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getting fit like a nerd


Most of my adult life, since I took up my first full-time IT job in 1994 and sat behind a desk, I’ve watched my waistline grow and my health decline. I’ve tried a few things to fix this, but I think I’m on to something… that people have been saying for years. But like a good nerd, I’m using technology to help me manage my fitness.

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December 2015, weight around 315 pounds and my shirt buttons were straining to keep up.

Christmas of 2015, I was all of 43 years old. But I felt down into my bones like I was nearing the last years of my life. It hurt to stand. It hurt more to walk. The unnatural strength that I enjoyed in my 20’s and 30’s had left me, with all of that inexplicable muscle mass being replaced with body fat. I’d run out of breath standing up, or trying to hold a conversation.

The breathing problems probably had a lot to do with an occasional vice turning into a terrible habit: tobacco. I never did have a taste for cigarettes, but I could often be seen with a pipe of fine tobacco, a cigar, or even a hookah. I had a hookah on my desk at home that was often up and running. I had a hookah in my car in case I ran into some friends who wanted to smoke some hookah and play Cards Against Humanity. So on top of being over 300 pounds, which made breathing difficult enough, I’d been spending a couple of years filling my lungs with crap.

I remember during this time I had to run (more like lumber) about 50 meters one cool Winter evening. My heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest, I felt light-headed, and really wondered if this was going to be “the big one” that Fred Sanford always warned about.

This entry isn’t about smoking, but it’s important to point out that before I did anything else, I really had to quit smoking and get my heart and breathing back from the brink.

I quit smoking. I vaped for awhile to stop tobacco, and then quickly worked to eliminate the vape, too.

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No more crappy food. I had to get really comfortable with salad.

My food intake started skewing toward healthier meals, smaller portions, and less snacking. I drink either coffee or water. Having the occasional Diet Coke is still one of my guilty vices, but that needs to go, too.

For months, I was getting what seemed to be a cardiovascular workout from nothing more than stretching exercises. So I did that every day until it no longer resulted in elevated heart rates and heavy breathing.

So I started walking. I used the Apple Health app built into my iPhone to see how far I’d walked and encourage myself to walk a little more. This wasn’t much at first, but it got me up and moving.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I am autistic. Part how how this impacts my fitness regimen is that I kind of need some structure around what I do. It also means that going to a gym is too cognitively overstimulating and I know from past experience that I will avoid such environments. My solution had to happen without a gym membership. So when my tax refund came in, I picked up a Bowflex Max M3 and installed it in my home office.

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The Bowflex Max M3 totally kicked my ass at first. But I kept at it, and now it’s a vital part of my fitness regimen.

At first, I could do about two minutes on the Bowflex Max before I felt terrible, my legs burned, and my knee was sore. But every other day, I kept getting back on. The “Fat Burner” program is 15 minutes in duration and changes in difficulty as you go (especially 4 of the final 5 minutes). I’m now doing that regularly, and regulating my relative effort against my heart rate.

A note about the Bowflex Max: the exercise hardware is fantastic, but the digital tech attached to it is missing an opportunity for greatness. I almost want a job with Nautilus to reboot this effort, but I’m good where I’m at. I started out using their phone app, but now I just use the Exercise app on my Apple Watch which has been much more useful. The on-machine digital technology is also pretty poor. Nautilus has a lot of opportunity here to make this better.

The weight really started coming off, especially toward late August when all of my little changes started coming together and working toward my benefit.

But my routine was suffering a little lack of consistency because I hadn’t yet found the right combination of technology to help keep things organized. I’m still figuring it out, but I’ll run down a quick bullet list of who I think the MVP’s are in my regimen.

  • Apple Watch (Series 2) – First thing I did was unload all of the social media crap and change the watch face to a Modular one. This gives me (on top of the time and date) a nice dashboard that shows me my heart rate, how I’m doing on my fitness goals, and a shortcut to starting a workout.
  • MapMyRun – Don’t let the name fool you; this maps quite a number of exercises using the GPS in your phone. I’d used it for awhile to track kayaking adventures, but also for walks. I’ve recently ponied up the $$ for an MVP membership, which offers some additional features that I’ve found invaluable as I begin training for running.
  • Streaks App – This works in harmony with HealthKit to help motivate you to reach your goals. Not all goals have to be fitness goals, and you can have up to six recurring goals configured. It shows up on the watch as an easy to read complication to quickly see if I’ve hit all of my goals. I have goals around my workouts as well as “Read a book”, “weigh in once a week”, and “record blood pressure”. I’m tinkering around with my goals as my use of the app matures, but it’s really helpful.
  • Activity app – I’m using this less now for actively driving my goals (Streaks is more customizable), but I still look in Activity once or twice a day to check my numbers.
  • MyFitnessPal – This one has been a little less useful to me, but it’s worth mentioning. I think if I were tracking meals and other body measurements, this would be great.
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My weight has gone down from over 300 to under 280 in the last few months.

In August 2016, I was still over 300 pounds. As I write this now in mid October 2016, I’m 278 pounds. And this is definitely not just weight loss, as previous efforts had been. I’m losing weight more slowly than “weight loss diets” had done for me in the past because I’m also laying down muscle mass, which is more dense and thus heavier than fat.

Recently, I’d been hospitalized for food poisoning and had the benefit of multiple EKG tests being done during my stay. The attending physician blew my mind when he said “I can hardly believe this, but you’ve got a young, strong heart. Take good care of it.” This is after being clinically obese for 20 years and bringing myself down to feeling like death from tobacco products.

All of that body fat around the trunk is going to take awhile to burn away, but it’s working. My shirt size had been 3XLT for many years. I went to the Big & Tall store for some smaller shirts over the weekend, tried on some 2XLT shirts and the clerk said “no, my man, that’s too big for you… try the 1XLT.”

And it fit.

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Down to a 1XLT shirt size. The pants and belt are still too big for my shrinking frame.

“My man,” the clerk said, “you’ve done a great job losing all that weight. But if you lose any more, you’ll be down to an LT and you can’t get that here. So I’m happy for you but I’m going to be losing a customer soon.”

In all, I’ve lost a little over 35 pounds to date. This is a good start, but I still have close to 100 pounds to go.

My challenges now are around the seasons. It’s dark in the morning, it’s dark in the early evening, and the days are only getting shorter. This is really cutting into my walking/running time. I may need to pick up a treadmill. So much of my success hinges on building and maintaining a routine.

I’m finding little opportunities everywhere to just get up and move around more. For example, if I get out of a meeting early and find myself with some time between meetings, I’ll do a few brisk laps around the office. I’ve found that I can add 3,000-4,000 steps a day just by doing this. And instead of taking the elevator from the parking deck to my desk on the 12th floor, I’ll take the stairs. Taking the stairs actually gives me a good (but brief) cardio workout.

I work all day at a standing desk. And I track that with my Apple Watch to make sure I’m standing enough every day.

On weekends, I try to have one “big effort”, like going kayaking, or a longer day hike, or a run.

What’s next?

  • As I’d mentioned earlier, I just began running. For now, I’m starting with intervals so I don’t get hurt. The MVP features at MapMyRun are helping a lot with this.
  • I’m going to invest in a kettle bell to start adding more weight resistance training to my routine.
  • Treadmill so I don’t lose momentum when the weather gets crappy.
  • I want to start doing yoga, but I can’t deal with the crowded conditions of most yoga classes. I’ll probably use technology to help me with this. There are some neat options out there to explore.
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