High Tech Weight Loss
I have a confession to make. Shrinkinguy isn't shrinking anymore. Actually, he's put on a little weight and now needs a course correction. I've created a unique program for myself in which I bring all of my knowledge and high-tech tools together to design and track a "perfect" weight loss plan. I'm not advocating that everyone do what I'm doing, but perhaps if you're encountering a similar struggle and want to lose some weight quickly and efficiently, perhaps some of my suggestions will help.
My current status
Lest your faith in Shrinkinguy be shattered, I still eat cleanly and exercise regularly and am in good shape. In October of 2013 I was nearly 300 pounds with 36% body fat, in October of 2014 I hit a low of 212 pounds and 12% body fat. Now almost three years later I'm at around 238 pounds and 20% body fat. If you look at my weight chart over time below, you'll see that it has gradually crept up at a rate of around 1.4 lbs per month.
Time for a course correction
I haven't fallen off the boat, I'm not on the road to ruin. It is absolutely normal for people who have lost significant weight to rebound a little. And the good news is that I've maintained 70% of my weight loss for over three years. But it's clear that it's time for a course correction.
The weight equilibrium equation states that to maintain your weight, you need to eat on the average as many calories as you expend. If you eat more than you expend, you'll gain. Less and you'll lose. The course correction involves going from weight gain to weight loss for a period of time, then back to maintenance.
Gaining 1.4 lbs/month, since there are 3500 calories in a pound, I was eating an excess of 4900 calories each month. So if an average month has around 30 days, I'm consuming an average excess of 163 calories per day. That's about 19 cashews. Or a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter.
Let's look at the weight equilibrium equation again (see my blog post for more information on this equation):
Daily Caloric Difference = Calories Eaten - BMR - Exercise Calories
Basically I want my daily caloric difference to be less than 0 to lose weight. So the factors are the calories I consume, my BMR (basal metabolic rate, the amount of calories I burn just living) and the calories I burn exercising.
My BMR is roughly 2300 calories per day. How do I know? Well, it is difficult to know exactly, but I've been using a Microsoft Band 2 activity tracker since June. The Microsoft Health web site is really good at tracking all of the information it collects, so for the month of July we have:
My BMR is comprised of Sleep and "Other activities", since everything else is exercise. So that's a total of 71,086 calories I burned just living and doing normal daily activities. Divided by 31 days in July gives me 2293 calories per day.
For Exercise Calories, the total calories burned in the graphic above is 15,823. I typically work out 5 days a week, so for July that would be 21 times. So on days that I exercise, I burn an average of 753 calories.
For Calories Eaten, well...that's the tricky one, and most likely the culprit for my weight gain. I haven't been tracking my caloric intake from food. There isn't a food intake device similar to my activity tracker that I can just wear that totals that up for me. But given that my BMR and my exercise calories are fairly consistent, I can calculate what my caloric input from food needs to be in order to maintain or lose weight.
I'll rewrite the above equation to solve for Calories Eaten:
Calories Eaten = BMR + Exercise Calories = 2293 + 753 = 3046 (on exercise days)
Calories Eaten = BMR = 2293 (on non-exercise days)
We could also average the exercise and non-exercise days for simplicity, so I expend an average 2803 of calories per day. Another name for that is Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). So that's my caloric budget for maintenance. If I eat more than that per day, over time I will gain weight. Less than that and I will lose weight. My calculation show that I'm gaining 1.4 lbs a month, or taking in an extra 163 calories per day, so my actual average intake is 2966. I think it's safe to say that all of these numbers aren't so precise, so I'll round my maintenance number to 2800 calories per day and my actual number to 3000.
At the moment, I don't want to maintain my weight, I want to lose some of the weight I've put on over the past couple of years. Ideally, I'd like to lose about a pound a week (expend 3500 calories more than I take in). So on a daily basis, I need to eat 500 calories less than my maintenance number. My goal then should be a daily caloric intake of 2300 calories to lose a pound a week. That sounds pretty reasonable!
Why is my caloric intake goal the same as my BMR? It just worked out that way. What this is boiling down to is, I eat at my BMR and all my weight loss is due to calories burned through exercise.
How much do I want to lose? Well today I'm around 238 pounds and 20% body fat. I would like to be at around 16% body fat, which is in the "fitness" category for men. So first, I need to know what my lean muscle mass is. That would be 238 pounds minus 238*20%, or 238 - 47.6 = 190.4 pounds. That's my lean body mass (without fat). With a target of 16% body fat, my new ideal weight would be 190.4 + 190.4*.16 = 221 pounds. So I need to lose a total of 17 pounds. And yes, I'm assuming that I will lose all fat, no muscle. How do I ensure that happens? Well, I continue to do my normal exercise routine, which consists of 3 strength training sessions and 2 cardio sessions a week. If I continue to tax my muscles, they really shouldn't atrophy in the process. How do I know that I am at 20% body fat? Well, that's a good question. My actual body fat could be 2% lower than that. I'm using the Skulpt Chisel body fat measurement device, along with calipers to determine my body fat percentage.
