By By Karen D’Souza
ADVOCATE news services
The holidays are over and as the fog of egg nog, gingerbread and candy canes begins to lift, many people find themselves confronting the harsh reality of the bathroom scale.
Now is the time to put down the champagne flute, sweep up the tinsel and start thinking about healthy living and New Year’s resolutions. One of the most passionate topics is always weight loss, not just how to shed a few pounds fast but how to take off the extra weight and keep it off for good. If you have been over indulging since Halloween saddled you with extra bags of candy, you might want to start taking stock of your jingle belly.
The trick is to address core issues, experts say, rather than lose weight fast only to let the pounds creep right back on. This is not about a trendy cleanse or quick fix diet you will have forgotten about come Valentine’s Day. So think beyond those apple cider vinegar shots you’ve heard of to make lasting changes.
“A lot of diets can help you lose weight but the hard part is finding a diet you can stick to over the long haul,” says Dr. John Morton, chief of Bariatric surgery at Stanford Health Care. “That’s the real challenge. Can you maintain the weight loss over time?”
Discipline was always the sticking point for Robert Brandyberry. The San Jose resident says he could barely get himself to plow through one workout at his previous weight of 433 pounds. But now, 28 weeks into his latest diet and workout plan, which he learned from the coaches at San Jose’s Achievement Fitness Center, he has lost a whopping 136 pounds. He went from having high blood pressure and borderline diabetes to a clean bill of health.
“Before when I got stressed out, I lost myself in cheeseburgers and Mountain Dew because food never talks back,” he says. “Now I go to the gym and get rid of the stress that way.”
The diet is tough and the workouts grueling but he’s determined to get to his goal (to have lost 200 pounds in the course of a year). He does a high-intensity workout twice a day, seven days a week. The first workout comes at 6:30 am, the second after a day’s work. The man who used to get winded taking his 5-year-old to the park and who struggled to tie his shoes is now a gym rat.
“When I first started my whole body hurt and I could barely walk. I needed a bench just to get up off the floor,” he says, “But I had to check my ego at the door and just suck it up.”
Changing the way he eats has been key to winning the battle of the bulge.
“I follow a high protein, low carb diet. No sugars and very, very low sodium. I drink well over a gallon of water a day,” says Brandyberry, 44. “The diet is hard to stick to. It takes a lot of mental power that I didn’t have before. The lifestyle changes I have made are for good.”
Social media has played a huge role in keeping him on track.
“Before I had no accountability. I’d say ‘I will start soon’ and that passed,” he says. “Now I have the best support system with my friends. They comment on my Facebook posts with so much positive energy, it makes me want to keep going.”
Meanwhile, slow and steady is the plan for Diana Crawford. She’s been on the Jenny Craig program since 2016 and has whittled her weight down from 300 to 195, which has improved her quality of life immeasurably.
“I will have to eat the way I’m eating now for the rest of my life if I don’t want to gain weight again,” says the 64-year-old from Pinole, Calif. “Bodies are funny and mine is funnier than most in that it will try to take me back to my highest weight.”
For John Manoj Vastrad, the motivation to make a lasting change and keep pushing himself was more emotional. After getting a divorce from his wife of 18 years, back in 2013, he went through a dark period and fitness was the light at the end of the tunnel.
“After going through an initial bleak period, I had a lot time on my hands and I was also between jobs,” says the 46-year-old from Fremont. He filled the void with a workout regiment worthy of a triathlete. “I started with 100 push ups, 100 squats, 200 bicycle crunches, 50 pull ups every alternate day and I peaked at 250 push ups, 150 squats, 300 bicycle crunches and 65 pull ups every alternate day.”
To top it off, he also tried to go hiking or biking almost every week. He has had moments of weakness, he admits, but he has always found a way to push through the wall of inertia. Knowing he has a family history of heart issues and diabetes is what keeps him going.
“It wasn’t always easy and I still have to drag myself to workout but the after effects are better than any drug,” he says. “By far the biggest motivator is just the wonderful feeling of being healthy and fit, free from illnesses, depression, aches and pains and stress. I would rather spend a few hours every week in the gym than in the doctor’s waiting room or in a hospital.”
From a doctor’s perspective, Morton suggests that no matter what combination of diet and fitness plan you choose, you should try to follow some basic rules, such as eating some protein at breakfast, even if all you have time for is a little Greek yogurt or peanut butter, and trying to get some exercise. Every single day.
“That old adage about eating like a king at breakfast and a pauper at dinner turns out to be true,” he says.
He also advises patients to exercise in between leaving work and coming home so that the activity can be a sort of emotional buffer zone that helps fight stress, which is one of the factors that causes people to overeat in the first place. Calming down and eating more mindfully may be crucial in combating the American obesity epidemic.
“Stress triggers cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone in the body,” says Morton, “and that makes your body fight even harder to hold onto those pounds.”
Brandyberry admits there are obstacles but he remains resolved.
“You have to keep reminding yourself why you are doing it,” he says. “For me, I could care less about looking good at the beach. I just want to be here for my kids, you know?”