OK, now that I’ve lost about 25 pounds or so, I think I’ve earned the right to talk about it the process a little. First, here’s some perspective. When this picture was taken last December, I was up to about 210 pounds (you metric folks can figure it out). That’s not exactly extra-jumbo size, but you can see I had a somewhat noticeable spare tire around the middle. Starting some time in June – I honestly don’t remember when, and there certainly wasn’t any specific reason – I decided to start doing something about both my weight and my declining fitness level. I don’t happen to have an “after” picture, and I’m too lazy to take one right now, but suffice it to say that the gut is effectively gone. Yeah, there’s a little bit still there, but you’d only notice if I took my shirt off and you were looking for it. Under normal (i.e. clothed circumstances) I’d say I look pretty trim. 185 is supposedly my ideal weight, whatever that means, and less than about 70% of guys my height and age. My fitness level has also gone from average to excellent in the same time.
There’s really no secret to how I did it. It all boils down to two things: eat less, and exercise more. While I’m sure you can optimize the process by eating (or not eating) certain foods, or certain combinations of foods, at certain times, and so on, the key to weight loss will always be burning more calories than you take in. That means you have to know how many calories various foods contain, and that’s been a real eye-opener. I don’t have any simple rules, but for me calories are kind of like money. If something’s going to “cost” me 200 calories, it darn well better have a lot of flavor and leave me feeling pretty satisfied. It’s amazing how many foods are simply “inefficient” in terms of the ratio between calories and satisfaction. There are some surprises in the other direction, too. My latest is big globs of salsa on water crackers. Not only is it very satisfying for very few calories, but the crackers are also firmer than chips so you can dig in a little deeper. Apart from selecting foods more carefully, I just generally try to eat less. I rarely eat a full lunch any more, and I eat smaller or lighter dinners. Because I know I’ll be eating less, I try to savor my food a little more and not just chew mindlessly. Perhaps most importantly, I let myself be a little bit hungry. When I was younger I was often hungry of necessity, and I kind of got used to it. Even when I had a cushy programming job and could afford to eat whatever/whenever I wanted, I’d often work through meals just because I didn’t want to distract myself from what I was doing. Being hungry was simply no big deal. It was like a slightly uncomfortable chair, or a little too much noise: I’d just ignore it and move on. Somewhere along the way I got away from that, and I sort of wanted to get back to it. Now, I often quell the urge to eat, not to the extent that I’d say I’m depriving myself so much as that I’m just making a conscious decision about whether I’m really hungry enough to justify “spending” the calories. The result is that I probably take in 1000-1500 calories total on the average weekday (I splurge a little more on weekends). I’ve had quite a few days when I’ve taken in fewer calories than I’ve burned on the exercise machine. I don’t knock myself out about any of this, I don’t feel deprived or anxious about my intake, I basically just do it.
I have noticed a couple of strange things during this process. One is plateaus. I hit my first one quickly, at 200, then 195 and 190, with very sudden drops in between. Each one was longer than the one before, and I’ve never quite figured out why they happen. Another strange thing is that weight changes are unpredictable. I’m keeping a pretty close eye on both my input and my (ahem) output, and I’m often still surprised when I step on the scale. There have been times – such as the Baxter trip – when I was sure I must have gone down; I’d gone up. Other days I’ve felt like I was a little bit piggish, then I get on the scale and I’ve lost a pound. Here’s the really weird part: if there’s any correlation at all, it seems to be with whatever I was doing a week ago. What’s up with that? I strongly believe that people’s bodies react to things – food, exercise, drugs – more differently than doctors and physiologists generally admit, but that still seems strange to me.
So I’m a little bit thinner, and a lot fitter. Does that make me happier? Yeah, a bit. It’s not something I think about all the time, but when I do think about it I feel slightly proud that I’m physically back to being a little more like I should be. And hey, this is my blog, so if the idea of me patting myself on the back bothers you then tough. At least I’m not describing my exercise program, which is basically simple but involves a set of rules for increasing duration and intensity that would simply numb your mind if I were to describe them. Count your blessings. Patting myself on the back reminds me of something, too: now that I’m back on track with respect to the aerobic part of the fitness equation, my next goal is to work some on strength and flexibility. Yoga class, here I come.