Back in 2001 I weighed more than 400 pounds. I tried every diet I could think of to lose weight. I even worked face to face with the late Dr. Atkins for two months, and after charging me thousands of dollars, the best he could do was yell at me for being so fat.
Every diet I tried ended up the same way. There would be a whole list of foods I wasn’t allowed to eat. I’d follow the diet to the letter. I’d lose a little weight through sheer brute force and willpower. Then there would come an inevitable point when I couldn’t take it anymore and I’d have a huge binge. Whatever weight I had lost on the diet would come back in a matter of days, and a week later I’d be 5 pounds heavier than when I started the diet. This pattern of losing 10 pounds and gaining 15 pounds started in 1990, until by September 2001 I reached my peak of 409 pounds.
Then I had turning point. On September 11, I narrowly missed being on UAL flight 93. That experience left me feeling like I was living on borrowed time. Here I was, killing myself working in a high-stress Wall Street job that I hated, and the universe had just given me a second chance.
So I decided to get off of the dieting roller coaster once and for all, and I resolved never to diet again. Instead I was going to try to figure out why my body seemed to be forcing me to gain so much weight. I decided to find out what I could do to get it to want to be thin again. Armed with a solid background in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania, I spent 12 hours a day researching everything I could about the hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and chemical massagers that cause weight gain.
I learned that losing weight sustainably isn't about counting calories, but about creating the proper hormonal environment in your body that’s conducive to weight loss. Since stress and emotional issues can cause an unfavorable hormonal environment, the issue needs to be addressed from a mind-body perspective. We need to take a holistic approach that looks at our psychological and emotional life, as much as what and when we eat.
Over a two-and-half-year period I lost 220 pounds, without dieting. I’ve been the same weight now for over 10 years and I still don’t diet. I eat whatever I want, whenever I want.
These were the keys to my transformation:
1. I stopped dieting and started nourishing my body.
I learned through my research that my body was chronically starved for certain key nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, live foods and high-quality proteins. I made sure I gave myself as much really high-quality nutrients as possible. If I wanted junk foods like candy, chips or pizza, I would eat them whenever I wanted, without hesitation. Eventually I lost my taste for all junk food as my body learned to prefer high-quality, nutrient-dense foods.
2. I healed my digestion.
I discovered that one of the reasons why I was so badly starving for nutrients is that my digestive processes were compromised, so I was unable to effectively extract the nutrients from the foods I was eating. Digestion problems can also cause inflammation and the inflammatory hormones put our bodies into fat storage mode. I started eating lots of fermented and cultured foods, and taking probiotics and digestive enzymes in order to normalize my digestion.
3. I got a CPAP machine for my sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a condition that affects many overweight people. It creates a hormonal environment in the body that encourages weight gain by causing elevated cortisol levels, which leads to junk food cravings and insulin resistance. Sleep apnea is easily treated with a CPAP machine. The machine blows air into your nose and mouth to keep your windpipe open, so you can sleep through the night without problems.
Most people who have sleep apnea don’t even know that they have it, although the people they live with would know, because people with sleep apnea snore very loudly. It turns out I had one of the worst cases of sleep apnea that my sleep study technicians had ever seen. From the moment I got the CPAP machine I started having more energy and less junk food cravings. And the weight started to melt away for good.
4. I started using mind-body practices to reduce stress.
Just like sleep apnea, stress causes elevated levels of cortisol and inflammatory hormones. These hormones lead to constant cravings and put your body into chronic fat storage mode. Many people don’t realize how important it is to learn how to reduce stress. I began meditating and visualizing every morning, which I found to be extremely effective for reducing stress.
5. I created a much more sustainable life.
I also lowered my expenses, moved to a more affordable house and started growing some of my own foods. My life felt much more sustainable and I felt calmer and more supported. I loved knowing that anytime I was hungry I could go into the back yard and eat something fresh and full of vitality. The stress hormones where no longer coursing through my system, wreaking havoc and turning my body into a fat storage machine.