Thus Begins the Deflabination

This morning my scale tells me I have achieved 180 pounds, which is not a positive development for a relatively sedentary middle-aged man of modest physical stature. I have lots of fine excuses for this but in the end the real reason is I’m eating too much and not exercising enough, and if you eat too much and don’t exercise enough, then surprise, you put on weight. Aside from the unhealthy physical aspects of being out of shape, I’m also somewhat unhappy at looking like I’ve swallowed a bowling ball.

So: Today I start deflabinating, through a combination of keeping track of what I shove into my gob, and also doing some light exercise. I know this works because I’ve done it before, and had good results with it, including keeping much of the weight off until the last few months. The key, at least for me, is to be realistic about it and to make it a long-term plan: I won’t try to drop fifteen pounds in a month, but rather over three or four months; likewise, I won’t try running a half-marathon this week, but I probably will, you know, do some more walking than I have been doing recently. And so on.

(And yes, I know it’s now officially the holidays, with its attendant orgies of food. I intend to eat a ton of food Christmas week and not feel guilty about it, and the rest of the time keep track of the quantity and quality of food I’m ingesting. Again: long term plan.)

One thing I’m thinking of doing differently than the last time, when I focused primarily on weight loss, is also using this time of focused effort on my body as an opportunity to tone up a bit. This is specifically with the regard to my upper body, which is beginning to take on what I consider a rather depressing “scrawny yet with a belly” look to it. I don’t mind being a middle-aged dude (and there’s nothing I could do about it if I did, thanks very much, unidirectional vector of time), but I’d like to be a reasonably fit middle-aged dude who is okay with who he sees in the mirror. I’m unlikely to ‘roid out about this — I’m too lazy to get truly ripped, and anyway my current body issue neuroses don’t require such a drastic step — but I will be looking into useful and sustainable ways to incorporate that sort of exercise into my current plan for fitness.

I mention all this to you folks mostly because me saying it out loud is a useful way of making it concrete in my own head. Don’t worry, I won’t be subjecting you to shirtless pictures of myself six months from now or anything like that. I may let you know, in a more understated way, if I hit my weight and fitness goals, however. We’ll take it as it comes.

In the meantime, breakfast today? A big damn Granny Smith apple. This is not a bad way to start.

112 thoughts on “Thus Begins the Deflabination

  1. A quick note to get ahead of this before it shows up in the comment thread:

    My observations about weight and health relate to me specifically; I’m not making any general comment about weight and health. I do know that for me my current weight is not right, either as a matter of health or of personal happiness, which is why I’ve decided to work on it.

  2. Griffin Barber:

    Yeah, probably not going to happen. Indeed, if you catch me wearing a too-small polo to show off my new guns, please feel free to point and laugh.

  3. Turning the thermostat down a notch or two ain’t bad either. Homeotherms mostly burn calories maintaining body temperature. Of course getting off your butt to walk around a couple of times an hour helps keep the blood flowing, but it’s also on the recommended list for making it from “middle aged man” to “geezer.”

    Which, I might note, I’m enjoying. Hope you do when the time comes.

  4. Don’t know about you, but my teenager make me burn off more calories than I ever expected. With the taxing around and worrying! Oi vey!
    Good luck and good health!

  5. I seriously sometimes have to wonder if you’re actually me given how much we think alike on so many things. Highly disturbing I must say. Regardless: I am in that same boat and derive some comfort from knowing that my intellectual doppleganger is undertaking the same reality based approach to dealing with the middle aged drift of physique.

  6. Walking is the one form of exercise that I can reasonably maintain as part of my routine. It doesn’t involve special gear or facilities (which I cannot abide), and I’m lucky enough to live in a town with lots of walkable pathways. My trigger point is different from yours, John, but it’s the same basic situation: when I’m carrying more than 200 pounds on my six-foot frame, it’s excessive. Even for a crotchety middle-aged math prof. Good luck to you!

  7. I’ve managed to take off 25 pounds since August (25 to go), through diet, running and light exercise. One exercise I’ve found that helps is doing a short set of pushups, morning and evening. I started out at 5 each time, which has grown to 25. Helps the arm/shoulder muscle group and also helps the core muscles. Good enough for me, good enough for 007 (per Ian Fleming), maybe good enough for John Scalzi.

  8. “My observations about weight and health relate to me specifically; I’m not making any general comment about weight and health.”

    Well said.

  9. “Don’t worry, I won’t be subjecting you to shirtless pictures of myself six months from now”

    Whew! You had us worried for a while there. I wish you good luck on the poundage releasing.

  10. After a rise in blood sugar, I have managed to loose between 35-40 pounds in the last seven months. While I realize what worked for me may not work for you (for example, I know that you do not partake of alcoholic beverages), here is some of what I did:

    1. Cut down (and for the first 4 weeks, cut out) on alcoholic beverages (which, for a beer and whisky snob like myself, was hard;
    2. Limit salty snacks. I was not a big eater of sweets, but I used to go through an 8 oz bag of chips in two days. The chips I used to have at lunch have been replaced by low carb yogurt; and
    3. There is a 2.5 mile path in the park near where I live. I try to walk it or a similar distance every day.

    This worked well enough for me that my doctor cut out the metformin he prescribed after my six month follow-up.

  11. Apples are good but you might want to add a little protein at each meal, say Greek yogurt or a piece of cheese with your apple.

    Good luck.

  12. I mention all this to you folks mostly because me saying it out loud is a useful way of making it concrete in my own head.

    I’ve read similar advice about writing a first book: If you start by telling everyone you’re writing a book, it’s much harder to say, “Well, maybe some day…”

  13. This is what I do:

    I look on a map, or Google Earth or something, I find a small lake or something that looks interesting somehow, that is “nearby”, I pack my fishing equipment and a bottle of water, and then I walk there.

    I have sometimes been away all day, just walking. And walking is not just really good for your body (and it is. Better that running), but it is also very good for your mind.

