I want to share my getting healthy story, in the hopes it might help you out. I often get asked about my “secret” or what shakes and stuff I used, or what workouts I did. What weight loss diet did I use? Atkins? Primal? Keto? Did I join a gym and do some weight loss workout? How did I lose weight? Here are all the answers.
I have a video on Personal Retreat where I’m explaining the book, that I did in 2015. You might notice that I look a bit different than I do in my main website www.wadestewart.com. In 2015 after the book was finished, I started a journey to getting healthy.
Before I continue, I want to explain you are reading the details of my exercise and weight loss success. These are ideas and concepts I think might work for everyone, but I insist I am not an expert in anything but how my own body works. Our bodies share many similarities, but we have broad differences too. Regardless of if you read my plan, or some other dietary plan, you should approach them cautiously and avoid endangering your health. Always consult with a physician!
I started out, as many of us do, getting out and walking some more. Just trying to be more active. Drink more water, that sort of thing. I was encouraged by early progress. Dropped quite a few pounds and then things plateaued. Changed it up, introduced some different types of exercise, cut out some types of foods, then made some more progress.
2017 or so I really hit a hard to break plateau, so I tried some intermittent fasting. Things started to move much faster. In fact, it was about that time I managed to hit my stride. The normal speed bumps – holidays – would create some setbacks but mostly I kept up well.
January through March 2020 was another holiday recovery that went a bit more slowly. Stress at work, and the creeping pandemic were very distracting. My lowest point by this time was after 75 pounds of loss, with the last 30 or so moving at a good clip.
In April 2020 I had the double whammy. My CPAP (air assistance for breathing while sleeping) failed. We were in full shutdown and getting a replacement was painfully difficult. While I waited, I tried seeing if I could just go without. Sleep failed, stress mounted, and the pounds came back.
The CPAP was replaced but my motivation took a lot longer to recover. Uncertainty, fear, and the old comfort of food as a crutch gave me what I called the COVID 30. That summer I started to get back on track. My routine restored, but the results were even slower.
After the new year, I recommitted to doing the research and talking to everyone who knew something about weight loss and fitness to develop a plan. Once that was established, and the results were once again coming in earnest, I knew I was truly back on track.
Today is still a journey to get healthy, but it’s a journey I know I will remain on so long as I’m alive. Good health isn’t a goal, it’s really more of a lifestyle and I had to embrace that.
Time to jump into the details – I do not have a specific plan for you to follow since we all start out at different places. I’ve learned over and over that your starting place is your own. You’ll have to take pieces of this to truly develop your plan and know where to adjust.
A universal truth with weight loss is that muscle burns calories. We see this truth very plainly; our bodily functions need fuel to burn. That fuel comes from the food we eat, and the energy we have stored in fat.
You certainly can diet exclusively and lose weight for a while. I can’t argue that. Alternatively, you can exercise alone and maybe lose weight, but for reasons I’ll explain, only for a while.
Taking this to the next logical step we recognize that more muscle burns more calories. This is a point that I accepted but I had problems with. I did workouts in school to build muscle – like lots of muscle – noticeable bulk. I don’t believe that’s necessary to imagine for your purpose of building muscle. I believe that it is necessary to continue to improve your muscles. Become stronger. If bulk happens, so be it. My goal was to become stronger in measurable ways to see my progress. Seeing progress is important!
I didn’t bulk up, but when the fat came off, there was a little muscle definition and that was a nice feeling. It was subtle and mostly only noticeable to me. Certainly encouraging!
Another benefit to exercise is healthier body function. Without an appropriate amount of exercise, you can endanger your health with fat which accumulates on your organs. This fat prevents them from operating properly and can cause serious health complications. This invisible fat is dangerous and should be monitored through blood and other testing by a physician. It is relatively easy to work off – as I understand it, and it was one of the first positive results I got from the doctor!
I started very simply with a fitness tracker of some kind and doing walking. Most smartphones today can count steps and update apps that will show you your progress. Again, throughout this plan demonstrating progress is important. The scale DOES NOT tell you the whole story. In fact, the scale can lie horribly. It is demoralizing, that little thing, and the more points of measurement you have, the more areas you can point to which show your success.
Once the walking was getting to a consistent 8-10,000 steps a day, I felt like it was ready to proceed further. My legs were getting stronger and used to moving. It was at this point I invested in better shoes so that I could avoid any injuries.
