Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weight, Weight, Don't Tell Me!

Although I have kept personal journals at various times in the past, I don't think of this blog as that sort of thing. It's more of a place to "think out loud" about about stuff I find interesting, and to share those loud thoughts with anyone who cares to visit, and on rare occasion, to add their own thoughts. Music, space, books, etc. Usually not "personal stuff." But for the last 6 months or so, one of my interests has been losing weight. I've just had a minor setback in that department which has taught me a lesson I hope not to forget. So I decided to share it here, for myself and others.

After watching my weight creep up over many years, I hit 223 pounds in January. The fact that this number is just over 100 kg (101.2 kg!) struck my semi-metric brain as some sort of a last straw. Triple digits in pounds can't be helped at my height (about 72 inches or 183 cm), but triple digits in kilograms? No way! So I signed up for Weight Watchers (WW) online program, drawn especially by their iPhone app, which makes it fairly quick and easy to keep track of what I eat throughout the day. I rationalized that the $19 per month for the WW program would be healthier than spending a similar amount each month in afternoon snacks from the vending machine at work (which I was doing).

This tracking process seemed to be the key to it for me. WW has a proprietary "point system" that is roughly equivalent to counting calories, but with smaller numbers and some helpful simplifying assumptions, such as "fruit has zero points" (even though fruits actually do have some calories). There seems to be some clever motivational psychology in their system. You have a budget of daily points, weekly "overdraft" points, and activity points that you can gain by walking and other exercise activities. These extra points kick in when you run out of weekly points, and I gained around 3 activity points a day by taking a 30 minute walk every morning (usually with the dog). The theory is that if your weekly food points total less than your combined daily, weekly, and activity points, you will lose weight.

The good news is that it worked for me. From January 12 to about a month ago, I lost over 30 pounds (~14 kg). With a few minor exceptions, my Saturday weighings showed that I lost weight every week. Then over the last 4 weeks, I seemed to be stuck around 191, gaining or losing a little each week, though never falling below 190 (my final goal is 183 lbs.). But this week I weighed 193, and it was clear to me that the trend line is now heading up.

What happened? Around 4 weeks ago, I stopped tracking food points and started cheating more (I have kept up the daily walks, which the dog won't allow me to forget). It seems I decided that my habits had changed, so I didn't need to track my food points, just my weekly weight. Of course I had "cheated" at other times in the last 6 months, though technically WW lets you eat whatever you want, as long as you stay within your weekly points budget, so it isn't "cheating" per se. As long as I was tracking any treats or extra stuff I ate, I would tend to stay in line the next few days so I wouldn't blow my whole weekly points budget. But once I stopped tracking my food points, it was only my own memory and "will power" that would keep me from cheating several days in a row. Pretty soon I was gaining weight. Not too mysterious.

So what's the lesson? The lesson is that I need to keep tracking my food intake and activities every day to keep myself honest. You don't have to "cheat big" if you are cheating small and often enough. I've already noticed myself making better choices again, helped by keeping a large supply of "point free" fruits and vegetables in the house. Carrot sticks, blueberries, cherries, and even bananas are all "free" and this really helps me to stay on track.

I had been thinking I might cancel the WW subscription and just track my weight on my own. I realize there are other ways (some free) to track my food intake, so I will look at alternatives, especially those that have iPhone apps. But I will keep the WW subscription a few more months until I know I am back on track.

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