Achievement Unlocked: Goal Weight

This will be my last post on health and weight for a while. My next will likely be in a year when I can write about the first year of maintenance.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 190

So, I have lost 50 pounds in around 6 months. I actually hit my goal weight a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to give it some time and make sure I was settled into it; that it wasn’t going to pop back up again.

I’d like to share why I started this, how I went about it, and what I have learned.

Why I wanted to lose weight

Since I was young, my primary goal in life has been to be a good husband and father. That means that I am continually looking for ways I can become a better person: nicer, better educated, better at handling conflict, more generous, more kind, more supportive, etc. And I also wanted to be physically healthier. I want to have energy to do things, I want to have strength to pick up our kids, and I don’t want to be a burden when I am older.

I don’t think you can do everything at once. Losing weight can be stressful, and it’s certainly another thing to think about and plan for. When you’re overworked and busy, that’s hard to do. So I put it off as long as I could.

But these days, I’m not in school and my job is great. And now we’re going to have kids! So the time had come.

I was also really struggling with mental energy and long-haul travel. My doctor recommended keto, a low-carb and high-fat/protein diet, to address these problems. I didn’t like being completely drained by 4 p.m. on weekdays, and I needed to make a change to fix that.

How I lost weight

You can’t outrun your diet. I had one year where I rowed multiple times a week and burned lots of calories, but I didn’t keep track of what I was eating. After a year, I had rowed a lot of kilometers, but I hadn’t lost a pound.

I lost weight over the last 6 months through Calories In, Calories Out (CICO). I used MyFitnessPal to track my meals and I followed its calorie recommendation to lose 2 pounds per week. One pound of fat is 3,500 calories, so this meant a weekly deficit of 7,000 calories, or 1,000 per day. Since I was eating around 1,500, that suggests that maintenance for me is probably 2,500… we’ll see.

April was a tremendous help through all of this. I don’t know that I would have been successful without her. She did a lot of the cooking and food prep, and she helped weigh and portion things so I could log them. She made the salad I had for lunch every day. Her support made this possible.

What I ate

I ate a keto diet, which means that 65% of my calories came from fat, 30% from protein, and 5% from carbs. I maintained this for probably 4 out of the 6 months. I don’t think keto is what lost me all the weight, but it did help me maintain the CICO approach. Keto evened out my blood sugar so I didn’t have any spikes or crashes, and it reduced my cravings tremendously. I think cutting out sugar was really the biggest thing for helping me stick to the diet.

Breakfast most every day was keto coffee, which is 1 tbsp. (14 grams) of coconut oil, 1 tbsp. (12-14 grams) of heavy whipping cream, and coffee. This is 185 calories and gets me to lunch at around 11:30 a.m.

Lunch was Mark Sisson’s big-ass salad almost every day while doing keto. My favourite dressing (out of the 3 I tried) was Green Goddess. If I wasn’t having salad, it was typically a basic meat + veggies thing, such as a pound of ground beef in a skillet with a bell pepper and mushrooms sauteed in, and I would eat half of that.

Dinner was typically similar to lunch. We would have meat and veggies, and try to have something different than what we had at lunch. So if we had beef at lunch, then it would be chicken at dinner. Occasionally pork, but not often. If I had a big salad at lunch, I often didn’t bother with veggies much at dinner.

Our main cooking oils were coconut, olive, and avocado. If you have never had avocado oil, I absolutely love it. Put two tablespoons in with ground beef right before sauteeing your vegetables and it really kicks the meal up a notch. Make sure to add salt and pepper too.

I have a powerful sweet tooth, so when I craved something sweet, I ate dark chocolate. I didn’t really like dark chocolate originally, but it turns out that different dark chocolate tastes different. It’s not all horribly bitter! My favourite, after trying many different dark chocolate bars over the last few months, is Alter Eco. I also made chocolate mousse and roasted pecans regularly to have as other snacks/desserts. For ice cream, I had this mint chip coconut ice cream and it was great.