    After a couple of hours of walking briskly, I am in such a GOOD MOOD, and so very creative.

    I never ever manage to catch any fish though.

  14. Aww, C’mon. A couple shirtless pics? For the Ladies? *eyebrow waggle* /creepy nerdgirl

    The way Elizabeth Bear (fangirl swoon) has covered her health goals has included pics, but, you know, non-douchey ones, that mostly just involve her looking really happy and healthy in a good pair of jeans. I approve of this practice, on many levels. =)

    When I think about my weight, I think about it less as the number of pounds I weigh and more about finding the shape I want. For me, though, the body I want involves more adding muscle and shifting the fat around. Like, when I gain, um..I’ll call it “weight I don’t want” I gain it all in my gut, and the rest of me expands a little bit but not in proportion. Being fat wouldn’t bother me, if I was proportionally fat. But this weird, swollen-gut-skinny-legs thing is really bad for my ego. Perhaps I will use any posts you make about this as motivation for myself, too.

    And thanks for adding the sensitivity disclaimer. There’s a big difference between “this is a fixable thing about my body that I’m not happy with” and “ERMAGERD I’M A DISGUSTING FATTY FAT FAT LIKE ALL THOSE OTHER LAZY FATTIES PEOPLE!!!” The distinction is important to those of us who are and/or love folks who could not be healthy and happy meeting some of the physical appearance standards expected of us..

  15. My wife lost a ton of weight just by walking. Sounds like a good plan.

    For upper body toning, you might consider swimming. Though I don’t know that’s going to be easy in rural Ohio in the winter.

  16. That’s what I did a couple years ago; start with committing to it, out loud. I didn’t have as many people to do that with as you did just now, so I just told my wife. Then I tracked my weight and kept her in the loop on my progress.

    So that’s half of it, commit and then reflect and share on your progress. Then all you have to do is pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work, and by reflecting and sharing the things that work you’ll naturally stick with them. I paid attention to what I ate and what I weighed.

  17. I’ve found Netflix sitcoms to be a nice cardio enforcer – 22-25 minutes an episode – go till its done. Avoids rationalization to stop early, and you don’t get trapped watching a clock/timer. For upper-body, the intervals in the 100 Pushups app are actually quite good, and only takes about 15 minutes a shot.

    Re. Homeotherms, that’s only productive to a point since your body will retain fat as insulation. Same reason swimming isn’t all that good of a way to lose fat.

  18. There is a phone app called MyFitnessPal that makes keeping track of calories remarkably simple if you’re inclined to do so. It’ll set calorie goals for you depending on your height and build and most foods can be barcode scanned or entered manually if you home cook a lot. I’ve dropped sixty pounds (as of today!) and my wife 75, although a good chunk of hers was baby weight. Check it out.

  19. Do you walk around your home property? I walk 2.5 miles 5 days a week in the subdivision around my home. That is very good for the cardiovascular system. But, it is all about the calories input to the system sadly.

    We have been thinking about moving out to the country but I am wondering where I would walk at night. I am very worried about getting run over by Farmer Fred. Or Bambi as we have millions of forest rats around here.

  20. Mind reader.

    Am I that easy to read, John? I could have sworn my tongue was firmly in cheek when I refrained from saying precisely why I was waiting for that moment.

    But, dwelling on it, I have a new vision:

    Mesh muscle tee. I hear they are all the rage, especially when combined with short shorts. Add to that heavenly mix: grow your remaining hair long, then starch it up like a member of Flock of Seagulls. Then, you’ll need to roller skate into the auditorium with a pair of flaming baton.

    Then, you will have arrived.

  21. I’d never make it to lunchtime on just an apple … I like to start with a big healthy breakfast & then eat reasonable stuff for lunch & dinner (not that I always do!). Jeff M’s protein advice sounds spot on.

  22. Well, I’m not exactly a fount of wisdom on the losing weight intentionally front, given that my doctors get very stroppy if I do so unintentionally, but I commend to you the virtues of stairs.

    To be precise, the virtues of walking up and down them more often than you usually do, which does good things for your cardiovascular system as well as improving your muscle tone; the fact that it burns some extra calories is the icing on your metaphorical cake.

    Three decades ago I discussed a property purchase with my lung consultant; I wanted his advice on whether I should buy a flat flat (sorry) convenient for a wheelchair in the future, or a split level apartment with three little flights of seven steps. His advice was that those three little flights of seven steps would defer the day when I needed the wheelchair permanently, and since he was a very fine doctor I took his advice. Neither of us expected that was going to work for three decades, but it has.

    Admittedly there have been lots of times when I’ve been been unable to walk at all, but there are lots of wheelchairs in hospitals so that’s not a problem. All in all, stairs have been good to me so they’ll probably be good to you, hence my reccomendation…

  23. If there’s a climbing gym near you, may I recommend indoor rock climbing? It’s cooperative (bring the whole family!), it’s fun, it involves problem-solving, and when you send a climb you’ve been working on for a while, you will feel more awesome than anyone has ever felt before in the world. Eventually you will also end up with nice upper body muscles and good flexibility.

    (And in case it’s a concern, fear of heights isn’t as much of a problem as you’d think. You’re really just seeing the wall right in front of your face, and after the first couple of times most people are fine.)

  24. Last year, at about this time, I bought an elliptical machine. I loved it. Got my cardio workout, built my endurance, and toned the whole body in 30 minutes or less. I’ve been dealing with too many other health issues to use it lately, but I can’t wait until I can get back on it. Now that I’m working exclusively from home, I miss the walking I used to do to and from the train to the office. I’ve also begun eating more oatmeal in the morning to bring my cholesterol level. Good luck in your efforts!

  25. Publicly stating your goals is a good way to start. I’m not looking to lose weight, but I have consistently made goals for myself in terms of exercise and toning up a bit, but they are always to myself or maybe my wife, who totally supports me when I inevitably fail at those goals. Finding some people to hold you accountable, even if only through here, is a good first step. Good luck!

