Since it took me so damn long to get rolling on the weight loss I'll drop some details here for why it is actually working for the first time ever for me.
Key progress so far
- I joined the Gym at work in Dec 2011, and since Jan 2012 I've been going every single weekday to do 30 min of Elliptical. Every. Single. Day. (The one or two days I missed, I walked home or exercised a different way).
- For the last few weeks I've gone one a huge 3 hour hike on one of the weekend days.
- I am using the website and iPhone App MyFitnessPal very seriously. I have logged my weight loss progress, my food calorie intake (down to the amount of ketchup I used as a condiment) and my exercise calories used at the gym, hiking and through other activities.
- I've lost 15 lbs. You'll note I didn't put this first because it's not the biggest news. The biggest (and most important) news is that I am eating more carefully and exercising more. See next section for more details.
What am I doing?
- Increased Exercise
- Not a TON of exercise, just a reasonable, consistent amount
- Never too much exercise to hurt my muscles or make me too sore (which would cause me to miss a day)
- Elliptical machine, 33 minutes on "weight loss" mode, every weekday (5x per week). Burning approx 350-400 calories per session. I run like mad on that thing.
- Occasionally, a small amount of weight training. I am not focusing on that now. First the fitness/cardio and weight loss, then I might tone up a bit. I can build bulk very easily, but I'd rather focus on tone. That will come later.
- Hiking. Training for the Inca Trail in Peru, I am hiking about 3 hours once per weekend. That's very tiring but also fun, and allowing me to explore all the great outdoor opportunities the Bay Area has to offer.
- Removed bad food habits
- Next-to-no nightime snacking
- No candy or junk food in the house. If I have any I will eat ALL OF IT, and right away. I have no self-control. (Ever see my Jelly Belly Youtube? A while back I ate 4 lbs of Jelly Bellys in 10 days. It's ridiculous).
- Smarter Eating
- One single, glorious, beautiful word: TEA.
- I now have 100+ loose-leaf tea varieties, at work and at home
- Tea is an appetite suppressant
- Tea is also water, which I have been trying to drink more of anyway
- Tea has an insane amount of other health benefits
- It tastes damn awesome
- As Jenn and Nick would say, "Real men drink tea"
- It gives me a reason to socialize with people at work for fun and a mental break
- Due to, ahem, the uh, "forces of nature", it forces me to take a break an hour or two after having a cup of tea to take care of 'biz. That forces me to stretch my legs and not sit at my desk for hours on end (which was just reported as being completely terrible for your health). That also gives my eyes a break. Making the tea in the first place also requires a 5-10 minute break in the kitchen, so I am getting 2 breaks out of this.
- I NEVER used to eat breakfast. What a stupid way to not start my metabolism until lunch.
- For the last year I started eating a small whole-grain oat/cereal-like breakfast every day. The complex carbs get my brain movin' which is good cause I need that for my job. :) The sugar and protein wake me up and keep me going until lunch.
- As tasty as the many food options are at work and to buy outside at lunch, my standard choice now is the salad bar, only. No dressing or a very small amount (usually vinaigrette).
- I use the smallest container for the salad bar. If you take a big container, you'll fill it up more (and I certainly used to). I only NEED to eat as much as a smaller container holds, if even that. So smaller container it is, every time.
- If I ever get a drink to go with lunch, always an iced tea with 0 calories, no sugar, no artificial sweeteners. No juice. Definitely no Pop. No "agua fresca" which is just a fancy way of saying "tasty yet empty calories".
- The main change for dinner is that I've cut out a lot of unhealthy stuff that I used to really just do by default.
- I'd often make white pasta as the default: tortellini, or those other tasty ravioli things from Costco. So good, but not very filling. I'd eat some, and then end up eating about double what I'd planned to because it wasn't filling enough.
- Whenever I made a Stir-Fry, I'd always make rice with it. I don't do that most of the time now. Mind you, I was eating Basmati rice which is a good choice, but there is really not much need for it. I now make more vegetables and just eat more of those. Veggies and Fish is just fine. You don't NEED a starch.