What I learned along the way

There were some surprising things I discovered while losing weight.

Gear doesn’t make you lose weight

I wore a step-tracker on my wrist for 4 years before I really changed my diet. There have been a number of studies indicating that Fitbits and whatnot don’t typically lead to weight loss, and there have even been lawsuits about it. I’m not writing this to be critical of anyone who wears something like that, but it’s important for us to admit to ourselves that tracking steps, and even walking 10,000 steps a day, won’t lose us weight on its own.

You burn a different amount of calories for physical activity depending on your current fitness level. These days, I find it harder to get my heartrate to the aerobic zone (of beats per minute), and I’m not burning as many calories as I was. But when I was starting out, walking 10,000 steps might burn 5-800 calories in a day. That’s great! But if I was eating 2,500-3,000 calories in a normal day, and occasionally more, then my weight was plateaued or going up.

I had to change my diet. And I had to keep track of it. MyFitnessPal helped tremendously, and I got two other pieces of gear along the way that have helped. But it’s important to note that these tools help us lose weight. We have to make the conscious and regular decision to change what we eat and what we do if we’re going to lose weight.

A few months ago, I got a Vivoactive 3 and an Index scale. I like the Vivoactive because it has a heart rate monitor and GPS, so it helps me know more accurately the number of calories I am burning in a day. But what had an even greater impact on my weight loss was the electronic scale. I forced myself to step onto it every single morning, no matter what I had eaten the day before or how I felt, so that it would wireless sync my weight to Garmin and MyFitnesspal. Having that daily chart helped me in two different ways:

  1. It kept me accountable. Weighing myself daily, and having it actually be accurate (which my old scale wasn’t) and visible (through the apps, where it showed up alongside my calorie counts) made a huge difference for me.
  2. It gave me hope and clarity. I could see a clear connection between my choices and my weight. And because I was logging my calories, I knew what was happening. When I had a personal pan pizza (850 calories), and my weight shot up by 4 pounds, I knew that I hadn’t actually gained 4 pounds (14,000 calories). No, I was retaining water. And if I went back to keto, and drank a lot of water, then in around 4 days I would drop that water weight. Seeing this in action really helped calm me down. Weight loss takes time, and knowing how it works helped keep me patient. That helped keep me from giving up.

So, gear can help, but it can’t do the work for you of choosing and making the right things to eat, tracking what you eat, or exercising.

Temperature affects me differently now

I’m not as hot and sweaty as I used to be.

And strangely, really cold water doesn’t hurt me as much as it did. Like, I’m generally colder than I was, but when I put my hands in really cold water, my joints don’t hurt as much. I think this is down to having less inflammation thanks to my diet.

Also, I have less acne. I think this has more to do with cutting sugar and unhealthy oils than it does with weight loss, but they kind of go hand-in-hand.

Eating when I’m happy is good, and eating when I’m sad is not

I am a stress eater, and I have my comfort foods. If I am down in the dumps, the orange chicken from Thai Express is my happy meal.

But through tracking what I eat and how I feel, I know that generally speaking food doesn’t actually make me feel better. When I’m depressed and want to eat an entire quart of ice cream, and I go ahead and do it, I don’t feel better afterwards. Eating half a pizza doesn’t make me feel good. A burger, fries, and milkshake doesn’t fix my problems.

When I’m feeling happy, and I have some good food, it’s great. I’m loving it. And that’s important to remember. It’s the same advice that Chesterton gives in regards to alcohol (I think in Orthodoxy). Do not use alcohol as medication, because using it to try and feel like we should always feel means that we will always drink, which is unhealthy. Only drink when you’re happy, because this will be more rare but will make the happiness even greater.

I was upset last night and really wanted to go to Andy’s for some frozen custard. Instead, I hung out with some people online and ate dark chocolate, which while it’s not exactly the best thing, was literally 10% the calories of what I would have had at Andy’s. And I don’t regret it and didn’t feel bad as a result.

