Thursday, May 28, 2015

6 months in, down 50+

Since late November, I've been following a diet mainly to lose weight. During the process I've been meaning to blog about it, telling myself I'd blog when I hit my first main goal, or after six months. Well, I just recently hit the 50-pounds-down mark, and on May 23 I marked six months, so now is as good a time as ever. I have to say, though, what I've been doing doesn't really feel like a diet in the traditional sense, mostly because what I eat largely hasn't changed.

Progress chart from the beginning. As you can see, weight loss isn't linear! 
Lots of ups and downs
My reasoning for even attempting this was very practical: I simply wanted my clothes to fit better and I didn't want to have to keep buying progressively larger pants and shorts. It's not that I felt like I was horribly overweight or unhealthy, no, it was simply my clothes were tighter than I wanted, so I knew I needed to drop a few pounds. But I wasn't doing it as a "challenge" or to show off on social media; that's a huge part of why most people I know largely didn't know and only noticed because I was obviously losing weight. It wasn't because I was posting my progress for the world to see or taking and posting endless photos of what I was eating. Heck, even my own family didn't know about it until I had been doing it for a few weeks and anyone else who found out did so because they asked if I had lost weight and then I explained how.

So, what exactly have I been doing? In short, it's a technique called flexible dieting or "IIFYM", which stands for "If It Fits Your Macros". What are macros? That's short for macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, protein, and calories. Basically, flexible dieting means you track what you're eating and try to stay within certain limits for those macronutrients, essentially a daily budget. Every day I make sure what I'm eating is as close to those "budget numbers" as possible. Most days I do pretty well, but some days it just doesn't happen for a variety of reasons. How much of each macro is determined by a percentage of calories. For instance, right now, my percentage goals are about 40% (150 grams) for carbs, 35% (120 g) for protein, and 25% (45 g) for fat. Right now I'm on a low-calorie run of 1,485 calories/day, but in the course of my weight loss, that number has varied at different times. The basic principle is that to lose weight, you have to operate at a calorie deficiency.

Within that budget, I eat pretty much whatever I want as long as I meet those macro goals for the day. I like that because it has allowed me to still enjoy the many foods I like and not have to miss out on things like eating out with friends and family or having something sweet. The difference is that I simply keep track of what I'm eating and limit myself to certain amounts based on my "daily budget". There aren't any foods that I all-out avoid or even foods that I only have at certain times. Doesn't mean I meet my goals eating candy and ice cream all day; but it does mean I get to enjoy those things on a daily basis while still losing weight. Amazing, huh? (note sarcasm).

The idea that eating something like a Reese's peanut butter cup will "make you fat" isn't based on any real science. It's all about the macros. Eating a whole bag of them certainly isn't recommended, but they in themselves won't make you fat or are "bad" for you. Having too many is the problem. That goes for anything. What's "bad" for us is too much of anything, even something as basic as water (drinking too much water, for instance, can lead to hyponatremia, a deficiency of sodium, which can be fatal). The problem with things like sweets and other high calorie foods is that we generally eat too much of them, which is easy to do, not that they're "bad" for us in any amount. I've been able to enjoy things like a Whopper from Burger King, a Blizzard from Dairy Queen, pizza, and even a Big Mac and milkshake from McDonalds with no problems. Not only that, but I still continued to lose weight even after eating them. Why? Because I made sure they fit in my budget that day. Simple as that. I have had something (usually more than one) sweet every day the entire time I've been losing weight, and I'm not talking about artificial sweeteners either, though I do have foods with them too.

Another common element in many diets that isn't really present in flexible dieting is that of a "cheat day," which is a day where someone who is dieting binge-eats all their favorite foods (often sweets). In flexible dieting, there isn't much need for that since you can work those things into your daily diet. If it's "not healthy" to eat sweets to the point they're completely absent from a diet six days of the week, why is eating them in major excess one day of the week "healthy"? Really, about as close as I get to a "cheat day" is Saturday when my budget just allows more flexibility so I can add a few extra treats like a Nestle Drumstick or a trip to Yogurt Vi for some frozen yogurt.


Dated November 26, 2014, so I was all of 3 days into the whole thing. This was my 2nd day in the gym. I remarked in my journal that day that I was was excited to be getting in the habit of going after wanting to do it for so long. And look at that...I even have the super-sad "before" look for my beginning photo. HA! (I took this photo to prove to my trainer that I was actually working out!)