So 17 pounds at a pound a week, that's 17 weeks or around 4.5 months. Since I started on August 1st, that equates to December 15th. Which coincidentally is a couple of weeks before I go an a trip to Cancun with my wonderful wife for our 30th wedding anniversary!
So to summarize:
What tools will I use to track my progress?
Is this sustainable?
Great question. So let's say I go to all this trouble to track and document my progress. If you've ready many of my blog posts, I only advocate changes that you're willing to do forever. I don't like any kind of program that is difficult to maintain and thus ultimately cause you to either quit or regain your weight.
Ultimately I need to ask myself if I can live on 2300 calories per day. I won't lose weight indefinitely at that rate. At some point, since I'll weigh less theoretically my BMR will go down and 2300 calories will become more like what I need to maintain my weight. If I want it to go down from there, I'll need to consume even less. But yes, 2300 calories per day seems totally do-able. I've tracked my food intake enough to know that I can feel satisfied with that much food a day.
What isn't sustainable about all of this is my tracking methods. My Microsoft Band 2 activity tracker makes tracking my calories burned pretty fun and easy. And I already am used to measuring my body fat, weight and body part circumferences. The thing I don't enjoy doing is tracking my food consumption. And as I mentioned earlier, I suspect that's the whole reason for my weight gain over time. And while I try to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, it is possible to eat too much healthy food. A few treats have crept back into my diet from time to time. Food tracking helps me understand better how much food I can eat and remain within my daily caloric goal, and it also helps me to stick to my plan. Since I know I'm tracking what I eat, I'm less inclined to cheat. But I really dislike tracking food, which means that eventually I will get tired of it and stop doing it.
So my strategy is to just track food during my goal period. After that my hope is that in that time I'll have learned what 2300 calories looks like as well as developed more discipline around avoiding excess food intake. Basically, I'll have dialed in my diet.
Further course corrections
Since I'll be monitoring my stats on a regular basis, I'll be able to tell how well my plan is going. If I'm not losing weight as fast as I anticipated, I'll need to take another look at my weight equation and see what might need to change. I suspect that the more I lose, the slower the weight loss will come.
Is this the right plan for you?
Am I encouraging you to lose weight the same way as I have outlined about? Well, yes and no. The equations I gave apply to everyone, and you'll need to set your own goals. I don't expect you to run out and buy a similar activity tracker as my Microsoft Band 2, or a Skulpt Chisel to measure body fat. There are other ways to measure your own BMR and body fat. MyFitnessPal can help estimate calories burned from exercise. With a scale, a way to measure body fat, and a way to track your caloric intake you have everything you need for success.
Shouldn't you report success after you've lost the weight?
Ah, well that's part of the accountability. Since I'm announcing publicly what I will do, I have more incentive to stick to my plan. And from time to time I'll update my progress. Rather than creating new blog entries, I'll just add a "Progress" section below and keep it updated. If you have any questions or want any advice, please comment below or use my contact page.
Here's a brief summary of my process for a "high tech" weight loss course correction plan:
Admittedly this all might sound overwhelming to someone who is just starting their weight loss journey. This approach is more for those who have already lost some weight, are needing a course correction and enjoy using tools and data to track your progress. Otherwise you can look here for 40 tips on how to lose weight. Good luck!
Progress Update Aug 8, 2016
I probably won't do an official progress update every week, but I thought people might be interested to know how the first week went. Overall it went very well! Here is a snapshot of my tracking spreadsheet:
Just to explain:
So overall I expended 3948 more calories than I took in for the week, which should mean that I lost a little more than a pound. My actual weight loss for the week was 2 pounds, which seems to verify that things are going well so far!
The fat % is all over the place, but honestly I chalk that up to the inaccuracy of fat measurement in general. While I love the Skulpt Chisel, its margin of error is probably up to 1 or 2%, so I'm not worried. It can be affected by water, position of the device, etc. Over time, however, I would expect to see these numbers dropping. I think I'll probably take the average of the readings for each week to compare.
The weight is similar to fat % - all over the place, again just due to water and food retention, etc. So I'll probably also take an average of the weight readings each week as well for better comparison. I also got a new scale in the middle of the week. If I wanted to be completely high tech about this, it would have been a wireless scale that would record and track my weight daily, but my budget has limits.
How about the overhead of tracking all this stuff, was it a pain? As I suspected in my original article, the biggest pain is food tracking. And in general it is also an imprecise process - I'm just providing estimates of food quantities, I don't have time or want to expend the effort of measuring and weighing all of my food. The overhead was probably around 15 minutes a day, which really isn't too bad. Especially when on most days I tend to eat similar food. The weekends are a different story, however.