- Evening snacks
- If I want to snack, I don't deprive myself of it. I have a few key things that are healthy and lower-calorie:
- Almonds: low GI, good fat
- Sugar Snap Peas: crunchy like chips, but not horrid for you. Low calorie, lots of fiber
- Fage 0% Greek Yoghurt: a big bowl is only 140 calories, not all the sugar that goes into regular fruit yoghurt. Nice on it's own, but sometimes I add a little fruit or only a Tablespoon of honey.
- V8 Low Sodium mini-cans: 1 full vegetable serving, only 30 calories, and kinda fun. Feels like you're opening a soda, but you're not. :)
- Tracking my EVERY MOVE
- For those data-driven folks out there in Computer Science (like me), you need some hard numbers about what you're inputting into the system (in this case, your body) and how the system is responding to the inputs (weight loss, maintenance or - hopefully not - unplanned weight gain).
- MyFitnessPal is an awesome website and iPhone App and it really helps me stay on track. Some nights I am just keen to snack a bunch more than usual or some nights I could never remember what I had during the day (or frankly didn't even think about it) and would follow a lunch out with a delivery dinner and probably plow through 3,000 or more calories in a day. No wonder I was finding it so hard to lose weight!
- Not "eating the exercise calories"
- Exercise calories "lost" are added in MyFitnessPal as more calories you can "eat" throughout the day. I don't look at them that way. I see them more as a bonus, and also as a buffer for any things I didn't track (the extra mayonnaise on a sandwich, the extra tablespoon of honey I didn't count on my yoghurt, etc.)
- This has helped me make sure that the hard work I am doing in the gym is not destroyed by carelessness in eating after the gym. As my friend Nick says, "1 hour a day you're at the gym. You've got 23 more to screw it up."
- This, I think is the real winner here.
- Hard work, every single day. I've built the career of my dream off that mentality, why not finally apply it to my personal health?
What am I NOT doing?
- I am not doing anything too radical
- In this change, I have just tweaked and re-tweaked a few simple processes
- I am not suddenly training for an Ironman Triathalon (though, that would be cool) out of nowhere.
- I have not taken up kung-fu, only to give it up 2 months later.
- And on that note... see the next section
- I am NOT "on a diet"
- I have not gone on a crazy "crash diet" where I remove large portions of nutrient-types out of my eating habits completely, only to return to them a month later and put the weight right back on
- I am not depriving myself of anything that I desperately want. I am being much more choosy about the treats I have - in fact they truly are "treats" now.
- Example 1: I was at the Ferry Building a few weeks ago. A guy was selling homemade Bomboloni nutella-filled Italian donuts. They were quite small-ish sized, probably no more than 150 calories. I walked by, smelled them and thought, "no. not this time." Then I thought about what I'd had for lunch, it was very moderate.
Then I walked by again and thought, "well, maybe. but are they worth it?" Upon closer inspection it was clear this was going to be the highlight of my lunchtime, so I decided to go for it. I bought only one and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I also ate a sensible dinner at home to compensate for a treat at lunch.
I most certainly did NOT live without it, and then get angry at myself that I could "no longer eat nice things" or "I didn't deserve it until I'd lost more weight" or something equally moronic and unsustainable. The key here is consistency. The average of my habits every week needs to be excellent. One small thing isn't going to set it off. But one small thing every day or every meal is definitely going to set it off. So the key is good behaviours MOST of the time. And never depriving myself of something I really want, or I'm just gonna get mad or depressed or annoyed and end up overeating later to prove some stupid point about how "I'm in control of my life, not this damn iPhone app" Ironic. :)
- Example 2: If I am out or it's the weekend, I tend to choose a regular coffee more often than a Cappuccino now. I love Cappuccinos, but they are often an extra 120 calories or so. So I don't NEVER get them, I just get them less often. That makes them more special.
- I am not eating out at restaurants with friends
- As much as this particular item sucks, I have almost completely dropped the "dining out for dinner" thing and restaurant lunches at work.
- The social aspect is awesome, but the food is about 2-3x more calories than I would eat at home
- Note I said "almost completely dropped", not "completely dropped". I just do this very rarely now, not NEVER.
- If I do go out, I don't choose some wussy thing on the menu and have a crappy time because I feel like I am on a diet. I don't order the stupid salad which is as many calories as the burger anyway due to the dressing and croutons. If I am making the choice to go out with friends, I buy something awesome and tasty and full of carbs and sugar and glorious tasty i'd-never-eat-this-at-home-ness. I order a tasty and fancy drink. I order dessert. If I'm gonna do it, I may as well go to town and back. Then I truly enjoy the heck out of the experience, and I don't have to do it every week (or even every month).
