How I Lost 65 Pounds in 5 Months
By Leo Gura - May 13, 2013 | 25 Comments
The step-by-step process, techniques, and mindsets I used to lose 65 pounds in 5 months, and how I kept it off for 8 years!
8 years ago I weighed 234 pounds. Today I weigh 175 pounds with 11.5% body fat. The story of how this change came about is fascinating because the result was so dramatic and consistent. It’s also highly instructive if you really want to lose a lot of weight permanently.
In 2005, when I made this transformation, I had no formal personal development knowledge. I happened to stumble my way through to success. I love to go back and analyze my experiences during this time because it teaches me so much about what it takes to make transformational change (which is still very difficult for me).
Note: What follows is my process for consistent, rapid weightloss. This happened to work for me. It may not be suitable for you. What I want you to learn from this aren’t the weightloss techniques but the deeper mindset shifts. If you’re serious about losing weight, pay very close attention to your inner game around eating and exercise.
History of Being Fat
It might be hard to see now, but I was overweight for most of my life. I was fat since I was 10 years old, up through my second year of college. I only knew myself as someone who had always been overweight.
The psychological affect of growing up fat cannot be understated. I had severe confidence issues about my looks. I couldn’t find clothes that fit well. I hated looking at myself in photos or the mirror. I was embarrassed to eat in front of others. And worst of all, I didn’t feel worthy enough to have relationships with girls, or even talk to them.
I tried to seriously diet several times in my teens but it never lasted. I would get determined to start and then fall off track within just a few days. After a while of this I started to believe that I had bad genetics — that I was just destined to be fat for the rest of my life. I thought, “Maybe I’m one of those people for whom it’s really hard to stay skinny. My parents are fat, so maybe that’s just the way it goes.”
Everything changed one day in my second year of college. I was sitting in a lecture hall of 300 students for an early morning Chemistry class when the girl sitting next to me started a conversation. A conversation with ME!
You have to understand that at this point in my life I had zero experience with girls. I had zero experience talking to them, let alone anything more.
She asked me some questions about the chemistry we were learning. The details of the conversation weren’t important. What was important though was that by the end of that lecture I walked out thinking the girl was cute and friendly. In retrospect, she wasn’t even that cute. I just had very few interactions like that in my whole life, so it captured my imagination.
I remember that night like it was yesterday: I was lying in bed and my imagination kept stirring. I started to fantasize about this girl — dating, sex, relationship, the whole shebang!
But it was all fantasy. A total pipe dream. I might as well have been dreaming of being the first man on Mars! My reality was that warped! I could never ask her out. I could never have sex with her. I was fat. She wouldn’t like me. I wouldn’t like me if I was her. The entire picture was outside the realm of possibility.
And then came the epiphany:
Unless… What if I actually got fit? What if I looked the way I actually wanted to look? What if I took the time to get fit — not matter how many months it took, no matter how much work — then tracked her down on campus (by whatever means possible) and asked her for a coffee?
[Note: Wow… This thinking is so fucking lame in retrospect. She would have rejected my creeper ass in 2 seconds!]
Anyways, these thoughts raced through my mind as I fell asleep. For the first time I really felt like it could be done! In fact, the possibility of it seemed so outlandish that it circled back around and became plausible. I saw the pictures of it very clearly in my mind. Years later I would learn that this was just the much-touted visualization technique, only I was using it unknowingly.
As I slept that night I had dreams of everything I thought about. Vivid dreams. I saw myself fit. I saw myself getting fit. I saw myself 110% committed. I saw myself tracking this girl down in 6 months and getting her to love me.
When I woke up that morning, something had clicked! I felt alive! I had a fire inside of me that I’d never felt before. I was 110% committed to do whatever it took to be fit. My commitment was so great I didn’t care about any obstacles in my way. I didn’t just have confidence, I had 100% faith. I knew that I had beaten this problem (in my mind).
In retrospect this was the most important piece of the whole equation. This is what enabled me to take the massive action needed to get results. I felt I had infinite motivation — and not just the short-lived kind, but the I-don’t-care-if-I-die kind. I was literally committed to suffer ANY pain to make this happen.
I immediately started making decisions and laying out plans for what I needed to do to create the change I saw in myself. This was not going to be some fad diet. I was well-aware of how most dieters gain the weight back even if they manage to lose it. No! I resolved to make a change in identity — a change in how I saw myself and how I lived my life.
