Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘tips’

Fatblogging: The Feedback Loop

Posted by Fred on October 26, 2007

fatblogging.pngPart of an occasional series. See here for more fatblogging entries.

Wikipedia has this to say about feedback:

Feedback is both a mechanism, process and signal that is looped back to control a system within itself. This loop is called the feedback loop. A control system usually has input and output to the system; when the output of the system is fed back into the system as part of its input, it is called the “feedback.”

In the Fatblogging Non-Diet, it is important early on to establish a feedback loop.  This is the justification for near-daily weigh-ins and meticulous recording of caloric intake. Seeing the numbers on the scale go down are just a bonus.  As discussed in an earlier post, determining resting metabolic rate at home is an inexact science. There are formulas that can approximate RMR, but the same input into two 6-foot men can yield decidedly different output.  By tracking the calories you take in and your daily weigh-ins, you can determine how many calories you need to consume to lose or maintain weight (or gain weight, for that matter, but then you would be Skinnyblogging, which is boring).  So you establish a simple feedback loop:


If the output (change in weight) is positive, you have negative feedback, and you reduce input (calories). If the output is negative, but at too high a rate (unhealthy weight loss), you increase input.  It’s all fairly simple: if 2,000 net calorie intake doesn’t result in weight loss, reduce it to 1,750. Repeat until you reach equilibrium.  But it can be time consuming to track and chart the data inputs. Which is why I was excited to see The Daily Plate change the default weight chart. What used to be a simple line chart showing weight vs. time now charts both weight and net calories (using Open Flash Chart).  Here’s my current chart, which is skewed a bit by my recent trip to Disney (Donald’s Breakfastasaurus at the Animal Kingdom’s Restaurantasaurus didn’t help).


I’ve already got a pretty good feel for my RMR, but tools like TDP’s calorie and weight tracker make it much easier than how I did it (using a kludgy spreadsheet).


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The Fatblogging Series: Convenience and Necessity

Posted by Fred on October 12, 2007

fatblogging.pngThis is part three of an ongoing series.  Check out parts one and two.

Paradoxically, two of the biggest obstacles to the aspiring ex-fattie are too much time and not enough time.  Most of us lead busy, but sedentary, lives.  We spend 10+ hours a day at a desk, and then go home and work from there, too.  We spend our down time surfing the web and channel surfing.  Part of the reason we gained weight in the first place is that we filled the extra time with food.  We eat salty snacks from a bag at our desk, eat breakfast from the drive-through in our car, and accompany YouTube with fried tubers.  We know we should eat better, but cooking lean meats and veggies is certainly more time consuming than picking up an Extra Value Meal, a pizza or a platter of General Tso’s Chicken.

Cutting out the snacks is relatively simple, if not exactly easy.  Make sure you eat at least 1-2 healthy snacks during the day.  I’m partial to fresh fruit and 100 calorie granola bars.  Also, as much as possible, follow the Eat Only At The Table rule, which cuts down on unhealthy chips-and-the-remote time.  Finally, remember that deprivation is bad and moderation is good, so a few chips or pretzels go a long way.

crock-pot.jpgYou’ll get most of your calories at meals, however, so what’s a busy netizen to do? Embrace convenience. Your tool comes not from the 21st century, but the 1950s – the slow cooker.  It sounds hokey, but one of my best weapons against fatty meals has been the Crock-Pot.  Chop up a bunch of stuff in the morning, let it cook all day, and dinner is waiting when you get home.  We have a well-loved copy of a Better Homes & Gardens Crockery Cookbook (published in 1994 and now out of print, but available used from Amazon).  The White Chicken Chili and Tex-Mex Beef Fajitas are both good and less than 500 calories for a filling amount.  There’s also a surprisingly good meatloaf recipe.

Precooking chicken breast and chopping onions still too hard? There are some really tasty mixes now available that do most of the work for you.  Chop some meat, add the mix and water, and you’re done.  Avoid the Banquet kits from the freezer section.  They’re horrible.  Wouldn’t-feed-it-to-your-dog horrible.  These are better:

Canterbury Naturals La Comida Del Dia Chili Mix: Canterbury Naturals,  produced by Medina, WA-based Conifer, Inc., makes several quick-cook soup mixes.  These can be prepared in 30-45 minutes on the stovetop, but they work really well in a slow cooker as well.  This chili mix is no longer produced, but still stocked at Ukrop’s in Richmond, and readily available at Whole Foods.  It’s a vegetarian chili made with a base of Spicy V-8 juice.  About 170 calories per cup, and really good.

