I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Weight Loss for Geeks: Part Two: It's Just Math!

First, let me say that I know a fair share of skinny geniuses and I've met plenty of fat people who are dumber than stumps. But, one thing I notice going to a half dozen science fiction conventions each year is that there are also a very high percentage of really smart geeks who are obese. If Big Bang Theory reflected the reality of my personal experience, among it's core group of geniuses (Sheldon, Leonard, Amy, Raj, Penny, and Wolowitz), at least three of them would be weigh over three hundred pounds. Of course, this is pretty much true of all television. While some shows do have one or two token fat characters, 95% of people on television are skinny, despite the fact that two thirds of Americans are overweight, and over a third are obese. Even though there's more to see of fat people, for some reason Hollywood pretends we're invisible. As someone with at least a little understanding of statistics, this nags at me.

While I do know a few literary-minded geeks whose eyes glaze over when you start talking about math, most geeks I know tend to be really good with numbers. Some are even downright obsessive about them. In a previous approach, I mentioned treating my own body statistics like they were the statistics of a character in a role-playing game. I once saw a gamer friend of mine sitting with a sheet of paper in front of him. As I got near, I saw the whole page was covered in equations. I asked what the heck he was working on, and he started talking about a computer game he was playing where he'd just found a new pair of gloves that enhanced his speed stat, but lowered his strength stat. He was working out whether, over time, being able to attack 2% more often would offset the decrease in damage he was inflicting. He'd concluded that it wouldn't, but then he also had to take into effect that the increased speed improved his dodging ability. He was avoiding some slight percentage of damage in each fight, so he finally worked out the numbers showing that the gloves allowed him to spend more time attacking with fewer pauses to heal himself and that gave him something like .025% more killing power over the course of a gaming session.

He's not an aberration. Old-school AD&D players will remember that the early Dungeon Master's Guide opened with a section on bell-curves and mathematical probabilities. There were charts showing the bonuses and penalties of different kinds of weapons against different kinds of armor, and every gamer I knew was obsessed with getting every single modifier he could manage into an attack. (Remember, as an elf, I get +1 with a long bow!) We once videotaped one of our D&D games, because, you know, we thought that shit was interesting as hell. When I watched it a few years later, I couldn't help but notice that we spent half our time arguing over math. A character would want to jump from a window of a tavern, grab a tree branch, and land in the saddle of his horse, and we'd spend twenty minutes debating the odds of that until we agreed on what number he'd need to roll on what combination of dice.

Yet, all the time we were debating this math, I was sitting there drinking straight out of a two liter bottle of Coke while going through multiple slices of pizza and half a bag of potato chips. For all the math I was worried about in my imaginary world, I was stunningly oblivious to the math of my real life.

Weight loss and weight gain really aren't complicated. If you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight. Burn more than you take in, and you lose weight. I credit my success in weight loss to finally paying attention to these numbers. Using a smart phone app called MyFitnessPal, I began to record every single calorie I ate. Whenever I exercised, I recorded the number of calories burned. Of course, you burn calories even if you spend all day in bed reading; this is your basal metabolic rate. There are a dozen websites you can look up to calculate you BMR. Once you know it, the rule is pretty simple: Eat fewer calories than your BMR and you'll lose weight over time. At present, my BMR is around 2100 calories. It's certainly not impossible to stay under 2100 calories a day. But, in my old diet, it was really easy to go over that number. I used to go through at least two liters of soda a day. That's over 800 calories. I used to frequently eat pizza for lunch. Calories vary by the size of a slice of course, but most pizza slices are going to be in the range of 300 calories. It wasn't unusual for me to eat four slices, so, there's another 1200 calories. I'd be peckish after work, so I'd swing through a drive through and grab a burger and fries. There goes another 1000 calories.

Of course, even once you start keeping track of your calorie intake, you'll probably find that low calories alone aren't going to make the pounds fall off. And, there are times when you're still going to want a few slices of pizza, or some birthday cake, or some Halloween candy. Fortunately, your BMR is just your base number. You can burn more calories just by adding in a little exercise. I have plenty of days when I still eat over 3000 calories; but, I also have days when I hike five miles to buy these extras calories.

It's not healthy to get too obsessive over these numbers. You don't want to wind up with an eating disorder, of stop enjoying eating because you're so afraid of sugars and fats that you're paranoid about putting butter on your sweet potato. But, it's definitely healthy to be aware of these numbers. Once you start tracking your numbers, you'll quickly start to see where your excess calories were coming from. Cheryl and I have gotten really good at estimating how many calories are on any given plate of food we encounter. We've learned to correctly judge proportion sizes by putting almost every piece of meat we cook onto a kitchen scale. Even though I can now mentally keep track of my calories, I still use My Fitness Pal to record my numbers, but at this point that's turned into another stat. The program keeps telling me when I hit milestones of how many days I've logged in, and I don't want to mess things up by skipping a day. It will be the same thrill I used to get moving up a level playing Diablo 2. Watching a character creep from 32nd level to 33rd level released a little surge of adrenaline, and I felt the same way when MyFitnessPal told me I'd logged on for 200 days in a row. I imagine having it tell me I've hit 365 days will be nearly orgasmic.

Lord, I'm a geek.

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