Friday, 9 January 2015

2015 project -- Lose (a lot of) weight

This year, my project is to lose a lot of weight. Specifically, I want to lose about a third of my body weight. My motivation is, over-ridingly, vanity, and I'm not ashamed to say so. I'm very unhappy with the way I look, and I mean to fix that. Of course, I know that there are many other benefits to me and my family if I lose weight, but as important as I think these benefits are, they are intellectual beliefs that I find more difficult to translate into motivation and action than ridding myself of a bad feeling: my embarrassment at the way I look.

This is a battle I've been having, on and off, for decades, ever since I was that fat nerdy kid at school who got bullied a lot, much of it targeted at my weight. The essential problem has two aspects to it:
  • The foods I love most have a very high energy density. I love sweet things, I love oily things. I also love convenience, which leads me to highly processed foods.
  • I have yet to discover the sport or form of physical recreation that appeals to me in the slightest. All of my favourite ways to relax or have fun are entirely sedentary. If I could be wired up to sufficient sources of information, I think that being a brain in a jar might be pretty cool.
So, my approach is to fight both these natural inclinations and to boost my physical activity and decrease my energy intake. As usual for me, I'm pursuing this very aggressively. The factors in my favour include that I can be very  stubborn, and that I don't get bored with routine. Another important weapon I have is that I am easily able to ignore feelings of hunger. Against me is the fact that because I don't actually enjoy what I'm doing here, I rely entirely on routine to keep me going. The upshot of that reliance is that if the routine is disturbed or disrupted in any way, the whole thing falls apart.

Physical activity:

To address the first part, I'm going to the gym every day to do 40 minutes of cardio (on treadmill and elliptical machine) and 20 minutes of resistance training on various upper-body machines. Because I'm so reliant on routine, I need to make sure I do this at a time of day where I'm never going to be disturbed, so I'm waking at 3:00AM to be at the gym from 3:30AM to 4:30AM and home by 5:00AM. To accommodate this, I'm getting to bed earlier. I aim for 9:00PM, but in practice it's usually somewhere between 10:00PM and 11:00PM.

Past experience shows me that this has to be daily, or the routine doesn't stick. I use a gym because, although I've had good results from just walking for an hour or two a day, if rain disrupts the routine for a couple of days, it's gone. Similarly, when I've worked with exercise physiologists in the past, they've assured me that I would get better fitness results from not doing resistance training every day, or from varying my exercise routine from day to day. I'm sure they're right. But I'm equally sure that the question is academic if it ends up with me not doing anything at all. It seems that I can form a pattern more easily around "I'm here at the gym; these are the five machines I must use" than around "I'm here at the gym; these are the three machines I must use because it's Tuesday."

Reducing intake:

On the other side, I'm reducing my calorie intake to practically nothing. By "practically nothing", I mean around 300 calories per day, which should be about what I'm burning in the gym session. Just enough to take in a few nutrients and to keep my gastro-intestinal apparatus running.

Again, to capitalise on the power of routine, I just eat practically the same thing every day. I have one meal a day, in the evening, which consists of a piece of flat bread wrapped around some salad and some ham or salmon.

An entire day's food intake for me in 2015 looks like:

I've had my resting metabolic rate measured in the past, so I know it to be close enough to 2500 calories/day to make the maths neat. With a net calorie intake of about zero and one pound of body fat equal to about 3500 calories, I'd expect to lose around 2½kg per week like this. (I know that weight loss doesn't work to as simple a formula as this. It's a ballpark number.)

I'm also conscious that food does have an important social function too! And so I will occasionally allow myself a treat at a social gathering (as I did last Sunday). My goal in those cases will still be to keep net energy intake for the whole day below 1000 calories. Tonight is games night, so I'll be treating myself to a few sushi rolls in place of my wrap. Yay!

Weight loss at the start of a diet is very rapid due to losing a lot of water. In the first week of 2015, I lost 8.1kg with the method described above. Now, I don't for a minute expect this rate to continue, but it is certainly a very pleasing start! :)

Physically, I already feel a difference in the fit of my clothes, in my posture, and in the flexibility of my joints. Psychologically, as in the past when I've been on extremely restrictive diets, I am experiencing a heightened sense of alertness. I also seem to notice smells more. (Past experience shows me that beyond this lies a kind of euphoria and a kind of floaty, out-of-body feeling, but I'm not there yet).

And as for the long term? I know I can't exercise like this and eat like this indefinitely. This regime isn't designed or intended for that. I also know from repeated past experience that when I come off an extreme diet, I very quickly revert to my sedentary lifestyle and mostly indiscriminate eating. This is a graph of my weight between late September 2010 and today:

A few key features:
  • The lines along the vertical axis represent around 10kg, so over the last four years, my weight has varied by about 30kg, and I'm presently close to the top of that range. Indeed, on 1 January 2015, I weighed more than I've ever recorded in my life. Note however, that there's four years along the horizontal axis, so it's not like I can gain or drop 10kg overnight. (That might take weeks!)
  • The long, featureless, upward slopes between late 2013 and mid 2014 are times when I was paying no attention to my weight at all, so no weigh-ins and no data. 
  • The instances of jagged upward drift were me trying to adhere to "sensible, healthy, everything-in-moderation" eating. I haven't been able to get this to work for me.
  • The slow downward slope through much of 2014 was me experimenting with a 5:2 diet that seemed to work for me for weight maintenance or very gradual weight loss. 
  • The big spike at the end of 2014 was when the 5:2 diet went away completely during the festive season of eating whatever I wanted. I can put on a lot of weight very quickly! (but then again, I can also take it off quickly).

So, it seems likely to me that even if I succeed in reaching my target with these extreme measures, the upward trend will set in again almost immediately. I don't really know what I'll do at that point, but it seems to me that the long-term strategy might be to shorten the cycles of weight gain and loss, so that I embark on these extreme measures sooner, at a lower threshold weight. Anyway, that's for the future.

I'll post updates to this blog to document how this attempt goes.

This blog post uses a mix of English and SI units. "Calories" here are "dietary calories" which are really "kilo-calories". People who want kilojoules, just multiply the numbers by four. Americans and Liberians who want pounds instead of kilogrammes, multiply those numbers by two. In both cases, you'll be "close enough" for the precision expressed in the numbers.

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