Every now and then, I hear people talking about how it’s nearly impossible to lose weight once you get ‘older.’ I have been overweight pretty much all my life. I was a pudgy kid and then when I was in 6th grade (thereabouts) my weight really began getting out of control. I was around 200 when I was in my 20s and for each decade thereafter, I added roughly another 100 lbs. By the time I was in my mid-forties, I was about 375, +/- 10 lbs. I’d lose some weight, gain it back, gain some more, lose a bit, and repeat the process. I’d gained and lost the same 40 lbs for several years. Most people would be thrilled at losing 40 lbs, and frankly, I was too, but when you’re going from 375 to 335, it’s a little less thrilling: “Yay! I’m under 350!” Essentially, I’m still sinking, just not as fast as before. Unfortunately, even that little glimmer of hope soon faded away.
Most of us chronic dieters are pretty good at making bargains with ourselves and rationalizing our choices. I remember when I realized that I had been over 350 for so long that even if I lost weight, I would need surgery to remove my excess skin. “I don’t want surgery, so I won’t lose weight.” Great! Now I no longer need to worry about losing weight! Except….. my weight was still a problem. I remember thinking “not everyone is cut out to be skinny, so I guess I’m just destined to be fat.” Great! Now I no longer need to worry about losing weight! Except…. I still kept gaining weight. “I’m still happy and fairly active even though I’m overweight.” Except…. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t very active.
Honestly, I spent about ten years or so- most of thirties and the first half of my forties- being about 375, and for most of those years, that last rationalization was true. Despite being so overweight, I was independent and fairly problem-free. I could do just about anything I wanted to do and knew how to get around the activities that were a little more problematic. If I wasn’t truly happy being 375, it wasn’t a big issue in my life. But unfortunately, I was still gaining weight and so every year or so, I would add a couple more pounds or so. I think if it hadn’t been for the changes in my job, I would probably have kept gaining about that same rate and probably would have hit fifty closer to the 400 lb mark but still under.
But, when I was about 46, things changed at my job, which led to changes in my lifestyle, which led to me gaining about 65 lbs over the course of two years. I remember being 48 and realizing I was not only over 400 lbs now, I was beginning to make some serious progress into that weight range: I was 438. That is some serious weight. Even worse, I was completely miserable. I couldn’t walk for any distance or stand for any length of time. It hurt to move around, to sit, or lie down. While being 375 is far from healthy, those additional 65 lbs really put extra stress on my body physically and I started having health issues I’d never had before. Family and friends started talking to me about getting a gastric bypass.
Frankly, I hated this idea. I’ve never been a fan of surgery but having your guts rearranged seemed crazy. I remember meeting with a bariatric surgeon (mainly just to tell others I’d considered it) but the idea was always a no. [FYI: that surgeon was a real butthead!]
So what happened? Long story short: I decided to make myself a priority. One of those goofy movie lines that sticks in my head sometimes: Ice Age– Sid looking at Diego’s ‘short cut’ and saying “No thanks! I choose life!” Yeah, it’s goofy, but it’s pretty much what happened to me. I was looking down the barrel of a very short and painful future, and “no thanks! I choose life!” I quit the Job From Hell and that was the first of a series of choices that put my welfare first. That lifestyle change led to others: no more fast food; eating healthier; slowly being more active; getting more rest; and those small changes alone had huge consequences.
And I mean Really Huge Consequences. Like the small changes in my job that led to my being so unhealthy and so utterly miserable, those small decisions to eat less processed foods, eat more whole foods, get more sleep and be more active led to my losing roughly 100 lbs in about a year. No surgery. No weird diets. Nothing extreme. I just decided to eat more whole foods, be more active and put my health first. I picked a food and lifestyle plan that I liked that was also sustainable and I followed it. If this were a movie, it’d be easy and my weight loss would have been consistently linear and there would have been no cravings, no difficulties (and I’d be happily married to a great guy who looks shockingly like Russell Crowe,) but- alas!- it’s not a movie. There were lots of cravings at first. It was hard work following the diet (Paleo), learning what works better for me and what frankly does not work at all. I did a lot of research, mainly because that’s one of the things that works to keep me focused and I just like it. It also gives me access to some new ideas, but while people will fret that “it’s impossible to lose weight after 40!”, I am here to tell you that it is not impossible. I’ve not only lost the equivalent of an entire large sized adult, I am still losing weight. I didn’t even start losing weight until I was nearly 50! Yes, it was a lot of work at first, but it gets easier the longer you stay with it! It’s just like any other habit you learn: harder at first, then you learn the little hacks and it’s not so hard anymore.
I’ve lost 184 lbs and I now weigh about 250 lbs. I am much more active and I feel so much better physically and mentally. Yes, I do have some excess skin, but it’s not a problem right now. Maybe eventually, when I either stop losing weight or it becomes a problem, I might have to deal with it surgically. But the excess skin is less of a problem than my weight ever was! I know this isn’t a movie, but it still has a happy ending for me, and I know that there can still be a happy ending for everyone else who is over 40, overweight and thinks they are destined to be the ‘fat guy/ girl.’ You don’t need a fairy godmother, but you do need to choose yourself first. (And if you’re a great single guy who looks shockingly like Russell Crowe, give me a call!)