Ups and Downs

Last year, y’all cheered me on as I lost 45 pounds in 6 months. I had gotten up to 235 or so, the most I’d ever weighed, and I could read the writing on the wall. If I didn’t do something to get myself healthier, I’d keep gaining weight until I was too old to do much about it. And I’d live a lower-quality life because of it. I was proud of meeting my goal, and felt great. Just by exercising every day and counting calories, I accomplished something I didn’t think I could do. I could fit into clothes I hadn’t worn in a decade!

So, about 1 year later, I weigh 245, 10 pounds more than I did at my previous heaviest.

Yeah, I could name a bunch of factors: I lost my job; I was suffering from low-level depression, and went on anti-depressants (both of which contribute to weight gain); I got colon cancer and spent some time in recovery from the surgery; Donald Trump became President; my Mom passed away; I got busy with my new job. I decided to treat myself a bit for a hard year.

But really, it comes down to one thing: I stopped weighing myself every day. Without that daily reminder, I stopped exercising and watching my calorie consumption. I broke the habit. For me at least, that’s really all it takes: if I exercise and watch what I eat, I lose or maintain weight; if I don’t, I gain weight. And the scale is my external talisman of mindfulness. (Well, that and the last hole in my belt, which I’d started to strain. Seriously, I’m down to a single pair of jeans that feels comfortable.)

So, a couple weeks ago, I decided enough was enough. I knew what I needed to do, and I knew I could do it. I just needed to overcome my procrastination, and get back on the exercise bike. I dusted the bike off, cleaned up the stack of books that had piled up on the side table, tidied my exercise area up, put on my now-tight exercise shorts and shirt, got myself a bottle of water and a towel, plugged in my new Amazon Echo (my new toy to listen to podcasts hands-free), and…

The Echo wouldn’t connect to the Internet. What? 30 minutes wasted debugging that. But finally, I stepped up on my Fitbit Aria smart scale, and peeked at the dreaded result. 244 pounds. _sigh_ Worse yet? The scale didn’t even recognize me anymore. Like a high-school friend who you hadn’t seen in years, all that extra weight just made me another face in the crowd. “Guest”, it said, and dutifully reported the result to the Internet. How could I change it, so it logged the weight as me? Another round of debugging, wherein I realized that the batteries were all but dead, and that the battery level reported on the website was inaccurate because the scale wasn’t actually sending the signal to the Internet, like it seemed to claim. And once the batteries were changed, it still couldn’t connect to the Internet, because I’d recently changed the password, and it took many rounds of connecting first to my app and then to my wifi router before I could persuade it to log on. Then once it was working, I still had to retrain it to recognize my new weight. Quite a reward! All this took over an hour. Time was wasting, but at least I had everything in order now.

I got on my bike, told Alexa to play RadioLab, set my bike to my old familiar rolling hills, and started pedaling, recommitted to a new, healthier me.

“WORKOUT PAUSED”.

Huh? Why did the bike pause? I restarted it, and began pedalling.

“WORKOUT PAUSED”.

WTF? I jump through all these hoops, and my bike Hals me with, “I’m sorry, Doug, I can’t do that.” Open the damn pod bay doors, Bike!

Sure, it’s been a year since I used the bike, but it worked fine last time I got on it, and it’s not like it’s an avocado, it shouldn’t have an expiration date!

Clearly, the Universe doesn’t want me to lose weight. Luckily, I don’t give a hot damn what the Universe thinks, because it’s shown pretty poor judgment up to this point.

Now it’s late, dinnertime, and I just give up. After dinner, I look up Schwinn’s forums and help line, find they’re closed for the day; I determine to call them in the morning. In the meantime, I spend a couple hours window-shopping for new exercise bikes. Turns out I have a pretty old model, and the newer ones are better… but I can’t justify the cost to myself, and I don’t like just throwing stuff away.

Once I navigate the always-annoying phone tree, pressing 2 and 1 and 5 and 3 on cue (I’m getting a little tired of machines telling me what to do), I finally connect to a real live person at Schwinn! (Or Bowflex. Or Nautilus. Apparently, they’re all the same company.) They’re friendly, helpful, and patient, and walk me through removing the “shrouds” (plastic covers) from the bike’s inner workings. Has the magnet come loose? It does that sometimes…

Interlude: IT’S ALL MAGNETS! There’s a big metal flywheel, and below it is an armature lined with big blocky magnets; the variable resistance is generated by a small motor that moves the magnet-armature closer or further from the flywheel. It never touches the flywheel, so there’s less to wear down and break. Kinda genius. Then there’s the “pulley wheel”, which is the plastic wheel that the pedal shaft goes through, which runs the drive belt to the flywheel. Inset into the side of the pulley wheel is a small magnet that rotates with the wheel; as it orbits, it passes by a fixed “speed sensor”, a small tube mounted on the bike frame, and as the pulley wheel magnet zips by, it counts the interval between orbits, giving the velocity of pedaling.

The magnet is still there on the pulley wheel. The sensor wire is connected to the bus. It’s probably the speed sensor itself. No problem, they say. Just order a new speed sensor from this partner site. It’s cheap, 6 bucks, and it’s almost certainly the problem. The bike’s computer would fail more spectacularly than that, so it’s likely something cheap.

I thank them, hang up, go to buy this cheap part online.

