About two months ago, more or less on a whim, I started on a diet. I had had intentions of trimming down with EA Sports Active’s 30 day challenges, but a broken Wii disrupted my rhythm, and after it got back I just couldn’t get myself excited about doing poorly-detected squats and lunges again*.
This is probably just as well, as I would have been disappointed with the results. Burning 200–300 calories three or four days a week won’t lead to impressive weight loss, especially since I’d probably just drink it all back on without noticing: unless one is prepared to forego taste, alcohol, and pride, at 160–180 calories each two bottles of actual beer can easily negate an entire Wii-based workout.
(Also, squats hurt and I don’t like to do them. They hurt in the moment, they hurt later in the afternoon, they hurt the next day. If “regular pain” is a component of your diet and weight loss routine you’ll need a lot more dedication than I to be successful.)
The better strategy for weight loss is to count calories. I recommend reading The Hacker’s Diet for the full explanation, but here’s a quick summary:
In The Hacker’s Diet, John Walker diagnoses run-of-the-mill weight gain as the result of a miscalibrated internal “eat watch.” If you (like me) can’t reliably stop eating when you’ve consumed the amount of calories you’ll burn during the day, you will, perhaps slowly, but definitely surely, gain weight at a rate of 3500 calories per pound. That means that one extra cheese snack a day (at about 125 calories) would come out to 13lbs in a year! And then the years add up…
To maintain weight, one obviously needs to match calorie consumption with burn, and to lose weight just tip things a little farther and consume a bit less. 500 calories a day less means a pound a week, which is gentle enough while still providing tangible results on the scale.
One more plug, because the book is short and free and very well written: The Hacker’s Diet.
My first goal is to lose 40lbs, which should erase most of the Google pounds I’ve gained since college. I’ll probably go further than that, but first things first. I’m currently on the pound-a-week plan of 500 fewer calories than I need per day.
Things have been going pretty well so far: in the past two months I’ve lost about 15lbs, which means that I’ve actually been somewhat under my calorie budget. The absolute hardest time was the second day (as warned by The Hacker’s Diet) when <notadoctor>my blood sugar was low from too-few calories but my body hadn’t started really breaking down fat cells yet</notadoctor>. I was hungry, headachy, and grumpy, but I got over it.
I will admit that I can credit much of my early and easy success to natural causes. At my height and (current?) weight, a “500 fewer” budget still amounts to over 2,400 calories a day, which is enough for a normal breakfast, a reasonable lunch, a hearty dinner, with some left over for snacks and drinks. (Even more so on days when I exercise.) A smaller person would find it significantly more disruptive to cut out 500 calories.
As it is now, I haven’t felt like I’ve really needed to make sacrifices to stay on the diet, which has made it easy. I’ve certainly cut back on beer, going out, and eating gummi bears, but I haven’t cut them out completely. As long as I budget them in the day’s calories (with some hand-wavy bits about still getting enough fruits and vegetables and the like), I can have enough of them that I can be happy.
I worry a bit that I’ll eventually hit a plateau or will otherwise need to get more restrictive with my intake, and I hope that I’ll have the force of will to keep with it. Two months of proven results are nevertheless a strong motivation not to give up yet.
My next post in this series will be about the first of the iPhone apps that’s been helping me along: Lose It!.
* Nevertheless I kept going with Active longer than I did with Wii Fit, which I credit to Active’s structure. Wii Fit’s “click through the menus and do what you like” requires a level of self-direction that I could not muster.