I began this week-long series (a first for me) on diet and weight loss by saying:

This week I'll publish a series of short articles that explain the simple plan and the various tactics I used to drop nearly 50 pounds (or 5 belt inches and one shirt size) in the course of last year.
The advice I'll give isn't likely to be all that different that what you might read elsewhere, but the combination is what worked well for me. Hopefully it'll motivate a few more people to do the same. I learned a lot about my habits and behavior in the process and suspect that much of it applies to most people who are struggling with extra pounds.

If the feedback and discussion I've seen is any indication, there was far more interest in this than I initially thought possible. I hope I've managed to convince a handful of others to try shedding a few pounds and forming new habits. And I hope I haven't annoyed too many people by writing about this for a full week!

New Habits

One of the most consistent comments I've seen this week is "diets are temporary... you need to change your habits or you'll just put the weight back on!"

I couldn't agree more. If you thought I was advocating this as a temporary solution, I'm sorry to have misled you. The only temporary part is the initial low calorie phase in the first month or so. It is there to help accelerate the loss, build confidence, and to illustrate what's possible.

For the long-term, you can't stop paying attention to what you eat. After reaching your target weight, you'll need to carefully dial up the number of calories you take in every day. And once you reach equilibrium, you need to realize that this is your new diet. That means the sort of diet the doctor is referring to when she asks you about your diet. That's different than when your co-worker says "dude, you lost a lot of weight! What diet are you on?"

One is a long-term mentality and the other is not.

Exercise

I've purposely not talked much about exercise up until now for a several reasons. First of all, I didn't add exercise to the mix until I had lost about 40 of my 50 pounds. As my uncle said yesterday:

I did not plan to add exercise to the mix, but at the lighter weight I found myself with substansially more energy. As a result, I want to do more and be more active.

I had the same experience. After getting close to my ideal weight, I wanted to exercise. So I began using a mix of weight training and walking. Most mornings I go for a 45-60 minute walk before work and it makes a big difference in how I feel. I look forward to it every day.

As others have mentioned this week, exercise is an essential feature of any successful long-term weight management plan. But if you're significantly overweight, it's difficult to get into until you're shed some pounds.

Adding exercise to the mix too early also needlessly complicates the process and increases the amount of time required every day. One thing at a time. Keep it simple.

Nutrition

Around the time I got into exercise, I spent a bit of time on-line reading about nutrition. I wanted to pay more attention to what I was eating rather than just how much I consumed.

I made a few simple adjustments to the fruit, vegetables, and meats that I eat. But, honestly, I wasn't that bad off to begin with. The only change I didn't expect was adding a multivitamin to my daily routine. I now take one with breakfast every morning.

There's a lot more for me to learn about nutrition, and I'll continue to do that as my interest reminds me. But it's certainly going to be a life-long learning process (like so many things are).

Stability

I have a confession to make. I don't maintain my spreadsheet daily anymore. I stopped at the end of last year. My hope was that I'd be able to continue without it, using my newfound habits, limits, and intuition to guide my eating.

The results have been pretty good. In the last 6 months I managed to stay within a 5 pound weight range: 169 174. I'm at 172 today.

Some weeks I eat a bit more than others, but I find that I'm able to catch myself and make up for it before things get out of hand. This is often influenced by travel or eating out when special events are going on.

I'm fairly convinced that I managed to internalize the three habits in 2005. I still weigh myself every morning (unless I'm out of town), I still mentally add up what I'm eating every day (not hard once you've been doing it a while), and I rarely eat until I feel "full" anymore.

In Summary

I managed to lose 50 pounds in a year without spending any time on health clubs, dieting programs, coaching, or books. It all boils down to developing the three habits that I mentioned on Monday.

I started by limiting my calorie intake to roughly 1,500 per day and slowly ramped that up as I neared the end of my initial weight loss cycle. I then added in a bit of exercise. In the process, I refined my sense of how much I can eat and what the effects are on me.

I eat less sugar, bread, and pasta than I used to.

Most importantly, I feel great. If you're significantly overweight, you cannot imagine how good it feels to shed those pounds. After the first 10 or 20 come off, motivation is simply not a problem--you want it all to go.

Anyone can do this.

What Next?

I've never been much of a cook. In 2007, I hope to cook more food "from scratch" and design my own meals. It's tricky when you live alone (aside from a couple cats, that is) and are fairly busy. But I think it'll be educational, fun, and fairly rewarding.

I also suspect that the act of choosing my own ingredients will result in a slightly healthier diet along the way. We'll see.

