Setting & Achieving Goals: My Weightloss Journey

This is intended to address any journey that’s tough and you’ve been resisting even though you know it’s better for you than where you are. For me it’s been my weight. For years…

My nickname in college was “doughboy” (Thanks Mike) and justifiably. I wasn’t really heavy, but for a really active guy I wasn’t “lean” either. As my career progressed I gained and lost weight  but seemed to always be ~200ish lbs when I should have been 175. I peaked at 218 in MBA and 215 at 3M. I’d comfort myself by saying my BMI was below “obese” and rationalize the indexes as “too simplistic”. We’re all good rationalizers.

I teach business students to use data, confront reality and drive results. I also coach the importance of having a plan and measuring activity. It was time to look in the mirror and be honest with myself.

The Impact

Over the last year or so I have managed to lose 20+ lbs and stay at 180 consistently. I had struggled for years to develop either the discipline or the program to do it. Then last May I just decided to do it. My life and schedule were under enough control that I could commit to more exercise and felt I would be able to modify eating habits enough to actually follow through on what had been a regular and unfulfilled annual goal.

In an annual physical a few years ago I was 200 lbs, blood pressure was ~145/85, cholesterol 260 at age 41. This past Spring my picture was a little better: 180 lbs, 119/60, 195 at age 43. I didn’t do anything other than get myself under control.

The Journey

I have a tendency to stew/mull things for a while and then appear to flip a switch and get going. Last May the switch went off for me and I decided on a very sophisticated plan…Do more, eat less (and better).

But I’d know I needed to do this for years, so what “clicked” this time? Well, a few things:

1 – I found a calorie tracking and visualization method that worked for me and supported an integrated view of me.

Measurement and transparency are important in driving any result. But for me the tracking required for “eating diaries” had always seemed onerous. Until I had Lose it! (an iPhone app) recommended to me. It’s easy, has a reasonable db of brand name and restaurant meals already created while also allowing bar code scanning and storing past meals for easy reference.

It also allows adding your exercise to create a holistic view of you as an “energy system”. I think it’s important to create a systems level view of any result you are trying to drive. Well, your body is a system. And the simple reality is that a calorie is a calorie, whether it’s an input (food) or an output (activity).

The harsh reality that emerged was the quantification of my eating habits. Good lord. The crappy little bag of chips at Jimmy John’s is 300 calories. I only get 1900 per day. I now have virtual calorie bubbles floating over everything I see. So the measurement creates a certain self-discipline from both A) actually knowing the caloric values of most things and B) knowing how bad I’ll feel entering stupid calories.

So now I had one place to (relatively) easily record everything, visualize it and keep myself honest.

2 – I significantly upped my caloric output and exercise levels.

Simply put, I started exercising more frequently and for longer duration/intensity.

I had been tracking my exercise for years, so I knew what my old baseline was. Let’s call it an average of 15 workouts a month in summer (I have a great summer schedule so it was easier) and an average of 8 times per month during school. There were also clear “fade” patterns as the semester progressed. You could almost see me powering down as the semester progressed. My typical workout was 30 min on the elliptical runner in my basement.

All in all, this wasn’t really terrible. I actually did something and was relatively regular in doing it. But it wasn’t enough.

I set a new expectation for myself. From January-June this year I averaged 19 workout a month and most were for more than 30 min.

I’m building up my biking distance, bought and added in a rowing machine and view 45 min as a standard elliptical workout now.

I am fortunate to have had a job with certain schedule. But even on bad weeks, have made the commitment to get up early to make it happen. One motivator is that with an integrated app like Loseit, I can see what my exercise is “earning me” in additional calories for the day.

3 – I had to change my “food personality”

I grew up in a house where food ruled. It was a central part of our life. Both my parents liked cooking and eating more than we needed. My Mom’s family in particularly is food obsessed. We can talk for a long time about the particulars of a meal at a restaurant, will drive out of our way to get pastry from the “right” shop and one of the first questions about a vacation is probably “where’d you eat?” I have many warm memories of restaurant meals with just my Mom when my Dad was travelling and we weren’t eating sushi or light salads. Pizza, veal parm, pasta and cheeseburgers were our poison.

When Michele and I started dating and early in our marriage she would go crazy with me. As she observed, “you don’t have to treat every meal like it may be your last supper.” So sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and dinner is just sustenance to keep you going.

Food was my comfort and reward for whatever I felt a need to be comforted from or rewarded for. Stress left me wanting more, guiltier pleasure food.

I still feel this way. But I’ve developed a discipline and habits that have helped change my view of food. Most days and in most situations I’m able to clamp down on my “lizard” brain’s desire to eat a whole pizza. On weekends or longer workout days I allow myself more splurging without beating myself up.

So What?

So what has this got to do with management and careers? A few important things I think.

Life Balance is a moving and challenging target. I am motivated by my work and have a tendency to let it dominate things in my life. It took real and concerted effort to get this under control. I think it will be an active struggle for the rest of my life.

