Thoughts On a Year of Exercise

A year ago today, weighing nearly 200 pounds and feeling physically run down, and also feeling somewhat depressed about those facts, I hauled my carcass up on the treadmill we have in our basement and started walking on it. I did about 20 minutes worth of walking that day — not a lot, just enough to elevate my heart rate — and was grumpy about it the entire time. At the same time I also instituted the habit of counting my calories, with the goal of eating fewer calories in a day than I was burning. My goal was to eventually be at 170 pounds, more or less.

A year later, I’m still exercising, still watching my calories, and on most days I’m somewhere between 165 and 170 pounds (currently I’m just over 170, due to holiday eating, which I’m fine with, because holidays). What is my thinking about a year of exercise and calorie counting? Well:

1. People told me that the first few weeks of exercising would be the hardest, and after that point all the endorphins would kick in (or whatever) and then I would really start to enjoy that. Well, that was a lie — at no point in my year of exercising has it been much other than an annoying thing that I’ve had to do in order to achieve a particular goal, and then maintain at a particular level. Or more accurately, it’s probably not a lie; some people probably really do get an endorphin rush (or whatever) from exercise, I’m just not one of them. Which is fine, I’m not doing the exercise for itself, I’m doing it for the benefit I accrue from it. But it would have been nice to get a little buzz from it rather than just crankily hauling myself down to the treadmill (or outside when the weather got nicer) on a regular basis.

2. It turns out that in actual practice, I don’t exercise to lose weight, I exercise so that I can eat more calories and still lose weight. With regard to calorie counting, I initially set my calorie goals to lose about a pound a week, which meant I was supposed to eat about 500 fewer calories than I burned on a daily basis. When I didn’t exercise that meant eating a number of calories that made me feel generally unhappy — just few enough that I felt hungry and annoyed. But if I exercised for a half hour or forty-five minutes, aside from any other cardiovascular or metabolic benefit, it also meant I could have another 250 to 350 calories a day and still hit my calorie goal, which meant I could eat enough that I didn’t feel hungry and unhappy. Once I understood that the point of exercising was to be a calorie bank  — points I could redeem for pizza — it made regular exercising more bearable.

3. It also meant that honestly speaking the real key to losing weight was the calorie counting, not the exercising. Which makes sense, because physics. It’s not to say that the exercise wasn’t important, because it was: as mentioned above, it was a calorie bank, but also and more importantly, it offered other physical benefits, which in turn offered a number of psychological benefits. I feel better, and feel better about myself, because I exercise, even if I find the act of exercising itself sort of annoying. But at the end of the day, me being who I am and the laws of nature being what they are, logging food and making sure I kept to a general caloric intake was what lost the weight. Exercise was important but complementary to that activity. Commensurately, even though right now I’m not actively trying to lose any more weight, I’m still logging what I eat because as it turns out it’s really easy for me to jam a lot of calories into my body if I’m not paying attention.

4. Also key for me was understanding that the exercise and calorie counting was going to be a permanent thing now, and not just something I was going to do until I hit a goal. I’m 50 now and my body isn’t my friend on this score any more — basically my body now wants to go Full Santa, and will unless I keep on it. This is what it is, and there’s little point in complaining about it; age has its benefits but effortless health isn’t one of them. I’ve done exercise and calorie counting before and stopped when I hit a goal (or just didn’t want to do it anymore), and experienced the see-saw thing. So when I started again a year ago, I started with the idea that this was now the new normal. Again, that helped a lot.

5. I felt better when I started exercising, and I feel better now than I did a year ago, both physically and mentally. But it’s important to note that exercising and bringing my body closer to something that corresponded to my own internal self-image of myself did not, in fact, solve all my problems. 2019 was in some ways a difficult year for me (I’ll probably speak of that in another post), and the extra energy and feeling of well-being that I got from exercise didn’t change that. I have a sense that 2019 might have been even more difficult without me working on myself physically but of course there’s no way to prove that. I should say that I wasn’t expecting exercise to be some sort of panacea, either for the world’s woes or my own; I’m well aware that no matter where you go, there you are. But I guess I was expecting the knock-off benefits in other areas of my life to be more substantial. As it turns out: Nope, or at least, not in 2019.

