Friday, 26 August 2016

Increase the Dataset, Decrease the Pounds: Using science for weight loss

1 July 2016

"The difference between screwing around and science is writing it down" - Adam Savage

It’s been a full six months since the beginning of the year and I now weigh the same amount with my full Hadrian's Wall hiking pack (20 pounds) as I did completely naked on January 1! 

This began 33 pounds ago at the heaviest weight I've ever been. I’m a nerd when it comes to data – I record everything – and my new fitbit helped me finally get the last pieces of data and understanding I needed to really lose the weight. Technically, it was just diet and exercise, but there had always been something missing in the past. I would calculate my goal calorie consumption based on my Basal Metabolic Rate and record everything I ate and what exercises I had done but ended most days hungry or way over my target calories from giving in to the cravings. I found myself less happy and more tired and would eventually call it quits every time. I never stopped recording my weight (and periodically all the calories) because... well... scientist.
Happy doge :)

Turns out that missing piece was being able to figure out how many calories I was expending all throughout the day. With the addition of my fitbit and a good approximation of my caloric burn from my daily routine and my exercise routine, I finally had everything I needed to make it work. And here’s the story, as shown by the numbers, with a few before/after photos for fun. 
This figure certainly shows how I've gotten my new figure!
Graph showing three full years of my weight, as recorded every 

time I visited the gym (2-3x/week). (Click for full-size figure)

What worked for me?
To make a long story short: Fitbit, an injury-free period, and LOTS of walking. 

I’m the last person to jump on a bandwagon, but sometimes there’s a reason everyone's going crazy for a new fad. For me, fitbit has done a wonderful job accurately calculating the calories I’m expending in a day. It estimated that I should be losing ~1 pound per week if I kept to the diet plan (500 fewer calories each day isn’t that bad). I mostly kept to the diet plan and lost 0.8 pounds per week (0.13 pounds per day – yes, I fit a regression line to my dataset!). Part of my previous problem was actually not eating enough. Other diet plans had a fixed number of calories each day so I ended up eating too few calories on most days because I was more active than I realized - Edinburgh is built on seven hills! Now that I had the right data on expended calories, I could do a better job managing my food without getting frustrated and giving up.  And eating more vegetables never hurts…

The other major aspect of this was an injury-free period of time. Ever since I sprained my ankle in 2006, I’ve struggled with a chain of injuries that resulted in some way from that incident. Sprained ankle led to toe pain led to toe surgery led to knee problem led to hip problem led to back problem (you get the idea). It turns out that everything is connected. It also doesn’t help that the little bit of weight gained while injured is really hard to shed when you are never pain-free. For one of the first times in a decade, I’m feeling strong and capable and I’ve taken advantage of this to take back my physical self. 

Before and after: Kristin's wedding in July 2013 (my heaviest weight) compared to me in the same dress a couple of days ago - I had to hold the dress up so it didn't fall off! On the right, I'm holding my belt at the original notch I needed - now 6 notches away! My head shot from my first week at University of Edinburgh (June 2013) compared to a recent head shot from the Hadrian's Wall hike. Pictures really are worth a thousand words :) 

With the move to Scotland came a change in transportation: I. Walked. Everywhere. Even grocery shopping. My average day involves no less than 3 miles, with most days over 4 miles and 6 miles isn't unusual. Without even thinking about dieting (some would argue that Scotland has enough fried and sugary food to rival the US!), I lost a significant amount of weight right off the bat: about 17 pounds. I can’t stress the difference this has made in my life. However, I don’t know how I could have incorporated this change while I was still living in the US. So many cities are not built to be walking-friendly and a car is just required as part of daily life. I recognize the differences, but I'm sure I would struggle to incorporate my current regime if I had to move back.

What's next?
I’m seeing muscles reappear that have been hidden by fat for years. I’m feeling like I have more energy. My joints feel more solid. I feel like my ‘old’ athletic and outdoorsy self is emerging after hibernation (although I never let it stop me, there were also a lot of times where I had to push through the pain to see that part of myself). I've achieved my big goal and now I'm eyeing the last 6 pounds down to my college weight. At this point, however, I’m just going to keep eating healthy and doing the stuff that I love and see where that leads me!

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