Defining Success After You Fail

Help me raise $500 for the homeless through the charity Back on My Feet.
Back in the spring of 2008, my sophomore year at college, I dropped around fifty pounds working out mornings, afternoons, and evenings. It was a brute force approach: I did at least an hour of biking each workout and thirty minutes of weights. I weighed myself weekly, but I just became entranced in the routine. I had no social life that spring, as I was rarely out with friends, given most nights I fell asleep by 9:00 PM. My roommate at the time was supportive given his own interest in fitness. It also helped that the college lifestyle allowed for this commitment to be a priority.

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The above approach was effective but in no way efficient. I ate plenty of carbohydrates, I never really “logged” my progress, and quite frankly, I never realized how much progress I achieved until years later when I looked at photos from that time. Friends would comment, but I always felt I was far away from some magical goal. The reality was the complete opposite: I had done everything I had hoped to accomplish, but I had no real commitment to determine what exactly my goal was.

As with most weight loss, you eventually burn out, or feel comfortable easing out of your routine. For me, I delayed some of the eventual regaining of weight when I went to France, as the portions were much more reasonable than back home. That lifestyle, however, was limited to six months, and over the course of my senior year, and especially during my first year of my career, I gradually regressed. It was especially pronounced when I was traveling non-stop right out of college: unlimited expense accounts, fancy dinners, long hours, and little incentive to leave the hotel room all accelerated the weight gain.

I ended up traveling for the better part of two and a half years, miserable with the way I handled the schedule. Every once in a while I would attempt to start a healthy routine, only to relapse and resign myself to a hotel bed and room service. Unfortunately, those habits, once I was no longer traveling, persisted, with the new excuse of a two and a half roundtrip commute each day to and from work.

I improved my habits with bike rides from Conshohocken to Center City for work at least two times a week during the spring, but before long it was one excuse after another as to why I would not continue the effort. A sampling: My computer would need to be transported, I was not sure if it would rain, I would not get home until nine. So in September I moved to the city, and had no reason not to be healthy in my activities. Or so I thought. The truth is, when you’re unmotivated, you find ways to avoid even the most convenient opportunities. With a gym effectively two blocks from my apartment, with a one and a half block commute to work, I somehow ended up spending more time lounging than ever before.

Finally, this past December, I went to an event my firm holds for recent promotes, and it really stressed health and satisfaction in life. Sure, it in the end was a work event to reward all the years where those two goals appeared less important than the deadlines that came and went. But I took it to heart, and I wanted to figure out what I could do so that I could look back at my mid-20’s with a smile, rather than regret about my fitness and personal self-worth.

So I had to grapple with some facts:

  1. The college lifestyle has an expiration date. If you want to prioritize working out, you have to do so around another priority: earning a living.
  2. This is going to suck. There is no way around the frustration that comes with getting up in a snow storm and going to the gym. It happens, it is meant to dissuade you, but it is a necessary evil.
  3. It will not get easier. The easiest time to lose weight and get fit is when you are not fit at all. You lose weight easily because you have so many inefficiencies in how you operate your life. That progress will gradually be harder to achieve.
  4. The first month or two will feel like a waste. You will not feel like you made much progress, you will still notice the imperfections that frustrate you, and you will feel like it is a pointless exercise.
  5. No one is going to be more invested in your health than you. Your loved ones love you, but they also do not want to hurt your self-worth. The fact is, only you can truly take ownership of your fitness.
  6. The people closest to you will experience the negative effects of the routine such as being busy or eating less enjoyable foods. They also will not recognize the changes as they see you too much to make the distinction.
  7. The habits you form will take time to change your fitness, which in the moment will feel like an eternity. The reverse is true if you give up. You’ll breeze by the days, weeks, and months, only to realize at the beach that “winter you” was selfish and now “summer you” is embarrassed and depressed at the result.
  8. Life gets in the way. There will be easy “outs” at every corner. Friends will unintentionally attempt to derail your progress. It happens. You will have unexpected cheat days. You also will be the only person to correct those moments by being flexible in how you maneuver your schedule.
  9. You will succeed, but you will never know it unless you figure out what it is you actually define as success. Is it weight? Is it form? Is it aesthetic? Is it your BMI?
  10. This does not end once you achieve your goal. It gets harder as you get older to make such radical changes to your life. So, once you cross that finish line, whether literally or figuratively, you do not stop. You adapt and change to a routine that solidifies maintenance and consistency.

