Second Attempt at Weight Loss

Back in 2013 I spent a couple of months trying to get my body weight under control.  For various personal reasons I gave up, and the progress I made over those few months didn’t stick.

At the end of last September I decided to give it a second serious attempt using the same method (calorie counting).

These past few days have seen me hit my first major goal: to hit 200 lbs and be no longer considered “obese” (just “overweight”).

The chart below shows my progress since last October.  It doesn’t show my peak weight, which was 265 lbs (measured a coupled of months before I started actively trying to lose weight).  By the end of this calendar year I should be at or around my target weight.

weight loss chartIn the chart above, the red trendline shows projected weight loss assuming no weight loss during the Christmas season (as evidenced by the plateau early in the graph), and the orange trendline shows projected weight loss assuming I manage to continue losing weight through “Chocolate Season”.

Using the power of science, I cut through the bullshit of “weight loss techniques”. Almost everything you hear about it is wrong.

The first rule of battle: know your enemy.  What is fat?  Why do people get fat?  This is pretty simple: fat is stored energy.

As long as you are alive, your body is using energy.  In fact, your body needs to use energy just to stay alive. Even if you do nothing but sleep 24 hours a day, your body burns energy just to keep itself from dying.  Everything you do with your body — walking, running, sneezing, etc. — requires extra energy on top of what is needed just to stay alive.  The more your body does, the more energy it needs.

Where does your body get this energy?  From food.

What happens if your body takes in more energy that it needs? The body stores that excess energy as fat for later use.

What happens if your body takes in less energy than it needs? The body “eats” fat to get the energy needed to make up the difference.

So, you don’t get fat because you eat fat, or because you eat carbs, or whatever.  That’s not how body fat works.  In fact, you could literally eat three McDonald’s Big Macs (and nothing else) every day and still lose weight.  You don’t get fat because of the kinds of food you eat.  You get fat because you are taking in energy at a greater rate than that which your body is burning it at.  It’s like pouring gasoline into a car while it is running: the car’s engine doesn’t burn gasoline as fast as the pump puts it in, so, eventually the gas overflows.  In the human body, this “overflow” becomes fat.

Knowing this, the solution to the question of “how to lose weight” becomes clear: take in less energy than your body needs so as to force it to burn fat to make up the difference.  That’s it.  No pills, no restrictions on food by type, no body wraps, no nothing — just eat less food than your body needs to stay alive and to do whatever it is you do every day.

Ok, fine.  So we now know how the body gains and loses fat.  However, if we want to lose fat, how can we be sure we are taking in less energy than our body needs?  To do this, we need to turn to the fundamental tool of science: measurement.  We need to start counting calories.

We measure food energy in Calories.  To achieve our goal of weight loss we must first determine how many calories our body needs every day.  Thankfully an average number has already been figured out.  Typically, the average, moderately active person needs 2,000 calories to maintain their body weight (that is, to neither gain nor lose fat).  If you are overweight and you change your diet to take in around 2,000 calories a day, you will eventually lose weight until your body hits an equilibrium point where it no longer creates nor burns fat.

Now that we have a target, the next step is to measure our daily caloric intake.  This is where we have to start doing some work. I use a website (and smartphone app) called MyFitnessPal to track my calories.  It has a large database of foods and their calorie amounts, and with it you can keep a daily record of the calories you are taking in.  You could also use google to find calorie counts for any food you eat and just write it all down on paper.  Whatever works for you.

One point of caution: measurements are not useful if they are inaccurate.  You have to be careful with sites that have user-generated calorie databases, like MyFitnessPal.  People sometimes enter in the wrong numbers (either by accident, or because they think they can cheat by doing so, or whatever), and the calorie counts for pre-packaged foods can go up or down with time as manufacturers change their recipes (“new and improved!”).  So, just be careful.  With practice, you can learn to spot strange numbers (e.g. only 100 calories for a palm-sized slice of cheesecake?  No way!)

Armed with knowledge of how many calories you need to be a healthy weight and with the ability to measure how many calories you eat in a day, you can now work toward achieving your goal.  This is where it gets difficult, since you need two things:

  1. the discipline to record the calories of everything you eat every day
  2. the discipline to make changes in what you eat so you don’t take in too many calories every day

If you fail at either of those two things, you will likely fail to lose weight.  You absolutely must know how many calories you are taking in and you absolutely must keep that number at or below the level required to be the weight you want to be.  These are unbreakable laws of mathematics and physics.  People can “wing it” without tracking the numbers — and most do — but “winging it” fails more often than not because of underestimation of the numbers involved.  If you want results that are absolutely guaranteed by both the human body and the very nature of the universe (no exaggeration), you must use the math and the correct numbers.

Science can help you here, too (specifically, psychology and behavioral science), but that gets a bit more complex to cover.  Maybe I’ll make a future post about that.

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