Friday, February 26, 2016

Weight-Loss: The Plan

Christmas 1988 | A little Flashback Friday fun for you, huge shoulder pads and all.
I weighed approximately 110 pounds in this picture and was 26 years old.

Like many of you, I've struggled with my weight since my early 20s. I've done Weight Watchers (three times), Diet Center (twice), and Nutrisystem (once). Each diet worked, in the sense that I lost weight. I got down to either too slim (105 pounds) or a weight that I was happy with: 110-130 pounds. That's a 25-pound range, which reflects both the social pressure to be thin and the range of starting points.

Every one of these programs has a "maintenance" mode that you're supposed to follow either for a period of weeks, months, or the rest of your life. I never made it successfully through a maintenance or stabilization period.

The basic components of every diet I've ever followed are these:
  • Keep close track of what you eat by keeping a food journal.
  • Reduce calorie intake.
  • Exercise.
  • Be accountable.
Here's how I plan to implement them this time.

Food Journal

I cannot overstress the importance of writing down every single thing you eat or drink if you are hoping to reduce your calories. Countless times, I've thought, "Oh, I forgot to eat breakfast," only to remember (after eating a second breakfast) that I had, in fact, already eaten. Or I'll splurge a little at lunch and then (forgetting I've already splurged) will go for a sugar-stuffed dessert after dinner as well. There is room in any reasonable diet for little indulgences, but they need to be kept in check.

Cut the Calories (and the Carbs)

It's simple mathematics: if you burn more calories than you consume, you will have a net weight loss. I made two choices here, however:

  • I am going to do this over an extremely prolonged time, at least a year. Every diet I've followed previously has had a weight-loss goal of 2 pounds per week (or more). This time, I'm aiming for 2 pounds per month. I'm doing this so that it is more likely to become something sustainable. I also want it to feel less restrictive or punitive. It is important to me that I be able to have a serving of tiramisu when the opportunity arises. The risk with this approach is that I will not actually lose weight, so I may have to adjust as I go along. Even so, if I can simply not gain weight, I will consider it an improvement.
  • I am going to allow myself as much fruit as I want. I'm still recording it in my journal, but after a lifetime of filling the cravings with breads and sweets, I am determined that fruit is a step in the right direction. As time goes on, or if I hit a plateau in my weight loss, I may start restricting fruit.
My niece recently shared an interesting TED Talk that highlights the role of carbohydrates, in particular, when it comes to diabetes and appetite. 

As a result of watching this, I've customized my carbohydrate goals (independently of my calorie goals). I haven't met the goals yet, but I've only been trying for a couple of days. Boy, is it hard! 


My endocrinologist told me (this week) that recent research indicates that exercise is not actually an effective way to lose weight on its own. She didn't give me a copy of the article, but my impression is that appetite and metabolism both compensate as activity levels increase. Having said that, my goal is not to burn calories without adjusting my food intake. I'm doing them together. My "exercise" program is also extremely moderate -- walking (with an occasional snow-shoe or ski expedition thrown in). A one-hour walk will only burn about 250 calories.

My main reason for including exercise in the plan is to support an overall health objective: as I age, I want to retain as much core strength and aerobic fitness as I reasonably can. The improved fitness I've seen since I started walking two years ago has recently meant that I can remove blood-pressure pills from my daily medicine cabinet. The more prescriptions I can eliminate, the better.


Research has shown that accountability is a key factor in successfully making lifestyle changes -- from substance abuse to weight loss. Once we declare our intentions, it is harder to just shrug off setbacks. All of the weight-loss programs I mentioned above include weekly weigh-ins, that undeniable moment where you come face-to-face with another person and look at the evidence.

By announcing this journey here on my blog, I am, in a sense, making myself accountable to you. It makes it that much harder to just . . . change my mind, as I've done so often in the past ten years.


There are three tools that are helping me change my ways.

1. Light Therapy
My lamp: Sun Touch Plus by NatureBright

Every fall, I've felt my mood and energy level sinking like a wiggly pig in quicksand. The days get shorter, the skies become grey, and I just want to curl up in a ball and sleep. Or sit in my comfy chair and eat and cry. I've tried SAD Light therapy before, but didn't do my research first so (surprise!) it wasn't effective.

This time, I bought a lamp recommended by a friend and followed the "prescription": 45 minutes a day of 10,000 lux with my eyes open. It's that last bit that I had missed before. I had been using my SAD lamp to wake me up each morning, but the light (apparently) needs to hit the iris in order to trigger the desired effects.

I've been using it now for three months and it's gotten to the point that I can tell when I've forgotten to "do my light" -- I get lethargic in the afternoon, sometimes sleepy, but certainly unmotivated to do anything at all, especially make a healthy dinner.

