I like beer. A lot. I brew it. I (sometimes) write about it. I drink it.
One of the questions I’ve gotten more than once is, “How do you stay so thin and drink so much beer?” Before this post turns into one big humblebrag, I admit that yes, I am a thin man. Glad we got that out of the way.
What I am not is a genetic marvel (I was a chubby kid and never made an organized sports team I had to try out for). I do not have monk-like discipline (I will have the occasional hamburger and piece of cake). I am not an obsessed fitness maniac (I have never completed an Ironman).
Shortly after graduating college, I weighed 183 pounds and couldn’t run a mile. I wasn’t in terrible shape, I lifted weights and played pickup basketball. However, I just didn’t feel very good about where I was. I felt soft.
I made the decision that I was going to change my lifestyle and become more active and eat healthier. I didn’t use any specific diet program, I just tried to take a common sense approach to improve my life. Over the course of the next year, my weight dropped to about 160 pounds, I ran my first half-marathon and could bench press 260 pounds. (At the same time, I was 24, lived in downtown Columbia and probably drank more than I did in college.)
Over the next 10 years, I’ve been able to maintain what I had attained. I weighed in this morning at 155 pounds. At 34, I ran a PR in the 10-K Cooper River Bridge Run this past April, finishing in 45:13. A few weeks ago, I had a fitness assessment and came in at 10% body fat and could do 43 pushups. I’m not super-human, but I think I’m doing well for myself and I’m enjoying a lot of good beer in the process. As the saying goes, if I can do it, anyone can do it.
Since this is the time for New Year’s resolutions, I thought I’d share some of my habits and philosophies that I’ve used to stay healthy, feel good, and yes, enjoy my fair share of beer. My hope is that at least one thing will stick with you and help you feel even better physically and mentally this coming year.
Below, I have identified five key ideas that have helped me maintain my weight for more than 10 years while still being a beer “appreciator.” Notice that I’ll often use words such as limit, avoid, and in moderation… That’s because I’m not going to say you should totally eliminate something, or always do this and never do that. I believe most people fail in their changes because they don’t allow themselves any room for error. Don’t give up because you had a piece of cake at the office birthday party.
Cut yourself some slack!
1. Calories matter, make them count
I’m a male, 35 years old, 6’0″ tall, 155 pounds. Roughly, my resting metabolic rate is about 1,700 calories per day. Figure I burn about 400 calories in an average 30-45 minute workout and other activities throughout the day. I estimate I’m working with about 2,100 calories per day.
I figure that I drink, on average, about 2.5 beers a day. I usually have two on weeknights when I get home from work, and about three or four a day on weekends (sometimes more if it’s a brew day). That comes out to around 300-400 calories per day from beer. If math isn’t your thing, that leaves me with 1,700 calories for food and everything else.
Think of calories like money in a bank account. I have a certain amount money to spend, so if I’m smart, I’ll spend my disposable income on things I really enjoy or that have special meaning, rather than waste it on frivolous things I don’t care about.
I try to approach food in much the the same way. I only have a certain amount I can consume. The goal is to maximize the enjoyment & health benefit per calorie. I want food and drink that is high quality or high health. That means minimizing empty calories, so out goes the soda, candy, chips, mayo, fried anything, the artificial and preserved. I deserve better.
If I’m going out to eat, I try to pick the most interesting and unique dishes available. If nothing stands out on the menu, I’ll get a salad and save the calories for when something better comes along. Choose your battles wisely.
A few other tricks that I’ve found very effective when eating out:
- Pick fun, new and/or expensive restaurants. Make eating out a special event, not just any old meal. (Goodbye, Applebees!)
- Consider ordering an appetizer instead of an entree. They’re smaller portions and often more creative dishes.
- If getting an entree, immediately draw a line down the middle of the dish and only eat half. Take the rest home or let it go.
- Spend the extra $2 and upgrade to a side salad instead of fries.
- Ask to have the dressing or mayo on the side of salads and sandwiches.
2. Eat fresh
No, not Subway sandwiches. I mean load up on fruits and vegetables. You can eat them in nearly unlimited quantities. Throw in some whole grains, low-fat dairy (a little fat in your diet is actually a good thing), beans, fish and occasional lean meat.
