Shrinking Myself: Reshaping My Life, One Late-Night Snack at a Time

I’m about to write here on a topic I’ve rarely discussed with anyone outside a small circle of people. It’s no big secret, and it’s nothing I’m ashamed of. Well, maybe I am, just a little, but I’ll get over it. Plus, I’m a writer. I write about things, and this is one of those things.

Okay, here it is: I’m overweight. (But not as overweight as I was six weeks ago. More on this in a few paragraphs.)

Every six months, I go to the doctor for my regular checkup, and for the most part, everything always looks good. My slight hypertension is under control with the help of medication, and my HDL cholesterol (the good variety) is occasionally just a tad low, but the fact is I’m far healthier than I have any right to be. I have sleep apnea, which is probably made worse by my weight, but that’s been issue since I was a kid, and I’ve been successfully using a CPAP since 2005. My joints are in remarkably good condition, considering my age and weight, and that’s probably due to the fact that I never played high school sports.

Still, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve pushed it health-wise too far for too long.

There’s a reason I’m discussing this publicly, and for the most part, my motives are selfish.

  • I Want to Create Accountability: I want people to know what I’m doing, but even more importantly, I want to know that people know. If that guilts or shames me into doing what’s right, then I’m golden.
  • I’m Open to Suggestions: I know other people may have insights into what I’m going through, and I’d appreciate any advice offered.
  • I’d Like Support: Honestly, I’d like some positive feedback and encouragement. What can I say? I’m a weak man.
  • I’m Hoping to Inspire Someone Else: Who knows? Maybe what I’m doing could help someone else. Hey, I said my motives were mostly selfish.

Here’s the good news: Over the past nine weeks–since Memorial Day, to be exact–I’ve lost close to twenty pounds, which puts me a little over one-third of the way to my primary goal. And I haven’t been starving myself. Here’s an overview of what I’ve been doing so far with encouraging results:

  • Exercising at least every other weekday, I usually do forty-five minutes of aerobics, stationary bike, elliptical trainer, or brisk walking. I do it every day when possible, but I don’t beat myself up too much if I miss one day.
  • On one or both weekend days, my wife and I look for a place to go hiking, the longer the walk and the higher the elevation, the better. Fortunately, Colorado has no shortage of viable candidates.
  • I’ve been keeping my daily calorie intake to around 1,700 calories. To calculate this, I’ve been using a multi-platform calorie-tracking app, MyFitnessPal, which I’ve found to be useful. That’s probably partly me, though: I get into charts, graphs, and spreadsheets. Also, I read (and am now re-reading) an excellent book by psychiatrist Roger Gould titled Shrink Yourself, which deals with a lot of the issues surrounding eating habits.
  • As I said before, I’m refraining from eating after 8:30, which has always been a huge thing for me. Late-night grubbing is something I’ve done since I was a kid. I even did it when I was in the military, but I was so active in those days that it didn’t really affect me.
  • Weekends aren’t as regimented. In fact, I make a point of letting myself get some of the “treats” I don’t have during the week: dessert, one or two comfort foods or ethnic favorites like Thai, Indian, or Mexican.

But here’s the thing. Diets don’t work, binge exercising doesn’t work, deprivation doesn’t work. They may be useful in the short run, but they rarely last. One of the finest nuggets of wisdom I ever read about behavior went along the lines of “No matter what life changes you make, eventually, you’ll always have a tendency to be you.” The advice wasn’t as pessimistic as it might sound, by the way. The point was, essentially, that it’s unreasonable to expect big life alterations to be easy.

I know, then, that unless I come up with a way to make lasting, reasonable changes, any benefits I gain stand a good chance of dissipating with the wind.

For instance, back in the late 90s, soon after my wife and I got married, we spent nearly a year going to aerobics class and adhering to a somewhat low-fat diet, which resulted in my losing about thirty-five pounds. And I actually enjoyed it. It was great–it was wonderful. The only drawback was that the following year I started making plans to return to school and get my master’s in English, which changed my schedule, which in turn led to me skipping out on the gym, which led to…well, you get the picture.

