November 27, 2021
life

Weight Loss Experiments: $200/pound

I'm not a doctor or a personal trainer, so take everything below with a grain of salt. I haven't figured this stuff out completely, but I wanted to make a log of what's kinda been working and not working.

How I Got Here

Even when (somewhat lazily) doing sports in high school, I was never what I would call "in shape." I lost a ton of weight hiking all summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, weighing somewhere around 215 lbs. By the end of senior year, that was around 225. I think I lost weight in my first year of grad school, but I lived about a mile off-campus and walked back and forth a couple of times a day. I lived further off campus my second year and gained 10 pounds.

Ballparking, I entered the "real world" in 2007 around 235 pounds. I was fairly active in my 20s (lots of hiking, kayaking, indoor climbing), but I was never great at doing "real exercise." I bought an elliptical but stopped using it after we had our first kid (too loud!). I had a shake weight (it suuuucked). I got a water rower a few years back (it's quiet!), but I could never row for more than 20-25 minutes in one go without losing my mind from boredom.

Other than exercise, we live pretty cleanly. I read Omnivore's Dilemma within a year or two of moving to California and the whole "stick to the outside aisles of the grocery store" thing always resonated. No smoking, not too much drinking. I did drink a LOT of coke zero. The only things I can really put my finger on are lack of exercise and too much sitting. And holiday sweets bumping that set point up a pound or two each year (yes, bread pudding, I'm talking to you).

I built my own standing desk in 2015 and eventually upgraded to a motorized sit/stand desk. I like standing for busy work (emails, meetings), but even after doing it for years, I can't stand for long stretches when I'm doing deep work (writing/programming).

Steady State: 270-280

After steadily gaining weight over the years, I finally plateaued around 275 lbs in 2016. 280 has always kind of been my "YOU SHALL NOT PASS" mark. For the next 5 years I would follow a pretty repeatable pattern: slowly gain weight through the winter, look at the scale in January and see I was pushing 280, and then get more serious about exercise for 6 months until the weight got back down to 270 or so (occasionally down to 265!).

Down in the summer, up in the winter. Repeat.

Covid Diet

The first year of covid sucked for me. I took on primary get-the-kids-to-the-right-zoom-room duty during the day, which pushed most of my meetings to after 3pm and most of my focus work to after dinner. A lot of people found themselves with way more free time to take up new hobbies, but those people probably didn't have kids.

With the kids home all the time, my diet turned into their diet. Freshly baked bread (bread machine + timer) every morning for breakfast and frozen pizza or dumplings for lunch most days. Oreos or ice cream sandwiches after dinner.

Instead of losing weight through the summer, I continued to gain weight all summer. I threw my back out in October, about 6 months into Covid lockdown, at an all-time high weight of 283 lbs.

October 2020 Overhaul

After my back got better, I got serious about making some changes.

I ordered an Amazon Halo and started tracking my steps. I had a Nike Fuelband back in the day, and it was fairly effective at motivating me to walk around more. After it died, I just used my phone's pedometer for years. During the lockdown, my phone mostly just sat on my desk all day.

I started going to bed earlier (the Halo has a sleep tracker on it), but going to bed at 11pm was a real struggle for me. The 10pm-2am hours have always been my most productive tinker time, and going to bed that early every day still feels a little bit like chopping off an arm. But I was also a miserable grump in the morning, and that's not super helpful when you're trying to get two kids fed and clothed and ready for school.

I switched to eating a salad for lunch every weekday (probably ~600 calories).

I stopped making bread every day, eating a ~200 calorie snack bar for breakfast instead.

I ordered a weighted jump rope (high calories-per-minute), but it turns out our house isn't so great for doing the weighted jump rope (ceiling too low in the basement, whole house earthquake on the main level, miserable outdoor temperature or pollen most of the year outside). I liked the exercise okay, but other than the foot coordination bits it didn't seem all that different than playing Beat Saber. Beat Saber! One of the few exercises I'd been getting was playing sporadic Beat Saber on the Oculus Rift, but with the kids home 24/7 I was constantly having to recalibrate the stupid towers. After a few weeks of trying the jump rope, I put it away and ordered a Quest 2.

I settled into a steady state of playing Beat Saber for 30-45 minutes every M/W/F (shooting for 400 calories burned), which was just about enough exercise to hit the Halo's 150 "movement points" each week. On T/Th I'd try a different VR game in that timeslot (ping pong, OnShape, Audica, Pistol Whip, Holopoint). None of them are as effective as Beat Saber for me. I was playing on Expert at first, but quickly pushed up to Expert+ and can usually average around 10 calories/minute (so 300-450 calories over a 30-45 minute session).

