I know what it’s like to step out of the shower, catch a glimpse of yourself in the bathroom mirror and feel absolutely devastated.
On January 10 2015, I was standing in my hotel room in Los Angeles, staring at my reflection in disbelief.
Weird as it sounds, that was the first time I truly realized the impact that my 12 month eat-all-you-can odyssey was having on my body.
And, let me tell you, it was one hell of a wake-up call.
One Year Earlier…
To be honest, I’ve never really been into New Year’s resolutions, but January 1st 2014 was different.
That was the day I decided to see how heavy I would get by eating unlimited quantities of all the foods I liked for a full 12 months.
Now when I started out, I was a lean 187 lbs and the idea of outgrowing all my clothes did seem kind of absurd.
But I figured that I’d get to experience something different and learn something valuable in the process – after all, you can’t effectively coach something you haven’t gone through yourself, right?
So, January 1st 2014 was the first of 382 consecutive days of epic, no-holds-barred eating.
And while I didn’t have any ground rules, there were a few things I should be clear about.
• I kept the same basic regimen of weight training 2x/week for an hour each time
• I did pretty much zero cardio or any other activity to consciously burn calories
• I didn’t drink that much alcohol – not because it’s “bad” (it isn’t), it’s just not something I’m particularly into
• I didn’t consume things like cookies, cake, candy or ice-cream – not because I’d made them off-limits, they’re just not foods I’m in the habit of eating
I actually remember being at an ice-cream parlor with a buddy about 6 months in, and he asked me “how can you not eat ice-cream?”
I said something about needing a big sandwich (if only I’d known about the Fool’s Gold Loaf back then – the Elvis Presley favorite packed with a jar of peanut butter, a jar of grape jelly and a pound of bacon)!
Sure, I had the occasional Oreo (I mean, who doesn’t like Oreos?) but that didn’t happen so often – I guess I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.
But I shoveled in titanic amounts of the things I wanted to consume:
Stuff like pasta, white rice, bread, potatoes, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, sushi, fruits, vegetables, and potato chips.
I also drank Coca-Cola for the first time in maybe 20 years.
And I went at it like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, sometimes eating until I felt physically ill.
But even among that year of excess, one meal stood out.
I had a massive bowl of the Japanese dish, niku-jaga (basically that’s beef and potatoes) with a pasta bowl filled with a mountain of white rice, and an entire loaf of bread.
All washed down with a couple of cans of ice-cold Sapporo Classic.
It was just crazy.
Seven months in, it was time for the comprehensive annual health check that the Japanese government provides FOC to all residents over 40.
I didn’t show up, choosing instead to bury my head in the sand about my inevitable drift towards high blood pressure and pre-diabetes.
I was also careful to wear a rash vest when I took my kids swimming that summer – the sense of embarrassment ran that deep.
And this insanity went on for an entire year!
So, how did I feel?
Well to be completely honest with you, bloated and sick most of the time.
My stomach was begging me to stop but I kept on my relentless eating – after all, you’ve got to stick to your New Year’s resolutions, right?
And the upshot was I kept piling on weight at the rate of around 1 lb per week, maybe a little more at the beginning.
But here’s something that I understood intellectually but never really appreciated until I experienced it firsthand.
You know how the law of diminishing returns applies to pretty much everything, whether we’re talking about getting stronger, playing the guitar, or increasing your car’s top speed?
The more progress you make, the harder it is to make further progress.
Well, that applies to putting on weight, too.
Sometime in November 2014 I topped out at 245 lbs, and my weight just wouldn’t increase beyond that – it felt like a car engine hitting the rev limiter.
I actually got a nasty stomach bug for a few days that month and lost around 8 lbs in under two weeks.
But I stuck with it and ate noodles as if my life depended on it and, sure enough, my weight slowly crept back up to 245.
And that was the highest weight I ever saw – it really was the end of the line, I’d run into a brick wall.
To go any higher would’ve required shoveling in foods that I didn’t really want to consume, things like ice-cream, cakes, cookies, and candy.
But, according to the charts, I was now officially obese – a bodyweight of 245 lbs at 6’1″ gave me a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 31.1.
That’s where the arrow is pointing in the graphic below.
Now the reality is I didn’t look too bad in clothes – I was one of those “big guys” that some folks seem to think are “all muscle”.
But the guy in the bathroom mirror told a very different story.
Who the hell was this?
Muffin top? Check
To be honest, by Christmas and New Year’s Eve I was actually looking forward to having an empty stomach and experiencing hunger again.
I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
Hardly surprising, since I’d been lugging around extra weight equivalent to a large suitcase every day for months on end.
So a few days into 2015, standing in front of that bathroom mirror in my Los Angeles hotel room, I decided that enough was enough.
How did I feel? A weird combination of sadness, relief and gratitude.
I was sad that I’d eaten myself into obesity and ill-health, relieved that it was now over, and grateful for being able to have the experience and learn something valuable from it.
1. Putting on a massive amount of weight takes real effort if you don’t consume a lot of heavily processed foods
2. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re in better shape than we really are, especially if we don’t spend a little time naked in front of a mirror
3. Being bloated and full becomes “normal” very quickly, and the absence of those feelings easily gets interpreted as hunger
4. Only a handful of people ever asked me “why are you getting so fat?”, everybody else either didn’t notice (how???) or was too polite to mention it
5. We’re shaped by our habits – more often than not, I was working on autopilot, eating things without consciously deciding that I wanted to consume them
It was a real eye-opener in so many ways.
OK, that’s what a year of unlimited eating did to me, but what happened after that?
Well, after LA I headed back to Japan and on January 16 2015, I made the first small step to losing all the weight I’d packed on over the previous year.
Many such small steps over the next 27 weeks got me into the best shape of my life.
Here’s a photo taken in the bathroom mirror the night before my 45th birthday, some 3 months after losing the weight (and, just as importantly, keeping it off).
The amazing thing is that I managed to lose more weight than I’d gained, and it only took half the time!
So, how did I lose it?
Well, there were three key parts to that and I’ll cover them in the very next article.
(Click here to read)
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