Oh, and I like to get down to 165 someday, but I'm really in no hurry at this point. There's always another goal! :-)

Previous installments:

Posted by jzawodn at June 09, 2006 06:56 AM

Reader Comments
# Atul Chitnis said:

Excuse me if I sound like an echo

http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/archives/002767.html

but where's the dedicated "diet" category for easy access? :)

on June 9, 2006 08:11 AM
# lantzilla said:

Okay...where's the before and after shots?

on June 9, 2006 08:22 AM
# kareem said:

Two things-

www.thedailyplate.com is a pretty interesting site that helps ppl track calorie intake, suggests healthy alternatives for foods, etc... basically help ppl with tracking weight progress.

www.genevestewart.com is a food blog with healthy, tasty, and simple recipes for the busy 20 or 30-something. awesome pics, too. full disclosure: geneve is my girlfriend.

kareem

on June 9, 2006 10:46 AM
# ben said:

Thanks, again, Jeremy. I'm going to incorporate your spreadsheet (and take to heart your suggestions) in my life. I've written about your posts on my blog, too.

Congrats on staying in a five pound band for six months! I can't do that for two weeks. (yet)

on June 9, 2006 11:14 AM
# Rob Steele said:

Congratulations again and do by all means learn to cook. It really impresses girls. Imagine your reaction on discovering a gal you're out with codes for fun and has an instrument rating--it's like that.

on June 9, 2006 11:18 AM
# Craig Hughes said:

Re: home cooking

Good cook books can make a huge difference in confidence in cooking at home (and better confidence I think is one of the biggest differentiators between bad cooks and good cooks). Most cook books in the US focus on the recipe -- that is the list of ingredients and then a dry set of instructions on how to combine them and cook them.

Here is a list of fantastic books that I have on my cookbook shelf which teach methods & concepts and not just recipes. They include recipes too, but those recipes are used as the shadows to the platonic form of the underlying technique or ingredient combination. The books help you learn how to not need a recipe in order to cook. Amazon URLs included for convenience:

1. Julia and Jacques cooking at home.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0375404317/102-1521308-9618524
Julia Child and Jacques Pepin each cook each recipe, and discuss how their solutions differ from each other, and why each one does it the way they do. A cookbook with a perl-like "TIMTOWTDI" approach.

2. I'm just here for the food
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1584790830/102-1521308-9618524
Alton Brown breaks cooking down into basic categories of methods (pancakes are just a special case of muffin). He discusses at a high level some of the science going on when cooking happens, in a way which lets you better understand why you're cooking things the way you are. If you've seen the show, the book is similar, but more in depth.

3. On food and cooking: the science and lore of the kitchen
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0684800012/102-1521308-9618524
Harold McGee takes the scientific explanation of what's going on when you cook to the next level. Not really a recipe book at all, but rather a bedtime reading book about the science and history of cooking.

4. The Saucier's Apprentice
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0394489209/102-1521308-9618524
Raymond Sokolov explains the 5 mother sauces, and their descendants. There is no dish which is not improved by the right sauce, and understanding how to create a sauce for a given dish is rooted in understanding the lessons of this book. Warning: Butter content of some sauces in this book may throw you a few sigma off your mean caloric intake.


I also own a number of the standard recipe cookbooks (joy of cooking, gourmet cookbook, etc) but find that I rarely crack them open unless I'm looking up something like the flour-to-liquid ratio for waffle batter. When I'm looking for inspiration for how to cook a piece of meat or a veg that I have in the fridge, I generally start with a web search, then use the methods learned in the 4 books above to combine the information I find online into something new.

A recommendation for bachelor/busy schedule cooks: get a crockpot. This will not necessarily save you a lot of time cooking, but makes for much more reliable and time-predictable results than some other cooking methods, which can help you schedule cooking into your hectic day. Preparing food properly (including chopping, browning ingredients before putting them in the pot, etc) will be no less complicated nor time consuming than if you stuck the dish in the oven instead of the crockpot, but with a slow cooker, you can do the prep hours ahead of time and program the cooker to have the meal ready at whatever time you want it to be ready. I have 2 cookbooks which include some fancier-end crockpot recipe concepts which I do go to ahead of an internet search when I'm crockpotting, of which I can only remember one title while sitting here:

5. The Gourmet Slow Cooker
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1580084893/102-1521308-9618524

One final tip: when cooking meat, do not cook based on time. Get a probe thermometer, and cook until the meat reaches the correct temperature, whether you're cooking it on the BBQ, in the oven, on the stovetop. You can skip this for slow-cooker cooking since the crockpot will control temp for you, but cooking meat based on temperature rather than time is probably the single biggest difference you can make to improve your cooking results. I use one of those digital probe thermometers with an extension cable which plugs into a display/timer base, and has a "beep when temperature reached" feature which is very handy.