I had made some attempts previous to this on my own, mostly in attempting to get more exercise and/or at least eating more fruits and vegetables in my diet and making sure I was getting enough water. Each one of my attempts, though, ended up being short-lived. Why? Mostly because I didn't feel like I was seeing any noticeable results after a certain amount of time. I looked at getting a personal trainer too, but all of them seemed far too expensive for my budget and/or involved diet philosophies that I knew would make me unhappy, like giving up sugar, significantly reducing carbs, or something else extreme. I've always believed in the importance of balance in all areas of life, especially in diet, but it seemed no one out there shared my views. Just before I started this, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to lose weight and to just accept the fact that my weight at the time was it; it was either be content as is or be miserable trying to lose weight and then potentially gain it all back. On top of that, joining a gym seemed prohibitively expensive with my income, so I tried as much as I could to do things without a gym.

My best attempt to at least be more active was in 2011 when I got into the habit of going for walks and even a little bit of jogging every day in the spring and summer. I would walk up to the high school campus and walk around the high school and middle school, then do a few laps around one of the two tracks there, both walking and jogging. I was getting about an hour in every day and really enjoyed it. Can't say I lost any weight, but I had no real way to measure it and was just going to go by how my clothes felt. Well, reality had some other plans. First, I got a pretty bad ankle sprain during a dance rehearsal for This is Kirtland! that kept me from walking for several weeks, on top of the show opening, which cut into my time. I had just started getting back into the habit and was even able to jog again when I had to get my gallbladder taken out in late August. Worse was it was done with traditional surgery instead of laparoscopically, so that put me out of commission for a few more weeks (I was literally stapled together) and I simply fell out of habit.

One thing my gallbladder removal and recovery helped me to understand was that even though I may not have been totally thrilled with my weight, I was healthy in terms of how well the rest of my body was functioning and I remember the doctors being quite pleased about how quickly my incisions healed and my prognosis for full recovery and adjustment without the gallbladder. They were quite surprised that I don't drink, smoke, or do any drugs, so that helped even more. Why was I healthy? Mostly from eating a fairly balanced diet (following the Word of Wisdom, also known as a "Mormon Health Code"). I certainly wasn't starving myself (and I told my trainer right at the beginning I'd rather be fat than starving) and I wasn't living on one food group more than the other; I just wasn't paying any kind of detailed attention to it. Even when I really started tracking my macros I noticed it wasn't a case of me not having a balanced diet, it was mostly a matter of how much and getting some more physical activity.

Some basic helps that have made a difference for me:

  • Make sure you have a reliable scale to weigh yourself. I prefer digital since they give you a more precise measurement that's very clear to see. Sometimes the changes you make will only be in tenths, so it's important to be able to see that.
  • Remember that the weight is only part of the success. Pay attention to how your clothes feel too. If they're feeling looser, you're probably on the right track even if the scale isn't showing much change.
  • I weigh myself when I get up in the morning after using the bathroom. I try to be as consistent as possible, though when I get up depends largely on where or if I'm subbing. The more consistent you are, the more accurate your readings will be. 
  • Remember, even if you're following everything perfectly, weight loss is not linear. You can see in my own chart that while the general direction is going down, it's a series of up and down up and down. 
  • I weigh myself every day. Often I will check during the day for my own interest, but the log I have on MFP and that I send to my trainer are from that morning weight. That's my "official" weight for the day.
  • I work out at least five days a week, though six is my ideal. I'm a firm believer in the importance of a rest day for a variety of reasons. My rest day is Sunday (those of you who know me will, I'm sure, be absolutely shocked...haha). I prefer to go to the gym in the evening around 8:30 so that it isn't as crowded.
  • Get to know what a "serving" looks like. I've come to see how some serving sizes are ridiculously small and are clearly for marketing so the manufacturer can put low numbers on the box. Sometimes, though, you'll find that a serving is more than you thought. For instance, a typical scoop of ice cream is actually only a half serving! Yes!
  • Along with serving sizes, make sure you have a kitchen scale to measure your food. That has been a big help in not only making sure I'm staying on track, but getting familiar with those serving sizes!
  • I've been surprised how easy the whole process has gotten. You really do start memorizing certain numbers or what kinds of foods will fit a certain situation, even even measuring food out is routine now for any meal I make on my own. If you can't measure it, make your best guess and overestimate a bit if you're not sure.
  • Going out to eat? Use a search engine to help. Many people have made websites that go through different fast food and sit-down restaurants and have examples of foods that are better for people watching calories, fat, carbs, etc. or options you can add or remove from certain dishes to help you meet your goals. MFP can help with that too. No excuse to damage or destroy your social life because you're on a "diet".
  • Remember being "healthy" is more than just your weight, it's also your mental state. If you're doing a diet but are feeling miserable doing it, are you really all that healthy, even if you might be losing weight? Part of feeling well mentally is being able to have those "comfort foods", those foods you like to eat that make you happy. It's not about restriction, it's all about moderation and being reasonable.
  • I use diet pop/soda as a "filler", meaning I use it when I'm feeling hungry and water just won't cut it but I'm not really able to add anything else because of my budget. That translates to having a diet pop once a day or less.
  • Set realistic goals. What I've done with my trainer is set "major" and "minor" goals. For instance, my first "major" goal was to get below 200 lbs. I started at 230, so that seemed a ways off, so we decided a "minor" goal, based on how well I was progressing at the time, was to hit 215 by New Year's, which I did. Another "minor" goal was to be at 195 before my birthday so I could actually match the weight listed on my driver's license when I had to get it renewed! My next "major" goal is 175, which I'm very close to! Having those incremental goals has helped me notice that I am making progress and gives me a continual sense of accomplishment. It's kind of like taking time to sight-see on a large trip. It helps break the trip up and gives you something to look forward to!

