I set out on a journey to lose some weight this year, partly expecting to fail, as in the past. To my surprise, I’ve reached my goal with three months to spare.
My motives for the project were mixed. I wanted to be a better steward of my body, abilities, and energy (1 Cor. 6:19, 4:2). I wanted to demonstrate to my son the power of daily discipline over time (1 Tim. 4:8, 2 Tim. 1:7, 1 Cor. 9:27) and strengthen my ethos in conversations with him about his personal goals. I also just wanted to look and feel better. I have to be older, but I don’t have to be heavier.
What has worked for me may not work for anyone else. But if you struggle with your weight, there may be some ideas here you can use.
Many factors went into making this effort successful. The biggest influence was unexpected success at work in pursuit of complex, but measurable, goals. I wondered: if, at work, I could reach what seemed at first to be impossible output targets, could I get rid of pounds the same way?
The target took shape as a New Year’s resolution: I’ll lose 18 lbs. in 2018—given my past patterns and my small frame, a substantial goal. The following were the core principles.
- Incrementalism: the cumulative impact of small successes, and small adjustments to routine can be surprisingly large.
- Consciousness: settling on specific, measurable goals changes how we think and tends to result in small but helpful changes we don’t even know we’re making.
- Metrics: tracking the right measurements increases consciousness of the right particulars and drives the right small, cumulatively-impactful changes in behavior.
- Focus: chances of success are much greater if the aim is weight loss, not a “healthy diet” in general.
Regarding focus, googling “weight loss” yields a heap of complicated, contradictory advice. Experts insist that calorie counting doesn’t work and that only a long-term change in lifestyle toward “healthy eating,” etc. can be effective. Others insist on everything from dietary supplements, to essential oils, to eating foods with amazing “fat burning” powers—and, of course, consuming several lake’s worth of water every day! Then there’s the boundless topic of how to exercise for weight loss.
It made sense to me to ignore all that and focus on what I actually wanted to achieve: a lower number on the scale. So I didn’t set out to make big changes from my current routines—just the opposite: I set out to make the minimum changes necessary to achieve one desired result.
An approach eventually emerged from the principles above. Six features stand out.
- Slow: Since losing weight too fast is a health risk, this is a slow strategy. Goal: about a pound every couple of weeks.
- Calorie-based: Since weight loss is unavoidable if calories-in < calories-burnt, this is a calorie-deficit approach. Goal: achieve and sustain calories-in < calories-burnt.
- Small-deficit: Since extremely low calorie intake risks a metabolic slow down, this is a small-calorie-deficit strategy. Goal: adjust calorie intake just low enough to make gradual weight loss happen.
- Satisfaction: Since perceived hunger leads to eating, this is a “maximum satisfaction per calorie” strategy. Goal: identify high (and long-lasting) satisfaction per calorie (HSC) foods. Favor these options over low (and brief) satisfaction per calorie (LSC) foods . (Goal ≠ eat “healthy.”)
- Elegance: Since processes that are complicated and laborious break down more often, this is a simplified-routine strategy. Goal: establish simplified eating patterns and maintain them. Make it as easy as possible to control and sustain.
- Measurements: Since weight loss is the goal, and calorie-control is the means—and declining physical activity (due to metabolic slow-down) is a potential barrier, this is a three-metric strategy. Goal: track weight, calories, and steps, using the first to measure progress, the second to regulate the means, and the third to avoid declining effectiveness.
I launched the plan in earnest the last week of March, and the results surprised me.
- After a few weeks, daily food consumption was down considerably, but my perception of being hungry was about the same as before I started.
- Walking: I had intended to slightly increase my daily step count by walking around the office more and taking an evening walk a couple times a week, using a cheap, wristband device for step-counting. Instead, walks became an every-evening habit. At work, I found myself not only walking around the office more, but walking around the building. A phone app pulls data from the counter and charts progress, and watching the daily and weekly numbers get higher and higher was fun.
