Thorsten Heitzmann

not the trombone player

Losing weight

This article is available as PDF as well – just like this article, the PDF got a little update, mainly adding the point about the «record low»

For the first time in more than 30 years I am back to a normal body mass index, having lost more than 36kg of weight in the last 4 years. One could even argue that I lost 46kg (having gained and lost some 12kg in-between) but I think that would be getting too fractal.

Whenever I tell anybody about this (and yes, I do tell everybody), people often ask me what I did to lose weight. I then tell them about it, but at times this develops into an argument on whether what I did was really helpful in losing weight, whether this would actually help them losing weight, etc.

Frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn! What I did surely helped me, but you will need to find your own primrose way to avoid the everlasting bonfire. I encourage you to try out the stuff I tried — but if it doesn’t help you, blame yourself, not me.

Yes, don't blame me!

Yes, don’t blame me!

So, how did I lose weight? What do I recommend?

  • Weigh yourself daily.
    I know, nobody ever lost weight by standing on a pair of scales. But believe me, daily weighing is essential. You’ll end up frustrated («What? I had only had a plate of pasta and now I weigh 1500g more?») as well as elated («See, I lost 1100g in one day by skipping carbohydrates!») and the important thing is to see that these things even out and that when you’re disciplined you’ll be losing weight.
    When I felt that I had reached my goal (getting below 100kg), I decided to skip the weighing, as I could easily keep my weight and a few ups and downs were normal when trying to hold weight.
    Well, you read about it above: Half a year later I had gained 12kg. I’m taking my scales with me on holiday. No joke.
  • Hit a record low every month.
    Once you started losing weight, the main question is how to avoid gaining weight again. The general recommendation is to set some sort of weight bracket, and if you exceed the upper limit by allowing yourself too many treats, go back to your normal ways to lose weight. That is an excellent recommendation, except for that it doesn’t work.
    At least not for me. Reaching your self-defined upper limit means that you allowed yourself to slack. When I did that, I had a ton of excuses why another few hundred grams weight added wouldn’t mind. I could always go back when I wanted, what’s another kilogram, etc. etc. But I gained 12kg this way.
    So clearly another approach was warranted: When I hit an all-time low weight I am happy. I might then be less disciplined for a week or so, but my goal is always to reach a new all-time low within a month. This means that you always have the lower end of your weight bracket in focus, not the upper end. If you have a digital scale showing these insignificant positions after the decimal point, then undercutting the old weight even by only 10g works. That means that over a year you’d lose 120g, essentially just keeping your weight. So this is NOT a way to lose weight until it’s unhealthy (people tend to misunderstand this when I explain the concept), but rather a way to keep the weight stable by losing weight.
  • Count calories, at least until you know your way round.
    Carbohydrates and proteins have 4kcal per gram, alcohol has 7kcal and fat has 9kcal. Keep a diary on everything you eat as well as its calorie content (ideally split up between the 4 major components: carbs, protein, alcohol and fat). There’s any number of websites and free apps to help you, use that help (in German, fddb.info is a good starting point)!
    Alcohol is empty calories and actually bad for you, so skip it. Fat sounds bad, but keeps the hunger away for longer, as the body processes it slowly – don’t be afraid of it.
  • Limit calorie intake.
    Find out the amount of calories you need according to your age, sex and weight (the „basal metabolic rate“, there are plenty of websites and XLS files around to help you — I have been using this one because it gives you more options to play around, but mind that it’s an Excel file with macros, so downloading and using it has a risk attached, though I never had a problem) and then add to this according to your activity level (if you’re sitting around all day, you add about 40%). This gives the number of calories you actually burn during a day. Now you limit yourself to 80% of these calories and you’ll lose a lot of weight over time.
    You’ll find that 80% is not bad, needs a little getting used to but then it’s no problem. You’ll be tempted to eat even less – do that, but don’t feel bad when you go back to 80% later on.
  • Choose your calories.
    I started out with reading Gary Taubes‘ book «Good Calories, Bad Calories». Despite being a physician myself, I am admittedly not 100% sure on all the scientific stuff he presents – but most of it made good sense to me and almost entirely skipping deadly carbohydrates got me to a very good start.
    Two things to note:

    1. I am pretty convinced that the main thing to keep an eye on is caloric intake. You’ll gain weight if you overeat, even if you avoid the deadly carbohydrates.
      Having said that, I note that I can easily overeat on carbohydrates but less easily on protein and fat, so for me this is helpful. If things lie differently for you and you’d rather skip on fat, you should probably do so. But don’t lie to yourself.
    2. Whatever you do, avoid sugars. Of course I eat the occasional piece of cake, or a little chocolate, but sugar is bad and you should be aware of that.

    So nowadays I tend to eat quite a bit of meat, eggs, cheese and vegetables and only very rarely indulge in bread (Brezeln) or carbohydrates (Spätzle). That is hard at times, but bearable.

  • Eat vegetables.
    Yeah, I know. Me too. But honestly, we recently got a cheap combi-steamer, and doing vegetables in there is easy and quick. Afterwards you stir fry them, add a lot of spices and it actually tastes nice and has few calories. Beats being a raw vegan (google „raw vegan pizza“).
  • Stay informed, but sane.
    Don’t follow voodoo weight-loss advice. Losing weight is not easy, but everyone can do it – just realize that it may take a while. Looking back, I overall lost 700g a month (actually more than 1000g/month when I adjust for the 12kg I gained and lost), don’t expect more. Initially, weight loss will be more pronounced, just keep going even if you seem to stall. If you refuse to give up, your body will follow you. Apart from the Taubes book I also recommend (German-only), «Fettlogik überwinden» by Nadja Herrmann, in which she addresses all the excuses you might have for not losing weight. Personally, I didn’t get a lot out of this book, but that’s mainly because I already knew most of these things, not because the book is bad. I recommend buying and reading it, if you can.
    I have two final recommendations which are probably not to be taken overly serious, but they illustrate the change in mindset you should try to achieve. Both these recommendations I read elsewhere and liked them. The first is from Michael Pollan’s «Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual» (I don’t follow all the rules in the book, but they make a lot of sense overall), the source of the second I forgot:

      1. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
      2. Eat as many French fries as you like — but only if
        • you made them yourself
        • from scratch
        • in your own kitchen.

I realize that I should have made this into a 200 page book and get stinking rich, but I rely on people sending me money once they managed to lose weight.

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