2010 Odyssey in Weight Loss - Quarter 4: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

If there was one way to describe my behaviour in the third quarter, it would be this: Asleep at the wheel. I failed to recognize the changing landscape and I just kept on course, even though that course was headed straight for a cliff. Fortunately, I woke up and managed to steer clear of the abyss.

October started with the progressive implementation of two new rules that would set myself up to reach my first major milestone. The first one, which was implemented on day 1, was to go up the stairs, 20 floors, four times a week. I was extremely lucky for this one, because a group of cool motivated people at work were already doing this on a daily basis. All I had to do is attach myself to that group. Motivation is always easier in a group. And it's also much more interesting to talk your way up, than to do it alone, in silence.

The second one was the complete boycott of everything related to bloody machine. This means the machine itself, the coffee machine next to it (instant ain't so bad) and any activity benefiting from the revenues of either. I cannot force them to fix the problem, but I can make bloody sure I don't support them until they do. But control is a hard thing, when faced with these options everyday. So I applied control where I could: No change. I empty my pockets of loose change every morning. And I try to never create a situation where I will have spare change in my pocket.

A very wise friend once said to me: The best way to win in life is to pit your weaknesses against one-another. Instead of trying to fix your weaknesses, find out if another one of your weakness would be able to deal with this one. The original weakness being gluttony, the ones used against it would be sloth and pride.

Sure every time I go for a glass of water in the kitchen I am stared down at by the machine and its contents. But will I step on my pride and ask for change? Not really. Will I break a 20 by making the effort of going down the elevator to buy some from the dépanneur? Meh. Maybe I don't want this crap so much, now.

The results of these two rather draconian measures was instantaneously felt, and my weight started to drop rapidly and consistently. I lost a bit more than 2lbs, and reached a huge milestone (marked with A).

What's that? A rapid climb? A giant bump on the road? Are my new measures failing. No they are not. The point marked A in October signalled my passing from a Class II Obese BMI-rated person to a Class I. Huzzah! And as it was planned since the beginning, this called for a week-long binge and a break from any and all exercise.

Considering the circumstances leading up to the achievement, I could've decided to postpone the binge. But what good is a reward system if you deprive yourself of it when the time comes?

So I crossed the line back up again, but rapidly crossed it a third time. This time, hopefully, for good.

November was a great month. It saw the arrival of a new and important piece in the puzzle: The Kinect. Just as Dance Dance Revolution helped me in the past, Microsoft's motion-detecting gizmo would play a huge role in the upcoming month.

There are two ways to look at November. One could say I lost only three pounds in a full month. I prefer to consider I lost four pounds in under three weeks. December would show that the second way to look at it was a better indication of the future.

With a winning combination of the morning bike routine, the almost daily 20 floors stair climb, Kinect Dance Central, and the boycott of the machine, December became my best month on the record. With close to seven pounds lost and almost an 100% trend dropping metrics. There was one exception, marked A, when a convergence of Christmas and Birthday-related obligations led to four restaurant meals in a row, and a very tiny bump. But other than that, even the Christmas Eve party (marked B) didn't managed to bump my actual weight above my trend line.

An so my 2010 Odyssey in Weight Loss ends on an very positive note. Although the road through it was bumpy, inconsistent and often doubtful, I managed, at the very last moment, to get back on track and deliver acceptable results.

Lesson learned: Find weaknesses to deal with your other weaknesses. Apply control where it is easiest.

I would conclude with this bit of advice: Find the proper tools to help you. You can succeed with willpower alone, but if you have proper tools you'll have an easier time, and a lower chance of failing. Who knows what these are in your case, but in my case, those were:
  1. Prioritisation. Your weight-loss process must be #1 or close to #1 in your order of priority. In my case it started to work when I replaced my game development project (which can be an endless time sink) with this as a top priority in my life. Of course, people with families might not be able to bring this to #1, but keep it as high as possible.
  2. My strategically positioned stationary bike along with an endless array of 30-minutes TV shows to watch on it.
  3. The "Libra" app on Android.
  4. Proper Metrics. I can't stress this enough. Being able to properly quantify the consequences of your actions is an absolute key.
  5. The stair-climbing posse (Michelle, Carole and Françoise).
  6. Pride (Trumps Sloth and Gluttony).
  7. Coffee (haven't mentioned that, but it helped a lot. I used to not drink coffee at all. Now I have 1 coffee after lunch and it does wonder to eliminate the need for a mid-afternoon snack).
  8. Sloth (Trumps Gluttony).
  9. Kinect Dance Central (with special thanks to Nelly Furtado, Lady Gaga, Cascada and the Quad City DJ's, all of whose music I would never listen to in any other circumstances).
Considering my current trend, I have every reason to believe 2011 will see my ongoing weight problem as something of the past. I'll come back to this blog in a year, and tell you all about it. Happy New Year!