I did learn at one point that some old shoes I’d been walking in was leading to some knee discomfort. Once I made the correction and allowed enough time to heal, I improved and walked pain free.
I Did What?
The next improvement I chose was to take up running. Many people hate running and I honestly hated it too. I was a decent runner in school and in the Army. I had no problem meeting or exceeding the standards for fitness when it came to running. However, by this time those day were over 25 years behind me. Banged up knees and hips made me quite apprehensive about starting.
First, I got a trip to the doctor to make sure I should be ok to run as a regular form of exercise. I asked about the types of injuries to avoid, and any kind of warning signs that I should stop. With that out of the way I was ready!
One bright, sunny Monday morning I went out, started walking a couple blocks to warm up and started my run.
100 feet later I started walking – panting, out of breath, and felt like I was gonna die. Yes, I have a sedentary lifestyle, but I was not prepared at all for my run to be less than a minute long. No injuries so I had a plan.
After a day off I went out again, and ran until I couldn’t, and started walking. Ran until I couldn’t and walked again. I set out for 15 minutes of this alternation. This would become the 15-minute run I still do today. Every day I tried a little harder. I’d run the same course, so I knew where I started walking again.
I noticed that sometimes I’d anticipate where I’d need to walk. This is a theme in weight loss and exercise. Your body and mind get used to things. It plays tricks on you to get you to stop when you might be able to go just a little further. One step farther won’t make a difference, so just do it.
I had to make some changes to counter this mind-body revolt. I got a timer that I could commit to 1 minute of running, then 2 of walking. After a week of that, I went 2-2. Then 3-2, then 3-1, etc. In a few months I could then run the full 15 minutes.
You CAN run all your weight off, but I wanted to diversify a bit more. The leg muscles are very large and that means when they get stronger, they burn a lot more calories for their size. However, there are other large muscle groups to get that benefit from. I also learned that my running improved by adding a very easy exercise.
I started my exercise for weight loss when I was trying to be frugal. I’d purchased exercise machines before, but they only added insult to injury when I fell of the wagon. Worse yet, they sometimes stopped offering a benefit, like the elliptical I had. All that money on one thing should mean it will do it all, right? Nope. Mind-body revolt kicks in and muscle efficiency makes losing weight even harder.
Calisthenics are exercises you do with your own body weight. You don’t need any equipment at all, and they’re a great starting place to getting fit. Just a bit of open floor space is all you need. These are excellent exercises as well when you want to measure progress. I especially like it because not only am I building strength which makes the number of them increase, but I lose weight, so they become easier.
In the Army, fitness of course required daily effort. There were some key exercises which cover large muscle groups. These happen to also be great areas to improve strength for weight loss. I had several years of practice with this, so it was not difficult to recall the routines and expand on them with some other exercises as well.
Before exercising we always stretch. Now I’d had some back and shoulder problems from my sit-at-the-computer-lifestyle. I’d been given some doorway stretches to do which helps your neck, shoulders and upper back really well. Should be easy to find examples of those and some good hip and leg stretches as well.
For my early calisthenics I focused on two big muscle groups – chest & arms, and back-abdomen. So that meant push ups and sit ups! Good old Army standards.
I was concerned about the standard sit up, especially with all the weight I had so I chose the pelvic tilt instead. This was also good for my pelvis as sitting in chairs with all this weight was no good for me either.
Much like my experience with running, I found I couldn’t do a damn Army push up. I could barely do a push up from my knees. Once again, I had a starting point. I could add numbers and do so regularly. Each week I would set goals for the number of repetitions I would do.
After I added enough reps on my knees, I then started with a lower rep count from a standard push up. Then I started increasing every week.
My abdomen grew stronger more quickly and I’d add reps there as well.
Once I was doing 25 push ups in a row, I decided to do sets with smaller reps and alternate the different exercises. Early on I was doing 3 sets of 10 pushups, and 3 sets of 10 pelvic lifts. I’d do 10 of one, switch and do 10 of the other. Then I took a 1-minute break and did that again. The goal was to do them quickly. In a type of high-intensity exercise with a brief rest. My strength improved well.
Adapting and Building
It was about this time that I found something new to add to my routine. High-intensity exercise is an excellent way to lose weight AND build strength. Again, doing workouts from home, I needed some way to do that.