In regards to a trainer and gym:

  • First, yes, if at all possible, GET A TRAINER and JOIN A GYM. You do not need to join an expensive gym either. There are many options available in local gym memberships or chain gyms like Gold's, LA Fitness, etc. Within the various gyms available, they usually have different levels of memberships. For instance, I joined the regional chain Fitworks. They have a basic membership for $15/month which gives me access to the gym whenever they're open. Their higher membership fee includes additional amenities like childcare and bringing guests. Fitworks, like many gyms, also has their own personal trainers and group classes available. Like any PT, though, find out their qualifications! As I said before, trainers provide important guidance, but also motivation, accountability, and moral support.
  • Be wary of any trainer or "fitness" person who works for a supplement company. I personally believe a trainer who is a supplement representative has a conflict of interest, no matter how hard they may try to avoid it. I don't think they're bad people or are even intentionally looking out for their sales more than their clients, but since they work for a company, they're more likely to have motivation for you to buy their products (ESPECIALLY if they work for a Multi-Level Marketing, or MLM, company) or join their "team". The vast majority of supplements aren't all that necessary from what I've found. It's not that they're bad for you, they're just not really helping you but are costing money. The only supplement my trainer recommends is whey protein and that's to help me meet my protein goals. He has never recommended a specific brand of protein, only letting me know what nutrient levels to look for. I could also meet my protein goals just from food intake, but that is often more expensive.
  • Along with that, remember all personal trainers are not created equally. Make sure any trainer you hire has qualifications. At the very least, he or she should have some training, education, and experience in nutrition and physiology, particularly at the college level. Many personal trainers can be "certified" with very little training, so the "training" they recommend for you may be more along the lines of whatever the popular fad is or just a cookie-cutter "plan" they give everyone.
  • Many companies have started giving their reps a more classy title like "coach" or "wellness representative" even though their reps likely have little to no serious training in nutrition or physiology. Again, be aware of that and ask for qualifications, just like you would for any professional. What makes them qualified to give you advice on how to work out and what to eat?
  • It goes without saying to find a PT who is a good person too. Seriously, they need to be on your side and have your best interest in mind. They also need to be someone you feel comfortable asking questions to and discussing any issues or concerns. And they should always be able to explain WHY they want you to do anything they ask you to do. A huge part of my success is from the fact that my trainer and I have a good relationship. I know he's not some shill for a supplement company and my success is his success. And hey, we have tons of other things in common too, like sports and general humor. 
Me with my trainer Josh down in Tampa this past April. And no, he is NOT a Texas Longhorns fan! We had been chatting, mostly about sports (baseball in particular), on and off for almost two years before I learned he had a background in personal training. Most of the time, we correspond by text and I report my results via spreadsheet. For workouts, he sent me several videos to make sure I knew what I was doing. When I was in Florida this past April, we were finally able to meet in person and have two workouts, so I got even more pointers. I also constantly ask him questions about my workouts and the diet to make sure I'm staying on the right track. As you can see, the results are there! See his page at Beyond Fitness.

This probably seems like a lot, but it's really not that complicated; it just takes some attention to detail and consistency. The biggest reasons I like flexible dieting are because it fits my personal philosophy of balance and moderation in all things and still lets me enjoy the foods I always have. You shouldn't feel guilty for having something like ice cream or candy nor should you have to give them up (outside of a legitimate and medically diagnosed allergy or other issue). It's one thing to have too much, but no, eating a candy bar or having a Big Mac every so often isn't going to make you fat; heck, in itself none of those things will even result in weight gain for that day unless they're part of an overabundance of calories and other macros. There is nothing wrong with finding comfort in food and having something to look forward to; in fact, that's part of being healthy. Again, the real key is how much.

May 26, 2015, exactly six months later
I also like it because it doesn't involve spending a ton of money. Yes, joining a gym and hiring a trainer isn't free. Are they completely necessary for success? No, but they'll make your success far more probable. But you're not committing to buying regular supplements or investing in a "business". In terms of food consumption, I've actually saved money doing this because I'm eating less. But don't forget, the key to success is making it part of your every day life, not just some "diet" that you do for a few weeks or months and then give up and have to do again in a year or two.