Weight Loss

I am back down to my 1989 weight (hooyeah). No gimmicks or mysterious proprietary elixirs were involved; however, I’ll let you in on a secret… it ain’t easy.

Gratuitious personal saga followed by my thoughts on weight loss. Unless you’re having a hard time sleeping, you probably want to skip forward a screenful. 🙂


In February of 2001, just after I renewed my driver’s license, I weighed my heaviest ever. The photo then compared to how I look now is both stunning. I’ve been tempted to get it retaken for vanity reasons, but it does provide some amount of motivation.

For me, the weight gain was the gradual side effect of a sedentary lifestyle. Earlier in my career, I did a lot of travel for my employers. At the time, travel rocked because I could see the world on the company dime. However, after a couple of years of Aadvantage Platinum,
I was getting worn down by the wham-bam trips that brought me in for a night
before going to the next place. I realized that when you get right down to it, a
computer room is no different in Newark, Cedar Rapids, London or anywhere else.

I had an opportunity to not travel. However, I had an epiphany:
I could became a master at finding the itinerary that would “save the
company” money despite footing for a couple of weekend nights’ stay,
rental car and food for wherever I was. In other words, I could actually
see the cities I visited. I did this for the next five years,
which continued to make it difficult to establish any semblance of a routine.
And when I wasn’t jetting somewhere, I was putting in long hours at the
mother ship. I got so wrapped up in what I was doing such that taking care
of myself became a lower priority. The slow weight gain of 2-3 pounds a year was starting to show its effects after 10 years.

Fast forward a few years to 2001. I had to go to the UK to meet with an
engineering group there. Concurrent with that, I was seeing a flurry of
news stories on the quality of food: e.Coli here, hoof & mouth there (on the BBC every bleeping night. It grossed/freaked
me out and I gave up eating any kind of meat during the trip. (And wouldn’t for
another 2 1/2 years.)

When I got back, I noticed I felt better and actually lost a little
weight. Mildly inspired, I did my annual signup for a fitness facility.

Unfortunately, within a few weeks of my return, my employer began its
slow descent into the Inferno and became prominently featured on f—company.com,
which, suddenly, was not funny.

I was out of work. I looked for jobs, but as local companies were hemorrhaging
employees, there were few nibbles and I had a lot of “free time”
to spend ramping up my activity level. I worked out
three times a week and occasional did a 5k run. Running was an excellent
calorie burner, but my shins hurt afterward.

By the end of the summer, still unemployed, I had dropped 15 lbs.
I picked up
a contract in August and lost it when the 9/11 terrorist happened.
I picked up another contract in October. The days are short, I didn’t work out as often,
and gained about 5 pounds back.
Spring came, and I did a couple of more runs before realizing,
during the Beat the Bridge
8k that I suck at running. I needed to find another activity.

The company I was contracting with was trying to sell its software group to its
OEM in California. They were forthright, and tried giving me visibility, but it
was obvious mthat it wasn’t a long-term opportunity. The good news, though, was
the days were getting longer again and I had more time to work out. For various
reasons, I dusted off my bike, pumped up the tires, and took it on a ride.
I was out much longer than expected — 62 miles around Lake Washington —
and despite the pain, had a lot of fun.

By October 2002, I racked up 1,350 miles and had lost about 25 pounds
from my peak weight. Some (8 lbs) of that was gained back over the winter as
I exercised less (days get really short here in the winter), but since Spring,
I’ve been fairly aggressive about my diet, tracking almost everything I eat.


As of today, August 22, 2003, I’m down over 40 pounds from my peak weight. I still
have a ways to go, but it’s really cool feeling fit and seeing that I’ve lost the
equivalent to 6″ in my pants and 1 1/2 shirt sizes. So here are some thoughts:

  • Weight loss is hard, as is keeping it off. My weight gain occurred gradually, typically 2-3 pounds a year. I found I could play tricks on my body to lose weight quickly — like go on a crash diet — but my played more devious tricks back and eventually overcompensated. I think this means that you should reasonably expect only gradual weight loss. It took >10 years of no effort to put this weight on, it’s taken about three years of concerted effort to take it off.