I did learn that weekends have probably been my downfall. In the past, I felt like "I've been so good this week, I can take it a little easier on the weekend." I didn't go out of my way to eat unhealthy food, but I did have a couple of treats and grazed more since I was at home and not at work. Work has plenty of snacks and temptations, but it's like I have a certain mindset during the week where I ignore them. So more calories eaten, coupled with less calories expended (I don't exercise Saturday or Sunday) add up to less or no caloric deficit. I did factor that into my original calculations a bit...at least the lower calories due to exercise. But I didn't factor in any additional calories to splurge on! Sunday saved me this week because I only ate one meal, dinner. But I don't do that every week. So I think my plan for the weekends will be to not eat snacks between meals, and to continue to track calories so that I don't eat more than my allotted 2300. I'm also tempted to say this is fine until December, but since I want my weight loss to be permanent, I need to be ok with always being careful on the weekends.
My workouts were all very routine - my normal three strength training days and 2 cardio days. I'm pretty much on autopilot there, except I'm changing up my strength training a bit since I like to do that every few months. I'm looking at the Bigger, Leaner, Stronger three day a week program. I also have another 52-day challenge coming up. It will work fine with this program, because it's just a way to publicize your existing goals, get encouragement and some additional accountability. I encourage everyone to join me.
That was more update than I was planning on, but I needed to analyze my results for my own benefit anyway. I hope you get something out of it as well.
Progress Update Aug 15, 2016
It's the end of week 2 of this program I'm on. Here are the latest results:
So my overall caloric deficit so far has been around 7400 calories. My goal was a deficit of 3500 calories per week (one pound of fat), so it looks like I'm on track so far. The predicted weight loss is about 2.1 pounds, and actual is closer to 4.8. That's twice. A good problem to have, I admit. But if you look at the weight readings, they can fluctuate by a few pounds a week. The overall fat percentage is generally down too, although that fluctuates by a couple of percent daily as well. That's why I add the trend lines to my graphs, what is the overall trend? And you'll see that the overall trend is in the right direction for both weight and fat loss.
Let me explain August 13th, where I didn't record all my numbers. It was a busy Saturday, my wife's birthday and I had a lot going on. I was at home and although I intended to log my calories I did so much "grazing" on different foods that I just didn't have it in me to try and remember and log everything I ate. And I wouldn't consider it a particularly healthy eating day. I broke down and gave my poor deprived 17 year old the option of buying any one food he was craving at the grocery store, he chose flaming hot Cheetos, and yes I had some. And I had one of my favorite foods, Pad Thai, for dinner that night at a restaurant (with some peanut sauce on the side!). So yeah, no exercise and extra calories probably would skew my overall caloric deficit number. But then I thought to myself - don't beat yourself up, it's ok to take a break from this rigor once in a while as long as you're consistent 90% of the time. If you have read my other blog entries, I'm not a fan of labeling any food as forbidden. If I feel like once in a while I can eat whatever I want I don't feel deprived. I just need to choose to eat well most of the time. On the other hand, I think this whole program will break down if I do that once a week. If you read above, last Saturday was a struggle as well, so I think I just need to have a better strategy for Saturdays. My overall adherence to the plan is good, and I'm achieving results.
This all brings up a bigger issue. I was listening to a good podcast (my friend Dave Smith's Make Your Body Work - Episode 55 - Should I Eat Fewer Calories or Burn More?) this morning on my way in to work. The guest was making a lot of sense about how our relationship to food should be. It should be more about taking in wholesome, nutrient-rich foods because you love your body and want to feed it well. Exercise isn't about banking extra calories so you can spend them eating more food, it's about attaining a strong, healthy body. The thought is that you should just listen to your body and its needs, feed it in a way that feels natural and intuitive, and all of this calorie counting nonsense can go away.
I agree with these statements, and more and more people are supporting this more positive, healthy way of thinking. My only problem is that I have decades of bad programming to overcome. I don't naturally gravitate towards vegetables as a desirable food choice. If I had to choose between broccoli or ice cream (health considerations aside), I'd always choose the ice cream - and after almost 3 years of eating really healthy, I still feel the same. So this whole "listen to your body and give it what it wants" has to be taken with a grain of salt. Sure, if I eat too many sweets I get heartburn, but that doesn't mean I don't desire them or find them tasty. My point is that for some of us, it's a matter of mind over body. Because I'm educated now and know that I feel better when I feed my body better, I'm willing to sacrifice what I want for what I need. Sometimes I just need to look at food as fuel rather than a source of pleasure, and I'm ok with that. But I do indulge once in a while just to remind myself that I'm not a slave to my diet and that it's ok to make less healthy choices on occasion.
