The ScienceBlogs Diet

i-07705cb387e361685211932445407ece-sm_weight.jpgHow big a dork am I? Well, you can see from the graph at left, roughly thirty pounds less of a dork than I was at the beginning of the year… Hey, man, it’s not science without graphs.

So, as noted in passing in several other posts, I decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to make a serious effort to lose weight. In order for any such project to work, I need to give myself arbitrary and completely inflexible rules to work with– the minute I start allowing exceptions to the rules, I start backsliding down the slippery slope, to mix a metaphor. One of those rules was that I have to weigh myself daily, and record the results– otherwise, I stop keeping track, and the next thing I know, I’m back up over 280.

Of course, if I’m going to have a big collection of numerical data, sooner or later, I’m going to end up making a graph of it. I’m a scientist, that’s what I do. You’re just lucky I didn’t try to find a fit function before posting about it here…

(Other notable features: the big gap in mid-February is Boskone, as the Sheraton didn’t provide an in-room scale. The apparent weight quantization effect is an artifact of the cheap scale I got at Wal-Mart a few years back– it tends to get stuck on a single value every now and then. I don’t really think my weight has ever been stable to within a tenth of a pound for five days running…)

Anyway, in case you were looking for the secret to the ScienceBlogs Weight Loss Plan (and won’t that drive some serach engine traffic…), I’ll put the rest of the rules below the fold:

1) Get more exercise. Mostly, this has come in the form of playing basketball as often as possible– I try for MWF at lunch, but usually end up missing one day a week or so. This past term, I made an effort to miss fewer hoops dates. I also made it a point to run more when I was playing, and generally force myself to play harder (which has drawn a few comments from the regular players as well).

With the return of nicer weather, I can add in biking to work a couple of days a week.

2) Take the stairs. My office and most of my classes are on the third floor, and my lab is in the basement. My usual practice has been to take the stairs down from the third floor, but the elevator back up. For the last three months, I’ve forced myself to take the stairs up as well.

This is one of the points where inflexibility is key. The only allowed exceptions are if I’m carrying something heavy or fragile– otherwise, I take the stairs. Even if I’ve just come back from playing basketball for an hour and a half. This has led to some gasping and panting when I get back to my office after a hard game, but if I let myself take the elevator then, soon enough, I’ll be taking it all the time. One of my colleagues now thinks I’m a lunatic as a result.

3) Develop stomach problems. There are two really dramatic drops in weight on there– from 265 to 250 over the span of about two weeks, and the drop from 250 to 243 over the past week. Those coincide with the worst of the heartburn problems, and going on the Chinese Prison Diet (rice and vegetables) to try to compensate. I realize that this is not healthy in the long term– it’s not even particularly healthy in the short term, but it’s the only thing that works to calm my stomach down to the point where I can think about eating a more balanced diet (which accounts for the long stretch at 250 lbs).

Of course, this part of the plan has also prevented me from enjoying any of the supposed benefits of weight loss. In particular, I want to punch the doctor who said “You know, if you lose 30-40 pounds, you’ll never have a problem with reflux again.” I’m sleepy all the goddamn time, I get tired even faster than I did at the start of the process, and at the absolute low point of the prison diet, I got light-headed while playing basketball, and it took me a good ten minutes to get undressed to shower. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Thanks to this simple plan, I now weigh less than I have since my freshman year in college. Of course, by the absurd standards used these days, that still puts me at the high end of “overweight.” But, hey, my stomach’s still messed up…

Comments

  1. #1 Steeves
    March 31, 2006

    We really should get a better scale — it’ve been stuck at 220 for a while now, and I’m actually tempted to see if there’s another scale somewhere that I can weigh myself on, just to see if I’m really at that weight or not. I have managed to almost get down to where I can comfortably fit into the next smaller waist size for pants, which is nice.

    All told, the last time I was reliably weighed (at my doctor’s office), I had lost about 15 lbs. As with you, the key for me is a large degree of inflexibility — I go to the gym at least 3 times a week (I’m shooting for four), and not going out and grabbing subs and small pizzas for lunch (or my Achilles heel, Indian lunch buffets…).

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    March 31, 2006

    Oh, the dreaded Indian Lunch buffet. I’ve been known to gain five pounds at one of those. Somehow I think the actual Indian diet doesn’t involve four puris and three platefuls of tandoori chicken marsala.

