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How I Lost 30 Pounds

INTRODUCTION

lossI would like to begin by saying that I am not a medical professional or a physical trainer by any stretch of the imagination.  I am an IT Guy in his late forties who spent way too much time on my rear and not enough time on my feet over the years.  This is my experience and following this little plan has worked pretty well for me so far.  I share my story in the hope that if you are experiencing health issues related to your weight like I am, then perhaps some of the things that helped me will help you to improve your health as well.

I am also not trying to sell you anything, though I admittedly will be gushing over Fitbit a lot.  That said, if you want to hang around and read some stories or listen to a podcast episode or two, it would be greatly appreciated.  Finally, this is not medical advice, please consult your doctor before starting any nutrition or exercise plan, don’t sue me if something unfortunate happens, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Still here?  Cool.  Here we go:

I like to joke that going to the doctor is like going to confession, but worse. Unlike the priest, the doctor knows you have sinned because the bad things you have done are all documented in your vital signs and your lab results. Of course, God knows everything that you’ve done, but He doesn’t offer much in the way of direct feedback. Indeed, the only penance to be found at the doctor’s office is not in prayer, but in performing acts of contrition towards yourself.

I have struggled with my weight for the better part of my life.  Working in Information Technology, first as a programmer and now as a tech support pro-slash-IT Guy didn’t exactly encourage good habits.  The truly lousy thing for me is that I don’t drink alcohol or smoke or use drugs; my one big vice is food.  Making the situation worse was that the only significant exercise I would get was when I would spend the weekend walking around a nerd convention.  Of course, with the extra weight comes health problems like Type II diabetes and high cholesterol.  Oddly enough, I’ve never really had high blood pressure, probably since I tend to not get worked up about things, but that’s a story for another time.

Last June, I had another one of those visits to the doctor…if you’re overweight, you know what I’m referring to:  The doctor tells you that you need to lose weight or bad things will happen (or worse things if you already have issues).  You respond by sheepishly nodding your head and saying “Okay, doc, I’ll try to do better” and six months later, you’re having the same conversation.  After years of living with weight-related health problems, I was finally determined to get my act together after a doctor visit in June 2020.  In a weird way, it helped that I had been out of work since the end of April, having been laid off due to the pandemic.  I had lots of time to start replacing my bad habits with good ones and couldn’t blame bad traffic or work-related stress or [insert random reason here] for not exercising.

SIMPLE, BUT NOT EASY

Losing weight is simple, but not easy. You burn calories throughout the day as you do things and you add calories by eating. To lose weight, you have to burn more than you put in, or end up at a “calorie deficit” to use the correct term. The concept is simple. To lose weight you need to either burn more calories by doing more things, eating less, or a combination of both.

But as many of us know all too well, it isn’t easy. Like so many things in life, the execution is where that simple idea falls apart. I’m no psychologist, but I’m sure there is a term for how we tend to overestimate the good things that we do and underestimate the bad. Heaven knows I was guilty of that: I would feel good about taking a fifteen minute walk around the nature path behind the office after work, but fail to recognize that the walk wasn’t enough to compensate for my ‘usual, not that bad’ meal of a bacon cheeseburger and fries that I’d had for lunch.

As I mentioned before, I’m a computer guy.  I like numbers.  So, the first step in getting my act together was getting the facts behind how good, and more importantly, how bad I was being to myself.  My thought process was that once I had all the numbers, good and bad, I could then start to make changes for the better because at that point I would know what was happening.  No more deluding myself into thinking I was doing better or not as bad as I thought I was.  I would have cold hard facts guide me going forward.  After all, as our doctors are all too aware, numbers don’t lie.

And so we have the first step.  It’s a little hard, but has absolutely nothing to do with eating or exercise:

STEP 1 – WEIGH YOURSELF EVERY DAY

If you take nothing else from these words, if you don’t read another word beyond this sentence, start weighing yourself every day. 

I won’t lie.  It is going to suck at first.

And that’s exactly the point. Once you learn what consequences your actions have, you should learn to adjust your behavior if you don’t want to repeat a bad performance. If you go nuts one day at your favorite Chinese buffet for dinner and get some bad news the next morning on the scale, then perhaps you will go a little less nuts the next time. Maybe you spent a day walking around the mall shopping with friends and you find yourself a little lighter the next day. Great! Yes, I know we’re still in the pandemic and that’s kind of a great big no bueno right now, but let’s pretend we aren’t. Ahh, good times. Anyway…

I started weighing myself every morning shortly after I woke up…and after a pit stop at the boys’ room.  I don’t know if that’s cheating or not, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.  I also invested in a smart scale, a Withings Body+, to be precise.  The convenience of having my daily weigh-in immediately zapped to the FitBit app so I could track my progress is pretty awesome.  Granted, you don’t have to go that far; if you want to write your numbers down in to a notebook or punch the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and then do Excel things with the numbers, then go for it.  You’ll also be one step up on me because I hate Excel with the fire of a hundred suns, but that’s another subject for another time.

