Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Geek's Guide to Dieting, Part 1

I started dieting 3 4 months ago, and as of today I've lost over 30 40 lbs. I thought I'd share some tips on how I've been able to reduce weight and stick to my diet plan. In Part 2, I'll also discuss some of the diet-friendly (yet tasty) foods I've latched on to.

I've lost more than 2 bowling balls of weight

Let me begin with some words of encouragement: you can do this! If I can do it, anyone can. As you'll read below, I'm about the worst candidate for weight loss you can imagine, yet I'm doing it. You can too.

The Geek's Dilemma: A Sedentary Lifestyle

I've certainly attempted diets before, usually ending in failure. One thing I learned from those experiences is that temporary diets are destined to fail, because when they're over you revert back to life as usual. Instead, you've got to make permanent lifestyle changes that you can stick with. This time around, I've been able to do that and that's why it's been working. 

As anyone who's ever made a New Year's resolution knows, lifestyle changes are hard. I think it's even harder for geeks who can't tear themselves away from their work. I'm a software developer with project responsibilities and looming deadlines, and that means a sedentary lifestyle. I spend 12 hours+ a day sitting. There's not a whole lot of exercise going on, other than conjugal visits (heh heh). And realistically, that's not going to change much. I may take an occasional walk but it's been hard to get into a daily exercise routine. That leaves food as the logical area of focus for me, and that's where I've had some success.

Another challenge for me is that I really love food! My wife is an excellent cook. Gourmet cooking is her hobby, so there's lots of good food at home. Half the time Food Network is what we're watching on TV. Plus, we like to dine out. We usually dine out as a family every Sunday.

Lastly, I have Type 2 Diabetes which really complicates things. With diabetes you're needing to eat often, but with a diet you've got to eat less. What prompted me to start dieting again was the realization that I've been putting on a great deal of weight year after year since the onset of diabetes about 5 years ago. 

Limiting Your Daily Calories

But what kind of diet to go on? There are endless diets to choose from, but I had some specific criteria to narrow things down. I needed something that would be:

1. Simple
2. Not expensive
3. Not unpleasant
4. Not disruptive to family dinners

This criteria quickly eliminated many diet approaches. Special diet foods were out: they cost a lot of money, taste foul, and complicate family dinners if I have to eat something different from everybody else. 

I ultimately settled on something very, very simple: limiting the amount of calories I eat each day. Simply eating less has a lot going for it. It doesn't restrict what you eat. When eating with others, you don't have to be eating something different.

I started out at 1800 calories a day, but wasn't seeing much weight loss so I reduced that until I started getting results. Since getting down to 1200 calories a day, weight loss has been around 10 lbs a month. (Note: if you're considering limiting your daily calories, you should set a limit that makes sense for your height and weight. There are online calculators for that, or even better discuss with your doctor.)

Tracking Your Calories

With a firm calorie/day goal in mind, the next question is how to keep track of everything you put into your mouth. These days, that's fairly easy. Many restaurants now display calories on their menu and/or have nutrition information on their web sites. Food products you purchase list calories in their Nutrition Facts labels. For dishes prepared at home, there are apps that let you enter ingredients and calculate calories for the dish.

Speaking of apps, an invaluable tool for tracking calories is My Fitness Pal, a free phone app. It lets you set and track your daily calorie goals and track what you eat (with an enormous database of foods and calories). It also keeps track of your weight goal and lets you enter your weight as it changes. My Fitness Pal is a key element to my diet plan.

Tracking meals in My Fitness Pal

Weight reduction progress in My Fitness Pal

Sticking to a Daily Routine

I settled into a daily eating routine that has become ingrained in me, which is very helpful to sticking to the diet plan. Here it is:

Breakfast (120 calories)
Coffee with creamer

Mid-morning snack (0-40 calories)
Pickles (0) or Tangerine (40)

Lunch, Part 1 - Noon (250 calories)
Microwave meal

Lunch, Part 2 - Mid-afternoon (210 calories)

Dinner (600 calories)
Whatever's being served, but not more than 600 calories

Evening (20 calories)
Diet Snapple
Sugar-free Jello

A big challenge for me is the stretches between eating, hard on me due to my diabetes and fluctuating glucose levels. I decided I would tough out the morning with a small breakfast and a mid-morning snack of pickles (which are 0 calories) or a tangerine (40). The rest of the day is easier as I eat progressively more. For lunch I have two 200-250 calorie items, one at noon and another mid-afternoon. Dinner is best of all, where I still have half of my daily calories available.

Each morning I weigh myself. Often it's good news, and I enter my new reduced weight in My Fitness Pal. Some days my weight stays the same, and sometimes it even jumps up a bit--it's a finicky thing, that scale. But I don't let that bother me: I stay on my routine, and each month I've lost another 10 pounds.

Are there ever exceptions to the daily plan? Sure. Occasionally, I will have dinner out with my wife. On Sundays, I have dinner out with the entire family. On those occasions it's tempting to forego the daily routine, but I've been careful to keep the calories in check. If I eat more calories than usual for lunch, I'll eat fewer for dinner. Sometimes I'll only eat half of what I'm served at a restaurant and take the rest home, where my 13-year old son is happy to take it off my hands.

Well, there you have it. A diet that works for a geek that doesn't cost extra money. Now that I've been doing this for three months, it's become easier. My body has become used to eating less each day.

In Part 2, I'll cover some of my favorite diet-helpful foods.

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