deandre upshaw

This story was originally posted HERE.

By DeAndre Upshaw

Many people discuss the exact moment they decided that they needed to lose weight. For some, it’s when the folding chair they are reclining in at the tailgate breaks, leaving them splayed on the concrete covered in fluorescent orange nacho cheese. For others, it’s a grave, frank conversation with their doctor in a dimly lit office as dramatic music swells in the background. Mine was far less dramatic.

I woke up one day and decided I was done being fat.


There’s a certain skill that many overweight people have mastered, and it’s the talent of making yourself as inconspicuous as possible. When you enter a room, you do the mental gymnastics of figuring out how you can take up as little space as humanly possible. This is, understandably, difficult when you tip the scales at 410 at your heaviest and are 6’7 in bare feet.

One of the most savage things about being visibly different in a society that trips over itself to celebrate the status quo is the feeling that your very existence is impinging on the rights of everyone else to live freely without having to see all of your disgusting fat.

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Company Photo. Left: April 2015. Right September 2016.

I don’t want to give the impression that I was deeply unhappy because of my weight. In fact, it was almost the opposite. Most of the time, I thought I was the hottest thing to ever come out of Houston, Texas. I loved myself. After losing all this weight, I don’t love myself anymore than I did before because my starting point of self-love was fairly high, to begin with.

I didn’t always like what I saw in the mirror, though. I didn’t always like the way my weight flavored my interactions with other people, but my confidence level was always on ten. To be honest, my biggest issue with my weight was that I was far too stylish to spend my life doomed to wear Big & Tall clothes.

I woke up one day during the last week of October 2015 and decided that I wanted to lose weight. I wasn’t sure how, and I wasn’t even really sure why, but I was ready to make a change.

Like every other youth who grew up shopping in the husky section, I’ve attempted weight loss multiple times before. The summer after my freshman year of college I embarked on a borderline-unhealthy regimen which included eating nothing but sausages and Lean Cuisines and running a lot. I’ve completed P90X twice and each time saw great results. I once did a 21-day vegan cleanse where I had to drink a beverage I called “Dirty Hamburger Water” because it tasted like the water they use to keep hamburgers warm at buffets.

Never ever pay for a weight loss system that forces you to drink dirty hamburger water.

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Left: My fiancé and me in March 2014. Right: June 2016.

The problem with all of these diets and plans is that they had expiration dates. I was able to be very successful while I was on them (I lost 60 pounds doing P90x, and 31 on the 21 day cleanse), but they were all extreme, and once I was done with them, I would bask in the glow of my success, and immediately begin consuming all of the foods I had deprived myself of during the time I was doing the program.

This time round, I decided that there needed to be some more realistic parameters around my weight loss goals. It needed to be:

Sustainable. I had to find a way to eat in a moderate way that I could imagine myself continuing years from now.

Open-ended. No 3 Week Quick Fixes. No 7 Day Master Cleanses.

Food focused. I don’t like to exercise. I’ll do it, but I can’t see myself spending 2 hours a day in the gym every day for the rest of my life.

Devoid of gimmicks. Sorry Advocare, Herbalife, and Southbeach. I didn’t want to have to buy shakes and powders and consume the plasma of newborn babies every day at noon.

From there I stumbled onto a Reddit thread called LoseIt, which focuses on the principles of Calories In, Calories Out. Simply put: we lose weight when consuming less energy than we put out. They have an amazing FAQ, which is where I gained massive amounts of knowledge and insight.

Seems revolutionary, huh? Eat less food and you’ll (probably) lose weight. I was pretty skeptical at first. If it was so simple, why didn’t everyone do it? Why is there a billion dollar industry targeted towards getting us to buy Bowflexes and Ab Workouts and Hip Hop Dance Groove tapes?

It’s simple: you can’t sell inaction. There’s no way to make money off of people eating less.

This video from Vox breaks down why it is that exercise (while incredibly beneficial for your health and overall fitness) isn’t the most useful primary method for weight loss.

I’d tried it multiple times by exercise. Why not try something different this time?

This time next year, I will be a different person.


Getting Started.

