Two hundred and sixty pounds. That’s where I was on August 14, 2015. Officially recording the heaviest I have ever been. The thoughts going through my head were not pretty, but I decided on that day I needed to do something, anything other than stay the course I had found myself on.
Over the last twenty-five years, I have had a variety of ups and downs when it came to weight, fitness, leanness and other factors both health and aesthetic related. The past few years, my exercise habits have been mostly nonexistent. My eating has been haphazard, often on the side of over-indulging (yes, I did go to Kilwin's in Grand Rapids five times while I was there. It was fantastic, but I’m sure it had a part to play in the number I was looking at on the scale August 14th as well).
There’s an aphorism that says people will not do anything until they are “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. I reached that point, and I decided that, once again, it was time to do something. This time, though, I decided to get a bit more “tech” in my approach, and use it as an excuse to do a long term software testing project. In this case, the products being tested are health apps (currently focusing on two, but looked at a few more to evaluate), a Bluetooth digital scale, and revisiting some old exercise companions from decades ago (one of which I had not done anything with in more than 30 years).
My first course of action was to download an app called Pacer. The express purpose was to track my steps, with a goal to get in 10,000 each day. I would allow myself one day per week to not have to make that goal (typically Sunday). Over the ensuing two weeks, I explored every aspect of this app I could. I wanted to see how it tracked my steps, how accurate it was, what the GPS function could tell me, and what the graphs and charts could tell me. I decided to spring for a year’s premium service just to see what the deal was with the extended options (mostly around setting goals and tracking them). I’ve collected a pretty nice list of GPS maps showing me where I’ve been and what ground I’ve covered. I have feelings of “oh, that’s neat” mixed with “wow, that’s a little creepy”, but if people want to see where I’ve walked and it intrigues them, be my guest :).
At the two week mark, I had already dropped ten pounds. Going from doing nothing structured to putting in 10,000 steps a day, that’s not at all surprising. It was at this point I added the LoseIt app to my daily routine for conscious calorie counting. I had first put together my own little spreadsheet with some of my own calculations, but a touch of laziness and a desire to have the device directly gather and present the data won out. I’ve been actively using LoseIt since August 30, 2015.
After two weeks of calorie counting, tracking meals, scanning labels, and getting involved with a few challenges, I added a Bluetooth scale into the mix, and committed to using it every day. More on that in a bit.
Once I squared away the walking, the calorie counting and regular weighing, I decided to add additional exercise in the form of free weights, an old school isometric device called a Bullworker and its smaller cousin, the Steel-Bow, and to keep things interesting, I’ve added in yoga as a daily practice (using a lot of different resources, but I've found the Fitstar Yoga app to be a good one). Like with the steps, I typically take a day off each week, usually Sunday.
This morning (10/13/15), I stepped on the scale and weighed in at 226.6 pounds. That’s 33.4 pounds less than I weighed 60 days ago. Averaged out, that's a little over four pounds weight loss per week. An ideal amount would be two pounds per week, maximize fat burning and minimizing catabolism (muscle loss). When you get beyond two pounds a week, it’s a guarantee that water weight, and muscle mass, is getting put to the torch as well. Granted, I am going to lose some muscle mass regardless (that's just the nature of the tradeoff; I can put on appreciable muscle by adding a little fat, or I can remove appreciable bodyfat by sacrificing a little muscle).
Overall, I feel pretty good about this weight loss and what it’s meant for me and my overall health. There have been some significant positives:
- According to my spouse, I no longer snore, or at least, if I do, it’s significantly less frequent.
- Walking for considerable distances is no longer a chore or feels like it takes much effort.
- Even with the brief period of time I have been doing yoga, my flexibility is slowly improving, and many aches in joints are slowly disappearing.
- My clothes, which were getting embarrassingly tight, are now becoming embarrassingly loose.
- My calorie budget, which at first felt hard to meet, now feels very doable each day.
Sounds all rosy and great, right? As a software tester, have I found any “bugs” in these protocols? Perhaps.
