Thursday, August 11, 2011
Measurement is the fundamental problem of managing diet and exercise for weight loss. We all know that if we expend more calories than we take in, over time we should lose weight. The problem is that there isn't an easy, accurate way to measure either side of the equation.
For most of us, measuring calories expended is a lost cause. We don't know what our basal metabolism burns for sure, and we have no good way to quantify exercise in excess of basal metabolism. The SP fitness tracker is nice for motivating me to keep doing stuff, but I have no confidence in the calories burned numbers it generates. Bicycling at 13 mph is not any harder for me than walking at 4.2 mph, and in fact is a bit easier. But the fitness tracker gives me an awful lot more calories for the biking than the walking. I have no idea whether the biking is overstated, the walking understated, a bit of both, or they're both off by different amounts in the same direction. And there are no calories added for lifting weights. I know I'm buring a lot more calories doing 3 sets of 8 deadlifts at 185 lbs than I am walking down the street for the time it takes me to do those three sets.
So how do people know how many calories they're burning? Typically by seeing how many calories they're consuming and whether this is producing a weight gain or loss. Measuring calories consumed is an inexact science, but at least it's better than measuring calories expended.
I came across an interesting video about losing weight the other day:
Superficially, this is a plug for weighing instead of measuring volume. It seems a bit overblown to me, probably because the real purpose is to sell books from the web site mentioned late in the video. But I do see an element of truth in the video, even if I draw a different lesson from those facts than the folks who made it.
For those of you who didn't want to go watch the video, or quit in disgust at the overdramatic style, the premise is that the average dieter understates what she eats by using generous volume measurement, and the conclusion is that this is a reason diets can fail. The secondary conclusion is that this can be corrected by using weight measurement instead of volume measurement.
I look at the same facts, assuming they are actually facts, a bit differently. I see the problem as one of system and attitude. The systemic problem is a diet that says you must eat X servings of defined size. The attitude problem is following the diet but cheating on the serving size, whether consciously or not.
Fortunately, the SP nutrition tracker lets me set up a different system to accommodate a different attitude. The attitude is that I want to accurately record what I eat, and I don't want to be forced into predetermined serving sizes. The system is, if I use foods that are defined as grams or ounces or cups instead of servings, I can measure what I eat and put the real measurement in, then the computer will figure out the nutrition values and tell me what I used and what I have left for the day.
It's true that the scale is more accurate than volume measurement, particularly for foods that can be of varying density. A week or so ago, I bought some pre-made salad at Walmart. I found that someone had already put in the nutrition information; but they had recorded the serving size as 3 cups. I put the same information in for myself, and recorded the serving size as 85 grams. Why? I don't want to eat 3 cups of salad. I want to pour how much looks right into my bowl, and know what I have. That's a lot easier with a food scale than with a measuring cup.
And the scale is an awful lot more accurate than estimating, for example, a medium potato. I buy russet potatoes. The SP guidelines for small, medium and large russet potatoes tell me diameter in inches. My potatoes aren't even close to being spherical, and come in more than three or four different sizes. Fortunately, red potatoes are measured in grams. I think I'm closer to the real value by calling 186 grams of russet potato the same amount of red potato than I would be trying to guess whether the potato was small or medium.
So I kind of come to the same solution as the video, even if I think the video is overdramatic. I like weighing for the accuracy. I've come to like grams better than ounces, because the margin of error is smaller. The margin of error when I weigh in grams is so small that it doesn't matter.
There are still some things I measure by volume, including oatmeal. Why? Because I've been making oatmeal for years, and making it based on volume. One part oatmeal to two parts milk, and if the measuring cup is filled to the same level for the oatmeal as for the milk, it works. I'm going to do this once per day, usually 5 days per week. Oh, and my measurement is 1/3 cup, not the arbitrary 1/2 cup that is the serving size on the package of oatmeal. It's enough.
Similarly, I'm going to fill my 8 oz. glass to a consistent level and not worry about whether it's really 8.5 oz. or 7.5 oz. The difference a half ounce of milk or orange juice makes just isn't big enough to worry about, and I'm not doing this five times a day.
But stuff that's hard to measure by volume - that gets weighed. It's just easier to tell how much I'm eating when I weigh it.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
My first serious effort to deliberately lose weight was in 2004-2005. I was on a message board that discussed this, though it was pretty primitive by SP standards. Basically, a bunch of people who wanted to lose weight talked to each other.
I found some of those messages recently, and I'm struck by how naive my attitude was. I spent a lot of time moaning about how poor my dietary control was, and how evil the Snack Days at work were. My strategy was to just try to eat somewhat reasonably, and outwork what I ate. It even worked for a while. I dutifully posted weekly weigh-ins, starting at a bit over 200. Getting below 200 by 12/31/04 was a major accomplishment for me.
In 2005, I bounced off 188. The record on the message board has gains and losses, and I faded away somewhere around 195 or 196. The support from others evaporated when the numbers stopped going down.
