How I lost 23 pounds in a year—downing burgers
Illustration by Nicolas Ortega
The first question from my doctor was, "Did you do this on purpose?" She went on to say that if my answer was "no," she immediately wanted to run tests to see if I had cancer. My answer was "yes." From the time of my annual physical in 2016 to this year's physical nearly 13 months later, I lost 23 pounds. During that period, I ate and drank anything I wanted: steaks, fries, chips, pizza (lots of pizza), chocolate, ice cream, beer, bourbon (lots of bourbon). The list of questionable food and drink choices is long.
Turns out, those choices didn't matter all that much. For all the attention various food-specific diets get, for all the praise heaped on group exercise programs, I had to focus on only one thing to lose weight: consuming fewer calories than necessary to maintain my current weight. And I used a common method of scoring in golf to stick with the plan.
My first step was to monitor what I ate and drank each day, and the things I did that would fall under my definition of physical exertion. To keep track, I downloaded an app to my phone that served as a journal. I used a free one from Under Armour called MyFitnessPal. It knows how many calories are in most foods and drinks and how many calories are expended in a variety of strenuous activities.
I then set a daily calorie limit. An average man can consume 2,500 calories a day and not gain or lose any significant weight. I chose an aggressive limit of 1,650 per day. On many days I went well above that limit. That's where golf scoring was useful. I knew I could make up for going above my calorie limit simply by exercising.
Every calorie burned was a calorie I could add to my limit. If I swam for 30 minutes and expended 400 calories, I could eat 2,050 that day and still lose weight. It's like the difference between gross and net scoring in golf. You might have shot a gross 80, but with a course handicap of 8, your net score is 72. There were days when I would exercise just so I could eat a cheeseburger. There also were days when I stuck to 1,650 calories. Those were the tough days.
The next step was to move more. Even on days I couldn't exercise or didn't feel like it, simply walking helped keep me under my net goal. The Under Armour app syncs with my phone's health app and tracks my steps. My current annual average is 11,369 a day. That's 5.3 miles of walking and/or running a day. That might sound like a lot, but the majority of my waking hours are in a seated position. I don't do much writing standing up.
The reason you're reading about this in Golf Digest, instead of Shape or Men's Fitness, is because playing golf had a big part in my strategy. Without golf, I probably would've been eating a lot more bun-less turkey burgers and carrot sticks. When I play golf, I almost always walk and carry my bag. Do that over four hours, and you've burned 1,500 calories. That means on days I play, my calorie limit goes from 1,650 to 3,150—and I still lose weight. If I ate a light breakfast and lunch, I could pig out at dinner and never come close to reaching my limit.
That's the formula I used—and still use—for weight loss. I eat and drink healthy most of the time but will go for the fun stuff when I can. If you're wondering, I'm a shade under 6-foot-2, and I went from 209 pounds to 186. If you're considering trying this plan, the box below contains some lessons I learned that might help ensure your success.
MY FIVE WEIGHT-LOSS TIPS
▶ Identify the things you routinely eat and drink that are high in calories.
If you don't love them, eliminate them. Never met anyone who was blown away by a bag of pretzels. Pass on them.
▶ Identify the things you truly love and know exactly what you have to do to enjoy them without going over your calorie limit. If you run for 22 minutes at six miles per hour, you can eat a slice of pepperoni pizza.
▶ At least every other thing you drink should be water.
It keeps you feeling full. Booze, soda and fruit juice are calorie bombs.
▶ Any type of physical exertion helps your calorie count.
Simply pushing a lawn mower for 20 minutes burns off four chicken wings.
▶ Weigh yourself daily when you wake up.
Don't get discouraged if you're sticking to the plan but the pounds aren't coming off. As a mechanism for survival, the body tends to fight back against dramatic weight loss. Eventually it will acquiesce. Trust me.