  3. #3 bill thater
    March 31, 2006

    try the hacker’s diet:

    http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/www/hackdiet.html

    even comes with software for a plam device, or excel spreadsheets.

    even works if you follow it. that’s the part i have trouble with.;-)

  4. #4 John Novak
    March 31, 2006

    Indian food is deadly for a diet, I think. All the actual tasty stuff– that looks so healthy– is made with ghee. Which is to say, clarified butter.

    Goddammit.

    Also, daily weighings are silly, unless it’s for the discipline effect. You can change your weight to a degree that is measureable on a cheap Wal-mart scale just by engaging in normal biological morning processes. As it were.

  5. #5 GrrlScientist
    March 31, 2006

    i am on the dead-mouse-rotting-in-my-kitchen diet. this diet is not one that i signed up for since i really don’t need to lose any weight (although, as they say in manhattan, a woman can never be too rich, too blonde or too thin), but my slumlord graciously gave me this plan as special bonus when i signed that two-year rental lease.

    wow, a free gift from my slumlord, whodathunk it? who says that new yorkers are assholes??

  6. #6 Bill Hooker
    March 31, 2006

    thirty pounds less of a dork than I was at the beginning of the year

    You’re using the wrong units. Dorkiness is measured in units called Trekkies, abbreviated Tk. People who get married in Klingon combat suits are the unit standard for 1.0 Tk.

    (Before the hate mail starts, my wife used to run a Trek fan club of sorts. I’m a big fan myself, and a huge dork regardless.)

  7. #7 Matt B.
    March 31, 2006

    Warning! By my calculations, you will cease to exist in ~16 months!

  8. #8 Mike Kozlowski
    March 31, 2006

    We have one of those false-precision scales, too. The way to get a real reading out of it is to give it a vastly different number, then give it the real number. I usually lean on the sink to get a number way smaller than the actual, then stand on it normally for the real measurement.

  9. #9 Andre
    March 31, 2006

    I’m suprised you didn’t mention the Bob Park diet (even if you’re following it): take in less than you use. It’s the only diet endorsed by the first law of thermodynamics.

    http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN04/wn010204.html

  10. #10 Chad Orzel
    March 31, 2006

    Also, daily weighings are silly, unless it’s for the discipline effect.

    Absolutely.
    It’s entirely a discipline thing– I can hold to a daily routine much better than a weekly one, and recording the numbers keeps me honest.

    Day-to-day fluctuations really aren’t all that meaningful (which is also why I haven’t bothered to do anything with the stuck readings). A three-day moving average might be more meaningful, but I’m not quite enough of a dork to go to the trouble of setting that up in Excel.

  11. #11 Gerardo Camilo
    March 31, 2006

    By the time I had finished going through the tenure thing, I was nearly 300lbs. My waist was a very tight 44, border line high blood preassure, high cholesterol, etc. One day I had to take a propsal signature page to the grad school and the elevator was our of service. I had to climb three flights of stair, I was dying!!!

    After tenure, I did something similar, but instead of b-ball, I had to start with just walking. One mile, then two, then five, etc. Added cycling, 5, then 10, then 20, etc. Now, less than 65 miles is just warm up.

    Weight is down to 200lbs, bp: 115/75; cholesterol 168.
    Waist is a loose 36. A bitch because I did a major overhaul when I was size 40, which I had to redo recently.

    No IFs or BUTs, calories in = calories out. I prefer the out part.

  12. #12 Gareth Wilson
    March 31, 2006

    One method I’ve found to exercise while working is to have your computer networked to a printer on the floor below you. Needless to say I didn’t set this up on purpose…

  13. #13 Zeno
    March 31, 2006

    I lost about 30 pounds in the past year by completing my degree requirements. Graduate seminars were a nonstop nosh-fest. We took turns bringing goodies (usually with a few carrot sticks to make it look like we might actually limit ourselves to nibbling a few veggies). Who knew that cream cheese on bagels wasn’t diet food?!

  14. #14 Robert
    March 31, 2006

    > Of course, by the absurd standards used these days, that still puts me at the high end of “overweight.”

    How tall are you? ‘Cuz BMI doesn’t seem to scale right with height.

  15. #15 Roman Werpachowski
    April 1, 2006

    Chad, I can tell you why you feel so lousy: you lose weight too fast. 30 pounds in 3 months: it’s just too fast. Slow down a bit. Losing weight shouldn’t make you feel weak or sick *at all*. Remember that when you burn fat, various toxins are produced. If they appear in too large quantities, you feel bad.

    Solution: slow down a bit and DRINK LOTS OF WATER. Dring lots of water. Drink lots of water. Did I say you need to drink water? This will help you remove the toxins and prevent dehydration. Often people drive them nuts to lose weight, but they confuse being dehydrated with losing fat.

