How I’m losing weight

For the last ten years of my life I’ve been gaining 10–15 pounds a year. This year I’ve made a number of lifestyle changes that have significantly reversed that trend.

Food Journaling

I count, to the best of my ability, how many calories I put into my body. I use the MyFitnessPal app which makes it super easy to look up foods (you can even scan a barcode with your camera). The app also tracks other important nutrition information like carbohydrates, fat, protein, sodium, etc.

I have a net calorie goal for each day, but I do not have a “calorie limit”. If I go over my goal it’s not cheating or some sort of failure. So what is the point of journaling?

Journal Reason #1: I lie to myself

I used to sneak food. As if, if no one saw me it didn’t count or something. That’s dumb. I write it down and this, more than anything else, is why I don’t put candy in my mouth and if I do, it’s why I portion control it. Being accountable in this way is the life hack I’ve found that works best to keep me choosing healthy options.

Journal Reason #2: Finding patterns

My food journal is data. I can plot and correlate. I can look for habits that need to change. I can adjust the balance of my macro nutrients. Without this data, I’m just guessing.

This data also lets me spot the difference between a metabolic change and a difference in how much in eating or exercising. Metabolic changes are the source of “plateaus” and require changes to my routine to fix them. More on that later.

Daily Exercise

Yes. Every. Freaking. Day. Some days I work out hard. Some days I take it easy. Some days I sit in my car outside the gym for an hour not wanting to go in. But, unless I’m sick, I exercise. If I can’t go to the gym, I use the elliptical runner in my garage. If I can’t do that, I take a walk or ride a bike. Lately I’ve started jogging. Why every day? Two reasons: a habit you do every day is the easiest to adhere to. I don’t have to think about whether today is an exercise day.

Weekly Big Exercise

Every weekend I do an activity that will burn 2–4 times the number of calories I burn at the gym normally. For me, hiking has been my go to activity.

There are a few goals of this exercise type:

  • Have fun! I tend to go out with friends for my hike. And I get to see amazing views. Sometimes I go alone and enjoy an audiobook while I trek up a mountain.
  • Eating a big meal! There’s usually a brunch or dinner out on the weekend with friends. Hiking for 1500 calories means I can splurge and eat something decadent.
  • Building up to semi-annual activities. I want to take up backpacking and go for hikes lasting 3–7 days. I enjoy the back country, but also these kinds of activities are really great for burning off a few pounds that may be creeping up on me once I’m in maintenance mode. For others, this might be running in a marathon or a bike race.

Picking the right foods

Food journaling only tells you what you did. But I think most everyone wants to know what my “diet” is.

  • No foods are off limits. But I try to avoid my trigger foods (the kind I can’t stop eating until my plate is clear and I’ve licked the plate clean).
  • Sugar. I avoid it for the most part. I’ve read a lot about how bad sucrose is and, to be honest, this is not a big sacrifice for me. I don’t have a sweet tooth.
  • High satiety foods. Instead of trying to minimize how many calories go in when I’m hungry, I try to eat foods that have a strong hunger suppressing effect. In this way, I’m actually minimizing calories/hour. Satiety has two components: 1. Feeling like you’re “done” eating. 2. How long you can go before feeling hungry again. For #1, it turns out that weight, volume and blood sugar provide the immediate feeling of fullness. So I eat soup. As a first course, a clear broth soup is a great way to feel full without eating many calories. To provide more volume and weight I eat vegetables. A huge salad with balsamic vinegar is just a couple hundred calories. Lastly, protein is the component that keeps me full. I like to throw 20+ grams of protein into every meal I eat.

Combating Plateaus

Almost everyone who’s set out to lose 40+ pounds has hit a plateau where the weight loss all but stops with no change to the diet. These are very demoralizing and may even have long term metabolic consequences according to some research. Basically, the body, under the correct assumption that it is starving, lowers the basal metabolic rate causing you to conserve energy and burn fewer calories. This is a great reaction if you’re in the Donner Party, but not if you’re trying to lose weight. Most people, faced with not losing weight, will double down and restrict their calories even more. This would be wrong. The way to convince your body that you’re not starving is to eat more. Eat at least the number of calories your body needs to break even. A safe number of calories is your weight in pounds * 12 per day. So 250 pounds * 12 = 3000 calories per day. Women have a lower metabolism and can use 11 instead. It’s been my experience that you can up your exercise to offset this to some extent.

Not a diet

All the changes I’ve made are things that I plan to continue doing for years. Maybe for the rest of my life. The exception being that will revise my daily caloric intake goal upward once I reach a weight that I want to maintain.

Failure syndrome

Most diets fail because they have rules that you can break. Breaking a rule can result in a pattern of rule breaking and ultimately giving up. I have taken care to not create very many rules. By not having rules, I can’t break them and can’t end up with failure syndrome.

Results

So far, I’m really happy with the results! My goal isn’t to lose a certain number of pounds, but rather to have a body that I love and lets me do the things I want to do. My current goal is to be able to hike Half Dome in yosemite in day.