Thursday, June 08, 2017

How I lost 18 Pounds in 37 Days

I'm training for a Tough Mudder next weekend. A Tough Mudder is a 10 mile run with 20 obstacles in your way. It's a combination of cardio, strength, fear factor, and group effort. I'm excited and nervous. My training goals are simple: run 10 miles non-stop, do 40 push-ups, and weigh 165lbs. That would put me in enough shape to enjoy the event. Here's a trailer for the event:

So, I started running semi-regularly in the middle of April. My basic training method is two short runs in the middle of the week (3-4 miles) and a progressively longer run on the weekend (add 1 mile each week). Here's how I did:

Despite starting to run regularly, my weight continued to go up! So being a data person, I started tracking my calories (via MyFitnessPal) in addition to my weight (via a Withings Scale) and my motion (via Apple Watch). Here are the results (all the time periods line up):

Some observations:

  • I hit my goal of 165 lbs and running 10 miles non-stop! (I can also do 40 push-ups) I am very happy I won't be carrying those extra 18 pounds with me over giant walls.
  • The day I started tracking my weight, my weight started falling. That's how my body's built. I hated it when playing football, but now it's good.
  • Despite regularly increasing my miles, my peak calories burned stayed about the same. In other words, I "made up for it" the rest of the day by not moving as much.
  • There are days when I don't eat a lot. For example, yesterday I skipped breakfast and lunch; not on purpose, it just happens sometimes. MyFitnessPal yells at my when that happens.
  • My average weight loss has been 0.46 lbs per day, but can swing as much as 3 lbs each day! I'll be honest, this can be a little bit of an emotional roller coaster.

So? How did I lose 18 pounds in 37 days? I ran a bunch and ate less. But there's more behind it.

The Science

Science tells us that if you spend more calories than you consume, you'll lose weight. Now, how fast you lose weight and how much is muscle vs fat depends on the type of food you eat, how big the calorie deficit is, and the type of movement you do (strength vs cardio vs nothing).

As a general eating rule: eat/drink almost zero sugar, eat less carbs (breads & fruit), and watch your dairy. Protein and fats (ironically) are good for you because your body stores that energy differently. Whole foods are your friend. If you want to lose weight fast, good examples are the Slow Carb diet and Keto diet. I'm not following either of them strictly, but staying close to the principals.

As for exercise: try to incorporate movement into your day and strain yourself regularly to remind your body you need your muscles. If you can, ride your bike, stand at your desk, and walk places. You actually don't need to train for a marathon. According to FiveThirtyEight, the 5K, not the marathon, is the ideal race. The trick is to push yourself for speed; to exhaustion, and be sore when you're done. You can do this in as little as 4-7 minutes a day. Seriously. You also don't need a gym. For me, I find I need some sort of external motivation - like training for a Tough Mudder - to get me moving.

The Statistics

That's the science, which I know enough about to be dangerous. But statistics is my jam... and since I had the data... :)

I created a regression model to see which factor: Food, Motion or Runs, correlated the best. In other words, do I just need to watch what I eat? Can I make sure to hit a move goal by the end of the day? Or do I need some sort of intense workout? Or some combination?!

Here's what I found for correlations ( 1 = perfectly correlated. + means same direction. - means opposite direction):

  • Food: +.61
  • Motion: -.33
  • Running: -.32

It appears you are what you eat. What you eat is twice as important as how much you move! You can visually see it in the very first chart.

I took the food one level deeper and looked at my macro-nutrients. Can I eat whatever I want as long as I watch the amount? Or, do I also need to pay attention to what I eat? Here's what it looks like:

Here's what I found for correlations:

  • Carbs: +.54
  • Fat: +.07
  • Protein: +.002 

Well... Well... Well... It looks like science knows what it's doing. Carbs are bad and should be substituted for fat and protein when possible.

Key Findings

Want to lose weight? This should sound familiar:

Focus on your diet. Eat less in general, and really focus on eating less carbs. If you reduce your carbs, you'll naturally reduce the amount of sugar you eat. Use an online calculator or an app like MyFitnessPal to determine your daily target calories.

You should also exercise. You don't need to do extreme workouts, but focus on hitting a total movement goal (like 10,000 steps). Doing something of high intensity for a short amount of time is one way to get the overall goal, but isn't needed for weight loss (it is needed for building muscle).

It's nice to know my data supports the science. :)

Future Aspirations

My goal last year was to weigh 160 lbs and I didn't make it. I'm pretty close right now, so I'm going to go for it!

Finally, watching my weight is OK, but a measure I'm more interested in is percent body fat. If I can control this, my weight won't be an issue. Here's where I'm at right now (this, by the way, is why I have a Withings Scale):

According to the American Council on Exercise, I was average and just dipped into the "Fitness" category. If I get below 14%, I'll be an "Athlete".

My desire is to be below 15%. OK. My real desire is to get rid of a couple lovable handles. That way I'll be able to keep up with the kids as they get older. I don't do a lot of resistance training right now, and that'll need to change to help get this down. I have a big goal in mind of next year which should help me get there.