Wednesday, January 7, 2015

One shivering step at a time

One of the great things about getting back into the semester routine is that my exercise and eating habits level out a bit. I'm making my first concerted effort to lose weight in many, many years, and I've been looking forward to the day when I could start counting on that two-mile walk every morning: taking CG to school, swinging back by the house to pick up my stuff, then heading to the office. It's a lot easier to get to my 10,000-step goal when I start every weekday that way.

So I watch the weather like a hawk, because storms or dangerous conditions can derail that exercise I count on. And dangerous conditions might be present tomorrow morning, with overnight temperatures forecast to go as low as 11 degrees. I'm going to have to make up those 6500 steps somewhere else tomorrow.

When I say that I'm making a concerted effort to lose weight, this is what I mean. For many years -- including here on this blog -- I've been following the No-S Diet. It certainly kept me from getting out of control. But it's a rule of thumb, a way to give yourself structure so you don't overdo it. It's not -- at least in the way I handled it -- a goal-based system that holds you accountable for results.

It's not like I haven't known I'm overweight. The Wii Fit Balance Board made sure of that, along with every BMI chart that got handed to me at an employee wellness meeting. I won't even mention the way the mirror disapproved. But the thing that made the consequences of that real to me were the cholesterol numbers that came back from a blood screening. Researching how to lower them, the first thing on every list was "lose weight." Time to get serious, then.

For me, having a plan and a program is fun. I love systems and collect them obsessively. Systems for time management, workflow, organization -- they energize me. Finding the best system is fun. Implementing it turns on my reflective and assessing capacities, keeping me alert and aware of my own reactions. Living within a system is soothing. At its best, an elegant, well-designed system delights me on a daily basis.

So of course I made my New Year's resolution into a system -- an ecosystem, really, with quantified-self tools old and new feeding into the plan. I was already using a Fitbit to set step and climbing goals for each day, Runkeeper to track walks and jogs, and Gym Hero to record strength training (uh oh, looks like that last one might be about to hit the skids -- hasn't been updated in 18 months). Years of reading about various diet schemes made it clear to me that the only thing that mattered was calories -- more out than in, the weight comes off. MyFitnessPal integrated with the tools I was already using, calculated a daily calorie allowance for me, and provided a food diary so I could keep myself within it. Noel, really rolling the dice but coming up a big winner, got me an Aria scale for Christmas. I couldn't even wait to start until after the holidays, so enticing was this system.

In some ways, the system provides a kind of satisfaction that makes it hard for me to feel deprived. Gamification really works on me. A badge, a smiley-face, a cheer from an online friend, keeping my graphs in the green -- those stupid rewards matter, for whatever reason. I dreaded getting serious about losing weight for years, and hoped futilely that by exercising more or cutting out dessert, it would be enough. I was afraid of feeling constantly deprived, constantly aware of what I wasn't getting to have or do -- a depressing prospect. But my dread was misplaced. It's not like that at all. And the realization that all I really have to do is keep going like I have been these last three weeks, and slowly but surely my goal will come into sight, a goal that once seemed unattainable without drastic measures -- well, that produces a kind of euphoria that even my most-loved foods would be hard-pressed to match.

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