I was sitting in my office, listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on my turntable — I have it in mp3 format, but when you play vinyl, you play vinyl for a reason –, and planning to write a short post about how listening to that record is my earliest childhood memory. It came out one year after I was born, and my parents played it constantly in our tiny little house out in the San Fernando Valley, when it was still mostly farmland and wide, empty streets.
I remember sitting on the gold shag carpeting, leaning against our black and white checkered couch, listening to This Song Has No Title through giant headphones that probably weighed as much as I did, plugged into the stereo with a curly black cord that must have been fifteen feet long.
I was about to write about that, and explore some of the sense memories this particular album gives me, when Marlowe — who had been sleeping at my feet — jumped up, barked, and ran to the front door. Seamus and Riley followed, and I heard the familiar sound of the mail dropping into the mailbox. I got up from my desk and quieted them down, picked up the mail, and opened the front door to see if there was anything on the porch. I saw some junk mail and a medium-sized cardboard box, which I picked up and brought into the house.
I recycled the junk mail, and opened the box. Inside, underneath a bunch of padding, was the replacement FitBit clip I’d ordered last week, to replace the one that Marlowe thought would be really fun to take off my nightstand and run around with in the back yard.
I thought it was kind of funny that the packaging was so inefficient, and that the padding was proudly called EarthAware. I took a picture and put it on the tweetybox:
I know that there are economies of scale for companies like FitBit, so using one basic box to ship things probably makes sense for the company. It’s ultimately not the biggest deal in the world, but the ridiculousness of it tickled the part of my brain that appreciates that sort of thing.
A fair amount of people on Twitter wanted to know how I liked my FitBit, and if I thought it worked, so when I went back into my office, instead of writing about music, I decided to write about how I’ve lost almost 20 pounds since November.
In early November, one of my friends got married. His wedding was wonderful, and it ended up being a sort of reunion for a lot of us who used to write and perform together at ACME, a little over a decade ago. The wedding attire was “1950s Red Carpet”, so Anne got an amazing dress (I’m not exactly an impartial observer, here, but I think every dress she wears is amazing), and I went to rent a classic men’s tuxedo.
I gave my measurements to the lady at the shop(pe), and she got me some trousers and a jacket to try on. I took them to the fitting room, and … I did not fit into them. At all. Not even a little bit.
“I, um, think you need to measure me,” I said. I knew that I’d put on some weight over summer, but I didn’t know how much. I’m not a get-on-the-scale guy, and I’ve always felt like I’m in fairly good health.
I was about to find out how wrong I was.
She grabbed her measuring tape, and put it around my waist. “How bad is it, doc?” I semi-joked.
“It’s, um …” she tugged and looked and tugged again and looked again. “It’s … 40.”
“Forty? Like, ‘hey, let’s bust a 40′ forty?” I said.
“Yep.” She continued to measure around my arms and chest and neck.
“Your neck is sixteen and three quarters, and your chest is thirty-eight.”
“Wow. I’ve really let myself go,” I said. I thought for a second, and said, “So get me what will fit me, and I’m going to start looking after my weight today.”
Before she could leave, I added, “I don’t know why I needed to tell you that. Sorry.”
“It happens all the time,” she said, not unkindly.
She returned with a tux that looked like you could use it to cover a piano*, and it fit me comfortably. I filled out the paperwork, thanked her for her time, and drove home.
“Did you get the tux you wanted?” Anne asked me, when I came into our house.
“Well, I got a tux.” I told her about my new measurements, and then resolved to lose weight. “I knew I was a little tubby, but I didn’t realize that I was incorrectly using the term ‘little’. I need to do something about it.”
“Your stomach has been looking bigger to me,” she said, “and your face is a little heavy. And I don’t care about how you look, but I do care about how healthy you are, and if you’re carrying extra weight around, that’s going to be hard on your internal organs and the rest of your body.”
“I hadn’t thought about that,” I said, and remembered an exhibit we went to at the museum years ago, that featured plastinated bodies. It was a fascinating experience, but something that stayed with me long after we left was a very obese body. This person’s internal organs were just crushed by fat deposits. I don’t recall the specifics, but it made an impression on me: if a person is carrying a lot of extra weight that you can see, they’re also putting a whole lot of stress and pressure on their heart, lungs, and other vital organs that you can’t see.
“So I need to think about how I got here, and how I’m going to get back to my fighting weight.”
“Do you know what you weigh now?”
I shook my head. “But I can find out.” I walked into my office, pulled a scale out of the closet, set it to zero, and stepped on it. The numbers spun around, shook a little bit, and settled down at about 182 pounds. I stepped carefully off the scale, like it would bite me or something if I moved too fast.
“I. Um. Wow.” I said. Last time I checked, I weighed 165.
“Okay,” I said with resolve. “I know what to do. It’s just math, right? Use more calories than I take in, eliminate junk food, and exercise every day. I can do this.”
I did an inventory of what I liked to eat and drink. I don’t drink sodas, I don’t like sweets, and I never have fast food. Those are the easiest things to cut out of a diet for a person who is looking to lose weight, and they were already out of mine.
But … boy do I like burritos, and boy do I like beer.
I did some math.
“I know how this happened, and I know how to undo it,” I said to Anne.
“Does it rhyme with burritos and beer?” She said.
“It does. And not just that, it’s also the midnight cheese.”
