How I lost 40 pounds and got in the best shape of my life

Marathon medalIn this blog post, I am not only going to tell you how I got fat, but I will also explain how I got in the best shape of my life.

Throughout this post, I will outline changes you can make to your eating habits to get in great shape with minimal effort.

My Past

As a 12 year old boy, my diet consisted of microwavable chicken pot pies, canned vegetables, and Coca-Cola. Sometimes we would get lucky and have pizza or Chinese food.

Due to being reasonably active, I was not overweight as a child. As I got a bit older, the junk food started taking its toll. I ate this same trashy diet, which is fairly typical for most Americans, until I turned around 19.

When I started playing poker professionally at the age of 19, I weighed about 150 pounds and was not in good shape. The concept of physical fitness was completely foreign to me.  By the time I was 22 years old, I weighed 185 pounds and was blatantly fat. Apparently sitting around and playing poker all of the time is not a good way to be physically fit.

My "healthy" diet

My “healthy” diet

Waking Up

One day, I woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw an obese, unhealthy young man staring back at me. Something had to change.

I decided it would be a good idea to get healthy by eating primarily grilled chicken with BBQ sauce and drinking cranberry juice. I assumed chicken must be healthy because it has almost no fat and juice must be healthy because it is made from fruit.

For those who don’t know, both BBQ sauce and cranberry juice are packed with sugar, which makes them terrible for you. However, that mild change put me on the road to nutritional enlightenment.

After seeing almost no results due to my change in diet, I decided to get a trainer and go to the gym on a somewhat regular basis, which ended up being around twice per week. The trainer educated me to the fact that my current “healthy” diet was actually incredibly unhealthy. He suggested I start eating lots of meat and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As it turns out, he also had the concept of a “healthy diet” wrong.

There is a ton of misinformation out there about what is actually healthy.

Advice that Worked

This book changed my life.

This book changed my life.

After working out somewhat hard and eating what I thought was nearly optimal for a few years with almost no results, I randomly discovered Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Work Week. Although this book has nothing to do with fitness, it taught me a lot about living a fulfilled life. I devoured the book and craved more.

A little while later, Tim put out his second book, The 4-Hour Body, which radically changed my life. In this book, he outlined a diet, which he referred to as the Slow-Carb diet, which I stuck to rigorously for about a year. I giddily watched 40 pounds disappear, putting me in the best shape of my life.

According to the diet, I was supposed to eat:

Meat – Lean meat is ideal unless it is grass-fed.

Fish – Wild caught fish is best.

Eggs

Vegetables – Green, leafy vegetables are best although others are fine too.

Beans – Be aware that beans can be difficult for some people to digest.

Nuts – Generally avoid peanuts. Realize most nuts are very high in healthy fats, so eat in moderation.

Healthy oils – For example, coconut oil, butter, and fish oil.

Tea – I prefer green, white, oolong, and pu’erh teas.

Coffee – Two cups per day at the most.

Water – Drink lots of water.

Red wine – Just a little!

 

I was not to eat:

Sugar – For example: soda, candy, ice cream, cake, chocolate, caramel, BBQ sauce, etc.

Fruit – Fruit is full of sugar.

Grains – Even though grains don’t taste like sugar, your body converts them into sugars that are difficult to burn, eventually turning them into fat. Also, grains are incredibly difficult to digest.

Potatoes – They are full of carbohydrates.

Trans fats – These are the unhealthy fats found in most processed foods.

Highly processed foods – If it is sold in the middle aisles of the grocery store, it is probably bad for you.

Vegetable Oils – For example: canola oil, “vegetable” oil, sunflower oil, shortening, margarine, etc.

 

The most fun part about this “diet” is that one day per week, you can eat whatever you want, within reason. I would usually have some pasta on my cheat day. I love pasta!

 

My default meals when I was strictly adhering to the diet were:

For breakfast, two eggs plus a salad or avocado.

Chipotle!

For lunch and dinner, a burrito bowl from Chipotle. My exact order was lettuce, black beans, chicken, pico de gallo, and spicy salsa. I had this meal around ten times per week. It is worth noting that eating so many beans eventually started hurting my stomach, so I cut out the beans.

I would also sporadically eat grilled meat with vegetables for lunch and dinner.

That was it! I did not consume fruit, juice, bread, dessert, prepackaged foods, Coke, etc. After a tough month or so, I stopped missing these unhealthy foods. Now, I don’t even like Coke, which used to be the only beverage I drank!

It is important to note that this “diet” is actually a lifestyle change. My goal was NOT to lose a bunch of weight then go back to the same disgusting habits that made get fat.

My goal was to get in shape and stay in shape.

