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How I lost 150 pounds in one year

MinnPost’s Twins reporter lost 153 pounds in 366 days, without stomach stapling or crazy diets, but he never stopped drinking beer.

Aaron Gleeman, before and after

As a little kid, I was always skinny, but when my growth spurt to 6-foot-2 began around age 15, that turned into chubby, and by the end of high school, I was fat. After a year of college, fat gave way to obese and, for the most part, that’s where I stayed. I lost significant amounts of weight several times since then, including a huge loss about five years ago, but inevitably I always put it all back on and then some.

Last winter I got Chinese takeout or had Pizza Hut chicken wings delivered nearly every night, with various other fast-food meals and plenty of late-night snacking mixed in. All that gorging made me the fattest I’d ever been, which was incredibly depressing and, in turn, led to even more gorging. I was a mess, physically and mentally, but thankfully for whatever reason something finally clicked in my brain in late February of last year.

I was 28 years old and getting fatter by the day, which seemed like a recipe for a terrible life, followed by an early death. I committed to attempting another weight-loss effort, knowing that if this one failed like the rest of them, I’d probably just have to make peace with always being obese. And like a true addict, I couldn’t just start the diet, so instead I decided to give myself one final week to gorge on all the bad stuff I could possibly think of eating.

I can even remember my last bad meal. I ordered my favorite dish, hunan chicken, from my favorite Chinese restaurant, Yangtze in St. Louis Park, and then topped it off with some doughnuts and ice cream. I went to bed that night miserable, knowing how long the road ahead of me would be and how unlikely it was that I’d see the end of it. I woke up the next morning, sluggish from my final binge the night before, and stepped on the scale: 355 pounds.

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That was March 7, 2011. Today is March 7, 2012, and this morning the scale read 202 pounds.

I lost 153 pounds in 366 days, and I did it without stomach stapling or crazy diets or a trainer. And as “Gleeman and The Geek” listeners know, I never stopped drinking beer. Throughout my previous weight loss ups and downs, I learned that the simple balance between calories consumed and calories burned is the driving force behind any lifestyle change, and as a baseball stat-head, the knowledge that things work on a linear scale was reassuring.

My goal early on was simple: Eat fewer than 1,250 calories per day and force myself onto an elliptical machine for at least 10 minutes. I completely cut out all the foods I loved, going cold turkey on takeout and delivery and snacks, and also focused on eating at least two meals each day instead of letting myself get so hungry that dinner became a smorgasbord. I ate oatmeal and bananas and chicken soup and Lean Cuisine microwave dinners.

And the weight came flying off, as I shed 40 pounds in the first six weeks. That was certainly a positive thing, but because I’d done that (or something close) several times before I knew it was merely the first step down that long road. In the past, my undoing always stemmed from slipping up once, which seems like a harmless thing at first but eventually leads to falling completely off the wagon.

My brain has proven incapable of occasionally going off the diet, so even after losing 40 pounds, if I allow myself Chinese food or a few slices of pizza, I know within a week I’ll be back where I started. I’ve now gone one full year without consuming even 2,000 calories in a day and likely haven’t topped 1,500 calories in a day more than a handful of times. It’s been tough, no doubt, but my mantra of “why do I need it?” has talked me out of numerous slip-ups.

Along the way, I upped my elliptical machine workout to an average of 30 minutes per day and developed a routine of working out around midnight, propping my laptop up on the console so music or a movie or a live sporting event could keep me occupied. I can remember barely being able to make it 10 minutes that first day, breathing heavily and sweating and feeling like my lungs were going to explode, but if not for boredom, going an hour would be easy now.

I also gradually began to incorporate different, more fulfilling foods. I still eat microwavable meals about once a day — my favorites are chicken enchiladas suiza from Smart Ones, Thai-style chicken spring rolls from Lean Cuisine, and barbecue seasoned steak with red potatoes from Healthy Choice — but about six months ago I started to cook my own chicken-and-rice concoction that has become a daily and sometimes twice-daily meal.

