Exercising Like a Madman

Wherein I describe becoming more active

I have a friend who’s a Freudian psychiatrist and I once asked him for a layman’s definition of crazy. He hemmed and hawed a bit then settled on “sane” being what the majority of others do. If everyone around you engages in bungie jumping, you’re not crazy if you do, too. For the last while I’ve been exercising like a madman.

Let’s start by establishing a baseline for normal so we can gauge the extent of madness.

My friend, Ed, got a Fitbit-like step counter and he found his step-count was so much less than the 10,000 steps/day goal that he grew discouraged and gave up wearing it. Ed is normal.

Like me, he writes software and spends most of his workday sitting in front of a computer, and a lot of his evening leisure time sitting in front of a television. Though I have never known Ed to be overweight, he would only be normal to think himself a few pounds over his desired weight.

Conversely, a couple years ago I found myself heading into the New Years just as inactive, but “several pounds overweight.”

Denial is more than a river in Egypt.

I was obese as defined by several objective measures of the term. WOW, did it hurt to think that thought and I denied it vociferously. I lied consistently and thoroughly about my weight to myself.

Since I had set target weight loss goals and failed in prior New Years Resolutions, that year I resolved just to “lose some weight.” I chose not to set a target or to take any pictures of my then-obese self, because I didn’t want to feel bad I failed again.

Or worse, I might hit a glorious target weight, then balloon up to my previous overweight. This had happened when for a few glorious hours in graduate school I had hit the American Heart Association target weight for my sex and height. Just a few months later I was back to my nominal 20 to 30 pounds overweight self.

Unlike previous years, I had some things going for me: a Fitbit Charge on my wrist, and Fitbit Aria scale on my bathroom floor. These devices were connected to the Internet and they recorded my daily activity and weight.

The Fitbit webpage reported my day’s steps, floors climbed, and minutes exercised with little clockfaces that changed color as I approached my daily targets. I rolled my eyes as happy little animations accompanied reaching each daily target. Surely happy little stars will not suffice to motivate the life-change I needed.

The Fitbit scale provided a first-thing-in-the-morning report on how much I had lost (or not) from the day before.

(I did not yet understand how much this contributed to habit formation nor did I understand the need to focus on process instead of goals.)

You see, my basement held two longterm dust-settling experiments that I had been conducting over the years: a Nordic Track and a treadmill that I never used. The dust proved that I found exercise boring and did not do it. This is only normal.

To counter this boredom this time, I purchased a television, blu-ray player, Apple TV, and Raspberry Pi–all to distract me while exercising.

These devices created a new problem: They each had remote controls that wouldn’t all fit atop my treadmill.

So I spent a weekend and a hundred dollars in materials to build a treadmill desk. (Hit me up if you want to buy plans for the design.) This desk allowed me to recruit two laptop computers for team distraction.

Treadmill Desk

Normal for me was also obese. I was obese and normal was believing that I could not do more than “lose a few pounds.”

I started walking on my treadmill. This was not terribly abnormal. I started at around 1.7 mph and found myself quite winded after only a few minutes. I persisted and after a couple weeks I was able to increase my speed to 3.6 mph.

And I started aiming at 10,000 steps/day. This delighted the Fitbit website that kept on giving me happy little award animations and achievement badges.

The Fitbit website wanted to know my height, weight, and desired rate of weight-loss. With great skepticism I put in a theoretically feasible target.

From this it calculated the number of calories to burn doing exercise each day. After a month of this I hit the calorie burn target for the first time.

I showed my wife and told her, “You’ll never see this again.”

I was wrong.

Soon I routinely accomplished 10,000 steps/day. After a month, I increased this to about 17,000 steps/day. And the calories burned figure started to routinely hit the Fitbit target a month after that.

Not surprisingly, my weight dropped over 16 pounds that first month, and over 13 pounds the month after that. My only diet change was to cut out seconds-and-thirds at buffets. People started to notice and ask what I was doing.

This is not normal.

I wore out my shoes and when I bought a new pair the salesman heard I walked 10 miles per day then called me “marathon walker.”

That’s not me and that’s certainly not normal.

Walking 3+ hours a day is more than not-normal: it is insane. Nevertheless, it proved a cure to my obesity. After three months of losing about 15 pounds/month my rate of weight loss declined.

I think that when you have a BMI over 35%, you can lose weight by simply exercizing more. (After that you have to mind what you’re eating, but that’s another story for another day.)

I did not set out to exercise like a madman, it just happened. I just slipped into a habit

Steve Poling

Masters degrees in math and computer science. Poet in several computer languages. I write stories about Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft, steampunk, and SF.

Grand Rapids, Michigan http://www.catfoodretirement.com