I never went back to pot pies and Coke.

I came to the realization that I was no longer eating because I wanted something to taste good in my mouth. I was eating because I wanted to be physically fit. If you demand that all food you eat tastes amazing, you must recognize that you will likely be out of shape. Some people prefer to eat things that taste good and some people prefer to be in shape. While some healthy foods taste great, you will find the unhealthy versions often taste better.

As a balance, I make a point to eat almost perfectly at breakfast and lunch. For dinner, if I see something I want, I eat it. That being said, I typically don’t want something that I know is blatantly unhealthy because I recognize the nice tastes in my mouth are not worth the damage they do to my body. Once you realize that eating crap turns your body into crap, you won’t want to eat crap anymore.

If you follow the guidelines above for over a month, you will almost certainly lose weight. The key is that you must be disciplined. If you constantly stray from the diet, which most people seem to do, you will not experience the desired results.

We completed the NYC marathon

We completed the NYC marathon

Leveling Up

After dropping 40 pounds, I decided to ramp up my work out sessions and build some muscles. I must admit, even today, I could work out harder than I do.

When I first started working out, I remember jokingly saying to my trainer that I would like to run a marathon someday. Amie, my fiancée, enjoyed running short races, so one day, I decided to join her. Over the course of three years, we worked hard on running longer distances.  Eventually, we completed the NYC marathon, running 26.2 miles in a little over four hours.

After completing the marathon, I decided that I wanted to be fast. I would much rather have the body of a sprinter than the body of a distance runner.

Growing up, I was never fast. As a kid, it was a struggle to run a 9-minute mile.  So naturally, I decided that it would be cool to run a 5-minute mile. I worked hard, doing mostly high intensity interval training, which is where you run really hard for a short period of time, and then recover. I got to where I could somewhat easily run a 6-minute mile.

Issues

This is what I have to look forward to!

This is what I have to look forward to!

That is when my body started failing. Both my mom and dad have problems with their legs/feet/ankles. I was born with the same issues. I was told by a doctor that I have the early stages of arthritis in my right foot. It currently hurts to fully stretch out my right leg. I also have a decent amount of pain in my left heel. The doctor said that it is no longer intelligent for me to run. Bad beat!

Not to be deterred, I now spend most of my workout time learning to lift my own body weight in various ways. The idea of using my weight as my gym has always interested me. I have been learning to do hand stands, back bends, pull ups, etc. over the last two years. Knowing how to put in a good work out from a hotel room is beneficial for a traveling poker player.

Best of all, I am much now stronger than ever. Through research, I learned that having lots of muscle mass burns lots of calories while you are sitting around doing nothing, which means I don’t have to put in nearly as much cardiovascular training to keep the weight off.

dandyToday

I must admit, I have been somewhat lax when it comes to my diet over the last few years. While I certainly eat cleaner than almost everyone I know, I could do better. For example, I probably drink too much wine. It is a tough one for me because I either have one glass or way more than one glass. I seem to lack the discipline to have two glasses. I have been working hard on having no wine or one glass. I have my struggles too! I am doing much better now than in the past.

Incremental improvements cause huge changes in the long run.

When I am home, my breakfast and lunch consists of lots of blended green vegetables and around half of an avocado. I sometimes splurge on dinner, which I suppose isn’t too bad. When I travel, I eat mostly salads and Living Fuel Super Greens.

When I am eating lots of green smoothies, I feel absolutely amazing. I have more energy and I seem to think more clearly. My green smoothies typically consist of water, spinach, kale, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, and other various green, leafy vegetables. I also add in small amounts of carrots, peppers, blue berries, gogi berries, chia seeds, and flax seeds.

bulletA hidden benefit of the green smoothies is that you can drink them very quickly. Most people spend at least 30 minutes making and eating each meal. A green smoothie takes around 3 minutes to prepare and 1 minute to drink. Having an extra hour each day to do whatever you want is quite beneficial.

I still make a point to totally avoid all forms of grains on a regular basis. I have found that eating any type of grain messes up my belly. I don’t want a messed up belly! I splurge on a bowl of pasta around once per month. I occasionally have sushi, which seems to agree with my stomach. Rice is the one grain that doesn’t give me many issues. That being said, I probably have around 5 servings of grains per month.

My weight currently fluctuates between 140 and 145 pounds. I have never been too into stats relating to fitness, so I can’t tell you my body fat percentage or any other numbers. It seems to me that lots of the statistics people spend tons of money looking into are irrelevant, at least for my purpose of being in fairly good shape without obsessing over it. My goal is to continue getting stronger without expending too much mental energy on the subject. I recognize I am never going to be an elite athlete and I don’t think I need to work out and focus on nutrition like one. However, I do want to live a long, happy, healthy life.

