A month before my 40th birthday, I was exercising my 5’7”, 195-pound self at my health club, and my bored eyes happened upon one of the dozens of soundless television screens that populate the place. A news program was airing, and security camera footage showed an obese man robbing a bank. Then his vital statistics appeared in a caption, one by one: Height: 5’7”. Weight: 190 pounds.
I was shocked by the realization that the obese man actually weighed five pounds less than I did.
From my youth into my late 20s, I’d been skinny as a praying mantis, no matter what I ate. But in my 30s, I began gradually gaining weight—just a few pounds every year. In fact, the change was so gradual that even though I knew I was struggling with weight control, I never realized just how bad things had gotten until the day that I saw this unnamed bandit and his vital stats.
For months, a friend of mine had been urging me to put myself into the hands of a personal trainer. This friend was a member at this same health club, and he knew that in recent years I’d battled weight problems and tried all kinds of diets. Some of them had “worked”—but not one time had I managed to maintain my weight loss. For those years, my weight had mostly hovered around 195 pounds, and sometimes edged down toward 175 pounds when I was “succeeding.” My friend had experienced great success working with trainers, and thought that I could too.
I had always resisted his advice, on two grounds: personal training is expensive, and who needs help working out? For the past few years I’d consistently worked out at this health club several times per week, doing the same exercise circuit over and over. Naturally, I reached the conclusion that exercise was not my problem—eating was.
But the story about the bandit shook me so much that I was at the personal training desk before the news segment even finished. Clearly I had to try something different from what I’d been doing for the past decade.
The guy at the personal training desk took measurements of me with a tape-measure, weighing scale, and body-fat indicator, and fed the information into his computer. His printer then spit out a sheet of paper with a graph on it. There was a dot representing me, just on the “obese” side of the “obese”/ “overweight” border.
I signed up.
Over the next several months, I slowly brought my weight down from 195 to 160. And I’ve kept it at 160 for the past few months.
I know I’m not breaking any new ground here——but still I want to share what has worked for me.
I now eat five to seven fruits and vegetables per day. I used to eat close to zero. I skew the proportion slightly in favor of vegetables, since they tend to be lower in sugar and calories and higher in vitamins.
I now eat small portions six to eight times per day, as opposed to my previous habit of eating two or three huge meals each day.
My daily calorie intake is now around 2,000, as opposed to its former level of around 2,500. I no longer track my daily calorie intake, but I did at various times over the past few months, first to identify my daily intake, and then to reduce and manage it.
While I avoided some of my favorite foods (burgers, pizza) over the several months it took me to lose the weight, now that I am just trying to maintain my current weight, I enjoy those foods up to three times a week. I eat them in moderate quantities, and I always eat vegetables along with them.
I regularly do a wide mix of exercises several times a week, including weight-training with a personal trainer once or twice a week, cardio/interval training, various fitness classes at the health club, stretching, frequent bicycling outdoors (sometimes for exercise and often for transportation), and a 20-minute core workout on my own three times per week.
Gone are the doldrums of trudging to the gym three times a week, year after year, and doing the same weight-machine circuit every time, and seeing no results. Now I ride my bicycle round trip from Chicago to Evanston and other suburbs, and I feel like a 10-year-old boy again, flying care-free on his shiny new Schwinn through the neighborhoods of Barnesville, Ohio. Not surprisingly, I physically feel years younger.
But there’s something more.
During my years-long Sisyphean struggle with weight, I developed a sense of hopelessness—a feeling that the whole thing was just not under my control; a feeling that I had to simply live with it.
But now that I’ve overcome this personal challenge, I have a vague but powerful sense that even in areas having nothing to do with weight, what was once impossible is now possible.
I was dragged kicking and screaming into my 40s. My 30s were a fun and youthful decade, and 40 was too close to 50 for comfort. I did not want to face the fact that I was leaving my carefree days behind.
But maybe—just maybe—I can make my 40s my healthiest and most productive decade yet.
Ranjit Souri lives in Chicago.