Losing weight – my seven point plan

Shedding the excess pounds

Shedding the excess pounds

I’ve been asked to produce a consolidated version of my recent series of posts on losing weight, so here it is in one mega post.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog and one of my New Year Resolutions is to keep it more up to date. Each year I also promise myself to lose weight and get fit following the eating and drinking excesses of Christmas. And you know what? In 2013, I actually did. This was not however the result of a resolution made in January, but a decision made in the middle of October following a lecture from my doctor. For once, I decided to listen and actually do something about it and by Christmas morning, I was 16 lbs lighter. Many people have asked me how I did it, and since it is that time of year when interest in diets and fitness programmes hits a seasonal peak, I thought I’d write a blog post or two on the subject.

The first question people have is usually “which diet plan did you follow?”. And there are many fashionable options. 5:2, Atkins, Paleo and so on. But the truth is, I didn’t follow any of them. I went with the “eat less, drink less, exercise more” plan. Simple really. But of course if it was that simple, we wouldn’t have the boom that we do in obesity and related health problems. So over the course of a few posts, I’m going to set out what worked for me and why. Today I’ll cover the first three steps.

Step 1: Make a decision and mean it

This was probably the most important step of all for me. On many previous occasions, I have “decided” to drink less, to lose weight and to get fit. I’d bought the cross-trainer and even used it from time to time. But in truth, what I’d decided to do was to try to do these things. The difference this time was that I decided to do it, not just try.

Step 2: Set a target

This is the easy bit, but no less important for that. In my case it was to lose 15 lbs by Christmas Day, which would get me to the lower bound of the “overweight” category of BMI. This would mean losing about 1½ lbs a week, which my web research said was a reasonable target. This was to be an interim step along the way to getting to the middle of the “normal range” of BMI before my 50th birthday. So a total of 22 lbs before September 2014. After a couple of weeks and some more internet research, I decided that it was also important to target a “fat %” figure to make sure that any weight loss was the “right kind of weight”.

Step 3: Track both inputs and outputs

Having decided to treat the task as a project with clear goals, regular tracking of progress was clearly going to be key. But as well as tracking output measures like weight, it is also key to target and track input measures – calories consumed and burned. Weight gain or loss is actually pretty simple. Calories in < calories out = weight loss. Set targets and track progress on all three parts. Fortunately, technology has made it easy to do just that and I'll cover that next.

Withing Scale

Withing Scale

Step 4: Leverage technology

There are many reasons to tool up with technology to help you succeed in your mission to lose weight.

Firstly, keeping regular track of the progress you are making is essential for motivation and knowing how you are doing, so that if things aren’t working you can adapt. My weapon of choice here is the Withings Scale. This connects to your WIFI and automatically uploads your weight and fat % measurements to the web (by default to a private account if you don’t want to broadcast your vital statistics to the world). It is easy to use and the iPhone and iPad apps provide a wealth of charting and tracking data. Nowadays of course, they’ve “gamified” the experience and whilst the “congratulations, you are now 50% of the way towards your weekly weight loss goal” messages are a bit banal, they do actually help to keep you motivated and interested.

Secondly, the technology takes the grind out of properly tracking the input side – what you eat, drink and how many calories you’ve burned through exercise. It really does help to be able to link your input actions to the resulting outputs of weight, fat percentage and body measurements. Whilst the correlation between inputs and outputs is far from perfect on a daily basis, measured over a few days it really is very strong. And it is the input side that you control. After a while, knowing that each glass of wine means another 20 minutes on the cross-trainer to burn it off really does start to drive behaviour. When you know you are behind against your weekly calorie target, that second helping doesn’t seem so attractive.

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal

In terms of apps, I’m using Runkeeper to track cross-trainer sessions, walks, cycle rides and runs and MyFitnessPal to track calories. Both of these integrate with the Withings app and so you can view all your information on an integrated dashboard. The Withings Pulse activity and sleep tracker is also good.

So technology can be a big plus for motivation and help you stay on target in terms of keeping to your daily and weekly net calorie budgets. For me, as a technology enthusiast, it has also helped to keep me interested in “the project”. But for anyone wanting to follow “the Boyle weight loss plan”, I’m afraid that this is the end of the easy part. The next step in the journey will require you to get up from the sofa and out from behind your desk and start burning the calories. I’ll now cover how I have found the time and motivation to average 50 minutes of exercise a day.

