Sunday, March 16, 2014

Achievement Unlocked

Last year, I started running more. I ran in a few 5k races. I kept up going to the gym (as I have for nearly the past 10 years) and I even refocused my weightlifting on my upper body since I walk on my toes and, as a result, have leg muscles that do not need to get any larger.

As my 35th birthday approached, I was still cognizant that I felt a bit older than I ever had before. My face was rounder. I'm not sure I have a body type that will ever have a flat stomach, but, let's just say that, when I looked at pics from last summer, I wasn't heading in the direction that might help me get there.

At first, I blamed it on "getting older" and moving to the Pacific Northwest. My friends, family and coworkers know I have never felt more at home in a place than I do here, and, to be honest, I have immersed myself in all the things that make the PNW great... including our tremendous supply of local craft beer. We're lousy with it. You come to a bar here and, if you are from back east, you won't recognize any of the taps. The weekly trip to the grocery store always involved a stop in the beer aisle as there was always something new to try.

Suffice it to say, 3-to-4 craft beers each night is probably not a recipe for staying as fit as possible. So in late summer last year, I cut way back on drinking, specifically beer.

Still, when I went in for my first physical in five years and they weighed me, it was even more sobering: 218 pounds. This was with my clothes on, but... not a flattering number, even if you subtract three.

I wouldn't call it a "wake-up call" or anything quite so dramatic. No one was saying "YOU WILL DIE SOON" or anything like that. It was just out there. My doctor was amazing, too. He told me everything he could tell was fantastic... "except one thing. Can you guess?"

Yes. Yes I could. And, to his credit, I didn't need a lecture.

A week later it was Christmas and I had a new FitBit Flex on my wrist. More than that, I started using the FitBit app to count calories. I set up a food/weight plan in the app.

I have been diligent about this for three months now, weighing myself only weekly at roughly the same time so I don't micro-manage. Today, when I hit the scale... 200.5 pounds. Half a pound from my initial goal of 200.

What's been empowering is that I haven't cut out any foods. I haven't stopped drinking. I eat sweets like a champ. I don't go to bed hungry. It's been, dare I say, a sustainable way down the scale?

The first thing this FitBit did was make me aware of just how much I was eating. The literature given to me after my December physical summed up weight loss for me in one line: "Eat less food." No Atkins, no "get rid of gluten," no "try juices..." just "eat less food." And how true that advice was.

We have snacks around the office and it was a frequent thing to go grab a handful of whatever. Some crackers here, some candy there... hundreds of calories that I figured "hey, I use the gym every day." Those were easy to cut. Lunch, too, was something to take better control of. It wasn't that I was eating unhealthy things (really, to the contrary, I eat very healthy things). But too much of healthy things is still too much. I probably went from having a 1,000- to 1,200-calorie lunch to more like 600-800. Think about it... if I was having 300 calories worth of snacks and up to 400 extra calories on top of that with lunch, that's 700 calories. More than I eat at breakfast. And I eat a great breakfast!

Now multiply that by five days a week. Now add in extra drinks at night. Holy crap.

Counting calories exposed all of that for me. At first, it was easy to think "oh, but will I really get enough food?" A week passed. My energy level was high. My stamina and strength were good. Apparently, I was getting plenty to eat.

The gym also got reemphasized. I always worked out hard, but I added a bit more cardio to the mix. I'm taking my time with weights now instead of rushing through them. And, most importantly, though it makes packing ever more complicated when I travel, I am making sure I hit the gym on trips.

That was the other wild card and another spot where the FitBit was eye opening. If you're not familiar, the FitBit is a pedometer on steroids. Essentially, it counts steps, but it adds in other things to take it all a bit further. I have a daily goal of 10,000 steps and the FitBit vibrates when I hit my daily 10,000 -- it feels like a video game when a new achievement is unlocked or a new level is attained. The step counting, though, isn't just for fun. Say I was on one of my many travel days for work. I'd walk through the airport, board the plane, sometimes hustle to make a connection, walk to the rental car center and, whew! I got some exercise!


The FitBit exposed just how little activity that really was. Usually not enough to even make a fifth of my daily step goal. Last year, on a travel day like that, I'd shrug and go eat a big dinner since "I moved around a lot today." Not anymore. When I flew back east two weeks ago for a meeting, the night I flew in, I took a 30-minute walk outside my hotel at midnight (to be fair, 9 p.m. Pacific Time) instead. It's a new world.

Aside from making sure the gym or some kind of activity is a key part of my travel schedule, my weight loss so far has not asked me to do anything that hasn't already been part of my routine. The biggest change: "Eat less food." And holding myself accountable to it. Having the discipline to not say "Oh, I'll make it up tomorrow."

I've still got half a pound to go on my initial goal. I don't think talking about this now is a jinx, either. I have no reason to think I'm not going to be just under my goal come next Sunday morning. From there?

Well, my BMI is still in the "overweight" category. Granted, BMI is something of an oversimplification, but it has some generous ranges. To get into the "Normal" area of BMI instead of "Overweight," the calculators say I need to weigh 183 lbs. I haven't weighed 183 since... high school?

The thing is, the BMI calculators note that some people run a bit high. Back to my legs... seriously, my calves struggle to fit into anything but boot-cut jeans. My quads are big. If you are in a plane crash with me in some remote Arctic area, you will see my legs and hope I die so you can feast upon my legs to survive (I'm sure they're delicious). What I'm saying is, I think my legs are going to hold me back from the technical "healthy" BMI. I'm going to aim for 188, especially because if I fluctuate from there to 192 or so and back, I think that'll feel pretty good. I think I can be there by end of summer.

That will mean a shopping trip. My pants are too big already. My belt can't get any tighter to hold them up. I don't think there will be dramatic before-and-after pictures, but I can tell you I feel better already.

Example: I ski. If you're a skier, you know it's all about turns and, when you turn, you put your body weight onto your bindings and, I imagine, a significant amount of force is exerted, probably more than your body weight on every turn.

Last December, right before I started this, my feet were dying after every hour of skiing. Last month, I could have skied all day and my feet wouldn't have known the difference. And that was just with 10-12 pounds off mt starting weight. This is huge. Last summer, hiking, one of my most beloved summer activities, was more of a chore. I cannot wait to hit the trails this year to see how I do.

If there's one thing I'm concerned about, it's staying diligent to maintain my weight once I hit my final goal. It would be easy to slack, but, I feel like if I can build the right habits, they'll be as tough to break as the old unhealthy ones.

All this to say, I'm not sharing this to brag. I'm not saying you need to go buy a FitBit now. I'm simply saying that I was a person who went to the gym all the time, did active things outdoors and generally ate healthy food and I was, technically, on the edge of obesity. I just happened to find the right tools and activities for me to change things and hold myself accountable. And, if this is something you are worried about (Gallup said last fall that 51% of Americans want to lose weight), that you should feel empowered to do the same.

What's really empowering, though, is that there has been no gimmick to my weight loss. I didn't cut anything but calories. I feel like that's why this will be sustainable.

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