Watch What You Eat; Watch What You Read

I’ve been working on a longer post, which is taking more time than I though it would. Since I don’t want too much time to lapse between posts, I decided to take a break from working on that post to do something that I could put up relatively quickly.

When I’m losing weight, I seem to pay more attention to weight loss in the media. I’m more likely to watch programs like The Biggest Loser and Extreme Weight Loss when I’m losing weight. And I think I’m also much more likely to pay attention to news about diet and weight.

One such story grabbed my attention last week. I first heard about when it was briefly mentioned on the local morning news. Later that day, I saw a longer story in a daily news summary e-mail I receive from The Washington Post. That led me to read the full news story, and, ultimately, to track down the news release that prompted both stories.

The story was about a study conducted by researchers at King’s College London, which examined electronic medical records of nearly 300,000 people to determine weight loss trends. While the study had more than one conclusion about weight loss, the news stories picked up on one central finding: the chances of an obese person returning to a normal weight are extremely remote (1 in 210 for men, 1 in 124 for women).

The Washington Post story included this graphic, which I think really makes it clear how remote these chances are (click on the graphic to enlarge it):

imrs.phpAs someone whose weight still falls in the obese range, this headline caught my attention. In fact, on the surface, the news is pretty discouraging. One could read this as saying that I’m not likely to be successful.

After examining the news release and the Washington Post story more closely, I decided the news didn’t have to be so depressing, for a couple of reasons.

First, the headlines were misleading. The headlines made it sound as if the lifetime chances were remote, but the statistics quoted (1 in 210 and 1 in 124) were annual chances. In other words, a man has a 1 in 210 chance of returning to a normal rate in any given year. But his lifetime chances would be much greater than that: over 30 years, his chances of returning to a normal weight would be roughly 30 in 210, or 1 in 7.* One chance in 7 is still not great, but it’s a lot more promising than 1 in 210.**

*I’m sure a statistician would say that it’s not quite as simple as multiplying 1/210 times 30, because there are issues involving “with or without replacement” and other factors, but I think the 30 in 210 calculation is still roughly accurate. 

**Even 1 in 7 is the chance of returning to normal, but not necessarily remaining there. That’s a whole different challenge, which I’m sure I’ll revisit in a later blog entry. 

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve already beaten the odds, which encourages me that I might be able to beat these 1 in 210 odds. The study also examined the chances that an obese person lost 5 percent of his or her body weight in a given year. For men, those chances were 1 in 12, and for women, they were 1 in 10. I’ve done better than that: I have now lost more than 5% of my body weight four times in the last nine years. That gives me faith that I might be the exception to the rule, and that perhaps I’ll be the 1 in the 210 that reaches “normal.”

It’s easy to get discouraged. Losing weight is hard. But so is getting to the truth behind these studies, when one only looks at the headlines.

A Word about Numbers

As I was working on my last post, I was reviewing some of the weight loss data I’ve collected over the years, and a thought hit me: having lost at least 50 pounds three separate times in a nine-year span, I think I can be called a weight loss expert. Unfortunately, having regained at least 50 pounds twice during that span of time, I’ve established equally valid credentials as a weight gain expert.*

*I also lost 23.8 pounds from October 2008 to February 2009, which I had forgotten about until I looked over my data again. I never considered that weight loss a success, for a lot of different reasons. Perhaps it’s a strike against my claim to be an expert. 

If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that I’m kind of a data nerd. The whole numbers aspect of my journey fascinates me, and also motivates me. But some of the numbers you may see on this blog may also be confusing, so I thought I’d take a few moments to explain.

As I mentioned, I consider myself to have had three separate weight loss episodes. I began the first episode in March 2006 and reached my low point in that weight loss in March 2007. The second weight loss started in late December 2012 and ended not quite a year later, in early December 2013. I began using My Fitness Pal when I started this weight loss, and have continued to use it in my current weight loss, which began in January 2015. While I consider these three distinct weight loss events, My Fitness Pal calculates my progress from the beginning of my second weight loss, as if the second and third weight losses are a single event. Since I was heavier in December 2012 than in I was in January of this year, My Fitness Pal reports my current weight loss as higher than what I consider it. That number you see in the box on the right side of this site shows the total amount of weight I’ve lost since December 2012, instead of what I’ve lost on what I consider the current weight loss.

