How to Lose Weight like a Web Designer.
Designing and developing websites is a pretty sedentary existence. You’re planted in a chair for 8+ hours a day, running out to fast food joints for lunch, inhaling burritos at your desk, sucking down cans of soda, and hitting the gym about as often as you do the dentist. If you’re anything like me, years of this routine will have left you dragging around a few extra pounds. Let’s put it another way: designing websites has made you a bit of a fatass. ((Unless you’re Andy Rutledge, who seemingly designs websites from the saddle of his road bike.))
So how do you get rid of the weight?
In a word? Calories. Weight loss is painfully simple: eat fewer calories than you burn. That’s it. Nothing else matters (or matters much, anyway). Everything you’ve heard about carbs and trans fats and Omega-3 fatty acids is just noise. If you expend more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight. You could spend all day washing gravy fries down with chocolate milkshakes and still lose weight, provided you use more than you take in. It’s that simple.
Notice I didn’t say it was easy. I said it was simple.
How much am I burning?
To start, you’re gonna need to figure out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). That’s a fancy way of saying “how many calories you’d burn even if you laid in bed all day.” You see, your body is constantly burning calories to keep you alive, even while sleeping. Just how many calories you burn depends on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) age, sex, height, and weight. For instance, an average mid-twenties male at rest goes through about 1,800 calories in a day. Why is this number so important? Well, if you don’t exercise, this number—plus the handful of calories you burn by going through your daily routine—is your caloric ceiling. If you go past it, you will gain weight.
How much am I eating?
Let’s be honest, you probably eat like crap. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t need this blog post. ((That, or you have the metabolism of a hummingbird.)) So now, you need to figure out what the damage is by tracking how many calories you consume in a day. Thankfully, this is a pretty precise operation because every consumable food product in America is labeled with nutritional content. Carry a notebook with you for a week and write down everything you eat, and how much. At the end of each day, count up your calories. Even better, if you have an iPhone—and if you’re reading this blog, you probably do—there’s an app for that. I use Tap & Track, a terrible name for what is otherwise a fantastic app. It comes preloaded with a database of over 100,000 food items, from generic household staples to restaurant-specific dishes. It’s now part of my lifestyle; whenever I eat anything, I enter it into the app (Tap & Track also tracks your calories burned from exercise…more on that later).
Once you start tracking your food intake, you’ll be shocked at how mindlessly you’ll toss down something packing hundreds of calories. A handful of peanuts? 200 calories. A Snickers from the vending machine? 270 calories. Fries and a Coke from the drive-thru? 600 calories. All those calories have to go somewhere, and they typically end up in the back pockets of your size 38 jeans.
You sold me. Let’s start losing some weight.
Here’s what you need to know. In the world of nutritional conversion, one pound equals 3,500 calories. That means, in order to lose one pound a week, you need to find a way to eat 500 fewer calories than you burn each day. ((500 calories/day x 7 days = 3,500 calories saved.)) So let’s say your BMR is 1,800. Your typical daily lifestyle—waiting for the bus, playing Words With Friends, clicking that mouse button—burns another 600 calories. Together, that’s 2,400 calories. In order to lose a pound in seven days, your daily food intake cannot exceed 1,900 calories. ((If you want to lose two pounds a week, your limit is 1,400.))
If you’re losing 1–2 pounds a week, perfect. That’s exactly where you should be. If you’re losing weight at a faster rate, this isn’t necessarily cause for celebration. Unless you’re on deck for the next season of The Biggest Loser, losing more than a few pounds per week means you’re not eating enough.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a weight loss post for web designers unless there were tips on how to hack your diet. Here are some tips to make things a little easier.
Let’s start with the good news. The good news is, when you exercise, you burn way more calories than you would sitting in front of a computer. And when you burn more calories, you get to eat more food. Start with cardio to get your heart and lungs in better shape. Jogging on a treadmill for 30 minutes will crank out about 300 calories. ((I’m in week 4 of the Couch-to-5K plan. There’s an app for that too.)) An hour-long spin class knocks out another 700. But cardio exercises only burn calories while you’re doing them. To increase your resting metabolism, you’re gonna need to lift some weights to build muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
What’s the bad news? Well, the bad news is every other part of exercising. Exercising sucks. Sweating sucks, especially in the dead of winter. Buying workout clothes sucks. ((Unless it’s that Nike Pro gear. Wearing that stuff makes you feel like an NFL linebacker.)) And no one likes going to the gym, but you have to do it. Join a gym close to your house or office, and go 3 or 4 times a week. Do it in the morning; hit the gym at 6pm and you’ll spend more time waiting for that treadmill than you will running on it.
Buy a scale
In fact, buy two scales: a bathroom scale for you and a kitchen scale for your food. Weigh yourself every morning on an empty stomach (there’s a place in Tap & Track for your weight). Use the kitchen scale to start paying attention to serving sizes. Weigh the food you’re eating. If a serving of chicken breast is 3 ounces, you need to know what that looks like.