  26. Laptop stand for the treadmill and video games have helped loads for me, as I get older I find I gotta do more….

  27. I just wanted to reinforce what a few other people have said. Throw in some protein with that breakfast. Plus, walking with a goal in mind really helps. I use a free program called gmap-pedometer.com that I can map my walks and figure out how far I’ve walked and the number of calories I’ve used. It has graphing capabilities to show how far total you’ve walked in a week, month etc or how many calories you’ve expended in the same time periods. For nerds like us it’s great to see that and is an incentive to increase the total.

  28. I know several writers and other creative type with lots of desk time. They have had great success with treadmill desks. Walking while working.

  29. Check out the New Rules of Lifting books by Lou Schuler. There are ways to adapt the barbell moves for home exercises. I love the series. I lost 100 lb using the books a few years ago.

  30. a great (and FREE!) website for helping with weight loss is sparkpeople.com. I used it the first half of this year, and dropped 30 pounds. you can track calories, excercise, set goals – just a ton of useful stuff. (it also has an app that ties in with the website so you can track on the go). The message boards are a great way to talk with other people who are also trying to loose weight/stay fit.

    And here’s another vote for netflix in combination with a stationary excercise machine (treadmill/stairmaster/etc). short workout = 1 short show, long workout = 1 doctor who episode :)

  31. Good luck, John. Also, I would like to 3rd or 4th the rec about eating a bit of protein in the AM and reducing carbs. I had a Dr appt, yesterday, after I commented on another thread here, and I’ve lost another 5 lbs. I don’t have a scale at home, so the only times I get a weight check are at the Dr office (or sometimes, at the gym, but I usually don’t bother, there.)

    I’m not restricting calories, but I don’t eat gluten and my animal protein comes only from eggs and seafood. I get moderate exercise, mostly walking, because I don’t drive, and I go to the gym a couple or three times a week for yoga and some light weight/resistance training to counteract having a sedentary desk job.

    If Athena joins another Dojo, would you join, too? Could you and she take riding lessons together? Since you are the stay at home parent, you have quite a bit flexibility, and things like gardening, raising chickens and/or bees, et cetera, could be fun family projects that also contribute to fitness and healthy eating, especially if your travel schedule is lighter in 2013.

  32. I do best when aiming to add strength to Do Stuff — it’s nice having the world be easy to move through. (The difference in my life when I can casually hold something up with one hand and mark places or use a screwdriver with the other is immense.) I like ‘burn carbohydrates, not hydrocarbons’, too.

    Podcasts and doing tiring housework or repair work as hard as I can are a three-fer; amusing, exercise, make my world a little better.

    Oh, a four-fer; while walking places, picking up plastic trash. Getting someplace, getting exercise, my tiny tiny bit against clogging the waterways, and hamstring stretches.

  33. I’m in the middle of trying to drop some weight and tone up right now as well. One of my old writing mentors had been suggesting yoga to me for years, but I didn’t take it seriously for several narrow-minded reasons. I decided to try it this time and it’s really amazing. There’s a whole range of ability in the class I’m taking, so I don’t feel bad about consistently being the worst one there, and it’s a legitimately difficult workout. I’m doing an athletic yoga called vinyasa that’s not at all focused on the spiritual aspects of the practice, so I can’t say any yoga class would be worth it, but mine has been superb.

  34. I wanted to second what Lise said; rock climbing is an excellent full body workout, it’s fun, and your whole family can do it. It does require a place to climb, and gear, though, which is less awesome, but indoor climbing, at least, only requires a harness and shoes which you can rent until you decide if you like it. It changed my life so much for the better. I took up bicycling at the same time I started climbing, which I also adore, but your mileage may vary.

    Good luck, and have fun. ^_^

  35. My exercise regimen was shattered when my neck, knee, and wrists were injured by the perp later convicted of criminal Assault & Battery. Until my Physical Therapy is completed, it makes me sad to see snow atop our local mountains and know that I cannot go skiing with my son this season. The wrist injury threatens my keyboard time, but by taking frequent breaks and doing the recommended hand/wrist/finger exercises, I am able to get by.
    As To John Scalzi saying that EVERY month is novel writing month, re: NaNoWriMo:
    ..1,962,000 words fiction written by end of Oct 2012
    – 1,868,250 words fiction written by end of Nov 2012
    —————————————————————–
    93,750 words fiction written in November 2012

    The earlier figures are just the count since 6 July 2010 when I doubled my daily quota to 2,000 words of fiction writing.

    So my November 2012 production was not quite double the NaNoWriMo goal of a 50,000 word novel to be written in a month.

    This does not count my nonfiction sold, most recently “Quantum Foam – Can We detect Planck-length Weirdness with a Table-top Experiment?”
    By: Jonathan Post
    Published: November 30, 2012
    {someone should write the science fiction based on this!}
    http://hplusmagazine.com/2012/11/30/quantum-foam-can-we-detect-planck-length-weirdness-with-a-table-top-experiment/

  36. Having started the “less of me to love” program back in March, let me recommend finding a gym and attending it regularly. Speaking as another forty-something dude with a desk job, diet and mild exercise wasn’t cutting it. Cardio (30 minutes 3 times a week) was required.

    (Your mileage my vary, void where prohibited, etc. etc.)

  37. I third (or fourth, or whatever number we are on by the time this posts) having an exercise machine in front of the TV. The standing rule is that anything TiVO’d must be watched while on the stationary bike. DH has dropped pounds, and while I don’t think I’ve lost much weight, I can still keep a pretty sharp pace for a half hour.