As they said, it’s like $6. But there’s a minimum $25 order, so it’s magically $25. And of course this tiny wire costs $15 to ship. $40, and I’m not sure that this sensor is really the problem. Maybe I should look again at those new exercise bikes.

The Universe is really opinionated about me getting back in shape!

I call Schwinn back the next day (or maybe the day after?). Explain the situation again, ready to start asking what I might look for in a new bike. This new call center guy asks what my customer account number; didn’t the last guy set me up an account? Nope. Okay, that gets done, and New Guy tells me that I can order the part directly from Schwinn, it’s like $8 shipping included. I’m at a loss why Other Guy didn’t tell me that option, but there you go. But I have new info from New Guy! The speed sensor needs to be really close to the orbiting magnet, like a credit-card’s width away, or it won’t register.I don’t know how it might have gotten moved, but I start to adjust it… and the mounting bracket crumbles in my hand. Oh.

Do I want to order a replacement now? Nope, that would be too easy, I’ll try adjusting it first, then if it doesn’t work, I’ll call back. A couple busy weekend days go by before I try to duct-tape the sensor in place, to no avail. On Monday or Tuesday, I call Schwinn back. The speed sensor is sent on its way, and will be here in 10 business days. Yesterday, it came in the mail, but I felt crappy, and didn’t get to it. I felt crappy again today, with a migraine, but I know this game. I reopened the shrouds, removed ye olde speede synsorre, and replaced it with the shiny (well, matte black) new one. Fitted the shrouds back on (they’re kind of a pain to get on and off around the pedals), and low and behold, the bike works again! Of course, by this time it’s dinnertime again, and then I gotta watch some TV, and …

Nope. Not again. Not my first rodeo, Body (or really, Brain, the sneakiest part of my body). Just before midnight, I forced myself back on the wagon (or back in the saddle, as it were).

Long story short, I just started exercising again tonight. Starting slow, only half the time (and calories burned) that I was doing at my average last year, but I’ll work my way up, just like I did last year, and I’ll be back on track.

Keep it to yourself, Universe. Nobody’s got time for your opinions.

3 thoughts on “Ups and Downs

  1. Good job getting back in the saddle! I’m cheering for you. And I need to get on my elliptical because I’m down to two pairs of pants that fit.

  2. Hey Alan, here is a tip that is currently working well for me and that might help you too. I gained a lot of weight this year too so I went to see my aunt, who is a dietecian. She told me that the current consensus among dietecian (at least in France) is that people always get back the weights following a diet and that a more efficient method is to try to teach the body to pay attention to satiation cues again.

    So here is what she told me to do. First, I keep a notebook: every time I eat something, I write the time, my level of hunger (0 = not hungry, 3 = peckish, 6 = normal hunger, 9 = starving). Then, I start eating. I have to pay attention while I eat: masticate a lot so as really to crush the food before I swallow it, then after 3 bites, stop and reassess my level of hunger. If I don’t feel like eating anymore, I stop (which sometimes means leaving food in my plate as I did not assess well how much I could eat).

    The key is to eat slowly so to give time for satiation cues to trigger (hence, the lengthly mastication which also I suppose, by well-processing the food, facilitates its integration by the organism). Initially, this is a bit cumbersome because you really need to pay attention but the idea is that, by doing systematically, the process starts to automatize itself as the body relearns the meaning of the satiation cue and will stop the hunger signal once you have eaten enough food. The other advantages is that there is no forbidden food which makes life easier when preparing food and also means you don’t have craving for that food you love but you have not eaten in 3 weeks because diet. If I ever feel like eating something not because I’m hungry but because I grave it (for instance, ice cream on very hot summer day), her advice was to get it but after a few bites, assess if I still want it and if not, stop eating it.

    I like this method as it makes a lot of sense from a scientific point of view. I’ve been doing this for a month and the size of my portion has been significantly reduced and I went from 199 pounds to currently 185 pounds. Each body responds differently to that method so you could loose more than that or less. In my case, my weight loss was actually a bit too fast and I had to increase the size of the portion a bit more. And this is my other advice: seeing a dietician might very helpful, if only to make sure that the diet or the change of food habit does not make more harm than good and to check things that are working for you and things that are not, as the methods always need to be adapted to an individual. The dietician can also identify bad habits that might impend the weight loss. Then, you need to find a good one: I would recommend my aunt but she lives a bit far from Chapel Hill…

    Another tip: I stopped drinking diet free soda. I already heard something about it and my aunt confirmed it. The taste of sweet is normally used by the body to predict a future increase in blood sugar and it triggers a satiation response. This is actually a form of Pavlovian conditioning: The taste of sweet is the conditioned stimulus, the increase in blood sugar the unconditioned stimulus and the pairing of the two leads to an adaptive conditioned response (the satiation response) to the taste of sweet in anticipation of the increase in blood sugar. Drinking diet free soda degrades the pairing the taste of sweet and the future level of blood sugar and as a consequence, the taste of sweet does not trigger the satiation response anymore or triggers a much wicker one. Consequence: You eat more.

    1. Thanks, Jeremie! That makes a lot of sense. I’ll try practicing that, and see if it works for me. This time around, I’m not recording my calorie intake, because it’s such a pain, and I’m just going by intuition about how much I can eat. Maybe your method could supplement that intuition. I’ll start off with dishing out smaller portions, too, and be mindful of how I’m eating them.

      I’m not much of a soda drinker anyway, but I’ll pass along the sugar-free-free tip to others I know who are trying to lose weight.

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