Positive habit: Tracking food every day
Negative habit: No eating out by myself
New experience: N/A
Up until this point in 2015, I’ve been doing two new habits + a new experience every month. However, we have a new baby in the house, we moved over the summer, and we’re facing some financial and time crunches due to several other situations.
As a result, I decided that I’d combine the summer into one big chunk of time and do my habits and experience for the entire summer, rather than by month, and then resume the monthly schedule starting in September.
Also, an important note: I decided to do this at the end of June. I had picked my June habits already and when July rolled around, I decided to just keep doing them for the summer. Wish I had it more together, but I don’t
When deciding what I was going to do for my habits for June (and then the whole summer), I wanted to pick things related to losing weight. Over the last decade, my weight has gradually crept up on me, just a pound or two per year. It wasn’t something I was overly concerned about, but then at the end of May 2015, I happened to jump on a scale at the gym and I was horrified to see 210 lbs on the scale.
Two hundred and ten freaking pounds!?! I had spent the last few years in the 195 – 200 range, mostly closer to 200. But of course, I think of myself as basically 195. That’s what I put when I have to put my weight down. The mental barrier of 200 was too much for me. Now I’m staring at a scale showing me at 210. What happened?!?
Like most people who make a positive change in their life, I had one of those “that’s it!” moments where I determined that things were going to have to change. It was with this mindset that I went into June, and so I chose habits to reflect that.
Positive habit: Tracking food every day
There’s no mystery to how I ended up at 210 pounds. As Kelly Starett says: “I eat like an asshole.” I treat my body pretty poorly in terms of both diet and exercise and it’s catching up with me.
You know the saying “garbage in, garbage out?” Well, in this case, it was “garbage in, your body now looks like garbage.”
So first thing was to clean up my diet, and the most effective way I’ve found for that (and a lot of other things) is to measure.
I use MyFitnessPal to track all the stuff I put in my face every day, and it’s often pretty dismaying to see in black and white.
For example, I love chips. But yeah, a handful of chips is like 7000 calories. And they’re not even good, healthy calories. So I don’t really eat chips as much anymore. And if you love salad, I hope you don’t love olive oil, because it’s approximately 11 bajillion calories per drop.
My goal was just to track my calories and try and stay below the target calories each day. I didn’t worry too much about the macronutrients at this point (how the calories broke down between fat, protein, and carbs), partly because I didn’t want to get analysis paralysis, and partly because I didn’t need those numbers for my purposes. I’ll need those in the long run once I start lifting heavy again, trying to maintain a long-term balanced diet, etc. But for now, tracking nothing but calories was enough, and the data in MyFitnessPal is more reliable for that than macros anyway.
Pretty quickly, my behavior started to shift.
For one thing, you start to get a feel for how many calories everything you eat is going to be. I suspect that you could track your food religiously for a few years and then never do it again and probably be fine, because you have an innate sense at that point for what you should and shouldn’t eat, and how much, etc.
The next thing to happen is that you start to think about the rest of the day and how your food intake is spaced out, etc. If I only have 2000 calories to eat today and I have a 1200 calorie breakfast at 6am, it looks like I’ll be having huge bowls of spinach for lunch AND dinner.
I also weighed myself every day, first thing in the morning, and wrote the numbers down on a whiteboard. The numbers fluctuate around a little each day, but the overall trend each week is definitely down. And I found that really encouraging.
I set aside Saturdays as a cheat day, when I didn’t have to track or worry about diet. This was really helpful psychologically throughout the week, because I didn’t have to think about the prospect of giving up pizza forever or something stupid like that. I just had to wait a few days.
I really went overboard on my first few cheat days. I suspect I hit 5000 calories on several of them. I know that sounds insane, but if you get a giant fatty bacon cheeseburger with a thing of fries and a large shake, you’re probably already pushing 2500 – 3000 calories.
Things settled down a bit later in terms of cheat days, but in retrospect, I think the cheat day thing would have been better as a cheat meal. I think I’ll switch to that in the future.
Now, I definitely wasn’t perfect throughout the summer. I neglected to track many days, and went over my calories many days. But I still made great progress, going from 210 lbs down to 193 lbs. There’s a caveat to that number, which is that the 210 lbs was at a gym while traveling and I never got to use that scale again. Based on the numbers I was seeing a few days later on my own scale of more like 206-208, I suspect that it was reading a little high.