Some may consider light therapy to be a placebo, but, honestly, I don't care. It's working. Without it, I find it hard to do the afternoon exercise that I intend to do.

2. Food Journal
My Fitness Pal: That five-week forecast is really encouraging.
The updates that forecast weight gain are like a splash of cold water.
Note that I do not routinely earn 584 activity calories!

Kathy Fredericks (from the Junk Drawer blog) pointed me to My Fitness Pal, an online app (by Under Armor) that includes a food and exercise diary. I started logging that night. It's a great tool, easy-to-use, and has a really extensive and easy-to-use food database as well as social-sharing to add motivation.

3. Activity Tracking 

A snapshop of the "dashboard" of the online FitBit app.

I had already been thinking about getting a FitBit, which is a tool that my brother and his family use to track their day-to-day activity and which has shown enough benefits that health insurance companies have started offering incentives for people to use them. So when I noticed that My Fitness Pal's app syncs with FitBit, I decided to take the plunge.

The FitBit also tracks sleep, which is something I'm interested in, since I do have mild sleep apnea -- I want to keep an eye on how frequently I wake up each night.

There are so many "activity trackers" on the market that it was somewhat confusing to choose the right one for me. In the end, I went with the mid-level FitBit Flex in part because I feel that its market share will ensure longevity of the product and support. Once I got it, I fell in love with the dashboard.

The FitBit band that I wear on my wrist gives an exciting little buzz and flash of lights when you reach your daily "steps" goal. I am juvenile enough to really appreciate that. It's like a little gold star on your homework. The real-time feedback has already proven effective in getting me out of my chair and into my boots. And, at least once, I've looked at my end-of-day status and decided to go for an evening walk so I could meet my goal, so I think it's paying for itself.

So Far

I'm still in the honeymoon stages here, so I'm predictably obsessed with checking in with the FitBit dashboard and logging all my food. I imagine that enthusiasm will taper off, which is when the accountability will kick in.


  1. This sounds amazing! I love that you are focusing on a lifestyle change versus weight loss alone.
    For exercise you are spot on, but I'd also encourage you to do some low impact strength training as well. Reducing body fat percentage is as important, maybe even more important, than weight loss. If you increase your lean body mass, your metabolism will function better and allow greater flexibility when you are in maintenance stages.
    Now that you are logging your food, would you mind sharing what your specific nutrient goals are? How many calories and carbohydrates are you aiming to consume per day?
    - Melissa

    1. My doctor also recommended some strength training. I'll probably get there, but it's not on the books yet.

      I'm still tweaking the dietary plan, especially as I've just received a few book recommendations, but stay tuned. I'll share!

  2. Sounds great W.A., and inspiring! I have been cautioned about the fruit. That's 1000% better than empty calories, but some fruits can play havoc with blood sugar (eg. bananas...I can't eat them without crashing). I was advised 2 servings of fruit, and dive into unlimited celery, cucumber, and some avocado and carrots. I struggle with consistency and accountability, so I like your strategies!

    1. Fruits definitely have a carb load and some, like bananas, have a really high "glycemic index" -- they hit your blood stream hard and fast. Eating a few nuts along with the fruit should help, but you're right: fruits that you have to really chew or that are higher in fibre will be better for you, especially if you are prone to sugar spikes and slumps.

  3. Sounds like a great plan. And having all these apps definitely does help one keep track of their goals and eating habits. Right now I am doing the 21 Day Fix Challenge -- and it is a challenge!! I love the colour coded containers that tell me how many of each food I can have per day. Even if it only allows me 2 of those coveted yellow carb containers a day! That's less than a cup of carbs. Ugh. There is also a tracker app that allows you to record what you have eaten, so I can never go overboard on the carbs if I faithfully log in the foods.

    What I don't like so much about the plan, is that it is very calorie restrictive. I am only allowed 1200 calories per day, and the majority comes from protein and vegetables. 1200 is about 600 less than what the average woman may require, BUT I am doing workouts that burn up to 300 calories in 30 minutes. Since they include strength training that really ramps up my metabolism. Plus I already do almost daily yoga. So, the plan is working: I am losing weight, gaining muscle, etc. etc. But seriously doubt I could maintain this 1200 calorie per day for an extended time. I am hungry a bit at the end of the day, and will only sneak more veggies!! There is absolutely no diary or sugar on this challenge. None. Nada. I'd almost kill for a glass of milk at this point! ha.

    1. I don't think I could successfully follow the 21-Day Fix plan. Although, for 21 days, I could probably put up with anything. I've just been there so many times before that I'm really hoping for different results.

      I don't imagine that the plan expects you to stay on it forever -- 1200 calories is not enough to live on!


What did you think? Any comments?

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