Good nutrition is linked to brain health, good sleep, improving mental health and building resilience. In this blog post, Rich Lamberti, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) chief information officer, shares how he lost weight last year after years of trying.
Happy new year, everyone! It’s that time of year again for resolutions and new gym memberships. On almost everyone’s list: drop a few extra pounds and get back in shape. Many of us don’t reach that goal; I know I didn’t until last year when I dropped 50 pounds. I hope my story motivates you to end 2016 with a little less weight and maybe even a new wardrobe.
Eat Real Food
I’ve been on a few diets in my life. Some worked, some didn’t, but the golden ticket for me wasn’t a diet. What’s the secret that took away my muffin top? Eat real food. Not so fast, you say, “I eat healthy every day, but I can’t shed a single pound.” I thought so too. I suggest that you start a journal and write down everything you eat for a week, and see what you are putting in your body. I think the results will amaze you.
I’d been sweating my butt off, putting mile after mile on the stationary bike in my home gym, going nowhere fast – and not losing any weight. I’d sworn in January to get back to my baseball-playing weight of 180 pounds, but it seemed like 2015 was going to be another year I passed up the chance to play a sport I enjoy. That was until June when my 17-year-old son threw down the gauntlet: he was bound and determined to play against me in the Washington Capital Area adult baseball league. “You’re too old to play and I can outrun you any day of the week,” he told me.
Give it 30 Days
About that time I found an eating program that seemed like it might work. It wasn’t the first I’d tried, but it felt right for me. Basically, I eliminated all processed foods for 30 days — including dairy, grains, breads and sweets. I also planned ahead. I kept a food journal for a week before starting the program, and set a targeted start date. I thought, this is not going to work, but I’ll give it 30 days.
I began my program July 7: abstained from alcohol, drank more than the prescribed amount of water, did not let sugar cross my lips and stayed away from processed foods. There was no calorie counting, no packaged meal and no getting a B12 shot every week. In fact, the particular program I followed advised you to put your scale away during the program, so I had no idea how much weight I was losing.
The fact that I had to give up so many things I like (spaghetti and clam sauce, pizza on Friday night, brownies, cookies) was hard. It took willpower, commitment and dedication not to fall off the wagon. What I told myself every time I hit a challenge was that it was only 30 days and I needed to “get it done!”
Embrace the Roadblocks
One more challenge: injuries. I neglected to mention that I tore a triceps muscle in late June. During the entire month of July, I had so many MRIs and visits to the orthopedic surgeon that it almost drove me to drink.
Why didn’t I wait and start after the surgery? It was simple…stuff always happens or comes up … that’s life. So when I put the marker down saying I was going to start this program, I felt this was it. I was doing this come hell or high water. You’ve got to embrace that there will always be roadblocks. You have to set aside time for yourself.
Only the Beginning
Saturday, Aug. 1, I hosted a beer, barbecue and crab feast for my baseball team. It was 24 days into the program, and I decided that would be my reward for being so consistent. We all ate, drank and were very merry. The next day, I was back on the program. According to the program I followed, there are three steps that are an important part of staying on track for life: I need to be able to decide when to indulge, do it without guilt, and get back on track. Although the program didn’t say to try this before the 30 days were up, I felt pretty good that I chose my indulgence well, did it and got right back on track.
As prescribed by the program I was following, I had put the scale in the closet for the entire 30 days, so when I had a physical on Aug. 6, the week before triceps surgery, I had no idea how much weight I had lost. I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s and saw I was down from 225 to 198 pounds! I’d lost almost a pound a day since I had begun the journey. I felt pretty pumped, and my clothes fit better as well. But that was only the beginning.
Have a Slice, Not the Pie
The program I followed allows you to transition back to eating certain things again after 30 days, but I had no desire to add back most of the foods that I had abstained from. However, I did miss my adult beverage after a long day at the office, but I found that I wasn’t able to drink nearly as much as before I started the program. I felt full more quickly and I was inebriated faster. After one or two adult beverages, that was it for me. I found that moderation worked when I stuck to it. Say that Monday night is pizza night, I have a slice and enjoy it, I just don’t eat the whole pie.
Fast forwarding to the present, my colleagues are used to seeing me walking the floors of DCoE munching on a bag of carrots, radishes, pumpkin seeds, cashews or almonds. I always have a 32-ounce bottle of water with me. If you stop by my office during lunch, you’ll see that I continue to eat healthy. I’m lucky to be able to afford a nutritionist who delivers 15 meals to me every Sunday. These all include protein (chicken, fish, turkey, eggs or sausage), a vegetable and a carbohydrate.
Sunday I’m getting on a plane. I know that if I go to a restaurant I can order a chicken breast, salad and baked potato. My rule of thumb is, don’t add stuff. There’s so much added sugar in things these days, so many extra calories your body doesn’t need to process. The last time I traveled for work, instead of using my per diem to eat out, I went to the grocery store and bought fruit, veggies and proteins like a shrimp tray, rotisserie chicken and other proteins.
Support is Important
People often ask me how I lost weight, and I share the whole program with them: Here’s something I’ve learned, something I’ve done. I post a lot of motivational quotes and links on Twitter. Support is important. I got lots of encouragement when I tore my triceps. People said, “You’ll be great. You can still do it.”
I still work out. Even though I lost weight because of changes in my diet, staying fit helps me maintain that loss and is just as important to my health. I continue to get stronger every day. My tailor is making a small fortune altering my suits, and I am happier and healthier than I have been in a very long time. I continue to eat the same way I have since July and I carry about 50 pounds less than when I began this journey: today’s weight was 174.6.
My new motivational motto: I’d rather be covered in sweat at the gym than covered in clothes at the beach.
Rich’s Top Five Aids for Staying in Shape:
Need help eating better, exercise tips and improving your overall health? Check out these resources:
- Afterdeployment has a health and wellness self-assessment with useful resources.
- DCoE Blog: Small Steps to Improved Mental Health offers tips on how to implement changes by starting small.
- Real Warriors offers articles on the benefits of physical fitness and nutrition to boost resilience.
- The Performance Triad focuses on sleep, activity and nutrition. It is a comprehensive plan to improve readiness and increase resilience through public health initiatives and leadership engagement.
- Human Performance Resource Center gives individuals tools to maintain a healthy life.
- Operation Live Well provides grocery shopping tips, recipes and more to make healthy options easier.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program to determine if it is right for you.