I’ve been reluctant to write this blog post because historically I don’t like talking about weight. But I’ve been promising to publish how I lost 65 pounds in the past 18 months without any fad diets or gimmicks to try and be helpful to others.
I have a plan, I know it works and for the friends and family who have followed what I’ve done they’ve equally lost a lot of weight.
Over the past 18 months I have eaten all the things I love: cereal, bagels, sushi, ice cream, pizza, Mexican food, Thai food, cheeseburgers, steak — you name it. Yes, of course in moderation and certainly not every day. But the point is that by not having a silly diet that I eventually became non-compliant to I was able to lose weight slowly, consistently and keep if off rather than yo-yo’ing like I normally do.
I made maintaining my weight a habit rather than chore. A way of life rather than a restriction.
I’m going to make this post pretty high-level because my goal is to help anybody who wants to get started quickly. I’m going to follow up with a series of detailed posts about what I did so that if you want more information, help, support or insights I can go deeper.
I’ve been reluctant to write about weight in part because I don’t want to sound self righteous. I figured out something that worked for me. I’m very confident it will work for most of you if you really want to lose weight and are ready. Not everybody is ready. I know that as much as anybody.
I’m also reluctant because when you’ve yo-yo’d for 30 years you know very well that today’s great shape could be tomorrow’s egg-in-my-face for speaking up. Still … it’s been 18 months and I’ve held it off so I think it’s time to take the risk. If it helps even one person it will be worth the risk to me. Plus, maybe writing this public is just another form of public accountability for me to hold myself accountable.
I’m not a doctor so if you have any health issues you should obviously consult a healthcare professional before. With that said …
The first thing you should do is weigh yourself so you know your starting point today. You should then write down what I call your “boomerang diet” weight, which is the number you hit whenever you try whatever fad diet you’ve tried in the past. Hitting this number using a sensible plan for losing weight should be your first goal. Your “first push.” This is a number you know you can hit because you’ve hit it before. For me this number has always been 200 pounds.
Then should write down your “target goal.” Your target goal isn’t your high school weight or some other unrealistic number but rather the weight that you’d feel really, truly grateful if you could hit. It would be “the new you” and it’s been somewhat unattainable for you in the past. My target goal when I started my journey was 185. I wasn’t sure if I could actually hit it since it had been > 20 years since I had weighed 185 but this is the weight I knew I could feel great about if I could hit and maintain.
I started my journey in July 2019 at 222 pounds, which was even higher than the peak of my normal yo-yo range. I typically yo-yo’d between 205–215 and if I made a hard effort at a Paleo/Keto diet with some Intermittent Fasting worked in I could hit 198–200 as my boomerang floor weight. These are not numbers I’m proud of and historically I never would have discussed my weight publicly. But if I’m going to help others I need to come clean. For some, their weights are much higher than this and for others perhaps you only need to lose 15 pounds.
Before I tell you my plan I want to tell you that I do believe generally in avoiding most carbs, wheat products, grains, etc. I know that too many carbs spikes my blood sugar causing an unhealthy insulin response and that if I can cut out most or all carbs then weight just falls off of me. So I acknowledge that it works. The problem is that it feels like a diet and inevitably I would cheat. So when I hit my personal floor and would sneak in a few glasses of alcohol or just a bit of dessert or one pizza night and I’d find out that keto simply doesn’t work if you cheat.
So I decided that this time I wasn’t going to “diet” — I was going to push for a lifestyle change. I was going to create better habits and a lifestyle that was sustainable. I decided that I had to start with a better plan and a better mental philosophy. My wife said to me (I’m paraphrasing), “I wonder why in the past you weren’t able to get beyond your initial success and this time you were able to?”
Because I was mentally ready to. It’s that simple.
Neither. In fact, neither are the number one or number two most important things. I know that sounds like BS but I promise it’s not.
The first thing you need to do is prepare a mental plan and a set of measurements for defining success. Over the course of my weight loss my mental plans changed (I will share a lot more details in future posts) and my measurements changed but these have been my two most important factors in my weight loss journey. In my first push I started to plot out strategies for dealing with mind & measurements and these changed over time as I got into the harder, “real effort” phase.
I’ll share some of these strategies later in the post but for now, let me explain my rationale …
Imagine if I told you that you were going to go out and run a 10k (6.2 mile) race that you hadn’t prepared for. You were on the line and the gun went off and you just started running hard so that you could finish the race fast. If you weren’t mentally prepared then perhaps after a mile or two you really might start aching and it would be tempting to quit. You didn’t have a mental plan and you weren’t pacing yourself so inevitably you wouldn’t perform well.