JTX Smart Stride 23

JTX Smart Stride 23

Step 5: Daily exercise

So we now need to move on from the easy initial steps of setting your goals and loading up with tracking technology. The next easiest bit for me was to do more exercise. I think this is an essential part of any weight loss programme as it gives you multiple benefits. As well as the direct impact it gives from burning calories, it can also stimulate the metabolism and of course has significant health benefits over and above those from losing weight. Whilst I won’t pretend that it can be a complete solution – you do need to take steps to control your eating and drinking too, I found that it made the scale of adjustment needed much more manageable.

Once you’ve got yourself into the mindset that meeting the net calorie budget over time is “non-negotiable”, exercise becomes the safety valve for any weakness of resolve on the consumption side. A night out planned and don’t fancy drinking water all evening? Better get some extra exercise in to compensate in advance.

Although I’ve done the odd bit of running and cycling, far and away the main contribution has been from walking and time on the cross-trainer. Both of these are low impact and so don’t come with the risk of your programme being put out of action by an injury. And for me at least, I’ve found them the easiest to fit into my daily routine with the least adjustment. That is not to say with no adjustment and the real challenge to significantly increasing your exercise is making the time. I use the term “making” rather than “finding” as none of us have a spare 50 minutes a day that they can easily repurpose. So how have I managed it?

For me, cross-trainer time is a first thing in the morning activity and is something to be done every day if at all possible. Having the equipment at home makes all the difference in terms of minimising the “time overhead”. Compared to exercising at home first thing in the morning, a middle of the day gym trip means an extra shower and (unless you can walk or cycle to the gym), wasted travelling time. You are also most in control at that time too. Time can always be made as long as you get up early enough. I’ve found that squeezing in 30-40 minutes a day most days and a bit longer at the weekend is feasible. The rest of the day is more unpredictable and subject to the demands of other people.

The other great advantage of the cross-trainer is that you can do other things whilst you exercise. An iPad on a stand gives you a world of entertainment and information to keep you from getting bored. My favourite diversion is watching training videos from Lynda.com. So as well as losing weight and getting fit, I’ve been learning lots at the same time.

Walking is the other calorie burning activity that has made a significant contribution. Listening to audiobooks at the same time helps make it an activity that you look forward to rather than get bored doing. I’ve found that, weather permitting, fitting in a 30-40 minute walk during the day is possible on many days. Difficult, but possible. We are all supposed to get time off for lunch after all. And that doubly virtuous “mobile lunch” of fruit eaten on the move gives lots of points. Points which can be cashed in at the weekend in an extra glass of wine or two without busting the calorie budget.

Which is a perfect segue to the next step, dealing with the demon drink.

Probably better to store your wine out of sight, I'll admit.

Probably better to store your wine out of sight, I’ll admit.

Step 6: Drink less

So we are now up to step 6 – cutting down on the booze. I did tell you that steps 1-5 were the easy bits didn’t I?

The strategy starts with cutting out alcohol on weekdays. By which I mean Monday to Thursday. Trying not to drink on Friday nights would be inviting failure. The heart of my approach to losing weight (and not just trying to do it) was to set goals that I would be able to meet and make lifestyle changes that I would be able to sustain. Not drinking on weekdays is a rule which I’ve not tried to achieve 100% of the time. Again, I think this would be unrealistic for me. There are too many work dinners on weekdays. Too many overseas trips. Too many social situations where not drinking would be problematic. But in practice I’ve been managing between two and four alcohol free days a week.

Now for those of you who don’t drink much, this might sound undemanding. The good news for you is that perhaps this part of my weight loss formula will in fact be another easy part. The bad news is that if you already don’t drink much and still have a weight problem, I can only assume you have another high calorie habit, like taking sugar in your tea/coffee, snacking on biscuits or cakes, eating puddings etc, none of which were problem areas for me. If they are for you, you’ll have to substitute no pudding days for no alcohol days.

With a daily net calorie budget of 1,200 and a glass of wine coming in at 120 calories, it is not difficult to see why cutting down on alcohol had to be a central part of my weight loss plan. It was also something I needed to do in any event for the good of my liver. But I was under no illusions that I would need to deploy every possible strategy and tactic if I was to succeed.