Monitoring your nutrients is important

Tracking nutrients is especially important when starting keto. I was getting way less sodium as a result of my diet, which is a problem. Using MyFitnessPal really helped me see where I needed to be eating more. That’s one of the things a lot of people don’t think about with tracking your meals.

Everyone fixates on how “hard” it is, when it really isn’t hard and only takes a few minutes a day. When you track your calories, it’s not just restrictive and telling you what you can’t eat. It’s also telling you when you need to eat more. If I’m super active one day, then MFP helps me see that I need to eat more. And if I check my nutrients and see that I’m low on sodium or iron, then I should do something about that.

This was also helpful because I was feeling pretty bad for a while. I kept getting this really heavy and uncomfortable feeling in my gut, and it took me a while to figure out what was causing it. Turns out, I don’t tolerate whole avocado well. I thought at first that the problem was having 19-20+ grams of fiber in a day, but I think it’s actually just pure avocado. So that’s good to know.

Where I’m going from here

I actually want to lose around 5 more pounds to get down to 185. That way, when I switch to maintenance and start eating pizza and rice and Chinese food regularly again, and I’m carrying around an extra 4 pounds of water all the time, I’ll still be around my goal weight.

My reward for myself when I hit 185 is an ice cream maker. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m going to make keto and/or low-sugar ice cream that’s cheaper and relatively healthy, and try to completely break my craving for Andy’s.

I have tried making Chinese food at home and been unsatisfied, but we are going to buy some new cooking stuff to open up new possibilities for home cooking. We need some new and different skillets and baking sheets.

And I have already bought new clothes. Not all that I need, but enough to get by for now. I’m down around 6″ in the waist for jeans, and I’m wearing medium shirts instead of XL now.

So that’s it. Let me know if you have any questions. Otherwise, I’ll probably write next about health and weight in a year.

Onederland

It took another 11 days, which indicates that my weight loss is slowing significantly, but here we are.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 199.8

I was at 190 pounds at the end of my freshman year of college. Just 9 more to go to reach my goal.

Given that I have been maintaining a caloric deficit for the last week, I suspect I’ve still got some water weight hanging around. Let’s see if I can stick to keto for another few days to drop that off.

Heading to San Francisco for a couple of days

I’m still continually surprised by the life I lead. It’s so awesome, and I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve this beautiful house, or April, or our friends, or my awesome job, etc. etc.

God is good. April and I sat in the front room yesterday morning and just looked out the window at the birds for a while, enjoying the peace and each other’s company, and I want to hold onto that memory forever.

I’m heading to SF to spend a day with our CEO, the head of products (my boss), and the head of product marketing to talk about Adaptavist Learn and plan our next steps.

In other news, I’m down to 200 even.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 200.6

For those keeping score, my weight loss has slowed down; that’s only 3 pounds in the last 2 weeks. Now that I’m normal weight, I keep eating non-keto stuff 1-2 times a week, which breaks keto and slows my weight loss. But I feel tons better already, and I still anticipate hitting my goal weight this spring. If I wasn’t going to SF today, I suspect I’d be at 199 by Wednesday. As it is, I’ll probably eat Chinese food and other stuff that will spike me back up and it’ll be another 1-2 weeks.

Oh, one last thing I want to write down so I remember it: last week I volunteered at Campbell Elementary for a STEAM night (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math). Kids came and there were 5 rooms with different activities, plus free food for them and their families. Campbell doesn’t have a PTA, so a few area churches have pitched in to fill the role that parents might at other schools.

I don’t know why I was surprised by this, but I was surprised by how nice the teachers were. I guess you have to be pretty nice to survive as an elementary school teacher, but for some reason, my mental image of a teacher is: exhausted, burned out, cynical, bitter. I wonder where that comes from? It certainly wasn’t evident at Campell. I didn’t really do much (signed people in at the front door), but I was happy to contribute and I hope I get another opportunity to volunteer there in the future.