This one’s tough for me. Coca-Cola Classic is my drug of choice, my one true addiction. But you can forget soda. The soda’s over. You can forget beer too. Beer is liquid bread. And don’t think you can game the system by switching to sports drinks, or even fruit juice. Per ounce, orange juice has way more calories than Coke. ((8 ounces of Coke has 97 calories. The same amount of OJ has 122.)) Whenever you’re thirsty, just drink water.
Don’t laugh, these things are life-savers. Instead of eating six Oreos (300+ calories), eat a 100-calorie pack of Oreo crisps. Sure, you might catch hell from the fellas for eating a tiny bag of snacks, but isn’t losing a few pounds worth temporarily losing a few man points?
Chew some gum
Whenever those sweet cravings hit and all you want to eat is a cubic mile of birthday cake, gum is the only thing keeping you from mainlining chocolate frosting. Gum is your friend. Keep it around.
Give yourself a break
No one wants to be one of those diet nazis who eats nothing but grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli. If you want some McDonald’s, make room in your daily calorie budget and go for it, but pair your Quarter Pounder with small fries and a bottled water. Go to Taco Bell, but get three Fresco crunchy tacos instead of the Nachos BellGrande. And once a week, eat whatever you want. You deserve it: soda, fast food, pizza, chocolate, ice cream; whatever your weakness is, eat it. Don’t go to the gym, and don’t count your calories. Sunday is my day to go nuts, highlighted by my weekly Coke.
• • •
That’s all there is to it. This isn’t a “diet,” per se. It’s more of a lifestyle change. And I wouldn’t be sharing it if it wasn’t working for me. As of this writing, I’ve lost more than 11 pounds in a little less than a month, on my way to 40+. My hope is, the experience of vigilantly tracking my dietary intake for months on end will help me keep the weight off once I reach my goal.
As always, if you’ve had a similar experience, or any additional weight loss tips, bring the ruckus in the comments.
Good advice. I’d recommend Lose It! as an alternative for the iPhone. Also, check out The Hacker’s Diet for a fuller explanation of calories and exercise. Finally, see Physics Diet to make tracking your weight without freaking out possible. (I have no personal experience with Physics Diet, but I’ve heard good things.)
Consider the ruckus brung.
Great timing! My son has the same goal of losing 40 pounds, but has plateaued the last few weeks.
I’m sharing your post with him. Hopefully he’ll get re-inspired. Or at least get some additional tips on steps he can take toward reaching his goal.
Good stuff, this is exactly what I started last year. I couldn’t stand the idea of the gym though, so took up cycling because it meant going to work was exercise and I didn’t need to find extra time for it.
My additional tip would be when counting calories, consider what you can swap foods for. I was eating cheese sandwiches in white bread most days, swapping that for half-fat cheese and wholemeal pitta bread dropped 200 cals a day without really changing what I was eating – it made the process easier.
I’ve some friends who started calorie counting and lost weight effectively, and after reading this I’m quite sold on the idea. However, I don’t think that in itself is sufficient.
If you go purely on calorie counting you ignore other important factors such as high-sugar / high-cholesterol / etc diets, cos you can eat anything as long as the maths balances out.
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I am a firm believer in the idea that a diet is really a lifestyle change. Also you have to take that one day a week to let loose or else you will snap and revert back to bad habits everyday. I once lost 60 pounds doing just this. And honestly in my experience eating right was 95% of the battle. Exercise helps but if you don’t change what you eat you are screwed. I still ate icecream until I was sick once a week, but as long as the other 6 days are in order you are good.
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Great article! I appreciate the time you spent to write this.
I’m going to be painfully pedantic, because 1) I have a lot of free
time on my hands, and 2) typing on the keyboard burns nominally more
calories than reading.
“eat fewer calories than you burn”: technically, *consume* fewer
calories than you burn. What’s the difference? If you do insane things
like puke up your food, or take antibiotics solely to kill the
bacteria in your stomach (you need them to digest complex
carbohydrates aka starches), you don’t have to count the calories you
puke up or poop out. People who’ve had bariatric surgery also
sometimes poop out undigested food. And, if you eat very high amounts
of fat at one sitting, some of that will end up in your poop as well.
More reasonably, you can take drugs like metformin (primarily intended
for diabetics, but has an off-label use as a weight loss product)
which prevent you from digesting all the food you eat.
Your second footnote (“that, or you have the metabolism of a
hummingbird”) threw me for a second, until I realized you were
referring to a low metabolism. True, a hummingbird’s metabolism is
much lower than a human’s, but they also have the highest metabolism
of any other vertebrate: they have to eat half their body weight daily
just to stay alive. Unlike larger birds (that glide/soar),
hummingbirds flap their wings so fast that we see them as blurs, and,
uniquely among birds, can fly backwards.