To regular reader(s): To avoid tedious blogging about this subject, and because I belong to a Facebook support group for healthier eating, I decided that every Saturday I’ll blog a little about what I’ve discovered in this particular journey, at my advanced age when I’m constantly wondering why I even care. Maybe it’s just curiosity.
So read if you wish, or feel free to ignore. This one deals with an abbreviated history, and my feelings about the scale. Old news, really.
Forgive me, those of you to whom this is old news. I’m mostly just writing this down so I have something to read when I forget where my keys are.
The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is a pretty simple and easy calculation of how much energy you expend in a neutral environment; it’s the calories you burn just keep you alive.
I like the BMR, since it’s a widely accepted baseline. For most of us, 60-80% of the calories we expend fall into this category (and mostly toward the high end, unless you’re a serious runner or something similar). It’s a good place to start.
And rather than pick a vague category (sedentary, partially sedentary, mildly active, very active, etc.) to extrapolate that BMR into a daily caloric requirement, I took exercise out of the equation, found a very sophisticated (and long) formula for calculating BMR that seems to be the most accurate, added 25% (after experimentation), and come up with a daily number. Exercise counts against it.
At age 49, when I got on the scale at said 272, using this calculation, my daily requirement was 2900 calories, just to stay the same. Anything less than that should lose weight. Add in exercise (even walking can burn a ton of calories at 272 pounds) and that’s more weight. Simple, or simple enough for a baseline. And it served me well. Being a numbers guy.
I should note that before I mastered all this fancy stuff, I extremely overestimated my caloric requirements. I had it around 3600 calories. I was wrong. But as it turned out, I learned to walk, and learned the benefits of exercising those pounds away, and I kept tweaking things until I got more of an idea of how much I needed to eat and exercise to keep it coming off.
It did, too. Within about five months, I’d lost 85 pounds, crazy. But I felt fantastic. Tons of energy, hours of exercise, good choices, low but acceptable daily intake.
There are lots of ways to do this other than the scale. Clothes are a good example. Mirrors help. Other people sometimes say nice things.
But I got fascinated by the scale, which are simple machines that do a simple job, and aside from the lemon or the very old scale, they pretty much work all the time. This is what you weigh.
And everything has weight (mass). Eat four pounds of broccoli before bed and your scale is going to reflect that, even though you’ve only consumed about 600 calories (probably less). Food weighs.
So in order to use the scale properly, it seemed to me, it had to be consistent. I tried to keep from taking anything per mouth for 10-12 hours before I got up (this is not as hard as it sounds; eat dinner at 7pm, weigh at 7am) to get the driest weight possible. It was important to stay hydrated, and to eat on a regular basis, but the scale soon became my friend. It told me what I weighed, and which direction it was going.
It kept changing. In six months I’d reached the 100-pound plateau, around 172 pounds. A year later I was a few pounds lighter. So much for regaining after a fairly rapid weight loss.
And then it climbed over the next year, nothing remarkable. Somewhere in the 180s. Fine with me.
In 2011, for three months work slowed way down, coinciding with a series of serious medical issues for my wife, and zoom zoom. Suddenly I was looking at 215 pounds, yikes. But only for about a day, I think. I immediately jumped on it and within a few months I was back to normal. Call it a glitch, with excuses.
In 2013, I was preparing to act in a movie I’d been cast in. I vacillated between my images of this character, a guy pushing 60 who was still very active and a little on the macho side. Lose 35 pounds and hit the gym to make him a lean, wiry guy, or make him one of us, still fit and able to hike high mountains, but carrying an extra 15 or 20 around the midsection. Not so much a gut but more love handles. And once I decided on that (laziness being the better part of valor), I indulged my inner Robert DeNiro and filmed weighing around 205-207. Nothing major. Doughy.
Understand that anything under 190 pounds is fine. The addition of 15 pounds wasn’t a big deal. It came off after the movie.
But only that. I stayed floating in the 190s, and as acceptable as that was I still sort of wished for 175. Just so I could wear anything in my closet without it feeling tight. I kept that in mind, while I also wondered why a 50-ish man in excellent health, who exercised a lot, should really care.
Last February, my 16-month-old grandson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I was there with him soon after he left the hospital, and his parents and I got a crash course in counting carbohydrates, since he needs them but only a small amount. Really, it was an eye opener. I realized how much sugar I consume – how much we all do – and I thought about it a lot. I finally decided to change my habits. Ice cream is the third greatest human advance after the discovery of fire and the wheel, so let’s not go abstinent. Just not every damn day.
And to add some motivation, I looked toward that 175 weight. I figured (staying away from the scale mostly, dumb) I weighed around 188-189, so I gave myself four weeks. That’s a lot of weight to lose in 28 days, but I thought I’d at least get close enough to feel pretty good.
And then the scale went crazy. I have no idea, really. Lots of water adjustment? Residual of some late-night eating for a week before I started? Dunno. But I got on in and weighed 197, thinking that was bogus, that it would drop rapidly and establish a baseline, and it did drop significantly in that first week.
And then, eating and exercising the same, it would jump up 8 pounds. Then up half a pound. Then down 11 pounds for two days. Then up 7 pounds. I was completely confused.
But I tweaked and recalculated and kept stepping on that scale and recording it, and eventually everything settled down and I was able to look at the big picture. Not 189 pounds to start; more like 195 pounds. And 175 would take longer, then.
I still believe in the scale. It’s a simple machine. It weighs the effect of gravity on your mass, really, but we’ll take the numbers. It’s not my enemy. I have seen the enemy. Sometimes he needs a haircut.
So I lost 8 pounds in those first four weeks, and after some minor changes, and to my surprise, it went down 10 pounds over the next three weeks. I still feel great, but I definitely have to keep eating regularly. Lots of protein, some fat, low carbs. Occasionally I’ll indulge, which I think of as “refeeding” but you can just call indulgence. Ice cream is too sweet. Pizza still tastes good. A little bit of gelato is delicious.
And that scale drops a few tenths of a pound every day (gained a pound after my pizza night, which disappeared the next day). It never surprises me anymore. I started tracking everything for a while during the crazy time, trying to see what mistakes I was making, but mostly I just added some more water and varied my diet a bit. I’ve learned to avoid foods, even when eating out, that I don’t really want and certainly don’t need.
Today, a week shy of two months, I hit 175. It’s a nice feeling, but I’m more pleased that I feel I’ve figured the whole thing out. Scales tell you what you weigh. It’s up to you to figure out why.
And it’s all done the way we deal with our modern technology, even old-modern. The scale is perfect. Every time you use it, you turn it on and then off again. The well-known solution to most modern problems is just made for the scale.
Here’s to 165. Hey, it might be OK. If not, I know how to correct it now. Something with cookie dough is a start.