on June 9, 2006 11:19 AM
# Lynn said:

Jeremy, thanks so much for your posts this week -- they have been really motivating! The link to the Hacker's Diet alone was super-worthwhile. Thanks again! Lynn

on June 9, 2006 12:21 PM
# Charles said:

I increased my exercise and added in your diet tips, I lost 3 pounds this week. Now I'm back to the weight I was before I quit smoking for the third time in the last year. Now I just have to work off the weight from the OTHER two times I quit.

on June 9, 2006 01:16 PM
# Joseph Hunkins said:

Great series of posts Jeremy. I lost some weight just *reading* about your success.

on June 9, 2006 01:35 PM
# Andy said:

If haven't seen it already, watch "Good Eats" on The Food Network. Alton Brown is the host/creator. He mixes in just enough food science in explaining the why you do certain things as well as the hows of the recipe itself.

IIRC, you don't subscribe to cable TV anymore, but there are DVDs available. Great recipe ideas, cooking techniques, and suggestions for tools to use in the kitchen.

on June 9, 2006 01:40 PM
# Benjamin said:

"If the feedback and discussion I've seen is any indication"

Allow me to post a "me too" comment, thanking you for these blog posts.

I stumbled across your blog just last week, shortly after realizing I'd crossed 200 lbs for the first time in my life.

Your steps make working on taking it back off actually seem attainable. Step One? Bought a nice scale (my first one ever) at Target the other night. Now to work on the rest....

on June 9, 2006 03:05 PM
# This guy is popular said:

Wow is this Jeremy guy popular

on June 10, 2006 02:36 PM
# Pawel said:

I agree on the exercise thing entirely. One should not start early into the process, or he/she will likely get discouraged easily.

When time comes, one should not push for the limits. This leads to being tired and cranky. It was my doctor that told me that moderate effort will lead to max weight loss and long term benefits. Walking rocks, jogging may be too much.

Good luck maintaining your weight!


on June 11, 2006 09:55 AM
# Marcus D. Hanwell said:

Just wanted to thank you for all your posts - it has been inspiring, with some really useful links. I started with my self made weight loss method in late January and have been losing over 1.5 lbs a week on average. There have been some great tips in your series, but I think exercise is the big one for keeping it going for me.

I feel so much better already but am not at my target weight yet. I will be running a 10 km (6ish miles) race a week today - in January I couldn't run for more than 5 minutes! Eating natural foods instead of all the processed food I used to has made a massive difference for me. I still eat some rubbish but now I have fruits and vegetables as the main part of my diet and don't particularly count calories.

Thanks once again - hope the cooking goes well.

on June 11, 2006 11:32 AM
# Tom Harrison said:

Jeremy --

I have read your blog for a while because my professional work is in your "space" (we met briefly at the recent Boston PubCon). Your diet is in my personal space, and the idea strikes a familiar chord.

My blog is about reducing consumption too, and I am not into fad diets either, and also have found that recording my passage from consumption to ... less consumption is useful in finding creative approaches to dealing with excessive consumption. Your blog has a "slightly" wider readership than mine, so perhaps you are actually helping others :-) I am currently content to record my progress, and can say with pride that it is not insignificant.

My diet is an energy diet. I am promoting the notion that a reduction in five percent of consumption can make a real and important difference. Interestingly, that also turns out to be true with a food diet, and actually I have lost a little weight as a result. But by gradually, and painlessly reducing our consumption of energy through small change in our habits, we have slimmed down to a remarkable level. I can say that all the people who see our changes think we are "hotties". OK, not all of them.

The very same principals of food diets apply to energy diets. For example there's no single thing you can do to solve the problem. The solution takes a little discipline ... and perhaps more than that, just simply remembering to do the right thing, in other words, making things you do daily into "good habits". Yesterday, I finally remembered to reuse the paper bags my wife had put in my car when I went shopping (only took me three months to remember that one). Little things.

We're making small change gradually as they occur to us, and making the changes we know we can realistically accomplish given our lifestyle and within the bounds of our human peccadillos. And we (my wife and I) have found that there's a lot of simple learning that is involved with the mechanics of the diet. I draw this parallel because my wife and I both should lose some weight, so we can relate. I don't think any diets that require radical lifestyle changes can really work in the long term -- good habits come from a little will power, and a lot of practice. The biggest, and easier changes in our energy consumption have been nearly invisible and painless. I think this is true of reduction of food and energy (and probably any other pleasurable activity).

