reader success story - dan b

reader success story - dan b

Meet Dan B.

  • Age: 48
  • Occupation: Insurance executive
  • Family: Married and 3 kids, ages 13 - 18. 
  • Weight Lost: 26 lbs (and counting.)
  • Reason for losing weight: Health – single episode of erratic heart beat forced a trip to the doctor, and subsequent blood test revealed a slightly elevated level of cholesterol. Heart tests indicated no heart issues but cardiologist recommended weight loss to lower cholesterol levels
  • Method used: Exercise and counting calories (rounding made this easier).

Dan's Story

Dan is like a lot of guys out there - he works all day inside an office, but his family is his highest priority, so he spends his evenings and weekends at his kids' practices (baseball and basketball), or otherwise spending time with them. He never worried too much about what he ate or how much he weighed; he just wanted to be healthy enough to watch his kids grow up. Here's his story, his words..

The Buildup

"In my mid-30's I started exercising about twice a week, and my goal was to make sure I would be around to watch my kids, and my kids' kids, grow up, and I figured this would help offset the times when the kids wanted pizza or Panda Express for dinner. Plus, I had put on about 10-15 pounds by then, which I wouldn't have minded losing.

The next 10 years went by in a kind of status quo. I continued to exercise a couple times a week (at a moderate intensity), and I continued to eat whatever I wanted, without thinking about my weight. Fortunately my weight didn't change too much during this time - I only gained a few pounds over a 10-year period.

By my mid-40's I was in pretty good shape, fitness-wise. I could jog for 30-60 minutes at a time, and had begun working with a personal trainer. I'd also increased my exercise to 3-4 times per week, working in some cardio training along with my twice-weekly training sessions. My BMI and body fat percentage were both in the healthy range, so I figured I was doing everything right, but that's when things started to go sideways.

The personal trainer started adding a lot more weight training and cross-fit exercises to my routine. As I began getting stronger, three things happened: 1) I was so much more tired and sore from those workouts, I figured that I must be burning a lot more calories than before, so I gave myself permission to eat more; 2) I began drinking protein drinks and eating extra protein snacks to make sure my muscles were getting all the amino acids they needed for recovery (because that's what you're supposed to do, right?) Wrong; and 3) my trainer kept telling me that I needed to eat small meals multiple times a day.

Unfortunately, this led to some fairly rapid weight gain because I was consuming way more calories that I was actually using. I began gaining 1-2 pounds per month. The first few months I assumed it was muscle weight, so I didn't worry about it. Then I had my body weight percentage done again, and it hadn't changed, so again, I didn't worry about it. But over the course of the next 18 months I had gained 15 more pounds and began to look like I was pregnant!

The Breaking Point

I was now almost 40 pounds heavier than I was in my 20's, and while I wasn't happy about it, I wasn't going out of my way to change things. I could still do an hour of cardio, and I was stronger than I had ever been, so I still considered myself healthy.

Then one day my heart felt like it was beating really fast, and I got winded on simple walks and hikes that should have been easy to do. That's when I went to see a cardiologist.

The cardiologist ran some tests and found my cholesterol level to be 215 and my blood pressure was slightly elevated, but my heart itself was actually very healthy.

His Outlook: Although I wasn't in jeopardy of dropping dead from a heart attack, I needed to get my cholesterol down. 

His Prescription: Let's try diet and exercise before we prescribe medication. You're already getting enough exercise, so you must be eating too much. I want you to restrict your diet to 1,200 calories a day. Don't worry about protein-carb-fat intakes and percentage; just eat 1,200 calories per day. Then come back to see me and we'll re-run your tests to see where you are.

The Diet

Well, that outlook was all I needed to hear. I changed my diet the next day.

1,200 calories a day isn't a lot, and it means that you have to allocate those calories fairly judiciously, but I found that if I stuck to about 200 calories for breakfast, and around 300 for lunch, that would leave me around 500 calories for dinner, and then mix in a snack or two of 100-150 calories between meals and/or for dessert.

I found a couple websites, the most helpful being *, which helped me learn how many calories are in the different foods that I ate, and I started reading the nutritional handouts at the restaurants I ate at most often, opting for the lower calorie dishes whenever possible. I began pre-planning my meals, which means that if I knew I would be eating a higher calorie dinner that evening, I would save some calories at breakfast and at lunch, and I built a spreadsheet to start tracking everything I ate. I rounded calories to the nearest 50 (or 25 for small items), because it was too much work trying to figure out exact numbers, and also because I figured out pretty quickly that the concept wasn't to get to EXACTLY 1,200 calories at the end of the day, but to be conscious of that goal and try to get as near to 1,200 as I could.

(* author's note - is another good one - an android app & website, which has a fairly robust calorie look-up feature.) 

The first couple weeks were hard. I was ravenously hungry all the time, and the whole process was a lot of work. But after awhile it got easier.

I learned that I could survive on this small amount of food. I was still able to workout, and the scale started showing me smaller numbers.

I also got better at knowing how much of which foods I could eat, without having to consult a website for every bite I took. And my "small calorie restaurant menu" continued to expand.

I stuck to the calorie count most days, although I did have some cheating days for special event family dinners and business trip eating-functions. But even on the cheating days I still ended up in the 1,800 - 2,000 range, which was still an overall calorie deficit. It meant I wouldn't lose weight as fast, but at least I wasn't going backwards on those days.

The Result

When I went back to the doctor 90 days later, I had lost 26 pounds and my bloodwork came back with excellent results. Blood pressure and cholesterol were both at the low end of normal, so there wasn't a need for any medication.

As a side benefit, I'm faster and stronger than I was before, and I have more energy throughout the day.

What's Next?

My success coincided with the kids' (and my wife's, who's a teacher) summer vacation. At our house, summer means looser schedules and vacations, both of which make it more difficult to stick to my guns. On top of that, not having the pressure of an impending heart attack has left me a little weaker on will power to avoid snacks.

While I haven't gained any of my weight back, my weight loss has stalled; I've been at a consistent weight all summer.

Now that school is starting again, I'm going to rededicate myself and see about losing those last 10 pounds.

Knowing what I know now... How many hidden calories are at restaurants; how my body can function on fewer calories; how fast snacking and cheating can add up; how much protein drinks were working against me; how my weight stayed constant without trying too hard this summer... Once I lose these last 10, I don't think it'll be too hard to keep them off for the long haul.

I really didn't change my lifestyle at all - same amount of exercise, same amount of meals, same amount of restaurants. I just have a better understanding of the number of calories I'm eating.


That's an awesome story, Dan - thank you for sharing! Keep it up, and let us know when you've hit your goal..

** author's note - Dan's is a great story; a perfect example of the principles I follow here on Fitness Gazette:
  • A) Health is a relative term - you don't get bonus points for being "more healthy".
  • B) For anyone who doesn't make their living from their physical body, the exact mix of what you eat isn't important. Your body will convert and use whatever fuel you give it - carbs, protein, or fat. You just need to limit your calories to a deficit number. Dan's 1,200 calorie daily limit was a little more strict than I would normally recommend, but he was able to make it work; it's also why his weight loss was a little faster than I normally advise to expect. :) On a more liberal diet and slower pace, the weight will come off as long as you're eating at a calorie deficit.
  • C) Health and weight loss are a long-term journey - something you want for the rest of your life. Moderation is much easier to bring with you on this journey than any specialty "program" you're going to find out there, especially anything which requires drastic changes to your lifestyle.

Who's next? I'd love to hear from you.

-Chris Butterworth