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Health

How Trib reporter Brian Rittmeyer dropped 65 pounds

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, 1:36 a.m.
Tribune-Review staff writer Brian Rittmeyer takes advantage of an unusuallywarm winter day to walk in Plum’s Regency Park neighborhood on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. Since May,Rittmeyer has lost 65 pounds by changing his eating habits and walking.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review staff writer Brian Rittmeyer takes advantage of an unusuallywarm winter day to walk in Plum’s Regency Park neighborhood on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. Since May,Rittmeyer has lost 65 pounds by changing his eating habits and walking.
Tribune-Review staff writer Brian Rittmeyer takes advantage of an unusuallywarm winter day to walk in Plum’s Regency Park neighborhood on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. Since May,Rittmeyer has lost 65 pounds by changing his eating habits and walking.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review staff writer Brian Rittmeyer takes advantage of an unusuallywarm winter day to walk in Plum’s Regency Park neighborhood on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. Since May,Rittmeyer has lost 65 pounds by changing his eating habits and walking.

I’m going to get right to the point: since May, I’ve lost about 65 pounds.

My weight fell from 235 to around 170.

How? Simply by changing my eating habits and walking in my neighborhood.

That’s it.

Yeah, it surprised the heck out of me, too. I had no idea it could be so easy, and I was not expecting it.

Some of my neighbors I’ve met while walking have said I’m an inspiration. That made me want to find out how and why this worked for me, and if it would work for anyone else.

I went to see Elise Wood, a registered dietitian with Allegheny Health Network based out of West Penn Hospital’s Bariatric & Metabolic Institute. The answer I got was a very firm “maybe.”

“It’s funny because everyone can do the exact same thing and everyone can get very different results,” she said. “The foundation for all weight loss is lifestyle changes. We live in a very difficult environment to make healthy choices.”

I didn’t think I was making unhealthy choices; I just didn’t think about it, so I probably was. I didn’t pay attention to calories; I ate what I liked. Like many Americans, I was pretty sedentary.

I had been good at fooling myself, but the signs started mounting — everything from wearing bigger T-shirts to getting winded more easily and higher blood pressure.

Everyone knows obesity is a problem. There’s an estimated 262 medical conditions related to it, said Dr. George Eid, director of the Bariatric & Metabolic Institute. They include diabetes, cardiovascular issues and joint and back pain.

“If you really think about it, it affects you from head to toe and everything in between,” he told me.

I had never made a concerted effort through both diet and exercise to lose weight. That changed when I saw my weight at 235 at the doctor’s office in May. I had never seen it that high; I decided I had to do something.

I had thought about walking in my neighborhood but had never done it. A few days after that visit, I looked at a map, planned a route and headed outside.

The more I walked, the farther I found I could walk. As the route took less time, I made it longer. When the little hills became less challenging, I sought out bigger ones.

At first I was worried I wouldn’t keep at it; it quickly became something I wanted to do and missed if I didn’t.

I never knew that walking alone could be enough. Exercise is often thought of as difficult, even painful, whether it be intense workouts, weightlifting or running. Wood said anything that gets the heart rate up and makes you sweat is good — we should get at least 30 minutes of activity every day.

The diet part required changing my thinking as much as my eating.

I don’t like using the word “diet,” as it implies something done for a short time and then stopped. Wood agreed the word has a negative connotation.

People can go on a diet and lose weight, and Wood said that’s OK if it’s a starting point. But what’s needed is a change into a healthy lifestyle — what you do has to be something you can live with long-term.

For myself, I cut the carbs and sugar. I stopped eating breakfast sandwiches at McDonald’s, fast food lunches and packaged dinners. No more partaking of bagels and doughnuts at the office; no more buying a large pizza and eating half one day and half the next.

Breakfast is scrambled eggs and fruit. Lunch is usually a spinach and chicken salad or a single slice of pizza on occasion. Dinner is often grilled chicken or a lean steak with a vegetable.

Ice cream went out; Greek yogurt came in.

I didn’t want to develop a fear of eating. Wood said we need to have a healthy relationship with food.

“No food is good or bad, it’s how often and how much,” she said. “If you want a slice of toast, have it. Listen to your body. If you’re full, don’t eat it.”

Whole foods, less processed and cooking from home are typically better, Wood said. “You know what’s in your food.”

Temptation is real, and we’re surrounded by it. We may eat for many different reasons, and not always because we’re actually hungry. Sometimes eating too fast is the problem, because it takes time for the brain to get the message that we’re full.

I decided there was nothing I could eat that would be better than how I was feeling. Early on, I thought I would treat myself with something like a big burger or some other decadent food once I reached a certain goal, but I found that as time passed and I got to those goals, I no longer wanted those things.

The occasional indulgence won’t break the bank, Wood said, and I’ve had some.

“No one meal is going to undo everything that you did. It’s more about the consistency that’s important,” she said.

The results are undeniable. Besides the lower weight, I’ve been taken off cholesterol medication. Instead of two blood pressure medications, I’m now on a low dose of one. My resting heart rate is down, my energy is up. I sleep better.

There are entire industries out there looking to make money on peoples’ desire to lose weight, preying on their fears and frustrations. I didn’t need any of that, and it didn’t cost me anything.

Well, I had to buy new clothes.

Movie director Kevin Smith, known for “Clerks,” is about my age. He has been public about losing weight after surviving a heart attack in February. He went vegan, joined Weight Watchers and got on what could be called a fad diet. It’s great that it worked for him, but it seems such measures may not be necessary.

While there isn’t one solution for everybody, “the foundation is a healthy diet and exercise. Those are things your body needs,” Wood said. “You need to find a diet that works for you, whatever that diet is.”

Many who lose weight gain it back. I am worried I could gain it back just as rapidly as I lost it. But after seven months, I know I can live with what I’m doing, and continue it.

Rather than losing any more, Dr. Eid and my own doctor say it’s more important that I sustain the weight I’ve lost.

“It’s a full-time job to take care of yourself,” Wood said.

In his comments about his weight loss, Smith said “an encouraging word can really make a difference in someone’s life.”

My hope is that by sharing my experience, I can make a difference for someone, too.

Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, brittmeyer@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.

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