The Skinny Daily Post™

Short, daily essays on weight loss and fitness
from a really average woman who lost 100 lbs.
and works every day to keep it off.

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Monday, February 03, 2003  

Detail-oriented Dieting

Y'all know I have strong opinions that what works for one of us won't work for the next. Me? I'm scale-addicted. Many of you use the scale with a kind of detached interest. I can become obsessed with numbers. Others wouldn't get fit, or take on any project, without them.

I encountered a software engineer while reading posts on who really uses numbers well, daily, in his fitness project. He sees elegance in the stats. And he's got an open-source kind of attitude about sharing his self-made tools. That, of course, appeals to me. It's another point of view I thought good to share. Here's a little e-mail exchange we had last week:

> Love the health page on your site. I'd love to point readers to your page, if you don't mind.

That would be fine. I wouldn't make it public if I didn't want people to use it. Here's the url:

> But I wonder if you would be willing to tell me (and skinnydaily readers) a little bit more about yourself, your fitness/health pursuits.

There's not much to say, really. I'm 5'10" and was 138lbs in high school. Over the years, I got fat (215 peak). I got tired of being fat. I started eating less (low fat) and exercising more, and lost 50 lbs. Then I overdid it and messed up my knee (psoriatic arthritis, triggered by overzealous weight training). During my recovery, I couldn't push my weight down further, so I switched to low carb (not to lose weight, but to reduce my hunger and try to heal my arthritis) and lost another 15 lbs. Now I'm at around 15% bf, which is slightly lean (5'10" 150 lbs). The general opinion is, the leaner you are the harder it is to lose weight, so you have to be careful about the numbers. Being a computer engineer, I'm a big fan of micro-managing stuff like that anyway - and I have the skills to teach the computer how to do it. So I did it.

At the moment, I'm just starting a "bulking phase" where I eat more and try to gain muscle mass and strength through weight lifting.

> and your motivation for putting all this great info up on your website?

Well, I mostly put it together for my own use. But once I'd done that, there was little reason *not* to let others use it. Don't you agree that sharing is a good thing? ;-) I'll probably also get some feedback from other people, along with new ideas, which will make it easier for me to use. Everyone wins.

> You know, if you feel like it and feel like being quoted...?

Well, I don't like being quoted *out of context* - being an engineer, I'm picky about details like that. And I'm not a diet or fitness expert - I've just read a lot about it, and I'm good at summarizing.

> Oh, and hey... I see you supply a lot of information about body fat testing. Care to comment about your experience with those tests? Why do you like having this data? What was it like to go get tested the first time, etc.?

Well, I measure myself, so I don't know how accurate it is. It just seemed to me that if the goal is to lose fat, you should measure progress by measuring the fat (duh). It's the old "pinch an inch" thing, except with calipers it's more accurate (and they're only $20 mail-order). But they're more useful for people close to goal than for the obese, because they help you judge how much more you should lose (and how much of what you've lost is fat vs muscle). For the obese, either scale weight or body measurements are sufficient, because they're going to lose primarily fat anyway.

Even for body builders trying to gain weight, measuring %bf is useful because it helps you indirectly measure the muscle gains.

Example: I'm 150 lbs and 15% bf, which means I've got 127 lbs of lean tissue and 23 lbs of fat. If I want to get to 10%bf, I know I need to lose another 9 lbs of fat, or gain 80 lbs of muscle (yeah right). But if I get to 160 lbs and I'm still 15%bf, which is 136lbs lean tissue, I can see that I've gained 9 lbs of muscle but only 1 lb of fat. If I get to 160 lbs but now I'm 20% bf, I've gained one lb of muscle and 9 lbs of fat.

But either way, I don't rely on the accuracy of the measurements. I'm more interested in long term trends, so I measure probably more often than normal, so that if I get one wildly inaccurate reading it will be easy to spot. Same with weight - I weigh every day, under the same conditions, and put a little dot on my weight chart. There are some dots that are 2-3 lbs higher or lower than the dots around them - but it's obvious that they're unusual, so I ignore them. And when you have a lot of data plotted on paper that way, the trends - long term gradual changes - become very obvious. Your eyes are very good at taking a lot of visual data in, and generalizing it.

> Or... BodyGem. I'm terribly interested in this little device, and plan to go try it out myself some day. If you'd ever like to share your experience with the BodyGem?

It was easy. Do it early in the day, and don't do anything else that day - no food, no exercise, no nothing. You want to be calm, relaxed, the ultimate couch potato. Bring a book. You just breathe into the device for 10-15 minutes, and beep! it tells you how many calories you're burning. Some people think you should never eat less than that many calories, so it gives you a lower limit to your diet.

Also a good idea to go off your diet for a few days before testing, to make sure you're not already in starvation mode.

One thing to do though - take your temperature at the same time. Some people diet too hard, and their bodies adapt by slowing the metabolism, which lowers body temperature. I check my temp every day or two as soon as I wake up, and chart that along with my weight. If it starts dropping, I know I'm not eating enough.

> Skinnydaily readers have anywhere from 5 to more than 100 lbs.and more to lose. Some are very knowledgeable about fitness and dieting, but many have no idea at all how to get started. Not unlike, where I learned about your site.

Getting started isn't hard if you ignore all the marketing hype. You have to eat less calories than you burn. You have to exercise. You have to have a way of measuring progress. The rest is just details, or tricks to make it easier. I like to read what Lyle McDonald writes - he's crude and non-pc, but he's often right and skips over the feel-good and marketing hype. Losing weight is the same way - the mechanism is straightforward once you get past the hype.

Do check out DJ's site. His tools are simple and easy to use. Remember, what works for you is up to you.

And if you'd ever want to share what works for you, write to me at


DJ Delorie's Health Page
Healthetech's BodyGem

posted by Julie |
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