I’m sorry to write so much about losing weight. I promised people I would write a few posts about this and I wanted to cover eating, mental game, measurement, what gear I’ve used, sleep, water consumption / tracking, etc. So I have a few more posts to go and then I promise to stop filling up your screen with posts about me or about weight loss / health gain. I’m linking here to the first post if you haven’t read it already.
A few people having asked me to “fast forward” and give the whole answer more quickly. I have a solution. Over the past few months a few people have asked me, “How did you do it? Will you share your tips?” So I had an email I would send them. It’s not written to be blog worthy, perfect prose or deep with insights. I just wanted to get something out the door so please forgive me if I just publish it as is, unedited.
What you’ll notice below is that there’s no “silver bullet” …. it’s mostly about having a plan, executing against the plan daily, measuring your results and adjusting the plan or execution if your results aren’t showing what you want.
My email ….
1. Only recording & monitoring calories makes any real difference. I log daily on MyFitnessPal. I eat whatever I want but stick to 1,800 “net” calories meaning I can eat more if I exercise. I do better when I restrict gluten but I try not to hold myself to that since I prefer slow and steady. It took me a full year to drop 60. MFP will tell you based on your height / weight / weight-loss goals. What you eat matters 10x more than exercise. The example I give people — a hard 30 minute exercise burns 300–350 calories. Maximum 450 or so. A bagel with cream cheese is 350. It’s far easier to cut out a “bagel” a day than to exercise hard for 30 minutes. If you can do both you’re positive by 700 calories! But cutting out unnecessary eating is all that matters.
2. I measure myself every morning no matter what. It forces me to be accountable for yesterday’s actions. I use a Withings so it auto-imports into MyFitnessPal. I don’t beat myself up over one bad morning or two but I don’t stop measuring if I have a bad day or bad week because that’s a slippery slope.
3. I try for daily exercise no matter what. Even a walk. I gamify myself. I figure I always want to eat more than 1,800 calories so if I walk and burn even 250 calories I can eat a little more that day. Some weeks I felt like losing more weight so I would do some workout and still only eat 1,800 but that’s only if I want a big progress week or two. It’s pretty tough for me.
4. For exercise I stick with the following rules
* Consistency > Duration > Effort
* Consistency: Every day. I started with walking goals then got into Peloton so I had biking goals. Then when I lost I could jog more so I mixed these up and with hiking. Then I got into swimming. I had good base athletic abilities just not consistency so when I got consistency everything improved. Generally I was burning 700–1,200 calories / day. That’s hard to do. Thus, my advice in #1 above — only eating better really matters if you want to lost weight.
* Duration: I started with 30-min exercises daily. Then I was able to get to 45. Then 60. Now I can bike, run, walk, hike for 90 minutes at a time in any sport and feel fine afterwards. That took a full year.
* Effort: The main trainer I ride on Peloton says the biggest mistake people make it trying too hard in each exercise but without frequency or duration you don’t make consistent change to your body. He pushes that you make consistency & duration commitments before becoming obsessed with how hard each workout is. Once I mastered the first two then I started holding myself accountable to this through Strava.
* I try when possible (2–3 times / week) to walk after dinner even if I already worked out that day. Massive improvement for me in digestion and improving sleep.
– Portion control is the biggest hack. Smaller portions of meat, smaller portions of sides like rice.
– Have healthy snacks ready so when you reach for something you don’t make bad choices. As you’ll see below for me this was DailyHarvest but also a tablespoon of humus or a tablespoon of peanut butter. Sometimes I order Sweetgreen and order 2 salads so I have for today and for tomorrow. I order a side of chicken, which is small and 130 calories so I have protein to reach for rather than high-calorie nuts or energy bars
– Alcohol — almost zero. I usually have 2–3 drinks per MONTH. If I drink I only have one at a time. It’s not so much about the calories for me but about the “permissiveness” — when I drink alcohol I make worse choices (like — one chocolate chip cookie won’t hurt! … then it becomes 3. Cutting massively down on alcohol will obviously help)
– I try to eat smaller amounts at any sitting and especially try not to eat too much in the AM or hitting targets becomes harder
– I made minor tweaks to EVERYTHING that became habits. I drink only black coffee (why waste calories on milk?). I used to have milk & sugar or sweetener. 2 weeks in black becomes a habit
– If I eat bread I stopped putting on butter. I switched to raisin bread if I eat because it’s sweet so doesn’t require butter
– I cut out most red meat but I’m not 100% strict. It’s just so many more calories. I opt for chicken (or better fish) when I can.
– I measure most everything. Especially things like rice where I’m prone to eat 4x the normal portion. Measuring makes you feel like you’re dieting, sure, which sucks. But it makes you more accountable to real portions then your behavior adjusts.
