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My weight loss journey

Those of you who have been around me this past year probably know that I’ve experienced some weight loss in the last 10 months. Since I have received a lot of questions about how I have accomplished this, I wrote this post to inform you about the factors that led to this fat reduction in an attempt to provide some ideas for those who may also be interested in improving their health.


First, the numbers:

Notes:

-Other than the first weigh-in, the numbers you are seeing are the averages from the prior week (ex., “11/3” is the average daily weigh-ins from 10/28-11/3)

-I would always weigh myself first thing in the morning after “Paul’s morning toilet time,” before eating, drinking, or exercising.

-You’ll notice some gaps in the chart, and most of these occurred while I was working on the ship. Weighing-in on the ship is problematic because if we were at sea, your weight would fluctuate while standing on a scale even in the calmest of sea conditions. Because o not being able to do this routinely, I would frequently forget to do so even when the ship was in port and could get an accurate measurement. Regardless, I feel that it is safe to assume that the overall trajectory of the graph wouldn’t be too different if I had weighed myself 4-5 times a week in the mornings.


Timeline (to be explained in more detail in this post):

October 14-November 30: Began Yoli program, began exercising (jogging/running) 3-4 times a week

December-January: Cruise ship contract, continued with Yoli (somewhat), stopped exercising in January, began intermittent fasting

February-mid March: “Vacation” away from the ship, no exercise, ended Yoli, going out to eat/drink increased in mid-Marchmid

March-mid June: Generally ate nutritiously, implemented both intermittent and prolonged fasting, light exercise (hiking and sauna), beer consumption increases dramatically in June

mid-June-July: Living at home, began running 3-4 times a week again, became too liberal with “cheat days”

August 1-17: Began the “Keto” diet

August 18-present: More fasting and “slow carb” dieting


Background:


My weight was something that I struggled with for as long as I can remember. During college, my weight fluctuated anywhere between around 185 and 220 pounds, with the average usually anywhere between 200-210. This fluctuation was mostly due to how stressed I was as well as whether or not I was exercising. It was no surprise that I was always weighing the most around either finals week as well as during the Tallcorn Jazz Festival (which I was the festival co-coordinator for three years). The stress of both of these events caused me to “stress eat” to the extreme, going out to eat more frequently to “satisfy” my food cravings. When I was on an exercise kick (usually during the summers), my workout of choice was running, which I enjoy for both its mental and physical benefits. My weight at its lowest was recorded towards the end of the summer of 2015 where I was very dedicated to running/jogging just about every day in preparation for my first ever 5k race.

December, 2013

Exercise is important, no doubt, but it wasn’t until I changed what I put into my body that real results began happening. I had always lacked basic nutritional intelligence, other than I knew that desserts, sweets, and sodas were bad for you (possibly the only thing that was accurate about the now-defunct USDA food pyramid). Despite knowing that, I would occasionally indulge in sweets, mostly in the form of drinking soda with when eating things like fast food, pizza, popcorn, etc. However, the bigger issue was the simple, or “refined” carbohydrates found in beer (especially craft beer), white bread, cereal, crust, pasta, tortillas, rice, etc. That was a large part of my diet, and I never knew the negative effects of refined carbohydrates and sugars had on my fat mass, energy levels, food cravings, and overall well-being.




Tallcorn, February 2015. See? Told you I weighed the most at Tallcorn.

Getting started:


Flashback to the summer of 2018. I was on my second cruise ship contract, and my stress levels were a bit higher than normal. I was experiencing some bad writer’s block at the time, I was failing to set up the gigs I wanted for the fall (suggested tip: don’t schedule gigs when at sea where internet connection is poor), I was in the middle of one of my longer ship contracts and was getting a bit homesick, and I wasn’t enjoying my job as much because the itinerary wasn’t as good as my previous contract. As a result, I was stress eating to the extreme, exacerbating the situation. Motivation was very low, I didn’t couldn’t keep to consistent daily routine, my trombone playing suffered, and on the rare occasion that I did try to run, I simply felt like shit afterwards because I wasn’t properly fueling my body. What previously helped me reduce stress was now causing me more stress!


