Data-driven weight loss: How I shed 35 pounds in 4 months
Losing weight can be a challenge, especially when surrounded by unlimited delicious food. Here’s how a data focused approach helped me achieve sustainable results without giving up my favorite foods or resorting to extreme measures.
After a lifelong struggle with weight issues, I am happy to share the story of how I succeeded at losing a significant amount of fat in a healthy and controlled way. This post outlines the changes I made, and the power of utilizing data to track my progress and make informed choices. Follow along as I share insights from my data-backed weight loss journey that started this February.
I did this without using any pills, undergoing surgeries, or sacrificing any of my favorite foods and drinks. This positive mindset allowed me to enjoy cookies, chocolates, and ice cream while still reaching my weight loss goals.
Best of all, I did this while enjoying the amazing snacks and lunch offered at my Snowflake office, and traveling the world while sharing delicious meals with friends.
What worked this time was something I hadn’t tried before: using data to track my weight and to stay in control of what and how much I eat.
So, what did I do?
To lose weight, there are 3 basic variables I had to stay on top of:
- The variable I want to control — Weight: I can’t control it directly, but tracking my weight provides direct feedback to witness the effectiveness of my efforts.
- The variable I can control — Eating less than my calorie budget: By tracking and controlling how many calories I eat, my weight trends up or down (depending on my choices — I’m in control now).
- Increasing the calorie budget — Physical activity: To eat more while still losing weight, I can increase my daily calorie budget with physical activity. Just walking more helps!
3 tools to track these variables
To monitor these 3 variables, I utilized 3 basic tools:
- A scale: I got a simple digital scale from Amazon. Weighing myself every morning and recording those numbers gave me the satisfaction of seeing them decrease — but also increase — in mysterious ways.
- An app: I chose Lose It. It’s a free app that provides a personalized calorie budget and tracks it based on your specific situation and goals. I ended up paying for it to remove ads, and as an expression of gratitude for its incredible usefulness.
- A fitness tracker: I utilized an affordable fitness tracker (a ~$45 Mi Band), to monitor my steps and heart rate. This data enabled me to increase my daily caloric budget and enjoy my favorite treats while staying on track.
That’s basically it.
Advanced tools and questions
How do you measure the number of calories on a plate?
Determining the exact number of calories in a plate can be extremely difficult, but these are some effective strategies:
- The app: Lose It has a huge database of worldwide plates. Just search among the options it provides and make a reasonable guess.
- Known foods: Many restaurants and packaged items provide nutritional information. Lose It already know about many of these, which makes it easy to start educating your judgement.
- ChatGPT and Bard: These new chatbots have been amazing at helping me guess calories. You can paste the name of the plate and ingredients (if available), and they will make their guesses. But remember: They hallucinate, so questioning their answers is crucial.
- /r/caloriecount: Reddit might be in a down-spiral these days, but I used many of its communities for advice and inspiration throughout this journey. On /r/caloriecount you can post pictures of food — or see what others have posted — and read helpful replies with calorie estimates.
- A food scale: With a portable food scale you can check the exact weight of what you are about to eat, and use it as input for the tools above.
How do you know you are losing weight in a healthy way?
Some lessons I’ve learned throughout this journey:
- Talk to a professional: If these tips are not working as expected, don’t hesitate to consult a nutritionist or other professionals who can provide personalized guidance based on your data. When I did she provided deeper insights and improvements to my strategies.
- Lose weight slowly: Try to lose at most 2 pounds a week (1 kg). If you are losing more than that — adjust your calorie budget and eat more. This gives your body time to adapt, reduces the risk of loose skin, and promotes overall well-being.
- Eat enough protein: At first I ignored this, but it turns out that protein has a vital role in muscle recovery and satiety. Now I have the extra daily goal of eating enough protein, and Lose It also helps with this.
- Don’t lose muscle: During weight loss, the body tends to lose muscle before fat. Engaging in strength training exercises helps signal to the body that muscle preservation is important.
- Be kind to yourself: Treat yourself kindly and avoid feelings of shame or disappointment when deviating from your plan. Instead, focus on tracking your progress, celebrating milestones, and nurturing a positive relationship with yourself.
How can you ensure that you’re losing fat and not muscle?
For precise monitoring of fat and muscle loss, I employed a DEXA scan, which offers an x-ray driven analysis of body composition, including fat, lean tissue, and bone density. This might be challenging and expensive, but around the US a provider called BodySpec offers this service for approximately $40— and in just 6 minutes.
