Get quantitative — it’s magic

In the summer of 2004, we had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and I realized that in the stress of all that had happened in the previous 12 months, I had reached an all-time top weight. For the first time, I decided to try Weight Watchers, paying each month for access to their website but not wanting to attend meetings. I lost 15 lbs in about 5 months and then ran headlong into December. At that point, I completely derailed, could not seem to get back on track, and over the following 5 years, I gained it all back and then some.

Again, last summer I found I had reached another all-time high, and after being inspired by research findings from the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, I began a new campaign of phased calorie reduction with the aim of permanent calorie restriction once I reached my goal, which was to maintain my weight within the recommended range for my age (old) and height (short). My goal also included not spending money on websites, mail-order meals, gym memberships, or edible food-like substances. I wanted to eat my own cooking, use a low-tech documentation approach, indulge occasionally in french fries, lose weight, and keep it off.

How… does one do that? I explained in an earlier post, but again this December, I hit another brick wall. But this time, I knew it was coming and so I prepared a bit. Unlike 5 years ago, this time I avoided gaining weight over the holidays. I did not lose weight, but I did not gain. I “intended” to get back on my plan after the holidays, but after a few relatives left, there remained a couple more, and gradually they left one by one, and I went back to work, and the weather was stinky, and I fell into the usual January slump. And I did not lose weight. 

I have an Excel database with everything on one sheet. I’ve kept it up since August 4, 2009, and that in itself is surprising! This week, I should be a few more pounds along the way towards my goal than I am, considering my average weight loss of about half a pound a week. But I see on my spreadsheet that for 3 weeks in January, my records were very spotty and inconsistent. I was not tracking well at all, and not losing weight. And I suspect, eating more than my target.

I have to recognize, too, that these things I think I’m missing so badly are really not all that satisfying. That donut in the Mendota Market that looks so yummy turns out to be a few days old and not so delicious. The orange scone on the reception desk in my office rests lead-like in my stomach. I don’t need that stuff. And last night, I was able to walk right past a food table at an evening event I attended on campus, knowing I’d already consumed my calories for today. Everything looked good, but I just walked on by because I’d already eaten — not so easy really, most times in the past, but this time I did it. And I made a note about it in my spreadsheet.

So, this week, I’m focused again. I lost 20 pounds in the latter half of 2009 and I want to shed another 10 to be within the recommended weight range. I can do it. But I have to get quantitative about it and I have to be rigidly focused. Estimation, guessing, and not writing things down will not result in weight loss! I’m armed with my spreadsheet,, my calculator and my little squares of paper. Each evening, the top priority is 5 minutes to put the data into my spreadsheet, after I cook my dinner! We are back to menus, weekend grocery shopping, and we don’t need desserts every night.

Good ol’ Michael Pollan: “The S policy: no snacks, no sweets, no seconds, except on days that begin with the letter S.”

I’m back to writing down the total calories consumed for the day, my weight, the number of hours I’ve slept, and the number of minutes of exercise I get each day. I aim for 30 minutes every single day, and it’s usually walking either outside or treadmill. Sometimes, it’s shoveling snow; sometimes housecleaning; sometimes hauling scrapbooking product up and down stairs; sometimes just climbing stairs. Once the weather improves the exercise will be biking, walking trails, and maybe even some running.

Another problem came up as a result of not tracking quantitatively. My sleep began to suffer. I knew I was not getting enough sleep and that the only way to force it was to pull out the little notebook and write in when I turn out the light, when I get up and how many hours I’ve slept. I’m now beginning to see “7” in that last column again. 7 is my goal.

So, writing things in a little book or in a computer spreadsheet is true magic. Write it down and make it happen. This is Week 27 of the Rhesus Monkey Diet!

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