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How I Lost Over 120 Pounds…and You Can Too

Are you husky, big-boned, or chubbier than your old jeans would prefer? Ever walk up to a buffet line and see the employees scurry in panic, as if you’re going to bankrupt the company? I can relate. I haven’t always had this Adonis-like physique (tongue in cheek; I still jiggle on the treadmill). In my prime I was over 300 pounds, today I’m a not-so-ripped 175. When you lose a lot of weight there are many things you learn: clothes are cheaper (it takes less fabric to cover a lamp shade than a boat sail), you pant less on long walks, and you do actually have veins under your skin. Who knew?!

A dear friend asked why I gained so much weight through the years. I did some deep soul-searching, thinking through my childhood and the struggles I’ve been through, and I think I figured it out: food tastes really good. Food you can add toppings to, sweet desserts, or anything from a drive-thru window tastes even better. And more of that tasty delight at the same sitting prolongs said deliciousness. Add, multiply, and divide and you get a morbidly obese person. It’s not complex why we gain weight, and it’s also not complex how to lose it.

Why Every Diet Plan Has Jaw-dropping Before & After Pics

Have you noticed how every diet plan has amazing testimonials? The surprising fact is that they all work. Some are better or worse for your health, but they’ll all do the job. Many years ago and in a galaxy far, far away, I was certified as a personal trainer and had dreams of getting into professional bodybuilding, so tackling the topic of fat loss is perhaps less mysterious to me than to the average citizen. The biological side of things is pretty straightforward. Why do they all work? Because they all reduce the number of calories you take in. It’s impossible to lose weight without that happening. It’s simple math. Here are some generic figures:

You need to burn approximately 3,500 calories to lose a pound.1

Your body naturally burns around 2,000 calories a day.2

Eat fewer calories than you burn and voilà, you will become less chubby.

It really is just that simple. Calories are energy, and like gasoline, the more you put in the more energy is stored. If you put in more than your body uses in a day, your tank expands (think stretch marks). If you put in less, you’re able to burn off that stored fuel.

“Calories are energy, and like gasoline, the more you put in the more energy is stored. If you put in more than your body uses in a day, your tank expands (think stretch marks). If you put in less, you’re able to burn off that stored fuel.”

I don’t meticulously count calories, but I do make myself aware of the calorie ballpark of foods. (Some of my friends use apps that will do that for you, like this one.) I just literally go by my gut—it’s larger than it should be and I want it to shrink—and I remember that fact when considering eating something gooey. I know that a savory cookie will add a hundred calories and walking a mile will burn a hundred calories. From there I decide which I want more—eating the cookie or avoiding the exercise. On a good day I tend to skip the cookie and still take the walk so I’m a hundred calories closer to my goal, plus the exercise amps up my metabolism and helps me lose even more fat while I’m at rest for the remainder of the day.3

Most Fat Loss Has Little to Do with Exercise

“Most weight loss comes from your plate, not your StairMaster. Experts say that 80 percent of weight loss is what you put in your tummy.”

You need to exercise for the health of your heart, lungs, brain, immune system, etc., so take that very seriously, but don’t think your fat loss hangs on you finding an hour for the gym every day. Losing weight involves a lot less sweating than many think. Most weight loss comes from your plate, not your StairMaster. Experts say that 80 percent of weight loss is what you put in your tummy.4 It’s all about eating right. It’s far easier to keep 500 calories out of your mouth than to burn that many calories in the gym. Plus, what a shame to exhaust yourself for an hour in the gym, only to reward yourself with two slices of pizza and a Coke and end up gaining weight!

Chart basis.5

Here are some more tips and cheat codes I learned along the way.