2010 Odyssey in Weight Loss - Quarter 3: The Fucking Machine

I deliberately left a piece of the story out of the last entry, because this quarter will be devoted almost exclusively to it. Even though it entered into (dis)service in June, its full effect became quite obvious in the third quarter.

A company that prides itself into offering its employees classes on health and fitness, a company that has been exclusively offering fresh fruit as snacks to its employees. That same company started offering candy bars and chips in the kitchen, inside a dark gray monstrosity of a vending machine. Right next to the water cooler. But these blog entries are about the numbers, so let's start with July:

With a -0.4lbs (I usually round monthly results, not this time). July was very hard. My rhythm was the same, except for that blasted machine. Compulsion works rather sneakily. You slip once, you slip twice, pretty soon you just give up on that week, and then on the month. Although there are healthy options in the machine, what power do these wield? Not much. I was still, strangely, unable to pinpoint the machine as the source of my failure. I failed to see just how much money I was pouring in it. It would take another two months for the wake-up call.

August started much as July ended. In a complete stand-still. Despite sweating my ass off on my bike and rationing my food intake at home, there appeared to be no way of breaking off that stalemate. Until the final weeks of the month came. Then all of a sudden my weight started to drop, in an abrupt fashion. I was relieved. August would salvage my efforts with a striking -4lbs, most of which took place in the final two weeks. It was only a few weeks later, after isolating this drop, that it became clear. My weight dropped while I was on vacations (Marked A).

There is a reason why my first entry dealt with 2009. It is clear that staying home was a huge problem when it came to sweets and fat accessibility. If, from my home workstation, I only needed to walk five feet to get some crap food, then there is a problem. My workplace environment provided a sanctuary, a place where in order to get crap food, I needed to make an effort for it.

The machine turned that reality upside down. My workplace environment became much more hostile than my home environment. Even though the latter remained as poisonous as ever. That new reality would now lead to the complete failure that is September.

Late August's drop misled me. I really thought things were under control. As September began, my weight zigzagged around my trend line. I was unable to make any progress. By the middle of the month and an endless array of quarters swallowed by the machine, it became obvious that I was losing this battle. Protests against the machine's presence or its content were quickly dismissed or laughed away.

The third quarter was certainly the hardest, with a grand total of four pounds lost. Although my resolve was strong, and my efforts as far as biking and controlling my home food intake remained, it was obviously not enough. When September ended with a positive +0.8 lbs, it became obvious that drastic measures were necessary.

Lesson learned: Never think things are under control, and don't expect or rely on outside support.

More to come in the fourth and final quarter of 2010: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

2010 Odyssey in Weight Loss - Quarter 2: Rhythm Found

I began the second quarter reeling from what appeared to be a failure in finding a maintaining a good rhythm. Post GDC con crud was over but I had somehow lost motivation. For a long period (marked A) I even stopped weighting myself. I kept on doing little things but I really had trouble finding my rhythm.

Had I kept weighting myself I would've found out the small steps and attempts I was making were actually working. Something I found out when I stepped on the scale after a while. I only lost a bit more than a pound, but it was still positive.

May marked the discovery of the exercise rhythm that more or less holds up to this day. It goes like this: 1x20 minutes of bike, four weekdays out of five, first thing after breakfast. 1x40 minutes of bike Saturdays and Sundays, anytime between breakfast and lunch.

In May I also managed to strike a sustainable calorie/sweets intake regime. I've tried to simply pull the plug on sweets. But that never worked. It always led to a binge or two, generally in such rapid successions that any gain I made would be instantly lost. Going for granola bars or tiny fun-sized treats also never worked. I would simply eat more because they weren't satisfying.

