oliver at ssc dot wisc dot eduscoliver_at_.edu
1180 Observatory Dr. Madison, Wisconsin
How I lost weight
It is clear that nothing I do professionally or personally will ever
get as much praise as losing 80 pounds. I find this discouraging, actually.
Those of you who ask me how I did it know that you may get a curt reply.
The short answer is that I did it slowly by eating less, exercising more and counting calories
with a computer program. I don't like to talk about it much because: (1)
I object to our culture's focus on weight and appearance for women,
(2) I object to the implication that people who lose weight have more
character or moral worth than people who gain weight, (3) People who have battled obesity all their lives deserve sympathy and compassion, not some sort of smug "If I can do it, anyone can" preaching which ignores the reality of different people's genetic heritage and upbringing, and (4) I think dieting
is a fairly boring conversation topic.
I do think the way I went about this is the right way, at least for people
like me. And there is no question that if you are obese, it is healthier to lose weight, if you can. The longer answer, if you are really interested:
- I gave up dieting in the 1970s after a spell in college of the starve-binge
pattern which ended in a spell of compulsive eating. By accepting a
weight 20 pounds heavier than the slender weight I could maintain in
college only through starvation diets, I maintained a constant weight
without having to think about it. I started putting on weight at 40, and the weight gain accelerated
in recent years. I say this because it is easier to lose recently-gained weight.
- I refused to be in a funk about gaining weight, gave
away the clothes that did not fit and bought new ones that did fit. I refused and refuse to feel bad
about myself just because I gained weight. In recent years I changed my hairdo and started wearing more makeup. I think it is very important not to tie your self-esteem to your weight, and to try to resist other people's attempt to judge you by your appearance.
- I spent a couple of months thinking about whether to lose weight,
after friends lost weight, all those news reports came out about obesity
and I realized the upward trend was going to lead to a morbid old age.
I was very concerned about not "dieting" but rather changing
my habits. I don't do my own cooking and don't like groups. I like the
scientific approach of calorie counting. It seems logical and reasonable
to me. I researched calorie-counting programs on the web.
- The program I picked is NutriBase
EZ Edition. There were others that also looked good, but I did not
test them. This one works fine, is easy to use and does the job. It
includes a calorie data base for food and exercise. You just click on
what you eat or do, and it calculates the calories. It remembers your
previous choices, so the stuff you eat regularly is easy to record.
There is some overhead in searching around for new foods in the data
base. Of course, not everthing is in there. Some things I enter from
nutrition labels, some things I get estimates for from recipes on the
web (and keep track of on-line data bases for myself, some things I just pick an item that seems similar, some things
I just guess. I figure the guesses will be high sometimes and low sometimes,
and balance out.
- My rule is that I can eat anything I want, I just have to record it. Before I paid for a computer program and started eating less, I spend a month just recording everything I ate into a text file. Didn't bother to look up calories, just recorded it. This was a test to see if this would seem onerous. It did not. I ate whatever I felt like eating, just wrote it down. When I was ready to go, I calculated the calories for a lot of those days and discovered that I was usually eating 2500-3000 calories a day. This would explain why I was gaining weight. The only surprise is that I wasn't gaining faster.
- The program calculates a weight goal. I set myself up as "inactive" in the calorie calculations. If I exercise, the program adds the calories
into my daily allocation. I did this because how much I can exercise varies a lot from day to day and season to season. My initial calorie goal was about 2000 calories a day, which I felt would not make be feel too deprived or hungry. I was right. The program automatically adjusts, but at 1850 calories a day, I stopped letting it lower my allotment, as I was losing weight fast and did not want to eat any less.
- I set the program initially to try to lose
1/2 pound a week. I wanted to lose weight very slowly because I did not want to get into up and down yo-yo dieting. In fact, I lost
about 6 pounds a month for the first 7 or 8 months. (My later calculations showed that my base metabolism rate is higher than the program calculated.) My first goal was
to lose 25 pounds (to get under 200 pounds). When that was accomplished in four months, I set my second goal
to lose another 30 pounds. I calculated the estimated calories to maintain
that target weight and set myself the goal of eating at that level for
a year and see where I ended up. Two years later, I had pretty much stabilized at around 145, or 20 pounds less than my second goal, and have maintained that another year.