My goal is to eat two pieces of fruit a day, either with breakfast on my cereal, as a morning snack or as “dessert” for lunch. I also try to make sure I have a salad at least once a day, either for lunch or dinner. Take larger portions of vegetables at dinner and smaller portions of everything else.
Over the past few years, Nicole and I have cut out a lot of meat from our diet. We’re not vegetarian, but we’re much more moderate. I’ve found that vegetarian dishes and recipes are often tastier than those that use meat. Many recipes use meat as a crutch to provide flavor, whereas vegetarian recipes have to be more creative, introducing a variety of ingredients, herbs and spices.
Eating fresh also means cutting out as much processed carbohydrates (including enriched flour, which is basically sugar) as possible. Limit pasta, white rice and white potatoes. Instead, try sweet potatoes, wild rice and beans. Lots of beans!
Now, I know some of you are going to say, “But I have an incurable sweet tooth! I can’t say no to sweets!” (Or fill in your vice…) Treat your sweet tooth like a heroin addiction. Go cold turkey for three months. Eat fruit instead of sweets. I guarantee you that at the end of your sabbatical, you’ll eat a candy bar or a bag of chips and it will be so sweet and heavy that you’ll feel like ass.
3. Drink a lot of water
Around the time I began my dietary revolution, I also made it a point to drink as much water as I possibly could. It’s gotten to the point where my friend Andy calls my water bottle my woobie. I can’t go anywhere without it.
The benefits of proper hydration are tremendous. Water is vital for proper body function. Among a plethora of benefits, it will improve your mental clarity, increase your energy level, and it will help you regulate your appetite.
What’s hard to believe is that most people don’t even know what it feels like to be properly hydrated. Most sources say you should drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. It’s also really difficult to drink too much water, so don’t worry about that.
These days, I basically drink three things: coffee, water and beer. (I enjoy milk, wine and gin from time to time.) I have my coffee in the morning, chug water throughout the day, then wrap it up with a beer or two in the evening.
4. Stay active
Everyone knows that exercise is important. I say it has to be a priority.
My goal is to work out six days a week. I alternate between strength training and running. It took me a couple years of starting and stopping to finally develop an exercise habit, but I cannot express how much better I feel physically and mentally because of it.
My workouts really aren’t all that intense. My weight and strength training workouts are about 30 to 45 minutes. If I’m not training for a race, I average 12 to 15 miles per week running.
I won’t pretend that I spring out of bed every morning ready to crush some weights or hit the pavement, but I always feel better when I’m done than when I started. Knowing the payoff keeps me going.
The key is to stay active, every day.
5. Listen to your body
A few months ago, I read the book The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. It’s a life-changing book, and I highly recommend it to anyone.
One of the central themes of the book is that we all have an “upper limit” of how successful we allow ourselves to be and how good we allow ourselves to feel. When we hit our limit, whether it’s feeling good in a relationship, being in good physical shape, or having some money in the bank, something happens to sabotage that good feeling or success. We get in a fight with our spouse, we break down and order dessert at Cheesecake Factory, or our car breaks down and eats all of our savings.
Our ceiling is determined by our self-image, the programming we received from our parents and all the other messages we’ve heard as we go throughout our lives. (Money doesn’t grow on trees… No one in our family is athletic… Just get a good job…)
It was after reading this book that a lightbulb went off in my head. Any time I eat too much or eat the wrong thing and I feel like there’s a brick in my stomach the rest of the afternoon, that’s my way of sabotaging my good feeling for that day. I deserve to feel good and I should treat my body accordingly.
Since then, I’ve started to pay close attention to how I feel after I eat certain foods, what time of day I eat, and how I feel when I have “just one more bite.” If I feel bad afterwards, that’s my body’s way of screaming, “STOP IT!”
A tip that my sister taught me to help avoid overeating is called the Oprah Sigh. You know how when you’ve had most of your meal, you’re getting full, but there’s a few bites left on your plate? You put your fork down for a minute and let out a long, drawn-out sign. That sigh is a sign from your body that it’s had enough and you should stop eating.
Listen to your body. Listen to Oprah.