I've been having a little bit of a problem in Casper lately.  People who have known me for years, but haven't seen me in several months, walk right past me without even as much as a "hello".  It's not that everyone got rude all of a sudden - it's just that I look a little different than I did last time we saw each other.  Ok, a lot different.  Since September of last year, I've officially lost over 145 pounds on Ideal Protein - and here's the top 10 things I learned while I was doing it:

First of all, a little history - I was always a big guy, even back to childhood.

Well, maybe not THAT far back.  Although, I was already rooting around in the kitchen looking for something to eat in this photo...

Most people who've known me for a long time still call me "Heavy D", a nickname I picked up in school about the same time the similarly gravitationally-challenged rapper was hitting the radio.  I grew up in the wonderful South - where good food is as much a part of the culture as breathing.  (See:  Paula Deen.  And her diabetes.)

In my family, like many others - food was more than the stuff that was present on the table to nourish us three times a day, it was part of the fabric, more of a way of life.  When times were happy, you celebrated with food.  When times were tough, enter comfort food.  When someone died in the South, you were more likely to see a sympathy casserole than a card.  Food was everywhere - lots of it fried and/or sweet - and I loved every single fork full of it.

The older I got though, the more the pounds started to catch up with me.  I can remember shopping for school clothes and being relegated to the "husky" sizes for things like jeans fairly early on.  As I continued through middle school and high school, my weight continued to rise.  By that time, my eating habits were awful.

Having grown up next door to my Grandparents' farm, I was actually a fan of healthier foods like fresh veggies, etc. - but as I got older and moved away to the city, my diet got progressively worse.  Like a lot of teenagers, I was existing on crap like school lunch pizza, drinks loaded with sugar, fast food, candy bars - eating on the run at convenience stores and drive-thrus rather than the family table.  The problem was, I didn't have the metabolism of most teenagers - every calorie was slowly adding pounds.

I went out on my own a little early, and lived the life of a poor high school/college student working in radio (for a whopping $3.35 an hour) for several years - which made already bad habits almost necessities, or so I thought.  When you were on a limited budget (or in my case, didn't even know what the hell a "budget" was), meals like lean meats and fresh veggies often didn't make the cut - it was cheaper to exist on things like processed foods and drive-thru deals.  My pantry was stocked with terrible food choices for years - cheap macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, .99 a box snack cakes, carbonated drinks, white bread, .59 bean burritos, and the list goes on.

Don't get me wrong, there were probably healthier and affordable options out there - I just wasn't inclined to seek them out.  I take responsibility for every bite - but the economics of food are certainly not helping matters as America battles the obesity crisis.  As long as it's cheaper and easier to eat badly, lots of people will.  I was certainly one of them.

I was actually always fairly healthy, as far as fat guys went.  I'd even get consistent with exercise from time to time, make better food choices, and my weight would go down.  I'd always fall back into old habits eventually, and the scale would go back up.  Things rolled along that way for years.  To top it off, I was a long-time smoker - and after noticing that you didn't see too many old obese smokers around, I decided that something had to change.

I'd made up my mind to take things a problem at a time, and by that logic, I should tackle the problem that was most likely first in line to do me in from a health standpoint.  So, about 6 years ago, I made the commitment to put down cigarettes for good, and with the help of Wyoming QuitNet, a lot of willpower, and a crap-load of nicotine patches, I never looked back.   (According to my latest QuitNet stats as I write this, that's added 20 months and counting to my life, in addition to saving me over $17,000 on the 80,000+ cigarettes I haven't bought since 2006.  That's progress, right?)

While I don't regret stopping smoking for a minute, it did exacerbate the weight issue - as I found myself trading Camels for cake.  My palate changed quite a bit as my taste buds recovered from years of being coated in smoke and nicotine 30-40 times a day, and food tasted better than it ever had.  And with that, the scale started to go up once again - to the highest numbers I'd seen in my 39 years.  I was approaching 40, had a family at home that depended on me to be around for them for years to come, and I weighed 335 pounds.

That was an all-time big, even for someone who'd been overweight most of their life.  Amazingly, my bloodwork still indicated that I was healthier than I really should have been, but I had developed other problems, like sleep apnea that was weight-related, plus aches and pains related to foot problems, back problems, and I'm sure the other parts of me that were "healthy" wouldn't have continued to be for much longer if I followed the path I was on.

On September 1, 2011 - I decided it was time to make a change, once and for all.

Before the mechanics of how I came to lose the weight, I should offer a disclaimer - I endorse the local weight loss clinic I used through an advertising agreement with my employer, and am a spokesperson for their services.  This isn't designed to be one of those advertisements, however.   And to take that a step further, I'm a big believer that everyone has their own path to weight loss - the one I took sure worked for me and lots of other people I came to meet, and might well work for you.  Or, it might not.   I've tried, succeeded, failed, and tried again on about every diet and exercise routine under the sun over the years.  If you struggle with carrying around excess weight - you're not alone, but your situation is still very personal.

Last year, I started hearing more and more about a diet that went by the name of "Ideal Protein" - and started seeing more and more people I knew around town who had some pretty significant weight loss while following it.   I did my research, and decided to pay a visit to Sheryl Iszler over at Ideal You Weight Loss and Wellness.  I convinced her, and more importantly myself, that I was ready to give this 100% and make a lifestyle change.  She in turn convinced me, that if I followed her advice to the letter, I could reach what seemed at the time to be some pretty far-out goals.   To make myself more accountable, I agreed to do everything out in the open and on the air here, with weekly updates on 104.7 that would highlight my progress or failures every step of the way - and I'm proud to report that there hasn't been a single week since I started that I haven't lost weight.

