Brandon Nutting, 33, has had a life experience that'll sound all too familiar to many guys: He spent his 20s putting on weight. The first few kilos didn't bother him too much, but the more he ballooned, the less happy he felt with himself. Nutting wanted to lose weight, but he needed the right motivation to lock him into a new set of habits.
How He Started Out Slender
Junior High Weight: 84kg
Nutting wasn't always overweight; he was slim throughout his childhood and teen years. "I wasn't very active, but I was in the marching band and during marching season I would get thinner," he says.
But he'd soon learn the challenges of maintaining a healthy physique. "In our lifetime we're exposed to so much food," says Dr Richard Weil, program director of the weight loss program at Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital. "We don't sleep enough and don't go outside a lot." These factors can lead to weight gain over time. Once Nutting's marching band days were behind him, the struggle to maintain his weight became real.
How He Got Fat
High School Weight: 88kg
Undergrad Weight: 95kg
Grad School Weight: 117kg
Nutting grew up in Florida but went to college in Ohio. "I was 18 hours away from my family and friends," he says. "That led to me sitting around my dorm and eating whatever I wanted - lots of McDonald's and other fast food since I didn't cook - and developing a bad Mountain Dew habit."
As a 6'2" freshman, he gained 7 kilograms. By the time he was in graduate school, he had gained a total of 35 kilograms.
College is a time of discovery - of all-you-can-eat buffets, for one thing. According to a meta-analysis in the journal BMC Obesity, almost two-thirds of freshmen gained weight, piling on weight faster than the rest of the population.
"There are a couple dozen genes identified to affect weight gain," says Weil. Some are responsible for weight gain alone; others can interact with the environment to cause weight problems. In a new environment - say, a college dorm with a 24/7 cafeteria - that gene might express itself and your predisposition to weight gain might show. This continued for Nutting all the way through grad school.
How He Lost the Weight
Postgrad Weight: 111kg
Beginning Of 2013: 95kg
End Of 2013: 83kg
"The bigger I got, the more unhappy I was," Nutting says. He finished school in 2012 and landed a teaching position at the University of South Dakota. It was a big move, and he vowed that one big change would lead to another. "I decided to cut back on portions and find the foods I liked," he says. He ate eggs for breakfast and made lots of meals from black beans and rice with salsa and hot sauce. He added running to his routine.
Smart move. "Life changes can serve as triggers to act," says Dr Lawrence Cheskin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Centre. Although a major transition can also provide a tempting rationale for inaction, it doesn't have to be a barrier. No big changes on your horizon? Just track your habits using an app or journal. Reviewing the numbers can be motivating.
How He Stays Lean
Current Weight: 83kg
Nutting runs 3-4 kilometres two or three times a week and swims twice a week. He ran his first marathon two years ago, and he's training for an Ironman. He still eats three eggs every morning for breakfast. "I'm married now, so I can't get away with eating black beans and rice every day, but I just make good choices," he says. "I eat a lot of salad and chicken, but I don't do hardcore diets. I'll still have a few beers on football Saturday. For me, it's about balance."
Balance is key. When you lose weight, your stomach produces more ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger. "The reason it's hard to lose weight is there is a system trying to stop you from starving to death," says Dr Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Centre at Weill Cornell Medicine.
So when your body is trying to rebel, use your brain. "That doesn't need to be the same rigidity or degree of control as when you were trying to lose weight, but you have to tell yourself you're always watching your diet," says Dr. Cheskin. As for the beer - who are we to stop a good thing?
How You Can Lose, Too
Copy Nutting's bean habit. A study review published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that people who ate anywhere from 2.8 to 9.8 ounces of beans, peas, or lentils per day lost significant weight. Nutting's affinity for eggs was also smart, since eggs are packed with plenty of protein. Protein helps to preserve muscle mass while you drop kilos, so you lose only the blubber.
This article was originally published on MensHealth.com