Aside: Midnight Cheese is a phrase Anne and I say to describe something that’s a very bad idea. For example, eating a lot of cheese at midnight may taste delicious, especially if you’ve had a few drinks and you’re staying up late to play tabletop games with your friends — just to cite a totally random example that I most certainly did not pluck from my personal experience** — but it’s not the best idea, ever.
“So I have to cut out the midnight cheese, literally and figuratively, and seriously cut back on burritos and beer. I also need to increase my exercise by, like, a million percent.”
Anne’s brother used this nifty little app on his smartphone that let him track how much he was eating, not just from a caloric perspective, but from a nutritional perspective, too. It let him input his meals and snacks, and also his exercise. It was free, so I downloaded it and installed it on my phone. (I’m not going to identify it, because I don’t want to sway people in one direction or another. Just know that there are a lot of them in the App and Play stores, and they’re incredibly helpful). I gave it some stats, like my age, sex, height and weight. I told it my target weight, and how aggressively I wanted to lose weight. It did some math, and gave me a simple plan.
So far, so simple, but this only works if I’m committed, and I think you have to do something for about a month for it to become an ingrained habit. I wasn’t sure that I could make it — one of the super awesome parts of depression is that it can suck all your motivation away from you — but I would just go one day at a time, one meal at a time, and see what happened.
I immediately cut down my beer consumption to one pint a day. I reduced #burritowatch to maybe once a week. I started to enter my meals into my app, and after a few days, I started to see that it really wasn’t that difficult to make healthy food choices, once I knew what was going into my body. Notably, there were things that I thought were okay, but turned out to have tons of sodium in them, or had way more calories than you’d expect. I started to walk every day. It was just a mile or so at first, and by the end of the first week, I was up to two miles a day. I started to notice that, if I wanted, I could do X amount of exercise, to earn Y amount of beer.
I was having a lot of fun, I was starting to feel pretty good, and — here’s the thing that blew me away — when I got back on the scale at the end of the first week, I’d lost almost 6 pounds. I’ve heard from lots of people that once you start watching what you eat and exercising, if you’re carrying weight that your body really doesn’t want, it tends to fall off pretty quickly, but I didn’t think that would really happen to me (Dear Penthouse …) but it totally did!
This gave me a huge motivational boost, and it carried me through to the end of the second week, which was good, because that’s when Thanksgiving happened. Boy, was it challenging to not go nuts at dinner, but when I started recording what I was eating, I felt pretty good about what I had eaten. And I also noticed another thing: I wasn’t overeating. By that, I mean that I wasn’t stuffing myself until I felt like I was going to drop into a food coma. I ate until I was full, but I ate slowly, and really savored my dinner.
I think it was around this time that I asked some of my friends about FitBit, and if it worked as well as people said it did. Every single one of them said that it did, and one of my friends told me that their digital scale was super helpful and effective. It also integrated with the smartphone app I was using, so I didn’t need to manually enter my walks. I ordered one, set it up with my goals the same way I configured the other app, and added my friends to my dashboard.
And this is where it became a game for me, and this is how and why I’ve been able to lose almost 20 pounds just by being smart about what I eat, and getting exercise every day.
I’d see that one of my friends had walked 8000 steps, and I was at 7200 steps, so I’d go for a walk and try to pass him. I’d see that one of my friends was catching up to me, so I’d make sure I parked as far away from the entrance to wherever I was going, so she couldn’t catch me. After a week of this,I saw that I’d walked close to 50 miles in seven days! One day, I was doing lots of stuff around the house and yard, and didn’t even realize that I’d walked close to two miles without ever leaving my property. Little things started to add up, and I started to look at every time I went somewhere as an opportunity to get steps.
And the badges! Oh, the badges. I got a badge for hitting 10,000 steps in a day, then 15,000, then 20,000. I got a badge for losing my first 10 pounds, and I got one for climbing the equivalent of 50 stories of stairs. I know they don’t really mean anything, but it’s fun to get achievements for things like that, and it’s incredibly motivating for me.
But I have to tell you what the best thing was. The best thing, ever, was getting a T-shirt out of my drawer that I loved but could never fit into because it was a skinny medium, and realizing that I could put it on without any difficulty. It was just amazing when I put on a belt, and instead of using the notch I’d been using, went all the way past it to the narrowest notch on it. A lot of my T-shirts and dress shirts are just too big, now, and boy does that feel awesome.
A few days ago, I went to get some measurements taken, because I’m having something special made to wear on the JoCo Cruise. I was pretty excited to find out what my waist was, and I may have let out a little yelp of excitement when I found it it was down to 35 inches, just about 85 days after I’d committed to slimming down a bit.
I don’t know if this will work for everyone. I don’t have emotional or biological issues related to my weight. I have a lot of freedom in my schedule to walk pretty much whenever I want to. I live in a place where the weather is usually pretty great, and I’m lucky enough to combine all of those things into something that works for me. I also have a fantastic certified personal trainer, who happens to be my son, who comes to my house three days a week to train me.
But, mostly, I have motivation, commitment, and a way to gamify fitness that works for me. This morning, I weighed in at 163.2 pounds, down from just over 180 three months ago. (And I can’t believe it’s been three months, because I really do just take it one day at a time.)
Anyway, since a lot of people asked, there’s my story. And because it’ll probably be a FAQ: I’m not going to add people I don’t know to my friends list, because that’ll be weird for me.
In the time it’s taken me to write this, I’ve listened to all four sides of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Maybe I will write that story about being a little kid experiencing music for the first time after all.
But now I have to go get steps, because I checked my dashboard and Eric just passed me.
*this may be a slight exaggeration
**this may not be entirely true