I thought these changes would make a pretty big difference, but over the next 8 months, I would lose a grand total of 2 pounds.

What. The. Frick.

At this point I was locked in on 200 calories for breakfast, 600-800 calories for lunch, and an unmetered dinner (probably ~1,000 - 1,200 calories/night). On paper, that should be ~2200 calories on the high end. At 6'3 and 283 lbs, that shouldn't even cover my BMR… much less actually moving my fat ass around during the day.

I was pretty active in October (messing around with the weighted jump rope and trying to figure out a schedule I could keep regularly), averaging 5800 steps/day. That dipped a bit after October, but I averaged 4300 steps/day over the next 7 months (well up from the 2-3k or so I was doing before October). The fitness band's calorie estimate backs the paper estimate up pretty well: 2800 calories/day over those 8 months.

"Calories In / Calories Out" is what I've been told my whole life, but my little 8-month experiment of one was starting to make me think CI/CO was total horseshit. Under that system, my calorie deficit of ~600 calories/day should've yielded weight loss of just over a pound a week (using 3500 calories/pound). Over eight months, that should've equated to over 30 pounds and not the statistically insignificant 2 lbs I actually lost.

I stopped gaining weight, which I guess was better than the first 6 months of lockdown.

But I was also a grumpy/hungry bitch most of the time.

June-August 2021: Cardio Every Day + Uric Acid + Supplements

While at the beach in early June, I had a massive gout flare-up. Which is exactly the kind of thing you expect to happen after calorie counting for 8 months straight. This was a new catalyst to change things up yet again.

I was now waging a war on two fronts: fat and uric acid.

The snack bars I was eating for breakfast (Larabar Almond Cookie) weren't super low in sugar, so I switched to Huel bars (13g sugar -> 8g sugar). I didn't get serious about protein until a few months later, but they also had 12g of protein compared to the 6g in the Larabars. I ordered a shitload of tart cherry juice off amazon and started drinking that with breakfast and dinner.

My Covid schedule got a lot more friendly when the kids started back in-person school in April, and by June they were on summer break and I actually had a little slack in my schedule.

I dropped the "just messing around" days from my workout schedule and started trying to push the Beat Saber/cardio to 45 minutes every day. We were doing 5-8 mile bike rides most weekends, and on weekend days where we didn't go outside I started adding another session of Beat Saber.

  • June - 5900 steps/day, ~2900 calories/day, 279.4 lbs.
  • July - 6000 steps/day, ~3150 calories/day, 275.6 lbs.
  • August - 7200 steps/day, ~3325 calories/day, 271.6 lbs.

By keeping my diet the same and ramping my movement by around 50% (+200-400 calories/day), I finally made a little progress.

My weight was finally starting to move (down 10 lbs in 3 months!), but I continued to be super confused about the number of calories I was supposedly burning each day compared to the number of calories I was consuming. I started listening to a ton of health and fitness podcasts:

  • My First Million - mostly a business podcast, but watching these guys fix their health over the last year helped with motivation
  • Tim Ferriss - mostly practical. how the hell did he figure all this stuff out 10 years ago with none of these resources?
  • Huberman Lab - a mix of science + practical
  • Peter Attia's The Drive - very sciency, more longevity focused
  • Genius Life with Max Lugavere - a little woo-woo sometimes but good guests
  • Ben Greenfield Fitness - most exercise-focused, but extremely woo-woo (I'll revise that if grounding and coffee enemas ever make it into my routine)

I also went down a multi-day rabbit hole reading everything on Slime Mold Time Mold. Unfortunately, even if I agree with the premise (something in the environment is making us fat), there's not really anything actionable to take away from it. I need to figure out how to be healthy even if there are environmental contaminants.

(Editor's note: a bunch of journalists reported on this paper that came out later in 2021 that says your BMR slows down after exercise. The effect is more pronounced the fatter you are, which would certainly explain some of the discrepancies.)

It's hard to think back and remember which order I listened to things in, but I did make a bunch more changes based on the information I was taking in.

One nearly immediate change was switching around my workout schedule. For around 8 months, I'd been eating breakfast around 9am and working out from 11am-12pm. I moved breakfast back an hour to 10am and started working out at 9am. We're usually done eating well before 8pm, but I chose that as my evening cut-off and basically switched to a 14/10 intermittent fasting schedule with very few changes to what I was already doing. Doing my morning workout fasted AND extending my nightly fast should both have positive impacts.

