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.
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.
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.
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