Weight loss tips for geeks

I'm halfway through a big bet and I just weighed in at a tad over 210 pounds this morning, right on schedule for winning my bet. Getting down to 220lbs from 230 at the start of the year was easy, but the rest of the pounds were much harder. I'm now on a pretty good weight loss streak of a couple pounds per week with no end in sight. Different things work for different people but I thought I'd share what worked for me in the hopes that maybe one or more of these tips will help your own weight loss as well.

Read the Hackers Diet

A good starting point is reading the bible for geek weight loss: The Hacker's Diet. It's a simple free book you can get a copy of online and read on almost any device. It's pretty basic stuff, talking about how food equals calories equals pounds and how to count and curb calories while exercising to further your calorie deficit. The book does a great job of laying out a simple engineering approach that doesn't concern itself with what foods you eat or how you prepare them or even what exercise you choose to do, it's all just simple math on how to make small changes to lose a pound or two a week to meet your goal and maintain your ideal weight. The only downside to the book is that it was written a long time ago and you should ignore all the mentions of spreadsheets and the screenshots of early Excel running in Windows 3.1 because thankfully there are iPhone apps and online apps that can keep track of your data much easier.

Weigh yourself every day, use a moving average to analyze it

I've heard many times in many places that you shouldn't live and die simply by the scale and that you should instead plot your daily weight on an average curve that smoothes out the daily fluctuations in weight. I never had the patience to do this until recently but now that I have I fully understand the benefits.

It's also important to limit your variables by taking your weight at around the same time every day, with the same scale, under similar conditions. I do this every morning right after I get up. I usually pee, get undressed completely, and take my weight. I've been doing this for almost a year and I used to get depressed easily if I happened to shoot up a few 10ths of a pound one day. It wasn't until I switched to a moving average that I started to see the light. It takes a couple weeks to get enough data points but trust me that it is worth it.

There are many explanations of why one would use a moving average, but I'll just say that it covers your weight trends and lessens the daily fluctuations. This means if you drop 0.1 pounds every day for a week then one morning you weigh in at one full pound heavier than the previous day, your entire week wasn't shot that morning because you'd still be trending downwards. If you stick to your plans you'll often see weight continue to go down even with the occasional hiccup.

After trying out several online tools and apps, I like physicsdiet.com the best. It gives a nice history graph and you can use the basic green-means-good, pink-means-bad to continue exercising and watching what you eat. Sometimes it can be frustrating if you suddenly lose a few pounds and your moving average still reads a pound or two higher than what the scale says, but having a slow moving average has done wonders for my happiness each day. An average weight loss trend removes a lot of the emotion from daily weigh-ins, in a good way.

Practice mindful eating

When I first started trying to lose weight I hit a plateau early on. I was doing more exercise but I wasn't losing any weight for months on end and it wasn't until I realized that I was eating larger meals to counteract the exercise that I solved the plateau problem.

Being mindful of your eating for me means a few things. First, I try to have small dinners, early in the evening. Secondly, at every meal and especially dinner I stop every few minutes while eating and take a quick assessment of how full I am feeling. In the past, I've pretty much just shoveled food into my mouth until a plate was cleared, but now I frequently have small light dinners with 14 hours or so before breakfast the next day, which really helps lower my daily calorie intake. Another quick tip came from somewhere deep in Ask MetaFilter: if you're presented with some large meal, rich food, or incredible looking dessert, ask yourself if you'll remember it two weeks from now. If the answer is yes, by all means go ahead and eat it and enjoy it and think back on how wonderful it was weeks from now. If the answer is no, put the fork down and go do something else.

Pick an exercise that doesn't feel like work

I know a lot of friends that have done the Body for Life thing have told me to not just try a diet and not just try a workout, but change your schedule permanently so you can do healthy things forever and it's true. My big win on losing weight was increasing my exercise but doing so with an activity I love to do (cycling). So it wasn't a chore to increase my weekly miles on a bike, it was a chance to spend more time doing something I loved. Even if you hate gyms, hate working out, hate running, hate cycling, and hate jumping rope, you have to find something physical you love to do in order to make it work. Once you find that exercise embrace it and use enthusiasm to help burn some extra calories.

Overall I'm really happy with my 20lbs lost since early this year and I'm looking forward to losing another 15lbs more before I try to stabilize my weight below 200lbs. A lot of it comes down to self-control -- there are so many opportunities every day to gorge yourself on free office bagels, high calorie coffee drinks, and rich desserts that it's often hard to say no, but with good feedback and some clear goals it makes it much easier to say no.