6. Exercising and counting calories worked for me and if you are someone who is looking to shed a bit of weight and work on your body, it’s something I can generally recommend to you as well. I do think it’s important to be aware that you’re signing on for a process as well as a goal, however — and that this process will take a while and will be work no matter who you are, and when the goal is hit, you’ll still have a process you keep with. It took me eight months to drop 30 pounds, and the additional four months has been maintenance of that. One year in, what I’ve really done is establish a new baseline for anything else I do from here on out, whether it is to keep things more or less the same, or decide on a new goal, with a different process. For me, the awareness that this is as much process as goal has made a difference in how I feel about it on a day-to-day basis, and how I engage with it in a larger frame. It’s made it easier to stick with. For me, that’s a real thing.

60 thoughts on “Thoughts On a Year of Exercise

  1. Have you found the impacts from running/jogging on the treadmill to be rough on your knees at all? I’ve seen a lot of recommendations for ellipticals on that basis. (Used to have one and found it comfortable in that regard, but I haven’t used a treadmill enough to compare.)

  2. I love the candor of this post! I have a “Full Santa” mode myself, and the way you discuss the reality of missing the “endorphin high” that so many people tout—I get that high from finishing the exercise, not doing it… mostly—but persisting with the process regardless, speaks to me. It is math: calories in, calories out. Good luck with continued maintenance and thanks.

  3. I’m with you. I have never felt the endorphin rush everyone talks about. What I like is that since I listen to music while I’m on the treadmill, I think more clearly as soon as I get off. I plan my day around that clearheadedness. As for the food diary, I was told it will be essential in making faster, more accurate diagnoses with the ever-deteriorating bodies we keep. Everyone over 50 should keep one. Best of luck for your continued health in 2020.

  4. Congrats! I did the same thing when I hit 40, with a goal to lose 50lbs at a minimum. That took me a year, and I ended up dropping another 10lbs in the following few months because I wasn’t happy with how I felt/looked after that 50. I am now 50 years old as well and I have managed to maintain it, with some fluctuations, for the 9 years since doing pretty much the same thing you did. It really does pay off to keep it up aftwards!

  5. I too enjoyed the sober realism of this post, being also one who doesn’t ever get an exercise high. It’s the deepened base of fitness that’s gratifying and that contributes to a slightly better sense of well being overall. I do read diet and exercise books for the pep talks, enjoying one author I discovered here at Whatever last year, James Fell. General thanks for your posts which helped to make my season bright.

  6. I’m 77 and have been doing 15 – 20 minutes of stretching and light weights for years. I find on mornings when I don’t, my muscles growl and complain. They want their warm-up.

  7. This is exactly what I needed to read. Fighting that same issue with exercise. I have logged my food and I agree that is the key to all of it. Well that and accepting exercise is good for you, but may still be boring and generally suck.

  8. I recommend trying a few different types of exercise to see if you can find something less of a chore.

    Congratulations, and good luck. The second year is no easier than the first, in my experience.

  9. for point 1 – have you tried different machines/exercises? 6-7 years ago I trained for and ran 2 marathons and some halfs. Over the 2 years i logged 4,000 miles – I enjoyed practically none of them. I switched to cycling (road cycling, not gym machine cycling) and love it almost all the time. Perhaps you need to find the one for you.

    I also recommend the elliptical – of the gym machines it’s my favorite in terms of being able to zone out to music while doing it as opposed to treadmills which require more active attention to not fall off or trip and gym bikes which have unisex seats which are awful – more soreness after an hour on one of them vs doing a 6 hour century ride on the road. I’ve not tried the higher end bikes like peloton, can’t comment. Also easier on the joints.

  10. “ I exercise so that I can eat more calories and still lose weight.”
    Yes! It’s been warm enough that I’ve been able to ride the bike every day and as a result I haven’t put on any weight this week.