So I probably lost more like 14-15 lbs, not 17. I’m ok with that. I think I could have lost 20-25 pounds over the summer if I had been a more disciplined, and that would have been great, but the overall, long-term goal here isn’t some specific number by a specific day, but rather a switch to a healthy lifestyle.
Addendum: I’m writing this in late Sept 2015, and I’ve definitely fallen off the tracking wagon and lost a couple pounds of the progress I made. There are few things more powerful in life than steady, measured progress every day towards a goal, and I’m going back to it starting today. 590 calories consumed so far today.
Negative habit: No eating out by myself
I don’t know that eating out is a “bad habit”, but it’s connected to some bad habits for me.
For starters, a slight majority of the unhealthy eating I do is while eating out, not while eating at home. Probably because I can’t make taco bell at home. Yeah, I know, disgusting. The portions are bigger too.
Another bad habit is just the money I spend eating out. I don’t mind cooking every now and then, but I hate eating every meal at home. The hassle, time, and monotony is a huge pain point. If I could, I’d have a personal chef, but instead I just eat out all the time. And that adds up, to easily thousands of dollars per year.
Finally, unless you’re eating at a chain restaurant, it’s surprisingly difficult to accurately track your food intake when dining out.
So basically, eating out for me is spending money I shouldn’t on food that isn’t good for me, and not having a good idea of just how bad for me it is.
I considered making my habit just avoiding eating out entirely, but that felt like I would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Sharing a meal with others is one of life’s greatest joys and opportunities for connection. And depending on the situation, it’s often difficult or impossible for those occasions to take place at someone’s home. My wife and I have a standing engagement every week to spend out together, I meet new and interesting people for coffee or meals constantly, including while traveling, etc.
So I decided that rather than avoid all eating out, I would just avoid eating out by myself.
This actually turned out to be surprisingly easy. I think a big part of it is having a baby now. We just spend more time at home naturally, and that’s a big help.
Also, I also think that I’ve made more of an effort to find someone to go to meals with. Part of that is moving to a new area, and trying to get to know people and the food scene in that area, but I think it also might be a subconscious hack to eat out more
Finally, I also included this rule in my Saturday cheat day exception, so Saturday around noon would often find me alone at a local pizzeria, stuffing my face with an ungodly amount of food. #noshame…#okalittleshame
At any rate, having this rule on the other six days of the week has definitely contributed to a healthier budget and to the weight loss I talked about above.
New experience: N/A
I’ve been thinking a lot about great writing lately, and what makes it great. I think a big part of it is vulnerability, and I want to emulate that, but wow, it’s hard.
I had several ideas for a new experience to do over the summer, and I could have found the time and money for them, but truthfully, I just got lazy and let the weeks roll by.
In general, I find the habits much easier to do than the experience. The hardest part of the habits is picking them and then doing them for the first few days. After that, they’re basically locked in.
But the experience is much harder. Even though it’s only one chunk of time in the entire month, it’s just so easy to let the month slip by without finding any time for it.
It’s embarrassing to me to write this, and though I’m not proud of this, I spent some time before writing this trying to think of something I could say that I did as my experience. But sadly it was a boring summer in terms of new experiences worth writing about.
But that’s just dumb anyway; I didn’t do it! The whole point for me of writing is self-discovery and trying to share the things I’ve learned. It doesn’t make any sense to try and hide those things from the world.
So sorry, no experience this summer.
Well, there you have it. More than you ever wanted to know about the things I did (and didn’t do) this summer.
I feel pretty satisfied with my progress towards a healthier weight, although I’d like to get it down closer to 185 lbs. I think I could have gotten there by now if I hadn’t let the tracking slip for the last few weeks in particular.
I think the only thought I’d like to leave you with is the idea that perfection isn’t the goal: progress is. There are few things more powerful than momentum. Get started before you feel ready, and make small progress every day. It doesn’t matter if you start in the wrong direction, or if you make the most infinitesimal progress every day. You’re going to get frustrated, you’re going to make changes, you’re going to figure it out.
The important thing is to start.