So the same thinking goes into losing some unnecessary usage of energy. As with food, we're addicted to certain consumption habits that, upon reflection, are neither necessary nor beneficial ... and which upon further reflection are quite easy to change. My lovely and beautiful wife managed to lose a lot of weight, but not as a result of any of the usual diets, but simply by becoming aware of how everything works.

Her learning and results translated into healthier and better eating for all of our family, and also translated into healthier living, including reduced consumption of energy. She does all the thinking and comes up with ideas; I write them in my blog. Thinking works for her, public confession works for me.

on June 11, 2006 06:27 PM
# Jeff Costantino said:

I would like to mention my success (and one caveat) so far.

Since starting on the 7th, I have significantly reduced my calories and have gone from 241 to 231. I'm sure a lot of that was water BUT it just so happens that I have tightened my belt from the last notch to the second to the last notch.

On Friday the 9th, I woke up lethargic and generally feeling like I was run over. My temperature was 92.4, it rose up to 97.2 by 11 and was a 101.1 fever by the evening. This was probably my body going into shock from a dramatic loss of calories from starting the diet. Someone (Jeremy?) mentioned a "soft landing" of slowly increasing calories to get back up to a caloric intake even with the amount burned each day but I think it's just as important to have a soft takeoff as well to not shock your body.

I probably burn ~3000 calories a day and consume 3500-4500 a day. I've got myself down to consuming ~2000 a day but it really freaked my metabolism out. Being that I was developing a cold at the same time probably didn't help any but I'd just like to mention that if possible - try to step down gradually over a period of a few days to your target caloric intake.

By the way, I "cheated" last night and had a hamburger at Ruby Tuesdays, an 1188 calorie hamburger. First of all, I had grown accustomed to eating less over the past few days and I couldn't even finish it and only picked at the fries. On top of all that, since it was so heavy I felt sick for 3 hours after. Let me tell you that if you want to "cheat" after a few days, go ahead.. you'll regret it :)

I have had very few problems with keeping at or under 2000 calories a day and the fact that I can tighten up my belt today really lets me know that something is going right.

on June 12, 2006 07:00 AM
# Mike Jackson said:

To add to Craig's list (most of which I own, or have at least read): I'd recommend "The Best Recipes in the World" by Mark Bittman. It's well organized and contains great recipes from virtually every major cuisine, with strong emphasis on Asian cuisines. They're easy to follow and taste darn good.

on June 12, 2006 12:34 PM
# Edward said:

I've been trying my own diet, it's called The Edward Diet - I have so much more enery these days!

Anyway here it is : http://edward-diet.blogspot.com/

on June 13, 2006 05:41 AM
# Special Ed said:

Am I the only one who has been sitting on their computer for years, and instead of getting fat, I'm getting crippled in the neck, back, and knees?

I think ergonomics, posture, strecthing, and excersize for (cubicle-chained sweatshop) geeks should be your next healthhack plug. =)

cheers

on June 13, 2006 04:14 PM
# Michael W said:

Having lost 150 lbs in a year I can feel your pain. It's not easy.. I went from a 48 waist to a 35 waist in 13 months. The clothes bill gets expensive too.. ;>)

on June 14, 2006 09:52 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Michael:

Yeah, but it's money you feel *really* good about spending. :-)

on June 14, 2006 10:22 AM
# Dutch Rapley I said:

Congrats and thanks for sharing that with us. I did the same thing last year and lost 30 pounds, but added exercise in the mix early on. I've found that one of the best pieces of equipment you can buy is an elliptical machine, but you really can't go cheap on these. It's easy on the joints and quiet enough to allow you get in some tv, albeit your favorite sitcom, gameshow, or news channel. I never really counted my calories but changed my eating habbits significantly. I stopped eating out and eat a sensible dinner every night. About half the time I eat a sandwich or salad for lunch, the other half of the time I do not eat lunch. I can accomplish this because I constantly snack throughout the day (not on hohos or twinkies). I start every morning with a packet of oatmeal. Throughout the day, I'll snack on bananas, apples, oranges, yougurt, raisens, and dried fruit.

You're right about dieting in that it's not about eating less, it's more about changing your eating habbits.

on June 14, 2006 12:07 PM
# Trish said:

Personally I find the maintenance bit a little harder than losing weight.

on June 18, 2006 02:23 AM
# Ellen said:

I am tracking my own progress and trying to follow my own diet and health suggestions on http://halfwayhealthy.eponym.com/blog. Unfortunately, I am only halfway successful, half the time, for half the effort. But half a diet gets me there in double the time, right?

on July 23, 2006 08:19 PM
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