So for my current situation counting calories is what I need to get the results I want. If I ate what my body wanted, I would start gaining again. That's how I got into this mess to begin with, and I can't rely on my body's natural inclinations. If were at the beginning of my journey and were 75 pounds overweight (instead of 18) things would be different. In that case, small changes produce really big results. Just a little exercise and slight changes towards more healthy eating are a great strategy. But I've lost the big weight, this is a smaller course correction and I really need to dial things in to see results now.
Progress Update Aug 22, 2016
I'm into this 3 weeks now - still going strong. Regardless of whether anyone else is reading these updates, they are helping me gauge my progress and reflect on the process.
I won't bore you with the spreadsheet this week. After three weeks, I can start to look at averages for the weight and the body fat % for each week, rather than looking at spot values. The trendlines offer a similar approach - I just need to look at the overall trend, not at any particular day to determine progress.
Body fat percentage:
Body circumference measurements:
I'm not showing those stats, but I do measure body part circumferences for my neck, bicep, chest, waist, hip, thigh and calf each week. Why? Again, to give me a better picture of what's going on. If I am losing inches in the right places, that means I'm headed in the right direction.
The other areas are about the same, so body circumference measurements all seem to verify the general trends, and also help me understand where the weight is being lost, along with the Skulpt Chisel measurements.
Hitting my caloric intake goals (eating right) was a bit of a challenge once again over the weekend, as I had lunch with clients and a Church activity on Friday, attended a concert on Saturday and had a family get-together on Sunday. Monday through Friday seem in general easier to control since I have a normal routine of eating I stick to. The weekends I do a lot of work around the house and yard so eating is a bit less predictable, but I did manage to track what I ate successfully. For ALL days I expended more calories than I took in. But my goal was to eat an average of 2300 calories or less per day, and it looks like my average was 2354. Really, food tracking isn't that precise so I'll call that good. My goal was to expend an average of 2800 calories per day, and my real average was 2792. So again, considering measurement inaccuracies that's really close.
My overall goal was to lose 1 pound a week (mostly fat) and my average so far is 2.25 pounds. I expect the average to come down closer to 1 pound per week as time goes on, but for now I'm thinking that my overall strategy here is working.
Am I getting tired of tracking and analyzing like this? I'm getting used to the food tracking, although it's a bit more of a challenge on my non-routine weekends. Frankly if it gets me more towards my fitness goals it's worth the extra 10-15 minutes per day to do. The rest - fat measurement, weighing, body circumferences, activity tracking, photos, I enjoy doing anyway. I know that most people don't get excited by all that or don't have the time or patience to learn how to do that. So as I said, you just need to have good estimates for your energy expenditure each day (see my original post), and track your food intake. If you do that much you should see similar results. The only reason going to the additional effort helps is - if you get frustrated along the way, you have more data to help you determine what is going on.
Progress Update Aug 22, 2016
Well I'm officially one month into this, let's see how my actual results compare to my original goals:
The Calories IN, Out and Daily caloric deficit rows just show that I'm doing really well at sticking to my daily goals. The predicted weight loss was 1 lb per week, and the actual was 1.4 lb. The predicted fat loss was .22 % per week and the actual was 1.1, so that's off by 400%. Off in a good way, obviously.
I know I'm reporting progress in different ways each week. The first week was basically my tracking spreadsheet, the second added some graphs and trends, the third had the graphs and included averages. Now I'm just looking at predicted vs. actual (averages). It's all good, I just like collecting the data and interpreting it in different ways. It makes sense to look at the data differently based on how far I've come.
I think after a month I have some concrete data to really sink my teeth into. Weight and body fat all vary quite a bit so it's good to have a month of results to analyze. First of all, kudos to me for sticking so closely to my calorie IN and OUT goals. But I honestly knew that I would from the start, because I chose these values based on historical data. I knew that on the average (when I am trying to eat clean) I eat around 2200 - 2300 calories. And I've been exercising 5 times a week for 3 years, so an average of 500 calories per day for exercise was pretty certain.
The results are a little less exact. Since all of the math is based on 3500 calories in a pound of fat, why, if I was spot-on with my calories IN and OUT, am I losing 1.4 pounds per week instead of 1 pound? That's 40% off. We need to go back to the accuracy of the tools I'm using to measure my progress.
Some fitness trackers were off in terms of calories burned by up to 67%, but the Microsoft Band 2 was exactly correct, pretty amazing. But then you have to consider that results will probably vary by person, actual usage, etc.
So in terms of being 40% off in weight loss, this is just my guess:
Since the error is in my favor (I'm losing more than I predicted), I'm inclined to do nothing different. I really suspect that as time goes on, the weight loss will slow so I don't want to change anything at this point.
What about body fat percentage? That was off by 400% - I predicted I would lose .22% and I've lost 1.1% by now. Let's look into this. I've lost 5.5 pounds so far. I've gone from 21% fat to 18% body fat. So when I began, I had around 40 pounds of fat, now I have 35.8. So of the 5.5 pounds I've lost, 4.2 pounds have been fat. Does that make sense? Well, yes. I was hoping to lose mostly fat, not lean body weight, so I'm glad that 76% of my weight loss is fat loss. Then again the fat percentage measurement (the Skulpt Chisel) isn't exact either, but the results do make sense.
