Friday, August 21, 2009

+1.8 (∆ +0.4)

Well, the day is finally here—the end of my seven month plan to lose weight—and I can unequivocally say it's been a success. Not only am I celebrating my birthday, but I'm literally lighter than I've been in years. Huzzah!

If you've been with me since the beginning, then you already know I was over 30 pounds overweight at the beginning of this year. With a BMI of 30.1, I was technically obese... and that was, pardon the pun, the straw that broke the camel's back. It was time to take back ownership over my weight. I had allowed things to get out of control. Me. Nobody else. No more excuses.

Admittedly, it was a difficult road to take, especially in the beginning. I had to stare down my late night hunger pangs, finally face the stress and dormant feelings I'd been sedating with food, get a realistic grip on just how caloric fast food is, and accept the disappointment from not getting results fast enough. There were ample opportunities to quit. But I stayed on it. I'd been trying for over a decade to get to a slimmer and healthier version of myself and after years of knowing (and even advocating) the simple math behind losing weight—eating less food and working out more—I decided to take my own advice. Maybe I just needed time to let go of the delusion that eating recklessly would let me remain happy. Who knows? What I do know is that my original plan has worked.

So how did I do it?

I used a lot of aides to track my progress: a scale, my blog, spreadsheets, a thorough understanding of nutrition labels, but above all were a few crucial applications on my iPhone. I used three apps in particular every day—Weightbot, VitalsView, and Lose It!. (I'll post reviews and screencaps of VitalsView and Lose It! later.)

Of the three, my favorite app has been Weightbot, which you can buy at the Apple's iTunes for only $1.99. Given how often I've used it, and how much value I've gotten out of it, it has surely paid for itself a thousand times over.

Weightbot is simply designed, easy and fun to use, and delivers all the essential stats to track weight in both numeric and graphic formats. The first thing I've done every morning since January is make a trip to the bathroom, step on the scale and input my data into Weightbot.

Below is a slideshow of actual screencaps from my iPhone:

Note how Weightbot automatically updates the graph's top weight number—at first this seems to skew the results from month to month but (I think) it also gives you more motivation because each month illustrates an increasingly drastic weight loss as the weight comes closer to the goal line.

As you look over each month, you'll also see how my weight drops slowly. As I said on Tuesday, it's far more inspirational to visually see a month's worth of data because it shows how the weight is slowly sliding off. The ideal goal should always be to lose weight and keep it off, although this is a common trap many fall into: everyone wants to lose as much weight as possible, so they'll go with some random diet and then a few months later, go off the diet again... and usually back into their old eating habits. That kind of see-saw dieting is a horrible way to have long-term weight loss—instead, it's way better to shoot for only 1 pound of weight loss per week. That's a small change, but a feasible one. It might take some perseverance and resolve, but if you really want to lose weight permanently, then you should be prepared to accept that the process will not be a series of quick sprints, but one long marathon of small steps. Which is better, really, since it's more realistic to go from 3 doughnuts a week to 2, than from 3 doughnuts to none at all.

If there were one key to this entire program, it was not thinking too much about the end goal. I've changed my eating habits so drastically since January that if you had told me in January I'd be eating mostly produce for lunch now, I'd have flat out rejected it as a lie. More importantly, it could have completely demoralized me—I might have told myself that I wasn't ready to give up my guilty pleasures like beer, butter, sour cream, and cheese, and abandoned the program before I even started it. But I still have beer, butter, sour cream, and cheese. I still eat doughnuts and Chipotle burritos. Last night, I even had ice cream. So my eating hasn't changed from January—I still eat all the things I used to, just in more appropriate portion sizes.

Here, for the record, are the final statistics. I'm sure this is what you've all been waiting for:
Time Span: January 19, 2009–August 21, 2009
Total time: 7 months (214 days)
Starting Weight: 192.5 lbs
Goal Weight: 159 lbs
End Weight: 160.8 lbs
Total Weight Loss: 31.7 lbs
Difference between Goal Weight and End Weight: +1.8 lbs
Average Weight Loss per Week: -1.0 lb
Average Weight Loss per Month: -4.4 lbs

And finally:
+1.8 (∆ -31.7 lbs)

It's not magic. There is no One True Diet. There is no wunder-pill to make the fat melt off. I can say from personal experience that the key to losing weight and living a healthy life is simple math:
Eat Less. Work Out.

