Without giving up cookies or tacos.
Look at that mess on the left. That was me! I remember the day I took that picture. I was staying in the Royal Sonesta in New Orleans, lifting in the complimentary health club, and I walked onto the scale. 202. I’d never topped two bills before. I was sad.
In the months that followed, I hovered near that mark before topping out at 212. This was while I was training for a my first ever marathon — which I somehow finished despite being much heavier than I should be. I also developed a crazy case of Silent Reflux, which caused me to lose my voice every other day. I allowed myself the opportunity to eat massive amounts of comfort food, while nodding off on my couch in between Pac-12 football and Premier League soccer. Oops.
I’ll share my secret with you about how I dropped all that weight, but first, let me walk you through a day of a man who meanders his way up the scale to 212 (at 5’7″).
- Wake up, hungover, 45 minutes before work, run out the door
- Grab a pre-made breakfast taco and a protein bar from the cafeteria in my office
- Sit for four hours
- Eat a burger for lunch
- Sit for four more hours
- Scarf down some Chinese takeout lo mein for dinner
- Guzzle all the free beers and whiskey shots bought for me by bar patrons while I play their favorite terrible Sublime covers until 2 a.m.
- Spin. Rinse. Repeat.
It was a fun life, and I was happy — but definitely not at peace. And when you’re restless, you’re creating emotional debt that can’t be repaid. I carried a lot of that debt around my body. My winter coat. My spare tire. I was too fat to wear a size medium, and too short (and slim-shouldered) to wear a size large. But why would I abuse my body the way that I have?
Behold: The power negative self-talk. I’m an Olympic medalist in the sport of self-loathing. I spend a sizable chunk of my free time sitting alone thinking my world is going to end, thinking that I don’t deserve to succeed, that I am not worthy of good, true, beautiful things. It leads me down dark paths where good, true, beautiful things fleetingly find their way to me before I fritter them away. And so as I ballooned, I called myself a “fat fuck” a lot, and began to believe my own bullshit. I’m not really nice to myself.
Every year on my birthday, I used to come up with a set of goals, one for each year that I turn. I generally complete about half of them, but the point is to use it as a guideline for my behavior for the coming year. Last year was the first year I didn’t do this — and I ended up doing more than I ever have. Why? True progress doesn’t come from striving toward results … it comes from improvements in process. With that in mind, here are my six suggestions for losing a substantial chunk of weight in a fairly short amount of time. I’m not a medical professional or a fitness coach, but I am someone who takes detailed notes. This is what worked for me. Maybe they’ll work for you.
1. Stop trying to lose weight.
LIFEHACK: If you really, truly want to lose weight, stop trying to lose weight. Instead, focus on trying to lock in on what I call “pitching a perfect game.”
What do I mean by “perfect game?” In baseball, it means nine innings of pitching without allowing a hit or a walk. In real life, I mean from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you spend your day exactly how you want to — in the healthiest, happiest, most meaningful way possible. Every day, you get about 16 hours to optimize to your advantage. Critically think about how you’d like to best utilize them.
Let’s talk about Clayton Kershaw, who is widely regarded as the greatest pitcher of this generation. He does not take the mound every fifth day trying to get closer to throwing a 300-strikeout season or winning a Cy Young. He heads to the hill trying to go 27-up, 27-down, against the nine guys who will step into the batter’s box against him that day. Like Clayton Kershaw, you’ll very rarely pitch a perfect game (I keep track, I pitched one on July 25) but if you string together enough quality starts in a row, you may actually find yourself holding an MVP trophy at the end of the season.
IDEA: Do this for me. Before you even read the rest of this. Seriously.
Grab a spiral notebook, a really nice pen, and spend five minutes jotting down everything you think would make up a “perfect day.” Don’t stop moving your pen. What does it look like? What are you doing? Who are you with? What do you eat? Where do you go? How do you feel? At the end of five minutes … stop and see what you’ve written. Then, see where the gaps are between how you usually spend your day vs how you want to.
It’s a fun exercise. It’s a way to aligning what you do to your truest, fullest, best self — which is really the whole point of trying to become healthier anyway.