This also makes me look back to my original goals:
So all indicators point to a healthy amount of weight and fat lost so far. And the tools I'm using to measure are accurate enough to keep me on track.
If you'd like to take a look at what I'm eating, you can check me out on MyFitnessPal at this link. And feel free to follow me, I'll follow you back. I'll confess right now that you'll see things like brownies, cake, ice cream, tortilla chips and salsa on my food journal. I do indulge in a treat or two a week, and this past week was a bit rough because my son had a wedding reception where we served brownies and ice cream (and I couldn't resist, nor should I). I try to eat veggies, fruit, lean meats, and whole grains mostly, with fewer processed or sugary foods, and I'm pretty successful at that. I don't really shoot for a particular macro balance although I have set those in MyFitnessPal. Anyway, I could be eating a little better, but overall I'm eating in a way that I can maintain indefinitely rather than sticking to some kind of temporary diet. Ultimately the goal is to lose fat. I do that by eating few calories than I expend, eating reasonably, and exercising. And so far it's working.
Progress Update September 6, 2016
Ok, I've been doing this for five weeks, let's see how it's going:
The result speak for themselves...everything appears to be going well so far. From a mental perspective, I feel a little undisciplined. If you look at my food journal, I've had things like pizza, cake, ice cream, buttered popcorn and brownies. Not that I've been on a binge, but there have been plenty of less-healthy eating opportunities. Of course overall I've stuck pretty well to my caloric intake and expenditure goals.
Let's be honest, this whole program is centered around the Calories IN/Calories OUT concept. So technically I could be eating twinkies all day as long as I maintain a caloric deficit. Not that that would be healthy at all, and I wouldn't feel very well doing that. But I think you understand my point. Weight loss is about quantity. Health is about quality. I want both.
Psychologically this proves to me that I don't have to feel deprived all of the time in order to lose weight. On the other hand, I still have to watch my grazing (i.e. just snacking on whatever I find in the kitchen) - it all adds up. So again I come back to the fact that counting calories enables me to eat somewhat normally but also helps me stay within limits. It takes about 10 minutes a day and seems to be worth it!
Progress Update September 12, 2016 (week 6)
Six weeks into this crazy regimen that I've created for myself, let's look at the stats:
For the first time since I've started, my weight actually increased by 0.7 pounds! Wow, since I'm hitting my caloric input and output goals, what could be happening? If I were new to this whole weight loss thing, I'd be upset. All of that work, and I gained? I'd be inclined to think "This whole calories IN/calories OUT thing is bunk." But I'm a geek at heart (that's a good thing), so when I see results like this that can't be explained superficially I enjoy digging deeper. I'm a scientist and my body is the laboratory. I know that I'm going to reach my goal, it's just a matter of understanding all of the data and figuring out if I need to change something.
First of all, let's look at my overall progress again. In six weeks I've lost 6.1 pounds. So that's a pound a week. What was my original goal? Oh yeah, a pound a week. So that looks fine - who cares that I gained weight one week if my average loss is fine?
What about body fat - that's a bit more important than weight anyway. In six weeks I've lost 5%, according to my Skulpt Chisel measurements. Honestly I feel like I'm learning how to cheat a little with the device and am able to find the spots to measure that give the best results. So looking at the caliper results, I've lost roughly 3% body fat. Interestingly, both methods are putting me at about 16% body fat now. Which was my goal for December. So either I was way unrealistic in my goals, or I've been overachieving them. Before I try to answer that question, let's visit my body part measurements again (original vs. current):
As I explained in a previous update, having body part measurements really helps me understand better what is going on. And what is going on is EXACTLY what I want - the measurements that I want to decrease are the neck, waist, hip and thigh. The ones that I want to stay the same are the bicep, chest, calf and forearm. That's because the neck, waist, hip and thigh are all areas where body fat likes to accumulate, especially on men. The other areas are more muscular, and I want to retain those muscles and measurements. In other words, I want to lose fat, not muscle, and the body part measurements are supporting that objective.
More analysis? At the moment I weigh 230 pounds and am 16% body fat. So that is a lean body mass of 193.2 pounds and fat mass of 36.8 pounds. I started at 238 pounds and 20% body fat which is 190.4 lean mass and 47.7 pounds of fat. So overall my lean body mass is UP about 2.8 pounds, and my fat mass is DOWN 10.9 pounds. This equates to about an 8 pound overall loss - if the fat percentages are accurate. My actual weight loss was 6 pounds. So something about my measurements are inaccurate. I trust the scale more than my fat percentage measurements (fat percentage is just inherently harder to measure accurately).
