Last month I reached my goal to lose weight. The people in my life have been very curious about how I've managed to accomplish this, but it basically boiled down to exercising more and eating less. They seem to have a look of disappointment, expecting something along the lines of One Weird Trick to Shed All Those Pounds, but it really has been that way. Today I had a coworker tweet me this:
@waynehartman you've inspired me. Apple Watch in hand. Tell me what apps and approach you've used to get so svelte.— John Griffin (@thinkgriff) October 31, 2015
I sat down to write something that I thought was going to be short, but it quickly ballooned into something bigger.
I’ve broken this into three sections: hardware, software, and methodology. Standard disclaimers apply: this worked for me, but your mileage may vary, yada, yada. You could get the same results doing other things. I also make no representation of any studies, claims, etc. that are mentioned here. I won't even link to them. Seriously, our understanding of biology, how the body metabolizes food, etc. is poorly understood at best.
There are other activity trackers, but I think they are much less accurate than the Apple Watch. Apple Watch also integrates with the Apple software ecosystem, unlike FitBit that staunchly refuses to. Having all my health data centralized in a single place was really important to me. My data is my data and not somebody else's.
Withings Smart Body Analyzer
This runs for $159 on Amazon, but was an essential part of how I did things. It not only measures your weight, but will measure body fat percentage. Body fat percentage is way more important than BMI (body mass index) and factors things in like muscle and bone mass. People are built differently, but fat is fat.
More important than that, though, is this automates all the data collection around progress. It connects via WiFi and syncs your data with Withings and Apple's Health app.
Important: Your weight will fluctuate throughout the week. This is completely normal. There will be ups and there will be downs. Don't freak out when you seemingly gain or lose a pound between days. The important thing to pay attention to is the trend line. As long as things are trending down, you're on the right path.
The other important aspect is being consistent on not just when you measure, but how. I got in the routine of measuring my weight after a workout, before eating or drinking, just before jumping into the shower. Whatever routine you get into, do it the same every day.
Withings This is the free companion app for the Smart Body Analyzer.
Apple Workout Watch app This is the preinstalled Apple Watch app (green icon with the silhouette of a runner).
Apple Activity iPhone Watch app This is the preinstalled Apple Watch app with the three rings.
Overcast Free podcasting app. Walking and running are boring. Some people enjoy listening to music for their workouts, but I do not. Use Overcast to subscribe to podcasts you find interesting to keep your mind occupied while you exercise. There isn't a shortage of mentally stimulating content out there; find something that works for you.
I'm not a podcasting snob, but Apple's default app is crap.
Starting Things Off
I started off walking for 30 minutes every day. Nothing grueling. The key was consistency, never giving any excuses why I shouldn’t be out there. I knew that I wouldn’t have much motivation to make that much time during or after the day, so I set myself on a schedule to get up earlier to fit it in before getting ready for the day. I always start my exercise using the built-in Workout app on the watch. Whether you use this app or not it will track your exercise in the Activity app, but the Workout app will give you things like distance traveled, active calories burned, and pace. The first part of your routine is just about setting up consistency. That's it.
Upping The Game
Once you're in the swing of things after a few weeks, start improving your pace. If your pace is a 15 minute mile, trying speeding things up to a 14.5 minute mile and so on and so forth. Over the course of months, I got my pace up to under 12 minutes. This is really fast for walking. Things got to a point where jogging felt like the next natural thing to go even faster. Today I went on a nearly 9 mile run and averaged an 8 minute pace.
Also start throwing other things into the mix: extending the duration of your workout past 30 minutes, elongating the distance, etc. With aerobic exercise, there are a lot of levers for adjusting and improving your routine. You can even include sprints: starting running for a minute and then resuming your walking.
My path involved setting workout calorie goals. On weekdays I target getting 500 calories of workout. On a run I get this in under an hour. On weekends, I target getting 700, just because my activity throughout the day is naturally less. You don't have to have the same goals as I do. Do something that works for you, but makes you stretch a little.
An important aspect to my success was making gradual improvements. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you push yourself too far, too fast then chances of discouragement increase. Slow and steady wins this race.
