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Countdown to 165: Weeks 10-11 – Mid-Term Course Change

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Let's recap: On June 12, I began a 20-week plan to lose as much weight as possible before a scheduled trip to Central Asia. No reinforcing the stereotype of "the fat American" for me! I weighed 250 pounds, and decided I would like to eventually lose 85 pounds. To hit that target would mean losing 4.25 pounds per week, which seemed like pure fantasy at first, but actually began to look achievable when my chosen diet (a strict low-calorie, low-carbohydrate plan) started off in high gear.

Fast forward to the half-way point on the calendar, ten weeks later, August 21. On that day, I weighed in at 204, 46 pounds lighter than when I'd started, and slightly ahead of schedule. Some weeks have been slower and some faster, and I realized far too late that I should have taken size measurements at the beginning, but I sometimes wonder if I might hit the 85 pound goal after all! Weight loss slows dramatically as time passes, for many reasons, and those last few pounds are always the hardest, but my wife has begun to express fears that I'll look emaciated by November!

Exercise

If you've been following along since the beginning, you'll know that I started by changing my diet alone, because I didn't feel I could handle sustained exercise at my starting weight. It didn't take much physical exertion to make me out of breath and I tired easily. After losing a few pounds, I reasoned, I'll be able to exercise more easily. That approach worked for me. Once I lost the first twenty pounds I began to walk everywhere, and after another ten pounds, I joined a gym. I started with cardio exercises, spending a lot of time on an elliptical machine and a little on a stair-master. Then I added resistance training.

From a purely weight-loss perspective, resistance training is a mistake, at least in the short term. Overall, it is the right thing to do, and it will even help with weight loss in the long term. Here I am, though, reporting progress weekly, and the weeks in which I lose "only" two pounds are actually embarrassing. At one point I actually thought of it as a question of character: would I do what was right, even though the numbers look bad? Or would I defer the long-term benefits in order to chase an arbitrarily-chosen goal?

Some days I told myself that my readers would respect the right choice, and I reminded myself that I had always intended on resuming the diet in January to lose "the last few" pounds. Other days I reasoned that if I continued with resistance training, I would literally never reach 165 pounds, because I already have a bit more muscle than I did when I reached that weight coming in the other direction, and I feared that my readers might lose heart if they saw that even my strict diet was causing me to lose very little weight. I went back and forth day by day, and then I weighed in on August 21 and realized that right then, with the time I'd allocated half spent, I couldn't take yet another week of losing "only" two pounds.

It's weakness, and I'm sorry.

That day I spent time on the elliptical machine and in the sauna, but stayed away from the free weights. The next day I ran errands. A week passed in which I spent plenty of time doing cardio exercises, and none on weight training. Then I weighed in: 199 pounds! I was delighted and excited, and ashamed at the same time. I hope to never grow beyond 200 pounds again, and I'm excited to have reached "one-derland," but I have chosen short-term benefits over long-term gains. I spent a day thinking about it, and realized that I don't really care as much as I thought I would.

I can easily pick up the weights again in November. I've got a coworker who decided to pump iron four days a week at the same gym, and officemates are jokingly suggesting that he's using steroids, he's putting on the muscle so quickly. Starting from 165 or so, I can bulk up some muscle relatively quickly, and I'd know that I was building on a healthy foundation. Rather than looking at November and choosing between a thin but relatively unmuscular me and a still-chubby but muscular me, I'll look at next June. Which approach is going to most predictably result in a thin and muscular me next year? I'll lose the fast first, and add the muscle later.

Please note that I'm not talking about giving up exercise entirely, just a certain type of exercise. I still hit the gym four days a week, burning calories furiously on cardio machines (also, I love the sauna). I still walk. I'm not aiming for the sedentary lifestyle I had before, just delaying one form of exercise that makes me gain muscle weight, offsetting my loss of fat weight. Also note that my doctor would probably suggest I quite worrying about the number so much.

Personal Update

I started tracking my waist size a few weeks back, based on belt size at first and now using a measuring tape. I managed to cheerfully get through a couple of weeks with relatively few pounds lost because I could see the inches disappear. Week 10 marked a change in how my body was losing fat. Instead of primarily disappearing from arms and legs and waist, it started dropping from my belly. This is delightful, of course, as that's the especially-unhealthy fat. Unfortunately, it means my waist size hasn't changed, even though I lost two pounds. Week 11 was even more surprising: five pounds lost, but no change on the tape! If only I'd measured around my belly — that's visibly smaller.

I really don't expect to hit 165 by November (I would need to lose 3.8 pounds every week from now until then), but it was interesting to lose more than enough to keep ahead of schedule. Whenever I make changes, it takes a week or two for my body to adapt, it seems.

By the way, those officemates that accuse my coworker of taking steroids to build muscle so quickly? They accuse me of smoking crack to drop the weight so quickly! Losing 51 pounds in 11 weeks is unusual, no doubt about it. No drugs, I promise. Just a lot of protein shakes and tuna.

2007-06-12: 250, initial weight
2007-06-19: 236, -14 pounds
2007-06-26: 231, -5 pounds
2007-07-03: 225, -6 pounds
2007-07-10: 221, -4 pounds, 43 inch waist (estimated)
2007-07-17: 217, -4 pounds, 41 inch waist (estimated)
2007-07-24: 215, -2 pounds, 39 inch waist (estimated)
2007-07-31: 211, -4 pounds, 38 inch waist
2007-08-07: 209, -2 pounds, 37 inch waist
2007-08-14: 206, -3 pounds, 36 inch waist
2007-08-21: 204, -2 pounds, 36 inch waist
2007-08-28: 199, -5 pounds, 36 inch waist, 51 pounds lost total

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  • Eric Olsen

    I’m proud of you Phillip – this is a very impressive showing and while I’m a big advocate of weight training, I think you need to do what works for you and if diet and cardio exercise is getting you there, then that’s what you should do. It’s not as though you aren’t working your muscles hard when you do the elliptical, anyway.

    Keep at it, you are more than halfway!!

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Philllip – How tall are you? I’m just curious…I haven’t weighed 165 since I was about 16…

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Wow, Phil!!

    You certainly have my admiration. Don’t worry about the numbers that much – as time goes on dropping the numbers gets harder and harder. Concentrate on the cardio exercise and walking – AND on keeping the weight off once you reach your true maintenance weight.

    Heh. I should only follow my own advice!!