Here’s the first big disclaimer that I want to impress upon you before you read any further:

  • I’m not a doctor. I’ve never even played one on TV. This isn’t medical advice.
  • This is what worked for me. It is not the only thing in the world that works, it’s just what worked for my situation.
  • My body type is atypical. At 6’7, I’m a foot taller than most people, and my weight loss journey is going to be vastly different than someone who is 5’7.
  • I’m not an expert — all I know is what I’ve researched and what has been successful for me. If anything is inaccurate or wrong, please let me know.
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Performing Improv (and making funny faces). Left to Right: August 2015, February 2016, August 2016.

I started by downloading My Fitness Pal. My Fitness Pal (MFP) is an app that helps you calculate your BMR, which is your basal metabolic rate, or the energy used for basic functioning when the body is at rest.

I started at 393 pounds. Using MFP’s BMR calculator, my basal metabolic rate was 2,897 calories per day. This meant that if I woke up one morning, didn’t leave my apartment, and laid in bed all day, my body would utilize 2,897 calories that day just by existing.

BMR represents the minimum amount of energy needed to keep your body functioning, including breathing and keeping your heart beating.

From there, MFP calculates the amount of calories per day needed to create a caloric deficit. That number is the amount of calories you need to stay below in order to lose weight.

The idea of calorie counting sucks. As someone who considers themselves a foodie (by virtue of the fact that I often DVR Barefoot Contessa and know how to braise a slab of meat), I was loath to start looking at food from a cold, calculating perspective. Who wants to ruin the experience of eating a piece of cake by stopping and taking the time to calculate how many calories are in it?

According to MyFitnessPal, 88% of people who log their food for at least 7 days lose weight.

When I began, I went all in. I knew I was starting at the most difficult time of the year to start any kind of diet — the week of Halloween, which would be followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then New Year’s, but I knew that if I waited, I would never start. So on October 27th, 2015, I began.

Whenever I got discouraged (which was often), I’d chant a mantra to myself: No matter what, this time next year, I will be a different person.

There are a few things in my life that are always constant. I will always choose the line in the grocery store behind the slowest-moving customer. I will never succeed in getting all of the honey out of my Fage yogurt package. And time will continue to change, even if I don’t.

This time next year, I will be a different person.


Throughout the last 365 days, I’ve learned through trial and error what worked best for me. It might just work for you, but remember: everyone is different! I’ve included links to the products, where applicable.

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80’s Roller Rink Bday Party. Left: June 2015. Right: June 2016.

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Tools.

  • MyFitnessPal. I cannot overestimate how integral MyFitnessPal was to my success. This app is FREE, yet I would gladly pay real American money for it. Using MyFitnessPal, I’ve tracked and logged almost every item of food that has entered my mouth in the last year. It takes me less than 30 seconds to log most things. Check out my diary here.
  • Fitbit Charge HR. I started off using my phone to track my steps. I told myself that if I stuck with it for 30 days, I would gift myself with a Fitbit, and so far it’s been one of my favorite tools for tracking my activity.
I averaged 16,000 steps a day in May.

 

  • The mean streets of Dallas, Texas. I didn’t step foot into a gym until I was 5 months into my weight loss journey, and had already lost about 80 pounds. And even then, I didn’t touch the weight room. That’s right — for the last 12 months I’ve focused solely on nutrition and light cardio. Every morning I would wake up and power walk my neighborhood. No matter what I did, I made sure that before I went to bed at night, I had achieved 10,000 steps. Sometimes this meant doing jumping jacks during the commercial break of Top Chef. Other times this meant running up and down the stairs of my apartment while brushing my teeth before bed.
  • Food Scale. Weigh your food. Knowledge is power.
  • Cooksmarts. This recipe service is fantastic, and a bit of a luxury, but at $9/mo, it’s not a giant splurge. I know how to cook (and am pretty good at it, if I do say so myself), but my fiancé and I would always fall into the trap of eating out because we couldn’t think of what to have for dinner. Cooksmarts sends you a new set of recipes weekly, complete with a shopping list and instructions. The amazing thing about it is that there is always something new and exciting to try, which is helpful to break out of those ruts that are so easy to fall into. It’s a happy medium between going at it alone and pricier services, like Blue Apron.

Tips.