  • Make it all about just today. When that carbilicious temptation whispers in your sugar-addicted ear, what do you do? If you’re like most, you rationalize. “You only live once; I’ll get back on track later.” I convince myself that one little splurge is no biggie, and then later on another one is no major thing, and then tomorrow I remind myself that I’m still on course, I’ll resume right after this lunch with an old friend; it’s just a bowl of warm chips and an oversized Mexican burrito smothered in refried beans with a generous heap of cheese and sour cream (I’m drooling)…I mean, how often do I see old friends? I encourage myself that I’m just getting off the wagon for a minute, but the wagon is so close I’ll just hop back on, but I rarely get right back on. I fall into old habits. I gain weight. Tomorrow never comes. So, what works incredibly well for me is just focusing on today. I don’t let myself think of tomorrow as a way to talk myself into gorging. I tell myself that I just need to get through today. My only goal is to stay on target for just today. I fight to make it through this 24-hour period with a clean conscience, no veering off, no matter what event is happening. Then when tomorrow comes I do the same. Before long, weeks have passed and I’m a far thinner man. The mindset shift works wonders. (The same principle works for any spiritual discipline. Struggle with reading the Bible daily? Commit to studying the Bible today, and then again when tomorrow becomes a new “today,” keep going. I did this exact thing years ago with sharing my faith and went on to witness every day for a decade straight.)
  • If you want to lose weight really quick…chop off an arm. It works. Otherwise, losing weight in a way that is healthy and thus honors God will take a while. You didn’t gain it overnight, so don’t expect it all to melt off overnight. Accept the process. Realistic expectations will help you stay motivated. If you’re a little pudgy, doctors say a healthy pace to lose weight at is one to two pounds a week;6 anything more than that and you’re likely to experience atrophy—your muscles shrink along with your fat.7 So while your scale will go down, it will be both fat and muscle loss—you become a smaller fat person. Remember, your heart is a muscle too, so you want to be careful that you don’t rush this and put your health in jeopardy.8 If you see yourself losing over three pounds a week, chances are you’re restricting your calories a bit too much to be healthy.
  • Not all calories are equal. Most of us know what healthy foods are and aren’t. (Froot Loops doesn’t count as a serving of fruit.) While you don’t have to get nutty and start eating grass entrées with twig snacks, know that 100 calories of Coke and 100 calories of chicken aren’t equal. They don’t contain the same nutrients and don’t offer the same benefits to your brain, hormones, muscles, etc. So, as you’re aiming for healthier eating, just be mindful. I avoided “diet” foods (many of which taste like cardboard) and ate mostly what I wanted, just in smaller portions. I stopped eating before I got full, sometimes leaving food on my plate (to the shock of my loved ones).
  • Don’t diet; develop self-control. Determine to change your lifestyle. Soda just can’t be a daily thing. We can hug it out if you need support, but that delicious black liquid from Mount Olympus has to go. Sugar tends to turn into fat, lots of sugar turns into lots of fat, and sodas have a mammoth amount of it (a can has seven teaspoons full; it’s liquid candy). Drink water till you like it. Learn that other high-calorie foods can be a treat but not the norm. You know this stuff. It isn’t profound, but you really have to stick to it and not let yourself dive into compromise. Proverbs 25:28 says, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.” (And that verse comes immediately after verse 27, “It is not good to eat much honey…”) A byproduct of God’s Spirit in your life is self-control (Galatians 5:23). Dig deep into God and focus on those (healthy) fruits of the Spirit.
  • The four-week miracle mark. It’s commonly held that it takes a month for a new habit to form, but then it becomes the new natural. Your brain is rewired; new mental pathways are carved out. Getting on track for the first few weeks can be brutal, but once you cross that invisible month line the cravings tend to drop off and you’re in the clear. By then you’ll also see progress on the scale, you may start getting a few encouraging words from people noticing the loss, and you’ll be sitting pretty. Weight loss goes on autopilot. It becomes so much easier after you get there, it really does. Fight to cross that month barrier and you’ll find wings once you do.
“Don’t diet—develop self-control.”
  • Be active. You don’t need to join the wrestling team, but on your lunch break, why not take a walk outside? (That’s what I do; it makes a great time for praying and handing out gospel tracts.) Keeping the body moving is key to keeping your metabolism in fat-burning mode and helps kill those excess calories. In addition, weightlifting can help you become stronger, protect you from injury, and increase your fat loss and overall health. You could join a gym, or simply do exercises at home while you watch TV (instead of snacking): squats, push-ups, crunches, fill gallon milk jugs with water to use for dumbbells, etc.

These are generic figures; this calculator will help you get more accurate.

  • We tend to be emotional, not rational. When you don’t see the scale numbers moving quickly enough, don’t get discouraged and make a Baskin-Robbins comfort run; stay the course. There are always fluctuations (water weight, undigested meal, muscle mass increases, etc.). Be rational. Biologically, if you’re eating well and being active, the weight will drop. It’s a numbers game; it’s like balancing a budget. You have mathematical certainty that you will lose fat, so you just need discipline. Don’t get discouraged and break up with eating for health. If weeks pass and you’re not seeing your goal getting nearby, pretend like you’re a Vulcan and just use emotionally unattached logic. Just adjust your eating pattern to take in fewer calories. The hardest part of losing weight isn’t figuring out what to eat but purely staying motivated. Remind yourself that you’re on course. Just keep chasing your dream. The Bible says to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). When temptations and discouragements pop up, lock them up. Don’t entertain the thought of going off the rails for a moment; flip the channel in your mind. It’s been well said, “You can’t stop birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.”

It’s About Personal Holiness—Not Personal Fitness

Throughout my life I’ve invested a small fortune into underused gym memberships, miracle supplements, and dusty home exercise equipment. You don’t need the latest gimmick or fad diet to lose weight; you need something that is almost never mentioned when speaking about this topic. You won’t like it. It’ll feel like jalapeno hot peppers on your eyelids as you read it. You need…repentance. It’s what I got. It wasn’t pleasant, but it changed me. I’m half the man I used to be. My habits changed out of a love for God and a love for my loved ones.

