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295 on the left, 240 on the right

What I’ve Learned After One Year of Sustained Weight Loss

It’s been a year since I created @notfatevan and I wanted to share a progress report about what has worked for me and what hasn’t. A lot has changed in the world since I started this lifestyle course correction, and the things that have improved my physical state have also helped improve my mental state. I’ve learned to listen to my body about what I need to be eating and what I need to be avoiding. I’m not exactly where I wanted to be, but I’ve made huge progress externally and internally, physically and mentally.

Fasting is a popular term for just purposefully not eating to get your body to burn the fat it has stored already. It’s effective, but hard to do consistently. And it’s not going to work all by itself. Hunger is REAL and in my industry it’s all too easy to say yes to a bagel, a breakfast taco, or a sugary latte. The best way to fast for me is to just be too busy to eat. If I know I have a really busy day coming up with a lot of work concentrated in one space and no breaks, its really easy to not eat and keep your mind occupied. Another way to easily sneak in a fast for me is to skip either breakfast or dinner. If I wake up early to open the food truck at 5am, it’s not that difficult to busy myself until around 11am and all of a sudden it’s lunchtime and I haven’t consumed anything but water and black coffee. If I skip dinner I usually just head to bed early right after the baby does at 8pm. If I have to wake up early the next day that’s just another good reason to not eat dinner late and just skip it and go to bed.

The best thing about this entire weight loss project has been realizing that I like exercising. I don’t really like “working out” as it is in my mind, just alone busting out sets. But I like working up a sweat, the rush of endorphins, and the way I feel after going for a long bike ride outside, walking eighteen holes of golf, or trying new work out studios. Before the pandemic I had just gotten really into ClassPass and through that I started doing yoga, running, and rowing. I also began to cultivate relationships around working out and being healthy which I see as a mental insurance policy. I wouldn’t want to “let someone down” by not showing up to a class or a workout and therefore placed the accountability on me to make it for someone else. Exercise is as much about building up your mind as it is building up your body. Going through the pain of fire in your legs and heaving in your chest, pushing yourself a little farther each time reflects in what you can take mentally before breaking down.

I try to keep my mind occupied when working out. When I run outside I’m focused on my surroundings and the street, people, cars. When I run on a track I’m only focused on my time, legs, and breath. My wife bought an exercise bike, and it’s good for a twenty minute session if I can watch something on TV while doing it but I like getting out on the street or the trail and riding over terrain. Golf has been the most fun and the one I’ve done more than any other and it takes the most mental work and focus of any of them. I love finding new courses, new terrains. I’m terrible but the more shots I take, the more “exercise” I get out of it.

Eating well is the only real way to lose weight. It sounds really easy and it seems really easy but as anyone who has struggled with this problem at any point in their lives can tell you it’s just not that simple. I used to tell myself that my job and the things in my life kept me from eating well but the truth is I just hadn’t prioritized it. As soon as I did, the pounds came off and I had to get new clothes. I was shopping for myself and making vegetable-filled meals for the whole family. I was completely off booze and because of that my skin was the clearest it’s ever been and I almost completely stopped farting. My wife was thrilled. If I was going to eat shitty food I simply ate less of it. I listened to my body very carefully, ordered less at restaurants, and used my restaurant experience to estimate the weight and amount of food I was consuming and would cut myself off at around twelve to sixteen ounces per meal.

I lost sixty pounds in six months and went from a high of 295 down to a low of 238. But then Covid hit.

I remember taking an Irish car bomb on St. Patrick’s day with the other food truck guys. South by Southwest had been cancelled. California declared Shelter in Place. Most of the business’ quarterly revenue had just evaporated. And as the whisky glass fell into the Guiness I thought, “Well, I guess I’m drinking again.” The fear, anxiety, sadness, frustration, anger, depression, and tension over the next few months all manifested in the form of tacos, burgers, fries, ice cream, and plenty of booze, all of it conveniently wrapped in an excuse of supporting restaurants and breweries or Zoom happy hours.

I put back on between ten to fifteen pounds and have stayed steady around 250–245 since the pandemic fucked shit up. But, just like all the excuses before with work, family, and fun, coronavirus was a distraction and I used it to justify making bad decisions. I continued to work out and that’s probably what kept me from falling completely off the wagon.

The biggest thing that I noticed is that compounding is my best friend and worst enemy. The more good or bad eating and health related decisions I make the easier it is to go down whichever road. If I fast in the morning, eat a healthy lunch, exercise, and have a small dinner, I can lose three to five pounds in a day. However, if I have a taco for breakfast I have mentally already quit for the day and it’s much easier to have some wings for lunch and eat some cheesecake under the guise of taste testing on the truck. I then might be too tired and sluggish to work out and end up just picking up dinner from somewhere instead of cooking something healthy.

This global crisis has brought every single person in the world stresses that they did not have before. Whether you’re saddened by the unnecessary loss of life and mishandling by our national government or selfishly upset at the fact you have to wear a mask in the grocery store, everybody is on edge. It’s amplifying our worst tendencies and spreading the already present cracks in our society. And thousands of people are sitting inside, afraid of leaving their house, ordering take out and making the same bad food decisions I have.

Obesity more than doubles your fatality chances if you catch Covid. It’s motivation enough to get healthy to just boost your immune system and protect yourself from the virus. But the real perk is mental. If I’m unhealthy, I’m already mad at myself as soon as I wake ups and it’s that much easier to take it out on someone else in the form of a hateful social media post or just being short with a rude customer. If I’m feeling good about myself it’s that much easier to deal with all the bullshit the world has been slinging at us lately. If we’re happier with ourselves we’re happier with the world. And I’m happiest when I’m healthiest.

@notfatevan is one year old but it’s just the beginning. Fifty pounds down in one year and keeping it off is an accomplishment and I have kept telling myself that, but I’m nowhere near done. I want to be healthy and fit. I want to be in good physical shape and with that I’ll be in the best mental shape of my life too. And maybe by then we’ll have a new president and the virus under control.

I’m hitting the reset button. Just like last year on September 1st, I’ll be going #nobooze, eating thoughtfully, and maybe even going back to a work-out studio, with a mask on of course. I’m getting back on the wagon, fully and ready to take on rest of the season and a new calendar year with a renewed motivation. The best way for me to take on this virus and this world, for me to be a good boss, husband, partner, and dad is by being as healthy as I possibly can be.

Chef/Pitmaster from Austin, Texas

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