  • Go all in. If you are as overweight as I was, the simple act of restricting your calories a tiny bit will trigger an immediate weight loss. When I first started, there were days when I would wake up and be 2–3 pounds lighter. This is the “honeymoon” phase of the weight loss journey, where even though it’s hard, the process is fun, almost like a game. Take advantage of this. Hit the ground running and enjoy these early days, because it won’t always be this easy.
  • Track as faithfully and as accurately as you can. When I first started I would plan out my entire day in MyFitnessPal when I woke up, so I knew exactly what my caloric goals were for the day. This is called prelogging and it’s fantastic. If I didn’t prelog my entire day, I would always track something before I ate it. There’s nothing worse than chowing down on trail mix in the breakroom and then discovering that it is 3x the calories than you thought it was.
  • Get a food scale. Weighing your food is amazing not only because you can accurately track what you’re putting into your body, but also because it gives you an accurate baseline of how much portions are when you’re away from your kitchen. Knowing how to eyeball how many ounces a chicken breast weighs is truly a useful skill (not to mention an amazing party trick).
  • Always take the stairs. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been on an elevator in the past year. My office is on the third floor of the building and taking the stairs has been a great way to squeeze in some mini exercise during the work day.
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Left: 393 lbs. Right: 245 lbs.

  • Learn how to cook. This is important. If you don’t know how to prepare the food that you eat, you’ll never know with absolute certainty how many calories you’re eating. This is not to say that I’ve spent the entire year avoiding other people’s cooking, restaurants or fast food (and one glance at my food diary should convince you otherwise — I love a good chalupa from Taco Bell), but 75% of the food I’ve consumed, I have prepared. Does it take time? Yes. Is it worth it, calorically and financially? Yes.
  • Decide what your boundaries are. I’m of the opinion that there are no “good” foods or “bad” foods. Food is neutral, and labeling it in such stark terms gives it more power than it deserves. I break foods into two categories: food that is worth it, and food that is not worth it. There are no foods that are off-limits completely, but there are foods that I will choose not to indulge in based on my caloric needs and goals for the day. For instance: store bought cookies in the break room? Pass. Freshly made rum balls that my coworker makes once a year during the Christmas season? Yes, please!

The food will either go to waste or to waist. Which would you prefer?

  • Learn to throw away food. This one was and still is difficult for me to wrap my head around. I, like many of you, grew up in a household where throwing away good food was tantamount to punching my mother in the jaw. Going to a restaurant and leaving half of a perfectly good steak on the plate was such a foreign experience for me. But as a wise internet friend once told me: “The food will either go to waste or to waist. Which would you prefer?”
  • Don’t drink your calories. Cutting out soda, juices and alcohol has been amazing. I’ll have a cocktail at a wedding or a special event, but outside of that it’s LaCroix, Crystal Light or plain water for me.
  • Pass up work freebies. My office loves food. I swear to God there is a girl in the office down the hall who is conspiring against me because she has the nerve, the unmitigated gall, to bring in fresh pastries on Mondays. Free food is the hardest to pass up because…it’s free! I struggled with this until I realized: I’m an adult. I have a job. I make a decent paycheck. I can buy my own damn pastries whenever I want. Realize that not eating something isn’t a missed opportunity. And if you really want it later, you can get it.
  • Each pound is more difficult to lose than the last. I lost my first 100 pounds in 6 months. I lost the next 45 pounds in 6 months. I predict it will take me about 6 months to lose the final 30.
  • Don’t go out to lunch unless someone else is paying. This rule of thumb is great because it breaks you of the constant desire to go out with your coworkers every day. It also has the very positive side effect of keeping your bank account in the positive, since you won’t be dropping $9 at Chipotle every day.
  • Learn how your body operates. If you are tracking your calories accurately and being truthful with yourself, the scale will move in the long term. However, in the short term, your body has more going on than just your weight loss. From a caloric standpoint, 400 calories worth of broccoli is the same as a 400 calorie candy bar. However, those two things affect your body differently. For instance, I know that without fail, every time I eat Taco Bell, the next day the scale goes up, even if I was within or under my goal that day. Why? Sodium causes me to retain water and that is reflected on the scale. At the end of the day, the chalupa was worth it, but it caused a momentary blip on the radar. When you are accurately tracking your food, those valleys won’t bother you, because you are doing the work, and that is what matters.
  • Sweat a little bit every day. While exercise isn’t crucial for weight loss, it feels amazing to do something good for your body by way of getting it up and moving, and the mental health benefits can’t be beat. Every day I do at least an hour of light cardio (#powerwalkers4lyfe), but doing silly things like having a 15 minute dance break in my apartment, or a really vigorous spring cleaning help get the juices flowing
  • Take pictures. I didn’t take pictures until I was already down 20 pounds. If I could go back in time, I would take pictures from the front and the side, and measure my neck, arms and legs. MyFitnessPal introduced a feature making it a snap to do this, right from the app. I started taking pics a month in and can visually track my progress.
  • Get an inspiration item of clothing that you can’t fit. Even when the scale isn’t moving, your body composition is still changing. There was a 2XL shirt I bought in 2013 that still had the tags on it because I could barely get it over my shoulders. The first 60 pounds I lost, I couldn’t see a difference…until I tried on that shirt and was able to button it. Have non-scale measurements of success to help you stay focused on the fact that the scale is not the final word in your weight loss — your body is.
  • Weight loss is not linear. Weight Loss Is Not Linear. WEIGHT LOSS IS NOT LINEAR. The scale is both my best friend and my worst enemy. It is a fickle bitch, and once you wrap your head around that, you’ll be good. Sometimes your body will decide that you are 3 pounds lighter this morning than you were the previous. Other times your body will decide that it wants to stay at the same weight for 2 weeks. Here is a graph showing my weight loss over the past year:

