One Year Later, Thirty Pounds Lighter

Just writing the title of this blog is unbelievable.

I lost 30lbs in one year’s time. If I didn’t write this down, maybe I would deny this ever happened. The denial comes from having gained the extra weight in the first place. It’s not so much of a gloating statement, rather, a lesson to remember, namely, change is possible.

The “why” is worth mentioning as motivation is always key to changes. September 2012, I came back from visiting Ukraine. At some levels, seeing all the beautiful women there might have some unconscious effect on me. I was only human, vanity was part of being human. But that alone would not have supported me all the way. I didn’t believe in appearance was everything.

But seeing the photos from the visit certainly helped me to see reality. I definitely gained weight over the years!

Image Image

Additionally, around the same time, I learned of my dad’s health struggles. It was not easy accepting someone who has always seen so strong and important to me was sick. It was like reality, double take. I needed to take care of my health. Finally, I was staring down at turning the big 3-0 birthday in December. I wanted change. I wanted to prove that I still could change, even in the face of the landmark birthday.

How did I do it?

I knew I needed help. I was once someone who said I would not mind “death by food”. Vlad and I worked out at the local YMCA. Until that point, YMCA felt like a monthly donation to a local club. I barely showed up. Of the few occasions I was there, I saw a flyer “YMCA Weight Loss Program”. It was as if the higher power heard me. I was interested but still had reservation. Mentally, I was resisting to the idea “I need to lose weight” or becoming one of those “dieting” people.

Finally, I decided to call and just “inquired” about it. The cost of the program was reasonable at $100 for eight weeks. I did not remember much of the conversation except the front desk lady said, “I did the same program and lost eight pounds. It was a lifestyle change” I heard the keyword “change”. Okay, sold.

The structure of the program was actually effective. We met once a week and always began with “weigh-in”. Yes, the “weigh-in” was the painful part where I faced reality weekly. Wait, scratch that – that most painful part for the first 2 weeks was keeping a food journal! Oh, that was the most single effective way to become aware of how much junk I was eating! Or simply, how much food I was ingesting!

The top physical killer was actually the exercise log next to each day’s food journal. I finally put the Y’s membership to good use! I wanted to change, so I better be true to my words. I started with group classes, thinking that would keep me moving. Some of the classes, Zumba and UJam dancing, were fun. The problem was the “out of breathe” routine was common. The muscle soreness was like that ugly shadow that followed me around for 4 weeks. I did not realize how out of shape I was!

Slowly, the number on the scale started going down. Slowly, I started to become aware of that “bag of potatoes chips” was costing me in terms “out of breathe” and “soreness” hours. Quickly, I ditched all the junk. The reasoning was simple “if I had to work that hard to get rid of it, why put it in at all?” I also learned that 80% of the weight loss effort was what I ingested, 20% was about exercising. If I did not learn about how to eat better, I could kill myself on the gym floor and the scale would not change much.

Few of the biggest changes I made regarding eating habits were

1) I switched from eating white rice to a mix of white and brown rice. This was a funny incident. On the food log, the instructor wrote “brown rice” next to my “white rice” entry for 2 weeks straight with a red pen. Being a stubborn Asian who grew up with white rice, this was like an offense on my pride! Finally, I said, okay, this whole journey was about change. I would give it a try. Pretty soon, I realized that mixed grain rice definitely helped to sustain the fullness much better.

2) I learned that protein did not mean lots of meat. I grew up seeing 16oz steak as a roadway to happiness. When I learned that the right portion of steak (or any meat) was actually the size of a deck of cards, I kid you not, I was thoroughly shocked. A deck of cards? Are we talking about the same deck of cards here? Maybe there was a “supersize me” deck of cards? In line with being willing to change, I said, okay, here goes, deck of cards. In the beginning, seeing an “hole” on the plate was visually displeasing and emotionally disturbing. So, I stuffed it with lots of greens. Pretty soon, when I saw the change on the scale, I let go of my 16oz steak. Truthfully speaking, I also felt more energized with this change.

3) I also learned the art of “80% full”. Coming from the “death by food” mentality, this was an interesting one. I would not lie, portion control was the hardest practice. If it was not for the weekly weigh in, I would not be able to continue and finally learned that most of the time, we all ate too much too fast. This one required the most discipline of all, even more than exercising. I was trained as an athlete in high school so muscle soreness was annoying but I also saw it as badge of honor. But seeing food and not fully consuming it was like waving the red flag in front of a bull and tell it not to move. The true test was Thanksgiving last year – when my brother and his girlfriend cooked a fabulous Thanksgiving feast. I actually stuck to the portion I knew was right, even enjoying the pie and wine. I finally learned the art of “enjoying everything in moderation”

Image Image

There were many other challenges but I stuck it out. Honestly, I even surprised myself. My initial goal was just ten pounds, something modest and possible. I reached that goal right at the end of the first 8-weeks session. I immediately signed up for the second 8-weeks session because I knew I had to learn more about lifestyle change and maintenance. By then, I was just curious how far I could go. How much change could I bring? At that point, it was not about the number on the scale anymore. I continued to practice what I learned and I began to shop for new clothes! That was a huge moment for me – when my pants were becoming loose and the shirts were “hanging” on me. Needless to say, that was a fun motivator for me.

Image(taken at my 30th birthday, right near end of first 8-weeks session)

At the end of the second 8-weeks session, I dropped another 9 lbs, continuing the same practice of lifestyle: eat healthy and exercise regularly. Because of the 19 lbs drop, I found this new confidence in myself. I did not sign up for another session because I wanted to be independent and see if I could continue down the healthy path on my own. Instead, I took on another challenge – running.

If eating healthy was my number one nemesis, running would rank top five. I had mentioned that I was an athlete in high school, let me clarify that. I was good with balls – volleyball, soccer, and basketball. Give me a ball, I could run with it. Running by itself however was like the most boring sports, second to chess for me. I used to think “run for what?”

But I picked running as my program to keep me on the healthy path knowing it was another challenge. I needed another foundation to keep me grounded. Also, I knew that running was the easiest thing – put on the shoes and go. In California, there was not much “weather-related” excuse to not run. Additionally, it was a solo sport. I had to come up with all the motivation myself, just like losing weight. I was doing it for myself.

Image(Hiking Redwoods SP, Taken April 2013)

My first run was in the last week of March this year. Fast forward to today, I completed two 5K’s in September, one 5-miles in October, and I plan to complete a half-marathon next Spring. Running had helped me to continue trim sizes, although losing weight was no longer my “prime directive”.

ImageI did not think I could change this much in a year. But I did. Tony Robins said “most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade” I’d like to add, with determination and willingness to change, a year can accomplish quite a bit, just imagine with the same mindset and attitude, how much we can achieve in a decade?

Image(Taken last weekend at Santa Cruz, CA)

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