A year ago, political blogger Matthew Yglesias weighed 250 pounds. He says his weight had crept up slowly until he quit smoking a few years ago—that’s when he started gaining pounds faster. To fill the cigarette void, Yglesias turned to salty snacks. His favorites were Combos and Stoned Wheat Thins.
Yglesias had been going to the gym a few times a week but wasn’t seeing results. So when his gym offered a free session with a personal trainer, he signed up: “I wanted to see what an expert had to say.”
He was surprised by what the trainer told him: Weight loss is more of an eating problem than an exercise one—in other words, going to the gym isn’t really going to help. “Something about the fact that he had a direct financial stake in convincing me to train with him, but didn’t, made a deep impression,” he says.
Yglesias was curious. Always the fact-checker—he’s been on the writing staff at the Atlantic and the American Prospect, and he’s currently a fellow at the Center for American Progress—Yglesias went home and did some research. Turns out, he learned, weight loss is largely a math problem: calories in versus calories out. So, in theory, if Yglesias could figure out how many calories a person at his goal weight is supposed to consume, he could decrease his eating accordingly and start to shed pounds. Never a fan of exercise, this was something the Harvard grad could do.
Last March, Yglesias began rigorously counting calories. “It’s boring and annoying, but it works,” he says. The most difficult part was accounting for the calories in meals at restaurants. “Build in a margin of error,” he says. “Always overestimate.”
Despite his aversion to exercise, Yglesias signed up for a few more sessions with the trainer. He no longer goes to the gym (the one in his building has closed), but now he walks to work, takes the stairs—ten flights to his office—and uses a standing desk for most of the day. He says he doesn’t sit until around 3 or 4 PM.
Now, less than a year after he started counting calories, Yglesias has lost 70 pounds. At last check, he clocked in at 180—his goal weight.
“I realized only in retrospect the extent to which I was snacking because I was nervous and bored,” he says. “You have to learn to not respond to every impulse. Now I only eat when I’m hungry.”
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