I started out a few months before my 39th birthday at about 320 pounds with the goal of meeting 40 at a reasonable weight, which for me is around 200 pounds (not the 175 recommended according to BMI recommendations, due to my larger frame). I had previously attempted weight loss before, and had been at healthy weights a couple of times over the intervening 30 or so years. I kept reading that after 40 it becomes somewhat difficult to lose weight, so I wanted to attempt it one more time before resigning myself to all the metabolic problems that come with excess fat storage. I had previously been successful following the Dr. Atkins plan, but as so many others, I started the Induction phase and had such good success that I never progressed on to OWL. That is to say, I severely restricted my carb intake to about 60g of carbs a day, period. I was able to maintain this for a few months, but when it got close to a year, I found that I couldn't continue to eat this way.
I read Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories", and realized that nutrition was not simply carbs vs proteins, vs fats, but rather nutrients and metabolic processes that would compliment and feed back on each other. I changed my eating habits as follows; first, I did severely restrict carbohydrates for the first few weeks for a couple of reasons. First off to break the carbohydrate/insulin feedback loop and get my body burning fats instead of sugars. The second reason was to de-sensitize my palate to sweet. Our diets contain so much added sugar that we can no longer taste the natural sugars and sweet flavors in real food. After a couple of weeks of severely restricting carbohydrates in general (but specifically any kind of sugar; sucrose, HFCS, fructose, lactose, etc) of course the weight started to come off.
Over time I re-introduced some carbohydrates into my diet, but for the most part fruits and vegetables. I did avoid grains in general, especially corn and wheat. The only exceptions to the ban on grains was Quinoa, which I found as a great compliment to any dish, and brown rice, as my ethnic background made it very difficult to eschew rice completely. Those were infrequent additions to my menu which consisted of mostly proteins and fats. The main focus of my eating plan was to avoid processed foods completely. I did a lot of cooking at home and starting with raw ingredients. I rarely if ever ate anything that would come out of a box, a bag, or a can. I became a label-reader and would avoid any product that had more than 5 ingredients (to me that was a sure indicator that it had been moderately processed). I also consciously watched my portions, as I knew that I was overeating in any case. My golden rule was "all things in moderation". The trick is determining what the appropriate amount of any given food was.
After eating in this style for almost two years now, I know it is a sustainable approach to eating. What I did not realize at the time is that this closely follows the "Paleo" or "Primal" nutritional approaches. What I realize now is that as omnivores, we are equipped to nourish ourselves with a lot of different sources. It is when we take one nutritional source and consume it almost to the exclusion of other foods that we get into metabolic trouble. Too much science has been devoted to isolating carbs, or fats, or refined sugars, or this micronutrient, or that micronutrient, and then making these huge sweeping claims about their benefit or dangers. What had not been approached is how we need all of these nutrients in the correct amounts based on our own metabolic chemistry to keep us at healthy weights and at optimal health. This balance will vary by individual and ethinc background, but by and large we can all agree that none of us are equipped to consume the huge amounts of refined sugars we find in our foods nowadays. By cutting down to the bone and starting with reasonable quantities of proteins, HEALTHY and NATURAL carbohydrates, natural (not processed and industrially extracted) fats, any one of us can start to repair the metabolic damage that our modern refined and processed diets have done to us.
Another aspect of my weight loss success is definitely getting exercise whenever possible. During my weight loss efforts, I was diligently going to the gym three times a week for an hour each time to do resistance training and some cardio. I would change up my routine almost every time I was in the gym. I had a big list of different exercises and the goals of that particular exercise, and would mix and match from there. I would always do some kind of cardio-ish work; sprints some days, stationary bikes some day, a run outdoors some days. Same with the strength. Some days I would do body weight exercises like pull-ups, push-ups lunge squats. Some days I would do static resistance like planks, other days I would just use resistance machines. The goal was always to work the muscles both in reaction-type exercises (to build fast-twitch muscle fibers) and more sustained resistance (to build up the slow-twitch muscle fibers). I continue this workout routine to this day, and it is easily sustainable and is still enjoyable.
Another big contributor was to move as often as possible. I never take an elevator any more, always the stairs. I don't look for the closest parking spot at the office or the shopping center. I turn common household chores into an opportunity to do exercises by concentrating on balancing and squatting when I am putting away dishes, or reaching and stretching when I need to get things off of the top shelf. I avoid plopping down on the couch or on the bed after dinner and staring at the TV or the computer. Its not to say I won't watch TV, but I am doing something while I watch. I also took up some additional hobbies that keep me occupied at night. It doesn't necessarily have to be something physically active, but at the very least I am standing while I do it (motor repair, or wood work, that kind of thing) At lunch time I don't just go to the break room and sit, but rather take my lunch outside and take a walk while eating lunch. I make an effort to get enough sleep (7-8 hours every night), and make an effort to rise with the sun even on weekends and days off. When I have down time, it is spent taking my kids on a hike, or a bike ride, or a swim if its the right time of year. I basically keep trying to move as often as possible to keep the muscles moving, contracting, and out of "idle" mode.
In conclusion, I do want to say that I have been at my healthy weight of 195 pounds for a year and a half now. My goal is to maintain this weight for at least the next 5 years without having to plunge back into "restricted" mode i.e. just maintaining my eating and exercise regimen as it is now. I have relaxed a little bit in that I will occasionally indulge in something sweet (birthday cake, or a spectacular dessert to cap off a night out) or possibly have something that is served with bread. My body can now tolerate it without showing obvious ill effects. I have reached a sustainable balance of restricting certain foods, eliminating other foods, and exercising. I can foresee me maintaining this lifestyle and my healthy weight and build into my 50s, 60s, and beyond.
The biggest challenge was managing my portions. Even though I had eliminated a lot of the processed foods, fact is that our bodies will still take excess calories and store them as fat. Its the way we are made, its the mechanisms that helped us survive as a species for hundreds of thousands of years. You still can't have a half pound of bacon, a dozen eggs, and a 16 ounce (thats a pound of meat, boys and girls) steak every day and expect to lose weight. Your body will want to hold on to those excess calories in case the local market closes down and your next meal is a week down the road. If your metabolic mechanisms that regulate hunger and satiety are broken, you need to rely on visual queues to insure you are not consuming excess nutrients. Learn to measure portion sizes and recognize them, and learn to limit yourself based on these visual queues rather than the biochemical indicators which at this point may be damaged and in need of repair.
What advice (if any) would you give to someone interested in trying a carbohydrate-restricted or paleo diet? Were there any obstacles that you overcame that could help future dieters?
My biggest advice I can offer other carb-restricted dieters is to remember that it is a process. You didn't become obese or overweight from one day to the next. Your metabolism is probably damaged, and needs to be repaired. Like healing any broken body part it takes time, and sometimes feels unpleasant. Stick with it as best as you can, and if you fall off the wagon, don't give up. Don't even say "today is shot, I'll try it again tomorrow". Recognize that you may have eaten something that is not proper for optimal health, and immediately dismiss it and go on. Even small changes in your eating habits where you eliminate some of the refined and processed foods will have a benefit.