Aiming to lose weight this year

Jan 23, 04:29 PM

I started out 2013 weighing nearly 215 lbs. (214.8 on January 7, the morning after I got home from holiday travels). I’d like to weigh 170 by the beginning of 2014. Here’s how I’ll do it:

  • Count calories, so that I take in less energy than I expend. I’ll use Myfitnesspal.com and its associated iPhone and iPad apps to calculate my calorie target and track my daily calorie intake.
  • Exercise regularly, and use my Garmin Edge 800 and ForeRunner 410 to track calories expended in cycling, hiking, etc. I’ve been exercising regularly for years, with occasional breaks during vacations and illnesses, but I am going to add regular interval training and weightlifting.
  • Use Beeminder.com to produce a nifty graph showing my target and progress:

So far I’m two weeks in and the process seems to be working.

Why am I doing this?

I’ve gotten fat, my blood pressure is creeping up, and I have a family history of diabetes and arterial blockage. On top of that, I had a bout of back pain in September that started out acute but risked becoming chronic. Losing weight and watching cholesterol are good ideas. (As an aside, my physical therapist prescribed core strengthening exercises that have been marvelous for eliminating back pain.)

I also want to become a faster cyclist and participate in some organized rides this year. To attain that goal, I need to train for speed and endurance, but it would also help to lose weight—especially in hilly western Massachusetts!

I picked 170 lbs. because I felt pretty good when I weighed that amount and it’s a reasonable goal for a year. I won’t necessarily stop there. I’ve weighed as little as 138 lbs., or possibly less, in my adult life.

My history of weight loss and gain

Having been a fat kid (“husky” was the preferred euphemism back in the day) and a fat college student, I decided to do something about my weight and fitness after graduating from college. I had never been completely sedentary—as a kid, I did a lot of hiking and backpacking in the Boy Scouts, and in college, I walked all over Hyde Park. But my weight kept creeping up, and after an attempt to jog a few blocks failed in less than a hundred yards, I decided to get serious losing weight and getting some aerobic fitness.

My approach was simple: get more exercise. As an employee and then grad student at the University of Chicago, I had access to the university’s pool and field house, so I started swimming and some moderate weight training. After a couple of years I’d taken off a number of pounds, and I’d switched primarily to running. I didn’t bother to count calories or diet. I’m not sure what my starting weight was—perhaps 180 lbs.?—but by the time I started keeping a running log in November 1994, I was down to 138. I also had a morning pulse that was usually between 48 and 52, and sometimes as low as 46. I was running 10-20 miles a week. I felt great. My only problem was finding off-the-rack trousers that fit; I needed a 28 or 29 waist, but many shops didn’t carry sizes under 30.

(I may have weighed less in 1993 or 1994. I didn’t keep weight records before November ’94, but I do remember some readings in the high 120s on the scale in the Bartlett Gym locker room. That scale seemed to read low, though; the Healthometer scales in the Field House tended to show numbers in the mid-130s.)

In the late summer of 1995 I moved to Berlin. There, I kept running for a while, but my knees started to give me trouble. I bought a bike for commuting but didn’t do much serious aerobic exercise on it. I started to put on weight. Back in Chicago in 1996-97, I walked but don’t remember doing much else.

Then I got my tenure-track job at UMass Amherst. We moved to Massachusetts in July 1997, and though I bought a bike and rode it occasionally, I didn’t really get back in the habit of exercising. I started running again in the fall of 1999 but had knee and ITB problems. That semester, my weight crept up from 168 to 174. It continued to increase slowly, until reaching a high point in the summer 2008, after my father’s death, when I weighed about 223 or so. Something had to be done.

What I did was to start cycling regularly. Exercise had worked in grad school—why not now? I did start to slowly lose weight, especially in the spring of 2010, when I was training for a 200K bike ride, doing lots of long, moderately paced rides in the hills. By the time I moved to France in the fall of 2011, I was down to about 205. Then, in spring, summer, and fall of 2012, I put on 10 lbs., despite exercising regularly. Evidently, something had changed: either my eating habits had gotten worse, or my metabolism had shifted. I needed a new plan: the one I mentioned above. We’ll see how it goes.

Brian W. Ogilvie

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