My last year: A rundown. (A lot of running down)

By on July 3, 2013

This week is the 4th of July. For most, this means picnics, fireworks, and vacation. It means all of that for me too but it also marks the 1 year anniversary of my weight loss. Last July 4th week my family packed up the minivan and drove out to Corolla, NC in the outer banks for a week-long vacation. In that 4 hour drive out to the outer banks I decided to change my life.

I didn’t think that decision would truly change the way I live my life nor did I have a clue that 1 year later I would still be committed to that decision. So it seems fitting that on this 1 year anniversary I tell the story. Throughout the year I have had many discussions with many people (some who I hope I have inspired) about what I did, why I did it, and how I did it. In this post I will lay it all out on the table as a form of therapy and celebration. Let me apologize in advance…this shiz is going to be pretty personal and graphic.

On July 4th, 2012 I was 212 pounds. I was tired. And sweaty all the time. I snored. I had horrible allergies. My cholesterol wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t normal either.

Why start on vacation you idiot?
You would think that vacation is the absolute worst time to start an exercise and eating plan and you would be absolutely right. After all, vacation is a time for indulgence! It’s a time for laziness! It’s a time for enjoyment! But I am a stubborn human being that hates the words “you can’t.”

And even though I agree starting a new plan on vacation is hard that is exactly why I decided to do it on vacation. I figured: if I can stick to a plan for a week while eating out constantly I can certainly rock this when I’m in the comforts of my own home! This was all before I knew what exactly I was going to do.

What is 4 Hour Body and the Slow Carb Diet?
My friend Josh (who has been a huge inspiration for me) had been following the eating plan for Tim Ferriss’ book 4-Hour Body known as the Slow Carb Diet. I was pretty impressed that even though he was pretty much immobile while recovering from ACL surgery, he was not only keeping weight off, he was losing weight. I had been a huge fan of Ferriss’ other book the 4-Hour Workweek and let’s face it, a personal recommendation from a friend especially when you see results with your own eyes is enough to make a decision. The rules for the Slow Carb Diet are pretty simple: No “White” Carbs, Eat the same meals over and over again, don’t drink calories, don’t eat fruit, and take one day off per week (cheat day).

It was hard that first week. Really hard.

There is nothing quite like being on vacation and being the only person in the group not having ice cream. It all seems silly one year later but that was very emotional for me: My wife and kids, eating ice cream cones on a gorgeous day by the beach and me having a bottled water. Or seeing an enormous bowl of fresh cut fruit at breakfast and opting for cooked spinach and black beans.

We were staying in a beach house with a kitchen so I went to the supermarket and bought a ton of cans of black beans, fresh spinach, skinless chicken breasts, and eggs. This was pretty much my meal every day that week. Tim Ferriss mentions in his book that it isn’t fun but it gets results. Well, it wasn’t fun but I focused on the results. One cool thing was my brother-in-law made a pretty awesome pork tenderloin that I totally macked on one night.

And thank god my awesome wife kept on giving me props for my dedication to the plan. It was just enough to keep me from giving up. I got through the week. It was hard but not impossible.

Setting a goal.

Not a weight loss goal, an overall health goal.
I’m a pretty goal oriented person. Give me a target and I will do everything in my power to achieve it. This is definitely the OCD in me. I’ve known I have an obsessive personality for a long time. That is partially the reason I have tried my whole life to not put myself in a position where I would abuse alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. But that tendency isn’t all bad. It’s also the same personality trait that has helped me produce a ton of content on my blog for a long sustained time. Or keeps my email at Inbox Zero every day.

I had an initial goal of dropping 12 pounds. Make it an even 200 pounds. And dropping my overall cholesterol 30 points. I didn’t set a time to this goal. I just wanted to work hard and stay committed until I achieved it.

Epic Cheat Day

After my week on vacation just following the Slow Carb Diet I had a net loss of 7 pounds. Pretty cool to see results. And this was also after gaining 5 pounds after my epic cheat day. The plan calls for very strict eating 6 days a week and then going nuts on the 7th day. This is to prevent your body from down cycling its metabolism. You are supposed to go nuts. Like crazy. To give you an idea of how crazy, this is what I had on my first week’s cheat day:
– 6 Krispy Kreme Donuts
– 2 McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin with Egg Sandwich
– 2 McDonald’s Hashbrowns
– Venti Starbucks Green Tea Latte
– Five Guys Bacon Double Cheeseburger with Large Fries
– Medium Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza (the entire pizza)
– 5 scoops of Peanut Butter/Chocolate Ice Cream
– Large plate of Beef Nachos
– Small bag of Cool Ranch Doritos

I imagine I consumed over 15,000 calories that day. It felt so good going in and so horrible after that. I gained 5 pounds that saturday. By monday I had lost that 5 pounds. Crazy huge metabolism! And the other side effect is by the following week I was so disgusted with myself my cheat day turned into just a cheat meal.