One approach to drinking less is to promise yourself to stop drinking after a certain point. “I’ll just have the one”, or “we won’t open the second bottle”. But my first fairly obvious tip is that your sober self is much better at self denial than the person you become after a drink or two. So put your sober self in charge and don’t base any of your plans on your post drinking self sticking to any of the rules.

It is much easier to delay gratification than to deny it. So rather than walking in the door and cracking open a bottle of wine (as I used to do), make a rule that you have to drink a pint of water first. After a pint of water, you drink more slowly. Tell yourself “I can wait half an hour” and go and do something else first. Any delay to starting the first drink means you’ll drink less over the course of the evening. Once the cork is out (or the screw cap removed), keep a glass of water next to you and try and alternate. I reckon it’s possible to cut down your intake on drinking days by up to half through little tricks like this.

One more observation. If you’ve had to get up extra early in the morning to fit in your daily exercise, you may be running short on sleep. If you are using something like the Withings Pulse I mentioned in an earlier post to track your sleep, it will probably be nagging you that you aren’t getting enough. So go to bed a bit earlier. There will be fewer hours in which to resist temptation on non-drinking evenings, and you’ll have less time to clock up the calories on drinking days.

Meet your new best friend

Meet your new best friend

Step 7: Eat less

The final step in my seven point plan for losing weight is to eat less. I’ve left this one till last, which might seem surprising as cutting back on what you eat seems to be the most obvious part of “going on a diet”. For me, this bit of the plan has been important, but probably the least significant part of the “eat less, drink less, exercise more” formula. It was probably this mismatch between what I actually did to lose weight and the questions I got about what diet I was following that prompted me to write this series of blog posts.

My wife Amanda has always cooked healthy food at home and we’ve never really eaten dessert on a regular basis. So for me, the key things to address on the food front were lunch and weekday work dinners. I’ve already mentioned the potential of the “mobile lunch” (an apple and/or banana eaten on the move whilst walking off the calories) to help balance out your weekly net calorie statistics. I’ve also found that it is pretty hard to hit the weekly goals if you have more than 2-3 “high calorie” meals a week (Sunday roast, restaurant meal out, anything with chips etc). So if you have a job like mine, controlling the number of weekday invitations you accept is important and one of the things I did was to ask my PA to help me impose a “maximum one meal out a week” constraint.

As I’ve already said, I didn’t have a big problem with snacking. But saying no is still important. People in the office are very friendly and sociable and there is a tradition of bringing in cakes and other snacks on birthdays and after travel trips. If you are serious about controlling your weight, you have to learn to say no and not be worried about offending people.

Some final thoughts

There are a few things I want to mention that haven’t fitted in to my step by step guide and I want to cover these before I finally shut up.

Toning up. After a few weeks focusing on “cardio”, I decided to add some strength and toning exercises. You need to find another 10 minutes a day and I don’t really know whether this helped on the weight loss front. But for myself, I think it did and it is certainly something I’d recommend as part of a campaign to get healthy and feel better about yourself.

Feedback. There is huge value to making enough progress in the first few weeks that people start to notice and give you positive feedback. Being told things like “wow, you’ve lost lots of weight”, “you look great”, “you look younger” are all great for the motivation and give you the impetus to carry on. As an aside, people usually don’t tell you that you are looking fat, old or unhealthy (well, except perhaps your mother). Maybe if they did we wouldn’t let things get to the stage that a diet is necessary at all.

Support. Losing weight is easier as a team. In my case, having a supportive spouse willing to share my non-drinking days, help me eat more healthily and join me on weekend walks was invaluable. So make sure you enlist the help and support of colleagues, friends and family wherever you can. Some of the social features of today’s health apps can play a role here. Exercise classes such as those run by our friend Gilly Cook at GLF Fitness would I’m sure be a great solution if you can fit them into your schedule.

Sustaining it. Obviously this is something I can’t really speak about with the benefit of experience. After a pause over Christmas, I’m back on my target trajectory but still have another 9 pounds to go. But there are three things that give me confidence that I won’t be putting the weight back on:

  1. When I made my decision to lose weight, I decided to change my lifestyle permanently, not just “go on a diet”.
  2. As I’ve tried to explain, I designed the steps I took very carefully, with a full appreciation of my weaknesses and only including things I was confident I could sustain.
  3. Now I’ve written this blog and broadcast it to the world, it would be far too embarrassing to become a fat slob again.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope that at least one or two of these ideas may be things you can use to help you stick to your own New Year Resolutions. Good luck!