Does it really matter whether I’ve had two weight losses or three? Perhaps not, but I thought it was important to explain how I’m treating these weight loss events. Without this clarification, it could be confusing when I say, for example, that my current weight loss is 52 pounds as I write this, instead of the 75 pounds that My Fitness Pal says.

It’s also important to how I motivate myself. It’s important for me to compare how I’m doing to what I’ve done in the past. Both of my past weight losses were significant (80.8 and 81.2 pounds, respectively), but both were incomplete (ending at 214.7 and 229.8, respectively). Those four numbers–80.8, 81.2, 229.8, and 214.7–are targets for me.

Excuses, Some Serendipitous Words, and a Not-Completely-Triumphant Return

Hey, guys! Remember when I used to write a blog about my weight loss?

Me too.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything–too long.

I’ve been asked when I would post again. I’ve been encouraged by others to resume my posts. I believe that my blogging has been an important factor in my overall weight loss,but I resisted posting, until now.

In truth, I’ve started this post a dozen or so times. There are a lot of reasons I never was able to finish. Part of it that I never felt I had anything good to post. But probably the biggest reason was that I would have to call attention to the fact that I had gained most of the weight back.

But I feel like I have reasons to post now. I have some inspiration. I’ve been putting together lists of things I want to write about. Sure, a big reason is that I’ve had some success, so that I’m not embarassed to write about my weight again. I will write about some of my disappointments over the past few months. That’s easier to do now that I’m back headed in the right direction.

Finally, even though I’ve had some success without blogging, I do believe that blogging helps with weight loss, and I’m definitely not finished losing weight. Something that I read last year has been on my mind, and was always nagging me to resume the blog.

In The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, James Pennebaker discusses research into text analysis focusing on people’s use of primarily short words: pronouns, passive verbs, articles, and the like. In a chapter discussing how using these words can indicate the writer’s emotional state, he discusses a colleague’s research on diet blogs:

“As part of her doctoral dissertation dealing with the language of diet blogs, Cindy Chung tracked what factors led to successful weight loss across several hundred dieters in Secret Lifea diet blog community over several months. Many of the bloggers focused on the details of losing weight but the majority also wrote about their relationships, life experiences, and emotional issues. Many dieting experts would recommend that the best way to lose weight is to obsessively list the foods you eat, the number of calories you have taken in, and the amount of exercise you have done on a daily basis. Not true according to Chung’s research. Instead, she found the very best predictor of successful weight loss was being involved in the online social network. That is, the more comments or posts a person sent out and received, the more successful they wereat losing weight. In addition, bloggers writing about personal and emotional issues were far more successful in losing weight than those who wrote only about their foods and diets.”

So this won’t be the last thing you see from me. As I mentioned, I have several ideas for posts. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I think I’ll enjoy writing them.


Predictably, I’m Trying Something New

This is what Knoda looks like on a smartphone.

This is what Knoda looks like on a smartphone.


I’ve explained several times before that one of my reasons for starting this blog is to take advantage of the interactions that I have through social media to help motivate and hold me accountable. As readers of the blog, you are a substitute for the support system that weight loss groups such as Weight Watchers provide. In other words, I want to take advantage of the power of social media to provide the social aspects of weight loss that I believe are so important.

Today I add a new tool to my weight loss arsenal. Those of you who are my Facebook friends may remember a recent post about a website and app named Knoda. Knoda was created by a Kansas City-area startup, and allows users to make predictions about just about anything. Other users then vote on the predictions, with points awarded for those votes and predictions. It’s a great way to interact with other people in a way that is somewhat different from Facebook or Twitter. I’ve particularly enjoyed predictions about the NCAA basketball tournament–in fact, if you enjoy being in a bracket pool, you would probably enjoy Knoda.

While sports is probably the most frequent subject for Knoda predictions, it goes far beyond sports. There are predictions about economics, entertainment, politics, world events, and personal issues. That last area is why Knoda is relevant to this blog.

Dork that I am, when I first heard of Knoda, I didn’t think about the fun aspect as much as I thought about it as a tool. I saw parallels to sports betting or stock markets where individual predictions combine to determine value for propositions. I wondered Knoda could be used as a way of using crowdsourcing to draw conclusions about the world. Yes, I’m such a dork.

