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The eating promises I've made

Promising away my vices one at a time...

  • October 23, 2002 -- I will never drink pop again (Pepsi, Coke, Diet Coke, etc.).
  • March 26, 2003 -- I will never eat french fries or fried potato chips again (or onion rings or Fritos or Doritos other other fried chips).

The biggest two were these first two (and the most important one you'll read about below), as pop and french fries were a very fundamental, core part of my life. Some phases of my life it was Diet Coke, others it was Pepsi, always it was french fries, particularly McDonalds'. Please don't read my casual, reporter-style writing and think any of this was easy.

With these two promises successfully under my belt I had some momentum going...

  • Late spring, 2003 -- I will never drink chocolate milk made with Quik again.

    (This was an occasional nightly ritual that had been becoming more frequent. It's the only promise that I made on a whim, with me telling my wife, "If you go get me a big glass of Quik, I promise I'll never have it again." Scratch another vice off the list.)
  • August 13, 2003 -- I will never eat pre-packaged sweet things that come in a wrapper again.

    (This targeted candy bars and honey buns in particular, especially the ones offered in a vending machine at work. :)

Please realize that none of this has to do with discipline. No discipline was involved in MAKING any of these promises. It was my lack of discipline, my lack of being able to be moderate in these areas, that led to me having to make the promises. And once a particular promise was made, it was no longer an issue of discipline: I just couldn't eat the stuff any more, I had no choice, and thus discipline wasn't an issue. To me discipline involves the wrestle of choice. I short-circuited the need for discipline by removing the choice.

Just to answer a question that I've perhaps raised in your mind: I have never broken any of these promises. (But I still lack discipline!)

I was still grossly obese

In the spring of 2004 I was still quite obese, even after having made these promises. Since making my first promise I had lost surprisingly little weight compared to the "sacrifices" I had made. (Although I'm sure I was much healthier nevertheless.)

And while you wouldn't recognize the dates above, suffice it to say that my son would read them and think, "Where was my promise?"

The one promise that caused the tipping point and the weight to start falling off

Around this time I read a book that was to have fundamental impact on my life, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy by Harvard's Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition. I had heard for years that I should be eating vegetables, fiber, and the like, and avoiding sweets and fats and the like, but for the first time I read an explanation as to why those things are true based on science: what effect food has on your body, and how studies show that people who eat in particular ways tend to be a good bit healthier.

For the first time, eating "right" made sense.

In other posts I'm going to summarize this important book -- you can also see the website they've set up. Here's the quick list, taken directly from the book's introduction:

  • Watch your weight.
  • Eat fewer bad fats and more good fats.
  • Eat fewer refined-grain carbohydrates and more whole-grain carbohydrates.
  • Choose healthier sources of proteins.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, but hold the potatoes.
  • Use alcohol in moderation.
  • Take a multivitamin for insurance.

As I contemplated my food vices and my next promise heading up to my son's birthday, I began to realize that, based on my past experience, promising away "fried chicken" or "pizza" or "ice cream" or any particular food wouldn't bring me the weight loss that I really needed. My real problem was that I was eating too much (and secondarily that I was eating too much junk).

It became clear to me that the time had come for a more radical promise, but by this point I had the track record to know that I could succeed with such a promise. But I realized that there was a promise that would solve my problem.

I debated with myself (and my wife a bit) for a couple weeks, but in the end, greatly encouraged by Dr. Willett's book, and five weeks before my son's birthday (didn't want to wait), I made a promise:

  • April 13, 2004 -- I promise to never eat more than 2500 calories on any day, and to ensure this happens, I will write down everything I eat and keep track of the calories.

(There are actually a couple footnotes to this: there are a few days of the year (family birthdays and a couple holidays) that are free days that I am not going to count, and once I reach 190 pounds and stay below that point I'm not going to count, unless I at some point go above that number again. When making promises such footnotes can make them more realistic to implement without affecting the overall outcome. Some might find that a monthly or even weekly "free day" built into their promise is needed to actually make the promise in the first place. If this is what you need to get started, do it.)

I chose the number 2500 after researching a bit to see how many calories I need to maintain my ideal weight for my height and age. I actually found several different numbers on different websites, but 2500 was a nice round average of them.

The weight began to come off, and, in large part because at the same time I started eating much more "right", I found that I didn't have a problem with hunger at all the way I expected. Since I started I have only infrequently had than 2400 calories in a day, and my average so far has been around 2300.

(I should add that about a month after my 2500 promise I also started exercising, both cardio and resistance training, and that has helped with the weight loss too I'm sure. My mantra these days: eat right, eat less, do cardio, and lift weights. More on the cardio and weights later.)

With this promise I was well on my way to permanent success -- I began losing weight at two pounds a week week-in week-out for months, but I've needing to refine nevertheless in order to stop budding bad habits:

You may remember my promise above about sweet things that come in wrappers. Since then some candy has started coming in things other than wrappers, which led to:

  • August 21, 2004 -- I will never eat non-homemade sweet things at home, at work, or in our car.

    You may laugh at the details, but this exactly excised my problem areas without saying "no sweets ever again", something I'd rather not do unless I need to.

So even after my big promise I've still needed to be on guard for developing vices. But at this point I'm more focused on eating healthy than on doing what it takes to lose weight. That part's already been done, and won.

So where am I today?

I still have weight to lose -- perhaps 35 pounds, but it continues to come off. I've lost 100 pounds since my all-time high in the fall of 1998 and am no longer what is classified as obese. I continue to live under these promises but at the moment feel I have no additional food vices to promise away. (If I end up making another promise in the next few months, I'm guessing it will be desserts at Golden Corral, but we'll see. :)

So really it was the one promise that took the weight off. However, for me, I could never ever have conceived of making and sticking to that promise had I not built up the momentum from the earlier promises. By the time I made my "2500" promise, I know that I could promise away any food item, no problem at all. But I also knew that promising away any one food item wouldn't bring about the weight loss that I so desparately needed.

The previous promises gave me the fortitude needed to make the "2500" promise, the last promise I would need to reach my weight loss goal.

If you are thinking of doing this too

If you are thinking of doing this too, I highly recommend "baby step" promises to build momentum before doing anything drastic, although in foresight they may not seem like such baby steps! Much more on this later.




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If you are morbidly obese, this website could save your life. I've not completed my journey, but I've lost over 115 pounds so far, most of it since starting something I'm calling "The Promise Diet." You can too, one promise at a time."

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