I think that losing weight is similar. People sprint out of the starting gates because they want to see immediate results and they often don’t acknowledge the lifestyle habits that got them to gain weight in the first place. That was certainly true for me.
In my “first push” I had signed up for Noom, an online weight loss application and this helped me a lot because I entered my target weight (185) and it created a graph for me and a plan for how to get to 185 and how long it would take. So I started my journey able to visualize a goal even though I wasn’t totally convinced I would hit it. Part of the magic of Noom is that it focuses on the psychology of eating. There was nothing new, nothing I didn’t intellectually know, but it forced me to bring my knowledge the surface and understand why I made bad food choices on occasions. It even spelled it out in well-known psychology terms for me.
Some examples (yes, many are pre-Covid examples):
- When I go to the movies I associate sitting and watching a movie in a theater with eating (usually popcorn or chocolate) since it’s a childhood memory / habit. But it makes no sense at all that I need to eat when I watch a movie. But by knowing this I was able to bring healthy food with me so that I could fulfill this ritual without cheating.
- When I go out to a work event I would be having a good week or two of eating but then free hors d’oeuvres would be served and in the mild anxiety of networking I would inevitably eat what was put in front of me.
- At a normal dinner out with my wife I can control what I order and what I eat — no problem. But at a work dinner often a group would order appetizers for the table and somehow sitting there with this food ordered for the table I felt I should be eating it.
- Then there’s the inevitable lubricant of bad behavior — alcohol. I am very fortunate not to have a pre-disposition towards alcoholism in my family so I can easily take or leave alcohol. But if I have even one drink I find that it becomes an enabler for bad eating decisions. It’s like a willpower killer. And I must acknowledge that in the workplace socializing of modern society there is often pressure to drink wine, beer, whiskey — you name it.
What Noom got me to do was develop a plan for situations I would be in BEFORE I was in the situation. I would acknowledge to myself “you’re going to be in a social setting tonight. There will be hors d’oeuvres and you know that’s a trigger for you so DO NOT let yourself fall prey to it. Just thinking about my eating mistakes in advance and acknowledging it to myself helped me a lot. It still does. I developed a plan BEFORE going out of what I would tell friends of why I wasn’t going to be drinking, “I’m on a 30-day health kick” or something similar. I just need a plan before going out so I didn’t make bad decisions.
A strong mental game is critical to success in any endeavor and losing weight is no exception.
You must weigh yourself every morning. Every single morning — good or bad. Buy a Withings WiFi scale (or similar) that automatically imports into many tracking systems and weigh yourself at the exact same time every day — preferably first thing in the morning.
There are many schools of thought on measuring yourself on a scale. Some programs prefer you to weigh yourself weekly or perhaps not at all. Don’t listen to these. Weigh yourself every day. Religiously. Obsessively.
You manage what you measure. It’s ok to have bad days. It’s ok to cheat. It’s ok to fall off the horse. But if you weigh yourself each and every day then you have to face the consequences of your previous-day’s actions and start each day afresh with a mental plan to make that day better.
In fact, your weight isn’t the only thing you’re going to measure. You’re going to log every single thing you eat. Everything — good and bad. Yes, some of you may be thinking now, “that’s too much, I don’t want to be obsessive about what I eat! Food logging. That’s not healthy!”
Here’s the thing. You simply won’t know what you’re doing and whether your actions are good or bad unless you measure what’s going into your body, what amount of calories you’re burning through exercise and what impact that’s having on your daily weight.
Thinking back to my example of running a 10k. Most people who “diet” want to lose weight really quickly and then be done with it. If you run crazy fast for the first mile or two your 10k time will be pathetic because you’ll run out of gas.
I had a plan to get to 185 over 7 months . It was just a tad over 35 pounds. I had never lost 35 pounds but I had a plan and I measured myself daily for 7 months. When you do the math you’ll see how attainable it is. 35 pounds / 7 months = 5 pounds per month. 5 pounds per month / 4 weeks per month = 1.25 pound / week.
1.25 pounds. That seemed very achievable as long as I held myself accountable every week. This isn’t what most people want to hear. They want to hear that I came up with a magical formula for rapid weight loss and anybody could use this method and feel great. 1.25 pounds per week, week-in and week-out isn’t a diet — it’s a habit. And over the course of more posts I’ll give you more insights into how I stuck with it for 18 months and eventually hit 153 pounds.
But first: Really, is it food or workouts that had the most impact?