Canterbury Naturals Roasted Garlic Potato Corn Chowder Mix: another soup mix from Canterbury Naturals.  This one takes more work, as you have to chop onions and garlic and fry some bacon.  I usually either skip the bacon or use pre-cooked bits (not the fake ones, thank you very much). Pre-minced garlic from the produce section works well, too, as it’s just going to simmer all day with the roasted garlic in the mix.  make it with half half-and-half and half skim milk, for less than 200 calories per cup.  The mix makes 12 cups, so be prepared for leftovers.

Purely American Santa Fe Chipotle Southwest Bean Bake: Purely American, based in Norfolk, VA, makes eight meal kits as part of its Slow Cooker Gourmet line.  They’re all available online, but I can find three or four of the flavors at Ukrop’s.  The bean bake is a chili-like combination of beans, stew beef and spices.  You add the beef, some chopped squash and tomato sauce.  The leftovers are especially good rolled in a tortilla with some low-fat cheese and salsa.  310 calories as prepared, plus another 100 for a tortilla.

Purely American Italian Bistro Bean and Pasta Soup Mix: a combination of beans, barley, carrots, onions, potatoes, peas and bell peppers with tri-colore pasta. You add your own chicken breast, chopped zucchini, wine and canned tomatoes.  This is pretty good, but not as good as the bean bake.  With any of the Purely American kits containing lima beans, be sure to soak overnight per the label instructions, or else the limas won’t cook all the way through.  220 calories as prepared, so you can add some crusty bread and a salad for a nice meal.  It pairs well with the Ecce Panis Roasted Garlic loaf most grocers carry.

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The Fatblogging Series: Searching for a System

Posted by Fred on October 12, 2007


Part two of an ongoing series

In yesterday’s post, I suggested  that the most important dieting lesson I ever learned was Don’t Diet.  That is, the ultimate goal is not to lose x pounds through deprivation, but to make small lifestyle changes intended to lead to a healthier self.  If you do that, you will lose weight, and hopefully you’ll keep it off.  Losing through a “diet” all too often leads to gaining it back, as once you reach your goal you stop depriving yourself.  That’s a nice lesson, but not a lot of structure. So today we’ll look at structure.  From personal experience, I suggest that you ignore fat grams, ignore carb counts, and focus on total caloric intake.  If you do this, you will still cut fat intake, as fat is more calorie-dense than are either carbohydrates or protein. Thus, to reduce caloric intake, you by necessity have to either reduce fat intake or go hungry.  Recent research suggests that total calories are more important than merely reducing fat intake (via Reason’s Hit & Run).  On to the ordered list…

  1. Calculate your resting metabolic rate and figure out how many calories you should be eating.  Your RMR  is an estimate of how many calories your body consumes during a day of rest (note: many people use the phrase “basal metabolic rate” for this purpose, but proper calculation of BMR requires strict conditions, and the RMR is probably more accurate).  There is a formula for calculating RMR – the Mifflin equation – which for men is equal to (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age) + 5, but why do the math when the internet can do the work for you?
  2. The RMR will give you a pretty good indication of how many calories your body requires, but unless you’re lying in bed all day doing nothing, you actually burn more calories than your RMR.  The calories Per Hour calculator linked above will give you some activity factors based on your lifestyle – i.e., if you are sedentary, multiply your RMR by 1.2.  When I started, I was a sedentary 240, so my calorie bank was about 2,456 calories per day.  These are rough estimates at best.
  3. To actually lose weight, create a calorie deficit.  A pound of body fat contains about 3,500 calories, so to lose two pounds a week, you need to consume 1,000 calories per day less than you burn.  In my case, that means I could eat about 1,500 calories per day if I didn’t exercise at all.
  4. Track everything you eat. Keep a journal, or better yet, use an online calorie and exercise tracker that calculates everything for you.  You can’t create a calorie deficit unless you know what’s going into your body.  It’s not enough to eschew fat – most low-fat and fat-free foods replace fat with sugar, so the caloric content can be nearly as high or even higher than their artery-clogging counterparts.  Atkins proponents would tell you it is enough to dump the carbs, but counting calories will allow an omnivorous diet, which can lead to less of a feeling of deprivation of approached properly.
  5. Exercise. This really should go without saying, but it is easier to burn 400 calories on the treadmill than to cut out another 400 calories from your diet. Beware the control panel of your exercise machine, however.  They are notoriously inaccurate, and probably vastly overstate your energy expenditure. Use an online calculator or a heart rate monitor.
  6. Track your weight.  Here is one place I diverge from the weight loss gurus. I weigh myself every day and I chart my weight.  Yes, weight varies from day-to-day, sometimes by several pounds.  Yes, eating salty foods can make you retain water, and caffeine can act as a diuretic, making you lose water content.  Keep an open mind and get neither discouraged nor ecstatic by weight gain or loss.  What you want to do is look for the overall trend – is it down or up?  Statistically, a five or ten day rolling average is a more accurate measure, but I’m too lazy to code the spreadsheet, so I just look at the overall trendline.  Tracking weight is important because it can be a check on the RMR calculation.  For example, if I consumed 2,400 calories per day (my supposed RMR x 1.4), I would gain weight. Your metabolism is likely different than the Mifflin equation as well, and could be faster or slower (if faster, I don’t like you).  If you’re tracking what you eat and how much you exercise, the scale will tell you if the equation is accurate.