Another important aspect of exercise involves increasing activity throughout the day. We tend to optimize our lives around convenience, which turns out nice time-wise, but I constantly sought ways to make myself more active throughout the day. For example, instead of parking close to where my desk is at work, I park the furthest away. This sounds silly, but that alone adds in 1.75 additional miles of walking at the beginning and end of the work day.
There are tons of other places, too. Instead of using the closest bathroom, go to the furthest (without wetting your pants, of course). Schedule walking meetings: instead of going into a one on one with your manager in a room, walk, instead. Don't go to the nearest cafeteria for lunch, etc. Catching it, yet?
There are obvious things, too: Don't use elevators, use stairs, instead.
The key is to make excuses to move around. You'd be surprised how many opportunities there are for getting tons of exercise throughout the day.
Embrace The Gamification
The single biggest help with doing all of the above is the Activity app. Filling those rings becomes extremely addictive and fun. Make sure you do the standing activity. Standing up in the middle of a meeting is not awkward—at all. If anyone asks, just tell them the truth: I'm trying to get more activity and this meeting has kept me sitting for too long. People will definitely be OK with that and may actually get them thinking about being more active as well. I'll even stand during the majority of a meeting.
Make it a point of filling those circles. Every. Single. Day. You'll get badges and things for doing different workouts and meeting your goals. The biggest one is the Longest Move Streak. This one is the number of days in a row that you've met your activity goal. As of this writing I'm going on 191 days. Once you start getting a streak going you psychologically DO NOT want to break it. It's crazy, but this has kept me going, even when I'm not feeling well.
Final Thoughts On Exercise
I want to emphasize again the importance of consistency. It's easy to wake up in the morning and your body says: uhhh, I wan't to sleep in or I don't know if I feel good. In these moments you need to embrace your inner drill sergeant and tell yourself to get your fanny out the door on the ground exercising. If you've already made your mind up about what you're going to do, it's easier to just tell your body to go.
I'll just say that this one is probably the hardest aspect of slimming down and will be the most difficult for you to interpret for your own situation. There is a ton of pseudoscience and just plain horse hockey around diets, what's healthy, what's bad, etc. Some new diet, study, or other malarky will come out saying that you should do one thing, only to have it 'disproven' a few years later. It's incredibly hard to trust what is really science, what is anecdotal, and what is just plain filthy marketing lies.
I do not subscribe to any specific dietary guideline. No Atkins, low-carb, high-fat, or other hocus pocus nonsense. My eating routine is very predictable for breakfast and lunch. My so-called 'diet' revolved around a very simple concept: moderation.
Before my weight loss I didn't ever technically eat breakfast. There is a lot of science that says this isn't good, but recent studies suggest it doesn't have an effect wither way. I tended to err on the idea that not eating breakfast slows down your metabolism which is not a good thing. For breakfast I eat a modest bowl of Wheat Chex with 2% milk. I then eat about cup of low sugar greek yogurt. Turns out that 'greek yogurt' has turned into health fad and since there isn't an FDA definition of what 'greek yogurt' is, there is a lot of trickery on what is actually healthy or not. The bottom line is eat stuff high in protein and low on sugar. Most stuff you see at the store is the opposite: low protein and high sugar. I get Chobani Simply 100 vanilla. It's boring, but it for those metrics is pretty good tasting and healthier than most stuff at stores.
For lunch on weekdays, I used to always get a footlong sub. Now I just get a six inch. We have a healthy eating program at work and I can get a six inch ham sub for $2.02. The past several months I have switched to eating toasted flat bread. I don't know if this is actually healthier for you than eating baked bread, but whatever.
For lunch on weekends, I'll eat leftovers from dinner or make a tuna sandwich. Fish contain a lot of things that are currently considered healthy and few things are tastier than a tuna fish sandwich with regular mayonnaise and chipotle Tabasco sauce. I realize that not everybody enjoys those things, but everything tastes better with Tabasco sauce. :P
Dinner is always the wildcard. That's what you do to switch things up. But it's also the most difficult to control what's being prepared. My wife usually does the cooking and I didn't want the family to have to cater to any goofy way of eating. My best advice here (which applies to breakfast and lunch, too) is portion control. Eat slow. Don't eat until you're stuffed. Eat until you just before or at being satiated. This is going to be really hard, because chances are you are accustomed to eating throughout the evening and responding to the beckon and call of any indication of hunger from your stomach.