    For me riding the bike, or walking if the weather isn’t good enough for riding, is also a form of meditation. No real endorphin rush, but it does calm me.

    I’ve gone down from my peak of 250 to a bit under 190. I’ve accepted that the 165 I weighed when I got out of the Army isn’t going to happen.

  11. I get totally bored exercising, so I set up an old TV and DVD player, and watch old shows that last around 30 minutes to take my mind off the tedium.

    Most recently I started to rewatch Penn&Teller Bull***t this way.

  12. I did get the exercise high, but only when I was running. Thanks to the US Army, and age, my knees don’t endorse that form of exercise. I’m now over 50, and Santa mode is the default at this stage of life. I’ve been slowly adjusting my diet for reasons (Chiun quote from Remo Williams: “You know why they call it fast food? It speeds you on to the grave”), and have been doing some walking each day (goal is 30 minutes, but sometimes I’ve been out for two hours). It hit me that driving, while useful, isn’t necessary all the time, and it’s another form of not burning calories. I now walk to get my haircut, and try to drive less. As you stated, it’s a process, not a destination.

  13. “points I could redeem for pizza”
    Yes! It’s like Chuck E. Cheese for adults (without the terrifying animatronics).

  14. Your counting calories advice while sad is very true. When I started biking to work I actually gained 15 pounds. Evidently 12 miles of biking doesn’t allow you to eat all you want for lunch and have pudding every day.

  15. First off, congrats on the success!

    I’m surprised that you are not getting the runner’s high. It’s supposed to be a biology thing we all have in common, and not something that just gets left out of your genetics.

    You’ve been very successful in your goal so criticism is unwarranted.

    The exercise/diet thing is always tricky.

    I am a formerly fat guy that now does ultra marathons, and the runner’s high is a real thing for me.

    The key’s to maximize exercise is not to go for calories burned exercising but rather metabolic impact.

    To be effective on the exercise side, you really need two components: the first is the cardiovascular. After a warm up, you should seek to maintain a heart rate of between 140 to an absolute max of 170 for 20 straight minutes. If you are not in that zone/duration you won’t get the runner’s high, your cardiovascular improvement will be slower and most importantly, you won’t get that metabolic shift that occurs in your body that occurs for the 8 hours following the exercise where you are burning more calories even if you are just sitting on the couch.

    The second component is strength training. You should be doing some form of that to maintain/build muscle.

    Again, congratulations! I’m sorry to criticize such an achievement as yours, but there was a paucity if details regarding your methodology, and your comment about not getting the runner’s high triggered my fitness nut know it all explicator gene.

  16. “Exercising and counting calories worked for me and if you are someone who is looking to shed a bit of weight and work on your body, it’s something I can generally recommend to you as well.”

    This downplays the utility (and necessity) of regular exercise. Along with proper nutrition, exercise is probably the most important thing you can do for your body and mind. Medical benefits include reduction in type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary disease, mild and moderate depression (as good as medication), insomnia, bone porosity, and so on — all validated by many published studies. It also helps grow new neurons in the hippocampus. However, exercise is not generally (as Scalzi points out) an effective strategy to lose weight.

    Rhythm is naturally aligned with the good effects of exercise. For example, if one synchronizes musical BPM (beats per minute) with the body’s SPM (steps per minute or whatever repetitive motion one is doing), then the brain starts transmitting endorphins sooner, reducing pain and effort as well as increasing pleasure. That’s why soldiers chant when they double-march.

    What Scalzi calls a process is what others call making exercise an established and scheduled part of one’s lifestyle, for one’s entire life.

  17. Lots of good stuff here. The physics is important, since we’re all governed by thermodynamics: you have to consume fewer calories than you burn if you want to end up with a lower energy content than when you started. You can achieve this goal by eating less, exercising more, or combining the two. Different approaches work best for people in different physical and mental places.

