Investing in Yourself: Diet and Exercise
At the beginning of 2021, I started a commitment to get 30 minutes of exercise every day — to close my “exercise ring” on my Apple Watch. This is an update to the initial post I published on the topic, and reflects adding a focus on diet to the mix.
To be clear: I only committed to work out for one month, and I made that commitment to my wife and partner in life, Cindy (make this first commitment to someone other than yourself to help you with accountability, and to make sure they will support you as you make time for that commitment). Starting with a commitment that is finite and achievable is important. We knew we weren’t traveling in January (hello, lockdown). We knew we had control over our schedule. It was a good time to make a commitment for change, and stick with it.
After one month, I felt like I could keep going, and so I did. And I wrote about my progress here after four months:
- I had lost a few pounds (5?)
- My heart rate had lowered by 10–12 beats per minute at rest.
- My hip was feeling more stable and less irritable.
- The Apple Fitness+ app helped me get started by providing a mix of workouts that allowed me to work my way up from easy workouts to fill 30 minutes, up to the point where I really could tackle a challenging workout for the full 30 minutes or beyond.
- I felt a bit stronger and healthier, whether or not it showed to others
So I was feeling pretty good at the end of April. I had established a new, healthy habit. And now I needed to take the next steps to get to the next goal.
Fitness Needed to Survive the Stress Test
First, I needed to stress test my ability to continue to close my exercise rings when traveling. Working out in the evening has risks — you might decide you’re too tired and not do it. It’s easy to let it slide. But it has benefits — you spend your recovery time asleep and, if you’re like me, you wake up refreshed and less sore. I traveled to visit my parents now that we were all vaccinated, and I got in some relatively easy Apple Fitness+ workouts while on the road to close my rings each day.
I was able to do the same in June on a trip to Portland. And I’ve since done it on three other business trips, including one to England. If I don’t feel motivated to do a walk or a run, the Fitness+ app provides plenty of workouts that can be completed in a hotel room.
Adding a Focus on Calorie Intake
Second, I needed to address my diet. Despite losing some weight, I was still heavier than I had been pre-pandemic. I needed a way to be more mindful of my diet, and to change my eating habits.
In May I started using the Noom app. Some friends had used it and recommended it, and they have a free trial which is always a good way to try out something like this. This app uses a combination of psychology, education, accountability, and structure to help you lose weight. I’ve always been resistant to the idea of “diets” because inherently I know my issue has not been that what I’m eating is unhealthy per se- but more that I just need to eat less of it. I didn’t want an extreme diet that I couldn’t maintain.
Noom immediately dispels the notion that it will attempt to push a crazy diet on you. It starts with basic components that work:
- measuring yourself every day (weight)
- tracking what you drink (water)
- tracking what you eat (all meals and non-water drinks)
- educating you on diet and weight loss: every day there are lessons to listen to or read.
- helping you set goals for weight loss
- helping you articulate *why* you care about those goals — what’s driving you.
The reason Noom worked for me though is that it doesn’t harass you or attempt to make you feel guilty about what you eat, or when you fail to stick with the program (in fact, Noom invests time in explaining why guilt is an unproductive emotion when trying to be more mindful of your diet. Noom also introduced the concept of foods that have a low calorie density, vs. high density. This is a useful mental model for thinking about food. If you can convert those eating urges into a time to eat a low-density food you’re going to get back to “feeling full” without over-consuming calories for what your body needs.
Most importantly, Noom works on your psychology with respect to building new habits. If you can make healthier eating part of your habitual routine, it takes less cognitive load to keep it going.
At the end of the day, does Noom’s psychological approach to diet work? It has for me. I reached my goal weight, losing a total of 22 pounds with Noon (and 5 before that) to achieve my goal. I’m now 10 pounds lighter than my pre-pandemic weight, and thinking about whether I want to lose another 10 pounds.
I’ll note that Noom has options for getting a live counselor, and for sharing with a group of other Noomers. I didn’t attempt to take advantage of either of these features, as I’m comfortable going at my own pace. Perhaps having group support would have helped me stay on task — you can also see the weighings show a lot of daily and weekly variability in my weight. A vacation, a day of eating queso, or a day without exercise can all effect the next weigh-in. But the overall progress is apparent over time, and as that progress started to feel sustainable, rather than temporary, my confidence in the approach grew.
The Impact for Me
As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve also continued to work out. My workouts have increased in intensity and duration: I’m consistently getting 60+ minutes of exercise every day (thanks to my Apple Watch for tracking that). I’m logging more minutes standing and more steps. The workouts don’t feel more onerous because I’ve made these changes gradually, and I alternate my workouts to decrease the odds of getting either bored or complacent.
What does it mean for me? I’ve gone down a size in everything from shirts to jeans. I’ve punched a new hole in my belt. My energy level feels higher. Oddly, my caffeine consumption has gone up (I can’t really explain why, but it doesn’t seem to be having the negative consequences you might expect). I feel like I have more energy and focus for work and family. And if you’re running a start up and trying to keep up with your spouse and kids, you need every bit of that energy!
If you’re not into work out classes, intermittent fasting, or paleo diets, think about giving something like Apple Fitness+ or Verkout a try, and think about an unobtrusive app like Noom to help you be accountable to yourself and your goals. It might work for you where other tactics haven’t. Investing in your own health and fitness is always a great investment — so if these aren’t helpful, find what works!
One more thing…
I’m sad to report that a legend of the Austin Tech community has passed away. Pike Powers was instrumental in bringing high-tech to the Austin, starting with MCC and SemaTech. I wrote about my experience listening to Pike Powers, Neal Spelce, and Howard Falkenberg talk about the early days of Austin Tech at a SXSW-interactive session back in 2016 in this post: Austin Tech Through the Eyes of its Fathers — one of the best panels I’ve ever attended.
Pike Powers was such a great example of leadership and motivation for Austin, this article is well worth the read:
“He was one of the most significant civic leaders this region as ever known, a major contributor to the technology economy, the so called Technopolis, that Austin enjoys today,” said Sandy Hentges Guzman, CEO of the Austin Area Research Organization, which announced his death.
Sometimes our legends from previous eras are legends for really good reason. Pike Powers was one of those legends. So grateful that I had the chance to meet him even once.
Originally published at https://sfrancisatx.substack.com on November 8, 2021.