The “secret” to weight loss

03.28.07 | Permalink | 7 Comments

Like many other people, I’ve put on a bit of weight over the past 20 years. OK, more than a bit, alot of weight. When I moved to California in 1989 there was 1/3 less of me than there was on January 1st of this year. After going through machinations to find life insurance (and the attendant poking and prodding) I determined (for at least the 10th time in the last 10 years) that I would get this issue under control.

I’ve tried all different sorts of schemes to take the pounds off and most of them worked at least at the beginning, but ultimately I would go back to the bad habits that added the excess mass in the first place. So here’s the big secret: eat less, exercise more, and measure and evaluate progress every day.

That’s generic advice, but it works. Since January 2 I’ve managed to lose 11.6% of my total mass which marks the halfway point in this voyage. Here are the simple things that have helped me, and if you’re trying to do this, maybe they’ll help you.

  • You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Get a good scale that has resolution to the 0.1 of a pound/kilogram. Weigh yourself at the same time and in the same state (i.e. naked) record this measurement.
  • Determine your daily calorie (kcal) burn at rest. This is simple to do, record your weight in kilograms and multiply by 24. As a rule, you burn about one kcal per kilogram per hour at rest. This gives you the baseline from which you manage your daily kcal budget.
  • Establish a daily record of what you eat, how many kcal and grams of fat each item contains.
  • Establish a daily record of physical activity above rest level (sleeping, sitting at a desk, watching tv – these are all rest level activities.) You’re looking for things like walking the dog (30 minutes of walking will burn 105 kcal for instance.) On your daily food record, track your activity as well indicating a negative number of kcal during that day if you have activity above resting levels.
  • At the end/beginning of each day, check the total kcal consumption and kcal activity burn against your 24 hour resting level to determine your kcal surplus or deficit.
  • The intent is to create a consistent kcal deficit of between 250 to 750kcal per day.

That’s the basis of being able to recognize how you’re performing. At the beginning, it’s onerous to find how many kcal are in food X. But a simple web search of “kcal [food]” gets you the answer 95 out of 100 times. You can also do something clever like read the label on the food…..low tech, but it works.

I track all of this in a spreadsheet that has a tab for daily weight measurement with a binary field called “good” – meaning, did I behave myself on input as judged by having a kcal deficit of at least 250 for the day, a field called weight which is the reading for the 24 hour period, and a field called delta which is the difference between today’s weight and yesterday’s weight.

The second tab in the spreadsheet is the month we’re living in (there are actually multiple tabs for Jan, Feb, Mar, etc.) that has a daily history of food eaten and activity performed that gives the resulting kcal delta used in tab 1. The key here is that one needs to burn 3,500 kcal to lose 1 pound of mass. Thus there is a field that converts the day’s kcal delta into a predicted loss of mass for the measurement period and a running total of the predicted loss of mass during that month.

What I’ve found is that the system is accurate on a monthly basis. If the kcal deficit predicts a 5.7 pound weight loss and I’ve been honest in assessing myself, during that period the actual weight loss will be within 10% of the prediction. Since one isn’t good every day and one’s diet changes (you’d be surprised what soy sauce can do for instance) that it’s less predictive daily, better weekly, better yet monthly, and almost dead on accurate in aggregate of the total time period observed (for periods over 1 month.)

Here are a couple of tips and tricks that seem to work with this system:

  • Drink water, at least 64 oz per day. It doesn’t matter if you like water or not, you’re going to drink it because once you determine the kcal cost of any other drink, you’ll decide it’s too expensive to do anything else.
  • Lose the “empty” kcal, once you honestly record your caloric intake, it becomes pretty easy to make choices about what to consume when your kcal is limited. Hmm, do I drink the soda (300 kcal) or have 1/2 a sandwich?
  • This will make weight loss professionals and nutriutionists batty, but eat what you want and supplement missing vitamins and minerals with, you guessed it, vitamin and mineral supplements.
  • You can have bad stuff like cake, candy, or pizza, but you’ve got to be honest in recording it and determine what the kcal cost is to your daily budget. If you don’t create the deficit, you won’t lose weight. What does this mean practically? If you’re going to have a piece of 300 kcal cake, you’ve got to walk for 90 minutes to nullify it or take 300 kcal out of another place in your diet (i.e., don’t eat the 1/2 sandwich.)
  • Take the weekend off. Not completely, still record, but bring the deficit from say a daily level of 750 kcal to neutral. Don’t create a surplus or you’ll get to lose that mass again. This helps psychologically I think and it also seems to have some benefit in not permanently resetting your body to expect say, 1,300 kcal per day as a “normal” sort of thing.
  • Don’t be discouraged by fluctuation, it’s a two steps forward one step back type exercise. You can always review your kcal consumption and burn in the daily record to see why your weight might have increased.
  • Soy sauce and other salty foods will cause your weight to increase the next day. Expect it, sushi is a pretty good meal though on a diet despite the fact it almost always makes you “gain” water weight due to the salt content.
  • Keep very busy, it’s harder to feel hungry and deprived when you’re thinking about/doing something else.
  • Do an activity each day, even if it’s only a short walk around the block, get out of “resting” mode.