From Fitbit. I didn’t get my Fitbit until the end of November, so it doesn’t have all of my date for that month.

Looks pretty solid, eh? Save for a few blips (a cruise in February, vacations in May and September) it looks like I just lost and lost and lost without a care in the world. Lies. LIES.

Let’s do a CSI-style enhance and look at a specific month. ENHANCE.

September

Here you can see that my weight was pretty all over the place for the month of September. Up, down, steady, up, up, up, down. This is normal. You just have to take a step back and think about the big picture. Is your weight trending downward month over month? Then you’re making progress.

Results

Starting Weight: 393

Goal Weight: 250

Current Weight: 247.7

New Goal Weight: 220

Starting BMI: 44

Current BMI: 28.5

Starting Shirt Size: 4X

Current Shirt Size: 1X

Starting Pants Size: 48

Current Pants Size: 36

Note: Throughout this whole process, I have lifted zero weights. I use my gym membership for the indoor track so I have a place to do cardio when it’s raining or hot outside. This has all been food tracking and making sure that I’m active every day. I plan on switching gears towards building muscle once I hit my new target weight.

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What I Ate

As I lost weight, my tastes and desires for certain foods waned and increased dramatically. I’m a firm believer that no food is wholly “bad”, and no food is wholly “good”. Food just is.

One thing I realized as I was on this journey is that every meal doesn’t have to be a life changing experience. Every forkful that I put in my mouth doesn’t have to be sumptuously orgasmic. Sometimes food is just fuel. And that’s ok.

Making a shopping list and going grocery shopping revolutionized the way I approached food. Every Friday I take about 10 minutes and plan meals for the week. My fiancé and I have a shared calendar that we keep updated with when we’re working late, and when we won’t be around for dinner. I go to the grocery store on Saturday morning after my workout and pick up our groceries for the week.

Not only does this contribute to my weight loss goals, but it also cuts down on spending money eating out (which we do 3–4 times a month), and unnecessary food waste.

A typical day a few months into calorie tracking.

Meal prep was very important for me when I was starting out. Streamlining two out of three meals a day made a big difference for me. I more or less ate the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day for several months. Did it get a little boring sometimes? Yeah. But removing the stress and decision making out of figuring out what to eat during the day made the other choices I had to make easier.

A typical day, 145-ish pounds later.

As I got closer to my goal weight, plateaus became more common and long-lasting. Plateaus for me usually lasted two weeks or longer, and I generally regarded them as a necessary evil; it meant my body had gotten used to what I was doing, and it was time to switch things up a bit.