I’m going to assume since you’re still reading that you did the above italicized task, and I am also going to guess that you didn’t include “pound a bag of Tostitos” or “binge-watch Bar Rescue.” Those could still be good days … but I bet they didn’t make the “perfect day” cut. So, instead of trying to lose weight, focus on recreating the day you imagined.
Here’s what I wanted, when I asked myself what constituted “perfect:”
- I knew I wanted to be outside
- I wanted to be running and/or biking
- I wanted to eat a lot of fruit and shellfish
- I wanted to laugh a lot with good friends
I had other activities (writing, playing music) listed, but those were the “healthy” ones. If healthy activities or healthy food choices aren’t in your “perfect day” yet, then ask yourself why not?
Once you’ve done that, you are ready to hear the (slightly) less abstract game plan for going 27-up, 27-down and finding your winning form.
2. Quit drinking.
Oh my god. I know, right? **Flips Table** Eff this I’m out.
So, alcohol sabotages fitness in a number of ways:
- When you drink, because alcohol is a poison (whereas, fat or sugar is not), your body works to metabolize it first, which slows down the metabolism of everything else your body ingests. What you eat sticks around longer.
- Your body’s resting metabolic rate allows you to burn off some 1,800-ish calories per day. A glass of beer or wine is about 150 calories. Let’s say you ingest three glasses. Or five. Or eight. (Like I did!) You can do math.
- The more you drink, the more likely you are to splurge on fried, processed, carb-heavy, sugar-heavy, fatty, greasy foods. There’s science to back this up.
- It’s pretty tough to exercise once you’ve already drank. I don’t know a lot of binge-drinkers who feel a sudden urge to hit the gym after downing a metric hellaton of gin.
In the months I’ve been losing weight, based on my past drinking habits, I’ve successfully avoided over 125,000 calories. Do with that information what you will.
3. Eat the right foods. Feel free to eat lots of them.
I don’t count calories. I don’t count carbs. I don’t do portion control. I don’t say “no.” Here’s what I eat every day:
- One pound of (choose one):
- Grass-feed beef
- Wild-caught fish
This is all the protein I need in one day. I can prepare it however I want. This is a slam-dunk, high-ROI play. It’s something your body needs and it’s a really efficient way to get it.
2. A little bit of, either:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
This is all the fat I need in one day. I can use it to prepare my meat (not a euphemism) or top a salad with it. This is a really, really efficient way to get all the healthy fats.
3. Fruits and vegetables:
Let me let you in on a little secret: I eat all the time. In fact, I’m eating right now … and I’m okay with this. Here’s why:
Want to know what 500 calories of cucumber looks like?
Dead serious. Think you can eat all that?
Okay, okay. How about tomato?
Chow down. What about blueberries?
Now, some of you are thinking, “Listen, knucklehead, berries are fruit. And fruit’s got sugar in it. You’re going to blow up like balloon and maybe get diabetes and/or dysentery.” And you’d raise a valid point — if I were juicing the berries. The fiber in the fruit’s skin actually curbs the blood sugar spike. So eat up. I do a lot of peaches, pears, oranges, apples, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon and banana.
4. Everything else, sometimes:
- Avocado (for fat and also because tacos)
- Eggs (for fat, protein and because breakfast tacos)
- Hemp seeds / flax seeds (to top salads and meats and things)
- Almonds / pistachios (for snacks)
- Sheep’s cheese (for calcium and because it’s healthier than cow’s milk)
- Organic wildflower honey (because I am essentially Winnie the Pooh)
- Dark (70%+) chocolate (after dinner)
“John, I do believe this is a Mediterranean diet without bread or pasta.”
You are correct. That’s exactly what this is. And you can, again, over-index on it.
4. What you drink matters.
A lot of you are drinking your calories and don’t even know it. I know I was: between juice, soda, milk, coconut water, iced tea, lattes, lemonade, Gatorade and Red Bull, I was beverage loco.
This is what I drink now:
- Mineral Water
- Black Coffee
- Herbal Tea
I can’t overstate this enough: If you really want to lose weight, stop drinking your calories. This is the highest ROI play you can make when it comes to shedding excess pounds.