    Even doing it gradually, I’ve noticed I’ll decrease then plateau, then gain a little bit, then decrease again. Long term, I realize that I have to find a way to maintain my activity level and permanently alter my eating habits.

  • Weight loss occurs when calories burned exceeds calories consumed. Duh. This is conceptually simple, but is really mindboggingly difficult when you start doing the math.

    Based on some tests done at a human performance lab, I’ve determined that I burn 1,500 calories a day just doing nothing (sleeping, pooping, breathing, scratching my butt, etc). Add another 500 for “light office work” (e.g., blogging) during the day, and I’m the 2,000 calories a day human mentioned on the FDA label. This is just to sustain my current weight.

    Now, consider that a pound of fat is approximately 3,500 calories. (This seems odd: a pound is 454 grams, and there are 9 calories in a gram of fat, therefore a pound should really be 4,086 calories.) To lose a pound, I have to run up a deficit of 3,500 calories. On one extreme, I could do this by giving up a little more than two days’ of food consumption. The other extreme is doing a seven hour bike ride at 14 mph on an empty stomach. Neither is reasonable because assuming I didn’t pass out, my body would go into survival mode and start using muscle instead of fat.

    It thus seems more practical to pick a goal like a mild deficit of 400 calories a day, then work it from both ends. For example, I can drink sparkling water instead of a glass of orange juice each day — saving 200 calories — and do a 30 minute bike ride (or brisk walk), consuming an extra 200 calories. All other things being equal, this suggests losing 3 1/2 pounds a month is sustainable. (It’s really trickier than this because as you lose weight, you use fewer calories.)

  • Ignore the bullshit you see on ebay. There is no miracle elixir that would work without killing you or causing a severe boomerang effect.
  • Start a diet diary. It’s a non-judgemental way of quantifying what you’re eating, but you have to maintain it, too. For me, the most sobering part was realizing just how expensive those morning glasses of orange juice or mid-day soda pops were. When you choose to eat the bowl of ice cream, you have direct feedback on how many calories you’ll need to cut out the rest of the day to make your goal.

    If you have a Palm, I’d recommend Calorie King for its pretty lengthy database. It’s got quirks is not as easy to use if you cook a lot of natural foods (although you can create custom menus & foods), but is a good $20 investment.

  • If you’re serious about working out, consider using a heart rate monitor. I have a Polar S710 which I use on my bike rides to record calories, mileage, and altitudes. I like it because I can quantify how intense my workout is. It’s also a boon to training because I can aim for different thresholds. For example, during the aforementioned session with the sports consultant, I was tested on a trainer to determine my target “zones” to optimize my workout.
  • After you have a sustained and gradual set of weight loss, treat yourself to some new clothes. Lands’ End has jeans in odd-numbered sizes, which is a fantastic motivational aid.
  • It is possible to eat vegetarian and have great food doing so. 🙂 I currently eat meat once or twice a month, usually after a really long (>80 mile) bike ride. I can’t explain why I have such strong cravings then, but I believe it may be just needing more protein.
  • If you want some quick calorie reduction, take out the empty calories first. For example, a 12-ounce sweetened soft drink has 150 calories. It won’t make you full, try club soda instead.
  • Enjoy personal milestones, no matter how meaningless they seem.
  • I really liked Fran’s essay on weight loss, as it parallels my thinking.

4 thoughts on “Weight Loss”

  1. A good “diet diary” for the non-palm enabled can be found at http://www.fitday.com as well. They have a pretty good database and also the ability to add custom foods as needed–and it’s completely free. It’s what I (and Tom, to a much lesser extent) have been using for a few months. Really keeps you accountable when you realie you’ve had 3/4 of your daily calorie allotment by lunchtime :-/

  2. Great job on your weight loss! Your post is inspiring. Also thanks for linking to my essay. A thought that struck me at random: One thing I tell myself about time or money spent on exercise and gym membership is that it’s just like investing money for retirement – I’m investing in my health, which pays off now and I expect even more so when I’m old.

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