  38. Good luck John

    I had great success a few years ago, shedding almost 80 lbs… to 240 (you and I have dissimilar dimensions!) I seem to keep bouncing +/- 10 lbs or so. (At least I don’t ‘bounce’ the way I once did…)

    I have found that logging what I eat is critical. I am on the road 4-5 days every week, so eating healthily can be a real challenge. I use MyFitnessPal (on my iPad, Android, Laptop, and Desktop). I also track my exercise (being as honest as I can be) using Endomondo and a Zephyr Bluetooth HRM. I *try* to workout at least a little every morning (I need to earn my evening glass of wine!) and make sure that working out is a regular (and fun) part of my weekend routine (Spinning is awesome and burns as many calories as you would ever want!).

    With that combination*, I actually managed to lose some weight over Thanksgiving (a single pound! But! Over Thanksgiving! That’s gotta be equal to about 100 LBS any time else!)

    Tony

    * Actually the most important contributor – telling people! My wife, my kids, my co-workers… people next to me on the plane, the taxi driver,… I can get a little overbearing, but it keeps me honest and on track.

  39. Have you thought about upgrading your workstation with a treadmill/standing desk?

    I hear they’re not great for composition, but for e-mails, reading, etc., half-hour on about 1.5 mph and half-hour off intervals are said to do wonders.

  40. Sounds like a great decision! For easing into strength exercises, I highly recommend the Less Thinking, More Doing Starter Program, which you can view in full here: http://www.stumptuous.com/the-less-thinking-more-doing-starter-program

    It’s very quick and easy–just four exercises, not counting warm-up and a bit of high intensity cardio at the end–and very effective. I got a lot stronger and fitter within a month or two of incorporating the program into my weekly exercise. (And shortly after that I started including additional strength exercises in my routine, but I’m sure that even just sticking with the Less Thinking, More Doing program 2x or 3x a week would still offer more than enough health benefits to make doing it worthwhile.)

  41. I concur re needing protein in the AM and healthy fats as well. And measure your inches as well as you weight. After retiring from a very stressful job (Bank Manager) my Mom started walking for an hour 5 days a week. She didn’t loose much weight but dropped 3 sizes.

  42. My husband unexpectedly retired a few months ago (about a year earlier than planned) after contract renegotiations offered unacceptable conditions. We’ve since been going on long walks most days and he’s joined me in regular gym sessions. We’re both taking it slowly and gently, but it’s doing us both a lot of good in reshaping the internal basketball (now looks a bit more like a rugby ball) and building our stamina. It’s been spring here, so we’ve seen many ducklings, cygnets and goslings rapidly gaining weight while we’ve been gradually losing ours, which has been most enjoyable.

  43. A nit – “tone” is a bit of a nonsense when it comes to fitness. It really means how tense your muslce is when conciously relaxed. Medically relevant and correlated to some measures of fitness but not really what anyone cares about. For the majority of people what matters is muscle mass, body fat percentage and cardiovascular fitness. (Some athletes need to worry about fast vs slow fibres, sarcomeric vs sarcoplasmic hypertrophy – you don’t.) What people mean when they say tone is an increase in muscle mass, and a decrease in body fat.

    I recommend barbell training. A good book to get started is Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. Not perfect, but good. It’s by far the best way to engage significant amounts of muscle mass. Also there’s a significant benefit for us half evolved bipeds to strengthening our lower backs – lower back pain caused by weakness is the most common health complaint. And realistically, the best way to do that is properly executed dead lifts. The reason that barbell training is better than things like swimming/climbing for increasing strength is that it allows progressive loading, ie no massive incremental jumps in required strength (as in climbing /gymnastics to execute some moves), and no limits in resistance( ie the resistance provided by your body). The reason it’s better than machines is that the movements engage natural compound movement paths of the body, not constrained to the path of the machines grooves. Swimming is great (I swim ~10 miles a week so certainly not against it) but its best at cardio fitness and fat loss. Climbing I have nothing against, and it can get you strong but its not the most efficient route. Most professional climbers will do pull ups, finger pull-ups etc…

    Also, diet. Increase your protein intake. A lot. And sleep. A lot.

    I’m half expecting shocked intakes of breath …maybe this sounds like taking this too seriously and doesn’t match people’s idea of what is an acceptable level of perceived jockishness. Just saying what the most effective routes for your goals are.

  44. Two free online programs have worked for me (down fifty pounds; taken years, but they’ve stayed off). Lose It and the Hacker’s DIet. Used together. Lose It tracks calories. Hacker’s Diet calculates a trend line from daily weighings, a trend line that averages out noise. Adapted from similar programs for stock prices: finding the trend when daily fluctuations, sometimes extreme, are the rule.

  45. @ Rjw

    Some athletes need to worry about fast vs slow fibres, sarcomeric vs sarcoplasmic hypertrophy – you don’t.

    And a runner doesn’t need to learn proper form, but it sure and hell helps. Muscle type and residual tension effect both the efficacy of exercise routines, long-term sustainability and the overall health of the musculature and it’s effect on the skeleton over time. A little understanding can go a long way towards efficient use of exercise, and is not merely for athletes and “jocks” (nice little derogatory sneer that word is).

  46. @gulliver … Er…. Hm. Did you get the impression I thought knowing about these things was bad? Or that being or not being a jock was bad? Or what?

  47. @ Zora:

    Two free online programs have worked for me (down fifty pounds; taken years, but they’ve stayed off). Lose It and the Hacker’s DIet.

    Seconded–I went from 225 to 142 in eighteen months, and have stayed at 142 for six months, using these exact two tools (including the exercise regimen in the latter).

    And given all the articles one reads about calorie counters obsessively measuring their food intake, I think it’s worth noting that aside from extremely rich foods like ice cream and peanut butter, I just eyeballed everything, and it seemed to work fine. I don’t know if I’m good at it or if it’s just that errors tend to cancel out.

    The first week or so was quite difficult, but after that my body sort of shrugged and said, “OK, boss, let me know when it’s harvest time again.” Not that I wasn’t hungry at all, but it was ignorable.

