Weight loss: lessons from the first 50 lbs
Being overweight brings down every other area of your life. This is why I’ve made getting in the best shape of my life the focus of my time and energy, until that goal is secured. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot of valuable knowledge and techniques to make the process easier and more efficient.
#1 : Learn how your body works
In the past, I’ve had moderate success dieting, by following ready-made plans. The Ketogenic Diet, in particular, helped me shed around 40 lbs a few years ago. While I managed to lose weight, I didn’t fully understand why. I don’t like to “trust the process”. I need to know how things work. Since then, I’ve read countless books, studies and articles about metabolism.
By learning how the whole system works, I can manage my expectations. I know what works and doesn’t for me. I see clearly what I need to fix and improve. I’m no longer mystified by daily fluctuations.
#2 : Track everything
Speaking of daily fluctuations, while monthly loss is rather consistent, the daily ticker is all over the place. When you rely on day over day numbers, it’s easy to second-guess yourself, or even get discouraged.
When you experience doubt, just have a look at the whole journey. Results only matter over the long term.
By tracking your results, you can accurately review your methodology. Do you need to do something different? Be more aggressive? You won’t know if you don’t track.
#3 : Destroy sources of stress
Excess stress will fuck up your metabolism. I used to have a 2 hour daily commute, which would make me angry, tired but also hungry.
I knew I’d never get weight loss right until I’d eliminated as many sources of stress as I could from my life. Making a choice was necessary.
I chose to tackle business before health, and focus on putting myself in a situation where I can work from home, because it would remove the major sources of stress from my day.
Fat gain/loss isn’t an isolated problem, it does not exist in a vacuum. If your lifestyle and circumstances are shit, they’re almost certainly influencing your weight, and your health in general.
#4 : Alcohol doesn’t help
Even when drinking moderately, in keeping with my daily calorie limit, alcohol intake still manages to hinder weight loss. It takes a particular toll on discipline. I’m inevitably hungrier the next morning.
After drinking, even a beer or two, weight loss grinds to a halt for me. The sweet taste of malt isn’t worth half a week of flatline for me.
Individual experiences may differ, but in my case, it’s easier to ditch alcohol entirely. As a bonus, I don’t have to choose between drinking and driving anymore, or recklessly doing both.
#5 : Fix your sleep
A lack of quality sleep creates imbalance in your hunger hormones. I decided to track the quality of my nights using the iOS app Sleep Cycle. And sure enough, while the time was adequate (an average of 7h45 per night), the conditions were clearly not optimal: I averaged 75% ‘sleep quality’ over a week.
I did the following:
- Not eat for 3 hours before bed (automatically by following intermittent fasting, see below).
- Use a headband to cut out sources of light.
- Dim the lights on screens in the evening (F.lux on Mac, Night shift on iOS).
With that, I get consistent 90%+ sleep rating. I am no longer groggy in the morning, and less hungry.
#6 : Intermittent fasting
The most efficient tool in my arsenal is definitely fasting. I follow a 16/8 pattern, meaning I eat only between 2pm and 8pm.
It get a full meal around 2, and eat a lighter dish in the evening. No snacking in between.
When weight loss hits a plateau, I fast for 48 hours. During that period, I drink only water, bulletproof coffee & tea. To stave off hunger, I’ll have a cup of chicken broth. That’s it.
Fasting always puts the weight loss process back in gear, without making me anymore tired or cognitively impaired. Quite the opposite in fact. After 15-20 hours of fasting, I’ll often feel sharper than usual.
#7 : Allergies / Intolerances
While reading the Bulletproof Diet book, I realized that I was ignoring food intolerances. I can’t digest dairy properly. The problem is, when you perpetually consume something you don’t tolerate, the sick state that comes as a consequence feels like the new normal. You don’t see the signs that you’re actually sick.
I took roughly two weeks without dairy for the effects to disappear, and what a difference. No more migraines, better digestion, better energy.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of knowing what foods you react negatively too. If you don’t have the time to test everything, a doctor can prescribe a large spectrum test.
#8 : 80% diet, 20% exercise
Diet is paramount. You can workout 4 hours every day all you want, if you don’t nail the diet, you’ll stay fat, or even put on more weight. By experimenting with both cardio and lifting, I noticed that for the same energy & time, lifting is more beneficial for me overall. I still do cardio a few times a week, but I focus on weight lifting.
I still consider myself a beginner, and follow Stronglifts 5×5, a very straightforward program aimed at novices. There’s no need to overcomplicate until you master the basics.
#9 : drink enough water
I thought I drank enough water, but once again, tracking proved I didn’t. Proper hydration is crucial for weight loss. If you don’t drink enough, your body will retain water, and you’ll feel hungrier. The body has a tendency to confuse signs of thirst for hunger.
I use the iOS app Waterminder to track hydration, with a 3 litre daily goal.
Weight loss resources
- The Bulletproof diet by Dave Asprey. An unusual weight loss book that follows the same principle as I do: research & experiment.
- The Art of Health mailing list by Alexander J.A. Cortes. 3 emails a day, packed with essential knowledge on health, lifting & life. For free.
- Stronglifts 5×5.