How I lost 50 pounds this year (part 2 of 2)

Previous: “Why I lost 50 pounds this year

“How did you lose the weight?”

Combined with “How much weight have you lost,” this is the most common question I receive from people these days. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned, though I’ve found people usually aren’t interested in the level of detail you’ll see below.

So here’s the short answer: I ate less calories and moved more.

I’m not saying anything against surgeries, medications, or support groups. But for me, it was as simple as changing my diet and exercise.

“Yeah, but everyone says eat less and move more. How did you do that?”

  1. I recorded everything I ate 

This was my new year’s resolution this year. I’m not on a diet. I’m not restricting calories. I’m just writing down reality.

Awareness of what I ate was an essential part of changing what I ate. Previously, I ate impulsively. There’s a donut in the break room? There’s pizza available at a church event? There’s chips in the pantry? There’s candy for sale in the gas station checkout? Yes, yes, yes… and let me pull over to get that.

I knew that there was significant research that said awareness itself changes behavior. That’s why there are those solar powered speed limit signs that tell you how fast you’re going and there’s calorie counts on display signs in California.

So, at the end of last year I began entering everything (and I mean everything) I ate into MyFitnessPal on my phone.

It took about three weeks to stop being annoying. After that, recording what I ate became an easy habit. And as someone who likes tracking things, it became a fun game for me. (I know, that’s weird.)

Pretty quickly I began to see the shifts in my eating. Do I really want to have to write down that I ate a second donut? For the second day in a row?

Plus, since MyFitnessPal linked with my smart watch, if I went over my calories I could go for an extra walk to get myself back into the green for the day.

  1. I switched to five, pre-planned meals a day

One of the challenges I have had in the past with overeating is a fear of being hungry later. That is, if I eat a salad for lunch, will I be hopelessly starving at 3 pm? Better eat a giant burrito just to be safe that I don’t go hungry.

Two strategies helped me change this behavior:

i. Pre-plan my lunches – I identified lunch as my biggest problem meal of the day and the one I most wanted to fix. Why was lunch my biggest problem? Probably because it was separated from my family community. I eat breakfast and dinner with them and I want them to eat nutritious food, but lunch was just me.

So here’s what I do: each Monday morning I go to Trader Joe’s and buy pre-packaged salads and healthy snacks for my office. I also grill chicken breasts at home for the week’s lunches. After a couple of months, I zero’d in on TJ’s Southwest Salad (200 calories), which is now what I eat most work days, combined with a sweet potato (microwaved) and four ounces of chicken breast. (“What, every day?” I’ll get to the boredom part of this later).

ii. Add two small meals each day – This was helpful to me mentally. It really helps to know that I’m never more than a couple of hours away from another meal.

Mid-morning I have a protein bar (this one) and mid-afternoon I have a protein shake (using this blender in my office; two scoops of chocolate protein powder, skim milk, oats, peanut butter, and ice).

  1. Exercise became a scheduled part of each day.

While changing what I ate was the primary vehicle for weight loss, exercise did help, too. It helped with burning calories, of course, but also with mental health and with feeling stronger in my body.

I know some people hate exercising but I actually enjoy it, especially now (Last January? A little less so).

Of course, finding time to exercise is tough. I get it. As a dad, husband, pastor, and doctoral student I didn’t exactly have time to just hang out at the gym. And as someone who… how can I say this gently…. sweats like a pig, exercise can’t exactly be wedged in between appointments.

So, what did I do?

First, I embraced walking. In an inversion of Churchill’s maxim, I considered what I could do walking instead of sitting. My job is sedentary, for the most part. But could I read while walking? Sure, if I embraced audiobooks. Could I write sermons while walking? Parts of them, sure, as long as I didn’t mind people seeing me carry papers and mouth words on the street (masks helped with that one).

Second, I embraced cheesy, late night infomercial exercise videos. Because gyms closed in March (and have been off and on open since then), I had to stop going to Anytime Fitness on my lunch break. I replaced it with P90X3 and then Insanity Max 30. They’re loud, they’re a little annoying… but they’re also reliable, very low cost (especially when a good friend loans the DVD’s to you – thanks, Michael), and efficient. And since I was eating pre-packaged salads for a quick lunch at my desk I had time to workout during the day.

4. Embraced the habit cycle 

At the start of the year, these changes took huge efforts. But as the year has gone on they are easier and easier. Why? Why do some things come so naturally and others seem impossible? And can we choose what to put in each column?