After listening to a few Huberman podcasts on sleep, I realized my sleep habits over the last few years were even worse than I thought. I was always a night owl, but before kids, I would sleep in until 8 or 9. Once daycare started (2014?), I started having to get up at 7am. Now that the kids are in real school, it's 6:30. My bedtime has been 1-2 am for most of my adult life, which means I've only been getting 4.5 to 5.5 hours of sleep the last 5 years or so. Go listen to Huberman if you want to know the science, but my takeaways were that it jacks up your testosterone (mostly produced during REM sleep in after-4-hours part of sleep) and makes you hungrier than you should be (screws with your hunger hormones).

I got my testosterone tested in July and it was pretty low (~200). I started taking an estrogen blocker and a hormone that boosts testosterone (but not testosterone directly, which still seems too scary and permanent). I heard brazil nuts were also good for that, so I started eating a few of those every day with my breakfast.

Sometime in late August, I listened to this episode of The Genius Life with a doctor who mentioned seeing a lot of obese patients with high uric acid levels who were unable to lose weight. I'm still not clear if uric acid makes you fat or being fat makes uric acid high, but I clearly had high enough levels to cause gout flare-ups.

My toe was still pretty achy at this point even if it wasn't keeping me up at night, so I decided to start taking omega-3 supplements (general anti-inflammation) and liposomal vitamin c (supposedly good for gout). At some point, I found some old Allopurinol (gout medicine) in the back of my medicine cabinet and started taking that until I could get in to see a doc and get a fresh prescription.

At around 6 pills/day, I figured I might as well toss some Vitamin D in for good measure to boost the hormone stuff.

August Interlude: Paddling

I grew up going fishing a ton. I never much cared for the fishing part, but I've always liked being on the water (and in the water). I started kayaking in college, did whitewater for a few years, and would always try to do a few flat water paddles or downriver floats every year. We usually try to do a lake trip just before school starts back (which is also near my birthday), so a few years back I bought a paddleboard to test out.

It was fun! So fun that my kids used it the whole time and I barely got to use it. My legs and feet were in such bad shape that I could only go about 15 minutes on it, anyway.

So the next year I bought a second paddleboard.

With more paddleboard to go around, I got to use it a lot more. One problem: my legs and feet were still in terrible shape, so I couldn't do it for very long without cramping.

(Side note: it never occurred to me that I could train my legs and it would be more fun.)

This year, I took both boards to the lake for a week and had a blast on them. It turns out that walking around barefoot for a year during lockdown and doing 5-10 miles/week on our bikes got my legs/feet in much better shape, and this was the first year I was actually able to go out paddling for longer stretches of time. Doing a 45-minute paddle at sunrise is pretty much my ideal form of exercise.

From mid-August to when the temperature dropped below 75 in October, I went out almost every weekend. We bought a third board so all 4 of us could go without being tethered to places with rentals (6-yo still rides with mom).

I like SUP because an hour or two feels like a decent workout, whereas with kayaking an hour feels like you're just getting warmed up. I love my kayak, but as a fitness activity, SUP seems to fit a lot more neatly into a busy life.

Ring Fit

My podcast deep dive also led me to the other well-known way to speed up metabolism: muscle. If I had more muscles, I could burn more calories doing the same stuff.

I don't particularly like gyms.

I've had gym memberships in the past – a rock climbing gym, a place with a pool. I never really learned how to do weight training, though, and without a buddy to tell you what to do it's too intimidating. My wife has no problems using a personal trainer to solve that problem, but I never really had any desire to pay someone to be my cheerleader. I wonder if I'd thought of it more as a teacher/coach role it would've been more appealing… but it's kind of moot in the age of covid. I was vaccinated by this point, but until my kids could get it I had no desire to go spend time in a weight room even if I'm convinced it would be good for me.

I started looking into kettlebells and bodyweight/p90x-type stuff. I've never liked bodyweight training either, but that's mostly because I have noodly programmer arms.

I got my wife Ring Fit for the Switch the Christmas before covid, so I decided to start with that a couple of days a week in place of Beat Saber. It works your legs a lot more than your arms, but I found the pace to be pretty excruciating. A one-hour session would have 30 minutes of exercise and 30 minutes of menu traversal and animations.

Maybe it gets better if you get further into it, but I dropped it and went back to all Beat Saber.

September: X3 Bar

I'm a big fan of going down internet rabbit holes, so when I saw a random comment thread that mentioned the X3 Bar, I started researching it. The X3 website is awful. It has the kitchen sink of internet marketing tactics, a super jacked spokesman, massive amounts of flimsy-looking scientific mumbo jumbo, and a book that shits on cardio as being a waste of time.

