Thursday, September 26, 2019

Reflections on a Tour of the Grand Spreadsheet

I just went through my grand spreadsheet, updating it with the weekly averages for my weight and waist, which meant filling in data for two and a half years. It was inefficient -- I could have written formulas to do the same thing -- but I find it useful sometimes to wade through data and get a feel for it at different scales and tempos.

In general, I'm happy with what I've accomplished and where I am. The great disappointment, of course, has been that no magic resolution has presented itself. The grand fantasy is that at some point one recovers normalcy of appetite, one can eat ad libitum without gaining weight. I'm pretty much certain, now, that that will never happen. I can restrict my daily eating carefully, or I can be obese; there is no middle option.

Given, then, that I'm restricting carefully, weighing and measuring, going to all this trouble (and the trouble is enormous: it occupies quite a bit of my uncommitted time), I might as well get exactly what I want out of it. So what do I want?

The question arises because I have been batting back and forth several potential steady-states, and how to arrive at them. Should I ride the present regimen down to a 32" waist, and see what that looks like? Or should I continue my gradualist, "follow the blue lines" strategy, trying to keep my waist very slowly dwindling while my weight very slowly increases, as my lifting program progresses and I put on more muscle? What, exactly, am I aiming for, and how will I know when I've gotten there?

One risk, as so often, is mistaking markers for actual goals, and obsessing on hitting numbers that don't actually capture the end-goals. And another risk, one I'm especially prone to, is setting a goal of endless progression: at present really what I'm attempting is to perpetually build muscle mass while perpetually reducing fat. I used to design my exercise programs that way, until I finally understood that basically what I was doing -- piling on more weight, more reps -- was guaranteeing that I eventually exercise to exhaustion or injury. Not clever. I should have end-points. 

What are the actual goals, then? There's an optimal body composition: I should get there and stay there. It's not that far off. I pretty much like how I look now. I don't particularly want to be bulky and hugeous. I'd like my waist to be a little trimmer, my legs to be a bit thicker; but that's about it. I think that if I do get to having my waist measurement be 90% of my hips, I probably will have something like a 32" waist, and I'll probably look as good as I want to bother with.

But backing off to get a wider view, looking good -- although I must ruefully admit it's the best motivator -- is only a side goal. What I really want is -- as a duty -- to live vigorously as long as I can, so that I can avoid being a burden on my loved ones, and hopefully help them out, for as long as possible; and what I really want for myself, my deepest wish, is for mental acuity and physical energy. That's what I want to maximize. And here's where I need to be careful to measure what I'm actually interested in. 

I am much more energetic at this weight and fitness. I used to be basically exhausted by dinnertime: now I often do things in the evening. Every night before bed I do the dishes and prep for breakfast, which would have been totally beyond my powers. But of course this extra energy is largely devoted to... keeping up my diet and fitness regimen. My disposable energy has not really increased: it may even have declined.

It feels better though. And feeling mentally sharper is priceless. I think better. I'm more concise, more methodical, quicker on the uptake. That's what I care about most. 

I have long harbored the notion -- probably picked up from the elderly protagonists of Michael Innes mysteries, and offhand comments by longevity buffs -- that if I restricted calories really severely I'd be sharper still. Now that I examine it by daylight, it doesn't seem especially likely: it's probably an ascetic fantasy. There's probably a sweet spot, and it's probably considerably this side of starvation.

There may be actual information about these things. I should seek it out. 

And I should think about how to measure these things. Energy and acuity. People like to say that this, that, or the next thing can't be measured. They're always wrong. Anything that can be perceived can be measured.


am said...

After reading your thoughtful reflections on the Grand Spreadsheet, I took an hour walk up the hill and back in the late afternoon September sunshine, thinking about your experience with finding the tools that have allowed you to achieve a healthy weight.

Your reflections show that you have the insight that is lacking in people who develop anorexia nervosa. No matter how much weight I lost or how much I exercised, my body refused to fit the mold that I wanted it to fit. Although my body mass index was alarmingly low, I could not reduce the size of my calves and continued restricting food and overexercising.

Now I'm remembering a Gary Larson cartoon about whale fitness classes. All that was left of the whales were their large heads and tails held together by blubberless spines. Seeing that cartoon was the beginning of the end of my bout with anorexia.

There is a YouTube video that speaks to me about my former anorexia. I will never be a poodle, and I am no longer a starved mastiff.

"There's probably a sweet spot, and it's probably considerably this side of starvation."

It was a supreme relief for me in 1987 to find that it was possible for me to maintain a healthy sustainable weight without starving myself and experiencing constant hunger and a feeling of deprivation. It is good to know that you have found your own tools and have been maintaining a healthy weight.

For some of us, there is no magic moment where we can eat the way we used to eat and maintain a healthy weight.

marly youmans said...

I did a ketogenic diet for a couple of months last fall and liked it. Since then I have practiced intermittent fasting (I tend to alternate eating in a 4-hour window with an 8-hour window) and have gone low on sugars and simple carbs. I may have something "bad" now and then, but mostly I do not. And I also feel better...

It's sad that we let misguided nutritionists guide us for decades, and that nutrition is only now becoming a subject for doctors. But we have a lot of good resources now.

Dale said...

Yeah, I loved keto when I first adopted it, and there were six months or so when I was sure it was the total solution to my weight problem. When it stopped working for me it was kind of a shock -- an abrupt, total breakdown of my ability to control my eating -- and I gained my weight back with astonishing rapidity. But during the honeymoon -- wow! Eating the foods I liked best (I adore meat!) to satiety, feeling totally well-fed, and dropping a couple pounds a week! It was like someone had totally changed the rules and the world now worked :-)

I still feel like it shook something loose in me, some intuitive grasp of the illusory nature of appetite, which made what I'm doing now possible. And I still eat enough protein to make a 1970s nutritionist gasp in dismay :-) But I also eat a big bowl of oatmeal and a plateful of potatoes every day.

Dale said...

am, yes! Body types are so different. Mastiffs don't turn into greyhounds, no matter how you feed them. I also think that the congenial sorts of exercise may be hardwired. I always hated running, and I think I always will. And since running was central to the idea of athleticism, when I was young, I just assumed I was no athlete and physical stuff wasn't my bailiwick. (Though even then I loved swimming!) Now I happily work out for an hour & a half, five times a week. I love lifting weights & all sorts of resistance training, totally pushing myself. Just don't ask me to run!

Murr Brewster said...

You will be happy to know that even if I was chasing you, you wouldn't have to run.

am said...

A hour of vigorous walking, usually solitary, and a half hour of a home yoga practice is what I am hardwired for. Walking has appealed to me since childhood and yoga since I was in my 20s. Plenty of protein along with a substantial amount of grains, potatoes and sweet potatoes and other vegetables, all cooked with olive oil and coconut oil are not what is generally recommended for maintaining a healthy weight, but eating only foods that I thoroughly enjoy and am satisfied by has worked for me for a long time. I'm still amazed and grateful, that my years of war with food and weight are over. And as you wrote, there's more to it than simply experiencing a healthy weight. There is the mental sharpness and energy that I never dreamed I would have.

Dale said...

Murr, really? And you're an epic walker! You wouldn't need to run either: you could just trail me, like those African persistence hunters, till I dropped in exhaustion.