Week 36: In the Home Stretch

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?

95 Pounds

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

Week 35: My Body is Confused

This week marked the 8 month point in my Operation Melt journey and I am seeing strange results that make me think my body is confused. Some of the strange results may be related to how my daily routine has changed and is slightly inconsistent right now because this is also my second full week between jobs.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

With a little extra time on my hands, I have been able to ramp up my workouts a little bit. The result has been a week of new personal records in a number of my exercises. Over the last 4 weeks, the number of calories I have burnt through focused exercise has steadily ramped up.

It is important that I have more workouts because my normal weekly activity outside of workouts is a bit lower. I am not walking between meetings, between buildings and around the office. I am more stationary than before because I am spending a lot of time writing, emailing, researching, etc. This is a fact that had not occurred to me until just now!

On Thursday morning, the weather was fairly nice, so I decided to do an outdoors run instead of the treadmill. When I first started running late this summer, I had a goal of being able to run a full lap around Schiller Park in German Village – 0.8 miles. Unfortunately, I started with only being able to run around about an eighth of the park. On Thursday, I ran two and a half full laps around the park for a total of 2 miles without stopping to walk even once. These were great personal bests for me and a sign that my endurance is ramping up.

After setting my personal record run, I still went to the gym to get some weight training in and I ramped up the weight on nearly every exercise. More personal records set all in the same day!

Unfortunately, with all of the extra workouts and the new personal records, I have also needed more rest days. Sundays are becoming common non-gym days for me and I usually end up not achieving my step or calorie burn targets. This week, I also had a very restful Friday and that was another day without meeting my goals.

Calorie Madness

As I have mentioned before, as I get smaller, my daily calorie budget continues to decrease as well. I am getting very close to falling below the 1900 daily calories mark as my budget. While this is a positive sign of the progress I am making, it also sucks! That few calories is barely enough for 3 satisfying meals, much less meals that have even a hint of junk food in them. If I want to add a drink or two, the problem gets even bigger.

Some of my calorie madness is a bit self-inflicted. The way my calorie tracker works is that it accounts for both consumption and exercise. Daily calorie budget minus calories consumed minus exercise calories burned equals net calories for the day. So, if my daily calorie budget is 1900 and I had a workout that burned 1100 calories, I can technically consume 3000 calories.

Based on this approach for calorie tracking more exercise should give me more flexibility for consumption. Well, this is where I am creating my own problem. I am so focused on meeting my goal, that I compulsively stick to the calorie budget without considering the exercise calories. So far, this has worked very well for me and it has produced the weight loss results that I have wanted to see.

I am starting to think that, as my workouts get more intense and my calorie budget decreases, my need for calories has likely ramped up. It is possible that sticking to 1900 calories in a day when I have a workout that burns 1100 calories may be a mistake. Amplifying my belief that I may be going overboard is the fact that my BMR or base metabolic rate – the number of calories my body burns each day at rest – is over 2000. Maybe I am starving my body of the energy needed to properly recover and build muscles and to lose weight.

Smaller Me is More Sensitive to Changes

When I was bigger, my body could pretty much handle anything that I threw at it. High calories, poor nutrients, no exercise… anything. Fast forward to my 92 pounds lost body and that is no longer the case. I am more sensitive to things that didn’t matter before.

Over the past 2 weeks, the number of daily weight fluctuations has increased significantly. I have generally been unable to predict what I will see when I step on the scale each morning. There are days where I think I did everything right and expect to see a decrease in weight and I am up a full pound from the prior day. Then, I expect to hold flat or increase and I see myself drop 2 pounds. But, they are back the next day.

Most of the daily fluctuation is related to cells retaining water and to the overall digestive process. While I know that my body has become very sensitive to high levels of sodium intake, I don’t think that is all of it. I know my body is sensitive to higher alcohol intake, but that isn’t all of it either. I guess some of it is just that my body is complicated and metabolism can be impacted by many things.

One of the things that appears to impact my metabolism is unpredictability in my daily routine. It appears that my body is simply confused.

Fashion Emergency

As I start looking towards job interviews, my ongoing challenges with clothing during my journey has become problematic. In the 2-3 times I have replaced my wardrobe, I have bought enough new clothes that I don’t have to go naked every day. But, I haven’t bought anything that I consider formal enough for interviews. I do have a suit, but it was a bit big on me 92 pounds ago and would be embarrassing to wear now. So, I need clothes.