The basic strategy was simple: I need more calories out than in. Everything had to work towards this end. I did some quick math and estimated that I could realistically lose about 1.5 pound per week. Then I calculated my ideal body weight of about 180 pounds and saw that it would take 30+ weeks to get there. Oh well. Doesn’t matter. I have 100% faith. To be extra-realistic I gave myself 1 year to get fully fit.
To lose 1.5 pounds per week I had to accept that permanent changes had to be made to diet AND fitness.
Realize that there are costs to success. By accepting these costs consciously, your odds of following through greatly increase.
At that point in my life I had gone to the gym about 2-3 times, ever! Before that morning the thought of going to the gym was dreadful: I had to pay dues; I had to put in hours and hours of time; and I had to keep this routine up by using my willpower. As I thought about this in my current context of 110% commitment, I had a stark realization: the cost of me being fit is going to the gym FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. I knew this was the ultimate answer. I either had to commit to the gym for the rest of my life, or I would die fat. It was as clear as that in my mind.
The second part of the equation was diet. I knew I had to stop over-eating, cut back on portion size, and eliminate desserts (candy, chocolate, sugar, etc). I also knew that while I had to cut back on sweets cold-turkey, I would have to ease my way into eating less.
Inner Game of Resisting Cravings
When I started my diet and gym routine I had very little knowledge about fitness, nutrition, or personal development. I just knew the basics, so I needed more knowledge.
After a few google searches I came across a fitness blog (Intense-Workout.com) that helped me build the mindset I needed to break through my food cravings. In the article, Food Cravings – How to Stop Eating So Much Junk Food and Sugar, the author sums it up very nicely:
Don’t whine to me. I’ve heard it before… “It’s so hard, I’m around this type of food all the time, the cravings just won’t go away, I have a sweet tooth, I just have to give in to the cravings.”
Stop it, you’re boring me.
Don’t give me your little stories. Like how you are around this type of food all the time. Do you think you are the only one, buddy? Everyone I know and am related to eats junk food all day long. This crappy food is everywhere I look. I am no different than you, except, I don’t give in.
Do I have super human powers? No. Do I not give in because my arms are bigger than yours? No. Do I not give in because I can bench press more than you? No. Do I not give in because my body fat is lower than yours? No. Do I not give in because I am physically better or physically stronger than you? No.
I don’t give in because I’m mentally stronger than you!
The tough-guy attitude of this post resonated with my do-it-at-any-cost state of mind. This fitness guy was right! It was simply a matter of me being mentally weaker than he was. That’s all my cravings were — mental weakness. I’d never thought about it that way before. As I read that post I thought, “I’m no a mental weakling! I will show him how strong I am!”
So I decided to take his advice to heart the next time I had a craving. This blogger had a very specific technique for dealing with cravings:
Next time your little food cravings start coming out, think about this. Look at the food and think, “What do I want more… the 5 seconds of enjoyment that I will have while I chew this food, or the enjoyment of the fact that 24 hours of every day, 7 days of every week, I will have the body that I want to have.”
That is what it comes down to really, and let me tell you… no food tastes as good as that feeling feels.
Even today I’m still amazed at how much power there is in this way of thinking.
Battle of the Klondike Bar
The following night was the defining moment of my diet. It was late and I was watching TV in my bedroom when I suddenly got a craving for one of the Klondike bars in my fridge. The craving really got to me. I was so used to eating desserts late at night that it felt like a drug addiction. I told myself, “No! I’m not eating!” but then 30 seconds later the craving would come back even stronger, to the point where my whole body and mind became restless.
Then I had this realization: “This is the defining moment! If I cannot resist NOW, when will I ever?! No! This has to stop RIGHT NOW!!!”
But even so, my mind kept playing tricks on me: “One last time won’t hurt. You can always stop tomorrow and everything will be just as good.” I even got out of bed and started walking over to the refrigerator.
“No god dammit! No!!! It ends now. I either resist this Klondike bar or I die fat. It’s that simple. I must draw the line NOW!”
I was hard but I willpowered my way through and resisted eating that bar of chocolatey goodness. In all cases afterwards the struggle was still there but it got easier. That was the hardest point of the entire diet, and from that point on whenever I got the urge to eat something sweet I would say to myself, “Would you rather have 5 seconds of pleasure eating that thing or would you rather have the pleasure of looking fit? Just imagine you’ve already eaten it. The 5 seconds have passed. Now be at peace.” This simple self-talk proved incredibly powerful and saved me numerous times from a full-blown descent into gluttony.
