Michael F. Cochrane, Ph.D.
Occupation: Independent Consultant and Freelance Journalist
Lifestyle and body weight are directly related. That’s why diets don’t work. A diet is a temporary change in eating designed to help you lose weight. But if your lifestyle doesn’t change, the weight will eventually return.
My lifestyle changed dramatically last year when I left the daily commuting rat race – I retired from 32 years with the Federal Government and moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina. One year and 13 pounds later, I can attest to the value of specific lifestyle changes on losing weight and getting in shape.
At 5’ 9” and 162 pounds I wasn’t overweight a year ago before I retired, but I knew I could stand to lose about ten pounds – it would just make me feel better. But that last bit of weight wouldn’t yield to a relatively sedentary life working in cubicle-land! I was trying to hit the gym and walk on a regular basis, but with a long commute and long workday, I wasn’t that consistent. Consistency in exercising is important. We were eating healthy meals – no dessert and no bread. And I was eating very light breakfasts and lunch – fruit and a bit of cheese for breakfast and some cooked chicken or beef strips for lunch. No snacks either.
But the weight didn’t come off until after our move to the mountains. What changed in my lifestyle to drop my weight from 162 to 150 and my waist size from 32 to 30? I’ll briefly discuss three lifestyle factors and what changed. You already know two of them: diet and exercise. The third one may seem a bit “geeky” to you, but bear with me!
Maria and I are creatures of routine. We don’t mind eating pretty much the same thing every day for breakfast and lunch. Turns out that’s a big help when you’re trying to lose weight. Let’s start with dinner first, though:
Dinner – We have a variety of different foods at dinner however, and Maria is great at preparing healthy dinners that are filled with lean meats, plenty of fresh vegetables and no starches except for the occasional baked potato or couscous. We always have a salad with fresh greens and tomatoes, onions and garlic (love fresh garlic!) dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
I refused to give up alcohol and I continue my tradition of having a Martini before dinner along with a glass of wine during dinner. We share a fresh avocado as an appetizer which is always a treat.
Lunch – I eat exactly the same thing for lunch every day: a turkey and cheese sandwich along with a bag of 100-calorie microwave popcorn. Maria prepares all our sandwiches for the week ahead of time, weighing out 3 ounces of turkey and one 80-calorie slice of Swiss cheese – no mayonnaise, only mustard! We use Ezekiel 4:9 bread which is a great multi-grain sandwich bread.
Breakfast – You’ll think I skimp on breakfast, but believe it or not, the only thing I eat in the morning is a small cup of Chobani Greek yoghurt. It’s only about 130 calories and with a few cups of coffee, manages to tide me over until about 11:30 AM when I begin my lunchtime routine with my bag of popcorn!
Since I’ve retired I have been much more consistent in my exercise program. It also helps that we live in the mountains – everywhere you walk seems to be uphill!
Four days a week I walk two miles on the gravel roads in our mountain cove. Our house is on a hill 300 feet above the main highway, and the half-mile road up to the house has an average incline of 11.4 percent. It’s much steeper in some places! After a year of consistently “walking the cove” I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my cardio-pulmonary efficiency, i.e., I’m in better shape!
On Tuesdays and Fridays we head to the gym, where I continue my two-mile walk but this time on a treadmill. After that it’s 15 minutes of stretching, which has been an amazing thing. I was a gymnast in high school and could easily do a leg split during my floor routine. Now, at age 57, thanks to consistent stretching, I can again do a full split along with several of my old floor exercises! We finish up the gym days by lifting weights. I start off with a set of 18 pull-ups and then work my way through an upper-body routine that includes chest, shoulders, biceps and triceps – two exercises for each body part.
On Saturdays we hike. That’s one of the reasons we moved to this area – we love to hike in the beauty of the Appalachians. So we hit the trail once a week for a good ten miles. Sometimes it’s a little more or less, but at an average pace of just under 2.5 miles per hour, it’s a good four hours of hiking – which is about the most we want to do in a day!
Statistical Process Control
You may have heard advice that warned you not to weigh yourself every day; that the day-to-day variability of your body weight might cause you to get discouraged if you’re trying to lose weight.
The advice is well-intentioned but I think it’s wrong! In fact, collecting data on your daily weight can help you understand your weight as a process over time and thus, help you control that process.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
This is a chart showing my daily weight over the last four months or so. Notice that the light blue lines – my actual weight – fluctuates all over the place sometimes. But you’ll also notice two other things: a definite cycle and a definite trend. The dark blue line is the two-week moving (or rolling) average of my weight over time. Notice how it cycled down, then up, then way down! Up until the beginning of May, the trend line (the dotted straight line) had been fairly flat at around 152. But at the beginning of May, I made one small change in my diet which I think contributed to the drop in the moving average and the downward trend line: I stopped having a banana at breakfast. That was it! And you can see how my body responded to that one simple change in routine.
Yes, this is fairly geeky, but I did data analysis and modeling for years in my job before I retired, and I still teach statistics to college students, so it comes kind of naturally to me! But the important thing to note is that having this data displayed this way provides feedback you might not otherwise have; feedback that can help you view your daily weight changes as an ongoing process.
Understanding that process can help you control that process, which is what losing weight is all about – isn’t it?