While I could just go out and buy a nice suit, I have a problem on the other side of the equation. I am still planning to lost more that 10 pounds (maybe 20+) in the next few months. So, the last thing I want to do is to spend $500 on a suit that is completely unwearable in 3 months.

Fortunately, my friends at JC Penny had my back. I took advantage of their Valentine’s Day 50% off sale. I got an ok suit that fits the bill for a reasonable amount of money. Plus, I am all set for interviews and won’t be upset when it doesn’t fit in a couple of months!

Operation Melt is Part of my Professional Story

Over the last 2 weeks, I have had lots of meetings with people in my network, recruiters and others. Most of the discussions at these meetings are the things you would expect related to companies, jobs, skills, interests and such. But, there has been one surprising topic that keeps coming up, my Operation Melt journey. In almost all of my meetings so far, the topic of my weight loss journey has come up and people want to hear about it. I am actually very happy about this and love to talk about my journey.

My journey is more than just a thing I have done over the past couple of months. This journey has become a big part of who I am, my goals and my passions. As such, it isn’t just something that I look at as a personal hobby. It is important to me and I think it says a lot about who I am. This is why I don’t just share on personal social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, I share on LinkedIn too.

In addition, the planning, focus, discipline and analytical approach I have brought to this journey speaks volumes about what I can bring to other aspects of my professional life. So, as my LinkedIn headline says: I am a project & operational leader, I am a writer and I am a fitness evangelist. You can’t separate those and compartmentalize based on context because it is just who I am. And, I am pretty excited to be that person!

Check back next week for more!

Last week’s stats (2/5 – 2/11):
Distance walked/run: 34.17 miles
Total calories burnt: 26,257
Total calories consumed: 11,660
Weight change: 1.6 pounds lost

8 Month Anniversary

Today was the 8 month anniversary of starting my Operation Melt journey.  This means I am two-thirds done with my 1-year journey!

By this point, I had expected to be somewhere around 75 or 80 pounds down and I am actually 92 pounds down.  I am well ahead of my plan and I am on track to hit 100 pounds by St Patty’s day barring some unforeseen setback.

Since this was a date milestone (honestly, those are much less exciting than weight milestones) I wanted to post a one-off entry.  Check back on Sunday for this week’s summary including achieving a new personal record.

Week 34: Inching Closer to my Goal

My first week of transition time has been a big one in my Operation Melt journey. I have spent lots of time meeting with contacts and networking as well as concentrating on my goal. I am at a very low stress point right now, which has been a goal though I maybe hadn’t planned it this way. Plus, I don’t have a good routine, so I am kind of just figuring it out day by day.

90 Pound Milestone

As I posted on Wednesday, I successfully reached a new milestone this week. I crossed the 90-pounds lost mark after getting close to it and then suffering from a big upward weight fluctuation – 5 pounds up in 3 days! Suddenly, I had a big drop and hit 91 pounds.

The 90 pound milestone is big for a couple of reasons.

  1. Success! First, it is a lot of weight and has happened in less than 8 months and it is a proud accomplishment for sure! I set a goal, I worked my ass off to get there and I have been very successful. There haven’t been many areas of my life where I can say this same level of deliberate, committed success has happened.
  2. Competition. I know several people in my professional life who have lost 80 pounds and talk about it occasionally at work. This is impressive and deserves nothing but respect for their accomplishments. But, I am a high competition person and it is a big motivator that I am now at the 90 pounds plus mark. I know it is strange, but it is just how my brain works.
  3. Visible. I am really starting to see visible results of my weight loss on my body. Not just that I am smaller, everybody can see that. But, I am seeing more specific results in the tone and hardness of muscle groups. For example, my thighs are super muscular particularly when walking down stairs. My ass is pretty solid when walking upstairs. I have growing biceps. Plus, my problem areas for fat are starting to get really small.
  4. Next. Finally, the 90 pound milestone is big because it is the last interim milestone in my journey. Along the way, I have been setting interim goals of 10 or 20 pound increments to focus on, but that stops now. My next goal is my 100 pound goal and I am less than 10 pounds away from that! My current projection is to hit that goal by St Patty’s day.

Impact of Sodium

As my weight decreases, my susceptibility to fluctuations has apparently increased. I have noticed that I am more sensitive to certain things and that the cause my weight to change quickly.