– I eat a lot of Daily Harvest (freezer is filled). I use vanilla unsweetened Almond Milk in smoothies. They are low in calories (on a relative basis) and fill you up. Typical smoothie is about 350 calories and have tons of fresh (frozen) fruit and vegetables. I found that by drinking these with almond milk I ended up MASSIVELY reducing my daily intake daily. I have some cheese but very limited. Not by religion but by habit. I think that’s been healthy for me. They have great oat bowls that are high in carbs (I don’t care, low carb isn’t maintainable) but have zero gluten. They have gain bowls for afternoons. These are less tasty but are good with grains and usually 400 calories or so. I often add either sliced chicken or beef or pork or I’ll put two fried eggs on.
– In the early days of losing weight I ate four egg whites scrambled with 1 real egg many mornings and chucked in bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc. This filled me up in the morning and 4 egg whites is 100 calories + 1 egg is 75 and the rest is free. Over time I became less obsessed and started eating 3 real eggs either fried or mixed with veg. 3 normal eggs really fill me up in the AM (225 calories is nothing) and I found I didn’t need to eat anything else in the AM until lunch.
– There is the insidious nature of “just 300 calories” per day and why measurement (see below) matters so much. Sometimes I eat 2 “100 calorie” popcorn bags after dinner. Then 2 popsicles (60 calories each). It feels like such a small cheat for all of my progress. But honestly if you think about it, if I do “just 300” a night that’s 2,100 / week. So it’s like eating 8 days / week rather than 7. When I cut out those small cheats in the evening — even the small ones — Weight falls off of me. 300 calories extra / day matters.
– I developed a mental hack. In the early evening I eat sugar free gum. I have a mental rule. If I eat gum I’m not allowed to eat any more food for the day. So I get flavors I like (Pineapple, lemon, watermelon, cinnamon) and I end up eating 4–5 pieces in the evening. In part I like the taste but it’s mostly a mental reminder to myself not to eat any more for the night.
6. Measurement & Accountability
– As you will see from above, the main thing for me about everything was / is “you manage what you measure” so I had to quantify everything / gamify most and have accountability (first to myself, then to an accountability partner).
– Measure = scale every AM, what I eat daily (with MyFitnessPal you have a barcode scanner so it’s easier than you think) and how much I exercise. If my weight went up I would be thoughtful about the last 3 days behavior and learned things like “working out 3x more but eating 3x more doesn’t lose ANY weight whereas working out normal but restricting what I eat a bit and the weight falls off me.”
– I used to only be accountable to myself because I was too embarrassed to talk about weight and the fact that I hated how much I weighed. Over time I challenged my brothers to lose weight and my little brother in particular I would send him a weekly screenshot of how I did (I didn’t even share with my wife) and he would share with me. We challenged each other and I agreed to donate to a charity if he’d hit his goal and if he didn’t he had to donate to Trump 🙂 … we just made it a game. But being accountable to an external person is a big deal. I am now helping 4–5 other people with weekly accountability texts (even if I don’t know their weight then tell me “I lost 0.5 lbs this week or I stayed flat, etc).
– More recently I was trying to help a VC friend lose 15. I challenged him to hit a weight target by Oct 20th — 30 days out so in return I made a commitment to him to lose 2 more pounds (I only have 4–5 to go to hit my final weight target but I’m already at my high school / college weight). Making a commitment and sending him my progress every week has forced me to make better decisions even though I’m already in a good place!
– I always took not sleeping as a sign of pride / strength. No more. That’s stupid. I realize how important it is both for muscle repair (as I exercise more) and for mind repair.
– I bought an Oura Ring and now hold myself accountable to nightly sleeping targets. Same as with weight I learned what affected my sleep. Caffeine stops at 12pm. I try not to eat late at night (try to cut off at 8pm latest). I try not to drink alcohol much and if I do I try not to late at night. I cut off my email at 10pm and DO NOT check it afterwards (or I wake up in the night). I have a sleeping mask and ear plugs by my bed and only use in the AM when it turns light out. This helps me get an additional 45–60 minutes in the AM
– I learned that most “deep sleep” is between 11pm — 2am and most REM sleep is 5am — 8am for me. I need at least 1 hour, 20 minutes of each to fully recharge. Deep sleep = muscle repair and REM sleep equals brain repair. I was walking up at 5am-5:30am for 20+ years and I think my brain was never relaxing. I was getting 5–6 hours / night and I now regularly get 7+ hours. I try not to watch news at night, only either drama unrelated to today’s news or sports or I read. I now monitor how many times I wake up at night (the joys of being an old man!) and thus cut out massively how much liquid I drink after 6pm (mostly I restricted how much water I drink at dinner).
– Sleep improvement has actually been one of the most helpful things for me. I’m more rested, more calm and have less ADD symptoms. When I’m rested I’m much more likely not to cheat on eating or exercise.
So, that’s it.
Hope that helps. If anything the only thing that really matters is starting. 1 day becomes 3 becomes 7 becomes 30. But you know that.
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash