Sunday, July 08, 2012

How to Begin To Get In Shape and Lose Weight

Note from the title that this post is not about how to get in shape and lose weight. It's about how to begin.

Why? Because that's where this blogger is at. In the beginning. But I've started to see some minor results.

I sometimes find it hard to read books and articles written somewhere after the end of the journey. They're meant to be inspiring, but I often find them discouraging. Especially books about getting in shape, both physically and financially. I guess it's human nature to want instant results, and I lose patience knowing the writer is already there and I'm not.

I'm hoping my first small steps can give you some inspiration.


1) Do something

This was the message of Andy Andrews' book "The Final Summit". It's a good message. I often spend a lot of time thinking and planning for things like changing my diet and losing weight, but the key was to actually DO SOMETHING. That's what I did. I started small.

I already did a lot of walking. I used to work in a building that was about a mile from where I'd get dropped off in the morning. There was a shuttle, but I could never depend on it. Every time I waited for the shuttle, it took longer than walking. So I walked it back and forth every day. That apparently wasn't enough. I had to do more.

I started running in place while watching TV. I had to start small. I started with about 5 minutes a night. I'd watch a show and start running in place. Sometimes I'll run back and forth in front of my laptop and TV. After a few nights, that 5 minutes turned into 10 minutes. Then one night I didn't feel tired at 10, so I kept going until 20. I can currently run in place for about 40 minutes. I also run outside, but as I'm writing, we're in the middle of a multi-week heatwave and I am NOT running outside in 100+ temperatures.


2) Track and measure everything you can.

In engineering and project management, I know measurement is good. I can't say it's been easy to translate into non-work issues. But when it comes to losing weight and getting in shape, data is good. I started to measure as much as I could with my diet and fitness. You can do this for free, or you can put some money into it. You can do both. Here's what I did:

Loseit.com. I've had an account on Lose It for a couple of years. I've used it off and on. I made an agreement with myself that I will track everything, no matter how unflattering. Even if I blow myself out of the water with a 5000 calorie day, I count it.

I haven't managed to do this perfectly. Every two weeks when I go home, I take my family to a Chinese Buffet. I have no idea how to measure that, so I usually don't log anything when I'm home. I just weight myself the next morning when I get back to Virginia.

I typically weigh myself every day. I know you're not supposed to do this, but for now I'm trying to keep a running measurement of what my weight does in relation to my dietary discipline (or lack of).

The next tool I have is a Fitbit:



The Fitbit challenges me far more than I expected. I like having a measurement of how far I've walked or run each day and how many stairs I've climbed. I keep trying to top my records.

So far, my records stand at about 24,000 steps in one day, and 50 floors climbed. You can bet I'll be trying to top both of those.

I do everything I can to keep those numbers going up. I work in a very large building with 5 floors and lots of corridors. When I take a break, I climb the stairs up to the 5th floor and walk around for 15 or 20 minutes. I can get about 6 miles of walking and 30 floors each day doing this. Sometimes I'll play a game with this and climb the stairs to one floor, walk to another stairwell, go back down, go up a couple of floors in another stairwell, and so on.

When I'm at home, I pace a lot. I'll take a book or my iPad and pace back and forth while I'm reading. On Independence Day, I was determined to finish a book I'd been working on for a while, so I paced back and forth while I read it. Of course, I sat down at my laptop several times through the day, but I managed to pace more than 20,000 steps. Then I ran in place for 40 minutes while I watched Hell's Kitchen that night.

3) Make any changes you can

I'll tell you the changes I made. I doubt you can duplicate these, but look for your own.

First, I changed my job. I had some good perks in that job and had every other Friday off. I had an office, which I've always wanted. I had a BlackBerry and occasional telework. But man, I was BORED. I wasn't challenged. I had a supervisor who considered every project to be in need of his direct supervision, which left myself and the other two managers working for him with little to do. The organization seemed like a self-licking ice cream cone, like it existed only to service itself. I know it provided service to other organizations. I wasn't getting anything out of it. When I'm bored and miserable in a job, it often spills into other areas of my life.