Oh, so you are on a diet?

Meet your new best friend

Meet your new best friend

Step 7: Eat less

The final step in my seven point plan for losing weight is to eat less (see my previous posts for the first six). I’ve left this one till last, which might seem surprising as cutting back on what you eat seems to be the most obvious part of “going on a diet”. For me, this bit of the plan has been important, but probably the least significant part of the “eat less, drink less, exercise more” formula. It was probably this mismatch between what I actually did to lose weight and the questions I got about what diet I was following that prompted me to write this series of blog posts.

My wife Amanda has always cooked healthy food at home and we’ve never really eaten dessert on a regular basis. So for me, the key things to address on the food front were lunch and weekday work dinners. I’ve already mentioned the potential of the “mobile lunch” (an apple and/or banana eaten on the move whilst walking off the calories) to help balance out your weekly net calorie statistics. I’ve also found that it is pretty hard to hit the weekly goals if you have more than 2-3 “high calorie” meals a week (Sunday roast, restaurant meal out, anything with chips etc). So if you have a job like mine, controlling the number of weekday invitations you accept is important and one of the things I did was to ask my PA to help me impose a “maximum one meal out a week” constraint.

As I’ve already said, I didn’t have a big problem with snacking. But saying no is still important. People in the office are very friendly and sociable and there is a tradition of bringing in cakes and other snacks on birthdays and after travel trips. If you are serious about controlling your weight, you have to learn to say no and not be worried about offending people.

Some final thoughts

There are a few things I want to mention that haven’t fitted in to my step by step guide and I want to cover these before I finally shut up.

Toning up. After a few weeks focusing on “cardio”, I decided to add some strength and toning exercises. You need to find another 10 minutes a day and I don’t really know whether this helped on the weight loss front. But for myself, I think it did and it is certainly something I’d recommend as part of a campaign to get healthy and feel better about yourself.

Feedback. There is huge value to making enough progress in the first few weeks that people start to notice and give you positive feedback. Being told things like “wow, you’ve lost lots of weight”, “you look great”, “you look younger” are all great for the motivation and give you the impetus to carry on. As an aside, people usually don’t tell you that you are looking fat, old or unhealthy (well, except perhaps your mother). Maybe if they did we wouldn’t let things get to the stage that a diet is necessary at all.

Support. Losing weight is easier as a team. In my case, having a supportive spouse willing to share my non-drinking days, help me eat more healthily and join me on weekend walks was invaluable. So make sure you enlist the help and support of colleagues, friends and family wherever you can. Some of the social features of today’s health apps can play a role here. Exercise classes such as those run by our friend Gilly Cook at GLF Fitness would I’m sure be a great solution if you can fit them into your schedule.

Sustaining it. Obviously this is something I can’t really speak about with the benefit of experience. After a pause over Christmas, I’m back on my target trajectory but still have another 9 pounds to go. But there are three things that give me confidence that I won’t be putting the weight back on:

  1. When I made my decision to lose weight, I decided to change my lifestyle permanently, not just “go on a diet”.
  2. As I’ve tried to explain, I designed the steps I took very carefully, with a full appreciation of my weaknesses and only including things I was confident I could sustain.
  3. Now I’ve written this blog and broadcast it to the world, it would be far too embarrassing to become a fat slob again.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope that at least one or two of these ideas may be things you can use to help you stick to your own New Year Resolutions. Good luck!

Dieting and the demon drink

Probably better to store your wine out of sight, I'll admit.

Probably better to store your wine out of sight, I’ll admit.

Step 6: Drink less

In my mission to document my approach to losing weight, we are up to step 6 – cutting down on the booze. I did tell you that steps 1-5 were the easy bits didn’t I?

The strategy starts with cutting out alcohol on weekdays. By which I mean Monday to Thursday. Trying not to drink on Friday nights would be inviting failure. The heart of my approach to losing weight (and not just trying to do it) was to set goals that I would be able to meet and make lifestyle changes that I would be able to sustain. Not drinking on weekdays is a rule which I’ve not tried to achieve 100% of the time. Again, I think this would be unrealistic for me. There are too many work dinners on weekdays. Too many overseas trips. Too many social situations where not drinking would be problematic. But in practice I’ve been managing between two and four alcohol free days a week.