  48. I love that you didn’t wait to do this until Jan.1, like a huge, walking cliche. I’m jealous that you can expect to lose 15 pounds in 3 months using fairly painless calorie-counting measures. It’s taken me six months of much more draconian methods to lose the same amount. Hmph.

  49. 180? Step away from the scale … I remember 180 … I had about 2% body fat, was running twenty miles a day (in four and five mile chunks, not all at once.) 6’4″, a long time ago. That would be a good target for me now, over a couple of years. Or 200 or even 220.

    There are those who say that pounds don’t count, or shouldn’t be measured for most things (and neither should the BMI be calculated); what should be measured is your waist and height. If your medical waist (measured at the navel with a tape measure and a relaxed tummy, not sucking it in, which is not your pants waistband) should be less than 46% of your height. If you’ve got lots of bulky heavy muscles, they are not at your waist.

    Good luck on your adventure, John.

  50. John, your post a couple of years ago, sharing your results of using Livestrong’s app, inspired me to learn to govern my weight by seeing (and then regulating) what I put in my mouth. In fact, after two or three days of reading over the LS site (I used the free online version), on December 6, 2010 I started tracking what I was eating. Just to see. It’s (almost!) two years later, and I am 30 lbs. lighter, and much healthier. I have better portion-control habits, and a much more realistic notion of how much I am actually eating.

    I am grateful that you shared your experience with us. It was a valuable inspiration to me, right when I needed (and could benefit from) it the most. Thank you.

  51. Congrats on this! I found a couple of years ago that I was spending too much time in front of the computer (my work involves graphics, illustration and CAD Modelling) so I got back in the habit of distance running and weight training two to three times a week. I find that difference in my appearance and health is substantial, and I now actively look forward to my time at the gym.

    I’m sure you’ll find a good working model. There are a lot of effective strategies for exercise that can pay real dividends and still be engaging.

  52. One method that is apparently getting a bit more attention these days is intermittent “fasting” (or even alternate day fasting), as discussed by Michael Mosley here in an article connected to a BBC Horizon (science) programme he made about it.

    Basically you have some days in the week where you eat nothing or very little (600 calories for a man, 500 for a woman). I am trying the 5:2 method, where I eat normally most days but on two (separated) days eat very little. I have only been doing it since I saw an article in the Sunday Times (UK) Magazine dated 3rd November, and it seems to have shifted some pounds already just in that one month. My not-very-scientific meal selection for my fast days is something like a banana for breakfast, and half a tin of baked beans and an egg on toast in the evening. No big meal and no chocolate, cookies, alcohol etc., though I do have milk in my various teas and coffees as normal.

    It is said to have various benefits, losing weight being just one incidental one. Its advantage for undisciplined people like me is that it is not very onerous. Keeping to a diet/maintaining portion control/cutting down a little bit everywhere every single day for months on end is a commitment and a drag, and especially if you cook yourself and are tempted to peel just one more potato. But having five days a week where you basically eat as normal, intertwined with just a couple of days off where you eat little or nothing is, for me anyway, simple and easy to keep to. My days off are Monday and Thursday, so you find that you’re going 36 hours eating not too much (say, Wednesday evening to Friday morning) and feeling trimmer for it.

    Maybe not suitable if you are a high-energy athlete and so on.

  53. In the article linked to above Mosley says : “I stuck to this diet for 5 weeks, during which time I lost nearly a stone”; a stone is 14 pounds.

  54. @RJW: You aren’t going to see me giving you a shocked look. Barbell training is a cornerstone of my exercise regime. There’s really nothing like it for building up lots of usable strength. However, if you go with Rippetoe’s dietary suggestions, you’ll put on a decent amount fat with your muscle. Although, maintaining extra muscle mass requires more calories per day to do nothing, so losing down the road is not as hard. Plus, it’s also fun to be able to lift stupid amounts of weight. I highly suggest it for geeks of all stripes.

    With one caveat: get a good coach for the first few weeks. Rippetoe’s book is good, but that “properly” in the phrase “properly executed deadlift” is pretty critical. I pulled my lower back due to misunderstanding the DL chapter, a bad coach* and not being able to look at my form from the outside.

    @John: Good luck! I’m about to start calorie counting (after the holidays). I’m 6’0″ and 175#, which is 25# over the lowest I’ve ever seen my weight. Some of that is muscle (from barbells), some fat, and some of the minimum is fat. I’m hoping to trim off the fat without losing much of the muscle. My wife has had good luck with MyFitnessPal. She’s lost 30# in the last year, so I’m going to give it a shot.

    * Crossfit coach. Crossfit can be very hit-and-miss. I don’t suggest it.

  55. Good on you! My zenith (nadir?) was about 185 (at 6’1″) a few months ago, I just hit my monthly target of under 165 this morning. Like the poster above me mentioned, I’ve found that intermittent fasting is really helpful in breaking through a plateau. My go-to breakfast of two scoops of chocolate protein powder, about 200mL of black coffee, and some water also helps, and has the advantage of being pretty quick and easy to make.

  56. @htom . You weren’t 2% body fat. You would have been dead. Its likely you were 5 or 7 which is very very lean, and most measurement methods (eg calipers) completely break down.

  57. @some jeff . Yes. I have to say I absolutely love lifting a lot. Totally agree with the rest of your post : crossfit == generally idiots , Rippetoe == his aesthetic sense is challenged, he is wrong when it comes to diet, good on form/cues.

    On diet a lot of people have had success with the stuff from leangains.com , a particular form of intermittent fasting, on an intraday cycle. I did it myself for a while, it seemed perfectly liveable, and it did work.

    Another great resource if you really do want to get into the details is bodyrecomposition.com from Lyle McDonald . It has a lot of reviews of papers about the effectiveness of various things.

  58. I was able to lose 50 lbs in about 5 months with the assistance of this site…http://caloriecount.about.com/ Also, you should make sure the light meals are sufficient to get you to the next meal or you will feel like overeating. I also kept my food log and calorie count on Google docs.