During this time, I started seeing my friend Josh Carlo begin posting the beginnings of his own weight loss journey (Josh has lost 70 pounds in the past year!). This intrigued me because when we were both in school, Josh and I had similar eating habits. I recall several Phi Mu Alpha executive meetings taking place at Old Chicago with us gorging on a plate of Italian nachos and consuming numerous pints of beer while conducting official fraternity business (one of my better ideas as chapter president). Josh was consistently mentioning this program called “Yoli” on his posts, so I decided to contact Josh once I got back on land to see what this program was all about.


October 14, 2018, sporting my awesome Grinch pajama pants, a dirty bathroom, and horrible selfie skills

Josh and I met in the beginning of October and discussed Yoli’s Better Body System (ironically, we talked over a lunch at Pablo’s...). He gave me the full run down. Essentially, there are two components to the Yoli program, the nutrition plan and the supplements. The nutrition guidelines basically follow a high protein, low carb/sugar diet. Four days of the week are “protein” days where most of the calories that you consume come from protein. The other three days are “meal” days where small amounts of complex carbohydrates and fruits are also consumed. Little to no refined carbs or sugars are allowed, you eat small meals throughout the day, and you are given one cheat meal every two weeks. The supplements include protein shakes (filled with amino acids and other important nutrients), an energy drink (made with caffeine from yerba mate and other teas, meant to be a coffee substitute), and various pills that are meant to improve exercise recovery, PH level balance, food digestion, immune system, and other goodies. The main goal of Yoli is not exclusively weight loss but rather to improve your body’s well being and overall function.


After seeing Yoli’s recommended foods list and admiring how structured everything was over the course of the month long program, I decided to give it a go. I began it on October 14th, when I weighed in at 197.4 pounds (though it was likely that in the prior months I weighed in even higher, thanks to the heavy amount of craft beer drinking during my previous ship contract). So, on October 13th, I enjoyed dinner at Pablo’s as well as three or four Bell’s Two Hearted’s at Octopus and enjoyed my last night of “freedom.”


October 14 - November 30: Yoli

October 27, 2018, two weeks into Yoli

Overall, I found this program to be very easy to follow. I was still able to find a lot of foods that I really enjoyed, and the high protein consumption and small meals throughout the day kept me satiated without ever overeating. The supplements tasted good, and within just three days of the program I felt better than I had ever felt. My 3rd night on the program I went for a run and ran about 5k no problem, despite not having ran for months! I would continue to run about 3-4 days a week up until about Thanksgiving, running in a total of three 5ks, shaving off a about a minute each time.


The weight loss came very quickly. During the first 30 days, I lost about 10 pounds and was feeling great, but I really missed two things that aren’t allowed on the program: coffee and beer. I continued with Yoli for the rest of November, but I started drinking coffee again on a daily basis and enjoyed a good beer every now and then. Despite these exceptions, Yoli seemingly continued to work for me, weighing 184 pounds by the end of November. This was lower than I ever weighed while I was in college.


December/January: 3rd cruise ship contract


I knew that I wouldn’t be able to adhere to the structure of the Yoli program 100% while working on the ship for various reasons, but I still brought two months worth of the supplements anyway and I figured I’d do the best I could. During this time, I didn’t weigh myself super consistently, nor did I always remember to take the supplements every single day, but I generally avoided refined sugars and refined carbohydrates and stuck with a high protein diet (any of my friends and colleagues on the ship who watched me eat noticed that I almost turned into a carnivore). I also continued to go for runs pretty consistently up until the first week of January. The reason for stopping was because the ship was getting close to the equator and it was simply getting to damn hot for this ginger to handle (and the ship’s treadmill in the crew gym always looked and sounded like it was going to break down and potentially kill someone). In exchange, I began intermittent fasting during the month of January, which involved fasting for either one or two 24 hour periods over the course of a week. During these fasts, I would consume only water or coffee. More on fasting later in this post.

February 1, 2019, in Buenos Aires

Despite not following the Yoli program very closely, I continued to lose weight at a very good pace for these two months. I started the contract weighing in at around 184 and concluded at around 170. Since I was continuing to feel great by basically sticking to Yoli’s nutrition plan and neglecting the supplements, I decided to quit the program. I couldn’t justify the high price of Yoli when I could simply take the dietary guidelines and continue to lose weight and feel great. That being said, I have to give a lot of credit to the program for helping me become more informed about what I’m putting into my body and getting me started on this path.