This article isn't intended to give you the step-by-step of my particular diet - that's best left up to the professionals.  I'd also add that my diet is medically-supervised - and would advise against trying to be a do-it-yourselfer on this plan based off something you heard from a friend of a friend, or found online.  You and your health are worth it, so go see people that know what they're doing, and have been where you are.

This is the official "before" photo - on day #1 of the diet:

And this is me today, at a much healthier 190 pounds:

For perspective, here's an old pair of my pants (These were size 50, and actually getting a little tight, believe it or not.  I'm currently wearing size 34.):

And an old  golf shirt of mine from the "before" days, size XXXL:

Onward to the top 10 things that I learned while becoming over 145 pounds lighter:

1.) What most of us consider "food" in America is killing us. From the processed foods on the shelves to the stuff we're feeding our kids in school lunchrooms right here in Casper - "bad" food is everywhere.   The single best thing we can do for our own health, and the health of those we love, is to learn how to become one with the nutrition label.  Know what you are eating, and do your homework on our food system.  There's a ton of information out there, and some documentaries that really hit home, like Food, Inc.   Yeah, I know - how can stuff that tastes so good be bad?  Do your research, and I almost guarantee, regardless of what your scale says - you'll be shocked at what you're putting into your body.  Vegetables and healthy proteins are our friends, and the more organic, the better.   (Ok, off the soapbox.)

2.) That saying about "nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels"? I still can't get used to putting myself and the term "skinny" in the same sentence - but yeah, that saying's totally true.  I can't think of any food I missed out on that would have been worth screwing up this diet.

3.) Shopping can actually be fun. For years, shopping for clothes was a pain in the butt - I was relegated to "big & tall" sections in most cases without a lot of choices.  (Or in my case, "big & short".)   You can imagine, spending 9 months straight losing 3-7 pounds a week on average means quite a bit of wardrobe changes along the way.  I may have to give up my man card, but now that I can go into just about any store and find something that fits - I actually...enjoy shopping.  (Please don't tell my wife.)

4.) Persistence and willpower pays off, and the "just this once" mentality will sabotage you over and over again. I didn't cheat ONCE on this diet, and I'm pretty proud of that.  There were temptations everywhere, lots of trips, holidays, birthday cakes, work events at bars & restaurants - but finally succeeding once and for all was more important.  And let's be honest - you can never "finish" and totally go back to the routine that put on the pounds in the first place, it should be a lifelong change.

5.) The "Oh, I could never give up my (food item)" argument doesn't hold water. I had a million of 'em, and was able to do without 'em all.  And you can, too.

6.) I miss exercise. Yeah, that one took awhile to set in.  On my particular weight loss plan, strenuous exercise was actually discouraged because your body is running so lean in the early phases of the diet.  Who would have thought that I'd actually long to go work out.   (Miracles never cease.)

7.) There's a lot of BS out there. Some of these weight loss schemes and scams out there should be ashamed of themselves.  The subject of weight loss has unfortunately become a multi-billion dollar industry, designed to separate people from their wallets.  I had reservations about the diet I ended up choosing, and did a TON of homework before deciding to do it or agreeing to endorse it.  Put anything you come across to the same litmus test, and if it's some kind of pill or potion that doesn't revolve around changing your lifestyle and teaching sensible, healthy eating habits - you are more than likely dealing with something that's too good to be true.

8.) That whole "drink lots of water" thing?  Yeah, that actually works. I drank a TON of it on this diet, and aside from a little coffee, decaf tea, club soda - it was my go-to drink 99% of the time.  LOTS of it.  If you can't get used to it, a little lemon or lime juice can be your friend.   If you have a weight problem and are drinking a bunch of soda, even DIET soda - that's likely responsible for a good bit of your troubles too.  Water's great, in most cases free, and it's available everywhere.  (I became best friends with one of those Brita filtered pitcher things at home, makes it taste great, saves money, and is environmentally-friendly.)

9.) Kitchen creativity helps. On my weight loss plan, for example - starchy/carby foods like potatoes (one of my favorites) were forbidden.  Rather than let this be a deal-breaker, and turn into one of those "well, there's no way I could give up my potatoes/bread/beer/sweets" excuses for falling off the wagon or not starting at all - I found alternatives.   Potato fans, here's a freebie:  Next time you're in the produce section, grab a turnip.   Slice it up like thin-ish steak fries.  Put 'em in a sealed container or ziploc bag, drizzle with a little olive or grapeseed oil, add some sea salt, pepper, cajun seasoning (read the label to make sure yours has no carbs/sugars), spread 'em out on a cookie sheet and stick em in the oven at about 450 until they're slightly browned.  Will it taste exactly like fries?  No.   Will it taste pretty damned good and be a viable substitute, with a trade-off of helping you take off extra pounds?  You bet.  (See #2, above.)

10.) Yeah, this whole thing starts and ends with you - but there's nothing wrong with getting a little help. You wouldn't do your own surgery if you were ill, or handle your own rehab if you were an addict.  I avoided "organized" weight loss for years - but in the end, the knowledge and structure I got from my coach Sheryl, combined with a lot of resolve and willpower of my own, was the right combination to make it work for me...finally.  Your combination might be different - but you'll never know if you don't keep looking, or trying.   Doing things the same way over and over hoping for different results is a lost cause - only thing you have to lose by trying something new is the weight, and there's so much to gain in return.   My only regret through the whole process was that I didn't start it sooner.