Sunday, February 2, 2014

Adventures In Losing Weight

Adventure
I know a lot of developers that struggle with obesity and the problems that go with it (I even have a mild case of peripheral neuropathy to show for mine). Between sitting at a desk all day at work (sometimes at night as well) and living an American lifestyle, it's easy to gain weight. Losing weight (or at least talking about it) is a time-honored tradition in my family (blame my mother's side) so it makes sense that I make at least one post about it.

In my annual physical about 3 years ago (they're free for any insurance, you should go), I noticed that the scales had me at 330 lbs. I couldn't believe that I had gotten that big. I have always been big but this was just nuts. I would get winded playing with my kids or going up several stairs and it bothered me. I don't need to be super fit but I need to be able to function in life at a level I feel is normal.

After educating myself a bit and finding diets that work for me, I've managed to get down to about 265 and have kept it there for over a year. I'm eating mostly normal now and plan on losing more once summer rolls around (something about winter just kills my motivation).

A disclaimer before I get into what I did:
  • I'm a software developer, not a dietitian. This is just advice from some guy.
  • This is what worked for me. Everyone is different when it comes to diets.
  • Talk to a doctor to before you start any diets or extreme exercise routines.

The best diet is the one you can stay on. There are however, some constants out there that you can't ignore and are important to understand.

Educate Yourself


There are a lot of websites and books to read about weight loss but the one that spoke to me the most was the Hacker's Diet. Click that link. The book is free and it's written by and for engineers trying to lose weight. It explains how there really aren't any shortcuts to losing weight but on the other hand, it really comes down to the first pro-tip in dieting:
Pro-tip #1: Eat less calories than you burn.
The other big thing I got out of this book that it seems a lot of people don't understand:
Pro-tip #2: Losing weight is 80% diet, 20% exercise.
Exercising is good. You will live longer by exercising but what's easier, running a mile or skipping on a cookie? I love cookies as much as the next guy but I hate running more. You choose.

Dieting


So now that we know we need to cut down on what we eat, how do we do that? There are many diets out there but once again, the best diet is the one you can stick to. I have tried a few diets and have learned something from every one. Here are the ones I have tried:

Weight Watchers - I think Weight Watchers is the most like eating normal than any other diet. They favor healthy foods over sweets and their point system is easier to do than just straight up calories. But if you don't have the money for it, you may want to look elsewhere. I think I lost about 15 or so pounds on this.
Pro-tip #3: Tracking what you eat is a powerful tool.
Ideal Protein - Wow, you thought Weight Watchers was expensive? If you can find someone to give you special prices on the food, the pricing isn't that bad. There are even forums out there that can help you put the diet together for very little money. This is a very, very effective and fast acting diet but it's too restrictive to live on. If you plan on doing this, make sure you have something planned for when you go off of it. I think I lost about 30 pounds on this.
Pro-tip #4: Only eating what you plan to eat guarantees results.
Paleo - I'm not sure who started this but the best resource I've found for explaining it is at Nerd Fitness. I have never fully bought into doing 100% strict Paleo but I have found it to be the easiest diet to live on if you're willing to plan your meals and give up on some comfort foods you may be used to. I think I lost about 10 pounds on this.
Pro-tip #5: Protein keeps you full much longer than carbohydrates.
I'm currently doing a modified Paleo diet of sorts. I'm losing as fast as I was on Ideal Protein but I don't gain while following it. Some other tips that I found for all diets include:
Pro-tip #6: You're not hungry, you're thirsty. Drink lots of fluids so that you know for sure.
Pro-tip #7: Don't stay up late so you don't feel the need for that "4th meal".
Pro-tip #8: Never drink your calories. Water is best but diet soda still has zero calories. 

Tools & Gadgets


To help with dieting, I've found some tools to be very useful which brings me to another pro-tip:
Pro-tip #9: Measure all the things!
If you don't measure it, you can't know if you're improving. Here are some things that have helped me:

  • Scales - Doesn't matter which kind you buy, weigh yourself at least once a week. I weight myself daily which can be depressing if you don't have something like...
  • Libra Weight Manager - I know there are similar apps on the Apple app store, just search for Hacker Diet. This gives you trending lines so that even when your weight fluctuates, it gives you a good idea of if you're losing or gaining.
  • MyFitnessPal - Good website, good apps, good integration with other tools and social integration. Use this if you want to track what you're eating, exercise or weight loss goals.
  • Fitbit - Gamify getting off your ass! This helps encourage me to go to the further bathroom at work or to park further away just so I can get that extra few steps. I rarely come close to the recommended 10k steps a day but it still helps give you visibility to what you're doing in a given day. I love the social element too so if you have one, add me as a friend!
  • Get Up And Code - Not so much a tool but a great (free) resource for getting fit in the context of being a programmer. I've learned a few things (and have had a few beliefs challenged) listening to this podcast.

Still Adventuring


I feel so much better than when I was pushing 330 lbs but I'm not done yet. I would like to get my waistline much smaller and I would like to be stronger as well. I feel pretty confident that I know what I need to know to lose weight but I'm still learning how to effectively exercise. Maybe once I have a better grasp on that I'll write another post.
Pro-tip #10: Don't diet alone.
I couldn't have gotten this far without the help from my wife and some friends like @codeforth. I've also gotten some great support and advice from the guys on the Be Healthy Yammer group (ask for an invite if you're interested).

I'm always up for a conversation about weight loss so feel free to comment on the post, send me a tweet or email if you have any questions. Good luck on your own adventure!

Photo Credit, David Niblack, Imagebase.net