Our stomach growls at us sometimes even though the body is not technically hungry or in need of sustenance. We eat sometimes when we are bored, anxious, or stressed. The trick is to recognize those triggers and replace them with something else.
Snacks are totally cool. I literally schedule a snack on my watch to go off at 10am and 3pm. I eat a snack even if my body isn't technically hungry. I am careful not to prescribe anything in particular, but some general guidelines would be low-calorie, low (or no) sodium, and no sugar. I regularly snack on cheese and unsalted dry-roasted almonds. These items are high in fat (which is currently in-vogue) but very tasty.
I had a really bad habit of eating very late at night. I pretty much set a rule for myself not to eat anything past 7:30pm, no matter how hungry I might of felt.
Other Intake Changes
I was a huge sugary carbonated beverage drinker. I'd have 2-3 Pepsi's a day. It was awful. I didn't get rid of the habit altogether, but instead of drinking Pepsi all-day every-day, I'd have one on the weekend. That was a really bad habit to break. Some of you may have a Starbucks habit. I won't pretend that you'll just give that up, but a lot of the things that get put into coffee really super-size the caloric intake. Sugar, milk, and syrups really make those beverages less than good for you. Find a way to reduce or completely eliminate them.
Another less-desirable habit is eating out. Eating out in and of itself isn't bad, it's just that it's not that hard to get a 1500+ calorie meal when you get a giant hamburger, giant fries, and a giant Coke. I did not eliminate going out, I just reduced frequency and, again, adjusted portions. For example, at 5 Guys, instead of getting a double patty hamburger, I'd get a single. Instead of super-sizing everything, I'd get a small fries and drink a low-calorie soda or (gasp!) water.
Other Things To Consider
You're not a robot, so do, get, or eat things to reward progress. For example, after a month of consistent exercise, I rewarded myself with a pair of bluetooth water-resistant headphones. After a few months of consistent exercise and my first 5K race, I bought my very first pair of running shoes and socks that guaranteed to prevent blisters (those socks especially saved my life—and my feet!).
There were some days where I was absolutely going out of my mind, craving a burger. I was having a good week, so rather than endure the insanity, I went and enjoyed one. You can't lose your mind just to gain your body. It takes both working together.
Beware The Psychology Of Calories
No where in here did I mention counting calories. I never engaged in that silly behavior, but I did use calories as a measuring stick to ask myself: Do I really want to eat this? If I eat this, then I will have to walk x minutes to work it off. Sometimes the answer is a resounding yes! Most of the time, however, this was a deterrent because the satisfaction of consuming it wouldn't be worth the work to negate its effects.
I'll warn you that this path can be dangerous, psychologically speaking. A study I recently came across found that most people that use running to lose weight had limited success because they ended up actually eating more than they exercised. They had psychologically tricked themselves into thinking that Hey, I'm doing all this running, so eating this thing won't hurt my progress. Turns out we're bad estimating our consumption versus our activity burn.
I am not embarrassed to repeat this, yet again, at the end: Be consistent. Habits can be very powerful things. They can trap us in the most vile of patterns or make us doers of regular good. Simply showing up every day to get exercise will do wonders for your health. Staunchly guarding against over-eating with excuses not to eat something will make keeping on-track easier. I work in an area where free food abounds. It was really hard to walk past the wafting aroma of good food and keep going. But each time I did it reinforced a habit of not stuffing my face at every opportune moment.
After five months I reached my target weight, but the journey is hardly over. I am still in the mode of changing and adjusting my lifestyle. This isn't about losing or even keeping the weight off, it's about permanently changing the course of my life. I've taken it one day at a time, making small incremental goals along the way. My next long-term goal is run a marathon. I've mapped out in my mind what the milestones will be along the way and I have already visualized what the day will be like. And I am really excited for that day to come. Whatever your health goals are, those days will come as well. Just keep on it and don't give up.