This morning I weighed in at 190. Yesterday, the dehydrated morning after an evening at the gym, I was at 188.8. But this time, I'm quantifying what I eat instead of just trying to use will power to be reasonable. Somehow, I don't think I'm going to bounce off 188 and keep going back up in 2011.
I haven't been on SparkPeople long enough to guarantee that I won't have the same failure of motivation here, eventually, as I had in 2005. But some other stuff has changed in my life since 2004 to make the prognosis for longer term stability better. I've picked up some skills since then that are useful to the effort. While I've been on and off the fitness wagon, I haven't been back to the levels of unfitness that I had in the late 1990s; and my climbing back on the wagon deadlift in 2011 was for 10 pounds more than what I wrote about in 2005. Also, now I'm an empty nester and the major stressors in my personal life from 2002 through 2010 have pretty much been resolved favorably.
I think I can do this, but I need to be realistic. If I'm going to get to a healthy weight and stay there the rest of my life, I'm going to have to record what I eat for the rest of my life. It's just too easy for me to slip into bad habits if I don't have to record it and look at what I'm doing in near real time.
Sunday, August 07, 2011
Thursday evening I went to the gym. I thought I was holding back, only did four exercises. I try to do, at a minimum, a major leg exercise, a pulling exercise, and a pushing exercise. Did deadlifts for legs, military press for push, and lat pulldowns for pull. Then I wasn't worn out, so I did renegade rows. www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL4Ygzz20gk I used the gym's round dumbbells instead of the easy square powerblocks the guy in the video is using. Kettlebells would be more challenging.
Friday I skipped my morning Turkish getups, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqyIuFIdgRk which I normally do with a windmill at the top. www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFgqVkP6bZY
Skipping these the morning after lifting weights in the evening is normal.
Then Saturday morning, my shoulders told me that they didn't want to do the TGU/windmill combinations, still. Hmm. Guess I worked harder Thursday than I thought. Okay, gave the shoulders another day of rest. They were fine Sunday morning for the TGU/windmill combo, and I even managed two sets of kettlebell snatches. www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjGVdKsXOk8
Now, I don't do a whole lot of this stuff. 5 TGU/windmill combos on each side, and one set of 10 KB snatches is generally all I do in a morning. I'm currently working with a 35 lb. kettlebell, and I weighed in at 190.8 this morning; so it's not like a major lift requiring rest on its own merits. But if I'm going to lift weights twice a week, and skip the kettlebell stuff the following morning (or worse, the following TWO mornings), I'm close to breaking a habit. Hmm.
Then there's the cardio. I really backed off this weekend, settling for a couple of slower walks and mowing the lawn. That was the right thing to do right now, as my body was telling me this wasn't the time to be pushing. But that does raise a couple of philosophical questions: How fit do I need to be? And how much time do I need to devote to obtaining and maintaining that fitness?
Fitness is like any other hobby, in that it will suck up however much time I throw at it. I already know I have a tendency to overdo the fitness stuff, then burn out and fall off the wagon. I need to find a balance, where I do enough to stay fit but not so much that I overtrain, injure myself, or psychologically burn out on the time expended.
How fit do I need to be?
For all practical purposes, I need to be fit enough to do the things I want to do in life.
I need to be fit enough to mow the lawn, however many times it needs mowing in the growing season. That's not a terribly high hurdle. I managed to get the lawn mowed even when I weighed 221 and had to come inside for water and cooldown several times in the process.
I need to be fit enough to park at the far end of the Walmart or Sam's Club parking lot, so I don't have to fight the insane traffic near the door. That's not a very high hurdle, either. I've never come close to needing to park close to the door.
I want to be fit enough to walk five miles on short notice. That one's a little higher, but not terribly so. There was a time when I was so out of shape that one mile seemed like a very long walk, but that's been quite a while. Even after being off the fitness wagon for a year, I can walk five miles without any thought that it might be too far.
Beyond that, I'd like to be able to run the 3.5 mile Chase Corporate Challenge the entire way without slowing to a walk. I've never managed that, because it would require training during tax season. I'm busy during tax season, doing stuff that is more important to me than training for a race that happens in late May. And other than the company social aspect of the Corporate Challenge, I'm not particularly interested in being a runner.
While it was a great ego-boost, at my peak of fitness, to be able to hold up my half of a piano that needed moving, I don't really need to be that strong. If I can lift and carry 100 pounds short distances without undue effort, that's good enough for life activities.
Then there's the non-fitness goals. I want to spend some time doing maintenance on my house. Some of it will need to be hired out, but some of it really ought to be do it yourself projects. Time spent exercising is time not spent getting this stuff done. I'll have some seasonal commitments that I don't really want to give up. Somehow or other, I'll need to take care of fitness in spite of having more commitments in the fall, winter and spring than I do in the summer.
It's a puzzle. Ideally, I'd like to find some fitness routine that will maintain a minimum level in not a whole lot of time, so I can do more in the summer and enough the other three seasons to start the summer without a lot of remedial work.