In previous posts, I have talked about how alcohol has a fairly quick impact on my weight and that caused my to reduce my beer intake and replace with bourbon because I drink less and drink it slower. The alcohol effect seems to have leveled out pretty well, but now I have a new culprit.

Sodium!

Something you may not know about sodium is that it is EVERYWHERE! The average American consumes about 3400 milligrams of sodium each day. The FDA recommends that you consume no more than 2400 milligrams per day. The American Heart Association takes it a step further and recommends under 1500 milligrams.

Staying within the 1500mg guideline is really hard to do because of how prevalent sodium is in everything we tend to consume in the US. Pretty much any packaged foods are going to deliver a sodium bomb. The way we prepare our foods infuses more sodium into them. Plus, sodium is a naturally occurring mineral in many of our foods.

The biggest solve to the sodium intake issue we all face daily is fresh, uncooked vegetables. Salads can be particularly good ways to mitigate sodium depending on what you add besides vegetables. The meats, the toppings, the dressings all come with a gift with purchase of sodium.

What I have found to be particularly troubling about sodium over the past few weeks is its impact on my daily weight. Sodium causes your cells to retain water and this leads to increased weight from that water. So, the day after I celebrated a 91-pound weight loss milestone, I was up a pound, then another 2 pounds. This is all related to my sodium intake which was very high over those few days.

On Saturday, I actively tried to manage my sodium intake and got down to 2200mg, which is still high. But, it was a Saturday and I wanted pizza with a beer while watching basketball! I also drank lots of water (50 ounces above my daily goal) to help offset. By doing this, I was down a pound this morning. I should be down tomorrow too.

When you look at my weight loss chart, you will see lots of ups and downs during my journey. Beer, sodium, fiber and a variety of other factors will influence your weight every day. This is one of the things you have to expect and make peace with if you are going to track your weight daily. It is not uncommon to go up in weight as much as 5 pounds in one day. But, you have to remember that this is NOT a real weight gain – that would be biologically impossible. It is just your body doing what your body needs to do!

Great Workouts

With having a little extra flexibility in my schedule, my gym time has been pretty solid over the past week. I am having long workouts and bested several of my personal records this week.

On Thursday, I set my new personal record for running. I ran at a 6 mph pace (10-minute mile) for 2 minutes and continued at a 5.5 mph pace (10:54 mile) for another 18 minutes. This equates to almost 2 full miles ran without slowing down to walk and that almost doubles my prior record. That wasn’t the end of that session either, I continued for a full 30 minutes including more running.

I have increased the weight for many of my weight training exercises too. My ab crunches are up to 80 pounds, my seated rows vary between 70 and 90 pounds and my arm curls are at 60. Each of these weight levels are higher than when I started in the gym in October and higher than they were last month.

My goal each week is to get a workout in at least 5 days, but I prefer 6 or 7. Even when I don’t have a set workout, I still try to achieve my exercise goals for that day (steps, stairs, calorie burn, etc.) through normal activities.

Operation Melt – The Book

As I start closing in on my goal, I have started considering what comes next. Based on the feedback I have received from people along the way about my journey and the blog, I am thinking about another vehicle to help tell my story. I have started looking into the idea of writing a book. So far, I have an outline and at least 1 chapter written.

I want to help other people with their weight loss and fitness journeys. If everybody can have the results that I have had, or even half of that, I think people will feel more successful. When people feel successful, they have the motivation to continue and achieve their goals. If this happens with more people, the obesity epidemic can be helped and people will enjoy their lives more.

Really, I believe this is my goal in life: to help myself and others live happier, more successful and more fulfilling lives.

Check back next week for more!

Last week’s stats (1/29 – 2/4):
Distance walked/run: 35.4 miles
Total calories burnt: 27,102
Total calories consumed: 11,659
Weight change: 3.3 pounds GAINED! (all in last 2 days!)

Milestone Update: 90 Pounds Down

Today was another milestone for my Operation Melt journey. I finally broke through a temporary upward weight fluctuation from this weekend – I had gained 5 pounds in 2 days! The result has that I finally hit the 90 pounds lost mark.

During my morning weigh-in today, I was exactly 91 pounds down since the start of my journey!

This is a particularly significant milestone because it is my last incremental milestone before the big goal. Right now, my projection is that I will cross the 100-pound mark by St. Patty’s day. I can’t believe how close that is!