Two books I’d recommend: Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Both books outline how we can leverage the habit loop to benefit us. Without rehashing each of the books here, the bottom line for me was figuring out:

a. What were my triggers for unhealthy eating? (Exposure to unhealthy foods; lack of an eating plan; boredom)

b. What reinforcements helped me want to practice good habits? (Hope of it making a difference; that I could have a protein shake after I worked out)

5. Cultivated the mental shifts needed for change

a. It’s okay if my meals are boring.

Yes, eating healthy is boring sometimes. But fast food is boring, too. I can eat repetitive, boring meals like salads most of the time and be just fine. Plus, there’s plenty else in the world to be fascinated by.

I’m not saying that I don’t want to cook or eat something exotic. I do! But think of it this way: There are almost 100 meals a month. If I eat five truly interesting ones a month, that leaves 95 other ones that are fuel to live on. Better make those 95 nutritious and healthy.

b. “What do I need to eat?” is a better question than “What do I want to eat?”

Let’s be honest: “What do I want to eat” got me to 273 pounds. My desires around food are not an impeccable guide. I want to eat french fries. Lots of them. But I don’t need french fries. I need leafy greens, high vitamin fruits and veggies, lean proteins, certain carbs, and some dairy.

c. There will be more food available when I need it. I don’t need to fill up like a camel. And so what if I’m hungry for a bit?

I have lived an embarrassingly blessed life when it comes to food. I have never experienced food insecurity or had to really worry about whether there would be something to eat tomorrow.

Yet I would still feel the need to eat more than necessary out of concern that I wouldn’t have another meal for a number of hours later. Shifting my mind to expecting that more food would be available and that I was durable enough to withstand hunger were necessary shifts for me.

d. This is going to take a while. That’s okay. I’m not on a diet. I’m just living a healthy life.

There were a lot of moments this year that it was discouraging not to have made more progress more quickly. (I know, I know, 50 pounds in a year is a lot of progress – but it doesn’t feel like it when you haven’t lost 1 pound in two weeks during certain stretches).

Seven reasons why I lost 50 pounds this year (part 1 of 2)

At the end of 2019, shortly after the birth of our third child, I weighed 273 pounds. At 6’3, that meant that I was 33 pounds into the “obesity” part of the BMI chart and 73 pounds overweight. I was eating terrible and felt sorry for myself. I was moderately active (playing with my kids and playing ice hockey once a week), but I knew my health was going in the wrong direction. People in my family have developed type II diabetes and I could see that I was following their footsteps if something didn’t change. 

Almost every week when I’d drive home from my hockey game, I’d fantasize about how things would have gone differently if I had been in better shape. And when I’d get dressed for work, I’d complain about how nothing seemed long enough to cover my stomach (outwardly blaming it on my height but knowing it was my weight). 

So, I decided to do something about it. And today I weighed in at 222 pounds, down 51 pounds from my weight at the beginning of the year. 

November 2020 – 222 pounds

Since I often get asked, “How did you lose the weight?”, I thought I would put down what worked for me. I do so with some sheepishness, though, knowing that listening to other people talk about their weight loss can be boring, annoying, or worse. I don’t offer these thoughts from a place of superiority or triumph; after all, the only way to lose this much weight is to gain far too much weight in the first place. And I realize that I benefit from a number of factors (age, gender, physical ability, lack of food allergies, access to nutritious food) that make this easier for me than for others. Plus weight is dynamic; who knows that I will not be even heavier in a decade than I was last year?  Additionally, I’m not a dietician and I don’t know if how I lost weight is a good plan for you. 

November 2019 – 273 pounds

Last thing: I have no interest in shaming anyone about their weight. I have found that when people ask me about weight loss, they are thinking about their weight, not their own. They are either looking for a strategy they can use or an excuse they can have. I get that. While I think that losing weight has been helpful for me, it may not be for you. I’m happy to encourage you, but have no interest in making you feel bad. 

So, how did I lose 50 pounds?

I came to grips with why health mattered to me.

For me the “Why” portion was more important than the “How.” When I was heavier I understood the problems with fast food, eating added sugar, and my approach to food in general. The problem was not a lack of head knowledge, but rather a problem of the will that came out of a posture of the heart. As a Christian, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me: As Romans 7 makes clear, it is one thing to know the right thing to do; it’s a whole other to have the desire to do it. 

I’ll write another post soon on the practical “how” questions – what I ate, how I developed habits, what apps I used, etc. But those things all required the energy of “why.”

So, why did I lose weight?