Now for those of you who don’t drink much, this might sound undemanding. The good news for you is that perhaps this part of my weight loss formula will in fact be another easy part. The bad news is that if you already don’t drink much and still have a weight problem, I can only assume you have another high calorie habit, like taking sugar in your tea/coffee, snacking on biscuits or cakes, eating puddings etc, none of which were problem areas for me. If they are for you, you’ll have to substitute no pudding days for no alcohol days.

With a daily net calorie budget of 1,200 and a glass of wine coming in at 120 calories, it is not difficult to see why cutting down on alcohol had to be a central part of my weight loss plan. It was also something I needed to do in any event for the good of my liver. But I was under no illusions that I would need to deploy every possible strategy and tactic if I was to succeed.

One approach to drinking less is to promise yourself to stop drinking after a certain point. “I’ll just have the one”, or “we won’t open the second bottle”. But my first fairly obvious tip is that your sober self is much better at self denial than the person you become after a drink or two. So put your sober self in charge and don’t base any of your plans on your post drinking self sticking to any of the rules.

It is much easier to delay gratification than to deny it. So rather than walking in the door and cracking open a bottle of wine (as I used to do), make a rule that you have to drink a pint of water first. After a pint of water, you drink more slowly. Tell yourself “I can wait half an hour” and go and do something else first. Any delay to starting the first drink means you’ll drink less over the course of the evening. Once the cork is out (or the screw cap removed), keep a glass of water next to you and try and alternate. I reckon it’s possible to cut down your intake on drinking days by up to half through little tricks like this.

One more observation. If you’ve had to get up extra early in the morning to fit in your daily exercise, you may be running short on sleep. If you are using something like the Withings Pulse I mentioned in an earlier post to track your sleep, it will probably be nagging you that you aren’t getting enough. So go to bed a bit earlier. There will be fewer hours in which to resist temptation on non-drinking evenings, and you’ll have less time to clock up the calories on drinking days.

So now we are on the finishing straight. Tomorrow I’ll deal with the “eating less” part and offer a few final thoughts.

Points mean prizes

JTX Smart Stride 23

JTX Smart Stride 23

Step 5: Daily exercise

For part three of my monologue on losing weight the Boyle way, we need to move on from the easy initial steps of setting your goals and loading up with tracking technology. The next easiest bit for me was to do more exercise. I think this is an essential part of any weight loss programme as it gives you multiple benefits. As well as the direct impact it gives from burning calories, it can also stimulate the metabolism and of course has significant health benefits over and above those from losing weight. Whilst I won’t pretend that it can be a complete solution – you do need to take steps to control your eating and drinking too, I found that it made the scale of adjustment needed much more manageable.

Once you’ve got yourself into the mindset that meeting the net calorie budget over time is “non-negotiable”, exercise becomes the safety valve for any weakness of resolve on the consumption side. A night out planned and don’t fancy drinking water all evening? Better get some extra exercise in to compensate in advance.

Although I’ve done the odd bit of running and cycling, far and away the main contribution has been from walking and time on the cross-trainer. Both of these are low impact and so don’t come with the risk of your programme being put out of action by an injury. And for me at least, I’ve found them the easiest to fit into my daily routine with the least adjustment. That is not to say with no adjustment and the real challenge to significantly increasing your exercise is making the time. I use the term “making” rather than “finding” as none of us have a spare 50 minutes a day that they can easily repurpose. So how have I managed it?

For me, cross-trainer time is a first thing in the morning activity and is something to be done every day if at all possible. Having the equipment at home makes all the difference in terms of minimising the “time overhead”. Compared to exercising at home first thing in the morning, a middle of the day gym trip means an extra shower and (unless you can walk or cycle to the gym), wasted travelling time. You are also most in control at that time too. Time can always be made as long as you get up early enough. I’ve found that squeezing in 30-40 minutes a day most days and a bit longer at the weekend is feasible. The rest of the day is more unpredictable and subject to the demands of other people.

The other great advantage of the cross-trainer is that you can do other things whilst you exercise. An iPad on a stand gives you a world of entertainment and information to keep you from getting bored. My favourite diversion is watching training videos from Lynda.com. So as well as losing weight and getting fit, I’ve been learning lots at the same time.