- Pounds started coming off almost immediately. Daily weight bounces around, so I looked for weekly trends. Within three weeks, a weight loss trend of roughly .5 lb. per week was evident. The trend continued, and sped up a bit, averaging 3.3 lbs. per month over six months (so far).
Along the way, I accumulated adjustments to my daily routine that proved helpful. Here’s a few highlights:
- Procrastination. Leverage the tendency to not get around to doing things. In response to feeling hungry, it often works to eat a small, HSC snack and tell myself, “I’ll eat more of that in few minutes, when I get done with this task.” Half a day can pass before I get around to eating more. A swig of cool water or a Tic Tac, with an internal “I’ll eat soon,” also works surprisingly well.
- Placement. Somebody said that if you want people to do something, make it easier than the alternatives. Knowing the times of day I tend to start craving food, I position the best snacks ahead of time so they’re the handiest. Sheer laziness often results in better eating.
- Portion size. Those who say “portion size is the key to success” are on to something. I don’t know if the stomach actually shrinks; I do know that after months of smaller portions, the subjective experience of feeling full now occurs after eating quantities that would have seemed like a snack a year ago.
- Fast food. Fast food is generally not linked to weight loss! For me, though it has proved to be tactically helpful. Fast food vendors usually report the amount of calories in each item. So with a little trial and error, I found several orders that were HSC. (For example, the Southwest Salad at McDonald’s—without dressing; the lime glaze is enough—is 350 calories, and for me, it’s usually good for four hours or more.)
- Extreme simplicity. For most of this weight loss period I have eaten the same six or eight meals over and over. I know how many calories each provides and about how many hours I’ll get out of them before I want to eat again. If I get overly bored, I mix it up for one meal—adjusting calorie intake before or after (or both) to compensate. I eat ice cream a couple of times a week.
- OneNote and Excel. The OneNote app is accessible in Windows and Android, and I use it for a host of things anyway. It proved to be an easy way to track daily weight and calorie count (one “page” per day.) I keyed wieght figures into Excel every few weeks or so to get a chart view of how things were trending … just like at work.
There have been a few challenges along the way.
- Clothing budget. Having to buy smaller clothes repeatedly can get expensive, especially if your job environment requires a different wardrobe than your at-home-chores and your church activities. It’s a “good problem to have,” but good problems are still problems.
- Social eating. Gatherings of coworkers, friends, and family frequently feature LSC foods—sugary fluff like cookies, donuts, cake, etc. To stay on track during this effort I avoided these situations but didn’t eliminate them entirely. One four day weekend at Mom’s created a noticeable uptick on my weight chart.
- Food costs. A focus on calorie-control tends to de-prioritize other factors, such as how much food costs. Some of the best HSC snacks have been on the expensive side, such as the Jack Links beef strips (not to be confused several of their “beef steak” products, which aren’t as meaty or as tasty) I enjoy between meals. These do cost far less at Walmart.
- Nutrition and hydration. Keeping the focus on eating for weight loss rather than “eating healthy” has proved effective, but it has been necessary to keep one eye on maintaining decent nutrition and hydration. Salads, V8 (the original, real V8), and handy bottles of water have worked together to avoid problems.
But is it sustainable?
Everyone’s biggest concern is how to avoid gaining all the lost weight back again. Some who recommended other approaches to me suggested that my calorie-control strategy will only result in a temporary weight loss.
But that’s fine with me. This approach has resulted in a clear, repeatable method. I now know I can lose weight any time I want. Like riding a bike or swimming, it’s a learnable, reusable skill. And months of gradual weight loss has formed habits that are unlikely to all disappear when this adventure is “over.”
But the adventure isn’t over. I’m not yet at my ideal weight, and the approaching holidays are likely to result in some regression. No worries, though. If I really let lose, I’ll gain 10 lbs., and I can always lose 19 in ’19. If you want to, you probably can, too.
Aaron Blumer is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in small-town western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. In his full time job, he is Information Coordinator for a law-enforcement digital library service.