Slow Carb Diet X10
The Slow Carb Diet promises weight loss without rigorous exercise. It highlights people dropping tons of weight without hitting the gym at all. I wasn’t interested in this at all. I wanted to change the way I ate and the way I moved. So I decided to dial up the Slow Carb Diet in 3 specific ways.

1. Even though the Slow Carb Diet allows for coffee with a little sugar, diet soft drinks, and red wine I eliminated all alcohol and soft drinks and coffee. In the last year I have drank only water and unsweet tea. (with the occasional glass of scotch or shot of tequila). When I drink coffee I prefer lattes and that extra dairy and sugar was counterproductive.

2. Every day in the last year I have drunk 1 ounce of water for every pound I weigh. This is not impossible if you start early and stay motivated all day. The benefits of that amount of water flushing out your system is huge! And it gave me clearer skin, less toxins, and clear pee by 7:30AM every day!

3. And perhaps the most important “multiplier” that I added was running. I set out to conquer something I had told myself for many years was impossible: run for long distances.

Lungs on Fire.

I was already feeling good about the initial weight I lost from just changing diet. But most of that was water weight. On July 16th, 2012 I went for my first run. I woke up early. 5:30 AM and set out from my house to try to run as long as possible. I had no clue how long I would last or how fast I would run it. Even at 5:30 it was already 78 degrees and crazy humid the way you would expect a North Carolina morning would be in July. I ran fast out of the gate…err neighborhood. My breathing was heavy. My mouth was dry from inhaling and exhaling out of my mouth. I lasted about 400 meters before I felt I had to stop. My lungs were on fire and my heart was beating so fast it felt like it would beat right out of my chest. I started to walk until I completed the rest of the mile distance around my neighborhood. I ran and walked for a total of 22 minutes with an average pace of 18 minutes per mile.
I felt like I was going to die. And during every step I took during that first run I contemplated quitting. But see, this is where my goal-oriented stubbornness kicked in. Now I had a baseline and dammit I was going to improve on it.
The next morning I woke up at 5:15AM and ran again. This time faster but for the same distance. I sprinted (remember this is all relative) and then walked. Then sprinted again. Then walked. In all I ran probably a total of half a mile. And while my running portion was faster, my walking portion was slower and my average mile pace was pretty much the same as before. But it was 2 runs in 2 days and while I felt like an out of shape cow, I felt like an out of shape cow that ran 2 times in 2 days.

Lousy, horrible, lousy, horrible, lousy, horrible.

Two days later I ran again. Again in the 5:00 hour only this time for 1 1/2 miles at a 12 minute/mile pace. The next day, again I ran. Again I felt lousy. In the first 2 weeks after my vacation I ran 8 times. Every time I felt lousy. My chest was going to explode. But I was active and feeling a little bit stronger mentally every day.

A lot of people have asked me how I started running and why I started running. The answer is I started in pain. Sustained pain for a solid month of running almost every day. And I started running because I needed to prove to myself that I could. I tell people who are just starting out that you have to just keep up with it and be realistic with your progress in the first 20 or so runs. I’m no expert, but that was the time period for me. That was the timeframe of needed mental toughness to get to the point where I felt like I could legitimately add running to my new routine.

A new month, a new goal.

By the end of July: 3 weeks after starting my new initiative, I achieved my goal of losing 12 pounds. The combined eating, running, extra sleeping, and water consumption put my body in a state of constant fat burning. I ran 14 times in the month of August and dropped 55 points to my total cholesterol. It was time to make a new goal. 190 pounds. I had not been 190 pounds since my junior year in college. It seems silly but the thought in my head was my wife had never hugged me at that size. By extension my kids or my friends or my coworkers had never seen at that size. The problem was even though those initial 12 pounds came off quickly, once I got into the sub-200 range it was harder to shed weight. I ht a plateau in weight loss even though the diet stayed the same and the running increased. I decided to step up my regiment one more time.

Freezing Cold Wake Up Call

One of the components to 4 Hour Body includes the use of icing the back of your neck before bed and taking ice cold showers and baths. The idea is simple: shocking your body into extreme cold sends messages to your brain to warm the body quickly which jump starts fat burning. This includes icing the back of your neck for 30 minutes before bedtime and taking an ice cold shower in the morning. I remember a year ago watching a Dr. Oz segment on TV (I know, don’t judge) about the benefits of cold showers. For one, the cold water preserves the oils in your skin thus preventing the bad cycle of stripping natural oils and replenishing them with moisturizers. But the real benefit is it jump starts your body quickly into a state of metabolism (and saves water). It was crazy hard to psyche myself up to do this. I found it was best to take the same approach as jumping into a pool. Don’t gradually do it, just go for it. Your body will shiver uncontrollably for about 5 seconds and then the initial shock goes away and you get to work at soaping up. Between the ice packs and the cold showers I broke through the weight-loss plateau and started losing weight again. The book calls for submerging yourself in an ice bath to really jump start your weight loss but I simply couldn’t bring myself to do that.