1. I am a bodied person who is as fragile as anyone else – I’ve been blessed with terrific health in my life. I say “blessed” because it is true: I haven’t done anything to deserve it (quite the opposite, actually). But that doesn’t mean that I am impenetrable. Part of middle age is realizing that while my death is inevitable, how I live between now and then is (in part) up to how I treat my body. I know that there are some who claim that Christian theology who would deny this – they say that pure faith will heal us of any disease. That’s a dangerous heresy called the “Prosperity Gospel.” It is better to consider Paul’s words about our contribution in preparing ourselves physically and spiritually.  

1 Timothy 4:8 – “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

2. No one else is responsible for my body – This sounds weird coming from someone who is almost 40, but I needed to recognize that no one else is responsible for my physical health. I’m an adult. While people can be helpful in providing encouragement, support, and community, it’s no one else’s fault if I “have to” grab fast food for lunch. It was helpful for me to consider the outside forces that affected my relationship with food and health: my family of origin, my marriage, my responsibilities as a father, my workplace habits, and my American culture. But there’s a difference between being aware of those things and abdicating responsibility to them. 

3. It is an act of love to my family, my church, and my neighbor – My obesity was a small burden for those near to me now and threatened to become a large burden as I got older. Deciding that I would voluntarily limit my energy and mobility while increasing my risks of stroke, diabetes, and so many other illnesses meant that I was saying, essentially, “I don’t want to care for my body now, but I expect you to care for me later.” 

This has only come into sharper relief during COVID. While I’m not hugely fearful about COVID, I am aware of the role that obesity plays in the morbidity rates of COVID, both directly and through diabetes. 

Obligatory fat pants picture

4. This is a season of preparation – A few years ago I was struck by John Maxwell saying, “The wise man uses his younger years to create options for his later years.” What do I want my later years to look like? Am I able to integrate my current self with the potential of a seventy-five year old version of myself?

5. Because obesity is painful – There’s a saying about change: Change only comes when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change. And the problem with excessive weight is that the pains obesity brings are dull (aches, strains, embarrassment, shame, etc) or they are in the future (potential heart disease, future risks of cancer, etc). So my challenge was bringing that pain into the present, pain I have developed a lot of defense mechanisms to avoid. 

6. Christian maturity is measured in part by being self-controlled – There are a lot of virtues that develop as part of growth in the Christian life (in part shown in the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5). One of the fruit of the Spirit virtues is “self-control.” It is the mark of an elder (1 Timothy 3:2). Young men are specifically exhorted to develop self-control (Titus 2:6). 

So, how can I say that I value self-control when I need a whole bag of sour apple gummies? For me, the excuse was how self-controlled I was in other areas. I don’t drink, control my temper and tongue, etc. But self-control is a good to benefit from, not a limit to be restrained by.

Will power seems to be a limited good (according to social science research). But self-control has a spillover effect. The more I develop self-control in one area, the more it helps in other areas. (More on how I used my limited will power to cultivate self-control in the next post).

7. It is an act of love for my spouse – As with most happily married men, I could say, “Why lose weight? Who do I have to impress?” In fact, I did make the mistake of saying that to my wife once. While she was gracious with me, it was clear that she would like for me to want to still impress her. And I want to give her the gift of a husband whose body she finds as attractive as possible. Will I ever look like a 25 year old male model? No, but there are increments of value between that and apathetic obesity.

Coming up next: How I lost 50 pounds this year

Pastoral Letter on Politics and the Upcoming Election

This was written and sent to Grace Seal Beach the week before the 2020 presidential election.

Four years ago, recently confirmed as the next senior pastor at Grace, the presidential election divided the country. Our church wasn’t immune. At least 10 people left the church over the election. Half progressives, half conservatives – it seemed the only thing they had in common was anger at how we weren’t “standing for what was right.” 

Because of that experience, I was less than eager to pastor through another presidential election. And as you know, the situation this year has only become more divisive as a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and an overdue national conversation about race have only escalated the weight of what is said and not said during this season. While I think it is healthy for a pastor to be tentative to offer any political opinions, it is not fair to you to have a pastor who is silent on what Scripture says on any topic. 

I am deeply grateful for how the vast majority of people in this church are thoughtful, measured, and humble with each other. You’ve taught me much about what it means to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. You’ve sought to live at peace with one another and eager to maintain the bonds of Christian fellowship. Thank you. My experience with the vast majority of the church is that you want to bring your faith to bear on your voting in a way that is healthy and encouraging. 

As we’ve been preaching through the Lord’s Prayer during this season, it is worth considering how the Lord’s Prayer can guide our theology during this election season. 

  1. “Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” May God’s holiness be shown in how you vote, advocate, and grieve over the next few weeks. 

