Thursday, June 5, 2014

Duh: Realizations and a New Plan

Based on my weight, body fat percentage and muscle percentage, I have made little progress over the last three months. We joined the gym in February and have been using it several times a week since, and I started tracking my food and limiting my calories in the beginning of March.

My body has definitely improved in those months: My waist and hips are a little trimmer, my arms and legs have more definition, and I feel that I’m stronger all around and have increased endurance. However, despite these minor physical changes, I’m basically still where I started three months ago.

I’ve been upset, and still hate seeing my rounded face in photos. I’ve tried not to think about how I had expected to lose twenty pounds by now, but instead I’m still wearing a 14 and size Large in most things and nobody who doesn’t know I’m trying to get into shape has seemed to notice any changes. So what gives?

Let me back up a moment.

My weight loss approach to each day has been simple: I can either have a “loss” day, in which I have a calorie deficit, a “maintenance” day, where I eat exactly the number of calories I would need to maintain my weight, which is about 1800 calories, or a “gain” day, where I go above the maintenance level. Every day I start over. It’s nice to know that I have the possibility of losing weight each day, even if it’s only a fraction of a pound. Each day’s weight losses or gains are negligible; but combined, they’re what adds up to fifty pounds gained or lost in a year.

Over these months, I’ve been aiming for a net of 1250-1300 calories, with Saturday and sometimes Friday at a maintenance  or lesser loss level, and 3-5 gym sessions per week. I’ve been pushing myself at the gym, and tracking perhaps five or six out of seven days, carefully weighing and measuring all my food and tracking it all in MyFitnessPal (leahb423, if you’re also on).

Most of these weeks have ended with me getting increasingly annoyed as the scale didn’t move. While I was frustrated at the lack of progress I felt I’d earned, I recently realized the obvious: I just haven’t been doing the math.

According to various Internet sources, I burn about 1800 calories in an average, no exercise day. Thus if I want to lose a pound a week, I need to eat about 1300 calories per day, plus whatever extra I’ve burned off. Alternatively, I could eat more on some days and less on others as long as the total weekly deficit adds up to 3,500 calories.

I think my stagnation boils down to a few simple things:
1) I let myself indulge, have a “maintenance” day on weekends where sometimes I didn’t even track anything
2) being satisfied with only a 200-350 calorie deficit for the other days
3) Two or three crappy, PMS-ing, bored, overeating days every month or so

Those things combined don’t steady weight loss make. If it takes a 3,500 calorie deficit to lose one pound in a week, and I only have a 1000-1750 calorie deficit from Sunday-Thursday, and then I allow myself a zero deficit day or a “lesser” deficit day - well, that’s maybe a pound or two a month. Combine that with sporadic splurging weeks where I end up with no deficit or, in the case of Passover, where I go over my calories, then there is not really any point where there is steady weight loss. Even with regular exercise.

This seems obvious as I write it, but somehow it didn’t hit me that the only way I could lose a pound a week on this plan would be to get that full 500-calorie deficit every day during the week.

Out of the many weight-loss mantras that I heard sprouted around the Internet and in Weight Watchers, one that stuck in my head was this: If you put in 80% of the work, you’ll get 80% of the results. With weight loss, just one or two hundred calories each day can be the difference between losing twenty pounds over a year, or gaining twenty. So maybe for weight loss, putting in 80% of the work can actually yield zero results. I got to the gym, I track most of the time, I weigh, I measure - that’s the 80%. But then I don’t track on one or two days, or I go a little over. That 20% is killing me.

To illustrate my point, I went back over a recent four-week period to see exactly what I’d been doing. Note this was a time when I was tracking almost everything, including the milk in my morning coffee, and working out, and felt I should have been losing weight - but wasn’t.

Four Week Period from April 28-May 25
  • Week of Apr. 28-May 4
    • 3 workouts
    • Tracked 5 calorie deficit days, did not track two days
    • Deficits ranged from 300-500
  • Week of May 5-11
    • 3 workouts
    • Tracked 6 days, with an average of 400 over optimal weight loss caloric intake - some 200 over, one 600 calories over  
  • Week of May 12-18 
    • 5 workouts
    • Tracked 5 days tracking, over from 50-300 on each day, 2 non tracking over days
  • Week of May 19-25 
    • 6 workouts 
    • Tracked 5 days, over 100-200 for all days, with one day at over 500 above “losing” level

Ouch. Out of those 28 days, I didn’t track a full 25% of them, and went over the 1300 calorie limit on most of the days I did track. No wonder I’m not losing weight!

I’m tiring of being frustrated, and done doing this half-assed.

The new plan: 

I will aim to eat 1000-1100 net calories per day, and to exercise 5-6 days a week. On days I work out, I will eat back as many of those calories as I want or need.

This is the plan for the next eight weeks, starting on Sunday and ending on August 3rd. After those 56 days, I will see how I’m doing, see how I feel, and possibly up my daily calories. I probably don’t want to eat just 1000-1100 calories for the rest of the my weight loss journey, but for this little slice in time, where I’ve been pathetically, whine-nily treading for months, I need to start.

As a side note, J suggested that he track my weight for this time so I’m not focused on whether or not I’m losing enough. I decided that would be a good idea, so I will either wait the whole eight weeks or more likely, make him tell me after a month. Sometimes I can’t believe that my husband knows what I weigh, and that it’s now more than he does (shame), and he doesn’t seem to care, but this is just reason #423 why he’s a great husband.

Anyway. Join me as I finally kick this weight loss in the ass. Week 1 starts on Sunday.

It's stuck in your head now too.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am doing what works for me. I am barely over five feet tall, and I personally don’t go by the assumption that 1200 net calories is a magical, universal number under which all women of all heights and builds will have their bodies slip into starvation mode.

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