By November 1st, 2012 I ran my 100th mile. And I weighed 190 pounds.

Time to get serious about running
By the beginning of November I had run my 100th mile. I hit my goal of 190 pounds and was now setting my sights on 175 pounds (my high school weight). It was time to start getting serious about running. I had found great therapy in going out for a nice long run to think about my day, my family, my life. The joint pains had long gone, and my distances were creeping in to the 10k distances. This distance was still very difficult but I was achieving them routinely. I was considering myself a runner now. It was now a part of my weekly routines. No longer did I ask myself “Will I run this week?” it was now “how long will I run this week?”
Up to this point I was wearing a pair of Puma Cross trainer shoes. They had great ankle support and cushion but they were heavy and had a very large heel drop. I was also wearing cotton t-shirts and socks and it was causing chafing of epic proportions. I can’t express how many scabs I had on my nipples, blisters on my feet, and friction burns on my thighs. I decided to buy a pair of real running shoes and I purchased a pair of Nike Free 5.0s. I instantly fell in love with them. The road felt closer (it was) and each stride felt better. I felt like I could concentrate on my stride and form with greater confidence and even though I had some initial ankle soreness from the noticeably less ankle support on the new shoes, pain on my heal which I didn’t really notice until it ws gone was taken care of by a better foot strike made possible by these more minimal shoes. I was in love with them and even 800 miles later, I’m still wearing that model shoe.

One of the great things about North Carolina is the real ability to run all year round. As November turned into December, I enjoyed the colder weather and that enabled me to run longer and faster. By Thanksgiving I was stretching runs into the 10 mile range and by December 1st I ran my first half marathon range. I also took the step of buying Power Glide to rub on my body before running, and bought some Dri-Fit shirts and shorts and socks. Finally, I felt like a real runner!

A great tip from someone who knows
As I mentioned, my friend Josh has run tons of races and knows how to train. One time when talking to him about music playlists while running he gave me a great piece of advice. He asked me what type of music I put on my list and after telling him all the hard rock and rap I had on there he challenged me to think differently. He mentioned he listens to Norah Jones because the slower pace gave him a nice consistent pace. I switched over to different music and it was like magic! The slower music: John Mayer, Sting, James Taylor, etc that is now on my playlist keeps my mind focused and not angry and I can now keep a sustained pace for a longer period of time.

A new wardrobe.

One of the greatest side effects of losing a bunch of weight is the need to get a new wardrobe. The problem is I didn’t want to invest in an entirely new wardrobe when I was still moving towards a goal of another 15 pounds. This meant, unfortunately, that as I was feeling better about how I looked, my clothes were old and baggy. But I was losing weight so quickly that even when I purchased a few Brooks Brothers shirts for work in November, 3 weeks later it was too baggy. For those that aren’t familiar, Brooks Brothers shirts run in 4 sizes: Regular Fit, Traditional Fit, Slim Fit, and Extra Slim Fit. I wear Brooks Brothers almost exclusively so it was actually a great measure for me to see my progress in clothing sizes. The problem is at $88 a shirt, it’s not fun to grow out of them so quickly. I invested in 3 shirts and wore them at work for a good month. They are too large for me now.

Throughout this process I started to box up my old wardrobe but despite my confidence in losing more weight I still wasn’t confident I would keep it all off. So I put the boxes in the attic just in case I have to resort back to them. Some may say it is a crutch to keep your old clothes in the house. For me the fear of making the walk of shame up to the attic to get my old clothes is a huge motivator.

Before I started running I wore a 17/32 Regular Fit. Now I wear a 15 1/2/32 Extra Slim Fit. For pants, I used to wear a 36 waist. Now I wear a 30 waist. Fortunately my foot size hasn’t changed as I love my shoes and I can’t bear to think of how much it would be to replace my extensive collection.

By December 31st, 2012 I was 175 pounds.

I did it! But I wasn’t finished.
By the end of 2012 I had reached my goal! 175 pounds! I was the skinniest I had been since senior year in high school. I felt great! I had lost 37 pounds. I was now running about 25 miles per week and it felt fantastic! I invested in a headlamp and compression running pants. I had survived the carb-heavy holiday season unscathed. By this time I was no longer sticking to my strict diet regiment. I introduced grains and fruits back into my diet. I indulged in a dessert here and there. I no longer had cheat days or meals. Just normal healthy balanced eating.
750 Miles
In the beginning of the year I set a goal of running 750 miles in 2013. Halfway through the year I am way ahead of pace to reach that goal. The reason I made that goal was to keep me healthy and consistent with my running. So far, it has worked. I’ve had some occasional running injuries but have bounced back quickly and intelligently.