“You don’t need the latest gimmick or fad diet to lose weight—you need something that is almost never mentioned when speaking about this topic. You won’t like it. It’ll feel like jalapeno hot peppers on your eyelids as you read it. You need…repentance.”

The goal shouldn’t be to lose weight; it should be to honor God. Worship God with your journey toward better health. If you get a six pack in the process, great, but it’s not about you or your body—not really. It’s not about vanity or narcissism, but about cherishing the gift of life that He’s given you. It’s choosing not to recklessly throw your life to the wind by setting yourself up for future health problems. Remember those beautiful words “love your neighbor as yourself”—it’s prevented wars, fed the homeless, cared for widows and orphans, and it should help you get your weight issue under control.

You’re not Captain Invincible. You have a frail body that gets sick and breaks down. You know statistically that if you’re overweight, in time you’re likely to spin the wheel of troubling diagnoses and win type 2 diabetes, back and joint pain, a heart attack, cancer, or other debilitating maladies. (Heart disease is the #1 killer in the US,9 much of which could have been avoided by better diet and exercise.) What happens to your loved ones? Your spouse, your kids, your parents? If you die early because of a health issue, it’s worse than spitting in their face. It’s cruel and selfish. Overeating is all about self-love, self-gratification, and self-pleasure (that’s a lot of self), but remember you’re to love others wholeheartedly. Your love for God should birth a love for them, as well as a love for all the people you are commissioned to reach in life.

“The goal shouldn’t be to lose weight—it should be to honor God. Worship God with your journey toward better health.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression that “your body is a temple.” That’s actually from the Bible. The problem for me was that my body was no longer a temple—it had become a cathedral, and it was time to downsize. Here is that passage, which offers some life-changing insights:

Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19,20)

The context is about sexual immorality, but there are some principles that have a broad application. One, you’re the manager of your body, not the owner. You’re looking after God’s property, and He calls the shots. Overeating, or eating poorly, is running God’s property into the ground (literally). It’s part of the reason you feel guilty about being overweight. (Aren’t you glad you decided to read this perky article?)

The second thing you may notice in this passage is that it says you were “bought at a price.” This was written in the first century, using the language of purchasing a slave to paint a vivid picture. While we were a slave to sin (have you ever lied, stolen, used God’s name in vain—or any of the other Ten Commandments?), Jesus Christ suffered and died for sinners on the cross, paying the price for freedom in His own blood, and His Spirit now lives within all believers. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus showed the depth of God’s love while upholding justice (you did the crime, He took the punishment). (Click here to learn the whole story of what God did so that your sins could be forgiven, and how to obtain that forgiveness.)

“It’s not about you. Not your life. Not your future. Not your body. It’s about God.”

Third, our bodies are to glorify God. At the risk of being repetitive…it’s not about you. Not your life. Not your future. Not your body. It’s about God. You don’t have anything good that He hasn’t kindly given you, starting with the breath you’re enjoying in your lungs at this very moment. In zealous appreciation, like Jesus Christ at Gethsemane, we need to collapse to our knees and cry “not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Paul was “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). He declared, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31), and, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:27). His life wasn’t his own. He joyfully denied his own passions and pleasures so that he could please the One who saved him. Scripture says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Just ask yourself if what you’re eating and drinking truly honors God. I think a good cheeseburger can glorify God, but one every day simply won’t. It’s a choice to have balance and moderation so that you can offer health to God as a sacrifice of worship. Enjoy, but don’t overindulge. Cheat for a meal, not a day.

“Get praying, get focused, get on board, and get started today. By God’s grace, and with His help, you can take this mountain!”

Everyone can lose a hundred pounds after watching a Rocky movie, but the emotion of inspiration fades. How do you keep going? Friends, the challenges with losing weight are universally the same: temptation and discouragement, and the ongoing need to keep yourself motivated when you don’t feel like it. The tips above have helped me remain disciplined when I’m in the middle of it all, and a love for God and my loved ones have driven me to stay repentant. It’s my sincerest prayer that you also get on pace to honor God with your health. You can do it, you really can. Your failings yesterday don’t dictate your successes tomorrow. You can get there. Get praying, get focused, get on board, and get started today. By God’s grace, and with His help, you can take this mountain!



Allen Atzbi

Allen Atzbi is the General Manager at Living Waters as well as the Director of the Ambassadors’ Academy. He holds a Master of Theology degree from International Seminary and served as a youth pastor for a decade. Allen has trained churches in evangelism and led weekly street witnessing teams for years. He has written four books. His parents are both Jewish: one from Israel and one from the other holy land, Brooklyn.

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