    In terms of motivation, I find the endorphin release adequate motivation for some forms of exercise, like long walks. For something like treadmill work and weights, which I find boring, I need some distraction. I listen to the radio (mostly news and music) but am contemplating audiobooks; my wife reads on her laptop. Whatever works for you is good.

    Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose weight. Fat is less dense than muscle, so many people actually gain weight from an exercise program. The important point is to build muscle and mobility, not to reduce your weight per se. That is, exercise and diet should not be about fat shaming. The key to exercise and diet is to choose a regime you can sustain in the long term, and which helps you achieve the body you want (e.g., in time for bathing suit season) or need (e.g., for health reasons). That approach is also much healthier than yo-yo dieting/exercising.

    I’ll never see the low side of 50 again, and as John notes, it takes ongoing and vigorous body maintenance to keep me sufficiently fit and mobile to do the things I love doing, like going on an 8-hour hike every now and then.

  18. For my 53 y/o body, working out seems to have no correlation to weight loss at all. I admit that I do not count calories, but while I see those cute little calorie trackers say that I burnt 3000 c on a particularly active day, I see no weight loss unless I am dehydrated. I use them to tell me if I am actually working out, or just going through the motions.
    I have 2 things that keep me on track.
    First I have a trainer that is more PT oriented than just talking about “Gainz”. In addition to getting weekly feedback and periodic body fat analysis (VASA offers monthly), I have the simple motivation of feeling like an idiot if I don’t do any work except when he is watching.
    The second is that I think of it as Physical Therapy rather than the pathway to Adonis-hood. I target balance and movement in ways that force me to also hit endurance and strength (one of the benefits of a knowledgeable trainer rather than the pop educated youtube personality).
    My pot belly jiggles a little less, and my shirts are starting to be tight someplace other than the bottom 3 buttons, but getting off of the floor without using the table to lift myself and freedom from daily backaches is the real benefit.

  19. Unfortunately Annoying Fitness Guy is bang on with the endorphin high.

    Anyone can get it, but the effort required is pretty well up there. You feel like you have a third lung, but you do need that third lung.

    Running isn’t the only way to get it, but I think that is how we were designed. The last time I had it was in my late teens, doing cross-country.

    Your existing regime is effective, and I try to mirror it myself.

  20. “…points I could redeem for pizza,” is one of the best phrases ever.

    About two years ago I added consistent (mild) exercise — walking more, basically– to my life for health reasons. For health reasons I also made changes to what and how I ate. My primary goal was not to lose weight, but I lost 12 pounds and I’ve managed to maintain the new weight for a year. I too had to realize that these changes are for the rest of my life.

    Congratulations on achieving your goal.

  21. I am off four things, and they will make a difference. Dieting is discipline, and we all need more discipline in our lives. Your writing is clear, and concise. I enjoy reading your page.

  22. I love your work and think it’s awesome that we’ve had a very similar experience. I was over 200 in August on vacation and figured it was time to do something. I’m now about 174 and aiming for under 170. I also think of exercise as the calorie bank but have also experienced some of the endorphins for the first time in my life. Actually enjoying some of my workouts. My New Year’s resolution is to put on at least five pounds in 2020 and hope it goes as well as every other New Year’s resolutions I’ve made…

  23. First of all, good on you for carrying this out. It does matter because it puts you in better shape to handle life going forward. Emotions put a lot of stress on the body, not to mention physical activity, so staying in shape allows you to bounce back more quickly from the day to day problems–and not so ‘usual’ problems.

    I sort of ran into the same work/reward routine for calories when doing what you’re doing. It’s a good way to go but hard to maintain, which again I say kudos to you. A treadmill is an ideal method of calorie counting since it’s setup to work that way. I do a 20kg kettlebell with turkish getups and swings a couple times a week and try to put in a 3 mile walk at the end of the week. Harder to count calories this way but once you have counted calories one can get a sense of when over the quota, so to speak.

    Exercise is not enjoyable unless the activity is enjoyable. I played soccer, which I loved, until 55 years but had to stop due to feet issues. Kettlebells and walking are not really fun for me, but feels like an achievement when completed. Yeah, it’s a grind but the alternative is not an option, frankly. So, yeah I hear you on that point.

