How to Look and Feel Marvelous

My friend Alex asked me how I recently managed to lose some weight and I thought it was a good idea to record what I did so I can refer back to it.

My goal, starting in March, was to be able to take my shirt off at the beach this summer without feeling that I let another year go by and didn’t work off my gut. But there’s more to it. I didn’t want to hurt my back shoveling snow or during the treacherous twisting+bending motion of inserting a 45 pound toddler into a car seat. In the end, I achieved more than that.

In three months I managed to build a significant amount of muscle and lose 10 pounds. Of course I have product and service design threads running in the background of my head, methods that could make all of this easier and more fun. Here’s a dump of that:

Exercise

  • Strength training builds muscle, and muscle burns fat, so strength training is my main focus. I don’t have time for designing a routine every day or month, so I simply go to the YMCA and do the circuit of stationary machines three times a week. I get a full body workout in about 45 minutes. The trick is to regularly challenge myself and add 5 or 10 pounds to each machine every week or so. Across nine machines I was lifting 750 pounds on March 12, and by the end of April I was up to 1130 pounds, an increase of 50%. After those six weeks I could see and feel the difference too.
  • The heart is a pretty important muscle, so I don’t ignore cardio. Recent research suggests you get most of the benefits with relatively little time spent, and that intervals rock. So I follow my strength training with 20 minutes on the elliptical machine set to intervals at a difficult level. The elliptical doesn’t pound my knees which have suffered running injuries. Putting on the headphones and cranking up the volume makes this more about a fun, sweaty session of rocking out.
  • I’ll take an occasional bootcamp-like class at the Y to work on balance and agility.
  • Otherwise, I adopt a French Women Don’t Get Fat mentality of generally living an active lifestyle. Taking the stairs, cycling to work, etc. I’ve tried to minimize sitting because research also suggests sitting is bad for you. For me, this means minimizing computer time. To do that, I unsubscribed from most mailing lists, eliminated aimless Facebook and Twitter browsing, and ignore mobile apps that don’t provide value. Next I plan to try writing standing up.

Eating

  • I’m just not a good dieter. It’s been hard to get used to feeling hungry sometimes, which is physiologically normal but rare in our world of plentiful calories. The act of denying myself food I want is incredibly difficult psychologically. What has worked for me is substitution. When I want something sweet, I make a fruit smoothie instead of eating cookies or ice cream. Or I’ll have a couple squares of dark chocolate.
  • Smoothies are my usual breakfast, though I’ll sometimes have oatmeal or eggs for variety. I follow this algorithm, though most of the time it comes down to water or rice milk, banana, frozen blueberries, spinach, peanut butter, and whey powder.
  • I usually have mini cliff bars in my backpack and eat one as a snack in between meals, they’re a good balance of protein, fat, and carb and they’re yummy. I order key items like this and peanut butter using Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program so I never run out.
  • Another meal should be primarily a salad (in the warm weather) or soup (in the cold). Basically: veggies.
  • I adjusted my diet to include fewer ‘bad’ carbs, as all the new science tells us it’s sugar not dietary fat that makes us fat. I like the idea of Paleo, but culturally it’s too hard to go without the foods I’m used to. So I make carbs a side dish rather than a main dish, for example ordering a dish of pasta just doesn’t happen but a little next to my protein is alright. Carb substitutions include:
    • Wraps instead of bread. With kids it’s hard to avoid buying factory bread, but Arnold makes a good whole wheat with no high-fructose corn syrup.
    • Bourbon and gin instead of beer. See Get Drunk Not Fat. I don’t drink much in the first place, so it’s not much of an issue.
    • Rice milk instead of milk. This is my biggest area of uncertainty, I need to do more research to figure out where to get these vitamins without making me fat. But going with espressos and Americanos instead of lattes is a start.

Besides the fat lost and muscle gained, I feel great. I feel like when I was a kid and was fit as a natural consequence of running around with my friends. I feel young.

Throughout this process, I want services that don’t exist. I want regular delivery of fresh foods (like we used to have for milk). I’d love the gym to look at what I’m doing and suggest other forms of exercise I might be missing (e.g. balancing muscle group development). And I’d like to process to be a bit more social, like an easier way to join an informal sports team.

The single biggest lift would be a way to buy meals instead of groceries. The most cognitively taxing and time consuming part of this process of figuring out what to cook for two adults and two kids that fits the adults diet and the kids preferences, mixing up the meals with enough variety, and having all the ingredients on hand. I think the solution lies with the market and how we order our food.

Update: After discovering that animal and dairy protein may not be good for you, I’m trying to eat a more plant-based diet. One fun way I’ve found to make foods without fat taste better is simply to add hot sauce. This isn’t a new weight loss idea, and has the added benefit of giving you a small high: “The capsaicins trick the nerve endings in your mouth, nose, and throat into thinking you’ve just singed yourself. Your brain, eager to please, responds by releasing endorphins.” Totally rad, dude.

2 Responses to “How to Look and Feel Marvelous”

  1. Livia Labate says:

    Very cool Victor, well done!

    A side note: Still strikes me as odd every time I see american families describe their kids’ eating habits as different from their own. That certainly adds to the complexity of meal planning and I just don’t understand why that happens in the US (and some other places) where it is not the case in most of the world.

  2. Victor says:

    Livia — I know what you mean. We usually try to eat one meal and – especially given my wife is German – that was our intention before having kids. But the reality is that the kids’ palates just aren’t ready for all the food my wife and I enjoy (they’re only 2.5 and 4 years old). We ask them to try everything by taking a “No Thank You” bite. It’s a gradual process.

    It’s also a matter of how much stress we’re willing to take on. Stress-free parents can just drop their kids at McDonald’s. We try harder for better nutrition, but at some point we’re just risking our own sanity.