This is an update of sorts on something that I don’t think I’ve said that I’ve been working on. It’s inspired by Darya Pino’s post on 9 Surefire Ways To Sabotage Your Weight Loss.
If you followed me on Twitter for much of last year, you’ll know that I was running. A lot. From the beginning April until the end of November, I ran more than five hundred miles. By the end, I was averaging twenty miles a week, and I was loving it. Being that active not only did good things for my body, it did great things for my mind. I’ve often said that one of the reasons I ran great roleplaying games back in 2003-2005 was because I was doing triathlons.
There was another change that went along with the running. In early 2010, I had a conversation with a friend who mentioned that whenever she started tracking what she ate, she’d lose weight. I’d had a similar experience when I was in training: the simple act of tracking caused me to think more about what I was eating and to make better choices. So I started doing it again.
As I started to be mindful of the sorts of things I was eating, I began thinking about what I should be eating. Right about then, I ran into Alton Brown’s explanation of how he had lost sixty pounds. I realized that his rules were simple and were easily compiled into a checklist. As a result, I added that as a component to my food tracking. Each day, if ate something that fell into any of these categories, I marked that column with an X: fruits, whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, carrots, green tea, oily fish, yogurt, broccoli, sweet potato, avocado, red meat, dessert, pasta, alcohol, fast food, soda, processed meals, canned soups, and “diet” anything.
Let me be clear: I’m not tracking any sort of nutritional information or counting calories. I’m just writing down what I eat during the day and whether or not I’m eating something in each of my defined categories. Over time, of course, I’ve been trying to align what I’m eating with my ideal; just knowing that eating something is going to put an X into a given column has been nudging me that way. I hardly even look back at the data, except when I notice that the scale isn’t moving the way I want it to. In that case, I usually notice that I haven’t been following my plans, which reaffirms in my head how much making these choices matters.
The result of these two things (increased exercise and simple food tracking) has been a profound change in my attitudes. Over the course of nine months, I’ve dramatically increased the quantity and variety of fresh fruits and vegetables I eat; reduced the amount of red meat I consume; and virtually eliminated soda, fast food, and sweets from my lifestyle. I didn’t go cold turkey on any of these things, and I did it with minimal cravings. My appetite for those things I was trying to avoid gradually waned as I consumed them less. I’m sure that was connected to my developing awareness of how different I felt when I did and didn’t eat them, particularly how much better I felt when I didn’t. Similarly, I became very aware of how much better I felt when I ran than when I didn’t.
It’s that attitudinal shift that has fueled external changes. I’ve lost twenty pounds and needed to replace my belt and jeans in the process. That’s not a huge amount, and I like to lose at least that much again; the critical part of is that it’s been gradual and sustainable. The proof of that pudding has been in the last two months. Near the end of November, I developed runner’s knee, an inflammation of the cartilage in my right knee. The only effective treatment is to cut back or stop running until the knee can heal. So I did. I didn’t run at all in December. I started again at the beginning of January, and I’m slowly adding mileage as my knees permit. Despite this, today I weigh the same as I did on December 1.
So that’s where I am now. The way I think about food and exercise has changed in ways that look to be permanent. I’m working to get back to running again, in part because it’s the most effective way I’ve found to drive weight loss, and in part because I love it. I’ve started supplementing my runs with a simple strengthing and toning workout I can do at home in half an hour and that’s helping prevent a reoccurance of my knee injury.. I’ve committed to eating well and being active every day. We’ll see where that takes me in the next nine months.