This was a difficult week of mixed results for my fitness journey. But, I did learn some new things along the way and achieved a new, big milestone, albeit for a short time. I am still making good progress and am in the home stretch for the 100 pounds, but it is slower than I’d like.
Inconsistency is Frustrating
Over the course of my journey, I have seen very regular weight fluctuations. Often I see my weight up temporarily during the back half of each week and it plummets in the beginning of the week. I have tried to diagnose this many times and have seen indications that alcohol intake, sodium intake and many other things seem to have a relationship to my weight changing day-to-day.
Hint: this is why the “experts” say not to weigh yourself every day because I can drive you crazy.
Over the past few weeks, I have started seeing more inconsistency in my day-to-day weigh-ins. I will be down a pound and hit a new personal best and the next day I will be up 2 pounds. This is all temporary weight and not “real” weight gains and is often largely related to water retention. I know that mentally, but that really doesn’t make it much easier emotionally. I have a goal and I am going to hit it in the next 3 weeks. Why doesn’t my body understand that?
Troubleshooting my Body
I have done lots of investigation as to why the past couple of weeks have been so rough.
I did have a life change with moving into a job transition time and it has led to a change in my routine. I am not always working out at the same times, eating at the same times and such. I am also not as active in the afternoons as I was when I was at work and walking between buildings and such.
But, I am also working out harder, so I would expect that to offset the timing issues. Plus, I am not eating more calories, I am staying within my ever-shrinking daily calorie budget. So, what is the problem.
Well, this week I learned that the problem is right there in what I just wrote.
Food + Math + Tech = FUN (insert pi joke)!
Let me take a second and explain my approach to calorie management. I will use the picture below to describe this, this is a screenshot from my calorie tracking app from this Monday.
“Budget” is my daily calorie budget based on my current height and weight. On Monday, this budget was 1935, which is about 200 calories less than my body burns just sitting still and doing nothing. This is called my base metabolic rate, or BMR. On Monday, my BMR was 2021. Then, you factor in just normal daily activity and I have quite the calorie deficit already built in on a daily basis into my budget and it should drive a 2 pounds per week loss.
“Food” is the number of calories that I consumed for the day. This includes everything I ate, any alcohol I drink, any coffee or anything I put in myself that comes with any calories. Note that water and hot green tea are both zero calories. Monday was a non-alcohol day for me and it was a day that I ate relatively healthy, so my total calories consumed were only 1100.
“Exercise” is the number of calories that I burn during specific workout activities. I get these calories from my fitness tracker and log them in the app. I don’t count just normal daily activity in here, but I just count specific workouts like running (outdoors or treadmill), long walks, weight training and cool down stretching. You will see that Monday was a pretty good day for working out and I logged just shy of 1300 calories of exercise. This is a little bit more than my new “normal” which hovers in the 900-1100 calories burned in daily exercise.
“Net” is how many remaining calories I can consume for the day. The logic is that my budget (which already includes the deficit to reach my goals), minus the calories I have consumed, minus any extra calories I have burned in exercise is my net intake for the day. In the case of Monday, I consumed a negative net calorie amount of -165. This means, I could have theoretically consumed an additional 2100 calories on Monday.
Another way to look at it is that I UNDER-consumed 2100 calories on Monday. But, this is how I normally try to operate. I try, regardless of what I burn in exercise, to keep my calorie consumption within my daily budget. Then, anything I burn working out is just extra burn for the day. My calories burned means more fat burned which equals more weight lost. It has worked great for me so far, so why change now?! Note, this is something called foreshadowing!
Too Much of a Good Thing
Ok, back to why my weight loss has become inconsistent. As I said above, there are a number of factors that routinely lead to weight fluctuations for me and that is no one magic solution… usually!
This week, I learned about a concept known as over-training.
Essentially, from my very rudimentary understanding, here is how it works. Your body is mostly very mathematically, calories in minus calories burned either creates a calorie surplus and weight gain (over time) or calorie deficit and weight loss (over time). But, our bodies are also complicated and we have lots of things we can’t see going on like our metabolism and some safety mechanisms.
