Then and Now

In working on analyzing what I’ve been doing the last year or so, I went back and looked at a lot of the data that I’ve collected.  One thing I looked at was my Weight spreadsheet.  I created this spreadsheet way back in the 90s!  When I started it, I got out all my old saved Weight Watchers books (yes, I saved them) and my old, old graph I had done of my original weight loss when I joined Weight Watchers.

I had done that graph by hand in my Filofax way back when, adding to it each week from when I first joined Weight Watchers in 1988 to mid-1990 when I got to goal.  You can see the abrupt end to it.  Right after that last weigh-in when I was .2 pounds above my goal weight, I went out of town for a work trip and ate out 3 times a day for 2 weeks and came back more than 2 pages above goal weight.  I wasn’t over by that much (maybe 4 or 5 pounds) but I didn’t want to go back and pay.  I didn’t go back for year.

When I did go back I mostly saved my books from weigh in.  In the 90s, I took all that data and put it in a spreadsheet and added in any other paper I found that had weights on it (like from the doctor’s office).  Then, I would periodically weigh at home and started tracking in the spreadsheet.  I have posted about that weight loss history before.

So, I looked at this spreadsheet the other day when I was looking at my data.  A couple of things weren’t really relevant to the post I was doing then, but were still interesting to me.

Weight Loss Rate

One thing is how clear it is to me how much harder it is for me to lose weight now than it was almost 30 years ago.  I went back to Weight Watchers the final time in October, 2013 when I weighed 193.4 (high recorded weight had been 207.4).  It took me 21 months to get to my goal.  So that was a loss of about half a pound a week on average.  I often said during this time that I was slow loser and, in my mind, I was thinking that I always had been.  After all, I originally joined Weight Watchers in February, 1988 weighing 167 pounds.  I got to my goal of 125 on May 9, 1990.  So, it took me over 2 years to lose 42 pounds, working out to about .35 pounds per week.  In my memory, I thought of myself as having always been a slow loser.

But, when I looked at the data the other day I realized that really wasn’t true back then.  When I first joined Weight Watchers I lost 24 pounds in 4 months averaging 1.33 pounds a week.  The problem was that I then became inconsistent about going and bounced up and down for the next 5 months and regained about 10 pounds of what I had lost.  I went back weighing 152 pounds and lost 10 pounds in 3 weeks!  I got down to 137 and then started bouncing around again.  I got back to almost 155 and then went back and lost 25 pounds in about 4 months, averaging 1.3 pounds a week.

If I take out the times that I regained and quit going to meetings for a while (you can see those jagged lines in my graphs above), I actually lost well over a pound most weeks.  And, there were times I consistently lost more than that.

That didn’t happen in this weight loss time from October 2013 until I got back to goal.  The biggest gain I had was 1 pound (right after Thanksgiving).  And, I didn’t have any large periods when I quit going. So, why do I lose so much more slowly now than then?  There are 3 possible culprits:

Age and metabolism – I am older than I was then.  As you age, you lose muscle mass which means you burn fewer calories.  Most calculators to determine metabolic rate ask your age.  They use age basically as a proxy to determine your body fat.  The Katch McArdle metabolic rate calculator uses your body fat as part of the formula so doesn’t ask for your age.  Basically it will give the same results for a 30 year old and a 60 year old if they have the same weight and body fat.  This is one reason that strength training as you age is important.  You want to try to strength train to preserve as much muscle mass as you can.  But, I didn’t do that for many years so I lost muscle mass over the years.  And, I am skinny fat now with a high body fat.

But, back then while I wasn’t muscular I think I was probably fairly normal in terms of body fat for my weight so I burned more calories.  That said, I don’t think this explains the entire reason I lost more rapidly then.  Even if I assume a better body fat percentage than I think I had back then, that doesn’t explain all of my higher weight loss rate back then.  I do think it is probably the biggest part of the reason, but can’t be sure since I don’t know my body fat back then.

Food – Maybe I was eating a lot less calories back then than I did when I was losing weight this time around.  But, I don’t think so.  I averaged between about 1170 and 1200 calories a day while I was losing weight this time.  I didn’t track calories back then but I don’t think it was less.  Weight Watchers used an exchange program then and you had minimum amounts of certain exchanges to eat and I always ate them.  I think it would have been at least 1200 calories a day.