  59. Rjw — you’re probably correct. There’s a photo of me then in a swim suit that generated that guess from my doctor. I’d always thought of it as “under 10%” until then. I wore 30″ waist, 32″ inseam jeans then.

  60. I’m frankly jealous of those people who claim exercise makes them feel good. It’s a huge bear to get me to do anything, and after an hour of admittedly very low-impact exercise (intended for seniors; I’m 42) I feel like utter crap and have to sleep another couple hours. This has been the pattern for the last three years that I’ve been going to the gym two to three times a week, so I don’t think the ‘feel good’ stuff is ever going to kick in.

  61. My secret is a new antidepressant that kills my appetite. But you probably don’t want to be depressed, so that solution won’t work for you. Sorry.

  62. been there and fought that battle John. Doc told me a couple/three years ago I had type 2 diabetes. Gave me a choice: a) eat better and get some exercise, or b) take drugs, eat better and get some exercise. I chose “a” because in the long run it was better. and to be honest.. I never felt more better. I’ve been backsliding a bit (off and on) and it is hard to stay on the right path… but when I do wrest myself to that path… Judas’ goat I feel like i’m in my 20’s again… and i’m a little ahead of you on that time/space curve. You can do it.

  63. Marc — it can, indeed, take a couple of years if you’re really out of shape. But it does come back. And you get cranky when you miss your daily workout.

  64. @ Rjw

    Did you get the impression I thought knowing about these things was bad?

    I got the impression that you thought they were superfluous to the average Jane or Joe leading a healthy lifestyle, which I disagree with. I wholeheartedly agree that the knowledge is not essential to good nutrition and exercise, and that nobody should consider them a barrier to healthier living, but I do believe that the concomitant benefits to the knowledge exceed the modest effort required to learn about them. Basically, somebody can learn the fundamentals and save themselves much inefficiency, which I know for a fact more than compensates for the initial investment in understanding.

    If my disagreement was perhaps phrased less politely than it might have been, I apologize.

    Or that being or not being a jock was bad?

    I think “jock” is a word used more derogatorily than not, and I’ve had it used to describe me, as well as friends of mine (men and women), to imply intellectual condescension. As such, I think it’s attained the status of slur, albeit a fairly mild one, meant to call into question one’s intelligence. So whether or not you personally meant it as such, its propagation is, IMO, also the propagation of a discourteous stereotype. And while I support your right to use whatever slurs you like, I reserve the right to call them what they are.

  65. @Catherine Shaffer – it’s harder for women
    John – all the best with this and well done not putting it off till January. It would have been so easy to.

  66. @gulliver : I actually was trying to preempt the jock bashing, ie “Oh, you are doing weights, that might actually work, you are soooooo vain or jockesque or whatever.” Tbh I don’t know exactly how it’s used in the us, being from the UK where it’s a rare term. There is a subset of geekdom that seems to think actually effective exercise is some kind of betrayal of something or other.

    “Jock” hasn’t got to the point where it’s mere presence in a sentence counts as an endorsement of its negative connotations and stereotyping, irrespective of the context of use, has it?

  67. @ Rjw

    There is a subset of geekdom that seems to think actually effective exercise is some kind of betrayal of something or other.

    Yeah, I encountered a fair amount of that growing up and being a geek with many athletic pastimes and hence many athletic friends who were perfectly intelligent and some of them with their own geeky interests but who were frequently just assumed to be “dumb jocks”. Honestly, it’s not even so much the stereotype or word itself as the assumption that people are such limited caricatures of human beings that they must be either geeks or jocks, and the way that idiotic divide is promulgated in Western society by our art and culture. I have a strong tendency to bristle at tribal tendencies as I see in them the “us or them” mentality that leads whole civilization to tear each other’s throats out.

    “Jock” hasn’t got to the point where it’s mere presence in a sentence counts as an endorsement of its negative connotations and stereotyping, irrespective of the context of use, has it?

    No. Truth to tell, I need to work on being less easily offended. I have some insecurities of my own, and worrying that my geek-cred is going to be impugned is often one of them. Sorry you got caught in the cross-fire between me and my subconscious just for giving sound advice :-/

  68. I highly recommend the fitbit. Inexpensive, just $100. It will track your daily steps, and just the tracking and recording encourages you to increase. I pair it with a treadmill and Trekdesk. No more sitting around with a laptop, the laptop is on the Trekdesk. And you are not limited by the sometimes lousy Ohio weather, as you may be if you walk only outside. Heart transplant 3 years ago, I’m dedicated.

    http://www.fitbit.com

  69. Oh, but we want pictures.
    I do find that writing an objective down or promising to do something for someone verbally is the surest way to make sure it will get done. Sadly, perhaps, I don’t make too many promises because I know I can’t break them.

  70. @Marc: I’m with you. Exercise never makes me feel good. I’m going to need to figure out a way to overcome, though. I turn 50 next year and if I don’t start doing something healthy for my heart I don’t imagine I’ll see 60. I blame my brain. Whenever I exercise I’m constantly thinking “I should be doing something productive.” A couple years ago I would put my bike on a stationary trainer and watch linear algebra lectures from Stanford on iTunes U. But then I hurt my knee hiking in Yosemite and got out of the habit. I need to get back in it before my check-up in January or else I don’t think I’ll be able to face my doctor.

  71. Push off with your toe with each step.
    You’ll go a few % further with each pace and eventually have a nice bump on your lower leg. Oh, and you’ll look like a Beltway VIP as the cloud of paparazzi tries to keep up.