    My wife and I went on a walking tour in the Cornwall region of England this past summer. That was a lot of exercise but was so much fun too. Recommend that as something that can be recreational yet burns calories too.

    There are going to be gaps and pot holes along the way, but keep at it, because it all adds up. Way to go, John.

  24. I developed Type II diabetes, so I had to venture on the same path. It helps me to think of exercise not as athletic activity, which I’ve always loathed, but more like hygiene — something I just have to do to maintain my body, like brushing teeth or bathing. takes some of the sting out of it.

  25. THANK YOU for sharing lack of endorphins and continued grumpiness about exercise! I fall in the same camp. I’m now doing PT for a major knee injury 6 months ago, and I enjoy the exercise I do there because I like my PT and the other people around me. But exercise at home or on my own? Nope, that’s a chore and will always be one – just have to learn to force myself to continue doing it after PT’s done.

  26. @Ewan, I’ve used the Lose It! app for almost 10 years now and have found it very helpful. It gives you “credit” in calories for the exercise you do, which, as John points out, is one of the benefits of exercise–it allows you to eat more and keep losing weight. :) But I’d be surprised is most calorie counter apps these days (MyFitnessPal and MyFoodDiary are two I’ve tried in the past) don’t offer similar functionality.

  27. Thanks for the kick in the pants, I mean confirmation that I have to go back to what works – logging exercise and food. I’ve got both an Apple Watch and a FitBit, and plenty of motivation, great places to walk when the weather is decent. I don’t have (and can’t afford) a treadmill, so I’m going to have to find a decent exercise that burns calories that I can do indoors when the weather sucks. I’m thinking of dancing — guess I’ll have to download some music to inspire me.

  28. Congratulations John! Losing weight in your 50s isn’t easy. And thanks for sharing your process, which I also found useful.

    I’m 61 and it continues to be a struggle. Both of my grandmothers were barrel-shaped “babushkas” at my age. I’m nowhere like that on any level, and don’t want to be, but I do think sometimes about how our standards for healthy aging have been skewed by mass media.

    I also think it’s really hard for writers or any sedentary workers to stay in shape.

    I have a particularly tough problem right now in that I’m trying to finish a book and the last 10% is taking WAY longer than anticipated. So I’m annoyed, and working harder than I want to be right now, and also – did I mention? – annoyed. I’m also more prone to emotional eating, slacking on exercise, etc. I wonder if others struggle like this at the ends of their books.

  29. How do you keep from getting bored when doing the treadmill thing? That is the thing that always puts me off, I am always so conscious of the minutes and how long sixty seconds can be if there is nothing to occupy the brain, while trying to put the fifteen to thirty minutes of nothing but moving the leg muscles, on one.

  30. Walking or running on a treadmill is probably the most boring way to exercise. Why not give weight lifting a try. Depending on how you lift, you could burn more calories in a shorter amount of time. You’ll also get stronger doing it.

  31. Greg:

    Because the tendonitis in my shoulder would make it dangerous for me, for various reasons.

    Also, in general, I’m not looking for advice, folks, unless I’m specifically asking for advice. Thank you.

  32. Nice going! 5 years ago I started using our dust-gathering elliptical trainer on a daily basis (for me it has to be every day or I make up excuses for skipping). My logic was much the same as yours: calorie banking. I had hoped it would help counter my weight gain, but it didn’t — apparently I wasn’t banking enough calories to overcome that.

    In April this year I was approaching a Scary Number weight, so I decided to take up calorie counting in addition, and really that’s what made it work for me, down close to 50-ish at this point.

    But the exercise is still an important thing. Not just for calorie banking, but also for general health. My family has a history of cardiac events, and there have been a couple of times over the years when I was concerned enough about how I felt that I went to the ER to get checked out, just in case. Thankfully they were false alarms, but the last time it happened (within the daily elliptical era, but before the calorie counting era), I was told my heart health lined up with a person 10 years younger. That right there solidified the benefits of my exercise regimen in my mind.

