Sunday, January 10, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Tips and Tricks for Weight Loss

I haven't touched on the "miscellany" end of "Calvinist Theologizing and Miscellany" for a while, so let me do so right now.

This is the post in which I teach you what I've learned about losing weight.

I know what you're thinking: "Zach, you're chubby. Who are you to teach me how to drop some pounds?" It might sound kind of like the guy who said, "Quitting smoking is easy, I've done it hundreds of times," but the fact is that I have three times successfully dropped a significant amount of weight and kept it off for a good while. Observe:

(click graphs to enlarge)

As you can see, in 2002, I dropped 30 lbs in eleven weeks (an average of 2.6 lbs/week); in 2005, I dropped 40 lbs in 23 weeks (an average of 1.83 lbs/week); and in 2008, I dropped 17 lbs in eight weeks (an average of 2.13 lbs/week). Yes, I gained weight back each time (I'm not offering tips on how to keep it off), but I never gained it all back. All together, there was a difference of 51 pounds between my high in 2002 and my low in 2005.

How did I do it? The old fashioned way with a high tech new twist. In short, I counted calories and fat grams and exercised every single day. The high tech part is that I use a program for my Palm Pilot, called Calorie King Diet Diary (hereafter: CKDD). It contains a vast library of just about any food brand, item, restaurant, etc. you can imagine and does all the work for you, letting you know exactly how many calories you've consumed and how many remain for the day (it helps you pick the goal based on your weight, age, sex, etc.). It also will figure how much you've burned with a given exercise routine. If you don't have a Palm Pilot (and fewer and fewer people do), there's a Windows version of CKDD available, and I know there's an iPhone app that does the same thing, with the added feature that it knows what restaurant you just walked into and automatically pops up their menu's nutrition information.

However you keep track (a little notebook, a smart phone,or whatever), I have found that I have to do the math after (or preferably before) every little thing I eat. What follows are some additional tips for weight loss that I've discovered over the last eight years (I recognize that different things work for different people; these are just things that worked for me):.
  • Pick realistic goals. 1-2 pounds of fat per week is about as much as you want to lose. Any more is unhealthy (you'll lose more at the beginning, but most of that is water weight).
  • Set realistic limits. If you're a 6' tall 200+ pound man like I am, it's ridiculous to try and limit yourself to 1400 calories a day. Your body will go into starvation mode and start hoarding calories. My standard for weight loss is 1900 calories and 35 grams of fat per day.
  • Record an entire meal as you prepare it. While you mix together the ingredients, record the calories, fat, carbs, etc. of each (this is where a tool like CKDD saves you hours a week by doing the grunt work).
  • Tuna fish is your friend. So is fat free mayonnaise (Kraft makes a decent one, which tastes very good when cut with a little Smart Balance mayo.)
  • A big mug of coffee with a teaspoon of sugar easily takes the place of a mid-afternoon or mid-morning snack. Bonus: caffeine metabolizes faster on an empty stomach.
  • Forget low carb diets. Do you really think you can bacon your way to weight loss? Give me a break. In losing a combined 87 pounds, I've never once (that I know of) consumed less than 60% of my calories from carbs. If you burn it off, you burn it off. Duh.
  • Don't eat so much as one M&M without writing it down. Be a completely inflexible calorie nazi. Writing it down makes it real for you. If you don't write it down, you didn't eat it. You have to be clever enough that (even as clever as you are) you can't fool yourself.
  • Subway is your friend (swear off mayo, oil, and southwest sauce; stick to turkey, ham, roast beef, and chicken with American cheese or no cheese and mustard [any kind], sweet onion sauce, and/or vinegar).
  • Have a list of go-to foods--one list for breakfast, one for lunch, one for dinner, and one for snacks (Smart Pop Microwave popcorn and pretzels are two of my favorite snacks).
  • Grill a lot. Chicken, salmon, asparagus, portabellas, corn on the cob. When you grill (if you do it right), you don't need to add any oils at all.
  • No one really needs eight glasses of water a day, but drinking plenty of this free beverage helps the weight loss effort in several ways. I also pound the Diet Pepsi, Sugar Free Red Bull (although it's pricey), and light lemonade. Watch out for sugar free Rock Star and other "diet" energy drinks. Does it just have 10 calories per serving? Look closer: that's 10% of your recommended daily allotment of calories (or 200).
  • Fat free, calorie-free spray butter is your friend.
  • Weigh yourself a lot. When I'm losing weight, I weigh myself every morning and every night. Most weight-loss books tell you only to do it once a week or so because of natural fluctuations in your weight from day to day, but if you do it frequently, you'll learn to read through the fluctuations and anticipate them. Whenever I've gained weight that I'd previously lost, it started with me gaining a little and then becoming afraid of the scale (like a debt junky afraid to balance the checkbook or add up all the loans). Was it GI Joe or St. Francis De Salle who said, "Knowing is half the battle?"
  • Don't force yourself to do exercises you hate. Find something that you look forward to. For me, that's BIKING (in the summer), racquetball, a long walk with a nice cigar, or hitting the treadmill with a stupid Adam Sandler movie in front of me (in the winter).
  • Keep reminding yourself that the longer you keep up a good habit, the more automatic it becomes. At some point, you won't even have to think about how many calories are in this or that or stand there debating about whether to have just one doughnut. It will be robotic.
  • Despite what you read in all the articles on weight loss, I have found that if I let myself splurge, I will regret it. The conventional wisdom is that if you never eat a big wedge of chocolate cake, you'll eventually snap and go on a three-day cake bender. I'd rather have a little cake (small enough to fit into my daily allotment) than ruin two days of work in five minutes and then regret it and feel like crap.
  • If you're married, it really helps if your spouse is on board with you. If you're not married, some kind of weight loss partner is a good idea. I have lost weight without my wife being on the same program (Figures A and, of course, C [don't try to get a pregnant woman on a diet if you value your life]), but it's ten times easier if you approach it as a team. Contests have also worked for me. Friendly competition between my dad and I has proved a great motivator.

