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Coding Yourself Into Shape

Today, I've hit a new low.

224 lbs. This is as low as I've been in a great long while.

I've been looking and thinking about this graph for a while and have come to some conclusions.

I ran some last year and it didn't help much. 

The first day I was under 240 (the orange line, separating overweight and obese for my height on the BMI index) was October 7, 2012. (I get that it's problematic because Fat Albert and in-his-prime Mike Tyson were about the same height and weight, but there's a huge difference, pun intended, between their body composition. When people start mistaking me for a heavyweight champion, I'll start worrying about being placed wrong on the BMI chart.) I started running at some point in the summer and mostly ended after a 5K I participated in on August 25. The trend line for weight doesn't change significantly, sticking with the ~1lb/week during that time.

Be aware that this is self-tracked, and there are some days where I forgot to weigh and some weeks when I was unable to check against my scale, and this version of the graph does not show the gaps.

So, what did help?

The majority of my weight loss during that time is probably attributable to drinking more water and less caffeine.

There were certainly times when I lived off the stuff.
In April 2009, I started to think about all the bad things they say about caffeine, as well as all the good things, and decided that I'd go cold turkey, test it out on myself and see for myself.

The first day, I took my boys to a pizza place with a soda fountain, and I had two cups of Diet Coke before I thought about it. The second day, I did much the same. This is why we call it a habit, because we start continuing behaviors because that's what we do.

The third day, I remembered and went without anything.

The fourth day, my co-worker looked over at me, with my area's lights off, hunched over, nauseous and with a head that felt like it was exploding, and told me "If you have the flu, you should just go home." I gave up. But I started cutting back. Way back.

Right now, I tend to drink two cups of coffee a day, only on work days, and never on work days. Sometimes maybe a cup on Sundays, but rarely.

The way I think of the problem with cola, even diet is:
  • As I got from Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Body, Never Drink Calories
  • We put artificial sweetener into our drinks in order to trick our tongues into thinking the drink is sugary and therefore tasty. Current thought is that our pancreas is similarly tricked, thus creating large amounts of Insulin and storing our calories as fat. 
  • The body works better with sleep. When you caffeinate, you mess up your sleep. When you don't get good sleep, you get fat.
  • If you don't drink it all the time, there's withdrawal, which give the flu-like symptoms I describe above. I heard a story about how a person's mom tried to get his dad to switch to decaf on weekends, and the illness and headaches almost led to them getting a divorce. Part of what I began to realize was that I was having the same effects, and sometimes still do. 
I have never really trusted the bad things said about Aspartame, but there's enough here to make me choose water over cola every time.

You should never be hungry.

Time was, I would only eat dinner most days. Beyond what it might've done to slow my metabolism, it made me famished by the end of the day, and, as I was either a CS student or a developer for those days, and willpower and cognitive processing draw from the same pool, by the end of the day, as I was exhausted, I made stupid decisions, ate as much as I could, then fell asleep.

Right now, I eat cheaply and probably not right — generally a packet of oatmeal for breakfast and a $1 TV dinner for lunch — I always eat, so I'm never so famished that I couldn't say "no" to the promise of a snack, or to thirds. I don't always do so, as I'm a weak, weak man, but I'm better than I was.

Eventually, you get all the benefits you're going to get for one change.

The story from October to the middle of summer is pretty much +/- 5lbs from 235 lbs, which is pretty much stasis. (Reading Back, that doesn't make sense. Trying to rewrite) The sudden drop at about 375 on the graph above (I really need to put dates into the graph!) occurred over Christmas/New Years', when I was away, visiting with family. Days out and about with my family in Nevada are different than snowy days in Indiana, so that shows that other changes in diet and exercise made more difference at 235lbs than they did before.

My newest changes are more exercise — I try to make it to the gym three times a week but usually more hist twice — and less carbs — as suggested by Randal Schwartz, I tend to eat the toppings off pizzas but leave the bread alone, and not just the crust — and those are leading to the current drop. We'll see how far these take me.

Your body is hackable.

The graph above and the data it shows exist because I read Tim Ferriss' book, The 4-Hour Body. I'm not doing everything in it — it's probably accurate to say I'm not doing anything in it — but most everything in this post started with me trying to affect the inputs to the black box that is my body and trying to get different outputs.

The graphs and the core of my first approach has been mostly inspired by John Walker's Hacker's Diet. My graph shows a several-day rolling average, but not a weighted average like Walker suggests, because that was the limit to the amount of SQL I knew.

My goal right now is to get to and stay at about +/-5lbs from 200, and I think I can do that. My other goal is to not be able to pinch an inch on my belly. I've been able to do that ever since Special K started showing that ad.

There's more things to change than weight.

In many ways, I enjoyed my time trying to build up to a 5K last year. I didn't enjoy all of it. There was intense pain, mostly in my right foot, and running on feet that hurt you is not fun. So, I went to see a podiatrist, who said that my left ankle is pronated and my right was even more so, so much that my right achilles tendon is in the wrong place. She made me orthotics. I personally don't think they did much good, and I stopped wearing them earlier this summer. Over the last few weeks, I've been using a home-made standing desk, basically monitors on top of the hutch and a box holding my keyboard up. I might get a purpose-built desk to replace this in the fullness of time, but this was mostly to prove the concept.

I have to say that, for the first two weeks, my feet were always sore. The problem wasn't the sole of the foot, but rather the arches going into the ankle. The interesting thing has happened in the last week: I've felt something happen with my heel which might be my tendon going back into position, and I'm pretty sure my ankle looks better and has better range of motion than it has in quite some time. So, for that change alone, I don't think I'll go back to a standard desk any time soon.

Making it a more public process helps with motivation.

When I make new milestones with my weight loss, I tweet my weight, linking to a JavaScript graph of my recent progress. I wear a FitBit most every day, and have code that connects to the FitBit API and also tweets my steps and floors each day. You can even follow me directly on FitBit. I even have my running tracker, Endomondo, post to Twitter and Facebook, even if I wish it wouldn't post the map.

I don't feel like running every day. I don't feel motivated to just eat the toppings off pizza every day. That people I know can know what I'm doing and give me encouragement is a major part of what I'm doing. (Learning how to make the graphs and sparklines and such is another big part.)

If you have something you want to change about yourself, the thing I would suggest is to break it into things you can keep track of, then go for it!

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