Activity – However, I was more active back then.  I think this is a factor.  In my mind, I think of myself as always being sedentary since I had a desk job and most of my hobbies (reading, computer) were sedentary.  But, looking back, I am definitely more sedentary now than I was then.  Now, I live in a 1 story house.  I work from home.  I spend most of the day at a desk.  To even get to 5000 steps in a day I have to set an alarm and literally walk from one end of the house every 30 minutes and keep count of steps to make sure I get enough of them. I do this even if I don’t “need” to do anything in particular.  I am walking just for the steps.  When I was losing weight this time around I did exercise.  I walked on the treadmill or in the neighborhood and for a lot of the time went to the Y for strength training.

Even so, I was more active back when I first got back to goal.  I had a desk job then, but I worked in an office so there was walking from the car to the office.  I went to the offices of other people.  I often left my office and went to meetings.  I was single then so had to run all my own errands.  And I exercised more.  Then, I didn’t have the knee problems I have now.  I worked my way up to exercising to fairly intense exercise videos, usually for an hour a day.  So, yes, I was more active then than I am now.

I would like to be as active now as I was then.  Some of it I can’t do much about.  I have a 1 story house (had a 2 story townhouse back then).  I work from home.  I don’t need to run as many errands.  So, I don’t have as much natural daily activity as I did then.  As for exercising more, it is hard to say.  Early in this blog’s history I really cranked up on exercise.  It was great. And, I was burning more calories.  But, then I had a trabecular bone injury and had to stop walking at all for months.  And, my knee started hurting when for a time I really increased exercise.  So, I would like to exercise more but I’m not sure the body will cooperate.  (Well, I can exercise much more than I’ve been doing the last 6 months I just don’t think I can go back to what I could do 27 years ago).

Measurements

Way back when I got to goal the first time, I measured myself fairly often.  And, during the years thereafter I occasionally took measurements which I put in the spreadsheet. When I started losing weight in late 2013, I periodically took measurements.  I didn’t do it often because, frankly, it was difficult.  Post-pregnancy even before I lost a lot of weight I had a lot of loose skin and as I lost weight it just got worse.  Eventually I had a panniculus which was the loose skin and fat hanging down from my abdomen:


 

This made measuring difficult.  I never quite knew where to measure for the hips.  Instructions always said to measure the widest part.  Was that the fullest part of the buttocks (as some instructions said) or the area of greatest protrusion shown above.  Those weren’t the same.  Or should I measure underneath the panniculus?  But, nonetheless, I did measure periodically.

One thing I found out was that my waist and hips were bigger this time around at similar weights than they were back the original time. For example, back in 1988 when I weighed 169 pounds my waist was 33 1/4″.  But, in 1997 (post-pregnancy) at 164 my waist was 35 1/4″.  And then, in 2014, at 162.2 pounds, my waist was up to 36 3/8″.  Of course, those numbers are consistent with my having had a child and my having a higher body fat as I got older.

The last recorded measurements that I have in my spreadsheet were from September, 2015 when I was 147 pounds.  I quit measuring after that as I was at goal and I also knew I would be having the tummy tuck and felt I would wait to measure after that.

Anyway, back in September, 2015 weighing 147 pounds at home my waist was 36 1/2″ at the narrowest point and 39″ at the belly button.  My hips measured with the panniculus were 42 1/8″ and were 40″ measured under the panniculus.  I have a few measures from the 80s around that weight.  The waist measurements range from 31 to 31 1’2″ and the hips from 38 5/8′ to 39″.  As you can see, 27 years later at the same weight of 147 my waist was 5 to 5 1’2″ bigger and my hips were a little over 3″ bigger (due to the panniculus).

What was interesting to me was to measure myself since surgery and see the difference.  I actually hadn’t made the comparison until just the other day.  I had measured since surgery but had forgotten I had the September 2015 measurement so hadn’t compared them.  At similar weight, post-surgery my waist at the narrowest point is 32″.  This is 4 1/2″ smaller than before I had surgery.  My belly button measurement is now 35″ which is 4″ smaller than before surgery.  And my hips are now 40″ which is what I was before surgery if I measured under the panniculus.  I hadn’t actually realized how dramatic the change was in inches before and after:

The above photo is shortly after my liposuction so I still have quite a bit of upper abdominal swelling but you can get an idea of how the waist and hips have changed.

