First of all, congratulations to John Scalzi, who just lost 20 pounds (the world weeps, as there is now demonstrably less Scalzi-ness in it). Scalzi beat me to the punch, as I’ve been poised to write a summary of my own because I just hit a magic number of my own and promised a couple people who saw me at World Fantasy who hadn’t seen me since August 2009, in Montreal, that I would whip up a post about it.
From August 2009 to today I’ve lost just a bit over 30 pounds. There’s been no ‘system’ or popular diet, and it happened very slowly and methodically, as I’m doing my best to lose only fat and keep what muscle I have because I’m not allowed to lift weights for the rest of the life.
The pounds lost only tell a portion of the story, I’m far more interested in body fat percentage and health.
In August 2009, I was 240 pounds. My bodyfat percentage, when I got home and measured it, was 26% according to a caliper test. My waist size, when measured with a tape measure, was 44 inches. That meant I was 177.6 pounds of lean mass carrying around 62.5 pounds of fat.
Today I’m 209.5 pounds. My caliper test indicates I’m at about 18.5% bodyfat percentage. My waist size is 39.5 inches. I’m 170.8 pounds of lean mass carrying around 38.8 pounds of fat.
The success for me is not so much the weight loss, but that it was the right weight loss. Many people on crash diets are focused on pounds, but I’m interested in body composition. In the past, I’ve usually been 19% bodyfat and 225 while lifting and running, and been happy. I was not happy with 26%, and it had crept up on me due to the fact that I was recovering my health in 2009, and did not have access to tools like running or lifting anymore.
With 30 less pounds, most of it being fat, I feel more energetic, fitter, and I had to buy a whole new wardrobe just before World Fantasy Con because none of my clothes fit: they were too baggy. I can get up stairs easier. I can walk further.
Pretty much the same way as John Scalzi described. The nitty gritty is, I’ve come to believe after eight years of reading weight-lifting books, nutrition books, and eight years of self-experimentation and logging the results in detail on excel spreadsheets, that you have to figure out how much your body can take in calories a day without gaining weight, and that becomes your upper limit. You also need a lower limit, your ‘base metabolic rate’ so that your body is getting the calories it knows it needs to move you around for the day. These are rough calculations, based on large populations, so logging helps one refine and test one’s own upper and lower bounds (which also change with body composition.)
Using a BMR calculator sets my lower bound (about 1,800 calories a day for me). If I eat less than that, there are chances my body will slow my metabolism down because it thinks its starving. That’s also good because it stops me from falling into the trap that might lead to a failed diet: trying to simply starve yourself of calories. That leads to people who look ‘skinny fat’ and to bouncing diets. But those are the calories my body would like to have.
The same calculator lets me ballpark how many calories it will take before I start to gain weight, right now that’s ~2,500 calories a day.
So that’s my window: more than 1800 calories a day, less than 2500.
To lose a pound of fat is to eat 3,500 calories less than the upper bound. To lose a pound a week is to eat 500 calories less than my upper bound, but not drop below my lower bound.
Which means to lose weight I need to eat more than 1800-2000 calories a day. That’s the geeky side of it.
What’s missing here? Kinds of foods. After all the reading, everyone insists that eating a certain kind of food will cause weight loss. Vegetarians on one side. Atkins dieters on the other. I followed some of these carefully, but after reading about BMR, I quickly came to believe that the reason high protein diets helped slim me down weren’t magical science-y sounding justifications, but just simply that 300 calories of a steak fills you up and takes longer for your body to process than 300 calories of chips that leave you hungry again in half an hour. And stripping that bread off the burger gets rid of calories, often by a half. Tracking my calories in 2005 correlated this fairly effectively, I was eating 30% fewer calories by going high protein, and I was losing weight as a result.
I try not argue with people having success on a high protein diet, because hey, getting healthier is getting healthier, but there is a somewhat religious fervor to people with their favorite, and I try to avoid that by logging the crap out of everything.
So to track the calories and nutrition, I use an iPhone app called Lose It. It lets me easily track everything. For the first 6 months of weight loss, I struggled with finding the right way of logging nutrition. I used excel, I used several other iPhone apps. I focused, at first, not on losing weight, but learning the habit of logging whatever I eat.
For one, this allowed me to establish a firm correlation between weight gain and calories eaten over a 6 month period. On weeks where I ate 3,500 calories combined throughout the week over my 2,500/day limit, I’d gain roughly a pound. If I stuck to the 2,500/day I was holding level. This let me know the BMR calculations were accurate for me and didn’t need adjusted. There was a lot of fluctuation over the early part of 2010, but I was just dedicated to this new habit.