Who do you discuss this with?
Friends: Once I started sharing my calorie counting adventures, many of my friends had similar stories to share. It’s been great to learn from their own challenges, toolbox, and observations. I’m really looking forward to the conversations this post will inspire.
Reddit: I also went often to reddit for advice and inspiration. My favorites communities for this have been /r/loseit, /r/CICO, /r/caloriecount, and /r/progresspics. (On a sad note, I’m bummed to see that reddit’s management destroying what made reddit good lately).
LLMs: I’ve had long and deep conversations with ChatGPT — wondering how weight loss works, what choices should I make, why weight goes mysteriously up and down, and so much more.
What are some disadvantages of losing weight?
While losing weight, I also encountered a few challenges worth considering:
- Calorie budget goes down: At first I could eat 2200 calories a day while losing weight. Now my budget is a little less than 2000 calories, as a leaner person burns less calories throughout the day. However — the budget could be significantly higher if I wanted to maintain weight instead of keep losing it.
- Oversized clothes: As my body transforms, my wardrobe no longer fits properly. I’ll have to buy new t-shirts and pants, and visit a tailor to adjust my favorites.
Additional AI generated advice
This is some helpful advice that ChatGPT suggested adding to the post:
“Don’t overlook rest, recovery, and hydration in your weight loss journey. Remember to take care of your mental health, perhaps through mindfulness or seeking support when necessary. Aim for sustainable lifestyle changes rather than quick fixes. Celebrate non-scale victories like feeling more energetic or clothes fitting better. Understand that everyone’s body responds differently, so stay flexible. Keep up with regular health check-ups to ensure your strategy isn’t negatively impacting your overall health. Also, be aware of the role of alcoholic beverages in your calorie intake. Every individual’s journey is unique, and it’s vital to respect your body and its needs.”
That’s it for this post, but I’d love to discuss further topics if we have a chance. Questions like:
- What formulas govern weight loss?
- What can you learn with SQL while analyzing all the collected data?
- How did you handle setbacks during your weight loss journey?
- Can you share specific meal plans or food choices you made while trying to stay within your calorie budget?
- Could you elaborate on how you balanced your macro-nutrient intake (protein, carbs, fats)?
- How did you handle social situations that centered around food and drinks?
- What did your daily or weekly exercise routine look like?
- How did you manage hunger pangs or cravings?
- Did you incorporate any strength training or resistance exercises to maintain muscle mass?
- How did you adjust your strategies based on your data observations?
- Could you provide more detail on the mental health aspects of your journey?
- How did your sleeping patterns affect your weight loss journey?
- How do you plan to maintain your weight loss in the long term?
- What was your motivation to start this journey, and how did you keep yourself motivated?
- Did you notice any improvements in your overall health, apart from weight loss?
- How did you handle plateaus during your weight loss journey?
- How did your weight loss affect your energy levels throughout the day?
- Could you share more about your experiences with DEXA scans? Were there any surprises in your body composition data?
- What advice do you have for others who have tried data-driven weight loss and didn't find success?
- How did you address nutritional deficiencies, if any, during your weight loss journey?
- Can you provide any tips for creating a supportive and healthy environment for weight loss at home or at work?
- What were some unexpected challenges you encountered during your weight loss journey and how did you overcome them?
- Have you noticed any changes in your cognitive functions, such as focus, memory, or decision-making abilities, since you started losing weight?
- How did you ensure that your weight loss journey did not become an obsession, but rather a healthy lifestyle change?
- What are your plans for the future? Are you planning to lose more weight or maintain your current weight?
- How does ADHD affect this journey?
- How do you deal with travel and jetlag?
By implementing these changes and leveraging the power of data, I successfully achieved sustainable weight loss, shedding 35 pounds (16kg) in 4 months.
I love the universality of the equation:
- Your body and physical activity determines your calorie budget.
- Your budget gives you permission to eat and enjoy.
- If you eat less than the budget, you lose weight (or gain, or maintain — whatever you need and choose).
Remember that everyone’s journey is unique, and seeking professional advice is crucial. Embrace self-compassion, celebrate milestones, and enjoy the positive changes you bring into your life.
I’m Felipe Hoffa, Data Cloud Advocate for Snowflake. Thanks for joining me on this adventure. You can follow me on Twitter, BlueSky, and LinkedIn. And subscribe to reddit.com/r/snowflake for the most interesting Snowflake news.