Here are the ingredients for the huge batch I make each week:

• 15 cups of cooked white rice (which is about five cups uncooked)
•  28 ounces of Kame oyster sauce
•  12 ounces of Hormel natural choice chicken, cut into small pieces
•  4 ounces of John Morrell diced ham
•  12 ounces of Green Giant valley fresh steamers mixed vegetables
•  32 ounces of egg beaters
•  2 ounces of soy sauce
•  0.75 ounces of minced onions
•  0.25 ounces of ground black pepper
•  1 ounce of salt

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Put it all together in a big fry pan and what you get is a variation of chicken fried rice that tastes good, isn’t terrible for you and will keep you feeling full enough to avoid going off the diet. And as someone with zero cooking ability, I can assure you it’s incredibly easy to make, with the added bonus that the above recipe will feed you for an entire week and needs just a few minutes in the microwave for each meal.

I use that chicken-and-rice mashup as the baseline for most meals. For lunch I’ll heat up a couple scoops of it along with the aforementioned Thai-style chicken rolls or a cup of microwavable Kraft macaroni and cheese. For dinner I’ll heat up a couple more scoops along with the aforementioned chicken enchiladas suiza or barbecue seasoned steak with red potatoes. Every day and every meal, with Minute Maid light orange juice or water to drink.

Nothing crazy and no tricks, just find some reasonably healthy stuff that fills you up and tastes good, and eat it every day while avoiding slip-ups. I’m not sure if that approach is the healthiest or the smartest or even sustainable for the long haul, but I do know that it, along with 30 minutes per day on an elliptical machine, allowed me to go from 355 pounds to 202 pounds in 366 days with the following progression:

March 7, 2011: 355 pounds
May 11, 2011: 305 pounds
August 12, 2011: 265 pounds
September 9, 2011: 253 pounds
October 21, 2011: 245 pounds
December 1, 2011: 235 pounds
January 27, 2012: 215 pounds
March 7, 2012: 202 pounds

I’m certainly proud of myself for losing so much weight, but I’m also incredibly embarrassed on a number of different levels. For one thing, I’ve lost 30 or 50 or even 90 pounds before several times, often writing about it in this space, and then I’ve always put it back on. That sucks, plain and simple. Beyond that, the biggest key to losing 150 pounds is being incredibly obese to begin with and … well, that’s not particularly fun to talk about either.

Praise for losing weight has always seemed odd to me, because no one is ever praised for simply being thin in the first place. It’s like praising a shortstop for improving his defense from horrendous to mediocre, but not praising a different shortstop for always being a good defender. I’m also not in anything resembling great shape, as I still want to lose about 20 pounds and will never be accused of being toned or muscular.

I’m not an expert, I’m not bragging, and I’ll probably always be embarrassed about my struggles with weight and how I look. But what I am, for now at least, is someone who stopped his downward spiral enough to shed 153 pounds in 366 days, and my hope in writing this is to encourage myself to avoid yet another backslide and perhaps to encourage others to make a change for the better.

Being fat sucks and, if you’re like me, being ashamed about how you look fuels depression and then depression leads to over-eating. As happy as I am with how I look and feel now, it makes me retroactively depressed about times in my life when, looking back, people may have been embarrassed to be seen with me or not wanted to hang out with me. Or even just judged me differently because of the person I presented in public.

I’m a lazy 29-year-old guy who’s been fat since high school, doesn’t have great metabolism or genetics, works from home, barely leaves the house and can’t cook. If I can get on a simple diet and stick to it for a year, then literally anyone can do it and probably do it even better. Find some low-calorie foods you like enough to eat on a regular basis, learn to cook a meal or two that you enjoy, and push yourself to exercise just a little bit.

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My issue has always been needing to feel full and binging, but by building a diet of low-calorie foods and a rice concoction, I’ve managed to feel full most of the time and by going cold turkey on everything bad, I’ve stayed binge-free. Whether it’s analytical or obsessive-compulsive, knowing that burning more calories than I take in equals weight loss and establishing a consistent routine of what I eat, when I eat, how I work out, and when I work out was crucial.

I eat at approximately 10:30 am and 6:30 p.m. every day, consuming some combination of those same half-dozen or so low-calorie options for each meal, and then do the same workout around midnight. Immersing myself in those patterns kept me from slip-ups, helped me stay confident that my plan was working and, perhaps most importantly, kept me from having to think too much about eating or working out in general.

Because for a longtime fatso whose over-eating comes partly from depression, thinking about your life and diet and body can be the worst thing for any weight-loss effort. So instead of thinking too much, I just eat the same stuff and do the same workout I did the day before. Stick to your routine, without exceptions. No cheat days, no slip-ups because you’re out with friends, no skipping a workout because you’re tired.

Do it, every day, and one year later you’ll have changed your life.