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Losing Weight - The Agile Way

- Biju Madhavan

Biju Madhavan is on a sabatical after a 17 year stint in the software Industry (healthcare). In his last stint, he was a Senior Director and Site Leader for a Fortune 100 company.

It was a Saturday morning in February, 2018. The previous two weeks at the office was packed with visitors from around the globe and a hectic schedule laced with breakfasts, lunches & dinners. With a sigh, I looked at the scale. It took a few extra seconds than usual and settled on 102.3. I was perplexed at the sight of a triple digit number. Something wrong with the scale, I thought. I got off, reset, and got on again. Same number. All of a sudden, I said to myself “I am going to die young, very young”.

Vision

Over breakfast, a project vision, prioritization & scoping was done in my mind. I wasted no time in announcing that to the stakeholders, my wife & son. “I am going to lose weight”. I expected an applause with enthusiasm and agreement. But as with any initial communications around a new project, they didn’t care. Without even much of a glance in my general direction, they continued with their business. I knew I had to do a better job at communicating the project vision & future state clearly. I announced, “I am going to lose 25% of my weight & look like I used to appear, the day I landed in Bangalore way back in 2004”. Heads turned. Not that they believed what I said, but they wanted to know how I looked like in 2004. At least I had their attention now.

Thus, I kicked off my weight loss project. I share my experiences here with the  hope my learnings from the project will be useful to those who embark on a similar one. And before I begin, here’s the “burn-down” of what I could accomplish in 6 months.

Speculate

The plan was simple - Go Agile: Plan, Execute, Learn, and Adapt. Having heard buzzwords around low carb diet, I decided to start it and combine that with some form of exercise — primarily brisk walking.

Wise men say that there is no single methodology that works for everyone to lose weight. Individuals have to find the one that works based on their physical parameters (body composition, metabolic rates, existing health issues, etc.) and environment (work, family, finance, interests, etc.). After many trials & errors what I ended up following was a combination of lazy low carb diet with intermittent fasting.

Lazy low carb diet is not a keto diet or low Carb diet. I did not go for a protein/fat only diet nor did I exempt  every carb. What I did was identify a few high carbs in our daily diet and avoid them. e.g. rice (all forms of it), breads, vegetables like potato, soft drinks, all sort of sweet stuff (chocolate, candy, cake, biscuits etc.). But I did include milk, corn flakes, fruits, etc. I also limited the use of salt to almost nil.

Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a technique where you have all meals of your day within a short time period of 6-8 hours and stick to no food (calorie) for rest of the day.  (Google for materials & videos on IF to research).

Thus, I had my product backlog ready with what to do, what to eat (or rather what not to) and when.

Explore

Our agile journey was more of a combination of XP & Lean. The reason I said “our” is that the family joined me after the initial few weeks when my wife realized that I am serious about the project and it was working. I say XP because we kept aggressive goals and evaluated results frequently. What started as weekly reviews became daily once the results were pouring in. And Lean because we continuously evaluated diet/activities (what we ate & when, exercise duration, patterns, etc.) and started doing more of what was working and eliminated what didn't. We had fun with paired activities once the family joined the project which was a bonus.

Adapt

The whole journey was a continuous process of evaluation and adaption. Here are few key learnings.

  • Jumping right into a low carb diet from day one was a mistake. It makes you tired for the whole day to the extent that you cannot carry on with your normal activities. I started getting headaches most of the time. After initial few days, we decided to change to lazy low carb. After losing some weight, that too stopped working. Then we discovered IF & started following it.
  • Initial weeks are tough. You’ll struggle with cravings. To beat them, we tried reverse psychology. We started binge watching food channels and YouTube food vlogs. To the point that the sight of food did not give us any cravings. It worked.
  • While you can track your weight on a simple weighing scale, it will not give you the right picture. You need to look at a set of parameters to ensure you are doing it right. Like Body Fat %, Water Content %, Muscle Mass %. You can lose 2-3 kg just by not drinking water, but that obviously is not the right way of doing it. So, invest in a smart scale which will give you a complete picture than just weight. I used a Mi Smart Scale. It worked just fine.
  • Don’t get fooled by step counters. You could achieve step goals every day without losing an inch. Instead, always set goals on burning calories.
  • Most diet plans say cheat days are ok. No, they are not. They CAN and WILL break you psychologically. Stay away from them until you have completely adapted (2-3 months) to new habits.
  • As you lose weight, it gets tougher. The chart above gives you an idea. So, experiment with food and exercise patterns. Move to exercises that keep your heart rate up and burn more calories in shorter time. We tried everything from walking to elliptical trainers to badminton to cycling.
  • At times, you struggle at a particular weight. What worked for me was aggressive methods like water fast. I did 1-2 days’ water fasting to break through those stubborn weight points.

This project has no closure. We continue our lazy carb diet on week days now. IF is relaxed (8-10 hrs instead of 6).

And finally, no weight loss article is complete without a “Before” and “After” pic. So here you go…

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