Downsizing for Life

My pants fell down the other day. Fortunately, I was in my closet at the time. But then it happened again in the garage while I was carrying in groceries. No one saw me thank goodness. I’m either going to have to get a smaller belt or get my pants hemmed. Don’t even suggest that I buy new clothes. That is not in the budget. Some people would be happy that they have lost enough weight to have a wardrobe malfunction. I am not. It’s not that I’m unhappy about it. It is, after all, a result of choices and changes that I have made in my life. But like all choices, there are positives and negatives.

Last July, my doctor told me I was pre-diabetic and if I didn’t do something I would soon be on insulin. My father died recently and since he developed Type II diabetes at roughly my age, it became do or die time for me… literally. I was reluctant to write about this issue because of my colleague, Dana Zimbleman, and her ongoing fitness challenge. But my editor insists that I add my voice to the chorus. And if I am honest with myself, I do have something to offer to anyone who would like to be a little healthier. I am Exhibit A that it is possible to be healthier without going on a Somali diet or engaging in Navy Seal training.

There are lots of web sites and YouTube videos with advice and tricks to help with weight loss. I look at them out but haven’t found many to be very helpful. My doctor’s advice was simple and it is what I follow the most. He told me to reduce my carb intake, particularly bad carbs. I am, or least try to be, a rational scientific person. Therefore all of my lifestyle changes have been data driven and subject to cost-benefit analysis. The data is easy; I have a digital scale. My weigh-in is the second thing I do every morning and I shoot for the same time and clothing (you don’t want to know) in order to get precise measurements of my progress. Then I write it down. Tracking my progress by watching the scale and pairing it with the food I ate the day before and the activities I engaged in, allows me to figure out what works and doesn’t work. Everybody’ genetic makeup is different and so is their gut biome. Science has shown pretty conclusively that the same bacteria that help you digest your food also signal the brain about what food choices it should make.

For me, the successful diet plan has been, “every carb counts.” I had to give up my wine and ice cream. Not totally, but now it’s every 6-8 weeks instead of several times a week. Fortunately, I love protein, fruit, and raw veggies so that increasing those in my diet doesn’t feel like a privation. I still eat pizza, bread, rice, and potatoes but much less often and I have slowly reduced my consumption of them when they are on my plate. I make sure that some of the potatoes etc. go to waste. I only eat one half of a hamburger bun as another example.

What happens as you reduce instead of eliminate certain foods, is that your desire for them also decreases. You slowly reduce the number of bacteria that tell your brain to devour a gallon of Ben and Jerry’s for instance. By not denying myself, but using portion control instead, I don’t feel deprived. I take the same approach to exercise that I do with food. I don’t go to a gym; again that’s not in the budget. Besides, I have never much cared for exercise for its own sake. Treadmills, stair steppers, and bicycles to nowhere bug the crap out of me. But I do like alone time, so activities like walking, fly-fishing, and hiking satisfy both my physical and mental needs.

Every day I try for 20-30 minutes of walking. At work, I use my lunch hour and have several routes that I travel so I get some variation Some of my writing, including this essay, spring from this self-reflective me-time. On weekends, I walk around parking lots while waiting for my wife is she is shopping and I can’t go hiking or fishing. On bad weather days, I walk the six flights of stairs at work as many times as I can. If it’s the weekend, I turn my Walmart shopping into workout time. Four times around the outer aisles of the store is about a mile. Or I will go up and down every aisle, looking at everything but walking briskly. Twenty or thirty minutes later, I start shopping for real.

As anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows, it’s easy to lose the first 5-10 pounds. Then it gets harder. That’s partly due to biology and partly to physics. The biological part is that reduced calories makes the body change its set point for metabolizing food. That’s why changing caloric intake slowly has worked better for me than drastic dieting. My set point has stayed the same, so I burn more calories even when I’m sleeping. The physics part is Newton’s Second Law: F=MA. The amount of force needed (which is directly connected to how many calories you burn) to move your body is dictated by how much you weigh (Mass) and how fast (Acceleration) you are moving. As you lose weight, it takes less energy to travel the same distance in the same amount of time.

The solutions are to increase the distance, speed, or weight. I do some of all three but increasing exercise time is much harder for my busy schedule. Walking faster is easier and a Fitbit, smart phone, or Apple watch can help ensure success in the speed department. I also keep a spare back pack with textbooks and full water bottles in my car. I often wear it when I do my daily walks. Increased weight means more calories burned. So does finding hills to walk up. The result is that even though I have hit brief plateaus with my weight, the over-all graph is downward; twenty to twenty-five pounds so far (I avoided the scale at first so I don’t have an exact starting point.) I don’t know where I’ll end up weight–wise. There is some ideal weight for my age but I haven’t reached it yet. I’ll use the data to figure it out. I also don’t know if I’ll be successful in staving off the diabetes.

But cost-benefit analysis shows that the small changes in my life have been more than worth the minimal effort I have had to make. I feel better, have more energy, sleep better, and have a better attitude. All of these have been vital from the standpoint of weathering all of the storms that life has thrown my way over the last two years. My family really needs me to be at my best health wise. And if I end up having to buy all new clothes, well, it’s a small sacrifice I guess I’ll have to make.