12.2 History of Dieting

In 1963 I em­i­grat­ed from Eng­land to the USA. At that time I weighed about 142 lb. Since my height was 5’6″, my body mass in­dex (BMI) was 22.9, a healthy num­ber.

I didn’t re­al­ize it at the time, but af­ter I ar­rived in the USA my diet changed. Por­tion sizes were big­ger and the fat con­tent was greater than I was used to, and I worked at a desk all day. After I had been in the USA for a few months, I weighed my­self. I was hor­ri­fied to find that I had bal­looned up to 154 lb.

I went on a strin­gent diet and lost the ex­cess weight. This was mere­ly the first time that I was to re­peat this cy­cle. I would gain weight then go on a diet to trim down, only to have the weight grad­u­al­ly come back in the sub­se­quent months.

Why did I keep putting the weight back on? The cul­prit was my diet. I ate a tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can high fat diet with gen­er­ous por­tions.

Another fac­tor was al­co­hol. I have al­ways en­joyed beer and wine. When I was in Eng­land I was young with a young man’s metabolism, so my al­co­hol in­take didn’t cause me to gain weight. In Amer­i­ca the calo­ries in the al­co­hol added to those in my diet, and I gained weight.

Giv­en my caloric in­take the ques­tion is not “why did I re­gain the weight?” but rather, “why was I not obese?” The an­swer to this is that I have al­ways been ac­tive. In 1978, when I turned 40, I took up jog­ging. A few years lat­er I added weight train­ing. I have al­ways en­joyed hik­ing. Even when I am not ex­er­cis­ing I tend to move a lot.

The 1990 Weight Crisis

In July 1990, I tipped the scales at 168.75 lb. This was the heav­i­est I had ever been. At this weight my BMI was 27.3—solid­ly in the over­weight cat­e­go­ry.

Why had I gained so much weight this time? There were sev­er­al fac­tors.

I was get­ting old­er. In 1990 I was 52 and my metabolism was not as ac­tive as it had been when I was younger. My need for calo­ries was less, but I didn’t eat less. So the ex­cess calo­ries were packed away as fat.

Another fac­tor was that I was not jog­ging as much. I had slacked off to one three-mile run each week. Jog­ging had been an im­por­tant calo­rie burn­ing ac­tiv­i­ty for me. Now, the calo­ries that used to fuel jog­ging were stored as fat.

My at­ti­tude to­ward my weight was also a fac­tor. I was aware that I had a huge bel­ly but what I fo­cused on was my chest mea­sure­ment. It was 38″. It made me feel big and strong. I also thought that some of my weight was mus­cle, since I had tak­en up weight train­ing a few years be­fore. Now I know that I was fool­ing my­self. My in­creased chest mea­sure­ment was due to fat, with maybe a small con­tri­bu­tion from some­what big­ger mus­cles.

My wife, Mary Ann, was ap­palled at the idea of me weigh­ing over 170 lb. and she con­veyed her feel­ing to me em­phat­i­cal­ly. So I went on yet an­oth­er diet. Mary Ann had gained weight along with me, so she joined me on the diet.

I count­ed calo­ries. I also in­creased my jog­ging. The re­sult was that I lost 23 lb. over six months. But in the next two and a half years, most of the weight came back.

1990 Diet

The diet I went on in 1990 was dif­fer­ent to pre­vi­ous di­ets. In the past I just ate less un­til the weight came off. In 1990 my weight was (in my mind) at cri­sis pro­por­tions. I de­cid­ed to count calo­ries.

Count­ing calo­ries re­quired an ini­tial ef­fort to an­a­lyze all the foods I ate. For each dish, I wrote down each in­gre­di­ent and its amount. I looked up the calo­ries then added them to get the to­tal for the dish. Fi­nal­ly, I di­vid­ed by the num­ber of serv­ings (typ­i­cal­ly two) and there was of­ten an ad­just­ment since I eat more than Mary Ann.

Record­ing the calo­ries when I ate out was less pre­cise. The best I could do was to es­ti­mate based on the type of meal and por­tion size. For ex­am­ple, I es­ti­mat­ed the piz­za in our lo­cal pizze­ria at 300 calo­ries per slice.

Since I tend to eat the same meals from week to week, the on-go­ing ef­fort was triv­ial. I just had to look up the data on the meal from the anal­y­sis that I had record­ed pre­vi­ous­ly.

I kept ex­cel­lent records dur­ing this time. I record­ed the facts about each meal, in­clud­ing what the meal was and how many calo­ries it con­tained. Every time I went jog­ging I record­ed the miles I ran and how many calo­ries I burned. At that time I al­ready knew that calo­rie burn con­tin­ues af­ter the run, and I in­clud­ed an es­ti­mate in the calo­rie count.

I did not track my weight work­outs, but I typ­i­cal­ly did a full body work­out with heavy weights once a week and a work­out for my shoul­ders, con­sist­ing of light weights and high rep­e­ti­tions

I did not record oth­er ex­er­cise ac­tiv­i­ties. Th­ese in­clud­ed hik­ing and one week­end ca­noe trip.

My diet in­volved calo­rie re­stric­tion for six days a week. On some Fri­days we cel­e­brat­ed an­oth­er suc­cess­ful week of di­et­ing by go­ing to the lo­cal pizze­ria. I splurged with a Greek sal­ad, a piz­za, and beer. On piz­za days my calo­rie in­take was about 2,600.

average alcohol
calories calories miles
July 2,186 349 14.3
August 2,225 340 25.5
September 2,180 417 23.3
October 2,267 469 19.5
November 2,270 489 43.1
December 2,350 503 33.9
January 2,359 521 12.3
Average 2,256 437 .96

The table above sum­ma­rizes my 1990 diet. The first col­umn shows the av­er­age to­tal calo­ries I in­gest­ed each day. The sec­ond col­umn shows how many of those calo­ries came from beer and wine. The fi­nal col­umn is the num­ber of miles I ran each day on av­er­age.

The calo­rie num­bers un­der­es­ti­mate the re­al­i­ty. When I went away on va­ca­tion or on a busi­ness trip I didn’t count calo­ries.

The table also shows the miles that I ran. Th­ese num­bers are ac­cu­rate, since I record­ed my runs re­gard­less of whether I was at home or away.

Dur­ing the diet I ran 171.9 miles, or an av­er­age of .96 miles a day. I es­ti­mate that I burned 125 calo­ries per mile. This takes into ac­count my weight, the fact that my runs in­volved hills or were on sand, and ex­cess post-ex­er­cise oxy­gen con­sump­tion. Over the course of the diet, the con­tri­bu­tion from run­ning av­er­aged 120 calo­ries per day.

On Thurs­day, July 12, 1990, at the start of the diet, I weighed 167 lb. By Tues­day, Jan­uary 8, 1991, at the end of the diet, I weighed 143.75 lb. I lost 23.25 lb. in 180 days. This trans­lates to 0.9 lb. per week.

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