Losing weight is hard. Skipping a meal once is easy, burning calories doing long run once is also relatively easy but that doesn't add up. Consistency is hard. This is my second time trying to lose weight and I did better than last time. I went down from 76Kg to 69Kg. Here's what I did and in the order I introduced the changes.
My height: 5"6 or 168cm
Initial weight: 76Kg
Daily routine: Sit on desk and work on computer all day long. Remote office meant I travel from bedroom to living room. No exercise required. Neither I was active. My typical workout were videogame 😉.
Calorie in, Calorie out
Every individual needs a fixed amount of calories to maintain daily routines, digestion, thinking, walking, working and regular body weight maintenance. I'm 5"6 and based on rough estimations I would need around 1800 K Calories to maintain 75Kg weight.
So if I want to lose weight, I would need to reduce the calorie intake. That means measure what I eat. Try this calculator for your need.
Failed attempt: On my first attempt to lose weight, I focused solely on this principle. I didn't care if I ate greasy fried chicken or wholesome plant based salad if I knew I would get the same 500K Calories. I used Lifesum and then Noom app for several weeks each. If I were to go to a restaurant and eat a meal, noom would have that meal but lifesum wouldn't or vice-versa. I never measured the meal portion and I surely can't walk with weighing machine to restaurant without looking suspicious. So I was estimating food weight based on what I saw and apps to know what ingredients I ate and they inferring the calories it contained. I tracked when I ate.
Why it failed:
- I had to constantly log into the app what I ate and it would infer the calories. What if it was wrong? What if I put less grams because that's how I saw it? What if I forgot to log?
- It worked and in a month I lost ~1.5Kg. I like results a bit faster. To lose 7Kg I would have have to continue for 5-6 months. You can say there is the math, stick to it for 6 months. But trust me slow results didn't motivate me. 6 months is a long time and what if I had to travel back to my parents where they cook awesome food, would I cheat. What if I travel and cheat? Say what you will but deep down most people feel somewhat similar. An example: I was once on family dinner and my mother in-law made amazing food; I said to my self "I would eat it today and skip some portions tomorrow". Tomorrow comes and I am hungry and say the same.
- I was not measuring accurately, both my body weight and foods I consumed.
- I was trying to brute force with 1 principle. Calorie in Calorie out makes sense but our body are not machines that treat 100g Carrot with 50 calories and 5g of oil in fried chicken with 50 calories the same. What a food contains matters for long term weight loss and maintaining a healthy body.
I don't like running (esp alone) and that hasn't changed much now as well. I started to somehow enjoy. Swinging by myself alone, sweating, maybe a earplug to keep me company for 25-30 mins with elevated heart rate, feeling the sense of losing breath and always thinking "when can I stop please" or "I think this is enough for today" is not pleasant at all.
However, I couldn't assemble 10 players to play football everyday when I wished to . Playing it once a week was better than nothing but I wanted something regular. I couldn't swim daily living in Berlin with 3 months of Summer even then sometimes I got out with winter jacket. I can't imagine me exercising in my apartment; mental barrier, neither I would be able to do. Running seemed the only feasible activity no matter why my preference was.
- I started with 1KM run in the morning. Its just 1KM. Easy for my brain to comprehend. My wife bought me a really good pair of running Shoes, Brooks Ghost 14 back in November. Thanks to it, I don't think about feet pain at all.
- After a week, I did 3KM. I was super happy because I never ran this much before. Not without a football and not alone.
- After a week, I did 5KM on single run. It was awesome feeling of achievement. I thought I could participate in 5K Marathon. Sure, I was tired and sweaty but when I am determined and have will to achieve some target and get it, it motivates me. I built the confidence.
- After few weeks, on a regular morning run, I noticed I already did 6KM. I was pretty far from home. I had to run back home. As i got close to home, I did 8KM. A thought came to me maybe this time I can push the extra 2KM and do 10KM. Personal record. Like a golden opportunity, just 2KM more. And I did it. Please note, I go for 1.5KM runs these days. The actual distance I actually run is not determined before. This makes my mind at ease as I don't have big goals before going out. Because I would never step outside my apartment with running shoes saying I would do 10K today. Never. It's just too much.
- These days, I do 5KM regularly. No matter in the morning, afternoon or evening. I even did 5KM after a heavy dinner to lose 400K Calories. But again, I go out to do 1.5KM and the actual distance is what my body tells me to mid-way.
- After 45 days mark of running: I went for a 1.5KM run and that turned to be 10KM and I added in 2KM more to top it off and push the record. Interestingly, when I did 12KM I was not tired, not too much sweaty and I could run more if I wanted to. This was a new feeling to me.
I started loving the feeling after running and sweating. I felt confident, not hungry at all and full of energy and dedication to continue burning calories. Every 5KM I run, I lose 380Calories. If I eat, Pesto Pasta small-medium portion without much cheese then I could run 5KM and walk for 3-4KM and I would burn 600Calories intake from food. Sometimes or mostly I use this mechanism to balance food intake.
I use Apple Watch while running but any fitness tracker should do the work. The stats collected adds a bit more accuracy to calories burned, heart rate, pace and various other metrics which I might want to optimize for. Gives me something more to look and improve. For instance, I have been looking at increasing my VO2 Max level.
For the past month, I burnt around 800K Calories every day. Combine that with restricting calorie intake to say 1200K calories. That means my body gets net ~400K Calories to work with. It needs 1800K to maintain the weight but it doesn't have it. So it burns the stored fat within me to generate the deficit (1000 - 1600) which is losing weight. So conservatively my body needs to burn ~1000K calories each day from within the body mass. This is weight lose.
Later I would go on to discover the science of exercise on metabolism, glucose level and autophagy which are amazing things to look for.