Once I’d settled on Lose It as my favorite app out of the four I tried (it uses a different calculation for BMR than I do, but it’s within 100 calories, so it’s good enough), and satisfied that the BMR calculations were accurate based on weekly weight gain or loss, and once logging calories became second nature, I then started a steady weight loss plan of roughly a pound a week.
Variations on my caloric intake include the fact that I focus on ‘net’ calories. My walks give me extra calories to consume. So for example, if I walk a mile, I track it with Runkeeper, and add the exercise into Lose It. If I walk a mile, that gives me an extra hundred calories to ‘spend.’ Two miles usually gives me a couple hundred extra (and I believe you have to spend them. Just starving yourself leads your body to re-adapt itself not to losing weight, but fighting to conserve its stores as best it can).
The coffee shop where I like to write is exactly half a mile from my house (a 50 calorie walk). If I walk there and back every day, I add a hundred calories to my budget (meaning I could eat as much as 2,600-2,700 and not gain weight on a day where I walk to and from the coffee shop to work, and then take an extra one mile walk that evening).
I no longer try to eat specific foods, but I pay attention to what I’m eating by default because I have to log it. I try to log the food before I eat it, as that lets me see how it impacts my day. I know that I can eat four apples for the price of one donut, and that I’m full to bursting after just two full apples.
But I also no longer deny myself *any* kind of food I like. I said I have achieved this weight loss and had a donut every day. I’m not half kidding. Every week day, at the coffee shop, I have a donut (creme-filled, 360 calories). If it doesn’t put me over the daily limit, I’ll have it. Three days ago I had one of my favorite high-calorie foods, a Li’l Debbie Nutty Bar (500 calories). There was no guilt. I really enjoy and love the good foods now, because I know exactly how much they cost me in calories and know that they’re not hurting me. However, I do steer clear of ‘high cost’ foods that would bloat the calorie budget for no reason.
I do, however, employ two tricks from the weightlifting days, however. I eat six smaller meals a day. This keeps me always feeling full throughout the day, and a lot of lifters and researchers seem to agree this is good for preventing insulin spikes and causing hunger jags, and your body reacts better to this steady delivery of nutrition. And the other trick is that I remember that my body sometimes confuses thirst with hunger. If I’m suddenly hungry, I often will drink a glass of water to check. If I’m still hungry ten minutes later, then I’ll go find something to eat.
One last trick, and this one’s an article of faith picked up from some lifters, is that every couple weeks I supercharge the calories for a couple days to jack my metabolism up and convince it I’m getting hellah calories. A weekend of 3,000 calories a day and then back down to 2,000 for the next week.
I’m no expert. Just a guy who logs and tracks and has gone through a journey.
Because of an interest in working out over the years, I’ve kept my body composition stats and weight and measurements from 2003 onwards. I slimmed myself down after getting rather hefty from working at a desk in 2002 using Body For Life. In April 2002 I’d hit 219 pounds, 33% bodyfat (145 lean and 74 pounds of fat) and wanted to change that.
Four months later I was 189 pounds, around 22% bodyfat (147 lean and 42 fat). It was a rather fast, and sudden transformation that had some worried, but most just surprised, and me happy.
Intrigued by the strength I’d gained, I began to focus on the lifting, and by the end of 2003 had added 20 pounds of lean mass (muscle) to my frame. 165 pounds of lean, and I was, throughout 2002-2004, usually in the 18-19% bodyfat area.
In 05-07 I got caught up with gaining strength, and dropped nutrition quite a bit. I went from bench pressing 180 pounds to trying to break the 300 pound barrier. My chest went from 44 to 47 inches. My arms from 15 inches to 17. But I tore a shoulder in the process, and gained weight while recovering. I bounced around from 21-22% bodyfat. I got up to 185 pounds of lean mass, at the height of this.
Right before I was hospitalized for my hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, I was just shy of 180 pounds of lean mass, 47 pounds of fat, and 224 pounds (21% bodyfat). Not thin, but strong and healthy, certainly (I did want to get back down to 18-19, though). A year of not exercising and eating whatever, and I was at that 240 pounds, 26% bodyfat I mentioned.
So now I’m at 209, 18.5%. My ultimate goal is to keep slowly losing weight until I get down to the high 180s. Which should happen right around when summer is getting rolling. Because I’m noticing my long walks are getting easier without that extra 30 pounds to haul around, and I’m healthier. Losing more should make stairs even easier, and so forth.
And also, you know, to be honest, so I can take my shirt off at the pool without really thinking about it like I used to.
Now I’m off to go eat some ice cream drizzled with chocolate fudge. Mmmm, fudge. Because its in the budget…