The idea behind weighing yourself is twofold: Do it to keep track of your progress and to learn what you are doing right and wrong on a macro level so you can start making adjustments to your habits.

STEP 2 – KEEP TRACK OF WHAT YOU EAT

This is another hard part, but technology definitely makes it easier.  I had tried calorie counting in the past, but measuring things, looking things up and writing things down (or arguing with Excel) ended up being a royal pain in the posterior, so I eventually always stopped.

At the risk of violating the ‘I am not trying to sell you anything’ pledge I made at the top of this blog, I have to mention that the Fitbit app made this much easier.  Indeed, I went all in with Fitbit and ended up using it to keep track of everything.  That said, I believe the CalorieKing or MyFitnessPal apps also allow you to do this.

The interesting thing with the Fitbit app is that in order to do calorie counting, you have to set a weight loss goal first.  I set my initial goal to ten pounds below my first weigh-in.  The app then gave me an estimate of how many calories I could eat throughout the day in order to lose weight based on my activity level, measured by my Versa, and the food that I was entering into the app as I went about my day.  I think that the app overestimates how many calories you burn, but regardless, you will eventually get a hang for how much less you need to eat to make progress, especially if you are weighing yourself every day.

I started keeping track of my diet on the same day that I started my daily weigh-ins.  Just like the daily weigh-ins, the point of doing so was to get an actual picture of how good and how bad I was doing.  It also had the effect of quickly making me think twice about my choices at mealtime:

Naturally, my first big eye-opening moment came when I decided to order out for lunch on that first day of July.  Like many of my fellow Texans, I love Whataburger.  I thought that since I had started my day with a fairly light breakfast, my “usual, regular, not-so-bad-for-me” lunch of a Whataburger with cheese with medium French fries wouldn’t be too far out of line.  Before placing my pick-up order via their app, I thought that I would plug the data into Fitbit to get an idea of the damage I would be doing.

Hoo-boy.

Fitbit’s food database has information on some major fast food places, including Whataburger.  I was shocked to find that a Whataburger with cheese on its own was a whopping 680 calories.  A medium order of French fries would tack on 420 more, which meant that what I had considered to be a ‘usual, regular, not-so-bad-for-me lunch’ in fact contained 1,100 calories.  Of course, when I dropped that data into the Fitbit app, it went DUDE THAT’S WAY TOO MUCH.  I hadn’t ordered as of yet, so I checked to see how much less awful a smaller Whataburger Jr. with cheese would be.  I was pleased to discover that it has 355 calories.  A small order of fries had 280, so that lunch added up to 635 calories, or 435 calories less than the regular meal.  I discovered that I could still enjoy a burger and fries…just smaller ones.

In doing this, I learned how awful my old diet was.  I also learned how to adjust my eating so that I would eat less calories.  In tracking everything that I was eating, I began to get an idea of how many calories I could eat in the course of a day and so I started eating less.

But here’s the crazy thing:

I AM EATING THE SAME THINGS AS BEFORE, JUST IN SMALLER PORTIONS.  I didn’t follow any “diet” whatsoever:  No low-fat or low-carb or paleo or fasting or any of those other flavor-of-the-month cure-all diet things that you hear about.  I didn’t even buy low-fat milk.  I just ate less. Since I was tracking my eating, I now knew how much I could eat before going over my limit for the day.

Sure, I was trying to include more grains and vegetables in my diet, but for the most part, my diet was still awful because I was still eating like a bachelor:  Fast food, processed food, sweets (being a good baker is a blessing and a curse) chips, and salty snacks were still on the table…just in smaller portions.  Cooking for one is also a royal pain in the rear and cooking healthy for one, even more so.  I know some of you are shaking your heads after reading that last paragraph, but the bottom line as you will see, is that it freaking worked.

Lord knows it isn’t easy, though.  I honestly miss wolfing down regular-sized burgers and fries, but if I want to not only hang around as long as I can, but enjoy the trip, then I can live with having a junior cheeseburger instead of a regular.

After all, it’s still a cheeseburger.