  33. Greg Leon Guerrero mentioned walking holidays. Seconded, with enthusiasm. We have always done some trekking and some urban tourism on our vacations. (Usually about a week of each.) A few years ago we found a lovely British company, On Foot Holidays , that organizes self-guided walking holidays. They map out the trails and roads in detail (mostly off the beaten path, so you see lots of things most tourists never see), then they have one of their staff or a local associate verify the details by walking the trail, and they hook you up with good hotels and B&Bs along the way. Plus they provide a bilingual local contact who can help by providing advice, finding a dentist and translating, etc. Every morning, you bring your big bags to the hotel/B&B desk, and they ship your bags to the next place you’ll be staying. Your only responsibility beyond that is to pack a daypack and suitable clothing, and walk to your next sleepover place. Typically 4 to 8 hours of walking, with a choice of difficulty levels. (Note, however, that their “moderate” difficulty level borders on difficult if you’re not in pretty good shape.) We’ve done 2 vacations with them, and have another one planned this spring. Their prices have also been very competitive.

    Highly recommended, and would love to hear other people’s recommendations for other active holidays. One of my peak holiday experiences was New Zealand’s Tongariro Transalpine Crossing (https://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz/), and we’re always looking for similar adventures.

  34. Nice going! 5 years ago I started using our dust-gathering elliptical trainer on a daily basis (for me it has to be every day or I make up excuses for skipping). My logic was much the same as yours: calorie banking. I had hoped it would help counter my weight gain, but it didn’t — apparently I wasn’t banking enough calories to overcome that.

    In April this year I was approaching a Scary Number weight, so I decided to take up calorie counting in addition, and really that’s what made it work for me, down close to 50-ish at this point.

    But the exercise is still an important thing. Not just for calorie banking, but also for general health. My family has a history of cardiac events, and there have been a couple of times over the years when I was concerned enough about how I felt that I went to the ER to get checked out, just in case. Thankfully they were false alarms, but the last time it happened (within the daily elliptical era, but before the calorie counting era), I was told my heart health lined up with a person 10 years younger. That right there solidified the benefits of my exercise regimen in my mind.

  35. I’ve only had an endorphin rush from exercise one single time: the first time I did step aerobics (back in the day). Wow it was great! But not after that. Apparently for me to achieve the rush, I have to really be pushing my fitness limits, and as my fitness increased, the endorphins got farther away. I’m not one to chase the rush by constantly pushing limits, I prefer moderate if longer exercise like an exercise bike or preferably, lap swimming.

  36. For me walking holidays are not a way of exercising, but motivation to do the boring stuff. Normally exercise bike and rowing at the gym and walking in general for getting around. This ideally means that I can have enough fitness to enjoy an active and/ or walking holiday. My current motivation is a ski trip in about 2 months time…
    Sadly John is 100% right that to lose weight you have to reduce calorie intake, and that I am struggling with.

  37. What Kelly Ramsdell said. Thank you! I have been hauling my elderly, full Santa body to the Y for 3 ‘suitable for beginners’ classes for 6 weeks now. It helps. And your candid and thoughtful comments have spurred me to add more exercise and less eating. Someone very wise once said, “age has its benefits but effortless health isn’t one of them” Oh, that was you. Best summary of the situation I’ve heard in a long time. Thanks again..

  38. Just stop posting those horrible abominations that you, as an Ohioan, consider a burrito, and you will likely drop 20 pounds instantly.
    Hugs and Kisses,
    Jay from Texas

  39. Congratulations on your success; it is a very good thing that you have found a formula that works for you. I am one of those people who has always enjoyed exercise, and I admire people who don’t share this enjoyment but nevertheless persevere; you have overcome what from my perspective seems like an invisible handicap.