5. Cheat all the goddamned time.
What you saw above is what I call my “baseline” diet. It’s what I eat when I’m alone. I call it my “baseline” diet because in much the same way you save money so that someday you can spend it on things you want, you eat decent food so when someone says “Brah, let’s go out and get a pizza,” you can be all, “Fuck yeah! I love pizza!” Everyone loves pizza. It’s delicious.
Say, “fuck yeah! I love pizza!” a lot. It builds camaraderie because you can share a pizza anytime and then you won’t be lonely.
A lot of literature has been wasted on “How to make healthy decisions when going out to eat.” STFU. That’s the opposite of the point. 80% of your meals are not nights out on the town. Button those up. Cook a lot of healthy meals and then it is your civic duty to mow down a plate of wings.
I also make sure to eat these occasionally:
Because life without chocolate chip cookies is stupid. Give it to me, cookie monster.
And, also, every Saturday and/or Sunday morning, after a long run or bike ride, I go to TacoDeli and grub until I can’t feel my face. Because tacos. Speaking of running …
6. Exercising to lose weight is stupid. Exercise anyway. Because it’s fun and builds friendship.
Someone once told me, “Weight is lost in the kitchen, health is gained in the gym.” I like that quote. And it’s true! The cumulative health effects — and instant mental improvements in mood, clarity and focus — of exercise are unmatched. But you have to run a whole mile just to burn 100 calories! (I enjoy running, because I am a masochist, but I understand it’s not for everyone.)
And all those crunches you’re doing to blast your abs? LOLLLLLL. Who wants to spend 15 minutes doing that? Save that shit for the fitness models on Instagram.
The number one reason people don’t succeed in their fitness goals is because they get bored. We all have Exercise ADHD. How do you fight boredom? Switching it up, early and often. Here’s what I do:
- Rock climbing
- Half marathons
- Bike races
- Orange Theory
- Pick-up soccer
- Getting lost in the forest
- Ultimate frisbee
- Draining free throws
- Asking women out on tennis dates (Serena Williams, call me!)
If your goal is simply better overall fitness, and you’re not an elite athlete, then mixing it up, challenging yourself and working up a sweat to put a smile on your face will be a blessing for you. I have a friend who is currently learning how to do shit like this. That’s insane, and also amazing.
Putting it all together.
So there you have it. That’s how to go from 212 pounds to 168 pounds in about four months. I was a 38 waist and now I am a 34. I’ve thrown out 80% of my clothes because they no longer fit. I haven’t been this slim since my college graduation, and I had a lot of help back then from cocaine, cigarettes and Adderall.
Let’s cue up that before and after again:
I don’t post pictures of myself all that often, so friends immediately noticed. (It also helps to have a better camera and some solid VSCO filters.) A couple friends asked me how I did it. So, there‘s my blueprint.
A quick recap for the TL;DR crowd:
- Instead of setting long-term goals, focus on daily excellence.
- Drink (a lot) less (or not at all).
- Eat a shit-ton of plants.
- Stop drinking calories.
- Have some pizza or a cookie every now and again.
- Exercise for health and for fun. Not to lose weight.
I’m sure you’re asking, “well, John, how’s that self-loathing going? Has your inner dialogue changed? You must be new here.
I don’t have a clear answer for you. I know I feel better about the way I look, and I know I feel healthier, and I know I have a greater amount of mental clarity. These improvements are noticeable and statistically significant, though a bit hard to measure.
I still spend a sizable chunk of my free time sitting alone thinking my world is going to end, thinking that I don’t deserve to succeed, that I am not worthy of good, true, beautiful things. I don’t really know how, or when, that goes away. That’s what therapy, meditation, yoga, hypnosis and Xanax (for panic attacks!) are for. But I do know this:
If I can take the mound every day, try to toss a perfect game, and settle for a 14-strikeout three-hitter?
That’s a lot of winning — so I can’t imagine that inner dialogue getting any louder than it already was. 44 down. We’ll see where this season ends.