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How I Did It

It Was Sarge's Idea: Give Aerobics a Try

May 17, 1999|HAMILTON UNDERWOOD

In January 1998, just short of my 30th birthday, I realized that a myriad of bad habits was frustrating me in every facet of my life. My weight was the most obvious sign of my recklessness. I used to eat everything and ask for dessert--everyone's. My reputation grew, along with me. People became disappointed if I didn't consume some stunning amount of food and drink, then slip into a food coma on the dining room floor.

At about the same time, I started working at March Air Reserve Base. I'd been writing straight-to-video movies, and Uncle Sam's steady paycheck was irresistible. Working regular hours with a free gym across the street was the setup.

The catalyst came in two parts. First was my resolve to make a change; I was fat and mad. The second was an energetic 58-year-old sergeant who harangued me to get off the stationary bike and try step aerobics. I'm no Richard Simmons. Really, I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. Slowly, though, I caught on, and peer pressure kept me going. Putting in time at the gym, I learned my most important lesson: Diet follows exercise. Once I was into the blood, sweat and tears routine, I was less likely to indulge in junk food.

Now, about food: Breakfast is oatmeal with nonfat milk and honey, and grapefruit. For lunch, I eat soups, salads and tuna sandwiches. Dinner is pasta, a sweet potato, or a low-fat frozen dinner with vegetables. Everything is low-fat or nonfat. I never do diet math. I just keep my fat grams at under 25 a day. A gallon of water per day is the minimum; another no-brainer is vitamins and herbs.

In the beginning, I found it wise to set short- and long-range goals. Take little steps. As much as one might want to lose 30 pounds in two weeks, as I wanted to for six years, just remember that time passes quickly: Stick with a program, and you'll soon have the weight off. It's important to do a variety of workouts to keep it all fun. I have expanded my exercise routine to include running, basketball and hiking.

As months passed, I sometimes left for the gym but wound up at Dairy Queen. Other days, the devil couldn't tempt me with a box of maple bars. Through it all, I kept going. Then in early July, toweling off after a shower, I noticed that my butt was gone. Well, the flabby part was. My waist has shrunk from 38 inches to 31, and I've lost 36 pounds. My heart rate is 49, and my cholesterol is 113. I've noticed that controlling what I eat has lent discipline to other areas of my life: I'm less likely to procrastinate doing the more mundane things, and I've established a more disciplined writing regimen.

Friends tell me I look 10 years younger and ask how I did it. I recite tried and true advice: Diet will follow exercise, drink lots of water, take vitamins and keep it fun. This advice is not registered with the Writers Guild. Please, steal it.

Vital Statistics

Name: Hamilton Underwood

Age: 31

Occupation: Air Force Reserves

Height: 6 feet, 3 inches

Old weight: 228 pounds

New weight: 192 pounds

Time to get there: six months

How Did You Do It?

Do you have a story about how you lost weight and kept the pounds off? Or a story about how you learned to mountain climb or in-line skate, trained for a half-marathon or discovered a unique way of keeping fit, dealing with a nagging ailment or persevering with a fitness regimen despite some obstacles?

If so, we'd like to hear from you. Tell us your story in a 500-word essay listing what worked in terms of diet, exercise and encouragement, as well as any emotional and physical changes.

For weight-loss stories, send us full-body color photos of yourself, before and after. For other types of stories, send a color photo of yourself doing the activity you're writing about.

Send essay and photos to How I Did It, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Include daytime and evening phone numbers. Submissions cannot be returned. And, please, no phone calls.

In addition to publication, winners will receive a Los Angeles Times Health section gym bag.

*

Name: Hamilton Underwood

Age: 31

Occupation: Air Forces Reserves

Height: 6 feet, 3 inches

Old weight: 228 pounds

New weight: 192 pounds

Time to get there: six months

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