One other thought is to double check my BMR. Theoretically as you lose weight your BMR goes down, and I used my BMR value as one of the bases for all my original calculations. Double checking Microsoft Health site, which accumulates all the daily caloric expenditures tracked by my Microsoft Band 2, it looks like my BMR for August was 2243 calories per day. I had calculated a BMR of 2293 originally (for July), so my BMR could be down by 50. That's a bit too close to call as well.
There is one more trick I have up my sleeve, that is weekly progress photos. No, I'm not inclined to post all my shirtless photos as part of my updates. Perhaps a single before and after at the end, but for my own analysis I can look at those. And frankly, six weeks is still a pretty short time period to notice much physical change.
Thanks for riding along with me. I'm basically just analyzing my own results out loud. Not necessarily saying that you should do the same, but if I weren't tracking calories IN and OUT, measuring my fat percentage, my weight and body parts, I'd be a bit clueless right now. But because I am, I'm able to still look at the overall trends and say I'm still on track and it doesn't matter than I gained a little this week rather than lost. It will be interesting to see what next week brings!
Progress Update September 19, 2016 (week 7)
Here's my week 7 update.
Last week was a bit of a cliffhanger. I know, you're not as into this as I am, but I was a bit confused as to why I would all of a sudden put on 0.7 pounds after I had been losing for five weeks. But other indicators told me that I was still on track and that I should just keep going and remain consistent. And I was right...this week I lost 3.1 pounds. That's a total of 9.2 pounds lost since I started on August 1st, and an average loss of 1.3 pounds per week. The fat loss is real as well, the trend is in the right direction although it continues to be a difficult value to measure with accuracy. I suppose the most accurate measurement is the fact that I've lost 2 inches around my waist and can tell that my clothes fit looser.
I did have one day this week where I felt absolutely ravenous. I'm not entirely sure why. It's not like I haven't felt satisfied on 2300 calories per day. I think I need to evaluate a little better how carbs and sugar effect my appetite. I don't really have much sugar and try to keep any refined carbohydrates to a minimum. But it does seem like when I have them, they satisfy my palette a little but make me hungrier for more. My wife made some brownies for me to take a friend's party yesterday. Of course I had to test one. It was...really good. So good that I wanted more. The old me actually would have had several brownies, and unfortunately the new me would still like to have several. I didn't have them, but that smell and that taste did make me a bit "hangry" for a while. I don't like feeling out of control. But I also don't like feeling like my diet is completely restricted. As long as I am consistent and make healthy choices most of the time that should be sufficient. Right now the way that I control it is by:
Another point around this is to really not make the focus on how to best fit treats into your life. Better to focus on how to get lots of vegetables, fruit and lean meat into your diet that are nutritious, healthy, fill you up and are satisfying. The difference in emphasis is important - if you're just white knuckling, enduring each day but constantly looking forward to cheat meals and treats then you're relationship with food needs re-evaluating. That isn't sustainable.
This week's results also point to the fact that plateaus are real. You just can't realistically expect to lose at a predictable rate every week. You can't let momentary discouragement or confusion derail you. If your goal and your plan are sound, then consistency will bring results. And even if your plan isn't sound, you should stick with it long enough to figure out why, and then alter it accordingly. No one ever accomplished anything by giving up. Good health is a life-long pursuit, not a short term objective.
Progress Update September 26, 2016 (week 8)
Here's my quick update for week 8:
As you can see, this week had the lowest caloric deficit so far at -346 per day. And the weight loss was only 0.4 pounds. Not bad...not great, but not bad. If this were all exact measurement, then a 346 calorie deficit per day should equal a weight loss of 0.7 pounds. But it's not.
Fat percentage is bouncing around a bit as well. This week I decided not to measure it daily, just once a week by using the Skulpt Chisel and calipers, then averaging the two. I'd say it's currently in the 17-18% range, down from 20-21%, so a healthy 2-3% so far, which I'm happy with.
In terms of why this week yielded the lowest caloric deficit, I'd just have to say that I got really hungry...? After 8 weeks, I'm feeling the hunger a bit and rather than fight it I gave in a bit. I'll have to think about that, if I'm wearing down and need to consider something like a refeed.
I've lost 9.6 pounds in 8 weeks, so that's an average of 1.2 pounds per week, right on track with my goal of 1 pound per week. My fears are more around whether my appetite will calm down so I don't feel like binging. And also the average loss per week seems to be dropping, so in a couple more weeks I might plateau.
For now I'll leave my goals alone - I'll still assume a caloric expenditure average of 2800 calories per day. And an eating target of 2300, which I will be more rigorous in trying to hit.