STEP 3 – GO FOR A LONG WALK (MOSTLY) EVERY DAY

I’ve owned a Fitbit Versa for a few years, and a Pebble Time smartwatch prior to that. My main motivation for purchasing a fitness tracker/smartwatch was to keep track of my steps, which mostly worked, but I ended up replacing looking at my phone all of the time with looking at my watch. My plan was to step my way to fitness at the rate of 8,000 steps per day. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be 10,000, but come on, man, I’m a computer guy. I would go walking around the office building for about fifteen minutes during my lunch break. After work, I would take another fifteen minute walk after work on a nature trail that was nearby. I felt pretty good about myself upon hitting 8,000 steps and occasionally even topping the recommended 10,000.

Unfortunately, counting steps wasn’t working for me.

Granted, my overeating was more than likely contributing to a lack of progress on the weight-loss front, but at the same time, I suspected that I simply wasn’t getting enough sustained exercise.  I decided that I needed to start doing some kind of workout five or six days a week.  As I wasn’t exactly in the best of shape (or rather, the wrong shape), I determined that walking would be the way to go.  Thus, I began going for a half-hour walk in the evening around the neighborhood.  Just a plain old walk; no silly power-walking or ankle weights or strutting like John Travolta or anything like that.  It helps that I like going for walks, and I walked nearly every day, maybe taking one day off every week or so.  Just a half hour walk, every day.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT

I started my plan on July the first of 2020.  That first morning, I weighed 244 pounds (or 110.677kg or 17.429 stone for you folks in Europe).  Weighing myself in the morning was the easiest part of my plan and became routine pretty quickly.  Wake up, take care of business in the bathroom, then step on the scale and get the good (or bad) news.

My original plan was to eat “normally” and keep track of my diet to get an idea of how awful I was doing, and start making adjustments after a week or so.

That part got thrown out of the window after the Whataburger experience I mentioned earlier. I had similar epiphanies whenever I would think about ordering out. Granted, I had already cut back on eating out because of the pandemic, but having the FitBit app let me know how deep in the hole I was going to be putting myself in by having my ‘usual’ (read: too large) meals made me quickly rethink how much I was eating by letting me know just how badly I had been overeating. At the grocery store, I had already developed a habit of looking over nutrition labels before and doing my best to count calories, but now I was definitely taking them into consideration.

Getting a handle on my eating was the hardest part of my weight loss plan.  At five feet eleven inches tall, in my head I consider myself to be something of a ‘big dude,’ so I had it in my head that I had to eat a lot because that’s what big dudes do.  One thing I learned over time was that I didn’t have to eat as much as I thought I did.  As I mentioned earlier, something that I didn’t do was go on a “diet.”  I was enjoying the same things as before, just in smaller quantities. 

I had already been exercising a little, so upping the time to thirty minutes was simple enough.  Indeed, the half hour walk I started taking around the neighborhood in the afternoon became a nice little respite from the monotony of being cooped up inside of my apartment day in and day out.

Success came pretty quickly at the beginning; over the course of July I had dropped 13 pounds, and throughout the remainder of the year I continued to lose weight.  As I had suspected, the big thing that helped me along was being armed with the information I needed in order to make better decisions.  I was no longer thinking too optimistically as I had been in the past.  I now knew how bad my choices were so I could now avoid making them.  On the other hand, I could also see the positive results of my good choices which motivated me to stick with the plan and keep the ball rolling.

When I stepped on the scale on the morning of December 31 2020, I weighed 214 pounds (97.06kg or 15.286 stone), a loss of thirty pounds from when I had started six months prior. 

I was doing a thing on YouTube where I read fables every day when I started my weight loss journey. The screengrab on the left beforeafter was from July 1 and the one on the right was from December 31.  

In mid-January, I had my usual trip to confession the doctor’s office, and my doctor and I were both genuinely pleased with the results.  In addition to dropping the weight, all of my labs were now normal.  Cholesterol was normal, triglycerides, which had been through the roof before were now normal and my A1C dropped from 7.5 to 5.7 which is just on the upper edge of normal.  The possibility of cutting back on medication in the future was also bought up so things are definitely going well.

EPILOGUE

I wish I could say that things have been improving since that doctor visit, but unfortunately, I appear to have plateaued. I have been struggling to get down to 210 pounds since the beginning of the year as the stresses of quarantine life are finally getting to me. I seem to be stuck at around 215 for now, so my next challenge is going to be getting over this hump. Perhaps it’s time to change up the exercise routine or maybe even give up Whataburger. Time will tell.