But in the back of my mind my real goal was not running miles. It was keeping my weight off for a year. Even though I had made so much progress and had successfully incorporated my new routine into habit, I was still worried about reverting back to my old ways. There’s no question that in the past I ate as a way to emotionally comfort myself when I was feeling bad about myself. That, of course, started a vicious cycle. Even a year later, that desire to eat for comfort has not left. I still crave a Bacon Cheeseburger and milkshake the same way I did before. I say this to let other people know the urge doesn’t go away overnight or over a year. Heck, I’m not sure it will ever go away. Nor am I sure I want it to. I like that now if I want to truly indulge in something, I can. And I take comfort in the fact that I probably won’t follow up that indulgence with another one for awhile.

I frequently go to restaurants and order a veggie burger with bacon on it. Not because I want to be ironic or cute but because bacon is fucking delicious. I eat the veggie burger without the bun, eat the bacon and feel super satisfied.

Calipers not scales

I’m no longer 175 pounds. I’m back up to 183 pounds and I have never been skinnier. Now that the bulk of the weight is off, this year I’ve focused on strength and body fat. My running has slowed a bit (down to 3 runs a week at about 18 miles a week) but I supplement the other days with weight training and the occasional stationary bike. I also now do pushups, sit-ups, and crunches 3 times a day. About 100 reps of each. And kettle bell swings. My body is changing again and my emotional state about it all is changing to. I still have body image issues just like everyone else does. And even though I recognize improvement, I always see rooms to improve some more. Like my running I started out slow. Couldn’t do more than 10 pushups at a time. I’m applying the same principles of stepping up my routine.
My obsessive personality is now working against me not for me and it’s a constant battle to keep my mental state in the right place. Staying healthy physically and mentally. Not superficially. But I’m managing it! I’m not going to try to train for an official run race! Even though I have run half marathon distances multiple times, I have never even run a 5k race. I’ve never felt the need. Now, I think I do. After some support from friends and coworkers I think I’m going to sign up for a half marathon for this fall and target a full marathon next spring. Stay tune for my progress as I continue to train!

Kids and how encouragement works

While my wife has been a very big key to my motivation with her constant words of encouragement my kids have given me inspiration in other ways. My daughter last fall hugged me and told me “Daddy, I can reach all around you now! I didn’t use to be able to.” I can’t tell you how good that made me feel. My 8 year old son asked to join a track team after seeing me running. My youngest son for Father’s Day wrote on his school assignment sheet that “My Dad likes to run.” For them to recognize what a big part of my life running has become is so special.

1 Year later

So here I am. 1 year later. Feeling fast and strong and healthy. I have not been sick with a cold or a flu all year. My cholesterol is in the normal range. I’m here in Florida on vacation without a care about my weight or what I’m eating. I’m incredibly grateful for my supportive family and friends. Special shout outs to those who have taken the time to congratulate me or those I have inspired. Those types of interactions make me feel great and continue to inspire me. I hope that next year at this time the issue of my weight or my health isn’t worth talking about. That it is just a part of who I am and what I am about. I hope that my healthier lifestyle isn’t cause to make mention of. Just a good example for my kids. Thanks to everyone for keeping me strong!

Gregory Ng

Gregory Ng is a content creator and a father of 3 on a mission to end hunger and be the best dad in the world. GOAL: Visit 100 National Parks as a family by 2020

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8 comments on “My last year: A rundown. (A lot of running down)

  1. Wow. You have just inspired me to start running agin. Several years removed from several half marathons and a full, I’ve reverted back to being a non-runner. That changes now. Thank you. And congratulations.

  2. Four things this post inspired me to do:

    – Quit smoking (2 weeks and counting!)

    – Actually get off my butt and exercise. I started walking in the morning this week…may do running later but for right now a good brisk walk for 30-40 minutes in the morning is a good pace for me

    – The playlist thing is DEAD ON. It even helps me stay focused at work during the day when coding or doing something that requires my full attention.

    – Cold showers!

    Thank you Greg for your humility and vulnerability in this post and the inspiration! And great job!

  3. Thanks for sharing your story Greg.

    I got about halfway through my 5k training and I started having lower back discomfort. A friend passed along an article on how to overcome that.

    I plan on starting my training again next week. This time however, I am starting to train for a 10k goal rather than 5k, and run exclusively outside. Last time I was only on a treadmill at the gym. I read many accounts of how the treadmill is too limiting in motion, etc.

    Most likely, I will run some 5k’s along the way as I prepare for the 10k. I have never ran in a race, and its really just a goal to get to the first one and actually finish!

    I need to modify my running playlist now!

    I’ll get there. Thanks for sharing your inspirational account. You sir, rock!

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