My own personal favourite: M&M's Tiger Brownies. These have the lowest calories of all their dessert offerings. Even though they recommend cutting it in 12, I managed to cut it in 16 and still get a decent amount of satisfaction from them. They don't taste so good that you can't resist having more, or so bad that they don't give you any satisfaction.

This recipe led to an awesome month of May, with a loss of more than 4 pounds. A pound a week is 52 pounds a year, which would be enough, really. So as long as nothing changed, everything would be fine.

Unfortunately, that wouldn't be. Some people at work had a brilliant idea, and it led to the bumps and slides of June.

Still, 3 pounds lost in June is honorable. Not great, not even that good. But it's still in the right direction.

The second quarter of 2010 saw me go from 279lbs to 271lbs, so only 8 pounds. Having lost 11 pounds in the first quarter, it meant things were not progressing as they should. But they still were. 20 pounds for half a year means 40 pounds for a full year. Not too bad right? Unfortunately, things would go from bad to worst in the third quarter.

Lesson learned: Numbers are you best friend. Never stop inputting numbers in the machine. Even if they don't speak to you at first, looking back at them might give you more information than you'd think.

More to come in Quarter 3: The Fucking Machine.


Giftless Christmas

This year, for the first time ever, the family tried an experiment: no gifts between adults of the family. We got together for the food, and there were still gifts under the tree, but they were for the two children. Whatever couples decided to give each-other wouldn't happen at this event, but in private. We tried several things over the years, secret santa (I hated that), everyone gives to everyone else (strain on the budget of some). And so on. But Christmas was always stressful. There are two reasons gifting didn't work.

The first is that, as a family, none of us are really on the same planet. We all love each-other but have our separate fields of interest. Quite frankly, I wouldn't know where to begin in order to buy my sister a gift. Nor her a gift for me. We fixed that with an exchange of wishlists. And then we decided on a relative budget. But as I explained to them, this more or less equated to all of us putting a 50$ bill in a hat, then each of us picking a random 50$ bill from that hat. I often tried to go outside the list, with mixed results. Exchanging gift cards is even closer to that. So meh.

Above that though, I think the primary reason goes more along the line of: We all have more than enough crap as it is. We're lucky to all be relatively well-off. Whatever we really need, we can get. We all hear that the essential thing on Christmas is to spend time with loved ones. Wasn't it time to focus on that?

Yesterday was the big Christmas Eve party. Here are the results:

Result #1: the pile of gifts was much less obsece and shameful than that of years past. It was still there, and it was still a lot, but it didn't make me want to go out of the house and scream apologies to the less fortunate.

Result #2: More time. The time spend unwrapping my gifts, I instead spend with my nephews building up their new Star Wars lego sets and other gifts. We also managed to play cards, something we always think we'll do but always end up skipping. Wii fit was also part of it. More quality time, less crap.

Result #3: Although a few family members (3 out of 5, actually) proclaimed that it was very hard for them not to buy gifts for people, all of them agreed after the unwrapping that it was for the best.

Result #4: It started and ended way earlier. Less preparations means we could get together at about 6ish. And I was home by midnight. None of us are getting any younger, and none(?) of us try to pretend we're still young. So getting to bed at 3am isn't a requirement any longer.

Conclusions: It was a very good decision overall. And I'm sure we'll stick with that. For me, it means that the forced Christmas consumerist drive is at an end. For mom, it means the stress of "getting the right thing" is gone. For sis it means focusing on getting gifts for her sons. For bro, it means his budget isn't as strained as it was before. Win. Win. Win. Win. Win.


2010 Odyssey in Weight Loss - Quarter 1: Enter the Bike

January's trend can be attributed to two main elements: A return to work, and the arrival of my stationary bike.

Return to work didn't only mean that I had two imposed 10-minutes walks (to the subway and back), but mostly a slightly more active lifestyle with much less access to crap food like cake or chocolate, which strangely always managed to find their way into my cupboard.

As far as biking went, things were a bit awkward. The tool is one thing, the routine is another. Still fixated on finishing my game, even a few minutes a day appeared a lot. I started with 40 minutes routines during the evening. I couldn't manage to do them more than twice or so a week. It always felt like wasted time, and was unsustainable.

I still wonder how I managed to lose the 4.2 pounds I did. I attribute it to the fact that the first pounds are the easiest to lose.

Note that the big "A" zone in this image marks a time when I did not weight myself or did not enter the data in the spreadsheet. I just had a starting value (290) and an ending value (285.5).