Nevertheless, I got into it for the fun, but always had its utility in the back of my mind. And today, I think I found a new use for it. I decided to make a prediction about my weight loss. Since one gets points for making correct predictions, I thought it might be an additional way to hold myself accountable. My prediction:

My Knoda Prediction




In case you can’t read that, it says, “Having lost 70 pounds over the past 15 months, I will have lost a total of at least 100 pounds by my next birthday on August 30, 2014.”

So I’m on the hook. I don’t want to lose (the prediction) but I want to lose (the weight).

What I didn’t count on was the additional encouragement that posting this prediction has provided. As of this writing, 29 people have voted on my prediction. Twenty-four of them agree with the prediction, meaning that they’re betting I will be successful. Along with those bets come the words of encouragement. I don’t want to disappoint these people.

Picking the Lent out of My Belly

For most of my life, I haven’t really observed Lent. Growing up, I know that Lent was mentioned in church, and intellectually I’ve known what Lent was, but I don’t remember behaving any differently during Lent. I knew that my Catholic friends would speak of giving up things for Lent. But I don’t remember ever being encouraged to give anything up, and so I never did until well into my adulthood.

I still don’t give up something for Lent every year, but I decided to this year. In fact, I decided to make it part of my weight loss program. In one of my earlier posts, I said that I would consider cutting back on my Diet Coke intake when I hit a plateau. That’s where I’ve been since Christmas, gaining and losing the same five pounds over and over again. While I can tie my lack of sustained progress to conscious decisions I’ve made, I thought that giving up Diet Coke might help nudge me back into a more consistent weight loss.

Of course, the post that I mentioned earlier also mentioned that I would consider getting more sleep when I hit a plateau. In fact, my sleep patterns and my Diet Coke consumption are related; one of the reasons that I drink as much Diet Coke as I do is that it is my form of caffeine. I can’t get into coffee, unless I add so much non-coffee stuff to it that it is loaded with calories, and as long as I am losing weight (or trying to), I can’t afford to consume those frappulatteccino things.

So I’m drinking much more iced tea. I like iced tea. I don’t mind drinking it at 7:30 AM on my way to work. But the bottled stuff just doesn’t taste that good to me, and sometimes the stuff I find in convenience stores is poorly brewed, or old, or just plain yucky. So there are times when I really want a Diet Coke, but I can’t have one.

I find myself thinking about how relieved I’ll be when Lent is over and I can resume drinking Diet Coke. I will probably have a very large Diet Coke (maybe several) on Easter. I will probably binge on Diet Coke. I doubt that my Diet Coke consumption patterns after Lent will differ markedly from from my pre-Lenten consumption.

Which, I realize, is similar to what often happens when people try to lose weight. It’s one of the things that many experts say that dieters should try to avoid–the feeling of deprivation. The best diet plans, in their opinions (and mine), are those that allow one to eat almost anything, but in moderation. If one feels deprived, he or she will resent the plan, which makes him or her less likely to stick with it, and more likely to binge once he or she ends the program.

I’ve seen all of that in myself. You may have noticed that the big red number that appears on the right side of this blog has not changed much from what it was before Christmas. In fact, it’s probably a bit smaller than numbers many of you have seen posted before. As my weight has gone up and down, I seem to have gotten a yo-yo for Christmas, and the few extra pounds I picked up over the holidays are a gift that I can’t seem to return.

The positive side of this is that, in some sense, it’s intentional. I’ve found a number of convenient excuses to go “off plan” for a day, or two, or three. There have been celebrations, special events, and other things that have been reasons to abandon my program. In the past, there was always a risk that I would never get back on the plan if I deviated for more than a day. But now I have the confidence that I will go back. While I’ve deviated several times over the last four months, I’ve been able to get back into sensible eating pretty quickly.

But the negative side is that these deviations are signs that I have felt deprived. I have definitely felt the effect of that sense of deprivation. It hit me hardest when I had to prep for a certain procedure that one is recommended to receive upon turning fifty. The prep involved three days with a restrictive diet, including the final day when I was restricted to clear liquids. The prep was an excellent weight loss plan while it lasted; I lost more than five pounds in those three days. But the feeling of deprivation was so strong that when that procedure was over, that I over-indulged, and gained those five pounds back in less than three days.

