08 March 2016

My weight loss equation: As simple as A-B-C-D

In the six months between August 2015 and February 2016, I went from 339 lbs. to 199 lbs.--a total of 140 lbs. of weight loss. Over the course of that six months, and especially since then, a lot of people have asked me how I did it. Rather than respond to them all individually (and to them I apologize that it's taken so long to answer your questions), I decided that it would be easier to put it all in a blog post so that others might find it useful as well. This post is a bit lengthy, so stay with me.

Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. I'm not a physical trainer. I'm not a nutritionist. I have absolutely no knowledge other than what I have learned through experience...and through Google. What worked for me may or may not work for you. I'm not telling you what to do--I'm telling you my story in the hopes that you may find something interesting worth investigating on your own.

My path was as easy and simple as A-B-C-D.

OK, it wasn't that easy. And it wasn't as simple as A-B-C-D. But it wasn't as difficult as you might assume. And while there are a lot factors to consider, I want to explain how I simplified them in a way that made my daily goals easier to understand.

First, the backstory. I had been overweight for several years, and was planning on having bariatic surgery. As part of that process, my insurance company required me to go on a six month monitored weight loss program with my doctor. There is no requirement that one has to actually lose a certain amount of weight, but presumably the insurance company wants to make sure that you're a good candidate for surgery by having your weight monitored.

On August 21, 2015, I met with my doctor (she's actually a CRNP, but for the sake of my discussion I will refer to her as my doctor) and we developed a plan that including 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week; and counting and limiting calories by using MyFitnessPal.

The integration of physical activity and calories consumed is where ABCD comes in. My simple equation, developed from MFP, is:

(A + B) - C = D


A = Active calories; those burned from doing physical activities.
B = Basal metabolic rate, or BMR; amount of energy expended while at rest.
C = Consumed calories; counted from scanning everything you eat.
D = Deficit of calories.

Again, this is simplified. It's designed to be as easy as possible.

(A)ctive calories. You may think that burning calories means intensive cardio, like stair-climbing, running, etc. And these activities will certainly burn a lot of calories. But you need not do these things to burn fat. In fact, some studies recommend that burning fat works best when your heart rate is in Zone 2. This varies by age, but for someone like me that's in the range of 110-120 bpm. At 339 lbs., I could pretty easily get into this range by walking. So that's what I did.

You can see in the graph below that I very quickly ramped up, within a month, to walking 20-25k+ steps a day, on average. On some days I was walking a half marathon worth of steps. Yes, that's a lot of time. At about 3.3 mph, I was walking 3-4 hours a day. Before work, during work, after work.

You can measure your heart rate by hand, by using an app like Runtastic Heart Rate, or a step tracking device. I used a Fitbit to track steps (that's a story for another day...) and Garmin vivofit heart rate monitor for more detailed data, but the exact numbers don't really matter. If you're consistently getting into Zone 2, you're going to burn calories and fat. From September through December, I was consistently burning about 1,600 calories/day. Of course, as you lose weight, you'll have to do more activity to keep up your burn rate.

(B)asal metabolic rate. Apps like MFP will calculate this for you, or you can find calculators online. It will be higher when you're heavier, and get lower as you lose weight. When I started at 339 lbs., my BMR was about 2,400. Now it's closer to 1,800-1,900. Otherwise, you should consider this number a constant in your equation.

(C)onsumed calories. This is everything you eat. Almost everything has a bar code, and MFP has almost everything online. If you absolutely can't find calorie numbers, find something close and do your best guess. Otherwise Scan everything and don't cheat yourself. Buy yourself a scale and weigh your food portions. Buy measuring cups and measure your portions. I very quickly settled into a daily calorie consumption of about 1,400 calories/day. This is very low. It's even low for someone on a diet. But I can honestly say this--despite all of my walking, I was not hungry. I planned three, ~400 calorie meals with a snack in between; and added a daily multivitamin.

(D)eficit of calories. Keep in mind that 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound.
So here's a rough approximation of an average day for me:

[Active calories (1,600) + BMR (2,400)] - Calories consumed (1,400) = Deficit (2,600)

I'll stop here briefly and mention that 2,600 calorie deficit per day is pretty ridiculous. To be sure, I met with my doctor every month, and did blood work and other monitoring. But please do not assume that this is normal or average. It is not. 

A deficit of 2,600 calories a day is a deficit of 18,200 calories a week, or 5.2 lbs. In fact, For about four months I was losing an average of 7 lbs. a week. Over the course of the six months, it really did average out to just over 5 lbs. a week (I started a new job in January and did not have the opportunity to walk as much). I weighed myself every day first thing in the morning and logged it (as a side note, you might try weighing yourself before you go to bed and then again first thing in the morning--the results may surprise you). Here's the key: no matter what your weight loss goal, you must create calorie deficits. This is the single most important factor to consistent weight loss.

There is much more to my weight loss than this post--this is only a brief summary focusing on the basic math. I plan to follow up this post based on your questions and comments. If you're concerned about asking a question that might seem too personal, don't worry about it and just ask. Shoes, clothes, blisters, chafing, loose skin, food portions, types of food, macros, diets, pizza, junk food, sleep habits, body temperature, walking, running, biking, swimming...there are so many things that come along with weight loss I cannot possibly cover them here. So please feel free to ask whatever comes to mind and I'll be more than happy to answer.
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