Going outside scared me.
It wasn't because of some animal, person, or storm. It was because of me. I was scared because of who had I had become. In a short nine months, I went from actually losing the freshman 15 to gaining more than 50 pounds of fat when I left school after my sophomore year of college.
Getting up and walking wasn't just uncomfortable, but frightening. The idea that people would see me in such a despicable state crushed me on a daily basis. How did I get here? As obvious as it is looking back, becoming so fat gradually (which is really the only way it happens) made it a surprise and confusing.
As a child, I was always outside and moving. I ate fairly healthy and really only at meals; not much snacking. Once I reached the age of 11 or 12, I became increasingly sedentary. My favorite activities slowly became watching TV (I can recite the majority of dialogue of the first 10 seasons of The Simpsons by heart) and playing video games (NBA Jam was bigger in my life than actually playing basketball in my backyard).
My teenage years brought a ton of growing - one summer I grew six inches. To fuel the growth, I ate huge meals AND began eating nearly all the time. What's worse, the snacks were classic favorites like Starburst, Pepsi, granola bars, and cereal w/ nonfat milk. To any outside observer, watching an active child who rarely snacks turn into ravenous teenage snacker parked on the couch for hours on end would hardly be surprised of the outcome. I was fat.
It was no secret to me. One look in the mirror and I saw the difference between what I looked like and what many other teenagers (like my brother) looked like. But, what could I do to fix it? This was the late 1990s and fat was still the enemy when it came to diets. I'm not sure how many times, probably too many to count, but even as a teenager I started yo-yo dieting. If only I knew then what I do now...
The Downward Spiral
Fast forward through high school (not much changed except I became taller, yet still fat) to college in a dorm. As luck would have it, I roomed with a similarly sedentary student. Neither of us moved much and we definitely didn't eat well. How do university cafes get away with providing newly independent humans with a pasta bar and essentially unlimited pizza?? The only thing that saved me during that first year was oddly due my laziness.
My routine became rolling out of bed onto my desk chair literally less than a foot from my bed where I would sit for a few hours. I'd probably have a bowl or two of cereal then go to class. Between or after classes (usually around 4pm), I'd walk a couple blocks to get a Subway sandwich. I'd continue to sit until I went to sleep around midnight. How could this have be even remotely good for me? The key was that I ate just twice a day, usually within a 6 to 8 hour window.
The next year, I didn't stick to that routine. A combination of different class schedules and a convenience store with frozen "meals" (like Hot Pockets) and plenty of Ben and Jerry's ice cream took my weight out of control. I also had a single room, so I lost any reason to at least look respectable to other people on a constant basis. It didn't take long to go from being down 15 pounds to about 215 at the end of my first year, all the way up to 280 when I left school in June.
Approximately one third of Americans have pre-diabetes. Before I even graduated high school, I had a fasting blood glucose of around 100 mg/dL. Pre-diabetic is generally considered 100-125 mg/dL. During the year I spent sitting and shoveling ice cream into my face, I came dangerously close to diabetes.
My health was in trouble, obviously to me and everyone around me. Even if I knew this leaving my second year of college, taking action took much longer. Eventually, I got tired of looking at my fat face in the mirror and being ultra self-conscious in public. I discovered three methods that reversed my pre-diabetes for good, all of which I still practice today.
I didn't know anything about fasting the first time I started practicing it - I stumbled on it by accident. The idea I had was if I wait until the afternoon to eat, then I'll eat less. Fewer hours to eat turned into less eating.
For the next 10 years, I struggled with an exercise habit. I followed a personal trainer for a little while, which helped a little. Later I jumped on a few exercise fads, the most notable of them was CrossFit. My lovely wife pushed me to try it with her and I stuck with it for a couple of years. Why did this one stick? The intensity of CrossFit classes stimulated my body to generate good-feeling endorphins. A temporary high that lasted for a short period after completing the workout attracted me to another class again and again. Becoming a CrossFit regular impacted my other habits, including what I ate and triggered me to explore more ways to improve my health.
What I ate changed while regularly attending CrossFit. I transitioned from sometimes eating a healthy meal to eating mostly whole foods. A few examples of how this changed are: eggs w/ spinach and avocado for breakfast; regularly eating large salads for dinner; building a collection of veggies cooked together weekly then a portion combined with meat and eggs each day. Just a few reasons why these whole foods are better than what I used to eat:
- Fiber and water content caused me to eat slower, filled me up faster, and controlled blood sugar spikes
- Urges to snack almost went away entirely because I was full and satisfied for longer AND I didn't have the constant hormone fluctuation that highly processed foods and sugar cause (drinking plenty of water helped too)
- Larger fat content of whole foods also kept me full longer and provided a longer lasting energy source to leverage over longer periods of not eating
What do all these changes have in common? Insulin regulation.
The key to curing my pre-diabetes and living a sustainably healthy lifestyle boils down to controlling my insulin levels. If you want to take one thing away from all this, insulin is it. Control your insulin spikes after eating and fasting glucose levels and you will be healthy and lose fat. This was the big epiphany that is the number one driver of all the lifestyle decisions of my life.