- Now, does the previous post make sense? I had been keen to go to that burger place for about 2 YEARS! I really wanted to go. I finally had a car which enabled me to go easily. I planned ahead and had a very sensible sushi lunch which was about 400 calories, and a breakfast at about 160 calories. Not much. That allowed me to get a tasty burger that I wanted, and even Onion Rings. Now I didn't got insane and order a milkshake too, but I did have a great time and really enjoyed it. Guilt-free, because I am working so hard to make the average choices so good.
What changes have I noticed since I started doing this?
- My "core" is much stronger. I can really feel my core muscles, they are much tougher since I started doing so much elliptical.
- I am less hungry. Even if I get home late from work, I'm not racing to the fridge like a crazy person. I think that is the tea doing it's job with the appetite suppressants.
- I am sleeping better.
- My work day is better. I find that around 4pm my body goes into lunch digestion mode and I am not focusing nearly as well at my desk. If I am totally in the zone, I don't stop to go to the gym. But if it's a regular day and I'm not super productive around then, I drop everything and go to the gym for 45 minutes. This is an excellent way of optimizing the day. I get back to my desk with the endorphins blazing and I tear through work in 1/2 the time it would have taken me if I didn't take a break. It's awesome. I stay a bit longer at work to compensate, but I'll grab a cup of tea around 6 or 6:30 to make me forget about eating until I get home for dinner.
- Friends of the female gender are commenting and saying, "Wow, you've been losing weight!" or "Whoa, you are looking good!" You'd think that wouldn't be a big deal, but it goes a long way. That's really awesome, and just makes me feel good that people are noticing the results of my hard work. It's the same as people commenting on the TED talk - I'm putting a LOT of energy into this and I'm really just super psyched that people are noticing. Hey, and if it's a few cute girls noticing... well, that's even more awesome. :)
- I've started to wear some of my nicer shirts and stuff that have been sitting in my closet for ages. I'm starting to like the results and it's fun to dress it up a bit if you're happy with how you look. Good times!
Why did it take so long for me to do something about this?
- Well, that sure is a tough one. I don't know for sure. For anyone struggling with weight-loss, I don't have a good answer for you. I was there myself and have been for years. Looking back at it now, I think I have been half-assing the idea of weight-loss for a very long time. Thinking that a short walk was enough exercise in the day (it's not) or that I could eat another little treat in the day and it wouldn't matter (it does) or thinking that I'm somehow special and normal weight-loss rules don't apply to me because I "always hit plateaus" (I don't, I was just being lazy and not recording things properly or consistently).
- I think it all comes down to priorities. I am a very dedicated and ambitious person. So why have I not applied that mentality to my personal well-being? That's a good question, but the answer is not a surprise: I've been pouring that energy completely and entirely into my career: first school, then work. What I've realized over the past few months is that you can really have both - you just have to make some adjustments. A good amount of exercise in the day actually makes me better at my job. A break for tea for 10 minutes clears my mind, gives me a healthy break from my desk, and makes me much more productive when I get back to my desk. The time when I am working, I am working at full-capacity. When I take a break or exercise at the gym, I'm recharging the batteries. When I get back, I power through the work at a great pace.
- It makes me feel good to be more well-rounded (or less round, as it were). I have achieved some great success in my life in areas that I am really proud of, and I hope those kinds of things continue to happen and I continue to see and jump on good opportunities when they come my way. But I can't just be good at life and living in the moment and work and travel and socializing. I need to be good at being healthy too.
- Having a specific goal has helped me get moving too. I am hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and I am paying way too much for that trip to not enjoy the hike because I was too damn lazy to get my act together in advance. So that helped get the ball rolling. But after I get back from Peru, the healthy lifestyle won't just disappear, this is a permanent change.
- And perhaps the biggest revelation: you have to decide to do this for yourself. No one else is gonna do this for you. Anyone who is bugging you to get your act together will amazingly fail in getting you to change your habits. You have to want it. You have to want it SO BADLY that you DO SOMETHING about it. Not something drastic and crazy and huge. Something straightforward, measured, and consistent. The slow turtle wins the race.