An Engineer Looks at Weight Loss feet On Scale  JPG 9.30 K

In October 2003 I weighed over 220 pounds. By the end of February 2004 I weighed around 170 pounds. This was about 50 pounds of weight loss in about 5 months. After that I trimmed down several more pounds on a slower basis. The chart below shows my progress from then until this web page was created or updated.

Ray's Weight vs. Date

I have had several people ask how I did it. Since this topic seems to be of continuing general interest, I took some time and quickly slapped this page together to offer some advice.

These pages are * not * really written to be complete information. Instead they offer basic information and encouragement. If I can do it, you can do it! If you want more complete information, at the end of the page I give some suggestions for additional web searches.

How I Got Started and My Motivation

In October 2003 I became convinced that I needed to lose weight. I think that at least part of the convincing came from God showing me that I needed to take better care of myself. I didn’t like the way I looked in photographs I saw of myself. Also (at the time) I had started to get back into flying airplanes and saw the advantage of losing weight so as to be able to carry more cargo and passengers. I also thought “If I don’t do this by the age of 40 I will never be able to do it.” My doctor also said I ought to lose weight (but then they always seem to say that).

How I Tracked My Progress

I weighed myself every morning and every evening (when I remembered) and kept a plot in a computer spreadsheet. However, I didn’t start doing this regularly until I began to see definite results. Part of the reason for plotting is that a person’s daily weight will oscillate up and down for all kinds of reasons. When it goes up it can be discouraging. As a result of this I do a 9 day moving average to get of better idea of what is really going on under all the noise of the daily fluctuations. The plot below shows an example of a sequence from the last several months.

Ray's Weight vs. Date

The solid red curve is the 9 day moving average for the evening weighing while the solid blue is the 9-day moving average from the morning weighing. The light red and light blue curves are the actual raw data which, as can be seen, jags up and down like crazy.



Basic Weight Engineering

Here is the engineering (or physics) part. Matter is neither created nor destroyed. To lose 1 pound of weight you will need to burn 3500 more calories than you eat. There are no magic pills, no special diets, no special exercises, or anything else that changes this basic fact. If you lose weight you have burned more calories than you ate.

So for example, a man of my current (August 2008) height, weight, age, and activity level, burns about 2341 calories a day (not including any of the extra calories from direct exercise). If I eat only 1341 calories a day (1000 calories less than I would normally burn) then I can lose 1 pound in just over 3 days (3500 calories per pound / 1000 calories per day = 3.5 days per pound ) Caution: restricting your calories too much for too long can cause your body to get into a mode where it stops burning as many calories (conservation mode or even starvation mode). So, two days a week I ate larger meals to try to keep this from happening. However I still tried to keep the amount I ate at or below my daily calorie burn.

Your daily base calorie burn is a bigger factor than the calories you will burn directly during exercise but if you add daily exercise (in addition to burning calories itself) it helps to increase your overall daily calorie burn even when you are not exercising. This fact shows up in the Harris Benedict Formula below.

The basic way to determine how many calories you would normally burn (without the additional calories from direct exercise) is to use the Basil Metabolism Rate (BMR) formula in combination with the Harris Benedict Formula

BMR Formula (English Units)

  • Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )
  • Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in year )

Now take the BMR and apply the Harris Benedict Formula.

Harris Benedict Formula

To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:

  • 1. If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
  • 2. If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
  • 3. If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
  • 4. If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
  • 5. If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9

What do these formulas basically mean? When you are bigger and younger you burn more calories per day. Also, everything else being equal, men burn more calories per day than women (sorry ladies).

Bigger? Does this mean if I am heavier that I burn more calories? Yes, and this also means that as you lose weight you burn less calories. I believe that this is the reason most people have trouble keeping the weight off once they have lost it. If you want to keep the weight off you can never go back to eating like you did before you started losing weight! If you aren’t ready to make that change of mind before you start losing weight, your aren’t ready to start losing weight! You must be willing to change your mind about the way you eat.

Also, every year older you get, you burn fewer calories. So the sooner you start the easier it will be.

Other advice:

Here is some other general advice. I don’t know where I got all of this; some of it I may of made up. I suspect a lot of it I got from talking to other people about what worked for them and then forgot where I got it.

  • Remember: not every meal is a feast. Historically and traditionally meals were very simple except for special occasions. Because of our blessed abundance here in this country, I think we have become accustomed to the idea that every meal needs to be a big meal. Change your thinking and save those big meals for special occasions.

  • Try to start the first day by going 24 hours without eating anything. A noon lunch to noon lunch worked well for me. When you break your fast, eat as little as possible the first meal. Then keep on eating as little as possible.