Changes That Made the Biggest Difference
After I got my motivation in place, set up the plan, accepted the costs, and acquired the inner tools, the action-taking became easy. Here’s a full run-down of everything I did to lose 65 lbs over the next 5 months:
Hitting the Gym
I hit the gym 5 days per week: 30 minutes of weights, 20 minutes treadmill, 10 minutes bike. Building a gym routine was critical to my success.
I started with the objective that going to the gym must be convenient. Although my apartment complex’s gym was very limited in terms of equipment, it was a great choice for convenience because I knew that having to get in my car and drive across town would be a major willpower drain. To this day I try to pick a gym that’s less than 1 mile from my apartment so that on those days when I feel lazy a long drive is never an excuse.
When starting a new gym regimen, the first 3 weeks are absolutely critical. I had to watch myself like a hawk. Here’s how my first 3 weeks went:
Week 1: “This is awesome! I’m breaking a nice sweat. I feel myself getting fit. I know! I’ll double the length of my workouts to double my results! Easy!”
Week 2: “OMFG! My whole body aches. My legs are burning. My joints hurt. I’m tired. I can’t physically do another session today.”
Week 3: “Wow, I made it. I’m still a bit sore but I can make it to the gym. This is harder than I thought. I need to pace myself. I can’t just willpower my way through this.”
I found that the 2nd week is the one that makes or breaks you. The first week is easy because you’re so excited to be doing something new and you don’t feel the soreness yet. You’re so excited you naturally over-train. Then the 2nd week comes and you feel like shit and the excitement turns into fatigue.
It’s during the 2nd week that your resolve and commitment really get put to the test. Realizing this, I did everything humanly possible to not miss a single day those first few weeks. Needless to say I over-trained my first week (rookie mistake), so I had to summon every ounce of willpower to hit the gym that 2nd week even though I felt burned out.
The 3rd week starts to be more normal. The soreness goes away but so does the excitement. This is where you really have to see your larger vision and start locking in the habit. It’s easier than week 2 but still uncomfortable.
All throughout the first months I had to deal with lots of psychological as well as physical challenges.
Psychologically I wanted to give up many times. I would doubt whether I could last 20 minutes on the treadmill or whether I was doing my lifts properly, which all made me want to quit.
Physically, I started getting rashes between my thighs and stomach cramps from jogging. I had to simply willpower my way through it no matter what. My predominant thought was, “If I stop now I will forever be fat. No fucking way!”
Weighing Myself Daily
I used the scale in my apartment complex’s gym to weigh myself regularly. That first week the weight started dropping fast because I ate less food. There was physically less food in my stomach so I weighed less. But I knew that I wouldn’t see real fat-loss for a while. I gave myself 2-3 weeks before I really started expecting fat loss.
When you cut out 2 daily sodas, cut out all desserts, reduce meal size, and exercise 1 hour per day, the results come fast and consistent. I started losing about 2 pounds per week and felt great about it. Stepping on the scale felt like unwrapping a Christmas present.
Eventually I transitioned to only weighing myself 1 or 2 times per week so that I could see more tangible reductions and not be confused by daily fluctuations in weight, which can easily be 2-3 pounds due to water and food consumption, and bathroom use.
Throwing Out All My Food
If you’re starting a diet — and really, not just a diet but any permanent change in your eating habits — I found it very therapeutic and empowering to waste food. I quickly discovered that I had this limiting belief about not wasting food. I would think thoughts like, “It’s wasteful too leave food on the plate. I should finish it”, or “Even though I can’t eat ice cream any more, it would be wrong to just through out the remaining ice cream in my fridge. I paid money for it. It’s good produce.”
If you’re serious about your diet then nothing gets in your way. Radical action is exactly what’s called for. Personally, I knew that if I got rid of all that food in my apartment then I wouldn’t have anything to snack and could resist craving much more easily. So what did I do? I trashed tons of “good” food.
In reality it wasn’t good food — it was junk like candy bars, ice cream, chips, etc — but I thought of it as something not to be wasted. In the end I over-powered my old beliefs and starting thinking about it like this, “Is this food junk? Yes! Then what’s better, to throw in away into the trash or throw it away into my body?” When I put it like that, the answer was always clear: I have no obligation to put bad food or excess food in my body.