    I have often experienced moments of euphoria or intense joy from exercise and I agree with what others have said: reaching these moments requires combinations of exercise intensity and duration (and often competition) that are not reasonable for most people. My wife took up cycling, in part, I suspect, to spend more time with me. She’s a confirmed addict now but she once told me that for months she despaired, spending the first part of every ride thinking, I could be at home right now drinking coffee and reading the New York Times. Eventually, she came to realize that these feelings would always pass after the first hour, and she would start to enjoy herself.

    But let me emphasize: after the first hour. Yes, in the context of a 100 mile ride, an hour’s worth of displeasure is acceptable. But most people don’t arrange their lives in a way that make 100 mile rides reasonable as regular activities.

  40. I do a group boot camp each morning, followed by a 2.5 mile walk. The group exercise is great for accountability since people will ping you if you’re not there! Walking is necessary for me; I seize up if I don’t go. On days when it’s bad weather, I’m lucky enough to have a treadmill, and on those days podcasts are my friend. I have a nice batch of podcasts that are 30-40 minutes long and walk until it’s done. Easy entertainment.

  41. I found that just counting calories was no longer enough after 50. What the calories were counted too. (Duh) Dropping the number of carbs a day and adding more beans to my diet (for fullness) really helped. I was actually surprised how well. Have to get back to being more scrupulous about it after the holidays are done, though.

  42. Science book recommendation with a lame title: The One-Minute Workout by professor of kinesiology Martin Gibala, PhD. The click-baitish title is actually from one of the experiments. It’s a discussion about interval training from a perspective of running real experiments with instruments and even biopsies to have a physiological basis for the results.

  43. My summary after years of physical activity, ranging from high school sports, military training to gym memberships: within some very broad limits (Tour de France cyclists and NFL linemen don’t count)…

    Weight is what you eat and fitness is what you do.

    Want to lose weight? You’ll have to deal with what you eat. Want to get fitter? You’ll have to engage in some form of physical activity. It’s that simple. That’s why there are “normal weight”*** people who are completely unfit, and overweight*** folks who are very fit. It’s extremely difficult to exercise off significant weight, barring training for the Tour de France or spending a sumer in military basic training/boot camp.

    There are many different possible ways to deal with what you eat. There are also many different ways to engage in some form of physical activity. Everyone who cares needs to find the set that works for themselves.

    ***However you want to define this.

  44. Thank you, John. Your post about starting your sensible program a year ago was one factor that convinced me to do similar after many years feeling hopeless. I’ve lost 40+ pounds and feel much better, but still hope another 20 will melt off as I continue the habits I’ve established. The idea of exercising your way to weight loss without counting calories is a lie and I thank you for helping me see that.

  45. I’ve done hardcore walking (at least for me) totaling about 7 to 9 miles per week when the weather has been good (live in New England). I’ve been doing not so much as to lose weight/build muscle (because, yeah I do need to) but more to stay mobile. I have severe neuropathy and muscle weakness in my legs, so in order to desperately maintain the status quo (which is why I absolutely don’t want to apply for a handicap parking sticker, as I don’t consider myself handicap, even though I’m eligible for one) I do a lot of walking, both on the weekends and at work. It’s been very hard to get any in this particular winter season, but I’ve been trying my best to restart, since I finally got my pants size where I want it (36) and I really want to keep it there. Keep up the good work as you’re solid proof that no matter what the age someone is, you can lose the weight and keep it off.

  46. Good for you, John! We have much less built-in exercise in our daily lives than even 30 years ago, which I think is part of the problem. I do agree with the commenter above who says that everyone has to find what works for them. There are a lot of people who can’t log their food or weigh themselves (starts disordered patterns of eating because of decades of cultural conditioning). (Also *women reading this thread? it does get more complicated for us. Particularly around 50 anyway). The best couple of common-sense cookbooks for health, etc were by a lady named Kathleen Daelemans (she had a show, years back, on Food Network, called “Cooking Thin”). Its harder to lose with a food allergy as well, I’ve found.

