Sunday, June 3, 2007

Loose jeans

Several years ago I weighed quite a bit more than I do now, somewhere around 235lbs. I lost 35 of those pounds and then for years, hovered at 200, a body fat of about 12-14%, a homeostasis my body was too happy to cling to. It almost doesn't matter what I do when I'm in that zone: I can overeat substantially without really gaining much (and if I do it's not hard to drop back down to that range) but conversely I can exercise and eat less and never really drop below 12%.

I finally decided, about a month ago, to get under 10%, ideally to around 8%. (The medically healthy lower limit for guys is about 6%, but I'm afraid that would just be untenable.) I started using BalanceLog again, a program essentially like Fit Day, tracking my exercise and food consumption, and being diligent about not overeating. I eat half my meals from restaurants, asking for to-go boxes as soon as I sit down and putting half the meal away right off the bat. I rarely snack on candy. I eat smaller portions.

The trick in dropping from an already relatively-low body fat percentage to something lower seems to be that I can never let myself feel hungry for long periods of time. If I do, well, first, I get frustrated and lose my will power, but second, my body stops burning fat, believing that I'm stuck on a desert island, starving. I've kept lots of carrots, celery, pickles, sugar-free popsicles & fudgsicles, and other low-calorie snacks around so I can graze whenever I feel like it, avoid that poverty mentality with food, but not add 400 calories a day to my diet just by snacking on candy and whatnot.

Finally, the exercise is crucial. If I do a 2-hour medium-intensity bike ride every weekend, that's about 1500 calories burned, which is another 200 calories I can eat every single day. Add in an intensive yoga class or two every week and a few hours of rock climbing and it lets me eat pretty generous amounts of food and still be running a calorie deficit.

OK, so it's been a month; how's it going? I'm pleased to report that last Tuesday after rock climbing, I went to change back into my favorite pair of jeans, the 33-waist Diesels that have historically been slightly snug on me, with the Kenneth Cole belt that has also been on the tight side, and with jeans buttoned and belt buckled, I was able to slide completely out of them.

On the one hand, it'd be nice if they didn't get too loose, because I'd really rather not have to buy another pair of those jeans, but on the other hand, what better reason to need new clothing?

I weighed in this evening at 193lbs and 10% body fat, my lowest body fat ever.

It's worth noting that this has hardly been a grueling process of self-denial. Sure, I've been eating less, and sure, I don't get to indulge quite like I used to, but I've still been to the Salt Lick and gorged on BBQ and pie, I've had ice cream on many occasions, I go to the Alamo and even get the occasional milkshake with my chicken strip basket. It's not like I'm starving to death over here. I think the key is, when you're tracking the food you eat in something like Fit Day that tells you calorie values for various foods, you build an intuition for the calorie content of things, and you can indulge more intelligently. The BBQ, for example, isn't outrageous. A few big slices of beef brisket is only a couple hundred calories. Take it easy on the sauce and plan on a little more exercise the next day, and everything works out just fine.

Plus, just like with personal finance, having good intuition leads to good habits, which then allow you to indulge without feeling guilty, because you know it'll add up. Before this, I'd overeat and just try not to think about it, just like I used to make impulse purchases and then feel palpable anxiety when I logged into my bank account online to see my balance. No longer!

I'm curious to see, when I get down to 8%, whether it's sustainable, whether my body recalibrates to the new percentage and lets me stay there, or whether it'll be like walking a tightrope, whether my body will eagerly bounce back to 12% the first chance I give it. I'm naturally hoping for the former, but this little undertaking was motivated half by curiosity, so if it turns out it's unsustainable, I won't be too crestfallen. I'll be happy just to have had the self-discipline to get there even for a week!



Kristine said...

You can slide out of your jeans?! Damn boy, that's some weigh loss. Good for you!

June 4, 2007 6:10 AM  
And said...

There was an article in the NYTimes recently about how part of weight (gain and loss) is hereditary (so, more nature than nurture), that you gravitate to *your* natural weight. This really made sense why it's sometimes so hard to lose those last 5 or 10 lbs. The article claimed that while it's possible for an overweight person maintain a lower weight, it is more of a challenge than for someone who is naturally at that lower weight.

June 6, 2007 12:23 PM  

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