While this blog is about weight loss, I can’t resist the temptation to digress into a religious discussion. I’m wondering about the spiritual value of giving up something for Lent. If my feeling of deprivation causes me to think constantly and longingly about what I’m giving up, and if it leads to post-Lenten binging, what have I gained? There may be some value in making a sacrifice, but how significant is that value if it doesn’t lead to a longer lasting change in behavior?

Through it all, I manage to return to the plan. I’m still logging my food. I’m still exercising. And I’m at least maintaining my weight. But maybe cutting out the Diet Coke will jump start me. And, if so, maybe I will be able to make a reduction in my Diet Coke drinking more permanent. Stay tuned.

Chris, Bob, and Me

Some threads from this blog are coming together in some interesting ways (that may also be a description of my wardrobe).

One of my earlier posts in this blog drew parallels between my weight loss and that of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I said at the time that I would be watching his progress and comparing it to mine.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about some insensitive comments that “Bob” made about my weight at our weekly Rotary Club meeting. I asked readers whether I should be offended by his suggestions that I needed to lose weight, in part because I thought it should have been obvious to him that I had been losing weight for the past twelve months.

Aside from their both having been described as bullies, what ties together these posts about Bob and Gov. Christie?

Although I said that I would be watching Chris Christie’s weight loss, I really haven’t given it much thought in the last few months. It came back to me while watching news coverage of what has been called “BridgeGate.” I remember turning to Kris and saying, “I wonder how his weight loss is going. It doesn’t look like he’s lost very much.” I was reminded when a friend’s Facebook post included a reference to Chris Christie’s “noted and measurable success” in losing weight. In response, I questioned whether it was noted, not having heard much media discussion about it. After posting my reply, I thought I should check to see whether I had missed discussion about his weight loss. A quick Google search for “Chris Christie weight loss progress” yielded this web site.

The pictures do show a noticeable change. It looks to me like Gov. Christie really made a lot of progress in the summer. He said in November that he is about halfway to his goal, which is what I would have said about myself then (and now). So it looks like we’re on similar paths.

Which leads me to look at the Bob incident a bit differently. A quick glance at Chris Christie did not lead to my instantly recognizing his weight loss. Maybe, just maybe, the same thing was true for Bob. While I still think his insensitivity was still inexcusable, perhaps I was wrong to be upset that he may not have recognized my weight loss.

What about Bob?

Bob (which may or may not be his real name) and I are members of the same Rotary Club. Bob is one of the older members of our club, and has cultivated a reputation for being a curmudgeon. He is not shy about sharing his opinions, and enjoys challenging others.

Bob has a regular group of friends with whom he usually sits at our weekly lunch meetings, so that other than the occasional friendly greeting, our paths really don’t cross very much. But this week Bob arrived late for the meeting. There was no space available at his usual table, so he came to sit at mine. He turned to one of his closer friends, seated next to him at our table, and said, “You know, I suggested that our club start a weight loss contest this year.”

Thinking that my 70+ pound weight loss over the last year would have made me a strong contender, I said, “I wish you would have suggested that last year!”

Bob seemed to not hear me, or to ignore what I said. He proceeded with his neighbor, in a voice loud enough for everyone at the table to hear, “And several people could benefit, including one at this table.”

There were six of us at the table. Almost everyone else was close to his or her ideal weight. There was no question that I was the person to whom he was alluding.

The conversation drifted on to other subjects. But Bob didn’t let it stray too far. He turned again to his neighbor, in the same voice, and said, “I think a nomination committee could come up with a few names.” He then listed about four or five names, with mine at the top of the list.

I didn’t react, and that ended up being the end of the discussion on the subject.

I don’t know what his motivation was for bringing up this subject. I don’t know whether he realized that I’ve been losing weight. I don’t know if he had really made this suggestion to the club leadership. I don’t know if he intended for me to hear, or for that matter, whether I was his intended primary audience. Because I didn’t know what his intentions truly were, I didn’t know whether I should have been offended.

Since I started this blog, I’ve gotten so many positive comments about my weight change that this obviously negative comment about my weight hit me hard–much harder than a similar comment would have hit before I began this weight loss. But because I didn’t know how to react, I’ll leave it up to the readers:

Should I have been offended by Bob’s comments?