But I liked the look of the exercises and liked that it was small. So I started reading up on it.

Oooh boy that's a weird rabbit hole to go down. I don't know if all fitness products are like this, but any review criticizing this thing is just absolutely drowning with robotic comments singing its praises. In other words: shady.

This ended up being the most useful review of it:

After watching and reading a ton of stuff, my overall view of it was that:

  • you could learn how to use it with videos in a few minutes
  • it doesn't take up much time or space
  • it was reasonably effective (no superman shit, but you can get a good workout)
  • it was massively overpriced (I'm not that price-sensitive, so this doesn't really bother me)
  • you're less likely to hurt yourself than with traditional free weights (lower initial resistance)

That all sounded great to me, so I got one.

As I'm writing this (on 11/28), I just finished the 12-week program yesterday. The program splits into 4 exercises/day for push/pull day. You do 4x/week the first month and then ramp up to 6x/week in months two and three. Some of the exercises are a little awkward (I'm 6'3), but I generally like all of them and like that I can get through it in 15-20 minutes.

I saw a lot of progress the first month while continuing to do Beat Saber every day. I did get stronger in months 2 and 3 (unfortunately I didn't track reps), but I also hated doing it 6 days/week. It means being sore all the time, which was bearable for 8 weeks but wouldn't be sustainable for years.

Other than tweaking my back when moving from one band to the next on deadlifts and not quite being ready for the new weight, I think the X3 bar has been great for adding muscle from a base of practically zero.

From the tits up and knees down, I'm in the best shape of my life after 12 weeks. I have a lot more definition in my chest, arms, and legs, but I haven't shifted much of anything out of my belly or thighs yet. I flip my Amazon Halo nudie body scans back and forth through the months like a flipbook to see if my belly shrinks, but the only thing that really changes on there is facial hair.

I do think it's a good product, though, even if hasn't impacted my midsection yet. I plan to switch back to 4 days/week and continue using it.

Editor's note: since writing this, I listened to a couple of podcasts with the creator. He seems like a nice and normal enough guy. I haven't read it, but his book that poops on cardio/weights was summarized on a podcast and makes more sense in full context. If you do a bunch of extra stuff around the X3 bar workouts (vasodilators, glycerol, carb timing, standing on a vibration plate) you can git much bigger muscles, but I'm still enough of a noob that I feel like I'm getting plenty from just doing the normal workouts with a renewed focus on slow + constant tension.

Goodbye Coke Zero

At the point where I'm taking an estrogen blocker and still drinking 10 sodas a day, that seems counterproductive. Who knows if the amount of BPA in the cans is actually that meaningful, but I'm pretty sure the scientists saying "it's fiiiiiiine" are talking about 1-2 cans/day and not 10-15.

I quit soda cold turkey a few weeks into the X3 program and switched entirely to tea. I brew up a gallon every morning, and I usually go through most of that and sometimes more.

Switching out soda for tea and ramping up my exercise made going to bed earlier a bit easier. I'm currently using around 8g of pu'erh tea and 8g of guayusa, which I work out to around 350mg of caffeine… not significantly different than drinking 10 cokes with 32mg apiece. I use the same loose leaf tea for 2-3 brews, though, so I suspect my caffeine intake has kind of a natural taper downward throughout the day (I brew in half-gallon mason jars, and there's a noticeable difference in taste/color with each successive brew).

I'm not getting any more sleep now than when I was drinking soda, but subjectively I feel a lot better when I get up (no more crankiness before coffee).

Protein

A couple of weeks into the X3 program, I listened to a podcast on the carnivore diet. It sounds sweeeeet, but it has about a 0% chance of fitting into my lifestyle (ditto for Atkins/Keto… we eat Asian food with dumplings/rice/noodles like 5 nights out of 7). One kind of throwaway line in that podcast, though, was that to build and maintain muscle mass you need to eat ~1g of protein per pound of lean body mass (not tubbo tummy mass). For me, that would work out to ~200g of protein per day.

200g of protein is a fuck-lot of protein.

I built a spreadsheet of the common things I was eating for breakfast and lunch, and I wasn't even close. And then something that had been bothering me for a year clicked in my brain.

My diet was not good pre-covid. My usual routine was to eat a 400-calorie bagel every morning after dropping off the kids. I was pretty regular with my lunches: Moe's homewrecker twice a week and Grindhouse burger + fries twice a week. I'd eat a salad or sub on Fridays and usually take it a little easy on the weekends. Not a great diet, for sure, but I was easily getting 50g of protein with a good chunk of those meals. Since switching to salads every day, I was getting more like 15-20g (bacon, almonds, seeds).