Edit: Oh, also, for future-me, this is the week you got a Helix mattress and it’s going pretty OK. It’s comfy but still kind of smells weird. I think we made the right choice getting it.

30 pounds down

1 pound left until I’m no longer overweight.

20 pounds until my goal weight.

A week from today, my Garmin Vivoactive 3 ships. Maybe. It’s already over a week late, and I don’t really trust United’s Mileageplus to follow-through since they already missed the first date.

You might be wondering, if I’m losing weight without some sort of device to track steps and whatnot, why am I getting one now?

The answer is two-fold. First, because my miles were expiring and I wanted to use them before they all went poof. Second, because I want an easier way to keep track of my heart rate during activities compared to wearing a chest strap. And third, because I think the data it provides me will help me stay balanced going forward.

One of the interesting things I’ve discovered over the last 11 weeks on the keto diet is that I rarely struggle to stay under my calorie and macro goals. This high-fat diet leaves me pretty satiated, and I don’t have much trouble avoiding ice cream. (Avoiding rice is another matter, so I pretty much have to stay away from Thai and Chinese restaurants if I don’t want to blow my carb goal for a day.)

The challenge I have is eating enough of the right stuff, particularly when I’m active. Right now, I’m only having around 1,500 calories a day, and I feel fine. But if I burn 800, I absolutely need to eat more. And if I don’t do a good job of tracking how much energy I’m burning, then I may not eat enough. Typically, when people exercise and don’t track their calories, they end up eating more than they burned, but because I’m using MyFitnessPal to log everything I eat, I am firmly sticking to the calorie goal.

I’m also really curious to see how many calories I burn during regular activities. For instance, I’ve read that standing during work hours, like using a standing desk for your computer, can burn 400 calories in an 8 hour day. I certainly feel it in my legs, but do I need to eat more those days? Or did I just burn an extra 100-150 like I do during yoga? I can handle a 100 calorie deficit (a couple pieces of dark chocolate), but 400 is more than I have for breakfast, and 2/3 what I eat for lunch or dinner.

I look forward to blogging on March 16th to see if the trend of the last 11 weeks continued and I have hit my goal. March would be a good time for that.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 210

Post-Thanksgiving, Post-London, but Pre-Vacation

I have four more work days this year, including today, and then I’m on holiday until January. That’s pretty exciting.

Staying on my diet through Thanksgiving was pretty easy. I just ate turkey, ham, and green beans, and saw my siblings and some extended family at my mom’s house. It had been almost 10 years since I had seen my brothers. One of my nieces was there and I hadn’t seen her in 24 years.

Then, the Monday after Thanksgiving, I went to London. I was able to stay on keto through the first week without too much trouble. Salads with chicken, a McDonald’s salad with a couple of hamburger patties on top, roast chicken and squash and other veggies. Not too bad.

The second week was a loss, though. It’s hard to avoid rice when you’re having Thai food every other meal. I didn’t drink a single beer, but I did drink two bottles of wine one night. There was a pot pie for dinner one day, and pizza another, and I lacked for choices. So not ideal, but I tried to manage my portion size at least, and I think avoiding beer helped.

I was back on keto as soon as I got home last Friday, and the re-adjustment has been a bit tough. I’m hungrier than I was, so I made a fat bomb yesterday comprised of almond butter, cocoa, cream cheese, and heavy whipping cream. Then I made hot chocolate last night with almond milk, cocoa, some vanilla powder, cinnamon, a bit of xanthan gum, some swerve, and a bit of heavy whipping cream. I didn’t have much sugar while in London, but it was enough to have me craving sweets again.

All’s well that end’s well:

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 223

It’s neat to see these numbers, because I forget between blog posts what I weighed. I’m weighing myself every 1-3 days and logging it into MyFitnessPal so it’s pretty incremental, then I blog and see I’ve dropped 5 pounds since my last weigh-in.