I found several YouTube channels for fitness, and they were doing these short, intense exercise routines. I found the key with the good ones are, they have you do an exercise for about 30 seconds or so, then transition to another one. The best one I found at this time was one that had you do body weight squats in between sets of pushups, jumping jacks, and a couple other types. This routine was highly effective in fatiguing the large quad muscles which had another benefit besides weight loss.
Those squats improved my running tremendously. It was a big surprise to me. I was hovering around a 13-minute mile or so, and after regularly doing squats my mile time started dropping. It is still dropping!
I’ve done more research on some other exercises I’d like to try as well. As I become more of a study, I can continue to research and find my own path, or I can get a trainer. I don’t have to work with a trainer regularly. I just need a good routine to perform, learn how to do it, and then check back. In a few weeks or a couple months I can get more adjustments and improvements. Mind-body revolt gets used to your routine and the benefits of the same exercise decline in time. Always be willing to change it up! The extra bonus is if you are logging the routines you do, you can always go back to an older one and keep your body guessing!
I was sitting with my dietician once and having an argument about how I’d followed her guidance exactly and wasn’t losing weight. She insisted I was not recording my food properly. I am a total numbers and progress nerd, and I could assure her my records were spot on. This was after years of following the guidance of reducing your caloric intake by 20-25% of what your metabolism and exercise do, as if this plan were some magic guide to weight loss. The frustration had peaked.
We were trying to apply a generalization to my body because it was expeditious. Give me a diet and have me follow it, then adjust as needed. Well that just doesn’t work if you don’t know that my body loves turning bread into fat, and foods with high salt and fat seem to stick around. Chicken seems to be worse than beef to me and seafood is fantastic. These are all things that take a long time to learn. Time and tracking!
Tracking to Learn
There are some great meal tracking apps out there, some of them even marry up the fitness tracking to give you a good idea of where your caloric deficit is. I think it is even better if you can put your weight and water consumption in the tracker too.
I use the combined information to help me determine what my body is reacting to. When I have some treat one day, and get on the scale the next morning, I can see a hint of what is going on there. When I try a salad which I enjoy and the next day we see some loss, I’m encouraged. I also learned what one simple piece of pizza could do to a day of otherwise good choices. Hint: pizza is like my fat bomb. I love it and it loves to stay with me and bring all its friends.
Once you have a good solid understanding of what foods are doing, you’ll be better able to make the best choices for yourself. Essentially, you are limiting meat portion sizes, increasing vegetables and everything else is moderation.
Personally, I don’t track my meals anymore. I have learned what I needed to know about how food impacts my body. I do understand that my body changes over time and some foods I could rely on will start to stick around. I will hop back on the tracking again later and see where I need to adjust.
Consider a journal to track how you feel. As much as you might like your doctor’s approval of your lifestyle changes, there is nothing more motivating that looking back at when you could not tie your shoes without sitting down. When you went up a flight of stairs without a break. When someone you know said you look amazing. Whatever you write down can more easily be remembered when someone offers you a second piece of cake.
Here is my advice on using caloric deficit to guide your daily meals. I did this to total frustration. Your tracker will probably show your typical metabolic calorie burn based on weight and activity level. That my friend is a guideline. Everyone is different. Vastly different.
The other component is that the tracker takes your exercise and guesses how many calories you burned. That my friend is an average. It does not account for the fact you do that exercise daily and your body has become so efficient at it you hardly burn anything.
Now combine that with the meal tracker. You burned 5000 calories and had a banana for breakfast and a salad for lunch, so you have 3000 to burn! Time for pizza! Oh hell no. That’s my recipe for weight gain and frustration. Ignore that damn number because metabolism and activity burn are off, and that means you could really set yourself back.
“8 glasses of water per day”. What size? Is that right for me? What about coffee? Too much is bad right? 0 calorie soda is ok? You see where I’m going. The fact is I don’t really know what general number to use. I do know what works for me. I lose the most weight when I drink about 100-150 ounces of water a day. Generally, over a gallon of water will move the scale. No substitutes. Water. For me, room temp or slightly cooler. Not ice water. That makes it slower to drink.
I do not drink any carbonated drinks except as mixers and even that is rare. I have heard some compelling arguments that even 0 calorie sweetener can create a response in your body that makes it react even if it was sugar. Alone, that’s not a big deal but some people consume the drinks so often that your body feels under siege from sugar and that messes with the system. Again, I am no expert but all things being equal, I’ll give up the sweet stuff. Fake or real.
