Walk me

01 Aug 2015

So, here I am, trying to lose some weight. In the last 25 years I have been a programmer, a teacher and now again programmer. Apart from showing off in front of a classroom, my life pretty much passes in a leather chair. The only muscled parts of my body are in my hands and fingers. I got a “warning” from my doctor that if I stayed the way I was, I’d have a 16% “chance” not to get through the coming decade alive. Talk about a chance.

I don’t do heavy lifting and I don’t swim. I hate walking like a zombie in the neighbourhood under the pretext that I need to walk. Walking in a mall or in a supermarket, ok, but that is only for a small period of time. But walking is exactly what I am doing, hopefully I don’t look like a zombie. But then again, who cares?

Everybody was always “astonished” that I would gain weight seemingly just by breathing.

I don’t eat like a madman and I don’t do junk food. All (ok, most) food is home cooked, no fast food and no TV dinners (who the hell can eat those anyway?), I tried all kinds of restrictive “diets”, including removing meat from my food for weeks. Nothing really worked. Oh, yes, I don’t smoke, never have in my 52 years and it’s not today that I will start. So stopping smoking would not help either.

My weight seemed to have stabilised itself around 255 lbs. , but for a 5’10” (1m86) guy that is too much.

I tried the static bike, first in the bedroom of our apartment, later in the basement of our house. Let me tell you, there is nothing more boring than a static bike. Agreed, you don’t use that thing for your enjoyment, but boring like that? Pedaling like crazy, in front of a wall that never comes closer. I tried to imagine my distances on a map, putting pushpins at the distances I had done on the bike. I made it to about 400 miles and then I noticed that the bike was still in the basement and the map was full of holes in places where I had never been.

I am part of a photo community with lots of different people and styles. Some of them (younger and older) seemed to have lost weight. At least I noticed that after a few meetings. I am not someone to ask personal questions like “Have you lost weight recently? What did you do for that?”. You never know what the answer can be and I don’t want to embarrass anyone.

One of the people had had a “warning” from his doctor and had started running a few months earlier. Now he is officially running marathons. Not my thing, if I run 500 yards, it feels as if my heart is coming through my throat to catch some extra oxygen.

Until, at a nice dinner, some showed me how they had done it.

They showed me an electronic device called a Fitbit.

It’s one of those small wearable electronic devices that track your (in)activity and may be able to tell you what to do to improve the situation. I had heard about those things already a few years ago and never given them much thought. After all, a step counter can be had for a few bucks on a Chinese website, why pay 150 or more for that?

I even have had one of those step counters, but it was not accurate nor satisfying as to what it was supposed to tell me. I lost it in the woods somewhere while tying my shoes.

The Fitbit, however, seemed to have worked with several of my friends. They had visibly lost weight and were visibly in better shape. Granted, some are retired and have their whole days to walk around. That is a luxury I don’t have for now.

So I got myself one to try it out. Their online dashboard is fabulous, it gives way more information than a simple step count over the course of a day. The device itself is a wristwatch like bracelet with only a small display on it that can give you the basic info instantly. With the push of the only button the thing has, it also gives you your step count (the main functionality of the Fitbit), the distance walked (if you have given the size of a single stride on the website) as well as the approximate calories burned.

Of course, if you want accurate results, you should also fill out some more personal details like your weight, your height and a few other tidbits. Nothing really personal and you can even use a fake email address is you so choose. I didn’t, I wanted to see what the service would tell me.

You can log your food intake, they have a very extensive database with all the food you can buy in different parts of the world. Including the Super Giant Peanuts from Costco. They know all about the calories and the vitamins you get from them. For homemade food, the database is less accurate and you need to improvise a little.

All in all, I tried that for a week to see what they’d come up with. It seemed that I burned about 75% more calories than I ever ate during the week. If that had been true, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about being overweight. All the foods I ate had some information on them, and I logged them honestly. The service will not publish my data unless law enforcement tells them to, so I can enter that without a problem.

So here I am, eating 1500-1800 calories a day, burning 2700 in that same day and staying the same weight. At least that’s what I thought the first week I had it. Losing that weight will take some time.

I started walking, trying to get to those “mythical” 10,000 steps per day. The first day looked hopeless, after a mere 4,000 steps I was exhausted. The second day I noticed that the dashboard also showed me the water that I needed to drink in order to get back in shape. 8 cups of water is a lot if you’re not used to drinking that much. And it is water they are talking about, not white wine.

After three days I made it to the goal of 10k steps and the bracelet gave me a quick and happy buzz.

Inside that first week, the service told me that I had already walked a marathon’s distance in the first few days! Incredible at first, but when I looked that my stride was about 85cm, multiplied by those 10k+ steps per day, the 42.2km (26miles or so) were easily found. Nevertheless a nice achievement. Up until that time I thought that I moved about 200 steps during the day, mostly between the mailbox, the fridge and my desk.

Now I had something real to show for it. My muscles, however, joined in with the festivities and the next day they refused to work. I had forgotten about those 8 cups of water. So I added those in the mix and the muscle pain was mostly gone by the next day. It looks like those guys have really thought about everything.

Doing my walk today, suddenly I started thinking about how it is possible that so many people are overweight or worse, obese. The fitbit site tells me that with my parameters I am obese, but I don’t look like the big blubber heaps they show on tv sometimes. So I take that with a grain of salt (there are no calories in salt anyway).

It hit me like a brick. When I was a kid, I went to school on my bike. It was a 15 minute bike ride through the city. When sometimes I had a flat tire, I had to walk to school. Asking my parents to drop me off by car would have been met with laughter and scorn. I didn’t ask in the first place. The walk to school would take about 45 minutes and I did that even without thinking.

When I first had a car, I promised myself to not use the car for short distances as long as those distances were walkable. That is where the devil chose to hide. Today I went to the post office about a 30 minute walk from my house. Usually I would have taken the car to get there, in about 8-9 minutes with the red lights in the middle. Walking there seemed like impossible from inside the car.

Having a car or any other transport simply takes away the need and the desire to move on foot. Long walks are reserved for the parks and the hikes in the summer. But those are not enough to keep up with the sedentary life for the rest of the year!

By now I have that Fitbit for about 3 weeks. I have lost something like 5 lbs, nothing to write home about under normal circumstances. However, I have never been able to lose that weight with doing any diet of any kind. That little piece of nagging electronics will stay on my wrist until I get to my (hopefully) ideal weight. Lots of pounds to go. I hope they stay in the streets. If there is anything I hate in life is making myself miserable by  having to refuse good food. Walking seems like a reasonable alternative.

The only thing that needs nourishment of an electrical kind is the Fitbit.

Once I disconnect it from the charger, it tells me:

Walk Me

And that is exactly what I am going to do over the next months.

== edit

Now I am five months into my “program” and have lost 20 lbs overall. My blood pressure seems under control and my trousers are one size smaller. No more XXL trousers required! I’ll continue the good “work”…