Lisa and I have been actively working on our health the past year (or a little more). We’ve improved our basic diet, and we’re getting considerably more exercise than we were. Of course, this last bit goes without saying because prior to this decision our exercise consisted of getting up and going to the refrigerator when we got hungry.
Needless to say, we’re considerable lighter today than we were a year ago. But mostly, I think we both just feel better–which was the real goal. Co-workers of mine were, at one point, commenting on the weight loss and suggesting that (1) we didn’t actually look like we needed to lose anything to begin with, but (2) asking if we just got fed up with the number on the scale. For me, it’s never really been about the number on the scale. The number is just a measure, like the Dow Jones Industrial, that doesn’t mean much in itself. Of course, I know I’m wrong. That’s just how I look at it, though, so sue me. For me the whole thing was about not being tired at 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon.
I can report I’m no longer getting tired in the early hours of the afternoon.
I’m thinking about this today because I’ve been browsing through a link I found on Amy Casil‘s site that led me to an on-line book titled “The Hacker’s Diet.” It’s a book written by noted software pioneer John Walker. It’s a glorious work, in my opinion. Though I have a slightly different way of looking at the psychology of it all, the book sets the problem out in ways that fit the exact patterns I think in–which, fundamentally, is that Energy In – Energy Burned = Energy Gained/Lost. Yes, it’s an engineering equation that just makes sense.
Aside: the only real difference in our thoughts here fit in the area of the value of exercise, which Walker professed to not want to do at the beginning of his process. He suggests the exercise portion of the equation is a bit over-rated because you probably can’t succeed by just burning more calories (because there just isn’t enough time in the day to make it work this way). I agree in principle with the statements, but … and it’s a big but … if you can exercise you can dramatically reduce the time it takes to get to whatever your equilibrium state is going to be, which is valuable. On the whole, though, I think Walker and I would agree totally on this subject if we sat down to enjoy a lunch together and just chatted. He suggests that the proper psychology to go into a weight control process is that you don’t try to exercise to lose weight, but instead you exercise to feel better. This, of course, works for me.
Anyway, I suggest you read it merely because it’s interesting.
I really enjoy how Walker goes through discussing different ways of measuring things, ways that define the truth of the energy equation and allow you to ignore the day-to-day swings if you’re the type that gets annoyed by them (I’m not, but Lisa kinda is…I find the day-to-day swings to be neat-o and cool reminders that we are all strange little biological engines that have some randomness baked in, Lisa is a math major for who the messiness of real life is frustrating). I like how he introduces the value of exercise, the idea of ramping up, the simple ways of starting and incorporating movement into your life, and finally some of the intellectual benefits of exercise (being that it’s a good way to give your mind some time off to recharge–which often results in those brilliant moments of insight that you never would have received if you hadn’t stepped back from a problem).
I thought his discussion of planning diet was interesting, though to me it boils down to “actually know how many calories you’re ingesting and stop when you get to the maximum you need for a day.” This is in line with an approach Toby Buckell has posted before, and I completely agree with it except for one caveat, and that is that I add an element to that rule of thumb. My rule of thumb reads: actually know how many calories you’re ingesting and either stop when you get to the maximum you need for a day, or truly commit to the extra 30 minutes or 60 minutes or whatever treadmill time or weightlifting time it takes to burn off the overage .
I should note, though, I am probably weird. This is what I’m like: when Lisa and I first started on our little quest, I wrote up a quick spreadsheet tool that took into account what we weighed, did some back calculating to estimate the calories we were consuming, and then ran weight projections over weeks and months based on work out magnitudes that predicted what we would weigh at some form of equilibrium. Yes, that really can be done. It’s just biological science, and the results are pretty much predictable unless you truly do have a medical issue involved. I am smugly proud to report that my projections were about perfect. We have both leveled off within a very small tolerance of my original projections.
The current tale of the tape for me is that I’ve gone from being a 194 pound guy with a 36ish waist to a 158 pound guy with a 30-31ish waist. Lisa introduced me to a new-fangled machine that our company installed as part of their wellness program, and I measured in at 15% body fat (using some other calculation-based methods I’m in the 10%-13% range).
I should note that I can’t remember ever feeling hungry in the past year. And I, unlike Lisa, don’t restrain myself from eating things like birthday cake for work celebrations or the occasional ice cream or whatever. And we eat out probably two or three times a week, generally pizza places, family grills, and other “normal” restaurants (hey, we’re both busy in jobs deeply embedded in corporate America).
Will this approach work for you?
I dunno. I also like Walker’s ending pages regarding going forward. The game is not over when you hit your targets. The game is a lifetime event. The equation is important to understand, but the key to winning the game is to understand the equation in a way that works for your own psychology, to apply the equation into your life in such a way as you can sustain it. Human beings are weird, you know? We all think and react differently.
But the thing I like about Walker’s approach (over most get-thin diet plans) is that it’s based on the idea of becoming familiar with the basic way your body works, and staying in touch with it. It’s not a question of eating only meat, or not worrying about fat, or counting points, or whatever. All those things can certainly work if you stick with them blindly. But actually knowing how your body works makes things, for me, feel right. Understanding that rules of thumb are useful boundaries, but not absolute, allow me to tax and use my body as I want to rather than just feeling like I’m following some highway that leads into a nighttime that’s dark beyond the reach of my headlights.
And that, I think, is why I reacted so well to reading Walker’s work.