories.

  13. I.Love.This.Post!!!

    Thanks for sharing and while you may not think you're on the other side Jim, you've definitely crossed the big ass lake we're all swimming in. Kind of like you're the lifeguard and I'm the 6 year old who just learned to swim and now I'm making a go of it!

    Oh and Steve, I joined that gym! No swans are staring at me!!

  14. Yay Tara!

    Congrats, I bet that was a big step for you – sounds like you're doing great. Well done!

    -Steve

  15. Yay Tara!

    Congrats, I bet that was a big step for you – sounds like you're doing great. Well done!

    -Steve

  16. Pretty amazing! Congras dude. By the way how much time did you have to prepare for your Ironman race and what your workouts looked like?

  17. Pretty amazing! Congras dude. By the way how much time did you have to prepare for your Ironman race and what your workouts looked like?

  18. Great article Jim.

    I’m going through the same thing.  I made huge progress at the beginning of the year by eating right and exercising, but fell off the wagon and gained it all back.  I’m jumping back on now though and trying again, so we’ll see where it takes me.  overeating really is an addiction.  I do fine during the week but when I go to a party on the weekend and appetizers and less healthy foods are just sitting there for the taking, it’s bad news bears.  It really is the biggest thing that gets in my way and I think that if I can start thinking of it as an addiction, then I can be more successful in resisting it.

    Corey

  19. I know that this is an older post, but I just read it. I think this is so real. I have been there…I am there. I have been that fat guy. I have lost big weight twice before and I am in the early stages of doing it for a third time. I can relate to the motivations…I can relate to the food addictions. This article is spot on.

  20. Hi Jim and All,

    Not sure whether this thread is active. But I have a very common question. I keep hearing from my gym guys saying that cardio will make you lose your lean muscle mass and not the fat burn. Is it really true? I know you have mentioned that you have done lots of cardio. Can you please let me know on this.

  21. Hey guys! Jim great article….Idk if you guys still read or reply to these article comments but I’m a 25 yr old male who has def hit the point of major lifestyle change. I’m not satisfied with my looks being around 300 lbs. I am in dire need of help with my weight loss. I am so desperate I just don’t know where to start or what to do. I’m at the end and being that I’m writing this at 1:00 am shows that I’m out of answers and seeking help especially with meals. Any advice shall do. Thank you Steve and of course jim!

  22. I felt like a piece of shit most of my life. I dieted, did everything I could to lose the weight. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having people look at you like you should’ve bought two tickets on a plane or at the game. I felt so hopeless for so long. The cravings took over time and time again. I hated myself, my life, I wanted to die so often I don’t know why i’m still alive. I only speak this way cuz I know the struggle and i know the heartache. I was so thankful for a friend referring me to the simpo diet. It sounds so stupid. I mean seriously… “simpo diet”? anyways… the site needs work and i was super skeptical about doing it but it was better than kiling myself. it changed my life and I ate everything I craved. It’s the real deal.

    – Former fat kid

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