I realized that I was never hungry in the morning and was forcing myself to eat a banana or some oatmeal because I thought that’s what I should do. I began experimenting with light fasting during the majority of the day — I was always hungry in the evenings, so why not save my calories until then?

I look at my calorie goals as a debit card. Every morning I get about 2000 “dollars” loaded on my debit card. I can spend them on whatever I want, whenever I want, but if I use them foolishly, I’ll be overextended.

These days, I start my morning with several glasses of ice cold water. I have a 32 oz cup at home that I fill with water twice and chug. Throughout the day, every time I have to pee, I repeat the process.

Around lunchtime I’ll have a Fage yogurt. I’m deeply passionate about Fage yogurt, specifically the honey variety. All other yogurt brands can suck it. Later in the afternoon I’ll have a snack of some pretzels, grilled chicken or popcorn. This gets me through the day until it’s time for the main event — dinner!

Dinner is usually a protein paired with a vegetable and a carb. Think salmon, broccoli and mashed potatoes, or pork chops, roasted sweet potatoes and collard greens.

One thing I’m always careful to make sure I’m not doing is doubling up on carbs — if I’m having spaghetti, I don’t need a hunk of garlic bread to go along with it, as there are already carbs in the pasta.

Fruits and vegetables are important to me — I like to keep green grapes easily accessible, and I always have a gigantic bowl of cut watermelon chilling in the fridge. Broccoli is always welcome on my plate. Roasted cauliflower is a gift from God. I try to make sure I have something green every day.

Pro tip: Grilled onions literally go with every meat, and add a fantastic depth of flavor and additional texture to boring meats like grilled chicken. Side note: stop buying chicken breasts. They are dry and expensive. Skinless, boneless chicken thighs have a few more calories but taste so. much. better. And as an added bonus, they are cheaper.

Another thing you’ll notice if you thumb through many of the entries in my food diary is that I almost always save room for dessert. Having a little something sweet at the end of the day is a must, so I always allocate some calories towards a mini ice cream cone, a handful of chocolate covered nuts or some kettle corn.

With the exception of Skinny Cow products and the Halo Top line of ice cream, nothing I eat is packaged to be “low fat”. I don’t have anything against Lean Cuisines, but they aren’t food items that I plan on eating for the rest of my life.


The process of losing this much weight taught me a lot about myself. I learned what lengths I would go to in order to achieve a goal. I learned that I really REALLY love onions. I learned that the journey is just as important as the destination.

I didn’t lose 145 pounds once. I lost one pound 145 times.

Discipline kicks in when motivation is taking a spa day.

Most importantly, I learned the difference between motivation and discipline. Motivation is easy to tap into when things are going well. It’s easy to feel motivated when the scale is moving. But discipline, that’s where the magic is.

Discipline kicks in when motivation is taking a spa day. Discipline is what keeps you on track when you’re sick of eating broccoli and chicken every day, or when you’ve lost 100 pounds but you still need to lose 70 more. Don’t rely on motivation. Motivation is that flaky friend of yours who wears Urban Outfitters and Aeropostale exclusively and only shows up when things are going well, and disappears when the going gets tough.

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deandre2

It’s easy to get caught up in calories and sodium levels, but its important to remember: you are so much more than a number on a scale. The number on the scale is not a representation of your worth. While navigating life at a smaller size is easier, weight loss is not a magic bullet. The same problems you had before, you’ll have after, you’ll just have those problems while wearing a smaller belt. There are plenty of skinny miserable people in the world.

My weight is a small component of who I am. At the same time that I was losing 145 pounds, I started a small business. I organized a giant flash mob proposal to my boyfriend and was featured in Entertainment Weekly and People Magazine. I conquered a bedbug infestation at my apartment complex. I had a root canal. I cut off my dreadlocks, which I’d had since I was a freshman in college. I got a promotion at work. I learned how to snorkel in Mexico. I roasted a whole chicken for the first time.

Time will change, even if we don’t.

 My big gay proposal lip dub. I was down about 110 pounds when this was filmed.

The next step in my journey is to begin lifting weights and building muscle, once I get to my goal weight.

I’m not done changing. I’ve got a wedding to plan and business to run. And tacos to eat.

This time next year, I will be a different person.

Beats By Her