- When I was losing weight, I went over my daily goal at least 20-25% of the time, but this was compensated for by the times I was a little under, and I pretty much stuck to my goal. If I keep sticking to it, I calculate I'd probably lose another 8-10 pounds. Lately I've been over the goal often as much as half the time. But I still keep track of what I'm eating. It seems like a natural habit now.
- Some general things I learned or do:
- I eat at least 400-500 calories each for breakfast and lunch so I have enough energy for the day. This means cutting down at dinner (to 800-1000 calories) unless I've exercised a lot. (I never did have much of a habit of snacking after dinner.)
- I weigh and measure everything at home and estimate portions for restaurant meals. My spouse is the cook; I eat whatever he fixes, I just ask him to tell me what is in it, and I weigh and measure portions accordingly.
- I do search the Internet for calorie information for chain restaurants, and signed a petition for a law requiring all restaurants to make nutrition information available for all their entres. The places that give the nutritional information only for the low calorie options annoy me. I'd rather eat a half portion of something I like. When I do the trick of splitting a restaurant meal to bring half home, I weigh and measure the part I brought home.
- I did have to cut way back on big desserts. This was actually not hard for me, as I have a "salt tooth" not a sweet tooth. Mostly I take smaller portions. More often than before the whole family skips dessert at a restaurant, and now when we get dessert we usually share it. (Restaurant desserts often have 1000-2000 calories in them!) When my spouse goes on a baking binge, I eat some of the goodies, but I weigh, measure and write it down. I cut back on other food. I may go over my daily goal by 500 or even 1000 calories, but I still write it down. I say to myself: "Of course I am going to indulge myself some times. I am doing this for the rest of my life."
- When I was gaining weight, I felt full all the time. When I am losing weight, I go to bed a little hungry and wake up hungry, looking forward to breakfast. This is OK, as being hungry makes you sleepy. I have now learned to be conscious of the different ways my body feels when I'm eating too much or too little.
- Being a little hungry knowing that you can eat in a few hours is very different from being REALLY hungry. People of all religions practice this kind of fasting as a spiritual exercise and a way to remember to have compassion for those who do not know where their next meal is coming from.
- If I am so hungry I cannot sleep, I get up and fix a snack. If I am so hungry during the day that I cannot work, or that I start to get the "mad munchies" where I feel I could eat everything, I eat a few hundred calories extra, on purpose.
- I now exercise a lot more than I used to. I worked up to it gradually. The calories you burn per unit of time depends on your weight, so you burn more calories exercising when you weigh more. As I got into better shape, my workouts got harder and longer, when I have the time.
- I think about food a lot more now than I used to, but I think this is OK. I enjoy food now more than when I was overeating. I do not deprive myself at all, but I think about what I am going to eat. I do not just eat mindlessly. What I've eliminated is the stuff I don't really get that much pleasure from.
- The weight records in the computer program are really important. Even at six pounds a month, it was difficult to notice the weight loss even on a weekly basis, much less daily. My weight normally fluctuates in a three-pound range, so when I was still actually losing two or three pounds a month, it was hard to notice it. When I got discouraged, I would export the weight report from the program into a spreadsheet, plot my weight across a range of months, and insert the linear trend line. I thought my weight had stabilized, but I was actually still losing slowly. For this reason, the scales are not sufficient feedback for a slow weight loss program. I focused my attention on sticking to my food consumption goals, and let the weight take care of itself in the long run. But it was very helpful to generate the charts to show it was working.
- The computer program calculated my baseline calories to maintain my weight at 11 calories per pound. I coded myself as "inactive," and can have more calories when I exercise more. Subsequent calculations reveal that my actual baseline is about 13 calories per pound: that is a difference of 400 calories per day at 200 pounds and 300 calories per day at 150 pounds. Metabolism makes a huge difference! Add to that sheer size: even if they have the same metabolic rate, a woman who is five feet tall and trying to maintain 100 pounds can only eat half as much as a six foot man trying to maintain 200 pounds.
Questions or Comments? Email Oliver@ssc.wisc.edu