Food gets “wasted” either way, but if I choose to put it in my body, my body will waste away too. My body is not a dumping ground for over-bought food. I’d always rather just throw food away. That is the cost of health!
Cutting Out Soda
I used to drink 2-3 Cokes per day. That’s 400-500 empty calories. It became immediately clear that cutting out all caloric drinks, including juice, was the quickest and easiest way to get a big calorie deficit. An interesting phenomenon is that when you go to the gym regularly and have a clear goal of losing weight, you will be MUCH more picky about what you eat throughout your day. There is a synergy effect between exercise and eating.
The challenge, of course, was finding something to replace Coke. Plain old water tasted horrible. I couldn’t imagine drinking water with my meals. The solution I came up with was iced tea with artificial sweetner.
Iced tea with 3 packets of Splenda worked extremely well. I didn’t miss the taste of sweetness but I missed all the calories I was ingesting from my soda habit. About a year later I transitioned from tea to water with Splenda. And a few years later I weened myself completely off Splenda. Today I just drink plain water and my meals taste great. My tastes have completely changed.
Reducing Portion Size
I decided right from the outset that calorie-counting wouldn’t work for me because it is not a sustainable long-term practice — too much hassle and too much guess-work. How am I supposed to know how many calories are in that burger I just ate? Instead, I found it much easier to ensure a daily calorie deficit by simply relying on the feeling of hunger in my body.
Reducing portion size to the point where I left the table with a slight feeling of hunger was an important part of my total weightloss strategy. But I had to build up to it gradually because I was so accustomed to always leaving the table feeling full, or sometimes completely stuffed!
I started by making sure to leave a little bit on the plate with every meal, just a token amount like 1 or 2 french fries. Then it grew to 5 fries. Then half the fries. Then half the fries plus 1/4th of the burger. Doing it this way, over the course of a month, reset my fullness thermostat. I completely stopped over-stuffing myself.
Getting used to being slightly hungry all the time, even after a meal, is great. You feel more driven and you’re not bogged down the way you are after a big meal. I also incorporated small snacks throughout the day to keep my hunger from getting out of hand.
I have to be completely honest. If you want to lose 2 lbs per week, you basically have to starve yourself. The trick is to accept a constant level of hunger in your body. At first the hunger seems troubling, but eventually you get used to it and actually learned to appreciated it. I re-framed the hunger in my mind as a positive signal, one that was telling me, “You are losing weight every single minute.”
Cutting Out All Desserts
I’ve always had a huge sweet-tooth so dropping desserts cold-turkey was a real challenge. What I discovered about my sweet tooth is that it goes away after a few weeks of zero sweets. But, if I keep feeding it every couple of days, it just gets worse and worse.
The solution for me here was to be very disciplined and go cold-turkey for at least a few months. There were no shortcuts. This took massive willpower. A few months later, though, I found myself looking at sweets at the pastry shop, like donuts, and being completely disgusted. I would begin to think, “There’s no way I’m putting that in my body! I don’t even have the urge anymore.” Again, goes to show that tastes will change with effort.
After 5 months of deprivation and heavy workouts I finally hit my goal of 175 pounds. Once I was happy with my weight I reduced the my cardio: I cut out the 10 minutes of bike completely and reduced the treadmill from 20 to 15 minutes. I found that I could basically eat anything I wanted, including burgers, fries, pizza, buffalo wings, etc without gaining weight as long as I kept going to the gym 5 times per week, stayed away from desserts, and kept portion size reasonable.
In the end, because I worked on making permanent changes to my habits around food and exercise, I was able to maintain my ideal body weight for nearly 8 years without a single relapse. The most I weighed since 2005 was 190 lbs, and that was during a heavy weightlifting phase where I deliberately put on 10 pounds of muscle.
The biggest lesson I want to relate to you is the kind of effort it takes to lose 65 lbs. Be real. It’s not going to happen in 3 weeks and there’s no magic pill or diet that will make it effortless. You will need patience, thought, willpower, and a desire to change yourself on a deep level.
The second lesson is that your effort needs to take place on a different plane than you’d assume. You need to make changes to your psychology — how you think about health, food, dieting, and exercise. You need to build mental resources to tackle all the challenges that will get in your way, including cravings, fatigue, waning willpower, lack of time, and lack of healthy food options. Techniques like visualization, precise goal-setting, and positive self-talk are all crucial components of successful weightloss.