Over the next few years, I dutifully gained back all the weight I’d lost, with about fifteen pounds to spare. Since then, I’ve never been able to replicate my success. I’ve lost five or ten pounds here and there but nothing significant or lasting. As you might have guessed, this is not something I want to happen again.

Keeping this in mind, I’m trying to build habits I can live with, such as not eating after a certain time, being more active on a daily basis, not eating second helpings, and tracking my calories now so later I’ll have a better idea of the impact of what I eat.

One thing I have in my favor is the fact that I stopped smoking about sixteen years ago–after a fifteen year habit–and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. In fact, the time I finally quit puffing for real was probably about the hundredth attempt I’d made, and that’s not an exaggeration. But the takeaway is that if I can do that, I can do this. I know I can.

But knowing isn’t the problem. Remembering is the problem.

More to come.

(Note: Special thanks also go out to Anastasiya Goers for her article “3 Proven Strategies to Strengthen Your Willpower,” which has helped me along my way. Check out her website, Balance in Me.)



  1. Michelle says:

    Awesome, Gary! I look forward to reading more.

  2. Jerry O'Connor says:

    I really enjoyed this. In my mid thirties, working long hours building a business and raising a family I discovered a few extra pounds and went to a ‘Wellness Weekend’ where I got my first cholesterol check. That was an eye opener! I started walking, then jogging, then running. I did a lot of 10Ks and began a healthy diet. Eventually I switched to bikes. I hiked, I skied, I created an active lifestyle, and I believe that core of strength is one of the reasons I survived my recent illness.

    In the end, you choose. You choose to eat after 8:30 or not to. No one makes you do it, it’s up to you. You have the discipline so you will succeed. Keep us up to date on your progress!

    • J.G. Walker says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Jerry. And I’m also glad that you’ve pulled ahead of this thing. I’ll definitely keep you posted.

  3. Linda Hester says:

    Great job, Gary! You sound like you’re doing about the same thing I’ve been doing! I participate in, and now teach a program called First Place 4 Health at my church. Its a wellness program based on whole grains, lean meats, fruits, veggies and good fats. We exercise, do a Bible Study and meat once a week. It provides both accountability and a support system. I have lost about 30 pounds over the last year. Its all about thinking about what you’re eating before you eat it, minful eating if you will. We use Myfitnesspal as well. I’m so proud of you, because I’m sure it’s a lot harder with just you and Shannon. Way to go!!

    • J.G. Walker says:

      Thanks, Linda. That sounds very cool. And yes, I love MyFitnessPal, too. It really has made a huge difference for me.

  4. I’m so glad you posted this Gary. I’ve been trying to get started on a much needed healthier lifestyle for a couple of months now and I confess to a lot of backsliding. My husband’s health issues keep me pretty much housebound as he needs constant supervision so the walking that I used to enjoy to help me keep the pounds from piling on too quickly is no longer an option. I’ve bought a stationary bike in the hope it will be the answer. So far I avoid it more days than I use it. But now, I plan to use you as a model to help me along the way. I look forward to following your journey.

    • J.G. Walker says:

      Thanks, Rebecca, and I’m sorry, both about your husband and your being housebound. And you know, I was never much of a stationary bike rider until recently. What I started doing to try and make it more interesting was listening to music and sort of planning it out. I usually do forty-five minutes and try to make it as interesting as possible. With me, if it gets boring, I’m likely to quit.

  5. Vanessa says:

    I’m with ya!! I started blogging about my weight loss project this year for the same reason. It was cathartic at first, but I got a little obsessive and kinda annoyed by private emails asking how my diet was going. Ha. And then I started worrying about sending the wrong message by obsessing over that part of myself, but I have a big post planned for when I hit the halfway mark on my goal; it takes a lot of self discipline, which should be heavily rewarded with praise!! Unfortunately, my health goals have been waning as of late, so I found this supremely motivating!! Muchas Gracias and Happy Healthy Lifestyle Change Vibes Comin’ Atcha!! -v

    • J.G. Walker says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Vanessa. And I absolutely understand about the waning part. In fact, I’m hoping to install safeguards against that. Best of luck with yours as well!

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