Progress Update October 3, 2016 (week 9)
Here are the stats:
A good week, I lost 1.6 pounds. A reminder that the weight loss numbers are pretty accurate, since I weigh myself daily then I take the average for the entire week. Because on a daily basis my weight can fluctuate up to 4 pounds. My wife says that I obsess about the scale and reminds me that it isn't good to weigh daily. I think I've probably said that a few times in various blog articles as well. But what I'm doing now is different. Basically I'm just collecting a lot of data and processing it. So I'm really not emotionally involved with what the scale says on a daily basis, since I know that it leads to a better average over the week.
The aspect that does seem a bit obsessive to me is my food tracking. It's really easy to get behind and miss food if you're not logging it after every meal and snack. So it feels like I'm constantly logging on my phone, but it's still not that much time per day. It's harder to track on weekends because my diet is less predictable, we have more of a variety of foods, we end up going out on a date, and I end up grazing a bit.
As for how I'm doing on my overall goals vs. reality, everything is tracking really well. After 9 weeks with a goal of losing 1 pound per week, I should have lost 9 pounds. And I have lost 11.2. So my average is actually 1.2 pounds per week, or 20% off. Which, considering all of the inaccuracies I've discussed with measuring my daily caloric intake and expenditure, is amazingly close.
So I was just looking at my progress and how it looks like I'm closing in my goals. And something looked a bit strange. August 1st through December 15th is actually almost 20 weeks, not the 17 that I originally estimated. So technically I should end up at around 218 pounds. No big deal, my primary emphasis was to set everything up for a weight loss rate of 1 pound per week.
One other thought on food tracking. Although I really don't enjoy having to account for everything I eat, I do find that it really helps me budget my food well each day. If I weren't tracking, I think I'd be cutting down on food intake just to be sure that I was under my limit. Actually tracking my food, I feel like I can save up my calories for when I want them more. I can cut out a morning snack and give myself more buffer for my evening meal. Or if I choose to snack I know I need to be more careful in the evening. Another important thing I've learned is that even if I end up eating more than I know I should, I am still accountable. Food logging isn't just for when I feel like I'm sticking to plan. It's also to track how close or how far away from plan I am. And I really like my daily caloric goal. I don't really let my caloric budget for one day spill over into the next - either to give myself more, or to give myself less. Each day is what it is. But I still start with a blank slate each day.
I know I spend a lot of time dwelling on calories, which again to a lot of people may sound like a very outdated method for doing this. Other methods emphasize macros or food choices. Like eat all the vegetables and leafy greens you want, with some lean meats thrown in sparingly. They'll tell you that if you eat this way, you'll feel more full and your body will naturally lose excess weight. And they also tell you that you'll learn to love healthy foods and disdain unhealthy foods over time. Your body has natural, built-in signals for hunger and you should listen to them. While all of this actually may be true, for me that isn't sustainable. I'm sorry I don't want to live in a world without bread, brownies and ice cream. And I don't want to be that person that either has to bring his own food to family gatherings, or eats like a bird and attracts a lot of sideways stares. And I have never really enjoyed the taste of vegetables. Sure I eat them because I know that they are good for me, and I find ways to make them taste better. But could I live forever on green smoothies, salmon and plates of kale? No. I choose to eat mostly healthy most of the time, but to eat a fairly "normal" diet as long as I'm at or below my caloric limit. Does this paint me into a corner where I have to track calories every day? Well, for the purposes of this program that I created for myself, yes. My hope and my goal is that through all of this logging and analysis of results I will be able to come up with a more sustainable plan for myself once I've achieved my goals. But 10 minutes a day for food tracking is definitely paying off.
Progress Update October 10, 2016 (week 9)
It's been 10 weeks, here are the charts:
It's been 10 weeks, I've officially lost 9.9 pounds. My goal was a pound a week, yes I'm happy with my results so far.
But this is the week where I hit the PAUSE button. No, I'm not abandoning my whole plan, I still have a little ways to go. But being at a nearly 500 calorie per day deficit for 10 weeks has taken its toll on me. My workouts are lackluster. My energy is ok, but not great. And my desire to continue tracking as I have been is waning, as I knew it would.
I think all too often we fall into a trap where we feel like we have to make constant progress and achieve consistent success. But I'm not a robot. I'm human, and I'm not perfect. Prolonged weight loss regimens can be wearing, psychologically and physically. That's why there is the concept of a "diet break" and a workout "de-load". Lest you think I'm just being weak, let me explain what I've learned.
According to RippedBody.com, a diet break is "a period where we purposefully increase calorie intake and loosen the counting restrictions we place on ourselves."
Berzinator Fitness Designs describes it this way:
"Just like any form of training, dieting is a stress to your body. After a while, that stress starts to take its toll and cause serious effects (both psychologically and physiologically).
You may think the worn down feeling, the crappy workouts, and the unsatiable hunger are all things you can just power through and overcome, but you can’t will-power through a slowed metabolism.
Not to mention the “power through” mentality is what sets you up for binge eating either when you slip or when the diet is over. It’s a nasty cycle that you should try adamantly to avoid.
