Thursday, January 10, 2013

How I cancelled my gym membership, did only 2 kinds of exercises, never worked up a sweat, and lost 10 lbs in 14 weeks.

Disclaimer.. This is a personal story of how I accomplished my health goals. This is not a recommendation for anyone to attempt to follow these steps or assurance of similar results. Of course, if you have some success stories to share, I would love to hear about them. Comments are always welcomed.

Few years ago, my doctor told me that my BMI was borderline. I tried a few things, but the weight always came back. I turned 40 and got a borderline cholesterol test result. I decided now was time to get serious about my health. I had a very simple plan. I planned to adjust my behavior and attitude a little bit at a time.

I started with a very easy step. The gym membership that I paid for many years, but rarely used, I cancelled it. Because, it was time to get real. It was too hard to make the time to drive to the gym, to work out, and to drive back. The process took over an hour. Between work and kids, it was a luxury of time that I didn't have. Cancelled the gym membership was the first easy step to changing my behavior and the game.

Second, I gave myself a break and adjusted my attitude to be more positive. I told myself, I didn't pick up the weight overnight, it took many years so I was not going to lose it overnight. I specifically didn't set a weight reduction target. I was going to change my behavior a little bit everyday and have faith that, eventually, things would work out.

Third, I picked one and only one exercise. I told myself that I was going to do this one exercise everyday even if it was only for few minutes. I picked push-ups because I could do this exercise just about anywhere and anytime. No need to go into the details about how pathetic I was when I first started. It took over 2 month of ramp up before I could do a meaningful number of push-ups. I didn't try to do all the push-ups in one setting, I did them whenever I could, 1 set here, 1 set there. The range varied a lot. The main thing was that I did my one exercise, just about everyday. I did the exercise in short burst, so I had to catch my breath, but I never worked up a sweat.

There was no weight loss so far, but I was definitely on a slow and positive trend. I felt that I had more energy and slowly, I did more sets and more push-ups per set. I measured the positive trend, but not on the scales.

The exercise was pretty easy, I didn't feel tired and I didn't eat more. I just ate normally. I noticed that I don't need to eat as much. I had more energy from being more active and more positive. I actually started to eat less. That was when I decided portion control would be my forth tiny habit to develop. The method which I measured my progress with portion control was the key for this habit. I started with my normal portion. I decided how much I would cut back that day and moved that portion off  into another plate. I didn't start with a smaller portion and tried to stick with a smaller portion. I started with a normal, and actively chose to not eat some portion. This was an important psychological commitment and visible tracking method. Some days, I ate my reduced portion and ate a bit more "removed" portion. Sometimes, I was full before I finished my reduced portion. I never ate more then my old normal portion. Again, over 2 month, I saw the "removed" portion got bigger and bigger, and I was not feeling more any more hungry than usual.

I noticed a very small amount of weight loss about 1 month into the portion control habit. I was more encouraged by the trend of larger "removed" portion then the actual weigh loss itself. By this time, I was 2 month into the new habits and I was disappointed that I didn't get faster or better results. But, I stuck with the program, since I could see positive results for each of the habits.

When I regularly reached my target number of daily push-ups, I introduced my second exercise: crunches. Same basic reasons, I could do crunches just about anywhere and anytime. I did 1 set whenever I had a few minutes to spare. I didn't know if the timing was just lucky or it made the real difference. When I started my second exercise, I started to lose weight. About 3 weeks into the second exercise, I noticed I was consistently losing 1 lb per week. Pleased with the results, but I figured this was a fluke just like my other attempts before. I stayed focused on my two exercises and portion control.

The rest you know... I stuck with 5 tiny habits: cancel gym membership, positive thinking, daily push-ups, daily portion control, and daily crunches. I consistently lost 1 lb per week for 8 weeks. The holiday season paused the trend for a few weeks, then the weight loss resumed in Jan. Now I'm back to my early 30's weight, and feeling healthier and more positive. I didn't follow any of the common diet "rules". My breakfast was two cups of coffee with cream and sugar and maybe a fruit or bread. I ate lunch and had afternoon snacks. A regular dinner with rice or pasta, and ate a fruit or a bowl of cereal before going to bed. I ate all sorts of food, carbs, meats, sugar, candy, dessert, everything normally, just less. So no diet rules for me..just calorie in vs calories out.

In summary, I set my objective as behavior change, and NOT weight loss. The weight loss was the desired side-effect of my behavior change. I kept the plan simple, without any time limit. With the bar set low, the only possible failure was to give up. I placed visible and measurable tracking method for each behavior change. Each behavior change was very small and gradual, and I only added one behavior change at time. The overall time was 6 month with 3 month of ramp up before I lost weight consistently. Telling my family about my objectives helped too. My kids reminded me regularly, "Daddy, did you do your exercises? Remember, you are trying to lose some weight." It really encouraged me to stick with the plan.

I plan to add more daily exercises and keep trying to lose more weight. I have already exceeded beyond my original expectations.

I credit Dr BJ Fogg, PhD for the tiny habit idea. I didn't join his website but I followed his blog and tweets for a while, and the idea of break down a desired result into many tiny habits was the key to my progress.