Datarella People – Helge F. Gruetjen, Boat Racer & Physicist

Michael Reuter

29 April 2014

Cambridge PhD student Helge Gruetjen was a chain-smoker, weighting 120 kilograms, who started to row for the Cambridge University Boat Club in 2010 to become one of a team of five trying to beat the Oxford squad.

He had set himself an “unrealistic goal”: to lose more than 25 kilograms while bulking up, simultaneously. In the last 2.5 years the 26-year-old managed to lose 0.5 kilograms per week, by stopping smoking, tracking his food intake, sleep patterns and more, using an Excel sheet, 4 hours of training per day…..and a lot of will power.

“I knew I had to become very fit within 2.5 years. And I had to lose weight in a very soft and sustainable way.”

But how to motivate oneself to constantly lose weight during 2.5. years? For Helge, to be part of the Cambridge boat race team, was the biggest motivating factor. First, he analyzed his own behavior: which aspects of his life are obstacles to that goal and had to be changed. These were: smoking, exercise behavior, eating behavior, sleep patterns, etc.

“We have to get up at 5:45am and start our day with the first round of training. Then I head to my office. Then, in the afternoon, the second part of the training follows. We spend 6 hours per day on preparation for and the training itself.”

From slugabed to earlybird, from a lover of sweets to quit sugar totally: combined with daily exercise these have been the changes for Helge to lose 500 grams per week, the equivalent of about 500 calories less per day. Not being aware of actual quantified self and wearable tech gadgets as wristbands, etc., Helge used a classic Excel sheet to collect his personal data day for day. Being a theoretical physicist, he naturally is more interested in data than in nicely drawn charts. But he really likes the Quantified Self and thinks that it can play an instrumental part for many people who want to change their lives.

Helge Gruetjen


“I had my lows – and it was quite hard. But having managed to stick to my own rules for a certain time, I have seen the results: my plan really seems to work. Seeing the results and knowing that your plan is working gives you the willpower to move on, to reach the next level. An then I realized, that I did not really miss something after I had changed my lifestyle. After all, it’s a fun thing to do!”

Helge has been supported by his fellow boat race team members – he thinks that sharing experiences with like-minded persons is a crucial part of any lifestyle changes. Mutual motivational pushes are important in a team. However, for Helge the individual and personal goal is the most important aspect:

So here’s Helge Gruetjen’s recommendation for all of you who want to lose weight: start moving, start exercising, start today! Stay realistic, set yourself realistic goals! Check whether you reached your goals on a daily basis!

We could rephrase that: start with quantifying yourself today!