  • I didn’t even start trying to count calories seriously until I started making progress. Actually I did have a target number of calories in mind. My doctor said 1500 and I shot for 1000. I got a rough idea from some calorie tables so that I would know I wasn't cheating but mostly I just found out how little I could eat and still keep going. However, don't over do this. If your body goes into starvation mode you won't be burning as many calories as the formulas say you should. Let up a little every few days. My best weight loss rate averaged between one-third and one-half pound per day. Any more than that and your are pushing too hard.

  • Don’t use “Will Power” use “Won’t Power”. Tell yourself I know I could eat more if I wanted but “I won’t”.

  • Let procrastination be your friend. Say to yourself “I can always eat more later if I need to”. Often I found out that I didn’t need to. If later you find you really need to eat something (especially if between meals) just eat a little something and say -- I can always have a little more again later. I know one guy who lost a lot of weight by eating a lot more than three times a day. He just ate a whole lot less calories total those several times. For snacks he ate low calorie foods - like carrots etc.) I prefered to skip meals to the point of sometime only really eating once a day with maybe some sort of little snacks at some other times.

  • Ask yourself: "Am I really hungry, or do I just want to eat?" There is a big difference between actually being hungry and just wanting to eat. Know the difference and it will help your lose.

  • After getting into it for a few days I found that it kind of takes on a challenge and discipline of its own. I really didn't want my routine of minimalist eating disturbed. It was sort of a competition of me against me. Of course I am an adult male and I have been told that women are wired differently so I really don't know how well all this kind of thing (competition) will work for them.

  • I didn’t actually add extra exercise to my routine until I had almost reached my target weight. I am not recommending that for everyone. Part of my reason for not adding exercise was that winter was setting in and my bike riding was curtailed. However, I think, given my success, that adding exercise may be too much for a person if you are trying to start controlling your eating. May be you shouldn't try to get started doing two difficult things at one time. Getting your eating under control is more important. Add more exercise later.

  • As I mentioned above, if you record your weight daily you will see lots of fluctuations. Don’t let daily variations determine your progress. It may take 9 days to two weeks to see definite changes. Use a moving average if you know how. This involves taking the average of the last several days. I used a computer spreadsheet to do this. I used 9 days as the averaging time. The value of 9 days was determined by trial and error. A larger number of days smoothed things too much and less day smoothed things out too little. I think the number of days to average needs to be longer than a week (i.e. 7 days) because everyone gets into a weekly pattern that is likely to show up if averaging for 7 days or less.

  • Water is your friend. Drink lots of water before deciding what or how much to eat. Drink a lot of water between meals.

  • Find a low calorie food that you like with a lot of ‘chew’ time. I liked apples and grapes (eaten one at a time).

  • My advice: drop all beverages that contain any kind of sugar. I don’t just mean Soda Pop; I had to drop fruit juices as well. They just contain too many calories for the amount you get. If you look at the calorie tables and understand what you are looking at you may scream. You drink them and it is just over too fast. Instead, get an apple or an orange or whatever and get the chewing satisfaction and some definite eating time out of it.

  • This one can be really hard: Eat slowly and concentrate on eating. While you are eating, focus your total mental attention on what you are eating and chewing as you are doing it. Do not watch TV or read a book or (if possible) have a conversation. You want to know that you actually ate something so that you can remind yourself later. I think most people eat rather absent mindedly. I found holding my attention totally on what I was eating rather difficult. My mind always wanted to wander. Don’t eat it all at once. Pause frequently.

  • Don’t let up when you get close to your target weight. Keep going as though you haven’t reached it until your average weight is several pounds under your target. At that point you can gradually increase your eating to the point where you can manage to keep the weight at your target. This is where the calorie tables (see links on the internet below) come in handy. I didn’t use the tables much until I started getting close to my target weight. I started then so that I could learn to intuit how many calories various foods would have. I really only started counting calories seriously when it was time to try to hold my weight steady. Up till then I just had a rough idea.

  • The struggle will be not to let your eating get out of control once the target weight is achieved. Remember: you can never go back to eating like you did before you started to lose weight! If you do, you will gain it all back (and more than likely you will gain some more besides). Let all the hard work you put into losing the weight be motivation for never letting it happen.

  • If you are a Christian then pray. There is nothing in the above that won’t work for a non-Christian and they can lose weight using these principles. Prayer is no “magic” but for Christians there is help from the one who created the body and soul. Ask and you will receive. Seek the mind of Christ and he will transform you through the renewing of your mind. You might find that you will grow spiritually in other ways by learning to discipline your physical appetites.

Caution: Take any information in any internet links you may find from the following with some skepticism. There are no magic pills, exercise plans or diets that work any way other than you have to eat less calories than you burn!

Determine Your Ideal Weight

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Last updated: 11 August 2008