Walking is the other calorie burning activity that has made a significant contribution. Listening to audiobooks at the same time helps make it an activity that you look forward to rather than get bored doing. I’ve found that, weather permitting, fitting in a 30-40 minute walk during the day is possible on many days. Difficult, but possible. We are all supposed to get time off for lunch after all. And that doubly virtuous “mobile lunch” of fruit eaten on the move gives lots of points. Points which can be cashed in at the weekend in an extra glass of wine or two without busting the calorie budget.

Which is a perfect segue to tomorrow’s topic, the demon drink.

Want to lose weight? There’s an app for that.

Withing Scale

Withing Scale

This is the second instalment in a series of posts in which I am trying to answer the question of how I lost 16 lbs in under 11 weeks. I am not saying that this is the all time greatest dieting achievement, I’m simply trying to give a proper answer to the many people who have asked me how I did it.

To recap, the first three steps were: 1) Make a decision and mean it; 2) Set a target; and 3) Tracking inputs and outputs. This post is about the technology available to help you to do this third step.

Step 4: Leverage technology

There are many reasons to tool up with technology to help you succeed in your mission to lose weight.

Firstly, keeping regular track of the progress you are making is essential for motivation and knowing how you are doing, so that if things aren’t working you can adapt. My weapon of choice here is the Withings Scale. This connects to your WIFI and automatically uploads your weight and fat % measurements to the web (by default to a private account if you don’t want to broadcast your vital statistics to the world). It is easy to use and the iPhone and iPad apps provide a wealth of charting and tracking data. Nowadays of course, they’ve “gamified” the experience and whilst the “congratulations, you are now 50% of the way towards your weekly weight loss goal” messages are a bit banal, they do actually help to keep you motivated and interested.

Secondly, the technology takes the grind out of properly tracking the input side – what you eat, drink and how many calories you’ve burned through exercise. It really does help to be able to link your input actions to the resulting outputs of weight, fat percentage and body measurements. Whilst the correlation between inputs and outputs is far from perfect on a daily basis, measured over a few days it really is very strong. And it is the input side that you control. After a while, knowing that each glass of wine means another 20 minutes on the cross-trainer to burn it off really does start to drive behaviour. When you know you are behind against your weekly calorie target, that second helping doesn’t seem so attractive.

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal

In terms of apps, I’m using Runkeeper to track cross-trainer sessions, walks, cycle rides and runs and MyFitnessPal to track calories. Both of these integrate with the Withings app and so you can view all your information on an integrated dashboard. The Withings Pulse activity and sleep tracker is also good.

So technology can be a big plus for motivation and help you stay on target in terms of keeping to your daily and weekly net calorie budgets. For me, as a technology enthusiast, it has also helped to keep me interested in “the project”. But for anyone wanting to follow “the Boyle weight loss plan”, I’m afraid that this is the end of the easy part. The next step in the journey will require you to get up from the sofa and out from behind your desk and start burning the calories. Tomorrow’s post will deal with how I have found the time and motivation to average 50 minutes of exercise a day.

New Year Resolutions

Shedding the excess pounds

Shedding the excess pounds

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog and one of my New Year Resolutions is to keep it more up to date. Each year I also promise myself to lose weight and get fit following the eating and drinking excesses of Christmas. And you know what? In 2013, I actually did. This was not however the result of a resolution made in January, but a decision made in the middle of October following a lecture from my doctor. For once, I decided to listen and actually do something about it and by Christmas morning, I was 16 lbs lighter. Many people have asked me how I did it, and since it is that time of year when interest in diets and fitness programmes hits a seasonal peak, I thought I’d write a blog post or two on the subject.

The first question people have is usually “which diet plan did you follow?”. And there are many fashionable options. 5:2, Atkins, Paleo and so on. But the truth is, I didn’t follow any of them. I went with the “eat less, drink less, exercise more” plan. Simple really. But of course if it was that simple, we wouldn’t have the boom that we do in obesity and related health problems. So over the course of a few posts, I’m going to set out what worked for me and why. Today I’ll cover the first three steps.

Step 1: Make a decision and mean it

This was probably the most important step of all for me. On many previous occasions, I have “decided” to drink less, to lose weight and to get fit. I’d bought the cross-trainer and even used it from time to time. But in truth, what I’d decided to do was to try to do these things. The difference this time was that I decided to do it, not just try.

