By Brien O’Brien
Let me start off by noting that I am in no way an expert on weight loss. I’m the kind of guy who enjoys a burger over salad, beer over cucumber water and Netflix marathons over real ones. I have never bought a gym membership, never taken a nutrition class and never tasted a protein shake. I even purchased a laundry basket with wheels because rolling your dirty laundry is the lazier option – more my style.
Food is my life. I’ve spent the past few years dedicated to cooking and eating the best food I can find. Once you’re entrenched in this lifestyle, it’s difficult stay on track with your weight, and more importantly your health. But I’ve since realized that finding balance between a foodie life and healthy living is important for anybody in the culinary world.
Since I’ve established my general aversion to healthy lifestyles, let me tell you how I lost 30 pounds in 60 days. Well, it was actually 26.6 pounds in 61 days if you’re a real stickler for the details. All in all, I dropped 40 pounds in a year implementing several strategies. The first few months of my weight-loss voyage proved the most educational.
Before setting off to drop the pounds, I wanted to mentally and physically prepare myself. I started by seeing a doctor. I had blood work done on two separate occasions a month apart to make sure everything internally was working properly. Initial tests showed some irregularities so the doctor wanted to test again to make everything came back to normal levels (they did). Clean bill of health – check.
Next, I decided to get some baseline measurements. To calculate them, I began by weighing myself. Knowing my weight, I was able to determine a few important things. The first was my place on the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale based on my weight, height and gender. This gave me an idea of how much weight I needed to lose to be considered “normal weight”. If you are starting your diet plan in the “normal weight” range, you’re already on track. I started in the “obese” range.
After utilizing the BMI scale, I set out to uncover how many daily calories I could eat while still losing weight. What I found was a something called the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Basically, your BMR determines the amount of calories your body burns when you’re idling or not doing anything. I discovered based on my BMR that my body burned 1850 calories per day on its own.
Once I came up with the 1850 figure, I needed to know how many calories my body burned from walking and exercising. I found that the best tool for this was my iPhone. Smartphones have come a long way in the last few years with many of them transforming into full-fledged fitness and nutrition trackers. My phone, for example, has a built in step tracker and perfectly syncs with apps that help calculate the amount of calories you burn through exercise. I use MyFitnessPal every day because it not only tracks the amount of calories I burn, but also, has a user-friendly calorie counter. Also, apps like MapMyRun, MapMyRide and MapMyHike help me track many different aspects of my exercise life.
I knew my place on the BMI scale, my ideal weight, my BMR and how to track the amount calories I was burning, but what was I supposed to eat? As one might imagine, the vast amount of information out there on nutrition can be overwhelming. So, I decided to delve into one particular area – macronutrients. This nutrition term deals with the amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats all foods contain. Manipulating the different levels of macronutrients you eat per day can help the weight fall off – simple as that. Understanding what macronutrient levels I needed to accomplish my goals, I decided that I wanted my macronutrient ratio to be 50% Protein, 35% Carbohydrates and 15% Fat. The ratio allowed the weight to fall off while keeping me satiated on a calorie deficit.
Before diving into a rigorous exercise plan, it’s important to know your body’s capabilities. I tested my limits by running on a treadmill. When I got on the machine, I put a towel over the screen, and increased the speed to a “heart pumping” level, but not fast enough for me to exhaust too quickly. After running for a while, I pulled the towel off to see how my progress. I had run for a full hour at 5 mph. I was surprised and impressed with myself; had I really just run five miles without stopping? The treadmill test taught me that my body was capable of much more than I’d imagined and it gave me the confidence to embrace a rigorous workout routine. I logged my time so that I could test my progress in the future.
After my baseline was established, it was time to put a workout/diet plan together. In order to lose weight, I had to have a calorie deficit (more calories burned then consumed). It was vital that my diet plan took into account how many calories my body burns a day by itself (1850) and how many calories I wanted to burn per day with exercise. Using the information I had gathered, I carefully crafted a plan.
Walking served as my first foray into exercise. The goal was to push myself without injury. The first few weeks, I briskly strolled around my neighborhood several times a day and tried to run a mile or two a few times a week. My exercise routine quickly evolved from walking around to daily 10-mile bike rides. Soon, I was jogging two to 3.5 miles most days in addition to riding my bike.
Now I’m at a point where I run 3.5 miles three times a week and lift weights five days a week with the occasional bike ride sprinkled in. It took me seven long months to get to this point. Slowly increasing the intensity of my workouts taught me how to push myself without injury and helped me stick with it.
I view my daily workout routines as a set of personal challenges. Every workout, I try to set personal best times during my runs and rides as long as my body feels up to it (remember avoiding injury is more important than setting personal bests). Setting personal records feels good because they allow you to see your progress on a regular basis.
Recording my progress was important to me, but I didn’t want to become obsessed with numbers. Initially, I tracked my progress just by considering how my workouts were going and how I looked in the mirror. I did weigh myself, but only on the 1st and 15th of the month so as not to get bogged down by the occasional bad day that can occur when you weigh yourself daily.
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Today was my last day working in the kitchen at The University of San Diego. It means so much that Chef Dave McHugh took me under his wing and taught me all he did. I've learned so much from each and every person I've met here. I also want to give a huge shout out to Chef @pennydavidiborsuk who is a big role model for me. Thank you all so much!! Next job?? Earn a White MasterChef Apron May 31st on FOX??? Watch to find out!! #chefbrienobrien #masterchef @eatatusd
From June 1st to August 1st I went from 190 pounds to 163.4 pounds. Meaning I had dropped a total of 26.6 pounds or 14% of my total body weight in 61 days. I was happy with not only how I looked, but also, how I felt. The changes were apparent in my appearance and my brain function. I became aware of my significantly increased work productivity and dramatically improved mood. All in all, I am a better person after the experience.
If you find yourself in a situation where you may be a little heavier than you would like to be, don’t fret. There is hope. Take it from me. Life is better on the healthy side and it is possible to get there. The key is to start. Not tomorrow or next week or next month, but right now. There is never a better time than the present so get up and get active!
As the Food Editor and Co-Founder of Eating NorCal, Brien O’Brien is one of the most influential foodies in NorCal. After being named the “14th Best Home Cook in America” in 2017 by the FOX television show MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay, he moved to the Napa Valley where he spent a year and a half studying food and wine at the Culinary Institute of America. Now, he resides in the Farm to Fork Capital of America – Sacramento.