Health & Family

How phone app helped him lose 126 pounds in 13 months

Dan Ziehm and his wife Lucinda, with Dan’s daughter Lauren in the background. Dan lost 126 pounds in 13 months with the help of a phone app.
Dan Ziehm and his wife Lucinda, with Dan’s daughter Lauren in the background. Dan lost 126 pounds in 13 months with the help of a phone app. Dan Ziehm

A little more than a year ago, Dan Ziehm, 41, of Charlotte, was appalled at photographs of himself from his 40th birthday party. He’d been recently remarried and was happy in his job, with his daughter and his life. “I had fallen into a category of fat and happy,” Ziehm said.

Even more appalling was the occasional chest pain he felt walking from one office to another at work. “It scared me to death,” he said.

So Ziehm set a goal of losing 110 pounds before his niece’s wedding. He plans to be there in Central Bridge, N.Y., on Saturday, after losing 126 pounds in 13 months.

Instead of dieting, Ziehm changed his lifestyle by using an app on his phone to track his eating and exercise. MyFitnessPal, both a website and a mobile app, includes a free calorie counter that gives users access to a database of more than 5 million foods.

Because of degenerative arthritis in his knees, Ziehm started swimming at two local YMCAs as a way to exercise without the pain of weight-bearing activities.

The challenge

Staying motivated despite such a big weight loss goal, knee pain and a craving for sugar. “I used to joke around, ‘Hi my name is Dan and I’m addicted to sugar.’ I was addicted to Dunkin’ Donuts. I grew up in the Northeast and we had them on every corner.” Also, he generally eats out twice a day, breakfast on the way to work and lunch with co-workers.

How I did it

“The MyFitnessPal teaches you your foods to stay away from. It will tell you if food is high in saturated fat and sodium. I’ve learned to change my diet. I used to stop every morning on the way to work and get an extra-large coffee with cream and sugar. I’d drink two of those a morning. That’s 600 calories of just coffee. Now I only drink coffee black, and it’s 15 calories. Thirteen months ago I would eat sausage, egg and cheese on a bagel. I replaced that with Greek yogurt. I went from eating and drinking 1,000 calories at breakfast to eating and drinking 200 calories at breakfast…. A majority of people underestimate what they eat. The app keeps me honest.

“When a lot of people start dieting, they fall off bandwagon because it’s such a dramatic change. With MyFitnessPal, you put your starting weight in and your goal weight – you tell it how long you want to take to get there. It figures out how many pounds a week you need to lose to make it to goal. It doesn’t say ‘We’re going to cut out 1,000 calories from your diet every day.’ For every pound you lose, it takes away 20 or 25 calories a week, so you don’t notice it as much. I’m around 1,700 calories a day, and to me now that seems normal.

“I was looking for a cardio workout and not have it where the next day I couldn’t walk, so I decided to try swimming. I struggled swimming 10 laps when I started. Little by little I got up to swimming 20 laps, and I did that for a while. After every five laps I would jog in the pool for four laps. Now I’m swimming six days a week, and I’ll go for 90 minutes or just under 2 miles. I have a heart rate monitor that gives me an accurate count of how many calories I burn when I’m swimming. Being an engineer I like numbers.”

The result

Ziehm has gradually dropped from 2,500 or 2,600 calories a day to about 1,700. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, Ziehm is down from 390 pounds to 264. At the end of April, he bought a new suit to wear to his niece’s wedding, and he was able to buy it off the rack.

What I learned

“My big thing is if I can do this, anybody can do it. There’s nothing special about me. I set a goal, and once I saw the weight starting to come off, it was easier to stick to that goal. I’ve learned no matter where you go to eat – you have to look – but you can find healthier options on the menu. I absolutely love Bang Bang Burgers on Pecan and Seventh. I go in there and get a grilled salmon burger.”