Losing Weight

After struggling with my weight for about 10 years, I finally figured out something that worked for me. Over a year’s time I lost over 100 pounds. What follows is an overview of what worked and lessons learned.

Disclaimer: While I had success with this, I can’t guarantee that it will work for everyone. Also, I am not a doctor and can’t say whether this is healthy or not.

Phase 1: Just Track It

Track Intake: The first and most important thing I did was track everything I ate. I tried several approaches to this: paper and pencil, mobile notes, etc. In the end, the only one that stuck was using the app “My Fitness Pal” on my phone. The app is free and has a nice a crowd-sourced database of nutrition information.

Just Maintain: The app tries to set a calorie target based on body type, current weight, and goals. When just starting out, I didn’t worry about the calorie goal. I just set it to maintain my current weight. At this stage, the habit of tracking was more important than what I was eating.

Timing Doesn’t Matter: I actually started the process right before Thanksgiving and was beginning right through the Christmas holiday. I think this shows that there is no perfect time to start.

No Cheating: There were no days off from this process. Every meal, every day, everything with calories went into the app. However, I didn’t bother with things that were zero calorie or very minuscule (like lettuce).

Secret Squirrel: In the beginning I actually didn’t say a word about this to anyone, not even the wife. I wasn’t super secretive about it, but I tried hard not to talk about it. It wasn’t until much later in the process, after people started noticing, that I opened up.

Weigh In: I also starting weighing myself once per week. I weighed in every Monday morning, immediately after waking up, just wearing pajamas.

Forgive Yourself: In the early days, the numbers from the app and the scale were sometimes shocking. At this stage I had to work hard to not become discouraged and give up. It was important to forgive myself for eating too much or weighing too much. No matter what I ate, no matter what I weighed, it was better that I was tracking it.

I tracked things like this for a few weeks before moving on to the next phase

Phase 2: In the Green

The actually fell into this next phase naturally. In “My Fitness Pal” if you are under your calories for the day, the count shows up in green; If you are over, it shows up in red.

Under the Target: With my daily calorie goal still set to “maintain” my next goal was to be in the green (under my target) every day. It didn’t matter if it was only a single calorie. As long as I didn’t go over my maintenance calorie count, I was good.

The Same, But Less: I didn’t change what I was eating by that much, I just tried eating slightly less of it. I tried to make sure I kept eating fruits and vegetables. I tried to make sure I didn’t just replace all of my calories with salt. Ultimately though, I put my focus on calories as the metric to watch. It didn’t matter how healthy something sounded (like peanut butter), a calorie was still a calorie.

Vitamins: I did start taking a multi-vitamin at this point. I’m not sure if it effected much, but it made me feel good about myself.

Never Perfect: The calorie totals I was tracking would never be perfect. It was really just a best-effort estimate. I tried to over-estimate the number of calories in something more often than under-estimating though.

Don’t Overdo It: I tried to be under my goal, but not by too much. If I had extra calories and was hungry, I ate more.

Again, I made sure that I could sustain this for a few weeks before moving on.

Phase 3: Just One Pound

It was around this point that I started to set some actual goals for myself. I decided that if I lost 1 pound per week for an entire year, I would be 50 pounds lighter and happy with myself.

Lower Target: I set “My Fitness Pal” to 1 pound per week and it adjusted my calorie target lower.

Slipping Up: I definitely went over my calorie target sometimes during this phase because I was starting to get hungrier. I tried not to be discouraged and just kept tracking. Even when I fell off the wagon and ate too much, I figured I was better off than before by having it tracked.

It Takes Time: Around this time, I started to realize just how slow of a process it is. I started looking at some milestones 10+ weeks ahead and realized that that’s what 10 pounds looks like.

No Gimmicks: I didn’t make a conscious decision to cut out anything from my diet entirely. The only things I stopped eating were because I didn’t think they were worth the calories. If I wanted a cookie, I ate a cookie; I just couldn’t eat something else because of it. I also started to drink less calories only because I’d rather eat them. I still drank things like diet soda (zero is zero); I tried not to overdo any one thing.

Exercise: My only real form of exercise during this process was walking the dog for about a half-hour per night.

I stayed in this phase for at least 6 months.

Phase 4: Another Notch

Even though my goal was only 1 pound per week, I started to average slightly more than that. At this point I was really starting to see some results, so I decided to try stepping it up a notch. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who doesn’t have a lot of weight to lose like I did.

More Aggressive Target: I re-adjusted my calorie target in “My Fitness Pal” for 2 pounds per week. This was really hard because there wasn’t any wiggle room in the diet. There were weeks where I did really well with this, and other weeks where I really struggled.

Accuracy: I kept striving to make my calorie log and weigh-ins more accurate. I bought a food scale to make portioning easier and a digital scale for my own weight. However, all of these measurements are still estimates. I could actually lose a pound by changing which tile the scale sat on.

More Exercise: During this phase, I increased my daily walks with the dog to an hour per night. I tried to keep this as consistent as possible.

At this point, the habits were pretty well ingrained. I just kept doing everything above for the next few 4-5 months until I hit 100 pounds. Writing it down makes it sound easy, but it really wasn’t. The whole process was very hard.

Phase 5: Goal Achieved

Foot Off the Gas Slowly: I didn’t stop tracking after I hit my goal weight. I merely adjusted my targets back to “maintain”. I actually kept losing another 10 pounds before things started to level off.

This Is My Life Now: It has now been about 4 months since I hit my goals. “My Fitness Pal” is still set to “maintain”. I’m still trying to track everything that I eat. I go back and forth between being in the green and in the red a little bit, but things have been mostly stable.

To quote Forrest Gump: “That’s all I have to say about that.” I’ll try to update this post if anything changes.