You can’t manage it if you don’t measure it. Trite but true. I get on the scale EVERY morning (today 178.0) to see where I am. How do you improve anything if you don’t know how you’re performing. This is as true at home as it is at work.

Change is hard but possible. Significant changes like this require a long time, patience and discipline. I didn’t really think I could do this after 20+ yrs. As a reference, I ran marathons at 194 and 200 lbs. If marathon training wouldn’t get me there, then what would? It was as simple as REAL commitment.

Change often requires support. Michele came along on more or less the same journey and has gotten herself into much better shape as well, returning to her college varsity athlete weight. I’m really proud of her. Being in it together helps at so many levels. So have a “buddy”.

Change is a process, not an event. I have continued to modify my eating, exercise etc. throughout the process. According to the literature, it actually takes a year or so for your body to adjust to changes of this order. For the first 3-6 months, chemistry changes, but not necessarily permanently because your body hangs on thinking it’s in “starving” mode. So if you fall off your plan before then you can really backslide. I think organizations are this way too. They resist change like you body and need to be pressed for a long time to embed real and permanent change.

It’s not always obvious how bad the current state is. As I started losing weight, I got a lot of comments about looking great, “melting away” etc. Particularly from people who hadn’t seen me in awhile. It struck me at those times how chunky I must have been. But nobody tells you “Hey, you look really bad. I think you need to lose 25 lbs.” (Other than maybe your Mom or spouse and we tune them out.) So find ways to be honest with yourself.

It’s been a lot of work, but I can’t tell you how much better I feel. But it’s still work every day. I encourage you to figure out what your goals are and to start working towards them in a healthy productive way.



9 thoughts on “Setting & Achieving Goals: My Weightloss Journey

  1. Timely and really helpful! Thank you so much!

    What I find really helpful in this article is mentioning the use of an “easy-to-integrate-with-my-life” calorie counter, and the fact that it has become a linchpin in your diet and exercise.

    The next was the continued iteration that you must start with a good mindset, start small, and build week over week by addressing your goals and knowing what the reality is. But also, you told me your use of the elliptical machine, row machine, and bike. I find all three of these machines quite enjoyable and fun to exercise with. It gives me confidence to know that iterating from 20 minutes up to 45 minutes 5/week over the course of two years is a good and healthy strategy.

    A ready the book The Power of Habit. It was incredibly helpful in recognizing the iterative platform in rebuilding habits in how we eat an exercise (and help us see how consumer production firms revolutionize how they sell products by understanding human habits, beyond the point…)

    A few questions for you: 1) how would you adhere to your exercise and eating habits if you were on the road Monday through Thursday? Is it easy to use the app at restaurants?

    • Dustin – Great to hear from you.
      1 – I found exercising “easier” when I was travelling for consulting. You’re essentially a “work monk”. So carving out an hour 2x per week was actually easier for me. At home I wanted to be flopping on the couch or eating. On the road i didn’t really want to be hanging out in a hotel room. Both marathons I ran were while I was travelling for consulting. If you make it a priority, you can work it in. Plus you’re young and strong. You can run at 9PM as you probably aren’t old and tired like me, going to bed at 10PM.

      2 – For chain restaurants (Chili’s, McDonald’s) they have the menu in their db. For non-standard fare, I just search for proxies and live my GEMO philosophy. So fish tacos at one place are probably close to those from a named restaurant. And i have a super sophisticated food item called “random” that’s 110 calories and sometimes it’s pure guestimation!

  2. Phil,
    I always enjoy your articles. This was esp a good one for me as I always struggle with wanting to eat every meal as if it were my last. People like me hope the Mayan calendar is correct so we can literally eat like there is no tomorrow! (ha ha)

  3. A few thoughts…

    1) Glad your Michelle reads your blog… mine asked me what the url was again the other day!

    2) A few pieces of technology that had helped me in my similar journey – I had focused more on calorie burning than consumption. A) Withings Wi-fi scale – with weight fluctuating by +/- 2 lbs it can help highlight trends like summer weight vs winter weight, B) Fitbit – a great way to measure your movement throughout the day and when you should add an extra workout, C) Runkeeper – a great app/website that can track your all of your exercise by either your phone GPS or manual entry.

    3) One of your “so what” lessons sounds like it was from Prof. Hill… “You can’t manage it if you don’t measure it”

    4) If you are looking for a good read on the topic of the importance of exercise (for the body and the brain) check out Spark by John Ratey.

    Congrats on your hard work!

    • I’ll check out Spark. Hadn’t heard of it.

      The beauty for me of where I am is that the “deeper” integration like fitbit etc. is beyond what I’m prepared to do. I’m not as technology integrated as you. But Loseit balances “good enough that it’s meaningful” and “not so onerous that I never get going”. Part of any process like this is finding the system that works for you.

  4. Phil,

    This is the first time I have visited your blog. Congratulations on the weight loss! I know several people who have had trouble losing weight and keeping it off, but the majority of people I know with consistent long-term success tracked their calories using MyFitness Pal (smart phone app). Anyways, just thought I’d say congrats, and thanks for all the career-related informative information!

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