Personal Fitness Journey: Fork in the Road?7 min read

I’ve lost a little over 75 pounds now and I’m feeling stuck. So I’m going to eat more.

When I started at a weight of 316 pounds around Christmas of 2015, I didn’t have a plan or methodology. I didn’t have any notions to exercise. My body was in pain from simple things like standing or walking, and I was using a walking stick to get around.

A few months into my journey, simply “trying to eat right” wasn’t enough. I was hovering around 305 pounds. My youngest brother got married and I missed the ceremony, because the walk from the parking lot to the ceremony was long and I was hobbling on a walking stick. I tried to smile for everyone but in truth I just wanted to lay down in a shallow hole and have everyone throw dirt on me. I couldn’t endure any longer.

I needed to exercise. I needed to have some method to this. And I needed some practical outcomes to aspire to beyond just getting smaller.

“I want to be lean. I want to have good functional strength. I’m training for a week long canoe expedition.” That was it. I had a goal.

I started using technology to help me out. Most of what I use now is MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, and two scales. But I tried an array of things, observed results, and adapted along the way to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

But I also had to add exercise in. In April, I invested in a Bowflex Max Trainer. The idea was to improve my cardio fitness and get some good functional strength into my legs and any other muscle that seemed to be participating in the almost full-body exercise it provided. I put the machine together, got on it, and fell off about a minute in. Grabbing my chest, I was scared to death of that machine and what it might do to me.

About once a week I’d get on that machine and see what I could do, and every week it validated my fears. I really did feel like I was going to have a heart attack.

Next I invested in a heart rate monitor and started using phone apps to track my heart rate as I walked. This helped a lot. I was now able to go on long walks, and have a feedback loop to help me set a good pace that pushed my heart without pushing too hard. I was also stretching every day. These simple stretches were themselves a cardio workout for me. I’d lay in bed while my wife and kids pushed and pulled on my legs and arms, twisted my back to and fro. My breathing got hard and my heart rate monitor registered that I was indeed having a cardio workout while laying in bed and being stretched. That’s how far gone I was.

But eventually, after a few months, I could get on the Bowflex and operate it at a steady state (low speed, low resistance) for the full 14 minutes without my heart getting into a dangerous state. My weight started dropping at a good cadence two or three weeks into this. I started adding one or two intervals per workout, then doing all of the intervals. Then I started upgrading the resistance. I’d committed to doing this four times per week.

Caught working out on the Bowflex Max in my workshop.

When I’d gotten down a little in weight, I started running. This went on for about a month. I did interval running (run for a minute, walk for three, repeat). I actually felt great once I hit a groove. But after about a month, I’d go out there and try to run, but I felt like there was no gas in the tank. My breathing was fine. My joints were fine. But I had no energy. My calorie reduction diet was not serving me well for this kind of exercise. I’ll run again someday, when I can eat more.

Today I’m down 77 pounds. But I seem to be stuck. And I’m starting to feel “out of gas” even trying to do the Bowflex. I’ve got the Bowflex set for 20 minutes of workout instead of 14, so I’ve increased the duration of both high & low intervals. And I’ve got the resistance set to 10 now, so I’m getting some strength training with my cardio at this point. My breathing is fine, my heart rate is ridiculously ok with this. My joints are stronger and doing alright.

But I just feel out of gas.

Every weekend I try to go on a hike of 3 to 7 miles on rugged terrain. Last weekend, the same thing happened. My pace was slow, and I just felt out of gas.

The groove I’d gotten into was fun. I wasn’t eating a lot, but I’d felt great. I’d felt strong. Virile. I’d work out and then start bouncing around to burn off all of the extra energy I had. And the weight was falling off.

But now I don’t feel great, the weight isn’t falling off, and I don’t have the energy to eat more. My calorie reduction plan had taken me down to about 1,500 calories per day by the time I’d hit 240 pounds. My daily total food intake was now less than what I’d have eaten for a single meal when I was still over 300 pounds. I think maybe I’d hit a point of diminishing returns.

All along the way I’ve done the same thing, which I learned from DemingPlan, Do, Study, Act. Per the Deming Institute:

The cycle begins with the Plan step. This involves identifying a goal or purpose, formulating a theory, defining success metrics and putting a plan into action. These activities are followed by the Do step, in which the components of the plan are implemented, such as making a product. Next comes the Study step, where outcomes are monitored to test the validity of the plan for signs of progress and success, or problems and areas for improvement. The Act step closes the cycle, integrating the learning generated by the entire process, which can be used to adjust the goal, change methods or even reformulate a theory altogether. These four steps are repeated over and over as part of a never-ending cycle of continual improvement.

So I’m adjusting my plan. I’ve taken my daily calorie count up from about 1,500 per day to about 2,100 per day. My hope is that as my body adjusts to the increased intake, I’ll have the fuel I need to exercise with greater vigor. And then, as I start feeling better about exercise, I’ll start running again.

This whole thing is one big series of math equations, right? You will lose weight if your body burns more Calories than it consumes. Some combination of burning more Calories and eating less will get you there. To date, I’ve done a combination of the two, but perhaps now I have to give greater weight to the exercise side of the equation, even if that means consuming more Calories. Remember, my goal isn’t simply to get thin. I want to have lean functional strength.

There are two forms of exercise I want to add now that I’ve not been practicing yet:

  1. Running. I’m a lot lighter now so it shouldn’t be nearly as hard on my body. Running regularly will get my Base Metabolic Rate up enough to offset the increased caloric intake.
  2. Kettlebell. The kettlebell lends itself to more practical full-body weight resistance workouts that will offer the kind of functional strength I need for practical outcomes in everyday life. Building a little bit of lean muscle mass will also increase my Base Metabolic Rate. “The bigger the engine, the more gas it burns”. I’m not going to bulk up. I have no interest in that.

Where does it end? It doesn’t. This is a lifestyle change for me. The things I’m learning now, the habits I’m building, are going to serve me for the rest of my life. The exercise doesn’t stop. The mindfulness about food doesn’t stop. This isn’t a diet. The results are the outcome of the lifestyle change.

I expect the downward spiral of fat loss will taper off and end when I hit a healthy maintenance weight. And I don’t know what that weight will be. I’m guessing around 180 pounds, give or take 5 pounds. But really I’m looking for a healthy Percent Body Fat level of around 18% or so. I was hoping to hit that sometime late this Summer, but with the new changes happening right now I’m gaining acceptance that I might have to slow my burn rate until I can build more functional strength and endurance, and adjust to increased Calorie intake to allow greater commitment to exercise. Whatever happens, you can be sure I’ll continue to rely on the data I’m collecting to inform my decisions, and my tactics will change accordingly as I go.