One year ago today I got serious about getting in shape. Since then I’ve lost about 120 pounds. I’ve still got a few pounds of persistent flab to go, but I thought the one year anniversary was a good time to reflect on the progress I’ve made. A sustained, consistent effort for an entire year without any major backsliding is pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. I’ve been watching what I eat and taking long walks nearly every day. My current route goes from my apartment down to the Fern Ridge Bike Path to the Meadowlark Prairie Overlook and then back. I usually walk at night when there aren’t a lot of people around (and it also means that I don’t have to worry about sunscreen).
It takes a lot of exercise to lose weight. When I first started I did some google searches and found out that you need to burn 3500 calories to lose a pound, and walking a mile burns 100 calories (in reality I was probably burning a lot more than that per mile when I was heavier, since hauling around that much extra weight is a lot of work). Doing the math, that means you need to walk five miles a day to burn one pound per week. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that my daily routine is to walk 11.2 miles, but if I wasn’t maintaining that level of activity then losing the weight would have taken much longer than my willpower would have lasted. Of course every bit helps, but I need to see tangible results from my efforts or I get discouraged. It took me a while to work my way up to the current routine. When I started out, I set a rule for myself that I would never walk less than I did on a previous day. Knowing that I did something the day before was an easy way for me to tell myself “I know you’re physically capable of doing it”, which helped me push myself even when I wanted to give up. I tend to be a compulsive rules-follower, so having a black-and-white rule like this helped a lot.
In a lot of ways I needed to outsmart myself in order to make this process work. One technique is my “There and Back Again” strategy: Doing a low-intensity activity like walking, I figured that my willpower was more likely to give out than my body, so I can effectively double my willpower by walking to a destination. Until I get home, stopping the exercise would leave me stranded somewhere in the middle of my route, so the only way to stop is to finish. Also, since my destination has benches where I can sit down, I can focus on “once I get there, I can rest!” instead of “I need to go home so I can rest!”. I doubt I’d be able to do the same distance if I was on a treadmill that I could step off of at any time.
Another thing I do is exploit my OCD Tendencies. I’m not OCD enough to have it impact my life negatively, but I certainly have some behaviors that lean in that direction. I decided to try to harness them for good instead of evil. I include a lot of “ritualized” behaviors in my walking regime. For example, I like to start at exactly the same time every day, and I do a lot of the same things, such as sitting on a particular bench to check my e-mail on my iPhone. These little rituals have become so ingrained that I now feel weird when I don’t do them. It becomes psychologically easier to do the walking routine than to skip it, because when I skip I have all of those wonderful nagging thoughts about what I should be doing at that instant. Making the routine an “every day” thing helps reinforce this. For me, other schedules like every other day, weekly, etc., don’t tend to trigger this pattern of thinking, but an “every day” schedule does.
Another thing I needed to do for a while was to keep reminding myself that athletes work through pain. Being an arrogant geek, it stands to reason that I ought to have more mental fortitude than them. In the past, I used minor aches and pains as an excuse to skip my exercise routine. Rewarding yourself with a vacation when you perceive pain is a good way to train yourself to overestimate pain. With the mindset of “I’m walking anyway,” I have a much more realistic estimation of how much strain my body is under. I give myself days off when it is truly warranted, but don’t let myself use little things like the occasional blister to sabotage my exercise regime.
Walking 11.2 miles takes some time, so it’s useful to have something that occupies my mind while I do it. I found that podcasts do a great job of this. Most podcasts are interesting enough to keep me occupied, but not so information-dense that distractions like the noise of a passing car become irritating. My favorite type of podcast for this purpose is the “RPG Actual Play” genre. They’re long (an important consideration when you’ve got four hours to fill!), they tend to be fun and upbeat (keeping positive energy while exercising is important for me), and I learn about how games actually work, which is cool. My favorites are The Walking Eye (they cover the games I tend to be most interested in), The Gutter Skypes (they usually play games I’m at least interested in, and playing over Skype means that you aren’t missing much in the way of nonverbal communication at the table), and the Whartson Hall Gamers who release through the RPGMP3 community feed (usually interesting games, and the English accents make everything seem more entertaining).
In addition to the exercise, I’ve been watching my diet. The first thing I did was switch to water as my only cold beverage (I already drank my coffee and tea without sugar). Juices and sodas are just unnecessary calories, and water is a lot cheaper anyway. The second thing I did was to start working on portion control. I tend to eat too much, especially when it comes to taking large portions or having seconds or thirds when it’s an option. To combat that, I gave myself a new rule: I can only eat food that I cook, and microwaving doesn’t count. This puts my portion-selection up front when I’m preparing the ingredients, when I’m still thinking rationally (i.e. before the emotional “this tastes good!” stuff kicks in). Also, with this rule in place I create a real barrier to having seconds or thirds: I need to cook again. Usually, the time and effort that would be involved in another round of cooking is enough of a limitation for me to realize “I’m not actually hungry for seconds, I’m just craving the stimulation of tasty food.” I’m not perfect at obeying this rule, but it’s been a big help. (Also, some advice: stop watching commercial television. It seems like nearly every commercial is designed to sell food. The entire advertising industry is conspiring to make you think you’re hungry! The best solution is to cut them out of your life entirely. I don’t watch much TV anymore, but when I do I always watch in a way that cuts out commercials.)
Once I hit my target weight, I’m going to need to figure out how to maintain it. And I’ll probably switch up to some more intense exercise like jogging or running once the weather gets nicer. And I probably need to work in a little strength-training, too (I’m not hauling 120 extra pounds 24×7 anymore…). I need to be careful not to get ahead of myself and mess up the system I’ve got going, though, so for now I’m going to just keep doing what I’ve been doing, and hopefully in another month or two I’ll be where I want to be.