I 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.
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 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.
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.