February - March 23rd: “Vacationing” in Iowa winter


Because of grad school auditions and various gigs, I spent a good amount of February traveling. It was also one of the worst winters that I remember ever experiencing, with lots of extremely cold wind chills and high snowfall. I knew I wasn’t going to run in this weather, and because of my busy traveling schedule, I knew continuing to lose weight could be a challenge, so I altered my goal: Maintain my current weigh, and try and eat the best I can. Surprisingly, my weight went down a little bit during the month of February, although it came back up again in the middle of March due to an increase in going out to eat in an effort to see friends and family one last time before heading back for my last ship contract.


March 23 - June 18: Final ship contract


With me going into some much needed nicer weather, I was excited to get back into a healthier lifestyle of exercise and eating better on this last contract.


I joined the ship when it was touring New Zealand, and I spent every minute I could off the ship and going for a hike in what is objectively the world’s greatest country. However, these hikes eventually obliterated my shoes and they could no longer support me while running. For the remainder of my contract, I wasn’t able to run because when I tried, my muscles and joints were very sore due to the lack of support and I was too lazy/cheap to buy new running shoes. Starting around May, the main form of exercise that I did was using the ship’s sauna. I was in there probably 5 times a week for a 15 minute session, sweating away my stress and toxins and loving every second.

April, 2019, after running over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The smell of exhaust as well as unsupportive tennis shoes made this run a bit painful.

I also returned to intermittent fasting and introduced prolonged fasting. The more I read up on fasting, the more interested I became. Many of the science behind it is still fairly new and ongoing, but both forms have shown to have numerous benefits beyond just fat loss, including reduced cancer risk and aging, the triggering of autophagy, increased stem cell production, and greater mental focus and clarity. After a few hours of not eating anything, your body begins to burn its fat cells as energy instead of glucose, putting you in a state of ketosis. I did a 48 hour fast (only water and coffee allowed) in the beginning of April as well as the middle of May, the first of which was surprisingly easy as it was during rough sea conditions and whatever I would have eaten would have likely come back up anyway. I credit fasting, sauna usage, and generally keeping to a low carbohydrate/sugar intake for the reasons behind my weight loss in the months of April and May, with my lowest average weight being at around 161 pounds (about a 9 pound decrease from the start of the contract). I’ll likely dive into my experiences with fasting in more detail in a future blog post.


Gorging on some pizza in Alaska. Cheat month, indeed.

June comes around. The ship leaves Japan and is on its way to Alaska (the experience of setting your clock forward an hour every night for 7 nights is one I never want to relive). When in Alaska, my two favorite things to do are hiking and beer drinking. Unfortunately, I only did the latter, and I turned this month into a “cheat month.” This time period was the conclusion of an incredible life journey and I didn’t want anything to hinder my social interactions with my friends on the ship (meaning: more beer drinking). This led to my weight creeping back up to about 169 when I returned home in mid-June. However, those last few hangs in Alaska, Vancouver, and San Francisco were some of my favorites that I had had with my ship friends. Worth it? Absolutely.



June 19 - July 30


I get home, ready to get healthy again, but to little success. My diet wasn’t very regimented, and I didn’t regulate my cheat days very well (a cheat day would turn into a cheat weekend, and then a cheat week, etc.). In the beginning of July, I even did another 2 day fast in an attempt to “restart” and get back on track, but if you fast and then continue to eat like shit after, whatever weight you lose will come right back. I did buy a new pair of running shoes and got back into exercising again, so thankfully I didn’t gain any weight. However, knowing that my goal of 160 was in reach, I knew that if I just buckled down and made it happen, I could get there. Around this time, I had been hearing a lot about the ketogenic diet, and I decided to give it a try. The purpose of this was two-fold: Fat loss, and to see if I enjoyed this diet more than the high protein/low carb diet that I had been following for months.


August 2, 2019, with Josh Carlo, post-Irish Fest 5k run

July 31 - August 18: Keto


Keto is a controversial and misunderstood diet. I’ll likely cover more of it in a future blog post, but here’s the basics: The goal is to consume at least 70% of your daily calories from fat, around 25% (or lower) from protein, and 5% (or lower) from carbohydrates. The reason behind this is if you begin you fuel your body with fat instead of carbohydrates, your body will begin to use that fat as an energy source and essentially turn itself into a fat burning machine, reaching a state of “ketosis.” This is basically what happens while your fasting, which I am a big fan of, so I figured why not try and get fasting benefits while still being able to eat?


