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Diet Hacking and overcoming unrealistic goals

March 15th, 2011

Since September I’ve been slowly trying to hack my diet by paying attention to the data, and making decisions going forward based on what the numbers tell me, while also understanding how I’m feeling emotionally, and towards food.

November was a month where I figured out a few things, December I made good progress until the later part of the month when I went on vacation, and the holidays, but it was still a good month.  January I got serious. 

The deal with hacking your numbers has to do with a few fairly accepted equations.  The math starts out with some variables.  I had to figure out my Basal Metabolic Rate, which is determined by understanding Physical Activity Level and multiplying that by a Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), in other words how many calories it takes to keep me at my current weight, doing the things I normally do.

There are calorie calculators on the web that do a fair job of estimating a RMR, and while they are statistical models they are accurate enough to get you in the ballpark.  This is exactly what LoseIt! does so if you want to take a shortcut, just use LoseIt

The next part of the equation is to figure out how fast I want to lose weight.  This begins with a constant: 3500 calories = 1 pound.  So to determine a plan we have to figure out how many pounds I want to lose in a week, the most ambitious plan on LoseIt! is 2 pounds per week, that equates to 7000 calories, or subtracting 1000 calories from my RMR.

That’s the theory, and that’s what I hung my hat on.  Only issue was I never consistently lost 2 pounds per week.  There is part of me that just wants to finish faster, and so it’s easy to get a little greedy, and start subtracting a little more calories a day, trying to lose a little more faster.  In January I did that, subtracting 200 more calories a day from my budget.  First week I had great success, the following weeks, I had increased hunger, increased irritability, and some cravings that just wouldn’t go away. The problem, I figured was I didn’t realize that I was only starving myself faster.  Add to that adding more exercise, longer runs, more stress, it’s not surprising that I wanted more of the easy junk that would satisfy my cravings.

So I switched back to a normal routine, and the spikey weigh-ins stopped, steady progress returned, and my hunger, grumpy, cravings went away.  Then I tried the alternative, instead of trying, in vain, to lose 2 pounds per week, why not make a more attainable goal.  I changed my goal to 1 and a half pounds per week, which gives me about 250 more calories a day.  I also started looking at where my calories came from, but that’s a different post.  The results since returning my goals to sanity.  Steady losses, no spikes in weight or cravings, and better performance in my running.  Hindsight being 20/20 says, it’s because I’m giving my body the fuel it needs rather than depriving it.

There is a chart from my Hacker’s Diet data of the last three months of my weigh-ins.  The spikey time of extreme calorie restriction is shown in the middle (and it also contained Super Bowl and Valentines Day… which while I ate junk, I didn’t exceed my reduced calorie goals.)  All in all I’m very pleased with 2011.  I’m learning more about how my body responds, and regaining the energy that slowly crept away the past 10 years.

 2011Q1 DietHack

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