That’s it. No counting fat grams or carbohydrates. No Grapefruit Diet.  if you stick to the routine, you’ll lose weight. maybe not as fast as on A Diet, but it will work.  And after a while, it will seem routine.

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Fatblogging: Overview

Posted by Fred on October 11, 2007


I noted yesterday that i reached my longstanding weight-loss goal.  Now that I’m in a maintenance phase, this will be the first in a series of posts describing how I did it, just in case it works for you, too.  It is worth noting, again, that there is nothing special about me, and nothing special about losing 80 pounds.  Lots of people have accomplished more.  With that disclaimer out of the way, here are some general suggestions – my “system” such as it is.

  1. Set an achievable but ambitious goal.  Nothing motivates quite like a good goal, and nothing will discourage you faster than an unachievable one.  So pick something objective and quantifiable and figure out a reasonable path to get there.  Don’t say “lose some weight.”  That’s not quantifiable, and it will be too easy to fall off the wagon.  Instead, say “lose 20 pounds” or “fit into my old jeans again.”  In my case, I set a series of goals – first, to get below 200 pounds from 240, then to get to a size 34 waist.  As I achieved a goal, I set a new one.  Now my goal is to maintain.
  2. Slow but steady wins the race.  Virtually all dieters lose a lot of weight at the beginning, as their bodies purge excess water.  Five, six, seven pounds the first week is not out of the question. Enjoy this, but ignore it.  It’s not sustainable, and if you try to sustain it, you’ll just be crash dieting, which will not work and is unhealthy to boot. Most experts suggest 1-2 pounds a week. I found that a slightly accelerated pace is sustainable, more like 2-3 on average.
  3. Don’t diet.  This sounds counter-intuitive, but it is an important, if semantic, point.  Don’t think of it as a diet, but as a lifestyle change.  You are not really just trying to weigh less, but become healthier.  If you think of it as a diet, then when you reach your goal, you’ll go back to old habits.  That’s what happened to me the last time.  So now, I realize that I’m not giving up pizza until I reach a goal weight; I’m recognizing that I need enjoy pizza only in moderation. Instead of half a pie, I have a piece or two and a salad.  Deprivation is your enemy, moderation your friend.  A corollary of this is “avoid fads.”  And I’d argue that every diet is a fad. Reduce your caloric intake and increase your exercise.  You won’t lose as much as fast as you would on Atkins or South Beach or the Zone, but you also won’t be tempted to throw the system out the window if you do lose some weight.
  4. Keep a journal.  Write down everything you put in your mouth.  Everything.  This serves two purposes. First, you’ll be able to track calories and make sure you’re eating the right amount in order to shed pounds.  Second, you may be surprised just how much you eat without knowing it.  If you keep a journal, you’ll learn to track portion sizes and avoid grazing.  20 peanuts is not a harmful thing, but 10 handfuls can be.  I found it easier to use an online journal, which allowed me to track calories without looking everything up.  there are lots of choices here, so shop around.  The Daily Plate is good because users have contributed lots of data not in the standard USDA tables, but the site has been (and should be) criticized for scraping data compiled by others.  Other websites are more ethical in this regard, but their data is less complete.  Also, many of the sites are geared toward people following specific diets – if you’re following the Don’t Diet plan, this is less important.  Track the calories you eat and the calories you burn.
  5. Exercise. Watching what you eat without exercising can work, but you risk losing a lot of muscle mass, and it’s a harder and longer road.  Find some cardio you like and do it when you can.  I use an elliptical trainer at the gym because it’s easy on the knees, but running is good, biking is good, anything that increases your heart rate and burns calories is good.  Don’t stress about how much you exercise, however.  If you obsess about reaching an hour a day or five days a week, you may find yourself giving up entirely.  Any amount of exercise is better than none.
  6. Be Patient.  This is the most important tip of all.  Some weeks you may not lose anything, or may even gain a couple of pounds.  So what?  As long as you’re healthier and making general progress, it doesn’t matter.  If you get discouraged by minor setbacks, you’ll be more likely to say “screw it, pass the cheesecake.”  It’s a lifestyle change, not a diet, remember?

Next up: how to embrace convenience without a McDonald’s drive-through.

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