And, one good thing is that I can see that post-surgery my measurements are much closer to what they were at the same weight in 1988.  The waist is only 1/2″ to 1″ larger and the hips about 1″ larger.  I do know I have more body fat now that I had then.  I can see it on other parts of my body like my thighs, but those differences are relatively small.

This is Why I Like Data

This is why I like and keep all this data.  I like and find valuable being able to go back and see what my waist was pre-surgery and compare it to where I was back in 1988.  It enables me to see progress over time and helps me to analyze the data so I can try to figure out problems and find solutions.  I need to actually start taking my measurements again regularly once the swelling is gone from the tummy.  I still have wild fluctuations in my waist  post-liposuction.  It can go from 32″ to 34 1/2″ from morning to evening.  Very frustrating.  But, measuring it does help me to see that the big number is temporary since it is down 2″ or more the next morning.

Ideal Weight Versus Goal Weight

I was just thinking this morning about the intersection (or not) between ideal weight and goal weight.  And, to be honest, now that I am at a normal BMI, I am struggling with losing weight to get to a more ideal weight where my body fat percentage would be lower. I do think that having a goal weight — whether on Weight Watchers or simply losing to a personal goal — has a benefit.  It gives me something to shoot for.  While I was trying to get to my official goal weight of 126 pounds, I constantly set smaller goals along the way.  In Fitbit, I would set a 5 or 10 pound goal, then meet it and go on.  But, then I got to my goal weight of 146 pounds.

For a number of years now, Weight Watchers has set the official healthy weight range based upon BMI.  146 pounds at 5’4″ is at the top of the BMI “normal” weight range. As a lifetime member, meeting that number means I can attend meetings for free and get free eTools.  There is a tiny bit of wiggle room.  That is, if I am not more than 2 pounds above goal weight, I maintain my free status.

I remember last summer when I got to 146 pounds, I felt this huge feeling of relief.  I was normal weight.  I had left obese the year before, and it feel truly strange to be leaving the category of overweight.  I had been overweight for about 25 years.  Wrapping my head around the idea of being normal took time.  And, even though I know I still have too much body fat, I know that I have accomplished a lot to get where I am.  And, my body fat now is better than it was before.  Getting to a normal BMI was an achievement for me.

At the same time, I realize that the concept of picking a goal weight based upon BMI is, at best, flawed.  By this time, I am sure most of us have heard about BMI’s disadvantages.  And, at best, there are limitations to using BMI in part because it doesn’t measure body fat directly.  The weight lifter or athlete with high amounts of muscle, but low body fat may measure as overweight on BMI without having actual excess fat. Now, that is not the same thing as saying BMI is meaningless.  The reality is that most of us who are overweight by BMI are also over fat.  We aren’t athletes with a lot of muscle and low body fat.  And, if you are, then you know that.  When I was obese and overweight it was because I had too much body fat.

And, then, suddenly (well, after 25 years) I was at a normal BMI and I was at my Weight Watchers goal.  And, all was kittens and puppies and rainbows.  And, yet, having gotten to that goal weight it feels at times like it is its own kind of tyranny.  And, it seems to get in the way of me mentally working on getting to my ideal weight. There are really a couple of issues. [Read more…]

Glass Half Full…or Half Empty?

Sometimes, it can be difficult to decide if that glass is half full or half empty.  I sort of feel like that right now.  On the one hand, I did this to my iPhone screen:

iphone cracked screen

On the other hand, it cost $129 (plus tax) to repair when it cost over $200 a couple of years ago when I had a cracked screen on my prior phone.  And, this was spectacular enough damage that the employees in the Apple store asked me how I did it.  Had I dropped something heavy on it?  No. I dropped it putting it into a pocket.  It fell straight down and didn’t even land on the glass.  Go figure.

