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Weight loss: How I survived in an uncontrolled environment

Sunday, April 21, 2019

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I signed up with the Intekai (ITK) team in mid-2018, out of frustration.

I was working ridiculously long hours, had little downtime, and ate poorly. I was increasingly frustrated with myself as I watched my weight creep back up.

Nothing I did seemed to help me lose weight, and I knew that I needed help.

I was at my heaviest in 2011, when I weighed 285 pounds. At five feet eight inches, this was dangerously obese.

A health scare forced me to diet and exercise my way down to 195 pounds. Once I hit that goal weight and the health scare was averted, I became complacent.

I stopped working out, I began to eat a little bit more than I should, I reintroduced myself to foods that I knew to be unhealthy, and I rationalised the one or two pounds I gained here and there.

Unfortunately, those few pounds added up over the years and I found myself at age 40 weighing 233 pounds. Even then, it was quite easy for me to rationalise that 233 pounds was not nearly as bad as 285 pounds and that I was fine.

Nevertheless, I decided that I wanted to lose the weight again just because I knew it was the healthy thing to do and also because of the vanity aspect of not wanting to admit that my jeans were too tight.

I attempted to replicate the success of 2011 by repeating the same diet and exercise regimen that I had used. In the perfect world, I'd lose all the weight I gained, fit perfectly into my jeans, my wife would marvel at my wonderful physique, and all would be well in the world. This wasn't the case and I found myself actually gaining weight.

What could have gone wrong?

The one thing that we never really come to terms with as humans, is that the body responds differently over time, and what worked for 34-year-old me would not work for 40-something me. My lifestyle had also changed drastically as well. I had more work stress, worked longer hours, led a more sedentary lifestyle, was less committed to the gym because I was married and wanted to spend more time with my wife. Overall, I had no idea of who I was physically at this age.

It's not all about lifting weights or cardio

Once I joined up with ITK, my coach, Andrea, got me connected to a WhatsApp group. I got customised meal recommendations on a weekly basis, was held accountable by my coach and my team.

In almost no time at all, I saw the scale moving to the left and I began to feel better about myself.

I realistically didn't have time to go to the gym, but it didn't prevent me from losing weight. I finally understood what people meant when they say that diet is the most important aspect of weight loss.

Without even realising it, my eating habits were beginning to shift toward being able to naturally make better food selections. In fact, even when I felt frustrated with the programme and felt the need to “cheat”, my body just naturally gravitated towards making better selections.

For example, if I wanted something sweet, I'd end up eating a piece of fruit instead of a doughnut. Mind you, it was not always perfect; however, I always held myself accountable to my coach and my team.

I was never chastised or berated for the days that I wasn't able to successfully stick to my plan, instead I was offered gentle encouragement and congratulated for the good parts.

This worked fine in a “controlled” environment where I had constant access to my coach, the ability to drive to the store to grab food, and the time to actually prepare my own meals. Generally, when I travelled for work, it was for a few days, and I could easily pack a few protein bars and nuts and take them along for the trip. I was still able to thrive with the ITK lifestyle even when the environment became as chaotic and unpredictable as it did.

Thriving outside of the controlled environment

The next few sections will outline a few key tips for surviving outside of the regular environment.

Tip 1: Listen to your body

Communication with my coach and team was limited because I was on the customer site with limited Internet access. Fortunately, I had already learned from the previous months on ITK that being able to listen to my body was a critical part to holding myself accountable.

When I ate well, my body felt light and energetic. When I ate poorly, my body felt sluggish and lethargic. By listening to my body, I was able to intuitively balance out what I ate.

Mexican cuisine is rich in carbohydrates and sometimes it's difficult to tell what you are eating. For example, meats stewed in carbohydrate heavy sauces were in abundance and I sometimes ended up eating way more carbs than I needed. It was those times that I relied on my body to let me know how that meal went and whether or not I needed to stay away from it.

Tip 2: Set other's expectations

By setting expectations with these folks early on by letting them know that I was a very healthy eater, they naturally were more accommodating of my dietary needs. For example, they would be sure to provide me with a grilled chicken salad instead of offering me pizza or some other fast but unhealthy meal.

Setting these expectations early is essential, because it creates an ad-hoc accountability network, which helps you to stay on track with your lifestyle changes.

Side note: A member of the local company recognised my healthy eating habits and also began to follow suit.

Tip 3: Weigh if you can, but don't stress if you can't

Regular weigh-ins are an essential part of the ITK lifestyle. However, it is not always possible to weigh on a regular basis when away from your controlled environment.

Don't let this be a deterrent, simply use the last known weight you had and continue with your day. Your body will also tell you if you are gaining, losing or maintaining. It feels different.

Tip 4: You will run out of pre-packaged food

When I travelled, I had enough protein bars and pre-packaged nuts to last for 10 days. Since I was in country for over 15 days, I inevitably ran out of supplies. My hotel was located in a remote part of town and I didn't have easy access to transportation to find a supermarket or similar store, particularly given that I was returning to my hotel late at night.

Some of the tricks that I learned along the way included:

• Grabbing complimentary tea from the hotel to substitute for meals.

• Taking fruits from the buffet back to my room for later meals.

• Substituting meals with complimentary coffee from the hotel or worksite.

• Saving portions of my meal for a later meal or the next day since I'm inevitably given more food than I need to eat in a single sitting.

• Drink lots of water.

Tip 5: It's okay to say no

On several occasions, we went to dinner with employees from the local company. They tended to enjoy drinks and dessert with their meals. As tempting as they sounded, I knew that my body didn't need the additional processed foods and I politely declined, choosing to stick to water and black coffee.

You may be ridiculed or laughed at; however, it is important to stick to your guns because you recognise that it is your health and not theirs. No one should ever feel pressured to put something potentially harmful into their bodies just to please a group.

Note that these issues are not as major if you've set other's expectations early on in the interaction.

Tip 6: The buffet is your friend, if used carefully

At my hotel, I was fortunate to have access to a buffet for my evening meals. This buffet had all the meats, breads, fruits, and desserts that one could imagine.

Many people have a difficult time controlling themselves when faced with such an abundance of treats. As a disciplined ITKarian, I view the buffet as a tool that helps me to get the nutrition that I need without worrying about overindulging. Some of the strategies I follow are:

• Limit yourself to one or two reasonably sized plates.

• Go for the healthy stuff such as steamed vegetables.

• Look for the meats that aren't cooked in too much sauce.

• Make sure to walk around for a bit after eating.

• Say no to desserts and other processed foods.

The aftermath

After I returned home, I was gravely concerned about how poorly I would show on the scale. The morning I departed, my weight was 205 pounds. When I returned home, I was surprised to discover that despite the volatility of the environment, I was able to hit my goal weight of 195 pounds!

Some of this may be attributed to the stressful situation that I was in. However, since then I have been travelling quite frequently for my new job and my weight still hovers between 195-200 pounds.

The major lesson learned is that by making a commitment to modifying my lifestyle with ITK, I am able to maintain a healthy weight regardless of how ideal or unpredictable by environment becomes.

Thank you ITK for giving me the tools to not only survive, but to thrive in a very difficult period of my professional life.


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