Think of it this way: If you’ve been training hard and wearing yourself into the ground, you would (or should) take one or two lighter weeks to recover. Afterwards, you can go back to training hard.
The same is true for your diet. Once you’re recovered, you can go back to making progress."
According to Breakingmuscle.com, a deload is:
"a short planned period of recovery. You take your training slightly lighter, maybe workout a little less, and generally just ease things back. A typical deload will last a week.
To the uninitiated outsider, deloads seem like a waste of time, or an excuse to sit on your butt for a week, watching TV instead of hitting the gym and shifting some heavy lumps of iron.
Not so fast.
What if deloads could actually be just what your workouts need? The secret ingredient to take your training from good to awesome. Feeling banged up, demotivated, or stuck in a training plateau? Adding a deload will do you the world of good and propel you on to greater gym gains."
This exactly describes my situation - I've been dieting and workout out hard, and now it's time for a break. My plan is to take a 2-week diet break, where basically I will not track my caloric intake. I will continue to strive to eat healthy, will eat to satisfy my hunger, and will stick to my normal meal schedule, but will also naturally increase my caloric intake. And the increased calories will most likely come from carbs. And I will gain some weight, hopefully not too much. In terms of exercise, I will continue to work out 5 times a week - 3 strength training workouts, 2 cardio. But instead of trying to make constant gains in my strength training, I will focus more on maintaining muscle and recovery. I have a shoulder that's been hurting a bit, but the need for constant improvement has made me ignore it. Now I will focus on working on it for recovery. And on my other exercises I will lower the weights to 40-60% of my one rep max.
I really should have known that this would be necessary and should have built this into my plan from the beginning. But honestly, this is the first concerted effort I've made to re-lose weight since my initial major weight loss, so I'm new to the concept. But now I know and I'm happy with the knowledge that what I'm experiencing is normal and natural.
My hope through all of this is to give my body a chance to recover, my hormones to rebalance, my metabolism to rev up, and my mind to relax. Then I'll be in a good position to hit it hard again with renewed strength and energy to achieve my overall goals.
Progress Update October 31, 2016
Ok, for those who have been tracking my progress on this with baited breath, I'm back. I did the workout de-load and the diet break. I'll give you my impressions of those.
First of all the workout de-load. I REALLY enjoyed doing this. Well, at least my body thanked me for doing this. Seems like I was caught in a cycle where I felt like I constantly had to push myself, trying to achieve PR's but wondering why I couldn't. Plus I was nursing a slightly injured left shoulder that never quite healed. All of that coupled with the caloric deficit was adding up to ineffective workouts. So during the de-load period, I took 10 minutes at the start of each strength training session to only work on my left shoulder with resistance bands, putting it through a full range of motion. That seems to be helping, my shoulder is feeling better. And for the other exercises, I lowered the weight and focused more on form. My body seems to be reacting well to that too, I do feel stronger now.
For the diet break, I just stopped tracking for a while. Which led to more grazing between meals and a few extra treats (they are free when you're not keeping track, right?). The break was just for a couple of weeks, and then I started tracking again a week ago. I expected to gain some weight, and I did gain a couple pounds. So for me at least, tracking=greater accountability=less grazing=better results. I'll have to see if I can create better guidelines for when I don't track in the future, since I don't intend to track forever (it's a bit tedious).
But I'm back at it, my goals are still the same, and I think the de-load and diet break did give me a psychological break and now I'm ready to get back at it with renewed determination. So overall, I'm glad I did it, but I could have given myself better guidelines for eating when not tracking.
Progress Update January 9, 2017
Just in case you've been following this update thread and I left you on a cliffhanger, I'll give a quick update. Basically, the holidays hit. It was way more difficult than I anticipated to get back into the rigor of the tracking that my program dictated, mainly the food intake. Workouts have been pretty much like clockwork (except for my recent two-week vacation). Food intake was way more difficult to control during the holidays, both from a yielding to temptation standpoint as well as tracking. I weighed myself today, after holidays and vacation, and I'm at 236. So overall that equates to a 2 pound loss, not the 17 pound loss that I had planned. I did lose about 10 pounds, but then gained back about 8.
So what does this mean for me? Is this method for losing weight ineffective? Is it simply unrealistic and unsustainable? Or is there something I've learned about myself along the way that I could tweak and improve upon for the next time?
What didn't work:
The effectiveness of food tracking is far too great for me to ignore. Accounting for what I eat helps me be more conscious of what and how much I am eating, and ultimately is the key to success. The downside is that I still find it a pain to keep up on a regular basis, I also know that in the future I need to build in diet breaks and workout deloads, but to plan them out better in advance. I'm taking part in another 52-day challenge right now where I plan to do more food tracking and also include a diet break and workout deload. With what I've learned through this experience, I think I know where to be more careful.