The measures that really matter
If you're not counting calories or fat, or poking yourself daily for sugar levels, how can you gauge progress? My approach, at its core, was to develop a deep awareness of how my body functions. For measures directly affecting weight loss and diabetes recovery, I pay attention to three key things:
Energy level: Everyone can feel if they're energetic or not. Pay regular and explicit attention to your energy level, not unlike your awareness of the room temperature. This takes practice ; for me it took well over a month to really lock this in.
Once you do, you'll begin to notice a clear relationship between the food you eat, both type and quantity, and its impact on your energy level. When I looked at a lunch menu and fixated on something large and heavy, once I knew intimately and repeatedly what happens to my energy, the immediate enjoyment factor dropped. This mental shift takes weeks, if not longer, to ingrain in your head.
Once you're comfortably keeping track of energy levels and regularly notice the impact of your food choices, you are ready to gain better awareness of your body's motor : your metabolism.
Metabolism: If you've ever lost weight, at times you can "feel" almost a tingly sensation when you perceive that you're losing weight , usually accompanied by higher energy levels. Similarly, you can "feel" when you are gaining weight. This isn't magic ; it's a knowable thing that lots of skinny people take for granted. If you understand what your metabolism is doing, you have the knowledge necessary to guide your eating and movement choices.
The key for sustained attention to your metabolism is your stomach. If you're like I was, you have no idea what's happening in your stomach. I rarely paid attention to how my eating habits directly led to mood swings or energy spikes. As a consequence, I used to ingest two or three Pepcid ACs a day -- now I take less than that in a month! If acid reflux is a regular part of your day, chances are good that your stomach seldom processes your food properly.
Also, try learning to chew your food very thoroughly. I used to decide I was full when my taste buds were satiated. By this point, if the food was tasty, my stomach was usually stuffed to the point of breaking. To stop the cycle, the stomach eventually initiates its "nuclear option" -- stomach acid starts shooting up into the mouth to ruin taste. Like all nuclear options, the side effects aren't good. If you chew your food thoroughly, you're pre-digesting it for the stomach in a way that it can take the next step in the digestion process. More importantly, it allows you to pay attention to your body's engine.
Over time, I went from chowing down on three large meals a day to consuming somewhere between 10 and 20 small meals all day long. As soon as I feel hunger pangs, I eat a small snack. I have lots of healthy, but still delicious, foods to eat. As a consequence, my stomach has shrunk so much that even if I wanted to binge, I could only eat a small amount before feeling bloated.
Sugar level: After a few months of paying close attention to my metabolism, I began to regularly sense my sugar level. At first, it was most easily felt when I had something overly sweet. Most people can feel a sugar rush if they eat large quantities of candy. This is no different, except that I became hyper-aware of it, even when I wasn't eating candy. My goal was to stop the spikes in sugar (which often correspond to spikes in energy levels), and to slowly lower the overall sugar levels over time. I applied this approach without regularly poking my finger, so I can't give you any statistics of my rate of decline, but over a period of six months, my doctor slowly lowered, then eliminated, my drug regimen.
Sure, you could poke your finger 20 minutes after eating each meal , but it's not necessary. Large numbers of skinny people manage themselves naturally by paying attention to their bodies. This is a learned skill , one you can develop and improve on over time. If you learn to pay deep awareness to your internal measures, you'll find they are transformative in their ability to change your future in ways that external devices simply can't touch.
What's next for me?
I'm more than 20 months into my three-year journey to get healthy. The fact that I've lost more than 100lb doesn't mean I’ve finished. Currently I'm sitting between 197lb and 192lb in a steady state. I still intend to lose more, but realistically, my focus has shifted toward other health goals, like continuing to heal my lower back, feet, and ankles. I'm learning ways to use my body's energy for self-healing, but that's another story.
Each personal health journey is unique. I hope you start yours!
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Noel Dickover is a writer and who really lost all this weight. A version of this article first appeared on Medium. Follow him: @NoelDickover.