09/22/2013 10:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Home Improvement Is Helping Me Shed Pounds

By Patrick Pittman, Cooking Light Social Diet Member

I'm Patrick. Right now I'm the only one on the Social Diet "board of advisors" who does not work at a magazine devoted to cooking, food and healthy living. But I am married to someone who does (Ann, who's in charge of all the food editorial at Cooking Light). I am 44, I drink a lot of coffee, I enjoy home improvement and building, and I really love chocolate. Professionally, I am a nurse, but since I only work Saturday and Sunday of each week -- something called a Baylor shift -- I feel it is more honest to say I am a stay-at-home dad with twin 7-year-old boys.

Over the years, I have slowly gained weight, owing mostly to a two-year stint working the completely disruptive night shift, along with some exhausted-but-happy, new parent food indulgence. I found myself at 185 to 190 pounds needing to lose about 20 pounds or grow four inches taller.

Sometime after the pressure and guilt of this year's annual New Year's resolution had worn off, I decided, for real, to become more active and to try to improve my diet. Then along came the social diet, and I got an UP band to monitor my exercise. (Actually, I have two Up bands, but one is in a creek -- or in a fish in a creek -- that runs to the Gulf of Mexico). And that's how I discovered my own definition of cross-training: lots of home improvement with a bit of running in between.

Before it floated away, my first UP band logged me 24,000 steps (12 miles) when I mowed my brother's huge yard in Mississippi -- and I think that number is accurate. I realized then that I have more motivation for fitness if I am doing at least two things at once (e.g., cutting grass and getting a cardio workout). My favorite workouts involve hauling dirt and crossties, building a raised-bed garden, carrying lumber, digging holes and hammering nails for a deck and a pergola. It's hard work, both muscle and lung work, and it has taught me that although boredom is my enemy in ordinary fitness routines, a good variety of projects will easily defeat that enemy.

With the kids being out of school for the summer, my "me time" has been shortened from every morning and early afternoon to just an occasional outing when I can drop the kids off at Ann's work. That's when I do my other training: I meet a trail-running group at a local park, Red Mountain, that was carved from reclaimed iron-ore mining land, or I meet for a run downtown in support of a charity (usually, there's a free local beer at the finish line).


A trail running group at Red Mountain Park

It's working. I've lost more than 10 pounds. Meanwhile, there's a big side benefit to my cross-training approach: as I get in better shape, our house becomes a better house; as I find more to do in Birmingham, it becomes a better place to live. The support of the Social Diet group keeps me motivated, and the Up band is always there to remind me that keyboard strokes aren't the way to reach my goal...

Enough typing: I need to go chop some wood and dig a firepit for a barbecue.

Would you like to join our weight loss project? Set goals, share ups and downs, and let us know what works for you.  Comment here, email and tweet @Cooking_Light using #SocialDiet.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Cooking Light blog, Simmer & Boil. Check in on their progress at

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