Losing Weight, Part 1
Over the course of the last 18 months, a number of peope have asked me to document my weight loss journey. What you are about to read is probably the first of at least 2 articles that I'm going to write on this topic. The first of these will kind of outline the history -- what I did, and when (more or less). The second (and perhaps more) will kind of cover the things that I learned along the way; things about diet and dieting, as well as things about myself.
Before I get started, I need to get the disclaimers out of the way. I'm not necessarily anyone special. I'm not a dietician. I'm not an expert on anything having to do with this at all. Seriously, poke around this site ... most of what you'll read will be me documenting things that I've done that involve some sort of technology or other. I'm just a guy who stepped on the scale one morning and decided it was time for a change. So everything that you are about to read is about me, and things that I did. I can't guarantee that anything that I did will work for anyone else. Please know that your mileage may vary.
One of the things that I didn't do when I started all of this, and in hindsight, it was probably a mistake, was to visit a doctor. I'll explain why I didn't in a moment. That said, if you are reading this because you know that you want to lose some weight, then talk to a professional before starting anything. Seriously.
It was really early in 2015 -- really early. Probably January 2nd or 3rd. What I remember, almost like it was yesterday, was frustration. Frustration that I had noticed that my pants had stopped fitting properly, and I was generally uncomfortable all the time. I stepped on the scale that morning, disappointed that it came back with 337.8 lbs. It was ridiculous, but only in so much as I didn't want to have to buy new pants. I didn't see a doctor, because this started out as me being cheap. It backfired.
Being an IT person, I didn't have any idea about where to start. I know a few people who have done the whole "no carb" thing. What was undeniable about that approach was that I've never seen it work long term for anyone I know. I've watched people lose a bunch of weight, re-introduce carbs, and put it all back on again. And I seriously like bread and pasta. Like most Americans I suppose.
I decided instead that I would cut down on 4 things. Not eliminate. Cut down. Less pasta, less bread, less beer, less bourbon. That was it. The beer and bourbon were pretty easy. And over the course of the next few months, I did cut down on bread an pasta. The changes I made at the time seemed kind of silly. For example, I'd come home from work for lunch, and make a sandwich. Previously, I would make two, but I cut back to one with double meat and cheese.
During all of this, I wasn't tracking anything -- in fact I don't think I even talked about it out loud until probably April. But I didn't have to buy new pants, and the scale was reporting back smaller and smaller numbers. Slowly, but pretty surely.
In August, a new phase started, thanks to my wife. She had annouced at the end of July that she wanted a Fitbit as an anniversary present. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I said something to the effect of "Cool. Feel free to go buy one." She did, and she bought one for me. Because of that, I know that on August 10, 2015 I weighed 290 lbs.
At this point, it is probably worth pausing to point out a couple of things. First, I had managed to lose almost 50 lbs in 8 months simply by consuming less pasta, less bread, less beer, and less bourbon. During that 8 month period, I probably also started eating better bread -- I'm a fan of Oatnut bread. My logic was that if I was going to eat less of something that I loved, then I was going to opt for a higher quality. Same thing for bourbon, to be honest. I didn't change anything else about my lifestyle. It was still overwhelmingly seditary -- sitting for 8 hours (or 10 hours) a day at my work computer, and then sitting most of the evening on my couch (with a computer on my lap).
The big change that the Fitbit introduced for me wasn't exercise, but rather tracking. As I was playing with the Fitbit app on my phone, I poked around with tracking my food. A few years prior, we had done Weight Watchers, so I was familiar with the concept of tracking food. The Fitbit app at the time was pretty poor experience for this, so I switched to the app from My Fitness Pal. I decided that if I could lose 50 lbs without much effort, I wanted to see what I could do if I tried.
I really started paying attention to the food that I ate, and I worked to try to get to the goal of 50% of my calories from carbs, 30% from fat, and 20% from protein. Once I started paying attention in this way, I started making more drastic changes. Namely, I started eating vegetables. At first, I didn't eat that many. However, it started to dawn on me that I could eat way more vegetables than I could carbs or meat with a smaller caloric hit. That meant I could feel full, and not have to eat 1,000 calories in a meal.
This revelation, which now seems so obvious, was amazing for me. I remember thinking around October that year that I was about to the end of my rope -- I was hungry a lot because I was really miltant about my daily calorie goals. I exercised more, but only so that I could eat more. I didn't enjoy the exercise, it was just a path to more food. The vegetable epiphany was game changing, and allowed me to stick with it.
At some point through all of this this, I also made two other changes, but I don't remember exactly when they started. In all honesty, it was probably pretty gradual. The first was that I stopped drinking anything with my meals except for water. Definitely by October, I was only drinking a single cup of coffee in the morning, and probably 2 alcoholic drinks in any given week -- generally, a beer after lunch on Fridays, and a whiskey during the weekend.
The second change was that I had shifted my caloric intake from late in the day to early in the day. My eating style at the beginning of 2015 was pretty traditional -- small breakfast, meduim sized lunch, large dinner. On an average day, significantly more than 1/3 of my calories would come from the evening meal. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and when I decided that I wanted to change that; it took me a while. My thought process was that I was taking in 40% of my calories just a couple of hours before bed, when my body wasn't able to really burn them off. So I started to shift them to early in the day, when I would actually burn the calories for energy as I went through the day. By mid-December, I was reliably eating about 5 meals per day (6am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm), and the last meal of the day would be around 600 - 650 calories. I had more energy as I went through the day, and was able to think much more clearly -- almost like I was in college again.
Going into the end of 2015, our family went on a cruise, and I made the conscious decision to stop tracking (or even thinking about) how much I was eating. It definitely made the cruise / vacation more enjoyable, but that 2 week period at the end of the year was the only time when the trendline of my weight went up, rather than down.
2016 & 2017
I started back up on January 1, 2016, when I weighed in at 252 lbs. That's an even 85 lbs over the course of a calendar year. Going into 2016, I was feeling really good; and decided that I wanted to see what it would take to get to an even 100 lbs.
By that point I had a pretty good routine. Breakfast consisted of a cup of coffee, and a sandwich (toasted English muffin, fried or poached egg, turkey breakfast sausage, slice of cheese). Morning snack was a banana, a different piece of fruit that wasn't a banana, and some refrigerator oatmeal. Lunch would vary based on what we had for leftovers in the fridge. Afternoon snack was a banana, a piece different fruit, and a Fiber One Oats & Chocolate bar.
I hit the magic 100 number on February 9, 2016. The other thing that was cool about February 2016 was that I officially moved from what the AMA considers obese to simply overweight. I don't put a lot of stock in those sorts of things, but it still felt pretty good. I set one last goal for myself to get down to less than 220 lbs, which would get me outside of the overweight range again. I hit that goal on April 20, 2016.
At that point, I decided to stop losing weight, and just maintain. That turned out to be harder than I expected, and I ended up getting all the way to do 202 before I finally figured out how many calories I needed to consume on an average day in order to maintain. I spent all the rest of 2016, and the first half of 2017 floating between 205 and 215.
Early in June of 2017, I decided to try to stop tracking my food. At that point, except for a 10 day period at the end of 2015, I had written down everything that I wrote for 2.5 years. I wanted to see if I could maintain without logging everything that I ate.
Turns out I couldn't. I spent the rest of 2017 putting some weight back on -- about 30 lbs over the course of 7 months. However, through all of the ups and downs (and ups again) I learned a lot. The next article in this series will cover the highlights of some what I learned about food, eating, my body, and myself. I'll also try to cover what I am doing right now to get myself back down a bit, and what my goals are for 2018.