personal thermodynamics

I'm trying to lose weight. 

Don't worry - I'm not going to turn this into a weight loss blog. It's the thing I've spent the most time thinking about for the past week though, so I figured I might as well jot down a few thoughts. 

I was always a pretty skinny dude growing up. My jeans were size 30x34 from the end of puberty until I was 21. I stayed pretty physically active in high school by running a few miles every day and teaching swimming lessons every summer. By the end of my senior year of I remember thinking that I was in the best shape of my life, but I had no idea how correct I was about that until a few years later. 

I lost quite a bit of weight in China during the summer of 2009. I don't know what the exact numbers were, but I know that I started gaining weight pretty quickly after I got back from that trip. The one memory that really sticks out from that period was having to check a box on my health insurance application saying that I had gained over 50 pounds in the last 12 months, even though I weighed less than 200 pounds at the time. 

Since I got married I've steadily been putting on weight. Thankfully not at the pace I did in 2009-2010, but it has been enough that I'm growing a pants size every couple of years or so. Don't get the wrong idea -  I don't particularly care about my weight or my waist being below some specific number. The main concern I have is that I've slipped into a set of habits that are going to take me to a pretty bad place if I let them continue. 

I've reached the point where I think I need to start taking action. In retrospect I probably should have started doing this long before now. My Body Mass Index is higher than it should be at 27.7 and I don't have as much energy as I'd like to have throughout the day. 

I started a real, concrete plan last week. For the first time in my life I have a fitness and weight goal. I'm aiming for a BMI of 24.9 or lower by the end of the year. It's going to be tough, but I think it will be doable. 

I'm tackling the problem by thinking about it like a mechanical engineer. My body is a relatively simple thermodynamic system. I need to burn fuel (calories) every day. I have too many fuel reserves (fat). In order to reduce my reserves I need to either increase the amount of work that I do to burn fuel (exercise) or lower the amount of fuel I add to the system (diet). Ideally I'd be doing both of those things.

With this approach I don't have to worry about measuring grams of carbs, avoiding processed foods, or cutting out sugar entirely. Those approaches might work for some people, but I just can't see myself pulling anything like that off. Instead I just have to worry about one number - net calories per day. Thankfully there's an app for that..

I've been using My Fitness Pal off and on for a while. It's the best thing I've found to figure out how many calories I have left each day. The have some especially nifty graphs that appeal to the data consuming nerd in me. 

Bar graphs! 

Bar graphs! 

The red line is the net number of calories that I can have in a day if I want to lose 1.5 pounds per week. I've been doing ok on most days, but the weekends have been pretty crazy. On the 26th I went out to eat for lunch and dinner, which resulted in the huge spike that day. The really crazy thing is that I attempted to eat semi-carefully at both of those meals, but that's much harder to do when you don't control what goes into each dish. Go figure... 

The other app that I've been using to track my progress is Run Keeper. I love the fact that I can start the app, tell it what exercise I'm doing, and then it will automatically track everything from distance to calories burned. As a cool bonus feature Run Keeper automatically integrates with My Fitness Pal and updates my net calorie count after each workout. 

More data! 

More data! 

This isn't the kind of workout that I would usually brag about, but it's a good example of the data from Run Keeper. The map is much more interesting when you don't run on a high school track... 

Like I said, this isn't going to be a weight loss blog, but I'll probably write another de-brief post once I reach my BMI goal. I'm looking forward to getting back in shape and developing some good habits for the future.