    I even would say that weight is not a good observable here. Your dimensions are. I know it’s easier to weigh yourself, but a better indicator of how you lose fat are your dimensions. If you pump up your physical excercise, you gain muscle mass: and muscle tissue has much bigger (about 10 times) density that fat tissue. So you can lose 15 pounds of fat, gain 5 punds of muscle with the net result of losing 10 pounds. Not much, you say? Ah, but the change in the looks is noticable. Just ask your wife what she prefers ;-)

  16. #16 Chad Orzel
    April 1, 2006

    Chad, I can tell you why you feel so lousy: you lose weight too fast. 30 pounds in 3 months: it’s just too fast. Slow down a bit. Losing weight shouldn’t make you feel weak or sick *at all*. Remember that when you burn fat, various toxins are produced. If they appear in too large quantities, you feel bad.

    I’m aware of that– in particular, the ~10 pounds I’ve lost in the last week and a half is way too fast– but there’s really nothing I can do. I’m dropping weight at a ridiculous rate right at the moment because eating anything other than rice and vegetables causes severe heartburn. Believe me, if I could slow the rate of loss, I would.

  17. #17 Chad Orzel
    April 1, 2006

    On a less self-pitying note:

    Robert: How tall are you? ‘Cuz BMI doesn’t seem to scale right with height.

    Nice graphic. I hadn’t seen anything about the AP study of BMI, but it’s an interesting story.

    For the record, I’m 6’6″ (give or take a little), or fairly close to 2m.

    I occasionally rant about the stupidity of most “ideal height/ weight” measurements, which have been silly as long as I’ve been aware of them. I particularly enjoyed the stories from a year or two ago about a study showing people in the “overweight” category lived slightly longer than people in the “normal” range.

  18. #18 Doug
    April 1, 2006

    Just reading this. Also just reading the latest issue of AARP’s rag which has an article on how skinny people stay that way. One of the ‘rules’ was to weigh yourself every day so you can see when your weight is going up and react. Lots of other good, simple, reasonable ideas – if you’re not old enough to be a member, find someone who is and borrow the mag.
    Good luck – loosing and keeping it off ain’t easy, hat’s off to you. Now, off to the scales.

    Doug

  19. #19 Robert
    April 1, 2006

    It appears some of the early stuff on the relationship between longevity and BMI was too simple. It’s now generally thought that the relationship is U-shaped, and the debate is about how broad and flat the bottom of the U is. Speaking of U-shaped, and of broad and flat

  20. #20 Gerardo Camilo
    April 1, 2006

    Hey, I got an idea. We can pray for you!!!

  21. #21 Chad Orzel
    April 1, 2006

    Hey, I got an idea. We can pray for you!!!

    Heh.
    Given the recent negative results, maybe that’s the whole problem.

    Alright, which of you bastards is praying for me? Knock that off, right now…

  22. #22 John Novak
    April 1, 2006

    It’s entirely a discipline thing– I can hold to a daily routine much better than a weekly one, and recording the numbers keeps me honest.

    Fair enough. When I was serious about losing weight, I tried to restrict myself to a weekly weighing, but eventually succumbed to just putting “step on scale” into my morning routine, too. Which makes me feel slightly stupid for knowing I ignore all measurements but the Friday one.

    The capsule of everything I know about weight loss for tech-science geeks with no other outstanding health conditions follows:

    1) It’s all thermodynamics. Calories in minus calories out. Everything else is a trivial second order effect meaningful only for statistical outliers– and we ain’t them. I’m talking professional body-builders or athletes.

    2) Exercise machines with calorie counters are your friends. 3500 calories per pound of fat. Aim for 500 calories per day in cardio and a mild dietary reduction for noticeable results over the course of a month.

    3) Body Mass Index sucks. If you need a single number index, someone on campus will have to have a portable body fat index device. Failing that, your wasit size.

    4) Drink the water, like Roman says. Until your teeth float. (Or in my case, coffee and diet coke.)

    5) Being busy makes weight loss incredibly difficult. Nothing kills a diet/exercise plan like being too tired to exercise and just wanting to veg out and eat ships in front of the TV. I will be glad when the current project decides it’s out of money and I can’t charge 20 or 30 hours of overtime a week any more. I will ditch that last ten pounds.

  23. #23 Chad Orzel
    April 1, 2006

    Nothing kills a diet/exercise plan like being too tired to exercise and just wanting to veg out and eat ships in front of the TV.

    I just have to say, I love this typo. The “Scylla and Charybdis Diet.”

