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May 2003
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One Year Later


My journey out of fat land

Approximately one year ago I wrote a little essay entitled Fat ... fat ... fat wherein I detailed my discovery that, after many years as a thin person, I had joined the ranks of the not nearly so thin, and what I did about it. More precisely, it told about I had done about it up to that time.

My little campaign started somewhere in February of 2002. It began modestly enough. At the China Buffet I cut my portion size from four platefuls to two. The thought that one plateful might be too much had not yet occurred to me. By April, the date of my essay, I had taken things more seriously and had shed ten or fifteen pounds on a rather eccentric diet.

By May I had added a three mile daily walk to my little campaign. By July bits and pieces of Richard were disappearing nicely. A 42 inch waist had turned into a 38 inch waist. Shrinking waistlines are one of the rewards of a weight loss program. I recall very well the shock I had when I purchased a pair of 38 waist jeans without trying them on - I knew, after all, that I wore a 38 waist - and then, when I tried them on, discovered that I couldn't wear them; they were, er, too snug. The reward came that summer when I dug out that unwearable pair of jeans and discovered that they were quite wearable, indeed were just a little loose. That was a moment to savor.

In August I headed east for the better part of a month to visit my old haunts in Massachusetts. This was a serious test of my new found eating habits. In SD I ate at home, I never ate out, and what I ate was, ah, idiosyncratic, fruit, veggies, lean cuisine TV dinners, toast with hummus on it, and the occasional protein bar. In MA I would be staying with friends who ate civilized meals and dining out upon occasion with people who ate well and often.

I had expected that I would gain a few pounds on the trip; instead I lost a few, that despite having dined very well at some rather nice restaurants. The secret to dining well and not gaining weight is the obvious - eat small portions. American restaurants are your enemy; they rather consistently serve too much food.

Late last fall I started keeping company with Our Lady of the Large Black Dog. Deborah was a weight watchers maven; our interest in food and a healthy life style (more or less) is one of the things we have in common. Part of the trick of keeping one's weight under control is to concentrate on making the food that one eats interesting rather than just mainlining fat and sugar.

My weight stayed more or less the same through the winter. This is profit; winter commonly is a time for gaining weight. One eats well, overly well during the holidays. The opportunities for yard work, save after snow storms, are fewer. None-the-less I squeezed out a few more pounds.

So where am I today? My total weight loss has been about 45 pounds, down from 229 to 184. My waist size is 36 inches, down from 42. If I am not gaunt, neither am I porky. I may take off a few more pounds, but my main concern is with what kind of shape I am in rather than with what I weigh.


But just what did you weigh?

On April 13, 2002, I started keeping a daily weight log, recording my weight when I got up, and when I went to bed. My little obsession (i'm good at obsessions) has given me a nice little database of rather dubious statistics. Your body weight, you see, is not a simple, single number.

To begin with, your average bathroom scale is a fickle and unreliable machine, even when it is used correctly. Did you know that a bathroom scale will read several pounds light if it sitting on a rug? It's obvious when you think about - by yielding the rug absorbs some of the weight. I didn't know that, though, and for several months I was fooling myself by three or four pounds. Then, too, you can fool the scales by how you place your feet. None of these little tricks will make you any leaner, but they can make you feel better about your weight.

But what about those scales in the doctor's office, the ones with bar and the little weights they slide around? Surely those are accurate, aren't they? Er, ah, well, ah, no. They can be off one way or another by a few pounds - they require adjustment and calibration to be truly accurate.

The besides of which you have your clothes on when you are weighed in the doctor's office. How much do your clothes weigh? Two pounds? Five pounds? Eight pounds? Ten pounds? Fifteen pounds? It could be any of these.

As it happens I gained access to a calibrated, accurate weighing machine in November 2002. I have an accurate recording of my morning and evening weights since then. Here are my morning weights for one week:

186.4 186.0 183.6 183.4 185.4 184.8 185.4

So there you are: What did I weigh? And how can my weight vary by several pounds over the course of a week?

The thing is that your body weight is always fluctuating as it takes in mass and gets rid of mass. An apple has about 15 calories per ounce. Cheese has about 130 calories per ounce. It takes about 220 calories to make one ounce of body fat. It takes about 15 ounces of apple to make one ounce of body fat. Contrariwise it only takes 1.7 ounces of cheese to make one ounce of body fat. Guess which are better for you, apples or cheese, if you trying to lose weight.

Okay, suppose you ate a pound of apples and gained one ounce. What happened to the other 15 ounces? In due course, some of it is breathed out, some (most) passes out with urine, and some goes into a bowel movement. When you eat something it takes time (digestion) to extract the nutritive content and get rid of the rest. So, during the day you take in mass, and during the night you lose mass.

So that's one factor. Another factor is that your body is mostly fluid. Your weight fluctuates a fair bit, depending on your level of fluid retention. When some weight loss scam tells you that you can lose five or ten pounds in a week, what they don't tell you is that it is all fluid and that the loss is strictly temporary.

So. If your daily regimen, what you eat, when you eat it, your activities, and your hours, if all of these are unchanging from day to day, then your morning weights should be steady. With slight changes in habits they can vary two or three pounds. Evening weights vary more dramatically; they can be 0 to 5 pounds greater than morning weights.

In short, don't take fluctuations seriously. Look for the pattern, and, above all, eat right and live right; the weight will take care of itself.


The New Puritanism

They say that ex smokers are the people most obnoxious about their former vice. That may be, but ex junk food junkies are right up there. This goes, somewhat, for yours truly. I am not as bad as I might be. I don't, for example, run about tearing whoppers out of the mouths of school children, nor I stomp on packages of potato chips - at least not in public places. Nor do I make snide comments about the sort of food that my companions are eating - at least not too often and not too loudly. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. Pay no attention to the lady saying, "Yeah, right."

Traditional puritans inveighed against playing cards, drinking, theatre, the unseemly exposure of feminine flesh, and Sunday golf. They set a good table though. For the most part dietary puritans don't care about the traditional sins. Sloth and drinking are notable exceptions, drinking because alcohol has empty calories, and sloth because dietary puritans expect you to exercise.

Instead of sins and virtues, dietary puritans have lists of "good foods" and "taboo foods". Instead of religious tracts, dietary puritans carry around books like "The DOCTOR's Pocket Calorie FAT & Carbohydrate Counter", a useful little guide that includes info on 101 fast food chains & restaurants. Good foods are things like fruit and veggies, low fat milk, lean meat (but not much of it), and the like. Bad foods are almost everything that you can find at a fast food emporium. That particularly means french fries (freedom fries if you are one of those people.) and whoppers. Soda - coke, pepsi, whatever - is a real disaster. If it is snack food in a box or bag, forget it, with the exception of rice cakes. One box or bag of snack food (that's chips) typically contains 1000-1500 calories; some are worse. An average size person, moderately active, needs about 2000 calories a day. Think about it; if you eat a bag of potato chips with dip and a big soda, you've already consumed your day's ration of calories. Anything else you eat that day is going to your hips, thighs, and belly.

No doubt we food puritans are too extreme, and I dare say I will soften with time. Still, if you are overweight and wish to reduce your weight, think about this. It is your current eating patterns and your current life style that has lead to your putting on weight. It is not enough to diet and take off weight. You have to change your eating patterns and everything you did that lead to your becoming a fatty.

Forgive me Lord, for I have ranted.


This page was last updated May 8, 2003.

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