According to a book I read, my generation isn't shy about changing jobs to suit our needs. We know that our employers can get rid of us for any reason, and are not afraid to return the favor. When I started out in my career, I thought I could find a decent place to stay. That didn't work out. I got tired of the Navy and left. I got tired of Lockheed Martin and left. I got bored at BAE Systems and left. Another employer got tired of me and you can guess the results. By that point it was a game of chicken to see if I could find another job before they got rid of me. I lost. The job market there SUCKS, which is why I'm working in Virginia 200 miles away from my family. The housing market sucks as bad as the job market. Have I ever mentioned I hate New Jersey?

I've come to accept that a job is good as long as the relationship benefits both sides.  So once again, in June, I changed jobs. I now work for an organization that is made of up men (and women) who are in shape. And for some reason, that makes me want to be in shape. I work for the Marine Corps.

On my first week on this job, I came home and decided to go for a run. I use Nike's Running app for my iPhone. When I hit the streets, I discovered that my running in place paid off. I ran a mile and a half my first day out. I tried to run outside three or four times a week until this heat wave hit and I've been stuck indoors for the last couple weeks.

The second change I made was to my diet. As a geographical bachelor, I tried to keep my eating as inexpensive as possible, especially since my wife says it costs more to buy food for me than it does for her to feed everybody else. I ate a lot of Banquet frozen meals ($1 at Wal-mart), Hormel, Chef Boyardee, and some frozen burritos (El Monterrey, I think). I also have some Maruchan noodles. Breakfast is typically a Hot Pocket and yogurt.

And I got so bored with it. So I tried to make a few changes. I bought a steamer, so I can have rice now. I cooked chicken in the steamer, and it came out pretty good. It was moist. I'm going to try to cook a tilipia in the steamer today.


I also successfully cooked eggs in the microwave this morning. I put them on a flatbread with cheese.

The point is, make small changes. Sometimes one small change will lead to another. That leads to another. In my case, changing jobs made me want to get in shape. That made me want to change my diet. That lead to changing my shopping and trying new things.

Now if I could only change the freaking weather.

I guess in the interests of transparency, I should share some details. My weight hovers around 235. My waist has gone from about 50" to 48.5"

I'll also note that you won't go far without updating your knowledge. Please, do not get your dietary information from the news. They're wrong. Almost always wrong. They report whatever it takes to keep eyes glued to the TV so they can sell advertising. They'll take a single line from the abstract of an article in a scientific or medical journal out of context, and next thing you know, it becomes part of the common knowledge of the culture. Even if they interpretted the study right, they'll never report if a retraction is issued.

One one of my podcasts recently, a doctor talked about the issue of aluminum supposedly causing Alzheimer's.He said after the study was published, the scientists realized they were using aluminum petri dishes to grow their cultures, and it leeched into the sample. They repeated the study with different dishes, and discovered no aluminum. The retraction was published at the back of the journal with all the rest of them, and nobody noticed. So we all believe aluminum causes Alzheimer's, when it doesn't.

Remember in the 80's when eggs were supposedly bad for us? Now they're good. So the news is the worst place for diet information.

Here's a piece I based my recent shopping trip on. While I have been tracking my calories on Lose It, all calories are not created equally. Years ago when I did the Atkins diet, I would probably eat more than 3000 calories a day and I was losing weight. It was a great diet, but I got bored with it. I never really got out of the early phases.

One final note I'll make is you have to take a long term view. This is the hardest part for me. I don't want to lose 70 pounds in a year. I want them gone right now. And when I work really hard and fight hunger pains all afternoon and somehow gained 2 pounds by the next morning, it's hard not to throw it all away.

But realize you didn't get where you are instantly. Chances are it took years. It happened in incremental changes over time. And getting where you want to be will take the same process: incremental changes over time. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it didn't fall in a day. It took hundreds of years to build it, and hundreds of years for it to fall apart.

Take inspiration from your small, incremental successes and build on them.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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