I wouldn’t normally write a blog entry like this, but oddly enough there’s been enough interest from the community that I figured I should probably write it down, just so you know what I’m doing. All the usual caveats apply – this is just what I’m doing, I’m not recommending it to other people and always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen or diet.
Ok, so it all started late one night on January 12th where I was sitting at work and thinking about my upcoming talk at the 2011 Game Developers Conference. I enjoy public appearances but at 232 lbs, I was once again getting close to my heaviest weight ever (238 lbs). I decided that since I had four weeks till GDC, I would try and lose 10 pounds. Seemed like a reasonable stretch goal at the time given that the “safe” amount is 2 lbs per week. But I’d been thinking about losing weight for a while and never found the motivation that would cause me to do it.
I turned to a newfound source of peer pressure, my Twitter followers. Thinking that public humiliation was going to be enough, I announced to my followers my goal of losing 10 pounds. But then it struck me, why not make it worth something to them so that it mattered even more. In my next Tweet I announced that for every pound I lost, I would add a +1 to our XP multiplier (which defaults to 2x) and would have an event for the entire week of GDC using the new multiplier. Well that certainly did the trick in terms of getting the people behind me and now I felt a real sense of obligation. If I cheated or didn’t work hard enough, I would have 17,000 people holding me accountable when their event didn’t happen.
From my previous attempts to lose weight, I’ve learned a lot about what’s required for me to do it:
- I need to drink lots of water. You need to drink 8-10 glasses a day to flush your body of the water it naturally retains and to help carry away all the fat you’re going to burn off. Fortunately a normal bottle of water is worth 2 servings so it’s really just 4 water bottles a day which is easy to do. Things to try and avoid are sodium and caffeine. Both work against your body and will cause you to continue to retain water. I love the water weight because every time I start a new attempt I will lose about 5 pounds in the first week. It’s a great kick start and provides motivation for the later weeks. And hey, it also fills your stomach so you feel less hungry.
- I need enough calories to exercise. Starvation diets don’t work because your body thinks it’s dying and so tries to retain as much as it can. Also, if you’re going to workout then you need the energy to exercise. So you need to find the balance in giving your body enough energy without giving it so much that it starts to store it as a fat reserve. A previous fitness test revealed that for me, the magical number is about 1500 calories a day. By the way, like me, you probably don’t have a very good idea of how many calories you actually take in during the day. I highly recommend going online or downloading a calorie tracking app like MyPlate from Livestrong.com where you can easily see how much you eat each day. It’s not a lot of effort and it will really open your eyes once you see it all written down.
- I need to eat lots of small meals. Your metabolism is what really helps you lose weight since it’s what’s actually burning calories when you’re not exercising (while you’re sleeping or sitting there at work). The more you can do to heighten your metabolism, the easier it will be in the long run. So you keep your metabolism running by giving it lots of fuel in small amounts. Eating one giant meal will just cause it to shut down but eating 5-6 small meals a day will allow it to keep running all day and night long. For example, I will have a protein shake or Greek yogurt before bed to give my muscles and metabolism something to chew on all night.
- I need to exercise. Without exercise then you’re basically willing to have all your weight loss come from depriving your body of some of the food it craves. As I said above, an easier way is to increase your metabolism so that it helps do a lot of the work for you. Strengthening your muscles (including your heart) is required to increase how many calories your body burns in a day. Bigger, stronger muscles need more calories so staying at the same caloric intake, you’ll burn more of it off and your body will be forced to use its fat reserves to power those muscles. So for me, cardio isn’t enough, if I want to get the highest metabolism possible, I need to lift weights as well.
- I need lots of protein. Again, I’m not a medical or fitness expert but in talking with trainers in my previous attempts, I know that protein is a key to success. First of all, protein is the part of the meal that makes you feel full. By eating a meal high in good protein, chicken for example, it will make you feel fuller longer which means you’re less likely to eat things that are bad for you. Second, protein is a necessary building block for stronger muscles. When you exercise, you’re tearing down the muscles so that they can rebuild themselves stronger. Protein is a mandatory part of that process. The harder you train, the more protein you need to help your body recover. Finally, my last trainer back in 2009 (hey Mike!) explained to me that your body metabolizes sugars differently if they’re taken in alone or with protein. With protein your metabolism will convert the glucose and fat into energy but without it just becomes part of your fat reserves. That’s why it’s important to have a scoop of protein powder in that fruit smoothie. If you’re going to cheat, at least have some protein with it.
- I need to help my willpower. In a lot of cases, I have pretty good will power and I’m able to control my eating just with smart portion control. But I know that if I totally deny myself something that it will become the forbidden fruit and when I do fall off the wagon it’s going to be much, much worse. So I allow myself a taste of things just so that I don’t crave them. That being said, I do know that there are certain foods in my life that I *love* but are really bad for me and the safest way not to be tempted into eating them is just to ban them altogether. For me right now, that’s sweet tea and french fries. In the south (I’m in Raleigh, NC) sweet tea flows like water. If you eat at a restaurant then they never let the glass get empty and you never really know how much you’ve drank. I know for a fact that I’ve drank more than 1000 calories of sweet ice tea at lunch. Not hard to see why I continued to gain weight
Alright, so with all that information and self awareness, I set off on my journey. First let’s talk about diet. As I said earlier, I need about 1500 calories to keep my body healthy, give it enough energy to exercise but it’s low enough that my body won’t story any leftovers as fat. Here’s roughly what I do:
- 9:30 AM – Drink a Slim-Fast shake for breakfast. It’s quick and easy since I’m heading to work and it’s only about 190 calories. If I’m up earlier and eating at 7 AM then I’ll include a protein bar as a mid morning snack (gotta keep that metabolism running).
