For years and years I have struggled with my weight and have tried several times to effectively slim down without any long-term success. Finally, three years ago, I found the right way for me to reduce my weight and keep it down. Little did I know that this was also the start of a long-term learning process and a transformation, which affected not only my diet and exercising habits, but also my attitude towards the food and diet industries and, ultimately, my own formerly sedentary lifestyle. In this series of blog posts, I want to share my knowledge and sketch my path from the decision to try a new way of controlling and reducing my weight to the present.
(Important note: This is a personal decription and is not meant to be or to replace professional advice from a medical doctor or a nutrition expert.)
An experiment that became a success
First, let me point out that I was never obese. I had a couple of pounds more to carry than I liked and had struggled to lose these pounds ever since I gained them during my teenage years. I had put myself on self-prescribed diets several times, which mostly included eating only half-sized portions, cutting out sweets of any kind and forcing myself to complete stints on the exercise machine or on the bicycle. It worked for a certain time period and I started to lose weight within about two weeks. However, my stern discipline usually faded after about four to six weeks, when I realized that I was not even getting close to my goal and my mind told me that maybe I did not really need to lose weight; that I was fine the way I was. I told myself that I could be proud of myself for losing a couple of pounds already and it would be okay now to reduce my efforts and merely try to keep them down. Thought and done, sometimes I quickly gained the pounds back, other times I kept them down but ended up still being unsatisfied and unhappy with myself.
What I know today is that the biggest secret to effectively losing weight is to educate yourself about the basics of nutrition, its energy value and the energy value of the human body. Why should we drink at least six glasses of water a day? How many calories are in a banana? How many calories does your body need to function on a regular day without additional exercise? Could you answer any of these questions? If you shake your head now, you’re exactly where I was three years ago. One of the reasons for the failure of my dieting endeavors was that I simply lacked this basic knowledge. For example, I thought that I would burn as many calories during a 30-minute unit on the exercise machine as are hidden in a delicious frozen pizza. But the truth of the matter is, you would have to stay on that machine for about three times that long to burn this amount of calories. These 30 minutes are merely enough to induldge in a normal-sized yogurt of 175 grams.
But how do you gain this knowledge without reading numerous books and browsing the internet for hours and hours, because – let’s be honest – most of us do not have the time or ambition to invest that much effort just to lose weight, at least not when we are just at the starting line of our dieting marathon. (“I don’t want to become a nutritionist!”) And one thing has to be clear from the very beginning: losing weight and keeping it down is a long-term process – it’s a marathon, not a sprint! Forget about all these cutthroats smiling at you in magazines and on television who claim that it is easy and healthy to lose ten pounds in two weeks. It is not!
In our modern times, we use our smartphones and computers for just about anything. One day in 2013, when I browsed through the available applications for my phone, I came across one that promises to help make your dieting efforts a success. It is named “Lifesum” and works as follows. You enter basic data about yourself, e.g. your age, height, weight and activity level, as well as the weight you wish to reach, and chose from several dieting options. The app then calculates your energy use and tells you the amount of calories you can consume per day and still lose weight. Your job is to log everything you eat during the day in a virtual diary. The app offers a large data base of food items from thousands of brands, so it is very likely that you can find most of the products you eat. Be skeptical though about the truthfulness of the information given in the data base. Since it is generated and expanded by users, not every calorie declaration is correct. If you cannot find items in the data base, just read the nutrition label on the product and log it manually. If you do not just want to lose weight, but also live a healthier life, which I highly recommend, you should incorporate exercise of some sort into your program and log it as well. Trust me, it will not just make you feel better about yourself, it will also have the positive side effect of giving you the option to eat a little more during the day, because you have burned calories during the exercise.
The diary then offers you a complete overview of what you have eaten, tells you whether your diet is healthy or should be changed and visualizes how many calories you have burned during the day. It also offers you the possibility to track your water consumption, which needs to be an essential part of your program. Drinking at least six glasses of water per day, or 1,5 liters, should be mandatory. If you exercise, you need to drink even more and the app will inform you about the recommended additional amount of water intake. After certain time periods, the app will ask you to log your current weight and offer a graph that depicts your progress.
Many people think critically about giving away too much data about themselves by using social media platforms or apps like “Lifesum”. Don’t get me wrong, I am concerned about surveillance and the shady business with private information as well. However, I found that tracking my food consumption and exercising efforts made it a lot easier for me to control my dieting efforts and optimize them. Of course you can do that the “old school” way as well and simply write down your calorie intake and burned calories on a sheet of paper. If you have the time and energy, go for it! For me, the app was the right choice, because it required a minimum of work on my part and I had it with me at all times. It gave me the chance to take a closer look at my daily consumption and fuelled my ambition to meet daily limits. Another huge booster for your motivation is the weight graph that clearly visualizes your progress. And last but not least, the positive side effect of all this is that you learn a lot about the energy content of foodstuffs as well as the energy consumption during certain forms of exercise. You start to memorize approximate energy values and get a feeling for portion sizes and the arrangement of meals during the day. Furthermore, you start to realize how many minutes of certain exercises equal the energy content of specific foodstuffs. You will be surprised!
Feel free to check out “Lifesum” or an alternative I have also tried named “Noom” yourself and start playing around with the apps. There are certain special features in both apps that will require an upgrade subject to charges, but the free versions offer all the basic features you need.
Before I conclude this post, please remember: The important thing is that you take your dieting efforts very seriously from the very beginning. You need to be exact when you log your meals and exercise in order for it to become a success and your goal should not be to simply lose weight, but to educate yourself and improve your health by optimizing your eating and exercising habits.
Feel free to comment about your experiences or ask me questions.