Will that work for you? Track it! Try going a month without it. Jot down how you feel. I have experienced a clarity of thought after eliminating something from my diet. It really makes a difference. Drop these experiences in your journal to learn from.
Bad Drinks, Bad!
Drinks are terrible sneaky calorie bombs. I don’t have to tell you how those drinks you get at the coffee shop will kill your calorie reduction process. Soda, sweetened iced tea, fruit juices with the added sugar (they are there). My personal enemy is high fructose corn syrup, or the new name – corn sugar. That stuff really shows on my tracking as a challenge to making good progress.
I get that these drinks are nice treats, and if that treat is rewarding it’s hard to give up totally. Don’t give them up – just recognize what they are, and how they will impact your efforts. Try smaller sizes, keep it for a treat as a minor reward. I try and avoid rewards as food or drink, but they are appropriate at times.
Alcohol is a tricky one for sure, as some drinks have few calories and are enticing. I would give myself permission for a vodka on the rocks because of the meager 60 calories or so. What I learned is that much like those low-calorie sodas, they can create a similar reaction in my body.
This was my breakthrough with some plateaus that just did not want to budge. There is also a fair amount of science to back up some of the results. It is effective and when used wisely can be a regular part of your lifestyle plan in general. There have been some positive emotional results as well. I have experienced becoming more aware, and alert. The fog that comes after eating rarely happens anymore. Of course, I see great weight loss as well, so for me it has been a helpful fit.
The first fasts I did were called a 5/2 fast. For me that meant I would fast for 2 non-consecutive days each week. I chose Monday and Friday. The type of fast I did was not a no-food fast, it was a 600-calorie limit. I’d have a banana for breakfast, salad greens with a couple pepperoncini and balsamic vinegar dressing for lunch, and a very small portion of whatever dinner was. For a plate, I’d use the saucer for a teacup, to give you an idea of how small a portion. No alcohol on fast days, or anything other than water, and a single black coffee for breakfast.
On the non-fast days, I’d eat to my plan, keeping calories low and avoiding foods that I know aren’t good for me. I do not have cheat days. I may have a cheat meal, with it planned so that I can really scale back on my caloric intake to help adjust for that treat.
Another fast I use occasionally as a substitute for Monday or Wednesday is a water fast. That’s just water all day long. This one is good if you’ve felt stuck or for some reason feel like your system needs a reset. Typically, that’s 24 hours, but mine run a little longer since I won’t eat after 7 PM Tuesday and not eat again until 7 AM Thursday. That’s about 36 hours.
I have tried variations of a 24 hour fast where you might not eat after lunch on Tuesday and your next meal is Wednesday dinner. I think the key, like everything when you are trying to fight that mind-body revolt, is to keep changing things up.
Commitment to Adjust
Changing things up is exactly what is the biggest key to my success. There is no plan you can do for months or weeks or whatever that leads to permanent results. Only the true lifestyle change, where you understand:
- My mind and body will work to adjust to whatever I change.
- When my mind and body catch up, they become efficient and comfortable.
- Being comfortable means losing progress on getting healthy and staying that way.
This means that we +1 the exercise and -1 the calories. Add a repetition to your sets. Make your run 100 feet longer. Switch to vinegar and a dash of oil instead of blue cheese dressing. Buy fish instead of beef for dinners next week. These slight changes and improvements bear out over time, every time.
Speaking of time, you must allow your body a long time to show results. How many times have we heard someone started a plan and were unhappy that the scale didn’t move. They are doing all this exercise, and nothing is happening. We’re all different and a new plan might take a month or more to yield results. The exercise IS an improvement. Set up your plan to check progress in a month and stick to it.
The scale is not the only measure either! Get out a tape measure and measure your hips, chest, thighs, upper arms, and neck. At times, I saw far more movement on the tape measure than I did the scale!
Fact is that things happen in life. Just like me and my CPAP or a pandemic (let us hope that is just a damn one-off). Life happens and we might add some pounds back. We might miss our workouts for a week due to a vacation, or something else will throw your plans off.
Commitment means getting back on track, re-establishing control of your body and what is going on and being consistent. This turned out to be a lot longer than I expected it would. I certainly hope it offers you some insight about how you can get healthy. Please leave me a note if you have an experience you would like to share or something I could add here. I’ll be grateful and happy to mention you!