So what does that have to do with glasses and how full they are?  And, what does that have to do with weight loss and maintenance?  On the one hand, I reached my Weight Watchers goal weight on July 31.  Since then I haven’t had to pay for a meeting.  I am currently not more than 2 pounds over my goal weight, so I don’t have to pay for meetings and I get free eTools.  At the November weigh in, I weighed 147 pounds. [Read more…]

Body Fat Plan

It is funny how sitting in a strange looking contraption can concentrate the mind and help to give direction.

Bod Pod

And so it was after I had my body fat tested in the Bod Pod and had my resting metabolic rate tested.

To recap, I found that despite having reached a normal BMI, my body fat was 45.3% and my resting metabolic rate was a low 1120 calories a day (over 100 calories a day less than Fitbit estimated).

What was apparent from this is that I have an extreme case of Skinny Fat.  There was a recent graph in the New York Times that plotted body fat percentage against Body Mass Index (BMI).  If you haven’t seen it go, take a lot at it.  You can see that 15% of women have a normal or underweight BMI, but have more than 35% body fat.  I already knew I was in that group.  But look carefully, at the line that shows 45% body fat.  And, then look at the line for 25 BMI.  You can see that having that high a body fat percentage with BMI that low is really, really super rare.  And…that is me.

So, I need to do something about that.  I had posted awhile ago, that once I got to a normal BMI I wanted to work on body composition.  At that time, I wanted to get to under 35% body fat with an advanced goal of under 30%.  Of course, at the time I thought I was probably at no more than 40% body fat, even allowing for my scale body fat percentage to be wrong.  But, it seems things are much worse than I thought.

I currently have about 81 pounds of Lean Body Mass (basically everything that isn’t fat).  While I know my scale doesn’t give an accurate body fat percentage in terms of an absolute number, I do think that the direction it shows me going over a period of time is probably accurate.  If so, then I did reduce my body fat percentage while I was losing weight.  I would guess I probably started at well over 50%.  Based upon the measurements I did guess, I think that while losing weight about 70% of what I lost was fat (good) and about 30% of what I lost was muscle (not good).

The key thing now is that I can’t afford to lose any more muscle.  If I simply keep the muscle that I have, I would need to lose all the way down to 124 pounds to get to just under 35% body fat!  That would be if I lost only fat.  To get to below 30% body fat, I would need to get to 115 pounds.  None of that really enthuses me.  For one thing, my calorie burn would be so low at those weights that I would find it very hard to sustain them.  Furthermore, to be at those weights without building muscle I would look really skinny and have no muscle definition.

I could try to build muscle now.  Theoretically I could eat at a calorie surplus and really work on the strength training and try to gain muscle.  That would also improve my body fat percentage.  Still, I know I have excess fat and I need to lose fat.  If I try to gain muscle, there is no way I will gain only muscle.  I put on fat easily (obviously) and some part of that would be fat. So I would go above a normal BMI and would still be over fat.

Of course, what I really want to do is add muscle while losing fat.  That is, however, very difficult to do.  It is, however, easier to do for weight lifting beginners.  So, I might be able to gain some muscle while mostly losing fat over the next few months.

Saturday I had a training session with my personal trainer and I told him that I really want to work hard to gain muscle.  We had been doing a circuit training session where I would do one set of each exercise then repeat the circuit twice.  This had the virtue of not needing much down time so I could do 3 sets of 12 reps on quite a few exercises.  And, I kept my heart rate up during the entire time which increased my calorie burn.  On the other hand, that isn’t quite as effective for building muscle.  So, we are going to switch to doing 3 sets of reps all in a row.  To do this I will have to rest between sets, so we are upping the weights and lowering the number of reps.  I am hoping that by doing this I will — at a minimum — preserve muscle mass and won’t lose any more.  And, maybe there is a possibility for some muscle growth.

Also, I am going to increase my protein intake.  I’ve been averaging about 70 grams a day.  I’ve often seen a recommendation of 1 gram per pound of body weight.  But, reading some stuff written by Tom Venuto (I can’t link to it as it a members only site), he suggested that if you have excess fat you might want to base protein goals on your lean body mass instead.  That is, I may not need to eat extra protein to sustain my body fat.  So, I’ve decided to aim for a minimum of 100 grams of protein a day.

