Family of Losers

This ran pretty long. If you just want to know how things turned out, just jump to the results.

The Problem

For awhile now I’ve realized that our family has had a weight problem. Not just me, but my more importantly, my kids. It was getting to the point that even friends and extended family members would gently suggest that something needed to be done. Especially as the habits we form in our youth tend to be those that carry forward with us for the rest of our lives. The trouble was, I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach it. My sister struggled with weight when she was younger and I don’t think the approach my parents took was an especially helpful one. I wanted to come up with a plan that was took more of a big carrot approach as opposed to a big stick. I also wanted something that was designed to demonstrate how to plan and succeed with a long term goal so that they might apply the things that they learned to other goals later on. I procrastinated for some time until driving into work one day I had an idea.

The Solution

The idea was a contest modeled after The Biggest Loser. Although I’ve not actually seen the show, I have a general idea how it works. I decided on a contest to see who could lose the most weight over a period of 16 weeks. At the end of that 16 week period the winner would receive a generous cash prize. It was a pretty big prize actually. I wanted it to be enough to really get my kids attention. In addition, the 2nd place finisher would receive a prize worth about half as much as 1st place. 3rd half as much as 2nd and 4th would get some amount. The only condition being you had to have actually lost weight. I wanted to make sure that no one ever felt like they were out of it just because they weren’t in 1st place.

However, having been a kid once, I realized that 16 weeks is a really really long time and I was worried that the kids might lose interest pretty quickly. So, I broke the contest down into four four week periods. At the end of four week period the person would had lost the most weight so far overall would get a prize and the person who had lost the most weight for that four week period would get a prize. I later added one modification to the contest as my wife and I began pulling away; that is, whichever of the kids lost more during a four week period got a smaller prize for that period.

Lastly, the contest would not be judged based on absolute weight loss, rather as a percentage of weight lost. This way a heavier person (me) wouldn’t have an unfair advantage over anyone else.

The Process

Step 1: Awareness

I feel that one of the biggest keys to weight management is simply awareness. It’s pretty easy to ignore changes in weight. For me anyway. I had an idea how much I weighed and didn’t much like it, but then again I simply didn’t pay that much attention to it. I think that went for all of us. Several years back I lost a bit of weight and all I really did was to raise my awareness. So, the first thing I did was buy an attractive digital scale. While we have an old analog scale, it was inconveniently located at the bottom of a closet somewhere, and I wanted something that would be prominently located (so it had to look nice) and have a high degree of accuracy. Once I got the scale I actually placed it near where the dining room transitions to the kitchen. There was some controversy, but in addition to wanting a place we could all gather for weekly weigh-ins, I hoped that its presence would just raise awareness especially around mealtimes.

Prior to beginning the contest, we all weighed and measured ourselves so we could calculate our BMIs. At this point we discovered that we were each categorized as obese according to our BMI. It’s one thing to have an idea you overweight, but quite another to come face to face with the realization that you’re not just overweight, but obese.

Step 2: Setting Goals

Armed with this information it was time to set some goals. Initially I’d thought I’d use this handy ideal weight calculator to establish my goal. After plugging in the numbers it spit out my ideal weight as 171 pounds, or a loss of 52 pounds! Besides being a really low number, it seemed perhaps too ambitious as an initial goal. I mean I’ve not been below 190 in 20 years and I may have been an infant the last time I was below 180. I really have no idea. At this point I wasn’t convinced that I really needed to drop that much weight. Also, I also wanted to make sure the kids were setting goals that didn’t seem so hard to reach. So we all decided to set our goals to whatever weight would give us a “normal” BMI. In my case this was 184 pounds, which was still quite a lot.

Step 3: Support

Part of the idea for the contest was to use our competitive nature to bring about a healthy change, but another large part was relying on each other for support. We each cheered on the other’s successes and encouraged one another when things got difficult. In addition, I regularly followed other people’s progress in the Loseit sub-reddit and friends using the Lose It! app. In fact part of my inspiration came from our friends using the Lose It! app that have lost 85 and 57 pounds. I can’t adequately express the appreciation I have for the encouragement and support we received.

Step 4: Diet

Last time I tried to lose weight I focused almost exclusively on the exercise part. While I did drop weight, I would have had far more success had I focused most of my energy on diet. Consider this: a soda is about 150 calories. To burn off that 150 calories, you’d need to jog about a mile and a half. So which is easier, skipping the soda, or running a mile and a half? Pretty simple.

