Greatist Journeys explore amazing stories from extraordinary people. This guest post was written by Robert Radden, author of Truthology. He dropped 25 percent of his body weight through dietary modification. Everyone has their own journey to health and wellness, and the opinions and experiences expressed below are solely Robert's. For more on Robert, follow him on Twitter.
Life’s most unlikely events will happen when you least expect them. Just when I thought that I had everything under control in my life, something triggered me to make a drastic and immediate change to my eating habits. This change has added years to my life and taken inches off of my waist. My about-face dietary transformation — in the eyes of my former self — can only be described as unorthodox and undesirable. But I now know that change was required and my current overall health is proof positive that the sacrifices were worth it. Following is a phase by phase look at how and why I decided to make a bodyweight and dietary transformation that changed my life for the better.
Phase One — Making a Change
The first step was to stop denying that my weight was totally healthy. As a kid growing up, I was actively involved in multiple sports, so much so that I never really had to pay much attention to what I ate in order to stay in reasonably decent shape. I was an offensive lineman on my high school football team, so having a heavy build seemed natural and acceptable to me. It was during my college years that I began to push the limits of reason when it came to my diet. Each meal was seen as an opportunity to indulge, and there was no apparent reason to limit content or portions whatsoever. This paved the way for nearly twenty consecutive years of being blissfully overweight. Then one fateful day, in the fall of 2010, I had a conversation with one of my doctor friends. I mentioned to him that I would be satisfied living until the age of 85. He quickly replied, “You would be better off planning for 60 to 65.” He explained that the amount of weight I was carrying on my frame would likely lead to heart disease.
There I stood, 6’1” and 250 lbs, mired in obesity with a BMI of 33, contemplating how I could possibly accept the fact that I was off a good 20+ years on my “life expectancy forecast.” I knew I wasn’t the perfect picture of health, but how could I have been so wrong about my expiration date? Was two-thirds of my life already behind me? My wife and kids were relying on me, and I didn’t want to leave them so soon. Once and for all, I decided it was time for a meaningful and permanent change.
Phase Two — Regaining My Health
So I needed to re-gain my health. My most recent physical exam at the time indicated that many of the scores from my blood tests were out of range. My cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar all exceeded normal levels. Having a family history of high cholesterol, my doctor and I decided this was an important place to start making some modifications. The standard professional recommendation for high cholesterol is to limit the consumption of foods high in saturated fat. After having been given this advice multiple times, I decided to finally give it a try.
This meant restricting my consumption of meat, butter and cheese (quite a departure from my Atkins diet days of years past). It was hard for the first couple weeks, but I was motivated to succeed and it paid off in a huge way. Over a period of approximately six months, I was able to reduce my total cholesterol from a score of 204 to 102, all by limiting my consumption of foods containing saturated fat. As you might imagine, the nice side effect of this was weight loss.
Phase Three — Shedding Pounds
Next I had to re-define my overall body composition. I was rapidly cleaning the fat out of my bloodstream, but I wanted to see if I could lose the excess fat surrounding my organs and hiding my muscle tone. I made the decision to eliminate saturated fats altogether for the next few months. Because of this, I was able to lose 25 percent of my bodyweight. This change made a profound impact on the quality of my life. Not only did I look better, but I felt better as well. Honestly, going from 250 lbs to 190 lbs can only be described as the most significant change I have made in my adult life. The best part about my diet, free of saturated fat, was that I never once felt a sense of deprivation. Once I became used to eating that way, it turned into a matter of habit. Don’t get me wrong. I had every intention to take a cheat day once a month, but the results were so profound and compelling that I never felt the need or desire to cheat. Besides, it seemed senseless to me to purposely renounce the very plan that had delivered me such amazing and life-changing benefits.
Phase Four — Eating Smarter
Once the “foods to avoid” were well established in my mind and my dietary modifications were committed to habit, I decided to put more research into what I should optimally be eating. This was no less significant than the actual weight loss, because it forced me to learn about the state of our current food system and the inherent long-term dangers of eating a diet that most people would consider “normal.” For example, not all foods that are free of saturated fats are “healthy.” Think cookies and even some brands of chips and crackers. As a result of my research (from health practitioners, books, journals, and documentaries), I started eating less processed food and looking for organically grown fruits and vegetables. I also avoided dairy products altogether (even low fat options like cottage cheese and yogurt).
From that point forward, I decided to only put things in my mouth that a) were good for my health, and b) tasty. This new philosophical viewpoint on food — a “food filter” if you will — managed to sustain my weight loss and even shave off a few more pounds. I also felt like I was doing my part to eat more responsibly and be more sensitive to the animals and our environment.
Phase Five – Helping Others to Health
This part of my journey is still a work in progress. Part of it is this article you are reading here at Greatist. Having sustained my weight loss for nearly two years, I began this summer to proactively encourage others to make similar life transformations and started a blog, Truthology, dedicated to health and longevity. It is my hope that I can motivate others to affect positive changes as it pertains to nutrition, health and quality of life.
It was a multi-phase process of hitting rock bottom, improving my cardiovascular health, losing weight, being more environmentally responsible and now trying to help others. But my individual transformation is just a small part of this ongoing journey. The real payoff is helping others understand more about their personal health objectives and sharing my experiences to help motivate them to get started. I look forward with excitement and enthusiasm to see what the future will bring.
Have positive life changes inspired you to start helping others? How has your journey differed from Robert's? Let us know in the comments below.