  24. #24 Roman Werpachowski
    April 1, 2006

    It’s all thermodynamics. Calories in minus calories out. Everything else is a trivial second order effect meaningful only for statistical outliers– and we ain’t them. I’m talking professional body-builders or athletes.

    I talked to my wife who studied it in greater detail.

    It is true that to lose weight, you need to eat less than you burn. But it’s not everything and the remaining part is also important First of all, if you just give your body less calories it needs, you won’t lose fat. Why? Because when your body is hungry and does not have food to burn, it doesn’t burn fat: it burns muscle tissue. Fat is a reserve for really bad situations, when you’re really in danger of starving. To combat this situation, you need to make your body burn fat by lengthy excercises (40 minutes plus). Short excercise sessions don’t count. Oh, and drink a lot of water ;-) And don’t lose weight too fast. Building muscles is also your friend, since the more muscles you have, the more calories you burn just because of the fact you do have muscles ;-) And as others said, weight is not a good indicator of being fit: amount of fat in your body is, or your waist length. You can weight over 200 pounds and be very healthy, or weight 180 pounds and be overweight.

    The diet is also important. To build muscles, you need protein. Avoid fat – obvious. Avoid carbohydrates since they are easily converted into fat tissue. You can eat carbohydrates after excercise, though (so I am told). Especially avoid eating carbohydrates before the excercise, since eating them raises insuline level and makes burning fat more difficult. Also, if you train both for strength and weight loss, train for strength first and for weight loss next, not in the reverse order. Thus you’ll burn your carbohydrates during the strength training and then you’ll have to burn fat during the weight loss training.

    They also say that you should eat less more frequently. This also makes it less likely that you gain fat or eat your muscle tissue.

    Avoid junk food ;-)

    Or in my case, coffee and diet coke.)

    Don’t drink the one which is sweetened with Aspartam.

  25. #25 vaughan
    April 1, 2006

    I wonder if taking the stairs saved a measureable amount of electricity/energy? It really bugs me when healthy 20-something students use the slow elevator in our science building to go up a few flights of stairs. I assume it wastes electricity, but I don’t know how much.

    Good job getting healthier, and hope your stomach problems don’t come back!

  26. #26 Barry
    April 1, 2006

    Chad, if you’re crash-dieting, in effect, due to stomach problems, get with a dietician and find some supplements. It ain’t healthy, and, if you develop some other problems, you might find that your activities are restricted. Which will zoom your weight right back up.

    Proof: Judging from the graph, fitting the only distribution known to physics, the power law, suggests that your weight will go negative sometime the summer :)

  27. #27 Barry
    April 1, 2006

    “You’re using the wrong units. Dorkiness is measured in units called Trekkies, abbreviated Tk. People who get married in Klingon combat suits are the unit standard for 1.0 Tk.”

    Posted by: Bill Hooker |

    Not quite, Bill. That’s 0.9 TK, where the official scale ends. The actual scale, of course, continues:

    0.95 TK – consumating the marriage in Klingon combat suits.

    1.00 TK – using Klingon medicin when sick.

  28. #28 rain 39
    April 1, 2006

    My reflux entirely went away when I used the Atkins dieting plan. I am not recommending that you use it but I do recommend that you throw all your white carbs out and only eat whole grains and increase your protein a bit. That’s what Atkins eventually went to.

    That means no rice except whole grain, potato except sweet potato, only whole wheat (not just wheat), you get my drift. You also need to be taking a serious anti acid medication like Pepcid which you can get over the counter now. If that doesn’t work, your doc needs to give you a prescription and perhaps scope you to see if you have any cellular changes in your lower esophagus. More and more people are getting Barretts esophagus these days which leads eventually to cancer of the esophagus in some. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen. I believe that’s what Ann Richards has. The stats aren’t too good if it comes to that and it is preventable with good medical care. Don’t fool around with persistent heart burn! From a nurse who has also been in academia.

  29. #29 katiebird
    April 1, 2006

    I’m very happy for you! I’ve recently accepted the fact that since I’ve been suffered from two separate occurances of obesity, that it’s probably controllable, but not curable.

    I hope that you can find a solution that you can live with for the rest of your life, so the weight problem doesn’t come back. I’ve decided that I’m not going to eat between meals and I’m not going to take seconds. That and weighing myself everyday seems to be working wonders.

  30. #30 Chad Orzel
    April 1, 2006

    vaughn: I wonder if taking the stairs saved a measureable amount of electricity/energy? It really bugs me when healthy 20-something students use the slow elevator in our science building to go up a few flights of stairs. I assume it wastes electricity, but I don’t know how much.