  72. Suggestions for you, John, if I may, as I’m 54 and have been fairly active most of my life. I don’t know if you have any old injuries from sports or just trying to opened a window that was painted shut, but in case you do, one thing to consider is power lifting. No, no, no, not trying to dead lift a car or something even remotely like that. More the mechanics of power lifting. The thing about getting older is the joints (and we know you’re around that corner, correct?). Lifting things or even something as normal as walking can be a surprisingly painful experience with age (and especially with old injuries). The interesting thing about the mechanics of power lifting is that it deals with lifting large weights with the human body with minimal stress. It’s also unintuitive. When people talk about using your knees when lifting weights, it’s often wrong. All you do there is blow your knees, rather than your back.

    I’m not going to get into it, but you should know that there are a wide range of exercises and techniques that revolve around the technique of power lifting, they do not require massive weight use, and they will also do wonders to your body in a more general sense. I do crossfit once a week and play soccer once a week, but you live out in the sticks, so you’ll likely have to put something together on your own. If you do something along the lines of power lifting (kettle bells, light weights and basic exercises), you should be in fairly good shape and actually fairly pain free along the knees and spine.

    And just so you know, long walks are actually great for the body.

  73. In case you’ve heard of crossfit specifically, I don’t do the general type of crossfit (high repetition exercises and use of medium-to-heavy weights). I do what is called ‘Move Skill’ stuff. A strange term, true, but it essentially revolves around, you guessed it, moving around efficiently. It’s not really any easier than the general crossfit workout, but the focus is more on the mechanics of movement, particularly under physical stress. Just to clarify.

  74. I don’t know if I’m going overboard with all this, but it’s been a revelation for me, someone who has played sports and martial arts on and off since my teens and been injured on numerous occasions. As one ages, it’s not enough to remain ‘toned’. Once has to insure mobility remains strong, and that means mostly pain free. My wife does crossfit, and she has hated exercise all her life. She’s three years younger than me though and started to realize things were getting hard.

    Here’s a link to an article by an instructor of ours, a neat guy by the name of Dave Werner:

    http://crossfitseattle.com/knowledge/articles/redefining-athleticism

    Hope this proves helpful for you in whatever way.

  75. I’m in a similar boat, I went to the gym for years and eat healthy but I’ve been on a slide for the past three years. Full time job, part time grad student, home renovations, and a new baby left me no time. I’m 32, 6’3″ and my weight went up to 215 and my cholesterol numbers came back borderline high. So I’m following an American Heart Association diet with jogging and yoga. My goal is to get back to 185 and then I might start weight training again. I need to build my core strength and endurance back up before I attempt resistance training. My long term goals are to be able to run outside like a nut with a toddler and live to see great grandchildren.

    I can’t recommend yoga enough, its a great workout on its own and compliments any other workouts you mix in. I’m sure you have to have seen the Arthur Boorman video by now. Whenever I feel like skipping a workout I load that up, awesome story.

    5 weeks in and I’m down to 202 which works for me for now. The goal is to just maintain things through the holidays so I don’t feel I miss out. If I’m at 185 for the Spring I will be a happy camper.

  76. Taiji, yoga, walking, swimming, rowing, machines, free weights, …, all good. When you start heaving weight (even your body) around, form becomes very important. The body is a machine and it is damageable — and breakable — if over-stressed. The mirrors in the weight room are there so you can check your form, the preening is optional.

    Does your change in mass change the definition of the Scalzi in Coke Zeros? Or are you just slightly more than one Scalzi?

  77. @Marc Mielke: This actually worries me. Have you talked to your doctor about it? Alternately, are you drinking enough water before and during your workouts? Because dehydration can make you really tired after exercise.

  78. @Marc Mielke: you have probably thought of this, but just in case, have you had thyroid problems ruled out? They’re more common for women, but I’m sure men get them too.

  79. I’ll second whoever mentioned exercising with netflix. Last January my wife and I bought an elliptical which is parked in front of a PS3 connected monitor. We are only allowed to watch TV/DVDs while on it. This is a great motivator, especially with two hour action movies. I’ll watch half of a movie one morning and the drive to get out of bed to do the other half the next day is very high.

    It is also a lot easier to drag yourself out of bed to exercise for an hour if that’s the only way you’ll see the “Game of Thrones” finale.

    The only downside is our visual media consumption now is mostly cheesy SF and action movies as those just work better for exercise.

    I tried playing video games while exercising like Neal Stephenson, but felt like I was going to fall off the damn machine.

    In terms of weight loss, I’ve found that exercise without diet doesn’t help. My appetite just rises to compensate. I’ve got to exercise every day *and* count calories. This shouldn’t discount the benefits of exercise. Getting lots of cardio makes me feel better even when I’ve packed on the pounds.

  80. Is Athena still powerlifting? I know that someone already mentioned powerlifting. When I was Athena’s age, my father and I lifted weights together. It was a good bonding experience.

  81. Surprised that no one has yet mentioned Mark’s Daily Apple – several members of my family have lost a lot of weight, and avoided blood pressure reducing medication, by avoiding grains and following the exercise guidelines for short intense exercise combined with daily walking. Even if you can’t do the exercise stuff, just following the dietary guidelines improves many low level health niggles. http://www.marksdailyapple.com If the web site is too SoCal for you, read the daily email message instead.

  82. Two things that have helped me as I adjust my choice-making habits to be of a healthier bent: get and regularly wear a pedometer, and mostly follow my dad’s change in diet (as in nutrition) choices. For the pedometer, I’ve been using a FitBit which is expensive, but I really like it and more importantly actually use it. It makes me more aware of how much or little I’ve moved through the day. As for my dad’s choices, he has greatly limited, if not fully cut out: pasta, potatoes, desserts and bread. Yeah, it’s a commitment, but he lost about 40 lbs. from January to April by doing that and increasing his exercise regimen and has pretty much kept it off. Mom also followed along with the reduction of those types of foods and saw some weight loss as well.