I failed at that final step. I have been out of breath and I have been ashamed of my fitness. I have looked at my past success and wondered aloud at how I could have not realized what I had and how I let it slip away.

Let’s be honest. I’m 25, almost 26, and if I really want to maximize my enjoyment of life, when I’m not married, when I’m living in the city, I need to develop habits now that promote energy and activity. I remember those moments where my inactivity and lethargy were exposed. I never want those moments to happen again.


My Dog Took Me for a Hike

Help me raise $500 for the homeless through the charity Back on My Feet.
Over the course of two days, eleven total miles, half of which was off-trail, all of which was in packed, unplowed snow, my dog and I traversed a scenic state park. And under no uncertain terms, it was not I who was taking her for a walk. Rather, it was a thirteen year old Lhasa Apso with the motor not unlike that of Pete Rose in his prime, who gave me quite the workout.

Luckily, using my Basis B1, I was able to track every little detail, to confirm how much more in shape my family’s lap dog is than me. First, some baselines are important:

  • I tend to walk on average about 7,000 steps a day. This is a bit higher than before I started using the watch, as my pre-2014 average was closer to 4,000 (not nearly enough, as the recommended number is closer to 10,000 a day).
  • My resting heart rate is 56bpm. During the sophomore spring semester at PSU (my peak fitness I hope to regain), I had a RHR of 44bpm. Hopefully that will come with time.
  • During a typical walk in the city (to or from work), my heart rate sits between 77 and 82 bpm.

On Sunday we had a pretty good day (the full seven mile loop around the lake):
My peak heart rate during the hike coincided with a trek up an eight percent gradient (the subsequent decline was the trek down the other side). Given the snow and heavy duty winter boots, the hike became a great exercise, especially over a period of four hours. With a total of 22,746 steps taken, I had a good hunch that I had made some room for a few extra calories for Super Bowl Sunday (given my daily target is 1,200 calories consumed):
So, naturally, I indulged, as you can see below:
In the end, I had consumed just under 2,100 calories and burned a total of 3,200. Sounds good, right? Well the truth is, I should have probably increased the total caloric intake just to be safe and also changed the makeup of those calories (but hey, it is the Super Bowl, right?). Better do so next time:
Carbohydrates were the killer here. And quite frankly I would like to up the protein (although its good relative to the recommended percentage). The pie chart incorporates the whole day’s worth of meals, including my orange juice, three bananas and various granola bars to get through the hike.

In general, for a “cheat day”, it was not that bad. My definition of a cheat day is quite different from the generally accepted one: I try to maintain the same calorie deficit but I allow for not as healthy compositions of the consumed calories. Essentially, things taste better on the weekends when I allow for the seasonings and flavors that come with fattier foods. The other important point to consider is that I must offset the overall increase in total calories consumed with considerably more exercise than I usually have in a weekday. In concept, this should not be too hard, given weekdays are filled with time sitting at a desk. In practice, we all know it can be quite appealing to just Netflix a weekend away (especially with House of Cards Season 2 premiering Valentines Day!).

Anyway, given the number of steps, the consistency of the pace, the duration of the exercise, and the variation in the gradient, it is no wonder why my dog ended up sleeping sitting up in the passenger seat of my car two minutes after we left the park…

Strive to Sleep

Donate to help the homeless through the charity Back on My Feet.
Before I moved into the city, my daily commute was two and a half hours roundtrip. During the shortest days at the office, I would wake up by 6:30 AM and get home around 6:45 PM. The day felt completely limited, even during the long days of summer. Now, with a commute of fourteen minutes roundtrip, I have no excuses.

In the list of activities to prioritize when trying to get fit, one of the most important is sleep. We hear it all the time, but it really does make a difference. So, with my Basis watch, I can actually understand how I sleep:
People are typically in REM 20-30% of their night’s sleep and 15-30% Deep sleep. Most nights, I tend to land right on the lower end of REM (when a person is most likely to dream) and on the higher end of Deep (when a person’s muscles repair). Essentially, this just reaffirms that I sleep like a log and I do not dream enough.

