Losing weight with Google Visualizations

How is today different from all other days? This morning the scale was 30 pounds below what it was in August. Nobody has noticed that I look like a stalk of bamboo. And whether the weight will stay off, I don't know. Still, 30 pounds in 80 days - not bad. I owe it all to public humiliation. Not that anyone reads this blog. But the act of weighing, tracking and displaying has psychological power. Every few days I input my weight into a Google spreadsheet and update the annotated timeline. When it goes down, the world smiles. When it goes up, imaginary fingers wag. The result has been surprisingly effective.

Until my mid-40s, I didn't have to work to get skinny. My weight would creep up to 210 or 215 pounds. I'd go out and start running again. Make a token sacrifice like quitting soft drinks. Soon I'd be back to the low 180s again, with the belt a couple of notches tighter.

But that era is over. It became impossible to burn enough calories to offset those Coca-Colas and Dipsy Doodles, and I'm too old (and too heavy) to run even 30 miles a week without getting injured.

Here are the rules that worked for me.

The Good Stuff

  1. Breakfast is free. Eat a good one. No Cinnabon, but don't worry about oatmeal, bacon, eggs and buttered toast.
  2. There's nothing wrong with half-and-half in your coffee. Or heavy cream, for that matter.
  3. Know what's nice before bed? A big spoon of peanut butter.

Keeping Track

  1. Weigh yourself every day at the same time.  (Cheating is OK. Just be consistent about it.)
  2. Make a chart. Look at it. Obsessively.
  3. If you weigh less than the day before, no need to do anything. You're golden.
  4. If you weigh more, keep that thought in the back of your mind during the day. Be careful about portions. Walk home from work. Spend more time hungry than full.


  1. Eat a little, see how you feel, then eat a little more. No seconds without a wait.
  2. Eat until you're 80% full.  Don't eat again until you're 80% empty.

Eating and Avoiding

  1. Eat: Oatmeal, apples, salads, diet soda, rice, any kind of meat, poultry or fish.
  2. Avoid: Potatoes, sodas, desserts, anything with Bisquick.

Living in Manhattan requires a good bit of walking. I took a two-day bike trip, a few long walks and short runs, and had to fast for a day before a colonoscopy. But that's pretty much it.  Once I got momentum, it wasn't that hard.

One habit I had to break: scarfing down cereal and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches late at night. The solution: that heaping tablespoon of peanut butter before bedtime.

But the key to the change was measuring, displaying and reacting. I could have used a spreadsheet, but the visualization gadget was more fun. And the results weren't bad at all.