- 11:30 AM – Eat a Fresh Select Microwavable Meal for lunch. These have been a lifesaver for me. To find a meal for 300-340 calories and doesn’t have the usual high sodium of most microwavable meals has made a big difference in my diet.
- 3:00 PM – Eat a protein bar for snack. Generally looking for the lowest calories with the highest protein. Balance bars have been my favorite so far (mmmm….Cookie Dough).
- 6:00 PM – Eat a reasonable, portion controlled dinner. Whether at home or at work, it’s all about eating appropriate portions. Up till this meal I’ve eaten about 700 calories so I don’t want to go crazy and blow past my limit.
- 8:00 PM – This is generally the time we work out. It’s been as early as 7 PM and as late as 10 PM.
- Post Workout – Eat Greek yoghurt. Some provide you with 18g of protein for as little as 100 calories. If you’re really trying to bulk up then you’re likely to want a protein drink instead but I’m trying to get lean and not crazy big.
That’s roughly it. Every day is different and weekends throw a wrench into the routine but it’s about eating smart and making good choices even when you’re in a non ideal situation when it comes to food. And remember to drink your water!
Now onto the exercise. I’m not a gym rat and even though I had a trainer for a short time a few years ago, I’m not exactly knowledgeable when it comes to the proper weight lifting routines. Fortunately our QA Manager at Epic, Prince Arrington, used to train people and like me, he was not where he wanted to be weight wise. So we agreed to start doing this together. To this day it’s our friendship that pushes us to go to the gym and some of my crazy late night workouts are just so I can text him and say “See, I’m working harder than you” which inspires him and then causes me to work harder.
If I was working out alone then I’d be in the gym about 60 mins (30 mins weights then 30 mins cardio) but with Prince and now @EpicCog, @iFlak, Jotay and others, it takes about 90 mins since we’re taking turns on the different machines. Here’s generally what we do in the gym:
- Monday – Chest and Biceps (3 different exercises for each area)
- Tuesday – Back and Triceps (3 different exercises for each area)
- Wednesday – Shoulders (3 different exercises for each area)
- Thursday – Circuit of all areas (1 exercise for each area)
- Friday – Off day.
- Saturday/Sunday – at a minimum I’ll do cardio but I often lift when I can
You’ll notice that legs aren’t on the list and if I were a real trainer and I was trying to get you into shape, legs would certainly be a major part of it. Your legs are some of your biggest muscles and they really help you to burn calories – but we’re just not fans of squats and lunges. So rather than doing something we hate and walking sore all the time, we’ve put our leg work into our cardio. For example, I’ll do over 2000 steps on the stair stepper machine at a 10 setting. The key thing here is to find exercises that you like to do because you’re going to be doing them for a while. Why give yourself an easy excuse to quit because you’re doing something you hate. There’s also lots of research about muscle confusion and randomizing your workout which I believe in so it’s probably best that you just take this as inspiration and do your own research on a weight lifting plan that’s best suited for you. One thing we do to mix up our routine is in between each exercise we’ll do planks to strengthen our core muscles. We started at 20 seconds and now we’re over 75 seconds. So we’re making progress.
In terms of cardio, I was not able to run because of how bad it hurt my shins. So when I get on the treadmill for cardio, I would set it to an 8 incline and 4 mph (about the fastest walk possible). Over time as my legs became stronger and I was dropping weight, I started jogging for 1 min at 5 mph walk for 2 and jog again for 1. As more time passed I reversed it where I jogged for 2 and walked for 1. And now I’m able to jog for the whole 30 mins. In fact, we’ve actually started jogging outside which due to my legs, I was never able to do before. A 12 minute mile is not really impressive but given where I was, it’s pretty damn amazing for me. In previous attempts I would use the elliptical machine. It’s a great machine if you have similar problems with your legs as you get a great workout without any of the pressure on them. The funny thing is that at the Epic gym, the elliptical tells you that you’re burning way fewer calories than the treadmill. So even though I think it’s just not calibrated right, I preferred the seemingly higher output of the treadmill. I’ll take any psychological advantage I can. By the way, on weekends, I’ll often turn to my Xbox with Kinect for my cardio workout. Between Your Shape: Fitness Evolved and Dance Central, I can certainly work up a good sweat and not worry about getting to the gym.
Ok, so now you know the diet and exercise I’ve been doing, let’s get back to the story. I worked my butt off (literally!) during the four weeks up to GDC and surprise, instead of losing 10 pounds I lost 20. The Gears 2 community got to enjoy a 22x XP event and I got to go to GDC at 212 lbs. It felt great and motivated me to keep pushing even further. Time for a new goal of getting below 200.
Well time has continued to pass and, thanks again to my workout buddies and all the good wishes I’ve received from the Gears community, I’ve been able to stick to the program. Even after the event was finished and there’s no personal gain in it for them, I still get lots of encouragement from Gears fans which has made a big difference. And so here I sit on April 30th and I’m down 38 pounds (194). In fact, I’m writing this blog just before I head to the store to find some summer shorts that fit. When I started I wore a size 40 jeans, I now wear a 34. I used to wear a double XL shirt, now I wear a Large. And when I started I could only bench press the 25 lb dumb bells but last week I was throwing up the 55′s. It’s been a fun journey and really it hasn’t been that long. Don’t worry about how long it will take you to get in shape or to lose weight, the key is just starting. It always feels like it’s going to take too long when you’re starting but when you’re done you’ll be surprised how quickly it went.
So let me end by saying thank you to my friends and to the Gears community who have inspired me to live a stronger and healthier life. And trust me, I know you’re all out there watching so I’ll be keeping it off this time too.
P.S. I’ll also keep you updated as we pull together an Epic team to take on the Warrior Dash this summer.