More interestingly, the one day I was sick, the previous Tuesday, not only resulted in a less than spectacular sleep score (79%), but also meant I actually dipped below the expected REM range, albeit by just a hair:
While the toss and turns are similar, the frequency at which I shifted between various stages of sleep was much more rapid when I was under the weather. Certainly some of this insight is intuitive in that if I do not feel well, my sleep will suffer. However, the actual effect it has on sleep patterns is, at least to me, fascinating and important. The next time I am feeling ill, I may be more likely to heed the advice to get some rest and call it an early night.

The takeaway when I am healthy is that I need to get to bed earlier, so that I can start my day before 7:30 AM. Given that I will be incorporating additional workouts in the morning, as my BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) begins to drop with weight, I will need to find a way to call it a night sometime before 11:00 PM most evenings. Otherwise, I will be cutting into either my time to workout or the minimum seven hours of sleep I strive to get at night.

In another post, I’ll discuss my habits via MyBasis and how some, such as taking a certain number of steps, are much easier to do than others, like waking up by 6:30 AM consistently.

Until next time –

Beginning a Long Road

Welcome to my blog. I created this site to catalog my efforts to increase my fitness and improve my overall health.


A little bit about me: I’m a 25 year old graduate of Penn State living in Philadelphia. I work in consulting and help clients in the heathcare industry. Ironically enough, I have not focused on my own habits and health really since sophomore year in Happy Valley.  This blog, and the activity I will document are part of an effort to radically change my own fitness.

I decided, through my firm, to sign up for the Broad Street Run. By doing so, and agreeing to raise $500 towards the charity, Back on My Feet, I have confirmed an entry into this year’s race on Sunday, May 4, 2014.

Please visit my donation page to learn more about Back on My Feet:

Now, as anyone will admit, the idea of training for anything, specifically a 10-mile run, is not the easiest thing to implement and continue. It is even more difficult when you have not been accustomed to such consistent activity and healthy habits. So, I took some time to determine what would help support this effort. I came up with the following plan, which I began and have continued daily since January 15, 2014:

1. Wear a Fitness Tracker
basisb1I researched extensively the market of popular watches that monitor fitness levels, and I determined that the Basis B1 Carbon Steel Edition best fit my needs. Its combination of heart rate monitoring, passive activity identification (it knows instinctively when I fall asleep, run, walk, or bike), sleep analysis, hard data, and habit-forming goals really appeals to me. I need to know my Basal Metabolic Rate (how much energy I use just existing) and the caloric expenditure of any exercise, but I do not want the hassle of remembering to tell my watch when I plan to sleep or wake up (invariably, if I had the Fitbit, the process of setting the watch to track my sleep every night would result in wide-eyed restlessness). I also love biking, so a strict pedometer-only device would hamstring my most common activity in the warmer months.

2. Use a Calorie Journal
I downloaded MyFitnessPal, and I have found it pretty comprehensive in food selection and its calorie breakdown charts. I am disappointed that it does not integrate with the Basis B1 watch, but that is really my only complaint.

3. Build Healthy Habits
As an extension of my Basis B1, I am doing my best to ingrain habits such as consistent times for going to sleep and rising, taking a certain number of steps each day and achieving a consistent, yet reasonable caloric deficit daily.

4. Capture and Predict Data in a Comprehensive Manner
I have, as one of my colleagues recently said, “done the consultant thing to do” and created a workbook in which I log my daily caloric intake and expenditure, and from which various trends are derived based upon the average progress I have achieved to date. For example, inclusive of yesterday’s results, I am projected to have lost thirty five pounds since January 15, by the day of the Broad Street Run.

5. Improve the Composition of My Meals
Similar to achieving healthier activity-based habits, I am changing the composition of the calories I eat, as I have made a priority the combination of lean meats, healthy pre-made dinners (e.g., Lean Cuisine), and a consistent stock of bananas, apples, and granola bars.

I will use this blog to post updates regarding my own progress as well as some of the data / metrics that the Basis B1 provides. It is pretty cool to see the breakdown of patterns, heart rate trends and sleep analytics.

Thanks for reading!