Friday, January 29, 2016

Weight Loss

I think I've got this weight loss thing figured out.

In Montreal in 2011, I started writing a blog post called "Losing weight with common sense", because I was going to make all of these "sensible" changes to melt off the pounds, and hold myself accountable by blogging. Thankfully, I never hit the submit button, and those sensible changes - like eating an enormous plate of salmon and broccoli with a side of four beers and a half bag of chips for an evening snack - never paid off.

I've been overweight since my early teens. By World Health Organization standards, that means having a BMI of >25. In at least part of my high school years I was obese (>30 BMI - at 6'5" that's >114.7 kg or >253 lbs). I wasn't interested in sports, and I sure wasn't interested in moderation. I didn't particularly care, and I didn't have the understanding/knowledge to do anything differently.

In October 2014 I got a Fitbit One to use as a silent wake-up alarm, because Robyn couldn't stand my old alarm clock. Putting a step tracker in my pocket piqued some interest in weight management and I started occasionally tracking my weight for the heck of it. I clocked in at 113.4 kg; just a hair under "obese" on the BMI scale.

In November of that year, Robyn's dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He was in his 50's, healthy and active. This was shocking. I started thinking - a lot - about the limited time we have on Planet Earth. I was 28; about half Paul's age.

By Spring of 2015 I had been fiddling with the Fitbit app, and mustering up inspiration to get serious about changing my habits, health and appearance. I had been reading posts in reddit's r/Fitness, r/loseit and r/fatlogic. r/fatlogic was actually the best inspiration - the subreddit showcases examples of anything that "deviates from the scientific facts of body weight management". It was a wake-up call to recognize some of those behaviours in myself (those small internal justifications I made before smashing a whole bag of Ruffles All-Dressed potato chips).

I learned that diet is the key to weight management, not exercise (although I do not dispute the value of exercise!). I learned about calories, got a food scale, and started counting.

I couldn't believe how effective it was. I plugged in a weight loss target into the MyFitnessPal app (0.5 kg/week) and it gave me a calorie allowance. By maintaining the discipline to weigh and count everything that went into my body (and estimating generously when nutritional info was unavailable), the weight disappeared at a perfectly consistent rate:

Weight loss target was 0.5 kg/week from April to December. Slowed down to 0.25 kg/week in December. Almost at my "maintenance weight" target of 85kg. 


Starting weight: 113.4 kg (250 lbs) - October 2014
Starting BMI: 29.6
Starting waist: 38-40"

Current weight: 85.7 kg (189 lbs) - Today
Current BMI: 22.4
Current waist: 34"

A couple tricks I used to stay motivated:

  • Daily weigh-ins, but ignore daily fluctuations. This built a rich data set and let me see that the day-to-day doesn't matter so much as the week-to-week and month-to-month. It's about lifestyle changes, not daily changes. 
  • Didn't give up up my love for snacks, just found different snacks. Tomato basil rice cakes smothered in hot sauce and beef jerky, mmm. 
  • Log absolutely everything. Estimate high if unsure. 
  • Try my best to avoid going over daily calorie limits. If I go over, it's not the end of the world. Just hit my limit the next day. 
  • Ditched the calorie counting features in Fitbit for MyFitnessPal - a much better app and food database. 
  • The key has really been education and understanding. I failed in 2011 because I thought motivation was enough to succeed. Success, at least for me, is dependent on knowledge, goal-setting, and data. 
  • Because I have the knowledge, I feel I can maintain these habits indefinitely. It's not a quick fix, it's a lifestyle change. 
Next steps - turn 30 in April with a healthy BMI for the first time in over half of my life, maintain current weight around the 85kg mark, turn remaining fat stores into muscle starting this spring when I can get out and start running again. That's a blog post for another day! 

Feels good, man.