So thus concludes my 2020 weight loss story.  I’m not going to claim that this is a be-all end-all solution, but my little plan worked for me and I’d like to think that it should work for lots of folks.   If nothing else, I hope that you can take bits and pieces of my methods and craft your own plan to better health.  I did it, and so can you. Thanks for reading.

Be Good, Take Care, and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #106: “Weight off my shoulders, my stomach, my legs, and so on…”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 106, “Weight off my shoulders, my stomach, my legs, and so on” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I like to joke that going to the doctor feels like going to confession, because in both instances you have to own up to your sins.  Actually, seeing the doctor is worse, because the doctor knows what you did or didn’t do.  After all, the numbers on the scale and on your lab results don’t lie.  Thus, all you can do is suck it up and own to all the sins that you have committed towards yourself since your previous visit.  Penance is optional, but there is no absolution to be found until you get your act together. 

After my latest less-than-pleasant checkup, I finally decided to get more serious about losing more weight.  For years my weight had hovered around two hundred and seventy-five pounds, topping out at two hundred and eighty a few  years back.  Thanks to a change in medication, I’d gotten it down to two hundred and forty five, but clearly, we still had more work to do.

I used to be a programmer and I’m a numbers guy, so I decided to go all in and use the FitBit app to keep track of everything.  First my activity, or lack thereof: I’d been using a FitBit for a while to track my steps, trying my best to get 8,000 steps a day.  Yes, I know that should be ten thousand but I do computer nerd things for a living, so come on, man.

I had been concentrating on the number of steps; doing a twenty minute walk in the morning around my apartment complex and maybe a lap or two in the evening if I was short of my step goal.  I decided that counting steps was not enough and that I needed to do a sustained workout.  I started doing a half hour walk around the neighborhood every morning.  In addition to the increased distance, the roads had some ups and downs which required a little more effort than the relatively flat apartment roads.  Suddenly, reaching my step goal didn’t require too much additional effort.

Next was weight, so I bought a smart scale.  It’s one of those fancy ones that also estimates your body fat percentage.  I was already in the habit of weighing myself every morning, but syncing the scale with the app required less effort than typing everything into Excel and it also made it easier to see patterns.  Also, I hate Excel, but that’s a topic for another time. Of course, that first weigh-in was pretty eye-opening; while I wasn’t overly surprised by how much I weighed, the body fat percentage was definitely an unpleasant surprise.

Finally, and most importantly, my diet. I set up a weight loss goal using the FitBit app and picked up a kitchen scale so that I could start practicing some portion control.  As I’m sure most of y’all can relate to; this was the hardest part.

I don’t know what it’s called, but I’m sure there’s a name for the psychological thing where you delude yourself into thinking “Oh, I’m not doing that bad” when in fact you are doing AWFUL.  Once I actually saw how many calories the things that I loved to eat contained, my first thought was: GEEZ, NO WONDER I CAN’T LOSE ANY WEIGHT.  I then started weighing my portions and thinking really hard about where and what I would eat on those now-fewer occasions when I would order take-out.

Armed with all the data I that needed, all I had to do now was execute my  plan, and I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy at the start.  Living in South Texas meant waking up early to avoid the summer heat, and it was a struggle during that first week, especially since I’ve been out of work these last few months.  The walk itself isn’t too bad, and I even went as far as to lengthen it by taking a lap around the apartment complex to start off.  So I don’t get burned out, I take it easy on the weekends by walking just around the apartment complex like I used to.

Now getting a handle on my eating was definitely hard.  What I’m eating hasn’t really changed a whole lot, but what has changed is how much.  With a few exceptions, if I want to get take-out now, I have to adjust my diet for the rest of the day so I don’t completely destroy my calorie goal.  Because the FitBit app sets a goal based on your activity level, that goal fluctuates throughout the day.  The app also tries to guess how many calories you’re burning when you aren’t exercising, but I think it overestimates that part.  Either way, I’m learning to adjust as time goes on now that I’m armed with all the information.

It has been a month and change since I started this plan and so far I have lost over ten pounds. I’ve also been feeling better overall.  Things being what they are right now in the time of coronavirus, I am fortunate to be able to devote the time to exercise and measure what I eat and so on and so forth. I’m pretty happy with how things are going right now.  The next challenge is going to be maintaining these good habits once life inevitably returns to something resembling normal.

You know, I think I might actually be looking forward to my next trip to confession!

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I think  really hard about what I’m going to have for dinner.  For more podcasts, check out my website at Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening.  Be good, take care and God Bless.

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