Step 2: Set a target

This is the easy bit, but no less important for that. In my case it was to lose 15 lbs by Christmas Day, which would get me to the lower bound of the “overweight” category of BMI. This would mean losing about 1½ lbs a week, which my web research said was a reasonable target. This was to be an interim step along the way to getting to the middle of the “normal range” of BMI before my 50th birthday. So a total of 22 lbs before September 2014. After a couple of weeks and some more internet research, I decided that it was also important to target a “fat %” figure to make sure that any weight loss was the “right kind of weight”.

Step 3: Tracking inputs and outputs

Having decided to treat the task as a project with clear goals, regular tracking of progress was clearly going to be key. But as well as tracking output measures like weight, it is also key to target and track input measures – calories consumed and burned. Weight gain or loss is actually pretty simple. Calories in < calories out = weight loss. Set targets and track progress on all three parts. Fortunately, technology has made it easy to do just that and being a tech enthusiast, I think this topic deserves to be covered properly, so that will be the subject of my next post.

Sharing my photos

Dreamliner delivery flight

Dreamliner delivery flight

Going through my twitter feed this morning, I came across a tweet from British Airways suggesting that people upload their “stunning cloud photos taken from a British Airways flight” to the BA Business Life gallery. OK, I thought, I’ve got a couple of good ones, including this shot I took from on board BA’s first Boeing 787 delivery flight, just after leaving Seattle. Going to the Business Life site I clicked on the terms and conditions. The first clause was pretty much as expected:

1. By submitting your photographs you agree to grant Cedar Communications and British Airways a perpetual, royalty-free, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, create derivative works from, distribute, make available to the public…. etc etc

But then I got to clause 1.2:

1.2. To the extent permitted by law, you waive your moral rights (e.g. the right to be identified as the author or to object to derogatory treatment) in your Content.

WTF? No attribution is already a pretty nasty clause. But waiving my rights to object to derogatory treatment? Well, since British Airways is part of International Airlines Group, my employers, I won’t criticise them. I guess the terms and conditions are spelt out clearly and nobody is obliged to submit their photos if they don’t want to. But it certainly put me off and so I am sharing this photo via my blog, where I don’t have to waive my rights just to share a photo with the world.

And on the off-chance that BA would like to reuse this photo and is prepared to discuss less onerous terms, I think you know where to find me!

Olympus OM-D E-M5 – First Impressions

M5-OM-D Test

Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens at 1/3200s, ISO 200.

I’ve been hearing a lot about the advantages of the micro four thirds system, especially for travel where the size and weight advantages of “going mirrorless” are most clear-cut. Having recently booked a holiday to the Maldives and realised that the sea-plane transfer would come with a 6kg cabin baggage restriction, I started to look into the options with more purpose.

After an enjoyable few days researching gear (always a guilty pleasure), the Olympus OM-D E-M5 stood out as being the best match with what I was looking for, which was a camera system that gave me the weight reduction I was looking for whilst making the fewest compromises on image quality compared to my Canon 5D MkII. I’ll have to admit that having been a proud owner of an Olympus OM-1 as a teenager many years ago, the retro styling was a clincher.

After a few days testing out the camera, my overall impression is very favourable. On the weight front it certainly delivers. The body and lenses are generally around half that of the Canon full frame equivalents. The benefits at the telephoto end are particularly striking, given the 2x crop factor of the smaller sensor. The Olympus 70-300mm has a full frame equivalent focal length of 140-600m, giving it slightly more reach than the 580mm I get with my Canon 400mm DO lens plus 1.4x extender. However, it weighs in at a mere 620g, compared to the Canon combination’s 2.2 kg, 3.5 times heavier.

OM-D vs 5DMkII

Comparing Canon 5D MkII with Olympus OM-D E-M5

It was pretty straightforward to find lenses which covered the range of focal lengths I was looking for, in a mixture of zooms and prime lenses. Generally, the zooms are more versatile but to get the sharpest image quality, best low light performance and shallowest depth of field, you need the fast prime lenses. These have the added benefit of being very small and light. Here are the lenses I selected after a few hours studying the forums (I know it should be fora, but nobody would understand me if I said that).

Olympus lenses

Front to back: 45mm f1.8, 9-18mm f4.0, 12-50mm f3.5-6.3, 40-150mm f4.0-5.6, 75-300mm f4.8-6.7

The only lens that I bought which is not pictured above is the one I used to take the picture, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 pancake lens. As you can see, it can give you great shallow depth of field shots, although not quite matching what can be achieved with my Canon 50mm f1.4 on a full frame camera.