    A couple of years ago, I had two students in my class who were on the varsity soccer team. The class ended right before lunch, so I would occasionally run into them at the gym when I went over to play basketball.

    More frequently than that, though, I would pass them waiting to take the elevator down from the third floor to the first, so they could go to the gym and work out. I used to mock them about that on a regular basis, but they had no shame…

    Barry: Chad, if you’re crash-dieting, in effect, due to stomach problems, get with a dietician and find some supplements. It ain’t healthy, and, if you develop some other problems, you might find that your activities are restricted.

    Yeah, I know it’s not healthy. The point is, it shouldn’t be happening for very long. And, honestly, if I don’t see some significant improvement pretty soon, I’m seeking out a different gastroenterologist, because this is ridiculous.

    (I’m going back to a less “crash”-y diet, but unfortunately, not because of any substantial improvement on the heartburn front, but because it doesn’t seem to make much difference what I eat…)

  31. #31 Thumb
    April 1, 2006

    I’m with Roman. Two years ago I finally got sick of carring around a small extra person and decided to do something, but nothing radical. So I cut out the donut with breakfast, cut out the sugar in my coffee (and I agree, Aspertame is poison) and limited my Ben and Jerry’s to weekends only. No added excersise, just eliminated the bulk of sweets that entered my daily diet. I dropped from 265 pounds to 225 the first year and to 210 the second (it was the Indian buffets that killed me the second year, but hey, a guy’s gotta live).

  32. #32 natural cynic
    April 1, 2006

    The calories in < calories out is the most important thing. Most of the good comparative studies have shown little difference in the type of diet, with low carb having a slight advantage at the beginning and differences lessening with time.

    Muscle density is ~1.06g/cc and fat density, depending on hydration status while fat density is slightly less than 1.0, depending on ffa composition. This means that fat loss with muscle gain will change the way your clothes fit.

    The change in body composition that occurs with weight loss is dependant on age, gender and exercise. Males have a slight advantage in losing more fat than muscle. The younger you are, the higher the proportion of fat loss to muscle loss. The more exercise you do, the greater the proportion of fat loss. It is pretty rare for someone to lose a subsatntial amount of weight without losing muscle (unless you use anabolic steroids or growth hormone). To ensure a minimum amount of muscle loss, do some weight training and use as much of your musculature as possible - there will be muscle loss in your upper body if you only do cardio exercises with the lower body.

    Probably the best thing to measure is the waist circumference. Intraperitoneal fat is more dangerous (indicator of metabolic syndrome) than subcutaneous fat and is easier to lose (and gain back). However, how and where one loses fat is appparently genetic.

    Use the calorie counters on exercise machines, as a very rough estimate of calories expended.

    A significant problem with weight loss is weight cycling – bouts of weight loss and gain. It seems to prime the body for losing more muscle and less fat loss in subsequent cycles. The “toxin” problem with weight loss is a hypothetical one. Adipocytes can be a long-term storage for lipophilic pollutants, but I don’t know how they are retained or released during weight loss, so the potential harmful effects associated weight loss have not been quantified.

    And I don’t believe all those playmates told the truth about their weight in their profiles.

  33. #33 fullerene_dream
    April 2, 2006

    Take the stairs.
    That’s been my strategy too. I live on the 18th floor of my building, and I make sure to walk up the stairs once a day.

  34. #34 Robert
    April 2, 2006

    Natural cynic wrote:
    > And I don’t believe all those playmates told the truth about their weight

    “Fried chicken.”
    –Anna Nicole, when asked about her Playmate diet.

  35. #35 MDtoMN
    April 2, 2006

    South Beach – BEST DIET EVER!

    Seriously, it actually works. Still leaves one exhausted though. Personally, I’ve always heard it’s best to weigh oneself once every week – otherwise daily flutuations will upset one or give one to much confidence.

  36. #36 Richard Eis
    July 22, 2008

    The BMI is only useful in certain situations, mainly for measuring across a population. People using it for the wrong reasons has given it a bad image.

    You are still overweight because you have about 50lbs of weight still to get rid of. Good Luck.

    Oh and shop around for other exercises and diet levels when you get bored or stuck at a weight. What you need to do at one weight is different to what you need to do at another in order to continue.

  37. I noticed you were trying a diet that consisted of rice and veggies…have you ever considered adopting more of a bodybuilder’s type diet? Something with 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass? Personally, I have found this more effective for both keeping me full as well as losing weight. Good luck with your experiment!

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.