This week, I’m finally adding in the exercise that I was supposed to do in week 2. I have a new battery for my heart rate monitor, so I got that working this morning, then rowed for 20 minutes and stayed in the target range for 7, per Mark Sisson’s book. He recommends 2 hours of exercise every week, so I figure if I do this 20 minute routine every morning, 6 days a week, that should set me right. We’ll see if I can keep that up, though. It was nice to listen to NPR while rowing this morning.

I have an 8 a.m. meeting, so I better get going. Heading into the office this week since I haven’t been there in almost 3 weeks.

Week 3 of keto

I forgot to blog at the end of week 2. Or rather, I remembered a day late, and then never got around to it.

As of this morning:

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 228

Week 2 of the 21 day reset was supposed to include exercise, but that never happened either. On day 11, I finally adjusted to keto and was no longer hungry or craving. Because the keto diet wasn’t too different from what I was already eating, I think this was quicker than most people experience. No more Andy’s frozen custard. No more beer. No more potatoes or rice. Other than that, I kept eating the meat and vegetables I was, but I added more fat by way of avocados, butter, cheese, and avocado oil.

Unfortunately, my adjustment to keto tempted me to try intermittent fasting, and I found this similarly easy. I started skipping breakfast every day and eating all of my meals between noon and 8 p.m. And it’s great that I’m able to do that now, but it actually slowed my metabolism and caused me to retain more water. It turns out that intermittent fasting is supposed to be once every couple of weeks, not every single day.

So I cut that out, and started losing weight again. I got down to 229 on day 12, then at day 17 I was back up to 232, and as of this morning (day 21), I’m down to 228. So that’s cool.

The other focuses for week 2 were stress management and sleep. Sleep is going pretty well… April was sleeping poorly and having neck pain from her pillow, so I gave her mine, which was one of the top-rated memory foam pillows when I got it. It’s really good for side sleeping, but just a bit too thick for me. It turns out that she used it the last time I was travelling and it helped her a lot, so it made sense for her to keep it. I bought a Casper pillow, which I was skeptical of but they had it at Target, so I decided to give it a try and return it if I hated it. As it turns out, no matter how I lay on that pillow, it is comfortable.

My stress levels have been pretty good these last two weeks. Things are finally calming down at work such that I’ve had time to actually think and plan and get caught up. And with the additional mental energy that keto is helping provide, I finish the day at 5 p.m. and can still function in the evenings, which is wonderful.

I can’t say much about what’s going on at work, but I’m making some plans for the coming year and I’m pretty excited about it. I don’t quite know how we’re going to get where we’re going… because that’s what I’m working on: the how. I’m currently reading The DevOps Handbook and trying to figure out how to apply it to training development, and I’m really looking forward to being in London in a week (and a few days). I’ll be having many conversations with different people about how we can work better together, which is pretty much my favourite subject after Marvel comic books.

London is going to be a real challenge for this diet. But I’m going to do my level best to stick with it.

Next week: Thanksgiving. How’d it go? Stop by to find out.

First week on keto

Last Friday, I started the keto diet. I had meant to blog every day and keep a record, but obviously that didn’t happen, and I’m not going to start now. But I did want something I could look back on someday, so here we are.

I get an annual physical from my doctor, and last year (October 2016) when talking about my weight, he suggested I substitute coconut oil and coffee for my regular breakfast of eggs, bacon, and coffee. Not that eggs and bacon are unhealthy, but he was recommending some intermittent fasting and increasing fat content. We had talked about how I hadn’t been able to keep my weight down, and how I was going to try Whole 30 in January, and what advice did he have? Not much at the time, though he did direct me to a few different diets that weren’t all that different from what I was doing.

April effectively eats a paleo diet, so when we eat together, I tend to do the same. But I also like to go out for Chinese food a lot, and I can have ice cream, and other things that are high in sugar. I don’t drink soda, but I don’t avoid cake or cookies either.