The scale I use measures weight, body fat percentage, hydration and BMI. I feel I can trust the physical weight and the BMI calculation, because they are fairly consistent and based on pretty simple algorithms. The body fat percentage and hydration values, however, I don’t feel I can trust at all. The reason? They are directly counter to one another. If I have a day where I have significant body hydration, then my body fat reading is lower. If I have a day with significantly low body hydration, then I get a body fat percentage reading that is much higher, as in six or seven percentage points higher. The dramatic rise and fall of my bodyfat percentages are tied exactly to the increase and decrease of hydration. In other words, the readings are not worth calculating and tracking as any official values, but it is good to know that when I’m well hydrated, I’m skinnier… err, sorta’.
There is some interesting weirdness that happens when you try to “share” data from one app to another. iOS 8 and above has the Apple Health app, and Health can help use a lot of data being generated by the phone (its accelerometer in particular) and coordinate with other apps and devices to tell you how many steps you have taken and how many calories you have burned. This data can be read by Health coming from apps, and can be written back to apps from Health and from other respective apps. In some conditions, LoseIt will add a calorie and step bonus that gets recorded back as more steps than you took, which then gets fed to Pacer which adds to the total as you walk, which causes further step rewards to be added, and the count can feel wildly off. Limit the two way read and write options allowed so that apps don’t conflict with each other and inflate numbers.
I’ve been playing with a LoseIt challenge based around eating more fresh fruit and vegetables. For every seventy-five calories I consume of fruit, I earn a point, with a maximum of three per day. For every twenty five calories of vegetables I eat, I earn a point, with a maximum of eight points per day. That means I aim to get two hundred and twenty-five calories from fruit and two hundred calories from vegetables each day. Getting the fruit calories? Not difficult. Getting the vegetable calories? That is proving to be a challenge. In addition, I’m keeping track of how much it costs to get those vegetables and fruit so I can get those proportions. Suffice it to say, it is not cheap! Also, many packaged foods, such as vegetable mixes with a variety of ingredients, don't get calculated well. You will have to take the items, separate them (physically or mentally) and tally up the total of each item. rather than just scanning the code for the bag, you enter in the amount of carrots, the amount of peas, the amount of beans, and so on. I keep a set of measuring spoons, measuring cups and a digital scale in my bag at all times for this purpose... yes, I sometimes get interesting stares ;). Over time, you also get good at guessing content, so you can "eyeball" an amount of a food and come to a close approximation of its size and quantity.
I always knew that sodium was a big part of weight gain (specifically because of its role in holding water in your system) but I didn’t realize just how much of an issue it really was, or how prevalent sodium is in the food we eat. Generally, every time I would eat out I would put on one or two pounds, and I would subsequently lose that one or two pounds in a couple of days if I prepared my own food and focused on adding no additional sodium.
Exercise helps you burn calories, but nowhere near the rate you think that it will. I have a little bag of trail mix that is three hundred calories when eaten. To counteract that three hundred calories, I need to walk for an hour, or run several miles, or some other combination that will cover that three hundred calories through exercise. In short, it is much easier to just say "no" to the trail mix than it is to say “sure, have at it, I can walk it off later!”
Fitness takes time, and if you are looking to lose a significant amount of weight, it takes a significant amount of time! Ten thousand steps is on average an hour and forty minutes of active walking. A Yoga session lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, a weight training session takes about the same time. Keeping the walking consistent and switching up the exercise options, you are still looking at two to three hours of activity each day to make a dent in your weight. No question, it takes time and effort, and that time and effort takes away from other things. In my case, it really takes away from my time to blog. I’m still working out how to keep these two options going at the same time.
There you have it. Sixty days in, and a piece of what is my reality today. Anyone who says losing weight is easy needs to be kicked. It’s simple, sure, but on the whole, it’s a hard thing to do day in and day out. Additionally, as I’ve said to myself many times before, it’s not a “brief change of behavior” thing. If I hope to be successful, I need to be making commitments and scheduling the time to do this and developing the discipline to eat like this daily for the rest of my life. Too often, I sabotage myself through complacency. I reach a goal, I let go of the reigns, and then I find myself back where I started, and then some. I’m really hoping to make this time be different. Perhaps by making this public, and part of my site legacy, that extra motivation will do the trick. We shall see :).