Across January and February, different food rationing attempts and exercise routines were made. None of them were particularly effective. Either because they didn't achieve much, or were untenable. Finding a balance between "not enough result" and "so much effort it can't be sustained" would become the most difficult part of this effort. Still, another 5 pounds gone. It appeared that even though my rhythm was erratic, the effort was paying off.

March marked the very first bump. There would be more, but this one was the first, and it hit pretty hard. I was fully expecting my trip to San Francisco and the GDC (marked with A) to cause an upturn. But strangely, it was far otherwise. However, I caught a very bad case of the "con crud", a month-long cold, and went into a complete exercise shutdown just following the GDC. That prolonged period of idleness whose beginning is shown here, would see its effects continue in April. (Note that I did not weight myself during the period of the GDC).

As a first quarter go, this one wasn't so bad. From a 290 to a 279 trend 12 weeks. In three short months I had lost everything I had gained during the last year, so I had every reason to look up.

I had no clue that in a few more months, one of the main reasons why I managed to lose that weight would disappear.

Lesson learned: Finding a rhythm that's sustainable and delivers results is of the utmost importance. Accept that your first attempts may not be well-adjusted, be ready to readjust.

More to come in Quarter 2: Rhythm Found.


2010 Odyssey in Weight Loss - Prelude

2010 will have been a great year for my weight, as the data you will be presented with will attest. During the next few weeks you will be presented with 4 quarterly graphs showing my progress, each of which will be accompanied by a blog post like the one you're reading now.

Before I get started, a quick note on the process. I used to enter my weight everyday in an openoffice calc spreadsheet, and have it calculate my trend and so on. A very clunky process. In April I got the "libra" app for Android. More on it later, but it's absolutely awesome.

I cannot stress this enough: For me at least, having as much metric as possible is essential for many reasons. The more obvious one is to know where I am and where I'm going, but it's also awesome to link cause and effect. Again, more on that later.

Let's start with a quick recap of 2009:
Note that the red line represents the calculated trend, the white lines with red dots at the end represents the actual weight of the day. Anything in green was added later, and is referenced in the blog post.

2009 saw huge variations in my weight, mostly on the wrong side. The green line is an estimate based on the times I weighted myself during that period. I do remember starting 2009 in a downward trend. That wasn't the result of any effort on my part, as much as the result of a rather difficult breakup. The following climb also entered into that. First I lost my appetite, then I overcompensated. Wish I knew how I should've dealt with this better, but I consider it the same as getting into a tailspin: you do your best, but you accept you'll lose a lot of altitude.

Point A marks the beginning of a six-months off work sabbatical. Those weren't vacations by any means, but were really meant for me to finish this huge video game project I had been working on for 3 years. Considering I would be off work, I also assumed I would have plenty of time to exercise and so I bought a Dance Dance Revolution hard mat to help me out. Needless to say, that didn't do much.

One thing I will say about weight loss is that it's all in your head. But I don't mean it in a holistic bullshitty sort of way. I mean it in the sense that if you don't really absolutely commit to it, you'll fail. The "B" circle is a prime example of that. Notice how every time I get above the 290 pounds mark, I immediately take a downward turn, but as soon as I'm comfortably below, I climb back up?

This ping pong effect is the result of a great and absolute commitment that has always been with me. It simply is: I will never go over 300lbs. As soon as the threat looms, I adjust my behaviour, I change what I eat, and what I do, and I get results. As soon as the threat is gone, then eating right and exercising play second fiddle to working on my game project. If my brain could rework my behaviour around that commitment, then changing the nature of the commitment would be what's needed to get my weight lower.

Point C marks my return to my job after that sabbatical. I think the fact that I had utterly failed to achieve my project objectives did put things into perspective. I realized that had I focused on weight loss as a primary, and the project as a secondary, instead of the other way around, I still would have failed the project, but maybe I would have succeeded with weight loss.

So I went with the clichéd new year resolution. In 2010 I would take the necessary measures to drop the weight. Starting with buying equipment. Considering the space I had to deal with, I went with a stationary bike. And considering my weight, I went with a rather expensive one. Those kinds of decisions are always hard, because we all know where home exercise equipment usually end up, and that bike was more than a thousand bucks. How would that work out for me? More to come in the first entry of 2010: Enters the Bike.