It’s not even close. Food. By a long shot. I’d say even 80% to exercise’s 20%. In our society, especially for men, we’re taught that you get fit by working out and working out hard and that you don’t “diet.” Well, the problem is that for many people working out is worse that NOT working out.
Yes. It’s true. Not because exercise is unhealthy — of course that would be ridiculous for me to claim. But because working out gives many people the “license” to eat more. And slight increases in food cause you to put on weight much more than increases in working out.
In the graph above I had strategies I employed for meals and exercise in the “first push” that changed as I progressed and I adapted my approach as I got more fit.
In the “first push” I used Noom to remind me the psychology I needed to avoid cheating, binge-eating or even just not paying attention for a week or two. I logged in daily, I did the written exercises, I held myself accountable. I was too embarrassed to tell anybody — even my wife — I was using it or trying to lose weight. Why? Because I had failed so many times before that I didn’t want to put myself out there for failure. But Noom helped me to hold myself accountable and got me to measure myself daily and look at my results.
The numbers all moved in the right direction. Some days I was slightly up and sometimes I’d hit a frustrating 3–4 days without any losses but then predictably over the course of 3 weeks turned 7 weeks turned 12 weeks the trends were undeniable.
But why meals? Why are the “three M’s” (my short-hand, made-up, reminder for you the three most important things are M’s) more important than exercise?
I already mentioned licensing where exercise enables people to eat more. But let me put this simply for you. If you work out hard — maybe on a Peloton or Spin bike for 30 minutes — you might burn 300 calories? Maybe 400? That’s a pretty hard 30-minute workout. A bagel with cream cheese is 400 calories. A single slice of pepperoni pizza is 300 calories. A Double Double at In-n-Out is 670 calories. A single serving of Ben-n-Jerry’s ice cream is 350 calories but that’s a ridiculously small amount and that bowl you normally eat is probably 600–700 calories.
My point is that the small (or large) amounts of excess food you consume has a much bigger impact on your weight than you think and it adds up over a long period of time and holds you back from your goals.
So if you do nothing else do this:
- Decide how much you want to lose and over what period of time
- Sign up for any service where you can track what you eat and track everything (Noom and MyFitnessPal are two good ones)
- Weigh yourself daily at the same time every day
- Hold yourself accountable. You can cheat or have bad days but you CANNOT stop measuring. Stare at the weight gains every day if you’re having a few bad days and remind yourself what you did on those days because you tracked it.
- Keep your head strong. If you have a hard time holding yourself accountable and if you have somebody you trust then share your goals with them and report to them weekly on your project. There’s a term for this — an “accountability coach” (or accountability friend).
You manage what you measure. If you stop measuring when you’re having a bad day, week, month you’ll slide back to your yo-yo weight.
If you want to know the foods I ate on my weight loss journey I published some on that link.
Yes, I exercise a lot. Daily, in fact. I can run 8–12 miles / day at an 8-minute pace. No problem at all. I can bike for 2 hours, gaining as much a 3,000 feet of altitude. I can swim 1.5 miles.
18 months ago I could do none of this. I have a Peloton and I would be wiped out after 20 minutes, I swear. I told my wife my goal was to build up to 30 minutes and I had no idea how anybody was going 45–60 minutes let alone 90.
I also have a treadmill. I could jog two miles on the treadmill at like 11-minute miles but I had no thought of going beyond 20 minutes. I was gassed.
Over this series of posts I’ll share how I improved my physical exercise but in today’s post I just want to talk about the first 3–6 months.
I started with my Apple Watch. I decided to be maniacal about hitting my daily goal of burning calories through walking (500 calories burned) and my exercise goal (30 minutes). I decided that I would do most of this through walking since I knew that my goal was to focus more on my meals than my exercise.
At work I started doing my phone calls on my AirPods and I’d schedule calls where I would walk around the neighborhood while I took calls. I did this every single day. If I had meetings with people I didn’t know I took them in the office but if I had “catch up” meetings with people I knew well I made them all “walk and talks.” (some people are probably laughing right now because I subjected a lot of people to walk and talks).
I just figured that if I wanted to be less sedentary and so I made it a neurotic priority. I made sure I hit my step targets. I remember one time I was at a dinner with my wife and our friends in Santa Barabara and afterwards we had a 90-minute drive back to LA. I looked at my watch and I was about 20% short of my calorie burn target for the day so I asked my wife it she’d wait while I walked up-and-down stairs for 10–15 minutes until I hit my target.
You manage what you measure. My main goals were tracking what I ate and tracking my daily weight but I layered on tracking my daily steps and by setting it up as a “walk” on my Apple Watch it would count towards my 30-minute exercise target.
