Recently I decided that I've finally mustered up the energy and resolve to start dieting again. I've tried dieting several times before, mostly 10+ years ago when I was much younger and I had less control over the food I was eating and lacked the motivation to keep with it for many months at a time. Now that I have finished up grad school, I'm finding that I've got a bit of spare time and a bit more energy that I can devote to something else, so I figure this is productive choice.
I began my diet simply by beginning to exercise. I have an exercise bike that, among other things, gives me a calorie count of number of calories burned. I don't delude myself into thinking that this count is actually accurate, but it seems to take into account how hard I'm working myself and it is relatively consistent, so I figure it will do. Typically it takes me anywhere from 22 to 30 minutes to burn 300 calories according to this thing, which I figure is probably more like 200-250 "real calories". I started off three times a week and slowly worked up to every day in the week.
After 2-3 weeks of consistent exercise, I started feeling better about myself and decided to see how painful it would be to start cutting back on what I eat. At first I started doing simple stuff -- getting half subs instead of whole for lunch, not drinking sugary drinks, etc. Around this time I decided to go all out and get on the dreaded scale. This was difficult to face, but I was pleased to find that by simply making these cutbacks I lost 2 pounds in the span of a week.
Armed with my new "this isn't so bad" mentality, I started doing some more research into techniques and I came across The Hacker's Diet
. Unlike most books in general, much less diet books, I found this book to be very entertaining. It looks at weight loss as an engineering problem, offering a view of the body as any other system - inputs and outputs. Most of the book is common sense cut-calories stuff, but it encourages you to gather as much data as you can by weighing yourself daily and counting calories, then using this data to chart and predict your progress. And it doesn't hurt that it was written by a fellow programmer, with whom I see eye to eye on diet and exercise.
I decided to take some of the suggestions from The Hacker's Diet and mold my own program. I am not strictly counting calories, but instead and trying to aim for an intake of 1500 calories per day or less. Most chain restaurants post calorie counts (or their calorie counts are available on The Daily Plate Mobile
which is very Blackberry/iPhone friendly), and food that we have at home generally has counts on most ingredients so this isn't the problem. In situations where I don't have an exact calorie count, I just use common sense. For example, if I go to a restaurant and get a burger, I'll just cut it in half and eat half the burger and half the fries. Or get a salad and put very little dressing on it.
The new diet, in conjunction with the daily 25 minutes of exercise, seems to be working. I've lost 11.5 pounds in the last month. I hope I'm able to keep it up, especially through the holidays.
Here's my findings thus far:
1. There's no point in halfheartedly starting a diet; you're just setting yourself up for failure. I discovered this a long time ago, which is why I haven't tried starting one up in quite a while. I always knew that, when the time was right, I would know and things would fall into place.
2. Everyone has diet advice. It can't hurt to listen, but don't let other people tell you what's good and what's bad. Find what works for you and stick with it. For me, cutting calories and moderate exercise is doing the trick, but if someone else wants to try Atkins, and it works for them, I'm not going to think less of them for it. Keep this in mind for all points below this one.
3. It's not possible to be on a diet to lose weight and to not be hungry at least some of the time. The Hacker's Diet says this in a number of words as well.
4. If you ever find yourself suffering for a long period of time (like you feel like you're starving for more than 2 or 3 hours) you're setting yourself up to fail. Starvation diets might work for losing a quick 5 or 10 pounds, but if you're in it for the long run you're going to do more harm than good. It also makes it hard to keep up for months on end if you feel like you're dying all the time.
5. You can go out to eat pretty much anywhere you want, and you're not restricted to salads. You just have to eat very little of stuff that is high in calories. This is really really hard at first, but it's not so bad after a while. Lots of places have alternate foods that you can eat that are still good and more filling with less calories.