Overall, the image quality of the body and lens system is excellent. I haven’t really tested low light performance properly but it looks to be not far off what can be achieved with the 5D. In good light, the gap reduces further so on the primary objective of reducing weight with minimal compromise to image quality, the OM-D really delivers everything I was hoping for.

In addition to weight, there are several other ways in which the OM-D improves over the 5D. The fast sequential shooting mode is very impressive at 9 frames per second, compared to only 4 fps on the Canon. Likewise, the exposure bracketing mode seems nearly instantaneous. I love the ability to view a live histogram whilst framing the shot, making exposure issues much easier to avoid “in camera”. Horizontal and vertical level meters are another useful addition. Finally, the art and picture modes are a great source of creative inspiration, enabling you for example to shoot black and white photos and see what you are going to get in the viewfinder. If shooting RAW, you get a jpg with the effect added and an unaltered RAW file, giving you the best of both worlds.

Grainy Film art filter

Testing out the ‘Grainy Film’ art filter

Video is another key area for me. After discovering the beautiful quality of footage that you can get from a DSLR fitted with quality glass, it is really hard to be satisfied with video shot with a consumer camcorder. However, the lack of autofocus in movie mode on the 5D makes shooting video a real challenge. From what I’ve seen so far, the E-M5 can shoot video which comes close to matching that from the 5D, with the added advantage of autofocus. I found the autofocus to be generally good, but it did have a tendency to hunt a bit when presented with a moving subject, especially when shooting with a wide aperture. But overall, great quality and much easier to use. The main shortfalls on the video front are a lack of frame rate options (you are stuck with 29.97 fps if you want 1080p) and the lack of an external mic input. I’ve ordered the SEMA-1 microphone adapter which will rectify this, but at the cost of occupying the hot-shoe, which means you cannot mount an external microphone to the top of the camera.

Other gripes? Remarkably few. The smaller size does present some disadvantages from a handling perspective. I’m considering whether to invest in the battery grip as a result. The electronic viewfinder, whilst good, can still not match the optical viewfinder on a DSLR. The build quality is a bit lower in a few areas, but the price difference is also big of course.

In summary, I’m not going to be selling off my Canon gear just yet, but for the many occasions where size and weight are important considerations, the OM-D E-M5 will be my camera of choice.

Sign of the times

Shop to Let

A couple of days ago, I found myself in need of a replacement battery for my light meter. Less than £2 online… but I needed it now! So I headed off into Wokingham town to see if I could get one.

The battery is a slightly specialised one – commonly used in cameras but not universally available like an AA. As I parked the car, I noticed that Wokingham’s one and only photography shop had closed down. The next shop I tried, which sold batteries but not the one I needed, helpfully suggested that I could probably get it online. Finally, I was saved by the wonderful Wokingham Decor, a good old fashioned hardware shop with friendly, helpful and knowledgable staff. I’d give you a link to their website, but of course they don’t have one.

“Have you got one of these?”, I asked. “Great, I’ll take two” (a spare is always useful and spending a whole extra £4 would be like giving a tip for good service, wouldn’t it?). Oh dear, they only had one in stock… “but we could get you another by Saturday” the shopkeeper said hopefully. “I’ll just take the one” I said, feeling guilty but knowing that I could get it much cheaper online and not wanting to trek back into town a second time.

After accounting for fuel, parking and the high street price premium, my battery cost me more than twice what I could have got it for online. Not an issue for a low cost item that I needed straight away. But for higher value, bulkier items? No way. I guess it is no surprise that Wokingham no longer has a photography shop. But I really hope that shops like Wokingham Decor find a way to survive in the internet age, despite the odds.

Go Pro fun

Bird sitting on Go Pro
I’ve been experimenting with my new Go Pro Hero 3 Black Edition camera. I bought it with the intention of shooting some ski action in Val d’Isère next week, but thought I should practice using the camera first, rather than trying it out for the first time up a mountain.

My chosen subject matter was birds in the garden and I got some great shots. I’m really quite impressed with the image quality this tiny camera can produce. As you can see from the photo above, the birds weren’t at all put off by the camera and regarded it as a convenient new perch. A great feature of the Go Pro is the waterproof housing, which meant that I didn’t need to wait for dry weather to try it out. Without that, I think I would still be waiting, given the lovely British weather recently.

Anyway, here’s a short clip from the session, cropped from a larger high resolution movie file.