How I Shifted from Just Counting Calories to Supercharging My Fitness Workouts
This is part of a weight loss and fitness improvement series that I’m writing to share how I went from 222 pounds and unable to bike more than 20 minutes on a Peloton to 153 pounds and running 8–12 miles / day in just 18 months.
I’m no superhero and I’m not going to give you some unrealistic story that is unachievable. I have been on an 18-month, consistent, focused, data-driven approach to improving everything about myself from food to workouts to sleep (Oura Ring) to water intake (Hidrate). I will publish a lot more about the gear I used and what works and what doesn’t but today is about how I started to supercharge my workouts.
So far I have written about the psychology of food and separately about the food services I use and today I am going to talk about how I gamified my sports routines to increase consistent performance every month.
I’m not a world-class athlete and I never will be (nor want to be). But I can run a 10k in sub 8-minute miles which for 52 years old and a busy, full-time job isn’t too shabby either. I can sneak out after a day of meetings and put in 10 miles and still be back at my computer 1:45 later and typing away or Zooming (with a hat and still sweaty :)).
From Food to Movement
I quantified my food intake initially through Noom and later MyFitnessPal where I keep a food journal. It’s super easy to track everything and at the end of the day it tells you not total calories but also breakdown by fat, carbs and protein (plus sodium, etc). I track my weight every morning first thing when I wake up on a Withings Body+ scale.
Armed with food & weight data and goals I turned to increasing my exercise alongside reducing my calories. Noom had a rule that you could “eat 50% of all calories burned” so that if I burned 700 calories in a day I could eat an extra 350 calories so I became extra motivated to burn those 700 calories! When I started I didn’t feel I had the time for monster workouts (and in reality I wasn’t ready for it) but I found that I could use my Apple Watch to track my walks and after that everything became a walk. I became less interested in taking the subway in NY when I could walk 3 miles to my meeting just by leaving a little bit earlier and taking calls along the way.
I stopped planning breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings and instead did walk-and-talks. I wanted to see how many miles per day I could walk just doing the things I normally did every day. Calls were done on my AirPods and with my phone in my pocket. I became as obsessive about my daily walking targets as my food logging had become. I would meet people for hour-long hikes and not hour-long lunches.
I would plan a day around which calls I could take while I was walking and which meetings could be mobile. One day when my car was in the shop I asked my colleague Stuart for a ride home but I asked him to drop me a mile away from my house so I could walk the last mile. I became a bit obsessive about hitting my daily targets. It was only 15 minutes extra but I was happy to have the extra mileage before dinner time so I had more calories available to eat if I wanted them.
It became a lifestyle, a habit. Not overnight. I made small changes and locked in those habits. Then I would always look for other things I could add. It was all about the numbers, the daily goals, the weigh-in every morning, keeping to my calories targets and not breaking my “streak.” It was a game. I was gamifying myself.
I used the Apple Watch to show how many days in a row I had hit my walking targets and my calorie targets and I didn’t want to break streak. I even found myself standing up in meetings so that I could “close all three circles.”
I knew that I was giving over to a game, to numbers, to silly mind games of streaks but I decided to embrace it. I convinced myself that if I broke streak I might then not get back on the horse. It’s like the kids with their obsession with Snapchat streaks.
Then I found my next set of metrics to take me to the next level. After just four months I had hit my first big target getting my weight from 222 to 200 and now this number that seemed impossible when I began was now in sight. 1–8–5.