While I am certainly not a nutrition or fitness expert, if you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them. I strongly urge you to check out The 4-Hour Body. Applying the information in that book changed my life. I hope it changes yours too.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends! Thank you for reading.

20 Comments

  • Ivan Mateev says:

    How long did it take to lose 40 pounds? 5-6 months I suppose?

  • T says:

    I have lost 30 pounds doing the low carb diet.. no pasta no suger, no bread, no potatoes, it took me about 4 to 5 months to loose it.. unfortunately I went off it for about 4 months due to family that moved in with me.. I put back like 12 pounds in that time period. but now that my family member is gone I have been back on it and have dropped 7 pounds in 2 months.. so this sort of diet does work! It also helps me at the poker table as well.. I feel so much better and have much better focus at the table! Thanks for sharing that Jonathan! I must say that diet plus your teachings have made me a way better poker player than I was before! Thanks for all you do Jonathan!

    • Thank you and congrats on your success. I am glad to help.

      It is important to recognize that you simply should not eat certain foods if you want to be healthy. I do not view the way I lost weight as a diet. It is a change of life. Ideally, you can convince your family that putting unhealthy things in your body is not ideal and they will understand.

      Whenever I have a similar situation, I simply make a point to only eat things that I feel like eating. For example, since I now rarely feel like eating bread, I don’t eat bread. It doesn’t matter to me what everyone else is eating.

  • airball1 says:

    Hi Jonathan. First congrats on your lifestyle change. After reading your blog post about a week ago I decided to try it. I’ve already lost 3lbs. I do have a question for you. Are any dairy products allowed? I don’t see any on either of your lists. I see butter in the healthy oils category but that’s about it. Thanks in advance!

    • Congrats on the success! I am glad to hear you found the blog post to be useful.
      I personally do not eat much dairy because it is somewhat high in calories and fat. The way I see it, baby cows drink milk to grow up and get fat. I don’t want that to happen to me.

  • Dom says:

    Hi Jon,
    I’m interested in your green smoothies,any chance you can do a quick video on making one showing the portions you use?
    Thanks

    • I don’t use any sort of predetermined proportions or ingredients. I simply fill the cup with leafy green veggies of various types, add a few fun things if I feel like it, such as berries, nuts, or seeds, add some water, then blend.

      If you skip to the 4th minute of the bottom video on the bottom in this blog, I show you how I do it while traveling: http://jonathanlittlepoker.com/2014bpoday2/

  • Dom says:

    Going to give my first green smoothie a try tomorrow.
    Would you ever consider adding a scoop of protein shake?
    How do you get protein into your diet?

    • I add protein to the smoothie after work outs if I am not going to eat any in the near future. I want to make it perfectly cleat that I do not ONLY eat green smoothies. I simply have them for breakfast on most mornings and for most lunches. I tend to do whatever I want for dinner, which almost always includes some meat. Let me know how you like the smoothie! Good luck.

  • Dom says:

    After reading on some websites that green smoothies are disgusting and hard to drink I tried it this morning and it’s not bad.
    Easy to make,drink,not bad tasting and it’s good for you.
    It’s added to my diet from now on.
    Thanks for the heads up Jonathan.

    • I am glad you liked it. As long as you use fresh ingredients and don’t go too crazy with exotic foods, the smoothie will taste somewhere between sweet and bland. Either way, it won’t be disgusting.

  • dan the nam says:

    Great post jonathan thanks for sharing this with us… I’ve learned so i will try to apply now…thank you again…

  • thomas kleemann says:

    pretty good tips- i will try to put some into practice. but the chocolate waiving part is really tough.

  • Matt Newman. says:

    No fruit at all?

  • Jason Morman says:

    Great read!

    For those of you who skimmed the article, take note of exactly Jon was ordering at Chipotle when he was eating it 10x a day. No guac, sour cream, or cheese. If you are eating out, think about each ingredient in the meal you are ordering.

    I wish I was as organized as you are at dieting. The truth is, you don’t have to be. While its preferred to have a strategy, anyone can lose weight when making enough good decisions for themselves. I’ve dropped 55 pounds since my partypoker dorm days in college.

    Keep up the good work Jon!

    -Jason (“Chiplederer” from the PartyPoker Step tournament days)

    • I totally agree that it isn’t necessary to be super strict with your diet, especially if you want to live a care-free life. Instead, just have items that you do not eat, as I suggest in the article. If you avoid a few key “trouble” foods, you will do well. Congrats on dropping the 55 pounds!

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