Did I enjoy this diet? Sometimes. Granted, one could easily argue that only spending 2.5 weeks on Keto is not enough time to sufficiently decide whether or not the diet was truly working, but I still feel that I have some valid comments. It’s very restrictive, and when you’re successfully put into ketosis, it can take a while for your body to adjust (just search Keto flu or Keto breath). A common mistake on Keto is to eat too much protein, so consuming that much fat without consuming a lot of protein proved to be difficult. MCT oil, coconut oil, olive oil, sardines, and macadamia nuts became my best friend. In an effort to make sure my macronutrients where at the correct ratios, I downloaded the app MyPlate in order to track everything I consumed (highly recommended for those looking to track calories and nutrients!). Also, no cheat days are allowed, as one bad meal can completely throw you out of Ketosis and ruin everything. During these two and a half weeks, I had never craved a cheat meal more (you don’t realize how important they are until they’re gone...). However, does it work? Certainly. My last day before starting Keto, I weighed 164 pounds, and within two weeks I was down to 157.4, and weekly average of my final week on was 158.8, finally below my goal of 160! Another big benefit is that my cognition, focus, and mental clarity were noticeably improved, although I didn’t have the high physical energy levels compared to when I was on a high protein diet. I definitely don’t plan on doing Keto for the long term for the reasons listed above, but if there’s a situation where I’d like to lost some fat in a short amount of time, this is likely what I’d do.

10 months later. Down 40 pounds, my bathroom is cleaner, and my selfie skills are still bad.

August 18 - present


After my 2.5 weeks on Keto, I decided to do my once-a-month prolonged fast (60 hours this time), which brought my weight from 160.2 to 155.6 (in the subsequent days, I’ve kept that weight at around 155-157 pounds). I’ll be returning to a high protein/low carb diet simply because it’s easier and more enjoyable for me. What will change is more incorporating a once-a-week cheat day, and I’m not holding back (Tim Ferriss talks about cheat days at length in his book The 4 Hour Body, and I’m intrigued to see how this will play out for me).

Lastly, once I move to Oregon I’ll have access to a wellness center again. I plan on hitting up the weight room, something that I haven’t done seriously or consistently since high school. I’m excited to see how that will affect my body composition, stress levels, and overall mood and well-being.


Final thoughts


There’s constant debate about the validity of various diets, whether it be paleo, vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, Keto, Atkins, carnivore (yes, that’s a thing), or whatever else. It’s also very difficult to sift through and make sense of nutritional studies as they always seem to contradict each other (and so much of it is absolute BS and isn’t scientific in the least). However, I believe that all of these diets can and have led people to live very healthy lives. What’s the common thing missing in the above diets? The lack of processed foods, little to no refined sugars and refined carbohydrates. Unfortunately, they are found in almost everything that Americans typically eat; they are the factors that we can almost definitively say are a major cause of our country’s obesity epidemic. Other factors can and should be debated and researched (red meat, saturated fat, cholesterol, dairy, etc.), but I have a good feeling that if I were to have decided to take on any of the above diets instead of Yoli back in October, I would have experienced similar weight loss right off the bat simply because of the elimination of processed foods. It’s all about you figuring out what makes you feel the healthiest and your best self. We all have different genetics, which greatly affect each of our abilities to digest certain foods. Therefore, I firmly believe a “one-size-fits-all” diet doesn’t exist. Experiment and find out what works best for you, and avoid all of the processed junk found in the middle aisles of the grocery stores.


Please feel free to talk to me if you have any questions, or if you have any insights on improving nutrition and well being as I am always looking for new ways to improve my health. What has worked for you?



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1 Comment


Awesome read, man! I remember seeing you between ship contracts and being amazed at how much weight you had lost and how much healthier you looked overall. Thanks for taking the time to write your experience in such detail and honesty.


I particularly enjoyed the discussion about intermittent fasting - I've gone through phases of using the practice the last couple years and found it quite beneficial. I always feel that after a fast my mind is more focused and my body feels cleaner. I'm looking forward to your future posts!


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