As I moved towards my “boomerang weight” and got closer to 200 it was clear to my wife that I had lost some weight so I started telling her that I was counting my steps and exercise so in a way I now held myself accountable for that measure and I had somebody else to tell whether I hit my daily walking targets so I could be externally accountable. I wasn’t ready to share that I was also tracking my food and weight- but I had my Noom group where I was held to account for that.
After 4–5 months people really started noticing my weight loss and after 6 months nearly everybody commented. I have to admit that I found some of this frustrating because everybody was so quick to assume that I lost all this weight from Peloton. Don’t get me wrong — I LOVE Peloton. But on the chart below Peloton would be plotted as “gear” and I’ve put the factors in weight loss in order of importance from bottom (most important) to top (important, but less so). Over the course of my next few posts I’ll share what helped in each part of the graph but for now I wanted you to have a mental model of how I broke down the problem.
Peloton will not lose your fucking weight. It’s not a magic bike. You can lose weight on a Peloton but I know more people with Pelotons that could double as clothing driers than as exercise bikes. In fact, mine operated this way for at least the first year I owned it. I couldn’t live without my Peloton right now but for you that might be an outdoor bike, skates, skipping a jumprope, yoga or whatever.
But if you don’t have a good mental plan for sticking with your program, if you don’t measure your results, if you don’t control what you eat … your Peloton will be useless.
Consistency. Habits. That’s what works.
On exercise I like to say the following: consistency (daily) > length (amount of exercise) > intensity.
If you’re doing some form of exercise 6–7 days / week (even walking) it’s better than going really hard 3 days / week. If right now you’re doing 3 days of biking or jogging / week you’re far better off trying to get that to 5 days / week than trying to increase your jog from 2 miles to 4.
Over the course of the next few posts I’m going to share what I did at each phase to improve myself.
I hit my target of 185 in the seven months that I had initially set out. If I’m honest I didn’t think I would but because I had my goal in mind and I just kept measuring my weekly targets and never gave up on my new habits I woke up 7 month later and was there. I never had a plan for beyond 185 but when I got there I told myself, “Maybe I could get to 175?” And when I hit that I thought “165??” and I just kept going.
I promise you that throughout I continued occasionally to eat ice cream, licorice, pizza, pita, hummus, sushi, bagels, granola — whatever I like. But I measure everything and hold myself accountable. In the detailed posts I’ll get specific including what to eat, how much to eat, how I stopped myself from over-eating, how I developed accountability partners and so on.
At each phase I developed new strategies, started using new tools, changed my exercise routines, focused more on the importance of sleep & recovery, found new & better gear, tested a ton of different approaches, wore a continuous glucose monitor, started heart-rate monitoring, took a bunch of blood tests from EverlyWell, signed up for urine tests and so on. It’s become fun but if I put all those into one post it would overwhelm you.
I didn’t set out to have a comprehensive plan and become obsessive about nutrition and fitness and measurement. In fact, as things just became habits I barely think about it any more.
Today is December 31st, 2020. I have sort of taken the past week as a “cheat week” to eat a bit more than I normally would. I woke up this morning and went for an 8-mile run. I ate granola, fruit, a bagel and cream cheese and a small bit of french toast. I had an In-n-Out double cheese burger for lunch and a steak pita sandwich for dinner. I had copious amounts of licorice still left over from the holidays. I mention all of this for two reason.
First, throughout my journey I’ve had adherence to NOT feeling like I was on a diet and allowing myself to feel free to have days like this. Second, I mention it because I know that my weight will be up tomorrow. Running eight miles in the morning (an hour and five minutes) does not give me a free pass to eat whatever I want. I will pay the price on the scale in the morning but so be it. Eating well > exercising more.
I set a goal for the end of January to be at 152 and I made a deal with two accountability friends to report my weight on the 31st. I do this by sending them screen shots of my MyFitnessPal weigh in. I’m not going to sweat one cheat day. But I’m not going to miss that fucking target on the 31st. I’ve got 31 days to get there. I’ll chip away and stay in maintenance mode every day — a little bit at a time.
I’ll also share more details over the course of the next few weeks on how I chose the tools I did, what has worked and what hasn’t. I hope subsequent posts will be much more brief. I’m sorry I didn’t have a silver bullet for you. It’s just hard work and daily habits. But if you start the journey and measure results by the end of March you’ll already notice a huge difference.
Wishing you a happy and especially healthy New Year. If you think I can help your journey in any way please ask. Or stay tuned for more posts. I will give specifics on everything including my eating plan that was most effective.
Next post in series: What I Ate on my Weight Loss Journey