Some guy stroked my cheek and said "thinner" yesterday, and then POOF.

Some guy stroked my cheek and said "thinner" yesterday, and then POOF.

Being a writer and a Creative Director is a somewhat sedentary lifestyle, fraught with overlap. M'bellly overlappin' m'belt, mostly. So, like the rest of the Western World, as of 1 January I started doing things that I hoped would help me trim up. Not unusual, and not my first time. But this go, I decided to skip the "resolutions," and instead make a commitment to changing my actual lifestyle. Instead of dieting, I set up a system that lets me eat what I want and still knock off the pounds. No willpower required. Here's what I've put together — 

No weigh in

I decided not to weigh myself, either at the beginning or during the process. Instead, I have a series of old shirts, coats, and jeans that was able to wear at various points in my life, but have since "outgrown." These are my benchmarks. When I'm able to wear Shirt X, I know I'm back to being as thin as I was in Photo Y, which correlates with a specific date and a general weight. 

Positive uses for neurosis

I also decided to jot down every ... single ... calorie. This is me making my weaknesses into a strength. Tracking calorie intake is a pain in the butt, and it's something I fall behind on frequently if I don't do it at every meal. But one thing I excel at is self-loathing and guilt when I haven't done something I know I'm supposed to do, and if I don't track those calories, I get so sick to my stomach I can't eat much anyway. BAM! Neurosis trumps laziness.

Laziness as motivation

But don't discount laziness just yet! Because I have FREEBIES! I have foods that I can eat without having to track the calories. Grapes are one of those. I can eat as many grapes as I want, because they're "free." And yes, I am aware of the sugar in those things, and the arguments for and against limiting natural sugar consumption blah yakkity meep meep. Do what you like. This is my weigh tloss plan. And grapes are free, because if I have to choose between entering calories for a bunch of mini candy bars or eating a big pile of grapes without having to log anything, I'm choosing the grapes. Laziness FTW!

For tracking purposes

For all this calorie tracking, I use the Livestrong MyPlate app. This is handy because it also plays to my laziness. Almost anything I could eat is already listed, with calorie info, in the app. I just type in what I had, pick the one that seems to fit best (if there's no exact match) and roll with it. I can also track my exercise here, noting everything from a few minutes running up stairs to an hour on the treadmill.  There are a ton of apps out there that do this just as well. I chose this app because it was the first one to pop up when I did calorie tracking last time. Science!

Tracking with Livestrong

So all this tracking is helpful because I've set up some daily limits on how many calories I take in. I used Livestrong's default system to calculate what that should be. Last time, when I lost weight rapidly and felt pretty good about it before succumbing to house-buying-and-job-losing stress, I set my daily intake to 1200 calories. That was meant to be temporary, until I hit my goal weight, and then I could slow ramp up to something more maintainy. But because I was tracking weight as my primary metric, and because I hit an inevitable plateau, I felt like my extremely limited calorie intake wasn't paying off at a certain point. Discouragement and bitterness ensued, and I was thus vulnerable to the aforementioned HBaJL stress. So this time, I let Livestrong set my calories at about 1,700 per day. This is on track for a 2-pound-per-week weight loss. And that seems about right.

Oh, and I'm not "precise" in my tracking. Sometimes I use a "close enough" method. I know, in general, that my calories are either low or high for a day. So I may limit what I eat for dinner if I've had a big breakfast or lunch or both. Or I may let myself have a little extra at lunch if breakfast was 120 calories of yogurt. And if I'm adding snacks, like peanuts or yogurt or whatever, I keep the in-between meals light enough to account for a couple-hundred extra calories here and there. It's not an exact science, but I'm not exactly a scientist. 

Y ask Y

Now for the icky part. Because frankly, I never liked "exercise." The whole process of it was what turned me off. Sort of fake, sort of annoying, sort of interrupting everything else I had to do in life. I didn't like the idea of joining a gym, because they were usually high-pressure environments filled with pushy sales people in skin-tight clothing. So instead, I decided to join the YMCA. And yes, I get it ... that's more or less a "gym." But there's enough of a community component to it that I feel like I'm in a happy place. I go in and I'm greeted by people who smile and know my name (your results may vary). I've gotten to know regulars, though we don't really chat much. I go in after work, get on a treadmill for 30 minutes, maybe do some resistance training for a bit, and I'm out. I read my Kindle on the treadmill while listening to Pandora on my iPhone, or I listen to an audiobook, or I watch inspirational YouTube clips (this one's my favorite). 

Physical It-ness

In addition to working out at the Y, I also look for every opportunity to do something physical and (usually) fun. I race the elevators in the parking garage as I go up and down the stairs for seven or eight flights. I do elevated pushups on my bathroom counter so I can stare into the mirror at my magnificent face (narcissism has it's advantages). I ride my bike on trails and through parks on days that aren't arctic or funnely. I fold in as many different ways to be physical as I can think of, so that none of it feels like "exercise." And, of course, I log every bit of it. The one time I'm not lazy about logging stuff, because it's kind of a "look what I can do" moment. 


Basically, this isn't a diet, or a workout plan. This is me deciding to make a habit of doing things better than I have in the past. It's routine. It's a system. Systems are better than goals. As Scott Adams put it, "Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners." Or similar. What he meant by that was the fact that while you're pursuing a "goal," you're always in the process of losing, right up until you achieve that goal. But if you're working a "system," you're succeeding as long as your'e always following it. You only fail if you stop using the system.  See? Cartoonists and writers are smart.

Will this work for you? Maybe. It has worked for me. I can't tell you how many pounds I've lost, because I'm not tracking it. But I can tell you that I can fit into shirts I haven't been able to fit into for over three years. I'm getting comments from people about my weight loss. My wife says my butt is smaller, and I assume she'd be an authority. I also feel more energetic and I'm a lot happier, in general. I like my body more.

Oh, one last thing ... I'm open to other things I can add to my system. The system evolves. That's the point. It's about refining the system so that it's something I do automatically, all the while getting results. So I'm willing to explore things like a gluten-free lifestyle, or incorporating different exercises, or eating super foods, or whatever. If they can be folded in, without the need for willpower, then they'll work. If I have to force myself to make it habit, and then fight to keep it as a habit, it won't work at all. That's how I've managed to hack my body and my brain. I'm using my natural tendencies, including those "negative" ones, to get what I want.

Wordslinger approved. Do with it what you will. Let me know your results! 


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at


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