  83. About 2 years ago, I hit the threshold where I realized I was the heaviest I’d ever been, that I’d passed the ‘never let myself get THAT fat’ line and that I was feeling crappy all the time. I also had lost both my parents by that point, was the father of two kids (one just a teenager) and that if I didn’t fix myself, it could get worse (and I’d already passed 40). I had long cruised on the fact that being tall, I often didn’t look as heavy as I was.

    I’d tried before, but never succeeded. This time I found a way that worked for me. I used the iPhone LiveStrong app heavily, specifically tracking my calories and fitness. It was shocking and eye-opening to discover that a salad at Chili’s could contain over 1800 calories. Accurately tracking my food intake was a massive step towards lifestyle change. I chose a low threshold of weight loss (1 lb/week) and joined a new Planet Fitness that had just opened up near me. I dedicated myself to three times a week at the gym and making a best effort to keep to my calorie limit (acknowledging that I would fall off from time to time).

    2 years later, I have lost nearly 86 pounds, dropping from 304 and 218. I now weigh less than I did when I got married (as evidenced by a loose wedding ring) and possibly weigh as little as I did back in college. I feel better, I sleep better and I’m more active. I’m still a nerd. I still play D&D, still play video games, still watch cartoons. I just balance it better with exercise and diet. Oh, and the help of a wife who cooks meals that allow us to stick to our goals (thank you, Hungry Girl recipes)…and who has lost 72 pounds herself.

  84. Of course, another option, John, is to have another kid. We had Ben when Tracy was 39 and I was 42. Talk about beat tired. Nothing beats seeing those wide innocent eyes, filled with wonder and excitement though. Just a thought.

  85. @SomeJeff,

    Plus, it’s also fun to be able to lift stupid amounts of weight. I highly suggest it for geeks of all stripes.

    Yep! At my campus’ latest bench press competition, I lifted 105 lbs. Mind you, the female winner lifted 135 lbs, but she’s less than half my age.

  86. @ Rjw said “What people mean when they say tone is an increase in muscle mass, and a decrease in body fat.”

    Yes, and also the ability of the muscle to activate either quickly or for sustained periods – the balance of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers you referred to.

    That other thing, about how tense you hold your muscles when relaxed? Never heard of that. I agree it’s nonsense. I have no idea why you would have thought I meant that by the word “tone”, however.

  87. Hmm. Well, as to talking about it, it may not be a good idea, because talking about it makes you feel like you’ve actually done something, so are less likely to progress: https://sivers.org/zipit and http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_keep_your_goals_to_yourself.html talk about this phenomenon.

    So, hope you make progress, and can remind your brain that talking isn’t doing. Also, I’m a couple years behind you in age, and can relate to what you’re facing. Sad, isn’t it? You ought to fix that unidirectionality of time thing, since you’re the grand poobah and all.

  88. Jeeze–comment # 108. Probability of being read = 1/n. =) Anyhow, I’m TOTALLY w/you re: normal, reasonable changes. I cannot, will not do the deprivation/exercise-craziness thing.

    I HAVE noticed, however, now that I FINALLY added upper body strength work to my workouts (for shoulder issues, per brief personal trainer assist) I’m not only less prone to injury (tall chick w/LONG thin arms), but I’m in less pain (fewer twinges in back, etc.) and I am less fatigued doing other things (like running) where upper body strength helps but is not what you think about re: performance.

    Have to say it’s pretty great. And SO not brain surgery. Super basic stuff, mostly.

    Now am adding lower body strength stuff, too. Baby steps. =) (said she-who-is-presently-digesting-two-homemade-chocolate-chip-cookies)

    Looking forward to your updates on this (subtle or otherwise). Good luck!

  89. You might try a fitness tracker for motivation- dailymile.com or endomondo. Free, and good for days when it’s tough to get off the couch.

  90. I find that I have an easier time maintaining weight loss if I lift weights while losing weight. This seems to limit the bounce back after a diet. When I diet I lose muscle and burn less calories. If I work out I add a little muscle while losing weight. Down side to this is that lifting weights makes me very hungry. There is no way I could keep to a 1750 calorie diet while lifting weights. I have done 1200 calorie diets without any exercise other than walking. I lose weight fast, but it comes back on fast.

    So I find I have to do more cardio to burn off the extra calories I eat. I don’t seem to get hungrier by doing the elliptical. I don’t like to exercise, so I listen to audio books to keep it interesting.

    I have also found that each time I diet, I have to change it some to keep from being utterly board. Change my workout routine, change the kinds of foods that I eat. I can’t go back and do the same diet again, its too boring.

    There was an article in the New York times if 2 people weight 170 pounds. One person has been consistently at that weight for years and one person just lost weight to get down to it. The person who lost weight will burn less calories. It takes about 2 years at a consistent weight loss to get back to a non-weightloss metabolism. This could explain alot of the yo-yo dieting.

  91. I knew the comments would be full of help! So I’ll add my US$0.02 as well…

    I came down from 255 to under 200 over the last 18 months. (5′-11″ frame) There were two and half things that really helped.

    The “1/2″ comes via the Blogfather, Glenn Reynolds. It seems that research suggests that while exercise is very important for conditioning, it isn’t the primary driver of weight loss. That isn’t an excuse to not exercise. It is a reason to focus on what a person puts into their body. Glenn has posted links on the subject quite a few times.

    Which brings up the first “whole thing”….Weight Watchers. It works. Low carbs. Low fat. All the fresh fruit you can handle. Gary Taubes has a couple books out there describing similar approaches. And there are other diet plans that focus on the low carb/low fat end of things as well.

    The other thing that worked well for me was a modest 1 hour/3 days a week at the gym. Having a reasonably toned body is a good idea for long term health.

    Best of luck to you on your efforts!

  92. Heads up: there’s a terrific app called LoseIt that helps track calories. Like you I realize that’s the only sensible way to lose weight (energy in, energy out), and LoseIt is immensely helpful.
    On the other hand, though I’ve been a fan for years, I’m new to your site, and for all I know you are an Ice cream Sandwich kind of guy…

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