Over the nearly three months I’ve been doing this (with some rough patches I might add) the net loss of mass is now 25lbs. This may or may not be helpful to anyone else, but it seems to be working for me. Let me know if you try it and what your experience is.

Update: As requested, I’ve put sample spreadsheets on the site for download. Here’s an OpenDocument version (12kb) and an Excel version (106kb).


More stolen underwear, it is an epidemic!

03.27.07 | Permalink | Comments Off on More stolen underwear, it is an epidemic!

Pullman, Washington, USA

Stolen Underwear

A 24 year old man was arrested with 93lbs (42kgs) of women’s underwear in his possession after someone recorded his license plate after his latest heist from an apartment laundry room. Police are concerned about how to match the items to the victims, an interesting challenge that will surely require visualization techniques.

No word if the Pullman authorities are coordinating with Tokyo or New Jersey to form a task force to halt the growing world-wide underwear theft ring…

Energy, Media

I Don’t Like Al Gore

03.27.07 | Permalink | 6 Comments

There, I said it. I find him to be one of the more annoying public figures of the last couple of decades. Why? Can’t really put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with morality backed by copious ego. To be fair, there aren’t many politicians I could claim I do like, so I guess it’s par for the course. But Al just has a way of rubbing me the wrong way; from the 1980’s Tipper and Al music rating theatre, to Al inventing the Internet, to the whole campaign of the year 2000. It was painful for me to write an entry where I felt I had to defend him a few weeks ago when he was getting hammered as a hypocritical energy pig.

The confession I have here today is that I finally took the time last night to watch the film An Inconvenient Truth. I’ve been procrastinating, not because I have any particular trouble with the message, but I just couldn’t bear 90 minutes of Al. I procrastinated so long, it left movie theaters, it ended up on my NetFlix queue toward the bottom, but slowly worked to the top of the list. It was shipped two weeks ago and sat in my office while I tried not to watch it. Finally, I couldn’t stand my proclivity for procrastination any longer and broke down to watch the movie.

For someone with my interests and passions, it is a good film to watch and the message is pretty crisp, though I could have done without all the “Al” moments. I guess whatever I feel about Al, it’s not that important because I do respect that he’s taking the time (and the criticism) to be a later day Paul Revere getting the message out about global warming as the impending threat rather than the British.

So I guess that’s it. If you’re like me and have an aversion to Al, see the film anyway. It’s worthwhile. And even if you don’t like the man, it’s impossible to deny the message.

Technology & Science

Applied Chemistry

03.26.07 | Permalink | 2 Comments

Two teenagers in New Zealand performed a test on a popular children’s drink, Ribena, as part of their chemistry assignment. The company (GlaxoSmithKline) claimed “4 times the vitamin C as found in oranges.” The experiment found almost no vitamin C at which point the girls assumed they had done something wrong in the procedure.

But alas, they repeated their experiment several times and asked others to do the same and the result did not change. GSK now faces 15 charges of misleading the public and up to $2M in fines…

I’ll bet this is a chemistry lesson the teenagers won’t soon forget (nor will the GSK marketroids…)


How do you know it’s a good movie?

03.25.07 | Permalink | Comments Off on How do you know it’s a good movie?

When your 4 year old says after the movie ends “Again!”

That’s what’s happened today with Flushed Away. This is one of the better kids movies I’ve seen in the past year, the kid was entertained, I was entertained – what more can you ask for. If you have a little insight into English culture, it’s even funnier (I particularly liked that England was up on Germany 3-0 at halftime and the headline in the paper at the end of the movie read “England loses on penalties!”)

Flushed Away Scene

If you haven’t seen Flushed Away and you have children, you’re missing out. I recommend it.

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