In political polling, the only thing that seems to matter is, “Who are you voting for?” But, honestly, I am much more concerned with what your voting (or not voting) says about your heart. Are you voting out of love for God and your neighbor? Or is your voting a demonstration of selfishness and wrath? Is your voting a mark of faith or worldliness? Would you vote any differently if you weren’t a Christian? 

I know that some of you would like me to endorse or condemn President Trump, or endorse or condemn Vice President Biden, but I’m not going to do that. There are a number of reasons for that, but mostly it is because it would not be helpful to you. You must personally wrestle with your conscience in this election. It is not enough to vote for the “right” candidate (if there is one). You must do so with a clear conscience before God on your own. And if you vote differently than I do but do so with peace before God, I don’t want to put a stumbling block in front of you by voicing a different opinion. 

  1. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Remember that your citizenship is in Heaven, and it is that kingdom that lasts, not this one. 

As I mentioned on Sunday, a few years ago Becca and I went to Paris for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. We were there for a little over a week and happened to be there for their presidential election. We were able to connect with one of my childhood friends who moved to Paris after college, married, and was involved with a church there (the American Church in Paris – a beautiful cathedral on the Seine River with English services, if you’re ever there). We attended worship that Sunday with her and her husband (a native Frenchman), then went to lunch together afterward and heard about the election. While our faith was the same, our earthly citizenship was different. Because I wasn’t French, the election that day was a curiosity, something I had little personally invested in. For my friends, though, the results of that day were deeply important. Because I was a citizen of a different nation, the results of that day would not shape my identity, hope, or fate. 

“What a different attitude than when the American election happens,” I thought. When it was France, I could be calm and rational. Could I do the same if it was my country? Or would I show that I was overly concerned about this kingdom instead of the one to come? 

It’s not that presidential elections (French or American) are wholly unimportant. What happens in them can shape a country for a time. And there are probably some Christians who need to care more, not less, about politics. But my experience is that there is probably more need for correction on the other side. We are too invested in the kingdoms of this world. As Christians we always need to remember that we are foreigners in this election. There is no happy ending to kingdoms of this world. But there is for the Kingdom of God. Our primary citizenship is in another King, and it is from Him that we draw our hope and identity. 

  1. “Give us today our daily bread.” Today’s bread is enough.

One of the values of praying for today’s bread is that it focuses us on the present, rather than worrying about the future. Today has enough trouble of its own. It is easy to worry about how this election could impact the future. And while it is wise to consider the long-term impact of any policy, it is unhelpful to worry about things outside our control. Those worries and fears are preyed upon by both sides of the political aisle. We need to remember that even if the worst fear-mongering is true from either side of the aisle, God is in control of providing. 

We do not depend on the government to give us bread, but God. While the government can do either good or harm for its people, it is not the ultimate source of anything on its own. 

  1. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” We must never forget that we are forgiven people. 

As Christians, we are not people who have received what we deserved. Quite the opposite. We have received what Christ deserved but freely shared and gave us. 

Christians can disagree on how grace should shape political policy, which is understandable. But it cannot be forgotten. We cannot become self-righteous or mean-spirited people who forget the joy and humility of our salvation. 

  1. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The election brings temptations; God’s Spirit can sustain us through them as we resist temptation and deliver us from evil. 

We are naive if we think that elections are not temptations. They can tempt us in different ways: some are tempted to grab power in unjust ways; some to speak unlovingly to others; some to despair; some to divisive speech; and probably a dozen other ways. But we are all going to experience temptations tied to the next three weeks. Pray for yourself, pray for one another, and please pray for me. We all need God’s sustaining strength through this time. And be gracious with those who are walking through different temptations than you are right now.

I will be praying for you in the next few weeks. It is a hard season for your heart, but it is also a time that God can use to grow you in your longing for Him. Whatever happens on November 3rd, I pray that you will love Christ more on November 4th than you do now. 

In Christ,

Pastor Bob

PS. I’ve put together a list of resources for those who want to reflect more on how their faith intersects with the political realities of the day. While there is no shortage of those purporting to offer Christian voter guides, think pieces, and take-down articles, these are the ones that I’ve found most helpful, personally. 

Recommended Resources: 

  • Books on political theology and political theory 

Jonathan Leeman – How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (if you’d like a shorter version of Leeman’s writing, here’s an article he wrote recently on the ethics of voting and here’s an offer for a free audiobook, “How Can I Love Church Members with Different Politics”)

David Koyzis – Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies

  • “How could Christians support the other side?” If you’re an ardent Republican or Democrat, it might seem impossible to you that Christians could see it differently. If that’s you, I’d encourage you to read what other Christians have written, if for no other reason than to better understand and love your brothers and sisters: 

More conservative – Decision Magazine

More progressive – The AND Campaign