If you squint your eyes a bit, it's a reasonable explanation for why I wasn't gaining weight pre-covid while eating ~1400 calories/day + dinner (and averaging maybe 3k steps/day). Frozen pizzas and dumplings have about half as much protein as a good burger or burrito. My salads had about 1/3 as much protein.

In October and November, I tried a bunch of different ways to get more protein into my diet: Costco protein bars are pretty good, but the sugar alcohol they use in place of fake sugar doesn't seem any healthier than sugar. I was eating 2 or 3 a day for a little while, but I've slowed down on those.

I started buying pre-boiled eggs to slice up on our salads and added deli chicken (+180 calories, but 26g protein).

I ditched the Huel bars and switched to 2 boiled eggs and a cup of Skyr for breakfast (~66 more calories than a bar, but 27g protein instead of 12g). I signed up for a Heatonist subscription at the beginning of the pandemic, so I've got a ton of superhots I can throw on the eggs to get some early morning endorphins. I slice the boiled eggs in half and top them off with something miserably hot. The yogurt is there to save me if I put on too much. I dropped the brazil nuts (~100 calories from just 3 nuts!) to make up for that and added a multivitamin to get selenium and other junk.

I ordered meat sticks (Paleo Valley) – they're good, but I worry they'll cause another gout flare-up.

I tried Kettle & Fire's bone broth, but it was (a) expensive and (b) too salty. Costco has chicken bone broth that has 1g less protein but way way less salt. I like heating up a cup of broth and adding lemon juice and liquid egg whites – kind of a quick n' dirty avgolemono. It's a little too hearty for a snack, though, so it's been a struggle to actually work that into my diet.

I like making an omelet out of liquid egg whites and kimchi, but then my wife complains about the smell for the rest of the day.

Sushi tuna and caviar (either actual caviar or masago/ikura) were surprising finds. I try to do a seared 1lb cut of tuna over salad greens for dinner once a week now. It's crazy filling and 100g of protein. We also buy salmon caviar as an occasional treat (eat it with sour cream on cracker cups). A quick snack of those is better than a protein bar by almost every metric (but a bit expensive!).

Through October/November, my tinkering has settled into a pretty steady state. I get 920 calories from breakfast and lunch combined and a snack budget of around 260 calories. That gets me to 1100-1200 calories on the easy-to-measure part of my day with around 100g of protein. Dinner fills in the rest, but it's harder to quantify. I estimate I'm getting ~2200 calories and ~150g of protein most days.

I've also ramped up my physical activity, though, so (on paper) I should have a calorie deficit of 1500 calories a day by this point.

More Cardio

I made another big change when I started doing the X3 Program in September.

With the addition of the X3 Bar in September, I ramped my cardio up to a full 45 minutes of Beat Saber every day. I would've struggled to do 45 minutes on Expert+ a few months earlier, but I had a few things going for me.

Better fitness is the easy one, but I think two other changes were also pretty helpful: nasal breathing and cooling. I never paid much attention to how I breathed during exercise, but I've been practicing different breathing techniques while I play (biological sigh, nasal breathing as recommended on Huberman) and I do think it has an impact on heart rate.

After 30-40 minutes of Beat Saber, I used to be completely dripping with sweat and exhausted. Huberman had an episode on palmar cooling research at Stanford, where they stick an athlete's hand in a cold glove to cool the core faster during workouts. There are basically 3 spots on your body that can do rapid heat exchange: the palms of your hand, the bottoms of your feet, and your forehead. The Oculus is a giant heater that sits right on your face–the complete opposite of what you want.

I heard that episode right around the time where I was struggling to keep my Oculus from fogging up. Before the X3 bar, I would start playing cold and the interior lenses would warm up with me. Playing after resistance training, my face would start out flushed and fog up the lenses. I started looking into on-headset cooling devices. There are some 3d-printed clips that let you put computer fans on top that blow down your face as you play, but they all look pretty janky and take a bit of wiring. I got close to ordering some… but instead had the crazy idea to just point a box fan at myself while I play.

It makes a massive difference.

Between the 3 adjustments (better fitness, nasal breathing, and box fan), I don't even get sweaty on some workouts. It might actually be too effective. Instead of hovering between a 120-140 heart rate, I'm usually closer to 100-120 these days (I'm thinking about adding a weighted vest to see if I can ramp that back up). I can still spike up to over 170 on a few songs (anything by Camellia), but on slower songs, I can play Expert+ while holding around 100 bpm. A lower heart rate means fewer calories, but so far I've compensated for that by bumping my cardio time up to 60 minutes/day in October and November.