The one bright spot in the conundrum is, I'm no longer worried about weight or diet. Four weeks on SP have convinced me I can track food and maintain calorie discipline throughout the normal change of seasons and commitment levels. Yeah, I don't have down yet just how I'll navigate the social eating of the holiday season; but there will be a way to navigate it.
That's kind of an odd thought, because I've been working on the exercise side a lot longer than I've been working on the controlling diet side. But there you have it. Controlling the diet is self-limiting. Get it done, and the time is freed up for other pursuits. But exercise is open ended. It can take up however much time I'm willing to throw at it.
So . . . how fit do I want to be, and how hard am I willing to work to be that fit? The answers to those questions will determine how much time I should put into exercise. Finding the right answers could mean the difference between maintaining fitness long term and a cycle of falling off and climbing back on the wagon.
Saturday, August 06, 2011
Last night I was a bit down on the self improvement thing, and my blog yesterday reflected that. I was clever enough to realize that a good portion of that might be lack of sleep, so I went to bed at a decent hour and tried to sleep in this morning. I don't think I managed to sleep till 7, but it was a good night's sleep.
I felt more positive in the morning, and set out to read some blogs. Oh, my. One sparker has two daughters separated from husbands and moving back in. Another had a 30 year old son get serious facial injuries skateboarding, and has to let him learn for himself the hard way. Both of them are determined to control their diet and exercise, in spite of Life Happening and the stress they feel. I guess I don't have it so bad after all.
This morning was the first of my planned weekly breakfasts with my daughter, at a local McDonald's. I had in mind to blog on this subject, after seeing how I had to work around it on the SP system. Turns out that, given two weeks to prepare, it wasn't that big a deal to work around. I'll note in passing that I ate a salad beforehand to try to fill myself up, and some cottage cheese and carrots afterward because I was hungry immediately after getting home. I don't know what there is about the fast food (sausage burrito, hash browns, decaf coffee-black) that stimulates the appetite, but I dealt with it. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.
The blessing part of this is, my daughter wanted to have breakfast with me. A couple weeks ago, she specifically called (okay, texted) to set this up, because her work schedule and mine don't leave much common free time. Last week she had to back out because she was sick, but this week was a go.
In my particular situation, this is a blessing indeed. I went through a stressful divorce when my daughter was 16 and 17. At that time, she was a really troubled teen, and the next few years of being a single parent with custody were, um, challenging. Yeah, that's the word. Challenging. It is a real blessing that my daughter has got her act together so that she could move out on her own last March, and that at the age of 24 she actually wants to see me regularly. Given the nature of the first 16 years of her life, it would be understandable if she wanted nothing to do with me at all.
So what did I do with my more positive attitude today? I felt like having a nice, relaxing day without doing much of anything. So after breakfast I dug out my e-reader and went for a relaxed 5.2 mile walk while reading The Life of Flavius Josephus. That kept the pace down around 3.5 MPH, which didn't feel like pushing things. Then I had a nap after lunch. I have my 10K steps in, I have my daily exercise in, and I can relax doing laundry and vacuuming and not much else. Life is good.
Much of my life I've been a glass half empty kind of guy. I can still be that way on occasion, but I'm more positive most of the time now. If I get enough rest, and do an honest assessment, my glass isn't half empty. It's three quarters full.
Life is good.
Friday, August 05, 2011
I'm nearing the end of my fourth week on SparkPeople, and it isn't exciting any more.
I'm staying within my calorie and macronutrient ranges. I'm getting more exercise than I did in my immediate pre-spark period, when I was off the exercise bandwagon. I'm tracking what I eat, and using the feedback to fine tune what I eat late in the day. I've lost around 4 pounds, allowing for the imprecision of weighing myself. I'm getting those 10,000 steps per day.
And it's turned into a routine. I can live with the food tracking routine, as that doesn't take much time. I'm concerned about the exercise routine, long term. The exercise has squeezed out most other forms of entertainment. This is okay for now, but in the fall I'll want to go back to vocal and bell choir rehearsals two evenings a week. Come winter, I'll want to spend some time preparing for volunteer work during tax season. And during tax season, my major focus will be on getting done what I need to in minimum time, because of the extra time I put into the local VITA program.
I don't think I'll hit goal weight by September. If things go really well in August, I might be back around the lowest I weighed in 2010 by Labor Day. And then, right when other routines gear up to start, further losses will be Uncharted Territory not seen in almost 20 years.
I guess it comes back to balance. The SP system is working, when it's the major thing I focus on outside of work. I have a month to figure out how to make it work when it's only one of several things I focus on outside of work.
Put another way, part of why SP is working for me right now is that I'm an empty nester with no life in the summer. Life starts up again in the fall, and I'm not yet seeing how to make the SP system work when life is happening.
Oh, well. I have a month to figure it out. Maybe I'll be able to let the exercise slide just a little, if I diligently track what I eat and control how much I eat.
I sure hope that works. It can't do worse than not paying attention to what I eat and letting the exercise go entirely. And I'll probably feel better about it after a good night's sleep.
That suggests another goal that isn't on my list yet.
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