Saturday, July 24, 2010

How I've Lost Weight and Improved My Health and Well Being. My Obligatory Weight-Loss Story.

The Internet has so many web sites and forums dedicated to the subject of dieting you would think that we are all obligated to talk about our weight-loss experience at some point in our life. And from my observation, for as many web sites there are that discuss dieting, there are opinions and theories on how to achieve your weight-loss goals. Since I don't want to feel like I've been left out (Ha!), here is my story.

I did not necessarily have a serious weight problem, it was just one of those things that happened over the course of several years. Busy work days, business travel meals, rushed for time to eat right, and certainly no time to exercise. 10, 20, 30 pounds later I began to notice that my waistline was getting larger than what I would have liked. My doctor would chide me during my physical exams, and encourage me to lose a few pounds. "I will... yep, I will." was my reply. I would feel guilty for a few days and think about it for a while longer than that, and then I would eventually get busy with life and put those thoughts aside.

This past spring I had a little wake-up call. During a routine exam, my doctor detected a potential heart problem which led to an angiography to make an assessment of my cardiovascular system. Fortunately, I was able to leave the hospital without requiring surgery or any special procedures. However, the message was loud and clear; I needed to get into better physical condition.

I have never had much faith in weight-loss supplements, colon cleansing tonics, or celebrity diet strategies. My knowledge and understanding of weight-loss is based on common sense and great information from reliable sources like Johns Hopkins Medicine. I know that weight-loss is dependent upon reducing my daily caloric intake and increasing my activity through regular exercise. A few years ago my doctor suggested that I purchase a pedometer to monitor my exercise effort. She explained to me that I should strive to walk 10,000 steps each day. I thought, that would have to be pretty easy, after all, I walked a lot each day around the office and my home. So I put a pedometer on my belt and checked the results at the end of the first day. Hmmm. 2,300 steps. Well obviously the pedometer must not have been configured correctly! After reading the instructions and adjusting the device for the length of my stride I was ready for day two. Hmmm. 2,500 steps. I could see that hitting 10,000 steps each day was going to be a lot more difficult than what I originally thought.

A good pedometer can be very helpful when trying to meet walking, jogging and running distance objectives. It was desirable for me to have a device that easily maintained some kind of historical record so that I could see my progress over time. The best pedometer that I found with this feature is the Fitbit. You simply slip the small Fitbit device into your pocket or clip it on your belt, and whenever you pass within 15 feet of the Fitbit's base station that is connected to your computer it will automatically download your data. Then you can view a very detailed record of your daily steps on the Fitbit web site. I highly recommend it!

Using the Fitbit has made monitoring my progress almost fun, and it has certainly made me much more aware of my exercise effort. Bolstered with this daily record of my progress, I have worked hard to walk more and more each week. The result was a loss of about ten pounds over the course of a few months. I was making progress!

Monitoring my caloric intake was another matter altogether. I've been a pretty healthy eater for several years and I have always thought that I did a good job of watching what I was eating and how much I was eating each day. However, my wife taught me a valuable lesson. While she was dieting to get into better physical condition herself, she began a process of calculating the points value of the food she ate using a method similar to that used by Weight Watchers

The system uses a formula to determine how many points you are allowed to have each day. Then you watch what you eat to make certain that you are consuming foods with point values that sum to be no more than that level. It's nothing magic. No pills required. No crazy fads. Just eating healthy food in the right amounts.

This process requires that you keep a written record of each and every meal; each and every snack; absolutely everything that you consume each day. Having to maintain this written record of what I ate each day proved to be my weight-loss epiphany! I had only thought that I was watching what I ate before, but once I started having to write everything down I quickly began to see my faults and failures. Extra helpings at meals, high calorie sauces and desserts, and too many carbohydrates were quickly revealed when I reviewed my food selections at the end of each day.

The magic here for me was the physical act of recording what I ate. That process alone actually required more discipline than watching what I ate. Come to find out, eating healthy was rather easy and did not require any extra expense. I only had to choose my meals more carefully, being conscience and aware of the food that I was going to consume. No more "Are you gonna finish that?" at the dinner table! 

My wife was a big help at identifying tasty, but low-point options for my meals and snacks. Combined with the increase in my daily activity, I began to quickly see real progress in my weight loss. After just a few months, I had lost more than 20 pounds of additional weight. That was a total of over 30 pounds lost in less than six months! My wife's blog, Points In My Life, has a number of helpful ideas on using this system of counting points. Besides providing a number of great recipes and inspirational stories, her web site also includes an easy to use calculator to determine the points you are allowed each day, and another calculator to determine how many points a food item contains.

I'm confident that if you increase the amount of exercise you get each day by doing something as simple as walking a bit more, and if you eat meals that consist of healthy foods that are within your points target, you will be able to successfully lose weight. Be certain to monitor you actual daily activity, and start recording all of your food choices. That was the trick for me. If I was able to do this, you can do it too.


  1. Good stuff. I planned an AT hike for the end of August a few months back and started a plan to lose weight then.

    I tried an idea I heard about from a TED talk about being a weekday vegetarian. I love steak so I figured if I just did beef/chicken/etc once or twice a week that would help a lot. It did - I've lost about 30 lbs since starting at the end of May. That's enough weight to almost equal the weight of my gear+food+water for my hike.

    Pedometer is a good idea too. I have a Garmin Hiking GPS and it makes a huge difference when hiking to know the actual distance and be able to record/track your progress over time. When I'm not hiking I've been using an app for the iPhone called RunKeeper which does the same thing - just requires the phone to be within cell tower distance for GPS to work properly.