As a bonus, while researching VR fans I found an article that mentioned something useful. Having airflow reduces motion sickness. Games with movement in them make me nauseous, but I've gone back and tried a few with the fan going and it does seem to help. I'm able to play Pistol Whip now, which is another good fitness game (lots of ducking/squatting). I'm not at a level where I can hit the same calories-per-minute as I do on Beat Saber, but it's a good change of pace.

From 7200 steps/day in August, I continued to ramp up over the next 3 months:

  • September - 8700 steps/day, ~3781 calories/day, 266.4 lbs.
  • October - 9500 steps/day, ~3697 calories/day, 263 lbs.
  • November - 11500 steps/day, 3708 calories/day, 259 lbs

The weight is continuing to go in the right direction, but progress seems to be slowing. My results are nowhere near what they should be if my calorie estimates are accurate.

Random Last Things

This whole brain dump has been a sequence of random things, but I've got a few more odds and ends that didn't quite fit in other places.

Air Quality

In January 2021, I read an article that mentioned high CO2 could lead to lethargy and weight gain. I ordered an Awair sensor and started tracking air quality. We scored okay on dust and pollutants, but with me + 2 kids + dog in my basement we were hitting 1500-2k ppm on CO2 pretty regularly (with a huge spike after my morning workout that never really dissipated through the day). Setting our HVAC to circulate air was an immediate and massive improvement that got us down in the 800-1200 ppm range, but I can also glance at it and crack a window.

At some point, I'll probably have a fresh air exchanger added to our system, but we were still on full lockdown at this time. I tinkered with different window fan designs that I could automate with data coming off the sensor (like, bought computer fans and built an enclosure), but the problem kind of worked itself out when the kids started going back to school in March/April. Our air quality is pretty good now except for humidity (too low in winter, insanely high in summer). Low humidity is a bit easier to fix, but I bought a giant dehumidifier that made basically no difference in my basement office (probably ~500 sq ft).

Fasting

It's hard to say whether intermittent fasting is doing anything or whether doing my cardio in a fasted state or just ramping up my amount of activity has been the big winner (I lean towards the latter). I do think that "no food after 8pm" is a helpful hard rule for my brain.

From the podcasts I've listened to, fasting is more about long-term health than short-term weight loss. Doing the X3 bar 6 days a week, there was never room for trying a longer fast. I tweaked my back doing deadlifts near the end of November, so I took a couple of days off from most lifting and tried a 3-day fast. It went… okay.

I ended up making it ~68 hours (last meal on Thursday night, big lunch Sunday afternoon), just shy of the 3 days. I did cheat a little – a cup of bone broth on Friday night and Saturday night in place of "dinner". I'm not sure if that actually helped or made it harder, though. I had my usual amounts of coffee and tea. If I felt hungry, I'd mix up a warm cup of water with a splash of lemon juice and some sea salt.

I did lighter versions of my normal workouts and went on a few hikes. Keeping busy seemed to help. We tried a 2-day juice cleanse once and it was miserable… but we mostly just sat on the couch all weekend and thought about food.

Some people do a 3-day fast every quarter. I did mine the weekend before Thanksgiving. I might try to stick to just doing that every year (or maybe fit in another one around Lent/Easter because people will be talking about it).

Another option I'm considering is eating dinner a little early on Thursday and then skipping breakfast/lunch on Fridays, which would be pretty close to a 24-hour fast once a week. Based on recent experience, that seems totally doable… but also pushes a bit more towards calorie restriction than fasting for the benefits of fasting.

Sauna + Cold

Saunas are trendy right now, but I've always been a fan. I go back and forth between whether I like dry or steam better, but we had a steam shower put into our house in California in 2013… right before we moved to Georgia. I never even got to use it. We bought our house here in 2015, and I've measured and plotted and planned how to fit a sauna somewhere at least twice a year since we moved in. There's not enough space for one.

Against this backdrop of having wanted a sauna for years, add a bunch of podcasts by health nuts who all say the sauna is the best thing ever for you and makes you live longer.

I've given up on fitting a nice boxy sauna in our current house, so I started looking into other options. There are a few DIY kits you can shove in a closet. There are weird zip-up fabric boxy ones that look like they're from the 50s. I was super close to ordering a sauna blanket before realizing that would mean washing disgusting sweat clothes every day. I saw a few dome saunas, but all the reviews said they were horrible for larger people (again, 6'3 and broad-shouldered even if I wasn't fat).

I stumbled across an XL Dome sauna on a PDF fact sheet buried in the description of a different sauna by the same manufacturer, but it was out of stock. I emailed the manufacturer and found out it was a new product. They sent me a pre-order link and I got mine in late October.