  47. Well written John. Ditto on your thoughts. Since I’ve logged calories in the past but I usually give up because I can’t figure out how to count calories, let’s say in a casserole, so I give up because its time consuming. Former Jarhead

  48. No surprise about the lack of endorphins: they are a function of intensity, and walking won’t ever get you there. See:
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170824101759.htm

    As a man turning 50 in 2020, I empathize. Maybe get your testosterone/ other relevant hormones checked? Without compelling counter indications, you can probably tweak things to make staying at your desired weight significantly easier. See:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4154787/

    Good luck and congrats on hitting your goal!

  49. Congratulations! Awesome that you found something that works for you. Calorie counting is too much of a pain for me since I mix food up, like when I make soup or stew or cook my vegetables with meat in order to make the vegetables taste better (actually, fake-meat since I’m a vegetarian). I eat fairly healthy and am good at portion control, but I think two things work against me. One, my metabolism seems to get slower as I age. Two, like you I do not look forward to exercising. Like you, I just need to make exercising a habit.

  50. Mathew Miller:

    “Exercising your way to weight loss is a lie”

    Is false.

    I was a 250 pound smoker. I signed up for a marathon a year down the road and started training. When I ran the marathon I was 190.

    I’ve seen it with myself and several other folks that get big into running. Once you cross a threshold of 35-50 miles per week your body adapts to running, and it simply doesn’t let you carry to much weight no matter what you eat. You can still be plump or chubby, but fat? No.

    Another thing, when I ran the JFK 50 miler for the first time, I was told you have to think as a running buffet. To keep yourself fueled you need to be eating quite a bit. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Reese’s peanut butter cups, a Big Mac my wife brought me, etc. At the finish line I ate pizza. On the way home, I got two super-sized value meals. I ate more pizza at home. Never before in my life had I been so hungry. At the same time I had eaten so much I physically felt like I was about to painfully burst. It was very weird to have both these feelings simultaneously.

    The next day I found I had gained 15 pounds from my pre race weight. The hunger continued and I gorged at Waffle House.

    Two days later I woke up in the middle of the night with the bed literally soaked. I wasn’t hot, but I was sweating like that guy in Airplane. It was literally sleeping out of my skin visibly, and it smelled bad.

    I later learned this is called a “nitrogen dump.” I’d worked my body incredibly hard. It had taken huge amounts of fuel and liquids to repair and rebuild itself, and after this initial phase it was swimming in fatigue toxins and metabolic leftovers. It just pushed them all out through my skin.

    A week after the race I was 12 pounds BELOW my pre-race weight.

    So, yes, you can lose weight through exercise. It’s a different methodology from the calorie counting thing. Instead you seek to push your body into a higher metabolic state that lasts 8 hours past the exercise. The breakdown and rebuilding of muscle is incredibly expensive calorie-wise.

    To do it, you need to exercise a LOT, and it’s best done with someone coaching you who knows what they are doing so that you improve rather than hurt yourself.

    That’s an extreme example, of course. A more reasonable cardiovascular and weight training regimen can give you a similar result over time.

    For me, I enjoy this approach much better than the stingy calorie counting approach. YMMV.

    I’m 52 by the way, and still do this. Joints are great.

    But, the quickest way to lose fat is by taking long ice baths. Thermoregulation is the most expensive thing your body can do calorie wise.

    Of course, the problem with these approaches is that you have to exercise like a maniac or take frikkin ice baths.

    I know our host does not want advice, but I hope that having made the transition he has, that he begins to explore the possibility of spending his exercise hours in a more comprehensive manner. It would be very cool to see Scalzi looking totally ripped and jacked. Also, he would get to eat more normally, and it would no longer necessitate him using his iron discipline (which is indeed formidable to accomplish what he did the way he did it,) to maintain himself.

  51. As usual, your post is thoughtful and insightful. And I’m totally with you. I started hitting the gym about the time I hit 50 (both cardio and weight training) and didn’t like it. Over the next 10 or so years, I never grew to like it either. But after a year of not going (for reasons), I find I am really missing it for both lost fitness and weight gain (thought not quite full Santa yet). Now that my ‘reasons’ are past, along with the holidays, I will be getting back to it, with the dual goals of feeling better and fitting into my clothes better.

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