Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fun with Graphs

As I've brought up a few times, I keep an Excel chart of my weight loss. I do this for several reasons:

1. I'm a nerd.
2. Recording day-to-day makes me more accountable
3. It's good to look at when I'm losing motivation
4. I have a lot of fun doing so

Today, I'm going to share some of the fun graphs I have, why I have them, what they mean, and how they help.

The most basic graph I keep is just one of my overall weight loss progress. As of today it looks like:

I've been lucky thus far in mostly having consistent losses, but that's not always the case. While the scale is a good overall judge of progress, it's a very noisy instrument. A lot of the time it'll pick up that your dinner last night was salty, or that you're bloated, or that you're dehydrated or that it's that time of the month, or a variety of other things rather than the actual truth of what's going on. This is the reason many people will just weigh themselves once a week: they just want to get an overview of the numbers, they don't want to deal with the day to day noise.

While I see the appeal of that, getting a reading once a week doesn't make your readings more accurate: it just gives you one data point to go on, and you don't know if it's actually your real weight showing up. There is, however, a solution for that: the moving average. So, I have a chart that shows my real weight, and the five day moving average. (For the first 1-4 days, I did an average of how many days I had data for.) As long as you're losing weight, even if you have days you go up and days you go down, the moving average should head consistently downward. Take a look:

Notice how on July 10th, even though I gained .8 pounds and saw a sharp spike in my day to day weight, the moving average of my weight was still falling. The moving average tends to be more valuable if you are having more up and down fluctuations than I am at the moment, but I still like having it for when I do get those--and if my previous attempts at weight loss are any indication, I eventually will.

Now, neither of those are the coolest chart I have.

One of the big things they advocate at Spark People is attaching deadlines to your weight loss goals. Some sort of "A wish + a deadline = goal!" cheese. To a certain extent, I think this isn't optimal: set your goal too low and you end up not really challenging yourself; aim too high and you're in for a sea of disappointment. If you use Spark to track your weight (or Fitday, and perhaps other weight loss software I'm not familiar with), they'll have one static line for your goal. If you're not closely racing the line, it's really not all that helpful: if you're well under or well over it, it's really not showing much about how your most recent progress is comparing to what you need to get to. (Spark will also only track one weight goal at a time, which I find relatively annoying.)

As of now, I have three goals: one short term, one long term, and one long term stretch.

My short term goal is to get to 250lbs by September 15th. The date is arbitrary, but the poundage is meaningful. 250 will mean I've lost 28 pounds, or 10% of my starting body weight. (Technically, the 10% mark will be met at 250.2, I rounded.) 250 is also just a big milestone number, and it seems to work in many ways. The 9/15 date was picked just by playing in calculators: 10/1 seemed too easy, 9/1 too harsh.

My long term goal is to no longer be obese at my brother's wedding, which will mean getting to 175 by August 14th, 2010. My long term stretch goal is to not be overweight by my brother's wedding, which would mean hitting 145 or below by the same 8/14/2010 goal. To be 100% honest, I would be overjoyed and incredibly proud of myself with either. For now, they're just giving me benchmarks.

My favorite chart makes use of all three goals. It's aim is to answer the question of "how much sustained weight would I need to lose per week to hit my goals of 250, 175, and 145?" It looks like this:

I'm also going to show you guys this as a table, since I think it's helpful to look at both:

There's a column for date, weight, days till 9/15, the average amount of weight I'd need to lose each week to get to 250 as of that day, the days till my brothers wedding, the average amount of weight I need to lose each week to get to be not obese, and the same for not overweight.

What I like so much about this chart is that I can see how well I'm doing relative to how well I need to do to hit my goal. Every day I lose .4 pounds or more (the equivalent of 2.8lbs/week), all my goals become easier. When I lose .3 pounds a day (2.1/week), my short term goal and the "not obese" goal are both easier, but the road to my stretch goal becomes slightly harder. .2 pounds day (1.4/week) and everything becomes harder.

But the best part is, those rules aren't constant. Not too long ago, a .3 pound day was bad for my short term and stretch goals. When I started my short term goal, it meant losing 2.8 pounds a week. Because I've been above pace so much, I now only need to lose a smidge more than 2 pounds a week. Progress!

There are a few reasons I like this standard so much. One of them is that it's forward-looking: all the other stats just judge progress thus far. This one is more about how each day will impact the rest of my journey. Essentially, every day I do an awesome job makes the days ahead easier.

The thing about my goals is, while they're there, and I like using them to measure progress and stay on top of myself, they're not really what I care about. Yes, it would be nice to look fabulous in my brother's wedding pictures: I'm going to have to see them for years and years to come. But, relative to how much I care about the reasons I'm actually doing this, it's meaningless. I care a bit, but it's not really what I care about.

I care about my future health: I don't want to get diabetes, or heart disease, or all those other things that being obese makes me more likely to get. Most importantly, I don't want my weight to hold me back any more.

I want to sit on airplanes without feeling bad for the person sitting next to me. I want to be able to run if I need to and not get winded. I want to go to the beach and not feel like I shouldn't be wearing a bathing suit. I want to not be scared of amusement park rides. I want to just live my day to day life without there being things I can't do because I'm too damn fat.

The goals and charts are just window dressing, they're not what matters. But they help me get through the day to day, and keep me solid when I want to stray. The charts help prove what I inherently know: each day I do a good job makes the next day easier.


  1. Nice to meet you - thanks for joining my blog. I love your graphs (I have a paper one in my kitchen - fellow nerd!)

    Sounds like you are well on your way - good luck with your journey.

    And, hey, add one of those follower gizmos!

  2. Added, and thanks for the encouragement. :)