It's a little kludgy getting in and out of it, but I love it. It plugs into a normal outlet and it's pretty nice to just lay there and sweat for 30 minutes while listening to a podcast. I still want to upgrade to a big boxy one or a barrel sauna if we move to a bigger house, but this one is good enough until then.

While I can fit the dome sauna in my basement, I don't have a good spot for a cold plunge. It's cold enough right now that I can just stand outside in my underwear after getting out of the sauna, but I ordered a Cool Fat Burner after hearing it mentioned somewhere (Ben Greenfield I think). I don't know if I'll do it daily, but it seems like something I could fit in while sitting at my desk doing computer stuff.

Gotu Kola

A podcast interview with Charles Poliquin mentioned that people who lose a lot of weight should take gotu kola to tighten up loose skin. It tastes like shit (even in pill form) and takes about 6 months to kick in, so I'm optimistically taking that with the assumption that my belly is eventually going to start shrinking.

Overtraining

One worry in the back of my mind is overtraining. I feel like I'm doing a lot of exercise these days (75-80 minutes a day of structured exercise). It would suck to drop a bunch of weight but fuck up my heart in the process. Listening to fitness podcasts about overtraining, though, this mostly seems like a problem for people who have all their other shit figured out already. I'm going to keep going hard (by my standards) for now–though I did order a gadget to measure HRV.

Rock Climbing

The kids have been begging us to start rock climbing for months, but covid made that a no-go. After a few months of public school in masks with no close calls and with kiddie vaccines looming near, we took them to a climbing gym. My 9yo can do more pullups than I ever could, so of course he's a natural. We made it about halfway through our punch pass before I converted it to a monthly membership starting in November. I take the kids once a week (they're in jiujitsu most days, but there was one open weeknight slot), and we occasionally fit in a 2nd climb on the weekends. I'm stuck to the auto belayers for now (my wife can't belay me safely until I lose another 20-30 lbs), but it's a good example of the kind of exercise I want to be doing. I don't know if I could've made it up a wall last October, but after lifting weights for a few months and shedding 20-25 lbs it's pretty doable.

Bows + Deer Meat

It's looking more and more like I'm on a trajectory to go full redneck. I grew up fishing but never did any hunting. A lot of my extended family does, though, and my cousin sometimes hooks us up with deer meat when we visit. My oldest kid loves it (he's also super into primitive survival shows + youtube) – to the point of asking for deer meat for his birthday last year. I heard about Maui Nui Venison from a random business podcast with the founder of Tock / Alinea. I didn't even realize you could just order deer meat before that, so we started getting some last year. After later diving into health podcasts, a lot of these health guys are into deer meat and bow hunting as well. I started listening to Peter Attia about a year later – he actually invested in the company and did a fascinating podcast on the history of it.

While trying to ramp up my protein intake, I also ramped up our deer meat orders. We eat it about once a week now. We just throw it in the sous vide and make rice bowls or throw it on top of veggies.

On a completely separate tangent, we did a scouting campout in November and tried archery for the first time. As you would expect, survival-nut kid #1 absolutely loved it and has asked daily for the last few weeks when he can get a bow. We did a family lesson this morning, and it's pretty fun! They have drop-in classes in December and are starting a 10-week course in January. I don't know if we'll ever actually go hunting, but it does seem like we're headed in that direction (especially if the 9yo has any say).

Final Tally

I put together a spreadsheet of all the crap I've tried while writing/organizing this post along with a few notes on whether I thought they were good investments or not. This is all super specific to me, though, so I'm not sure how useful it is for anyone else to look at.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/12rew8375AOIah7tezZinPTLwxnfxQVG8X_MimeAZ270

As of writing this, I've spent at least $5,567 to lose 25 pounds – $223/pound. That's mostly not counting food (other than protein bars and such that are easy to quantify and look up), which I'd estimate we're spending more money on than usual. You could arguably remove the sauna, which was a big chunk of that. I do it because I like it and it's good for me, but it's really more for overall health than weight loss specifically (I doubt I burn more than 100 calories in a 30-minute session, but every little bit adds up).

Goals + Next Steps

What's my end goal? When I first started at 283 lbs, my goal was 250 lbs. That would get me back to around my weight 10 years ago (age 28). I'm at 258 lbs now, but I feel like have more muscle than I did 10 years ago. My scale says I've lost muscle, but my eyeballs disagree. I wish I'd gotten a dexascan before I started, but 14 months ago I was still in "oh, I should just trim 500 calories out of my diet" mode and couldn't have told you what a dexascan is.