I am also thinking about how many calories to eat.  I’ve analyzed my RMR test results (1120 calories a day) and applied a discount factor to my old Fitbit calorie burn numbers (adjusting them down since Fitbit had my RMR over 100 calories a day too high).  From that, I’ve estimated that during a week where I exercise 5 or 6 days I average about 1500 calories burned a day.  So, this sort of explains why it was so hard for me to lose weight at 1200 calories a day.  That was only a deficit of 300 calories a day!

I know that to lose body fat I have to have a calorie deficit.  But, I don’t want to have such a calorie deficit each day that I end up losing muscle.  I’m thinking about possibly eating at a maintenance level a couple of days a week.  Maybe even a tiny surplus. I’m going to experiment for awhile and see.

So, I feel sort of energized by having a clear goal now.  Don’t lose any muscle.  Lose fat.  Add muscle.  Improve my body fat percentage.  Doing this will probably result in weight loss, but that actually doesn’t matter.  I want to get to 35% body fat (as a first goal).  Right now, that looks like 124 pounds.  But, if I can gain some muscle then I can earn the right to weigh more than that.  So, we’ll see.

At this point, I think I will go back in about 2 to 3 months and do the Bod Pod again.  I will want to see if I have made made any progress.

Skinny Fat!

I think I can officially now say that I’m definitely skinny fat.  And, Shannon, at least part of it was definitely worse than I expected!

Friday was the day that I was having Resting Metabolic Testing (RMR) and Body Fat testing using the Bod Pod.

Resting Metabolic Rate Testing

RMR tells you what calories you burn just existing, without doing anything.  The linked article says that there are two ways to calculate RMR.  One way is to use various formulas based upon things like height and weight while some include body fat.  The other way is to use indirect calorimetry which uses your expired gases to calculate the fuel being used and then to convert that information to calculate the number of calories burned.  That was the type of test I had.

I had a long list of instructions.  I couldn’t eat or drink anything other than water for at least 4 hours before the test.  I couldn’t exercise at least 4 hours before the test.  There was a restriction on taking anything with pseudoephedrine or caffeine for at least 4 hours before the test.  I also found a web site which said it was best to not exercise for 12 to 24 hours before the test, so I skipped my Thursday exercise.

When I went in to have the test, I was given something to clip on my nose so I could only breathe through my mouth, then I had to breathe naturally into the device:

RMR Test

This was sort of a weird feeling.  I was given napkins, because the person administering the test told me that toward the end I would actually drool (yuck!).  I sat there quietly just breathing and it actually was over more quickly than I expected.  The result was:  1120 calories RMR.

To put in perspective, the Mifflin-St Jeor formula used by Fitbit gives me an RMR of 1224.  So, not even counting any other activity during the day, Fitbit is already overestimating the calories I burn by at least 104 calories a day.  The guy administering the test did stress to me that lots of things can affect RMR, so what Fitbit gives is not exact and is an estimate.  For example, the things I couldn’t do for 4 hours before the test (eat, exercise, take caffeine and so on) are all things that can increase metabolic rate.

I’ve often posted here that my actual weight loss has generally been less than what I might expect from my Fitbit calorie deficit.  Some of that, I’m sure, is because the food calories eaten are not exact — I doubt restaurants carefully measure ingredients to match calorie counts on a website and while I weigh my food most of the time, I know I’m not perfect either.

Still, I had the feeling that my RMR was just not the 1224 Fitbit predicts.  And, it isn’t.  What that means is that my RMR is about 91.5% of what Fitbit says.  So, what I want to do is lower the calorie burn Fitbit gives me by 8.5% to get something that might be more accurate.  I know it won’t be exact, but I am hoping that would be more accurate. The other day Fitbit said I burned 1692 calories and I had a deficit of 284 calories for the day.  If I adjust that down by 8.5%, I get a burn of 1548 calories which reduces my calorie deficit to 108 calories. And, the difference adds up.  Last month Fitbit said I burned an average of 1449 calories a day (yes, I know that was low).  But, reducing it 8.5%, I get an average calorie burn of 1326 calories.  So, my deficit of 166 calories a day suddenly becomes 43 calories a day.

