Fitness, the Developer Lifestyle, and Me

Written on February 28, 2012

The lifestyle

If you’re a developer, designer, or really any sort of desk jockey that obsesses over their brightly lit Mac LED screen at all insane hours of the day and night, then you know what I’m referring to. The incessant draw to the keyboard, the endless ideas rattling around in your brain, the constant need to improve ourselves and our work, to iterate, tweak, and build. Every spare minute is sunk wearing an assprint into a $500 chair. And we love it.

We keep ourselves alert with coffee, Red Bull, energy drinks, and more coffee. Some of us stoop to prescription stimulates. Later when we can’t sleep, most drink beer, whiskey, or whatever your drink of choice.

The problem

Inevitably, most of us get overweight. A few with wicked metabolisms or freakish genetics get invisibly unhealthy. Enough is enough. We have to take care of ourselves, or we’ll never be able to survive in the industry long-term, take care of our families, or run away from walkers in the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse.

We lose the ability to focus, to prioritize properly, and we waste time, energy, and resources spinning our wheels. Because we’re tired and out of shape.

My personal failure

I’ll just level with you because maybe it’ll help you. As of the end of January I wrapped up a nearly suicidal multi-week run of 80-100 hour weeks to meet client deadlines while maintaining the best customer support I could manage for my side project, Structure. I was drinking over a pot of coffee a day, snacking mindlessly, and sleeping sporadically or not at all. I burned out hard, and my body took a beating. At the end of this blitzkrieg I weighed 254.2 lbs, couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t think critically. Of course I didn’t just magically gain 50 lbs in a few weeks — I’ve been overweight for a while, but the 250s were a first for me. A new low. And by low I mean high.

I’ve “tried” for years to lose weight and have never made more than 5 - 7 lbs progress at any given attempt. I blamed it on Hypothyroidism (I don’t have it) and said one day I’d get it checked out and then I’d lose the weight. Sound like you maybe? The easy way out. We all want the answer to be a pill. However, as the last 4 weeks have proven for me, it’s not impossible, or even complicated.

Results first, details second

As of this morning, I now weigh 239.2 lbs. Admittedly I still have quite a ways to go (still 50+ lbs based on my height), but the momentum is the hardest part. I’ve lost exactly 15lbs in 4 weeks, and put on significant muscle mass. Around Christmas I was struggling to bench-pres 135lbs (I used to be an animal in the gym. this was tough to swallow). This week I was warming up with 190lbs and pushing out clean reps at 225-240lbs. I’m now doing unassisted dips, can hit the treadmill or elliptical for over an hour often. All of these things were pretty much impossible for me a month or so ago.

Not a bad start. I have momentum and confidence on my side, and I feel 100x better. I don’t give myself the middle finger when I walk past a mirror. I can chase my 2 year old son around all evening. And I know I’ll shed the rest of the pounds this time. I can feel the fitness animal tearing away from the inside out, and it feels damn good.

My plan: just two things

I only do two things, and two things only. Two things do I do, not one, nor three, but two.

Count calories and stick to them.

This is so much easier than following a diet plan. I literally can eat just about anything I want, as long as I don’t eat more than 2,200 calories a day.

You’ll need to find a calorie counter to figure out what your recommended intake is, but it’s roughly: (66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in year )) x 1.25. Just google, you’ll find a thousand calculators. I tend towards being more aggressive with my count than most resources suggest. For example, many say I should be eating 2,800 calories a day for my height, weight, and activity level. Whatever, I’d rather undercut it than blow it and get nowhere.

I eat at Moes or Chipotle at least once a week. I drink coffee with cream and sugar. I eat pizza. I just know when I’m going to do it, so I can plan the rest of my day’s meals around it. Cutting calories is easiest with a “this instead of that” mentality. Don’t cut out food you love, just find something similar or replace one ingredient with another one that’s lower cal. For example, get a wheat tortilla at Moes instead of flour (they’re 280 calories). Use Light Caesar dressing instead of Ranch (50 cal vs 120). Cut cheese out of your diet. You’ll barely notice it, and it adds 100+ calories to everything you put it on.

I use an iPhone app called Lose It!, which is pre-loaded with piles of food, restaurants, exercises, etc and helps me track what I’ve eaten/burned for the day in just a minute or two here and there.

Important note: Don’t factor “net calories” left for the day when you’re eating. That is, Lose It! will subtract your calories burned through exercise and tell you there is room left in your meal plan. Disregard this, you only lose weight when you burn more calories than you consume. End of story. Period.

Gym three times a week

I go to the gym at least 3 times a week for at least an hour. This cuts into my work schedule, but I don’t care, it’s worth it. I’ll usually do 20-30 minutes of cardio (treadmill, elliptical, etc), followed by 30-40 minutes of weight-lifting. I don’t do anything particularly unique or crazy, but I do have a bench-press routine I follow (terrible site by the way. I’ll probably redesign this at some point).

If I can spare it, I’ll go again in the evening, bring my iPad, and watch dev screencasts for an hour. Bye bye 600 calories.

You need to create a 3,500-calorie deficit for every pound you want to lose. If you can’t get there with your diet, make it up at the gym. Or run, ride a bike, or do P90X. Whatever.

Conclusion

No gimmicks right? I could elaborate on the specifics of what I eat, what sort of protein powder I use after the gym and so on, but there isn’t any need. This is the core of what you gotta do to lose weight. Stick to it and kick your own ass. I will continue to, and expect you to hold me accountable now that you’ve read this.

7/17/12 Update: I’ve blogged on my current status. Check it out!