To give a more concrete example: prior to beginning my weight loss I was probably consuming an average of 2400 calories a day. To lose two pounds a week without adjusting my diet I’d need to figure a way to burn about 1,000 additional each day! Lose It tells me a brisk 3.5 hour walk would burn 1,000 calories. Not sure about you, but I don’t have 3.5 hours to spare for a brisk walk each day.

So, this time around most of my emphasis was going to be on reducing my calorie intake. As I mentioned earlier, I got the Lose It! app to help me track those calories. Not only does it help keep you within your limits, but also goes back to that first step: “awareness”. I can almost guarantee that if make an effort to log every single thing that you eat, you will lose weight.

In addition, Lose It and other apps / web site like My Fitness Pal make it very easy to establish a goal / rate of weight loss after which it will tell you exactly how many calories you’re allowed each day to hit those goals. They even allow you to log exercise which will calculate and automatically increase your calorie budget for that day. It’s a much simpler process to track calories these days with all the tools that are available.

Step 5: Exercise

Lastly, there’s exercise. Exercise isn’t required to lose weight, but it certainly helps! Besides assisting in weight loss, there are a number of additional health benefits which made its inclusion in my plan important. Initially I started walking in the afternoon with the kids, so we all got in a little exercise and I got to spend a bit more time with them. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, we’ve not been able to continue those walks together.

As my weight started dropping and my health improved, I started looking for ways to challenge myself further and so I began slowly working my way towards the goal of running in a 5k. I’ve been making slow, but steady progress. I can’t actually say I love running. There seem to be many people that do, but I’m not there yet. What I love is the feeling of accomplishment I get from running. I also love that I can challenge myself every time I run. I love numbers and stats so I use track my runs using both Runkeeper and Nike+. The little badges and records are silly, but for me they provide that little extra incentive to keep pushing. That’s something I never got back when I used an elliptical at the gym. I also discovered that my neighborhood is full roosters.

The Results

I actually began changing my habits prior to the start of the contest. My first weigh in was 223 pounds (BMI: 30.24) on 5/21/12. By the time the contest began on 5/27/12 I was already down to 217.2 (BMI: 29.45). Everyone else weighed in and we were ready to go!

The first 4 weeks ended on 6/24/12 and I was down a total of 9.0 pounds for the contest and 14.8 pounds overall. But I only managed to place 2nd. My wife was even more serious than I having lost 6.14% of her weight in the first four weeks versus my 4.14%. The kids we close behind. Altogether we dropped 31 pounds in the first four weeks of the contest!

7/22/12 ended the second 4 week period. I managed to close the gap slightly on Susie, but she was still ahead 10.23% to my 8.75% The kids started to slow a bit here. Or maybe we just sped up. In any case we were down 53.8 pounds overall at this point and none of us had a BMI over 30.0. Now we were merely overweight.

The third four week period ended on 8/19/12 and I was down 26.8 pounds for the contest at this point (31.6 overall). Didn’t matter though because Susie pulled further ahead 14.55% to my 12.34%. The kids continued to lose as well and our total loss at that point was 71 pounds.

Due to some scheduling conflicts we had to move the final weigh in to tis morning instead of Sunday. I managed to pull closer to Sue, but she managed to hold on to her lead. She lost an amazing 18.18% of her starting weight versus 16.76% for me. Altogether our family lost 88.8 pounds and I am so very proud of them.

My final stats, as of this morning, were: 180.8 pounds. Down 36.4 pounds since the start of the contest and 42.2 pounds overall. BMI: 24.52. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m getting close!

What Next?

It’s funny, but when I began I just knew that I was going to look awesome anywhere under 190 and that ideal weight thing was crazy. As I got to and passed 190 I realized I was wrong and now that the 170s are approaching it looks like 171 might not be so crazy after all. All of us want to continue to try and reach those goals we set for ourselves back in May or those we created as we progressed. I had hoped back at the beginning that a 16 week long contest would help us form new and healthier habits that we can continue to use going forward and I think that’s worked to a large degree.

I’m still running and getting faster and I’ve also started resistance training to restore some desperately needed muscle. Turns out dieting burns muscle just as easily as fat unless you take steps to prevent it. Go figure.

I’ve written tons of stuff and feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. There’s so much more I could talk about. So much I learned. But I’ll just finish up by saying that this has been one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had. Not just for the changes it’s made in me, but for my family as a whole.