Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Not Doomsday Morning

OK, just one last post on the Hacker's Diet. After all, it's free and online, so you can go read it yourself (heck, there's a Wikipedia article that does a better job than I have been doing of explaining it). However, I just wanted to point out how it helped me out the last couple of days. Above is my daily weight chart. Circled in yellow is an abnormally high weight from Monday morning, which might have caused me much alarm and discouragement. However, armed with the outlook I've gotten from the H.D., I'm learning to take this kind of thing in stride.

In this chapter of the H.D., we learn how this degree of variability is to be expected. In fact, I got the title of this post from the example included in this chapter, from which I excerpt two figures here. The first shows a typical daily weight plot. He has added some labels to capture the feeling of the person experiencing those daily fluctuations. The second chart shows the same data, with the data smoothed out to show the actual trend. Leaving the original labels on the smoothed data plot is a great sight gag that really drives home the point and makes it memorable.

By the way, the last two days have brought the trend line back to almost a straight line, indicating a constant rate of loss since I started this tracking.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


More on the tools (with pictures)

After a couple of weeks of using the new tools I described in my previous entry, I am still very excited about them. Here's a few more details. The image above is the "Eat Meter" that is an option component of the free Calorie Counter Plus membership, and resides right up there in your Firefox toolbar. As you log the day's food, you can watch the meter move to the left (and turn orange and then red). Nice little reminder that helps you pace your day's intake.

CCP turns out to be pretty easy to use. I have some minor grumbles about the interface, but considering it is free, it's easy to overlook them. I tried looking around at alternatives, but I didn't see anything else that is free that offers all of the features.

Here's a picture of my new scale, a no frills $26 Health-O-Meter. This replaces the old spring model. I wish I had gotten this a while ago. This thing is so accurate-- I tried weighing myself 10 times, and it gave the same number each time. The old springer would usually give me 10 different answers, even if I re-zeroed it between each weighing. Fun fact: I have experimented and found that I sometimes weigh 3 or 4 lbs less in the morning than I do before going to bed. Some of that is pee but a substantial part is fluid loss from respiration and perspiration. This brings me to my next topic:

The daily variation in fluid is the major motivation for charting method of the Hacker's Diet. Since my last post I have created an account (free!) to use the online tracking tools on the authors web site. I really like how it plots your history, using a weighted averaging method to smooth out the bumps and help you understand how you are really doing. Below is a shot from a few days ago. The red line is the calculated trend (lookin' good so far!) and the blue diamonds are what my scale tells me. The web site also allows you to configure a widget that lets you display your live progress. If I did this correctly you should be able to see it there on the right of this page.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Cool tools

First, an update: the reason I haven't been posting here is that I have been too busy, not because I haven't been thinking a lot about the weight maintenance game, or keeping up with the running. As for my how its been going, the good news is that I ran a half marathon back in May, with a time I am pleased with. The bad news is that my weight has been ever so slowly creeping back. One step forward, 1.1 steps backwards.

I feel as if I am starting to make a very positive change. I have finally reached the point where I am really feeling heavy. I still wear my 'skinny' clothes but they feel a bit snug now. I can't deny that I've gained when I catch a reflection of myself. So I have a new determination to get back to all the good habits I had before.

Well, I've had a bit of luck or maybe divine intervention because just at this time 3 very helpful tools have come my way. These are Calorie Count Plus, The Hacker's Diet, and the 5BX exercise program.

Now, I've always been averse to calorie counting, because it seems like an unnatural way to live. But I've been thinking lately that living with a constant supply of energy rich food at our fingertips is not very natural either. So, I'm going to give it a go, at least for a while. I think it will be a good learning experience and help me recalibrate my sense of the proper quantity of food I need to maintain my weight.

I think Calorie Count Plus has been around for a while, but I've only become aware of it very recently, while I was searching through Firefox add-ons. CCP is an online tool that lets you record what you eat, and they will tally the calories, fat, protein, carbs, etc. Very handy and pretty easy to use. What really got me going is the Firefox add-on (see it here) that interfaces with this website. The neatest thing about this add-on is that it puts an "Eat Meter" on your browser so that you can see at a glance your calorie consumption throughout the day, and how many you have available if you want to stay within your target. Check it out!

The Hacker's Diet is an excellent diet plan for those who like to take an analytical approach to dieting. It is presented as an online book. Written with clarity and humor by an engineer, it boils down to this:
  1. Weight control is totally a function of calories in minus calories out.
  2. People who have trouble with weight gain have a faulty feedback circuit--i.e. their body does not give proper signals about when to eat and when to stop.
  3. Because of daily fluctuations in water balance, weighing yourself on a scale can be misleading and discouraging.
  4. The solution? Use a weighted averaging scheme to track your weight. This will show a clear trend and help you gauge your success. Then you can adjust your diet accordingly. Use this in place of your faulty appetite gauge.
I love this approach because it respects the dignity of the dieter, and assumes that when given good information most people will take the proper course (and it uses Excel spreadsheets!!). A bit optimistic, but I'll take that any day over a deterministic view of behavior. However, it is not a nutrition book, so it will not tell you what kinds of food you should eat, just how to regulate how much you eat. Please check out this site using the link above, it is well worth your time.

Finally, the 5BX program is calisthenics program designed for the Royal Canadian Air Force to keep their pilots in shape, and it has been very popular with the general public. It claims that if you follow the program you can stay in excellent shape using a workout that requires no special equipment and takes only 11 minutes a day. The Hacker's Diet recommends a modified version of this program, but I'm going to try to adopt the original 5BX (maybe it's the pilot angle). I will of course keep up my running. What really appeals to me about the 5BX is that it is a no-excuses program. You cannot honestly claim that you do not have the time (11 minutes), equipment (shoes), or proper weather to get your daily workout.

I'll try to update this blog from time to time, hopefully more frequently than in the past, but not every day. See you later.

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