I decided to lose weight after my ex-wife cheated on me stating that she found me unattractive, that she never loved me and that she was leaving and taking the dog with her. This personal narrative drove me to lose over 100lbs in 6 months and maintain that weight loss for over a year now. Emotional pain is an effective catalyst for change.
Dietary Changes: CICO, 1,200 calories each day
I started eating 1,200 calories/day.
Weight loss is pretty simple when you get down to it: Calories In - Calories Out = Weight Change. “Calories out” are a combination of TDEE (at-rest daily caloric expenditure), exercise and metabolism, while “calories in” are solely impacted by what you eat. The most accurate math I’ve seen shows that a 3,555 caloric deficit leads to the loss of 1lb of body fat.
As an engineer-at-heart the decision seemed straight-forward: cut caloric intake beyond any healthy limit so I could lose the weight I wanted. As a 5'6" 275lbs male, I would need to consume 3,000+ calories daily to maintain my current weight. According to my calculations, If I reduced my daily caloric intake to 1,200 calories/day I would experience a 3lbs a week weight lose. Well, that’s what I did and that’s the rough average I got.
At this point I should say that I’m not a healthcare professional and I’m not recommending my dietary changes to anyone. I was in intense emotional pain every single day and made the decision to capitalise on it.
Exercise: Gym, 3–5 times each week
The day after my ex-wife dumped me I joined a gym, got a personal trainer and started working out 3–5 times each week. I am incredibly lucky that I joined a supportive gym and found my personal trainer Dan Valenzuela and now Chris Arriola.
Exercise on its own doesn’t really move the needle directly when it comes to weight loss. An hour of resistance training adds less than 300 calories to the “Calories Out” column. Not eating that burrito is a 600 calories reduction of “Calories In”. Easy math.
So why did I focus aggressively on exercise? As soon as you cut caloric intake the human body starts lowering metabolism which in turn reduces your at-rest calories out. Exercise keeps metabolism up and helped me avoid metabolic reduction. Also, the more weight I lost, the more important caloric expenditure from exercise became as my recommended caloric intake dropped. Lastly, building muscle helps fill-in some of the loose skin that comes with extreme weight loss.
And man, do I love flexing my biceps nowadays :)
Exercise: Walking ; I quadrupled my step count
The month before I started my diet I walked an average of 4,000 steps each day. The #1 advice health professionals have on the numerical aspect of step count is: do more. However many steps you’re walking daily, do more. The 10,000 steps/day number you might have heard is a “recommendation” because that’s a bit more then most of us do regularly. The real trick is to having walking actively support your weight loss is to just increase your daily step count.
So I walked more than 4,000 steps/day. I increased my daily step count to 16,000 steps/day. I got a fitbit and made my daily walk a part of my spiritual practice. There’s some research behind that people who walk a lot persist less with their exercise than joggers/runners do. So it’s even more important for walkers to find a schedule and stick to it.
Main Meal: Salads
I decided I’d only be eating a single “meal” every day. No breakfast, lunch and dinner for me. It was fairly easy due to a combination of low-grade depression that reduced my appetite and having fairly immense energy stores in the form of fat. My chosen meal was a salad for lunch. Every day for lunch for the last 18 months I’ve had a salad that accounted for about 50% of my daily caloric intake.
Low Calories Snacks: 0–150 calories snacks
On a low caloric diet it’s super important to find snacks that hit the perfect trifecta:
- Numerically low calories: On a 1,200 calories/day diet it’s important snacks are “calorically cheap”.
- 5/5 flavour: If you’re eating a snack for about 10% of your daily caloric intake it has to taste good. You have to be happy with both the taste and texture. That means I needed a variety of foods like crunchy foods, sweet foods, salty foods, savory foods, etc.
- Satiety: In between meals you still want to get a sensation of being full. I never felt hungry in my diet.
So what are my go-to snacks?
- Island Mango fruit roll-up — 90 calories each pack.
- Ginger-carrot snacks — 90 calories each pack.
- BBQ popchips — 100 calories each pack.
- Bamba peanut butter snack — 160 calories each pack.
- Dang coconut chips — 120 calories each pack.
- Roasted seaweed with Teriyaki sauce — 25 calories each pack.
- Miracle noodles with yakiniku sauce and roasted nori sheets — 0 calories for noodles, 80 calories for 2tbsp of yakiniku and 20 calories for two nori sheets.
- Watermelon: 30 calories per 100g. A quarter of a watermlon is 1lb and about 200 calories. Watermelons are fibrous magic.
I started taking recreational culinary & pastry classes once a week at San Francisco Cooking school. Class topics ranged from basic knife skills, roasting a chicken, making pho, deep-frying donuts, whipping up marshmallows, baking pies and more. Spending well over 200 hours in culinary & pastry classes has radically changed my relationship with food. Having a new appreciation of flavor, texture, history and technique has brought food into focus every time I eat.
After attending so many recreational culinary classes I decided to join the part-time professional culinary program at the same school. This is on top of my full-time career. I feel lucky to be equally passionate about both my culinary interest and my career. I’m two months into a year long culinary program and it has already positively impacted my expectations of food. Instead of mindlessly filling myself of the same old meat & potatoes diet, I now eat new, exciting and unfamiliar cuisine every week.
Culinary school also has an interesting dietary impact of upcycling my caloric intake on a weekly basis. I’m sure that helped with my low-calorie diet. Where most days I’d eat 1,200 calories/day, having one day each week at 3,000+ calories/day helped keep my metabolism going.
Other random pointers
- When going out with friends, I’d always order food even if I’m calorie capped for the day. The San-Francisco culture involves community dining and hanging out in restaurants with friends. I still wanted to be included in that culture. I specifically remember getting dim sum with friends thinking “this is totally worth the calories”.
- I stopped drinking alcohol and sugary drinks. Ain’t nobody got 140 calories for a shot of whiskey or a can of coca cola.
- I started out my diet on WeightWatchers but switched to MyFitnessPal as soon as they switched over from PointsPlus to SmartPoints. Weight Watchers does have this awesome list of low-calorie “power foods” that I continue to use for food inspiration.
- I watched this course on the Physiology of Fitness. It helped me feel like less of a spaz in the gym.
- I switched out drinking water with drinking green tea. There was a study showing that rats drinking green tea and exercised lost 17% more body weight than rats that just exercised. Over-extrapolating on that single data point, I started drinking green tea every day.
“Supplementation of GTP in the drinking water in the HF+GTP group reduced body weight as compared to the HF group.” — From the study
- Therapy. I did lots of therapy.