The hard part is 1) accepting that axiom as true, and 2) be willing to figure out how much you really do eat.

So, if you're feeling inspired and want to lose some weight yourself, I offer you a simple challenge to make a step in the right direction.
  1. Don't change your eating habits for 1 week. Don't do any exercise or activity you wouldn't normally do.
  2. Record everything you eat—everything. Record the portion size (buy a measuring cup if you don't have one), and record the calories per portion size from the respective nutrition label (go here to find a good online calorie counting site). If you're feeling extra diligent, maybe record when you eat, too. Don't change what you eat because you're measuring it... that will change your results; your job at this point is to just sit back and observe your eating habits with a detached scientific eye.
  3. Don't feel guilty about anything—this is a crucial point. It's easy to get depressed when you're faced with how many calories you actually eat (and depression tends to make us to eat more), so stay cool. Knowledge is power, and you should feel satisfied that you're gaining new knowledge about yourself, no matter what that knowledge is.
  4. Go here to find out your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate). Your BMR calculates how much energy you expend by doing nothing at all.
  5. Go here to calculate how many calories you should be eating daily to maintain your current weight (this is called your TDEE, or Total Daily Energy Expenditure. If you're eating more calories than your TDEE, you'll gain weight. If you eat less, you'll lose weight. If your goal is to lose 1 pound a week, and 1 pound is equal to 3500 calories, the end goal is to reduce your TDEE by 500 calories (i.e., 500 calories X 7 days = 3500 calories / week).
  6. Choose on your own what can be nixed from your food that will get you closer to that daily calorie intake. You don't want to go cold turkey just yet (although if that's more to your temperament, go for it)—just make small steps. Above all, keep educating yourself about what kinds of food are overly caloric and gradually weed them out. If you're going back for thirds, can you go back for only seconds? Once you're used to only going back for seconds, can you not go back for seconds at all? It's a gradual shift. Don't try to run the whole race in one day.
  7. Over time, aim to get your calorie intake closer to that TDEE. Once your calories dip below that TDEE, you'll start to lose weight. If you can get your TDEE reduced by 500 calories per day (on average), then you will lose a pound a week.
  8. Remember that weight fluctuates by as much as 4 pounds in a day. You will only see measurable results over time, and the longer the time period, the better.
  9. Find a gym that you really like. Choose a simple workout—5 or 10 minutes at first. Go once a week, then twice, then three times, etc. Go just to get in the habit of going. Reward yourself by sitting in the spa for 30 minutes. Once you're ready to do more challenging workouts, you will; your body will know when it wants to do more. The important thing is to go slow enough that you aren't disappointed if you stop. Can you walk for 10 minutes at a snail's pace? If not, how about 5?

If this has been useful to you in any way, please let me know by shooting me an email to ross AT rosspruden DOT com. And, you know, pass it on to others, too. :)


ModernSophist said...

It's super nice to see someone lay out a simple, honest assessment of weightloss and, really healthy living in general. I've tried to help a lot of friends out with their body images and give them some advice on losing weight. The simple forumla is right on, only, as you well know, it's never that simple. Finally, the one additional thing I've found that helps is fiber. To some degree, more fiber tends to mean more full (excluding all that fullness that's really just our brains getting the release it gets from the pleasure of the crap we love), so sometimes it's just switching a few meals ingredients to a more fiberous version. Works pretty well for me.

Ross Pruden said...

Thanks for the kind words. The devil, as they say, is in the details. :)

And further to your fiber comment, I now eat bell peppers instead of corn chips and it's nearly as satisfying. Fiber rules!

Stay tuned—I'll be writing a book going into much greater detail. Facing the internal battle of emotions is the chewy center of fighting weight loss, I suspect.