Two years ago I weighed 225 pounds. I’s five foot ten, so I was overweight. My wife was terribly out of shape (she said I could write that). As a family we fell into the convenient but unhealthy pit of eating out, getting fast food, and cooking carb heavy meals. They were quick, cheap, and involved little effort on our part. After seeing pictures of ourselves, my wife and I decided something needed to change. We wanted to be healthy. We wanted to lose weight. We wanted to not get tired and winded playing with our kids.
I had always been athletic. In high school I was on the soccer, wrestling and volleyball teams. In college I worked out every day and was invited to join the club track team because of my long distance running times. I worked manual labor jobs and found it easy to keep weight off, regardless of how or what I ate. That all changed when I turned thirty. Instead of loosing or maintaining my weight, I slowly began to gain it. So did my wife.
Over the past two years, with some simple tweaks to how we eat, my wife and I have both lost over 50 pounds each! We discovered that although working out and running are great exercise, and we both enjoy them, weight loss happened in the kitchen. Over the next few months I will be having a regular “healthy eating” feature, in hopes of inspiring others to eat to live, rather than live to eat.
The transition from the contemporary “American Diet,” high is sugars and carbs, to how we eat now took us years. We started with small steps. We didn’t fall for any “fad” diets, though we did try vegetarianism, veganism, and paleo eating for various reasons. We did a lot or reading and research before we made any significant changes because this was primarily about our health, not just a number on a scale. What would it gain us to be stick figures if we still couldn’t do what we wanted to do with our family?
The first step we took two years ago was to cut out flavored drinks. No soda, milk, juice, alcohol; nothing but water. Today we do occasionally indulge in something flavored, and I enjoy wine quite a bit, but initially we needed to go cold turkey. Nothing but water. It was hard at first. I enjoyed Arizona Green Tea. I liked energy drinks. I didn’t particularly want water at every meal. It felt like a type of withdrawal for about two weeks, and then something amazing happened. I started to want water. I didn’t crave sugared drinks anymore. Within a few months I had lost about 10 pounds. No exercise and no diet and I lost 10 pounds, simply by committing to drink only water. Who can argue with that?
Most flavored drinks are full of calories. Empty calories at that. Unless you are juicing your own fruits and vegetables, odds are that the juice your drinking isn’t much different from soda. And soda isn’t much different from sugar. Even chocolate milk is full of added sweeteners. Flavored drinks added little to our nutrition, but a lot to our caloric intake. In the final cost-benefit analysis, drinking anything besides water (and unsweetened coffee and tea) just wasn’t worth it.
It is common wisdom that to gain a pound you need to consume an extra 500 calories a day, and to lose a pound you need to have a 500 calorie a day deficit. The typical soda has around 200 calories in it. That means two sodas a day, and you are well on your way to gaining a pound a week! Let me put 200 calories in perspective. That is a serving of steak, 1 1/2 servings of chicken, 2 servings of cheese or 9 servings of broccoli. The nutritional content of any of those real foods will blow away the nutritional content of flavored drinks. For us, eating those calories, or not having them at all was clearly the better choice.
What we found is that we didn’t want an extra serving of steak with our dinner. We didn’t add the calories we were receiving from flavored beverages back into our diet via more food. We didn’t need those calories. What we had been doing most of our lives was giving ourselves a surplus of calories via soda, juice, or milk. Without that surplus of calories, the weight began to fall off on its own.
Looking back on our weightless journey, cutting out flavored drinks was a tremendous first step. It made success in our later endeavors possible. It taught us we could forego something we thought we had to have. It taught us that changing our behaviors was both easier and harder than we thought it would be. It taught us that what and how we eat may be more important than how much we exercised. If you are beginning to think about getting healthy, loosing some unwanted weight, and transforming your life, something as seemingly small as drinking only water can have a huge impact on your current and future life.