When you don’t eat enough calories based on the calories your body is burning, some unique things happen. First, you don’t have enough energy in your body to fuel the furnace that is your metabolism to start burning calories stored in fat. Plus, your body begins to enter something called “starvation mode” where it believes that it is starving and seeks to protect itself. Your body begins to protect your fat reserves for survival and begins to burn other things for energy, like muscles and such. As a result, you don’t lose any weight and may even gain as your body thinks it is trying to prevent death.
So, why does my body think it is starving, I haven’t materially decreased my calorie intake at all over the past few weeks? It is because of the bad decision I made that I talked about above. Regardless of my exercise level, I try to still stick to my daily calorie budget. I am on a fast track to weight loss and that is how I have tried to keep it going. And, so far, this has worked pretty well for me, but not over the past few weeks.
On Monday, I consumed -165 net calories. I didn’t drink any alcohol at all – a common driver of temporary weight gains for me. I had a little too much sodium, but far from a terrible day. But, I didn’t lose any weight.
The big thing that has changed over the past couple of weeks is the duration and intensity of my workouts. On Monday, I had a total calorie burn for the day (base calories, workouts, all activity) of 4781. But, I only offset that with 1100 calories of energy. That caused my body to stop processing the fat.
Weight loss is a careful balance between the calories you consume and the ones you burn. It is a lot like your personal finances on the math side. But, similar to your finances, there is a point of diminishing returns and you cannot just ramp up one side without the other. For example, you cannot keep ramping up your expenses to live the life that you want without also increasing income. The result will be debt and bankruptcy. Your body works much the same way.
This is why extreme low calorie diets will under-perform well balanced diet and exercise every time. It may work for a short time, but the sustainable approach is a balance.
Protein is Magic
In response to my over-training situation, I started researching what the “experts” recommend for protein intake when you are working out. I may as well have Googled “what is the best religion” because there are so many opinions out there. So, this is a complicated issue.
One of the most prevalent rules of thumb is that you can determined your appropriate protein level based on your body weight. Start with your body weight in pounds and whatever number that is indicates how many grams of protein you need. So, I am down to 230 pounds and that means I need 230 grams of protein.
I think that is total crap and couldn’t possible eat 230 grams of protein in a day! But, it is clear that I need to eat more that I have been eating. I need to shoot for 100+ grams per day of protein and I continue to strive for 15+ grams of fiber too.
So, I tried it. On Tuesday, after learning all of this, I focused on protein consumption to balance my 908 calories burned during my workout. I ate a 4-egg omelet at lunch with meat in it. I had a burger at dinner with guac on it. I ate a handful of almonds at breakfast after my run. In all, I was able to eat 112 grams of protein and 19 grams of fiber. I went over my daily calorie budget, but my net calories were still under by 700.
What was the result of this experiment?
On Wednesday morning, my scale told me that I was down to 230 pounds! This is 95 pounds lighter than where I started this journey. This also, officially, puts me into the home stretch of my 100 pound goal! If I really killed myself, I could probably get there within a week, but I have learned not to try that. So, I am shooting for reaching that goal by St Patty’s day.
I am unbelievably excited and proud of myself based on what I have accomplished so far. Though I had my standard late week fluctuation and am up 1.2 pounds as of Sunday morning, I know that I am nearing my goal.
I am not going to stop when I hit 100 pounds, but I will know that I have won the battle I set out to fight. I have reinforced to myself that I can accomplish anything as long as I am committed to it. I am not afraid to work hard and be victorious. I will take partners, I will learn new things, I will develop a strategy, I will adjust when needed, I won’t led temporary setbacks stop me and I will persevere. Then, I will commit to helping others do the same by sharing my knowledge and inspiration.
Next goal after reaching the 100 pound mark: run my first 5k! Maybe with the Columbus Cap City Marathon, but no promises.
Check back next week for more!
Last week’s stats (2/12 – 2/18):
Distance walked/run: 34.3 miles
Total calories burnt: 25,435
Total calories consumed: 12,704
Weight change: 4.9 pounds lost