When I did Whole 30 earlier this year, I lost 20 pounds. Then, over the course of three months, I traveled for two of them and gained all 20 pounds back. Eating healthy while traveling just wasn’t feasible for me.

So when I had my physical last month, my doctor was much more explicit and referred to keto by name. I had heard of it before, but hadn’t seriously looked into it. My impression was that it was pretty extreme, but the benefits he described really appealed to me.

  • Its emphasis on burning fat rather than carbs tends to contribute to more mental energy, which I have really been feeling a need for. My job is very mentally intensive, and after about 7 hours, I’m just done. I can’t think anymore. But it’s only 4 p.m., and there’s still so much to do! So if keto would help me work my full day and still have some mental capacity in the evening, that’d be swell.
  • Because our body can store way more fat than it can glucose (carbs), this facilitates fasting. Once I adjust to the diet, he said, I could probably skip meals when traveling until I could find a more healthy option. This is particularly relevant in airports and when on flights when options are sometimes very slim.

It has been a week now (I started last Friday). I’m logging every meal to MyFitnessPal, eating no sugar (not even on Halloween!), and keeping my carbs low (between 17g and 40g every day this week). By way of comparison, a typical day for me in the past would be around 200g of carbs, +/- 55.

Fat, on the other hand… is actually only a bit higher than it was. And protein is probably going down a bit. Apparently, too much protein is problematic, though not as much as too many carbs.

mfp-daily-nutrition-goals

I’m reading The Keto Reset Diet as my guide and have found it somewhat helpful. Since I was already on a near-paleo/primal diet, the adjustment to keto has been super easy for me. No keto flu, and only a couple of days of cravings to push through. Being able to eat cheese and dark chocolate really helps with that.

This is the easiest diet I’ve ever tried; it just works for me. I have always struggled to hit the macros (carbs, fat, protein) that MFP set as my goal, but on keto, it’s coming naturally.

And in the first week, I’m down about 7 pounds. The vast majority of that was water; keto tends to eliminate foods that cause inflammation, and also cuts out all sugar, which decreases water retention a lot. But I’d wager that 1-2 pounds of it was fat, which is great.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 233

At 240, I was just over the line for “obese” with a BMI of 30.8 (obese is anything above 30). Overweight is 25-29.9, and 190 should put me around 24.4. Of course, BMI isn’t just about height and weight, but for now, these numbers suffice. Once I get to 190, I might decide to shoot for 175 or 180, but I’m not sure.

I weighed 160 when I graduated high school, which I think was too low. Based on the numbers it wasn’t, but when I look at pictures from back then, my cheeks look sunken and I don’t think I was as healthy as I could be. One of my main struggles with food is that I love having the opportunity to eat. When I was younger, I couldn’t always get a full meal when I wanted, and was often hungry. Now, I can eat whenever and whatever I want, and I rejoice in that freedom.

But I also feel strongly that it’s not healthy. I worry about diabetes as I get older. I worry about the additional weight on my joints. I worry about the impact my diet has on my mental faculties, and some of the recent research that links diet to degenerative diseases like alzheimers. So I need to make a change.

Hopefully this is one I can stick with. I started it last week so I can get through the 21-day reset before Thanksgiving. I’m going to do my best (and I think I’ll be successful!) to stick with it through Thanksgiving. Right after Thanksgiving, I fly to London for two weeks, which will be the real test. Can I avoid alcohol, avoid sugar, and stick with high-fat and high-protein while dealing with ~20 hours of travel each way and being in a foreign country? We’ll see.

For now, I feel pretty good, and I’m sticking with this one. Whole 30 felt like a slog and I was pretty happy when the 30-day commitment ended. I felt better at the end of it, but I never felt satisfied. On keto, I feel satisfied while also eating foods I like. (It helps that Aldi provides avocados and cheese and nuts at a lower price than other places.)

In week 2 of this reset, I add in exercise. Next week, I’ll write about the 21 day reset’s focus on stress management, sleep, and movement.