The problem is that Fitbit, though, won’t let you set a custom RMR.  You have to use their formula.  But, there is a work around to trick Fitbit into changing your RMR which I got from the linked article.  Basically I changed my age and height on Fitbit until the formula gave me an RMR of 1121 (the closest I could manage to 1120).  Basically Fitbit now thinks I am several years older and 4 inches shorter, but my RMR is now correct and I should get a more accurate, albeit it more depressing, calorie burn number.

It is sort of sad to realize that on a day when I thought I was burning about 1700 calories, I was really only burning 1550 calories.  But, that is the reality and I need to know that so that I have a better idea of what I need to do to either lose weight or maintain weight loss.

Oh – I paid $75 for the RMR testing which seems fair given the time it took to do it.

Body Fat Testing – Bod Pod

Once the RMR testing was over, I headed over to have my body fat tested using the Bod Pod.  That is kind of a cutesy name, but it is actually pretty accurate.  Herewith the Bod Pod:

Bod Pod

This is actually a pretty simple test.  You just sit in the Bod Pod for about 45 seconds and that’s it.  First, though, I had to change clothes.  The instructions are to either wear a swimsuit or a sports bra and tight shorts.  I ended up wearing a sports bra and swimsuit bottoms.  I didn’t wear the entire swimsuit as a website I read said to wear a tight Spandex suit or a sports bra and compression shorts. I didn’t have a tight suit. The link isn’t to where I went but it had more detailed instructions that I got.  I didn’t think about it at the time, but I hope what I wore was tight enough.  The sports bra was fine, but the swimsuit bottoms were kind of lose.  I bought them as part of a swimsuit with a loose top (which is why I didn’t use it) and regular two piece bottoms.  However, I bought them 50 pounds or so ago so they were kind of loose.  I wish I had thought to ask, but if they weren’t OK I guess the person testing me would have said something.

Anyway, I also had to wear a swim cap and then I just sat in the Bod Pod.  It was a little cold inside, but not too bad.  He ran it for about 45 seconds, opened the door, then ran it a second time and we were done. The Bod Pod testing cost $50.  There are some mobile Bod Pods that I think are a little cheaper, but this was easier than trying to chase down one of them.

OK, I’ve put it off long enough.  I measured on my home scale before leaving and it said my body fat percentage was 38%.  That is fairly typical over the last month or so.  The highest was 39.25%.  Of course, I knew that body fat scales are notoriously inaccurate.  I didn’t expect mine to be off in my favor and was sort of expecting a result around 40%.  Well, that turned out to be wildly optimistic.

The result was…. 45.3% body fat.  That was fairly depressing.  On the analysis I received, anything over 40% was considered risky and from 30.1% to 40% was excess fat.  For me, my first goal has been to get to 35%, as some consider that to be the critical number of older women.  Getting to 30% seems a long way away.

The really difficult part is realizing that if I kept my lean body mass exactly the same — didn’t lose or gain — I would need to lose fat all the way down to about 124 pounds to get to 35% body fat.  That is not a pretty thought.  I have done it before, but it was really difficult and I didn’t sustain it.

I was actually going to talk in this post about what I plan to do and how this affects my goals.  But, that is going to be long enough I’ll save it until later.

Oh, one thing was interesting.  The Bod Pod analysis gave me an estimated RMR of 1069 calories which was based upon the information from the Bod Pod.  The good news is that the tester said that my RMR result of 1120 was more accurate as it was actually measured while the Bod Pod was an estimate.  So, from that standpoint, at least something went good. I’m glad I sprang for the RMR testing.  One place I called just offered the RMR from the Bod Pod and I can see that kind of estimate is not as accurate as actually doing the breathing test.

While I’m not happy about the body fat number, I realize that it is what it is and not knowing doesn’t change that.  I might like thinking it was 38%, but that isn’t accurate and it is better to know real numbers than fake numbers.  I still think the body fat percentage my scale gives me is of some value as I’ve seen it come down a lot while losing weight.  So, I think the relative improvement has been shown to me, but this probably means I started out with a much higher body percentage than I realized.

More later about where I go from here.