I'm thinking of moving the goalposts to 225, which would be close to my 21-year-old weight. I've cut my body fat from 35% to 31%, which is still insanely high. I'd like to get that down closer to 20%. According to my scale, that would be a weight of ~216 lbs. That doesn't seem plausible, but we'll see how I feel once I get closer to 225.

Once I do hit my goal weight, I'm going to ease off a bit and figure out how much exercise I need to do to maintain that weight. I might come back to this post and update it as I find/try more shit, or even just with updated weights and step counts. I'm going to stick to my current routine for the next few months:

  • no soda – coffee + tea
  • supplements: multivitamin, omega-3s, vitamin d, liposomal vitamin c, gotu kola
  • drugs: allopurinol, clomiphene, anastrazole
  • breakfast: two spicy boiled eggs + yogurt
  • lunch: salad with egg + chicken + almonds + seeds
  • normal dinner
  • no food 8pm to 10am
  • 1 hr cardio every day unless I plan to do an outside replacement activity
  • resistance training 4x/week (M/Tu, Th/F)
  • rock climbing 1-2x/week (Th, ?)
  • 10,000 steps/day
  • sauna most days

Things on my radar to try (still noodling on some of these):

  • weighted vest (could make Beat Saber harder?)
  • kettlebells
  • interval training with my rowing machine (on top of Beat Saber cardio… this would be more like vo2-max training)
  • tabata training
  • one dinner-to-dinner fast every week
  • ice vest thing (Cool Fat Burner, ordered)
  • HRV tracking (CorSense, ordered)
  • I kinda want to do a DNA analysis and see if there are any nutrition/exercise nuggets I can pull out
  • Inside Tracker looks rad, but hard to justify the cost vs annual physical w/basic blood panel
  • cold sleep

December 2021 Update: Cool Fat Burner, HRV, CoolDrift Versa, Fasting Apps

I used the Cool Fat Burner for a few weeks and thought it was kind of a dud. On the plus side, the time commitment is pretty minimal. I go make lunch around noon and putter around the kitchen until 1pm, so the effort required to throw on the shoulder thing and vest is like a minute or two on either end of that. Even slamming ice water, I couldn't get a shiver going (although I could get goosebumps if I worked at it). My initial theory was that I had too much blubber in between the ice and my core.

Then I went to Asheville for 5 days and let it get really really frozen.

I think using it daily was the problem – it would thaw enough in one 60-90 minute session that it wouldn't be fully frozen the next day. I might switch to a M/W/F cadence and see how that goes. It's a lot more intense when fully frozen, but I'm mostly still at goosebumps level. At that level, they say there's ~15-20% boost in BMR… so roughly 15-20 calories per day. Maybe 2-3x that – I end up feeling more chilled for an hour or two after I take it off. I don't see it making a huge impact, but I like the idea of cold training. In the same way that longer fasts have been helfpul for learning to live with being hungry, having some intense cold exposure should make it easier to go outside when it's cold (I say as though I don't wear flip-flops year round anyway).

Since starting to take a morning HRV reading, I haven't really noticed anything useful yet. Sometimes I get great sleep and have a crappy HRV. Sometimes I'm a zombie first thing and I get a 10. I think I'll have to give it a month or two longer to spot any trends.

Similar story for the Ebb CoolDrift Versa. It's forehead cooling mask. I want to try one of the mattress pads eventually, but this was an easier sell for the wife. It's pretty easy to throw it on half an hour or so before bed, but I'm not sure if the cooling is really doing that much. If anything it helps make bedtime into a ritual. I'm a side/stomach sleeper, which makes wearing it while laying down pretty awkward. I think it would be pretty silent for a back sleeper, but when my big head + gravity push it into my pillow I get a TON of fan noise carrying through the pillow. This thing wasn't cheap ($250). I might use it for another week or so and then return it (eligible to return through the end of January).

I tried two fasting apps in December… kind of. One was Zero, which was pretty good. The other was My Circadian Clock, which was kind of a mess on my phone (not properly sized). I wasn't getting meaningful data out of either one, so I quit them both after about 3 weeks. I might use Zero again for longer fasts, but remembering to set it daily for intermittent fasts seems like a chore now that my eating pattern is already well established. My Circadian Clock requires a lot more logging, but after doing it dutifully for 2 weeks I didn't really get any insights out of it. I like that the data goes to research studies, but it was too much of a chore for what I was getting out of it.

December is pretty brutal in terms of travel/diet — way more restaurant food plus way less routine. I was happy to lose any weight for the month. I ended around 256, which is only down about 2.5 lbs.