At the end of the day, it's all a question of self-discipline. Who's in charge, you or your craving? It's a matter of budgeting (just like financial budgeting). Erin and I are also (if God wills it) going to pay off our last debt (other than our mortgage) in May of this year. We finally got the traction we needed when we really owned the fact that we had to spend every penny on paper, on purpose before the month began. Then, once that paycheck is direct deposited, there's no decision to be made. The money's spent. The same thing is true of weight loss. You have to determine before you smell that Pizza Hut or are offered that cookie that you won't be eating that way. Not today. You've already got the budget written and it's a contract with yourself.

So, having once again re-gained some weight (I'm calling mine sympathy baby weight), my wife and I have started a weight-loss contest that runs through the end of May. There's a cash prize involved, but mostly I'm in it for the bragging rights. Since we're working together again, I am certain that we will both lose the weight we want to without much of a problem, but I want to actually keep it off this time.

So what has gone wrong in the past? Conventional wisdom would say that we hadn't really changed our eating habits, so when the diet was over, we went back to our old default way of thinking about food. That's not altogether true. We were never on some liquid shake or fad diet that was unsustainable. We were very happy with how we felt, what we were eating, and had every intention of staying with the program for life.

What went wrong is that life closed in each time. Look at Figure A (2002). The weight loss ended when I started an overwhelming semester of seminary and, in order to accommodate the hours, started working some nights. It was much easier to run out and grab some fast food than actually pack a dinner. Once in a while turned into every night I worked and, before long, I wasn't keeping track of anything (on paper or even estimating in my mind). I stopped caring. Figure B (2005) ends with my graduation from seminary, moving to a new city, starting a new career, etc. And Figure C (2008) ends with the birth of my son, Calvin. Things were too hectic to worry about what we were eating; we were lucky to have time to eat at all.

So, how will this one end? Will we keep the weight off longer than eight months (my record)? Do you have any tips for keeping weight off? Or additional tips for losing weight?
Hit the comment button!

1 reader comments:

Erin said...

Putting fat pictures up beside skinny pictures shows just how far I have fallen and it also shows me that I CAN be a healthy weight, I HAVE been a healthy weight, and I can do it again. Feeling bad about yourself can be a good thing in the right doses. :)