This time, I started being mindful of what I shove in my mouth. Largely plant based diet, with whole grains rarely, some meat and no processed food (sausage, burger patty, pringles, chips, snacks, juice and alcoholic drinks) mostly.
- I believe Sugar is poison. I am not fond of sugary stuff luckily. I can stare at my friends eating ice-cream and be okay not eating. Same for deserts, cakes and myriads of sugary products. So, I cut off anything that has Sugar. Even the morning tea. Me and my wife don't drink Sugary soda drinks at all. Watch Sugar: the bitter truth.
- No Alcohol. I am not super strict on this, I am okay drinking 500ml of beer or glass of wine once a month. I follow alcohol intake by running to burn the calories obtained. However I know a can of coke and can of beer more or less the same poisonous for the body.
- I avoided bread for the entirety of 1.5 months. I intend to do so afterwards as well.
- I avoided large lunch/dinner at restaurants. I could gulp in gigantic and super tasty Pizza Salcicia Picante from Losteria but that would be shoving in around 2000K calories and processed wheat flour, a lot of cheese and processed Salami. All I don't want.
- I became conscious of restaurant food; if I eat a meal on restaurant, it surely contains more calorie than I think and I don't know how much oil, which oil, how much sugar and what forms of it. If I have to burn 1000K calorie because I ate a big meal, I would have to run around 14KM. My rule was, If I am not willing to run to burn the amount of calorie I take in 1 meal, I would not eat it. I make my own food, plain food for sure but possibly healthy and it sure goes inside my mouth easily because my body is already calorie deficient.
- I ate almost green salad and miso soup almost every day for dinner. Miso Soup has 26 calorie for 300ml. Salad has 150Calories for 300gm. Not all dressing have same calories, some dressings are calorie bombs, use plain yogurt ones with low calorie.
- I skipped my breakfast. I got rid of Cappucino and switched to Americano. It has 0 Calories.
- I had 2-3 types of fruits during the lunch; Green Apple was always there. I picked up a lot of fruits from the nearby supermarket and if I had to snack in between lunch and dinner, I would take fruits. Fruits have low calorie and contains essential minerals and vitamins. I wouldn't gulp in 500gm of Cherries though. I love them but in moderation.
There are fantastic resource on internet on various food types and how they interact with your body. I never cared for that before. Now I do and am getting educated when I can.
2 things that are crucial: What you is eat defines who you become and When you eat is equally important to what you eat.
I did better because I got past the first basic principle Calories in Calories out. I care whats in those calories and how they are processed.
I skipped breakfast altogether. It was easy for me. Just have black coffee alone during breakfast time, let myself wait for noon to have proper lunch. It's worth the wait.
We are used to eating 3 or more meals. This, according to food science and nutritionist, is not natural for us. The reason it was introduced was for industrialized world where everyone has to work and its easy if every working human eats at predefined time. Okay concept for the capitalist world but leads to over eating easily. How do you control portion? Do you even control portion? English breakfast at 9am, Indian Tikka Masala lunch at restaurant in the afternoon and home made warm meal at the dinner. It's too much for the caloric need. No wonder some fat deposits to my belly. Top that off with I'm not working on Steel Factory lifting lumps of raw materials and exhausting me physically to burn the calories, nor I'm working on farm. I sit down on desk, at home, type on computer. My exhaustion can be mental but never physical. I simply can't burn the intake calories. As we move to new world of automation, intellectual work and remote work (not saying this for all profession and I respect every profession), there is little excuse to burn calorie by compulsion. I order lunch at my apartment via Wolt or Lieferandoo, I order groceries with Gorilla and drinks with Flinkst. I don't shop out on malls but order online. A lot of my time is sitting down. Doesn't help at all. Only option was to reduce food I take in.
So I ate
- black coffee at breakfast (0 calories) and plenty of water
- afternoon lunch, get Salad (pick wisely not all items are low calorie and healthy) box from supermarket and 2 pieces of ~100gm fruit.
- Dinner with my wife; Japanese cuisine preferred. I even learned to cook sushi at home. A tip; sushi is prepared with rice vinegar which is acidic which helps stabilize glucose level spike caused primarily due to starch and carbohydrates found in rice. It balances out. We both love Miso Soup and as sides we have Tofu (rich in protein), chicken breast cooked or oven baked veggies.
Almost all of us can wake up one day, measure the weight, restrict the meals, moderate exercise (even walking helps) and care about food intake. What matters is consistently doing it. Its hard. Otherwise everyone would be doing it.
Few tips I can share which helped me are:
- Have a weighing machine next to the bathroom, visible and ready to take your measurement.
- Take measurement after waking and doing the toilet. When you take measurement consider taking only your body weight if possible. Different cloths have different weights and it becomes hard to track progress. Now you can imagine how I do it. The goal is to only weigh what matters. This is super important to determine how many grams I am losing every day. For example; I measure before going for run, if I run 5KM, I come back and measure (again measure only the body weight) and I can see around 300gm to 400gm weight lose. Try it. It motivated me to run. Theoretically if I run 20KM, I can lose around 1.6Kg in a day. Sure I will not be able to maintain the lost weight due to exhaustion and body demanding food immediately. I don't recommend this theoretical part. Stick to what is right for you and ask yourself would you be able to do it tomorrow.
- Track your activity effortlessly: I use Apple Watch. Many fitness tracker out there allows doing the same. It detects when you are doing outdoor walk or run and associate calories based on heart rate. It feels great to complete a run and know you burned 500K Calories. It feels good to know how your heart rate fluctuates during different times. I am planning to get a continuous glucose monitor to see how food and activity affects my blood glucose level.
Here are 2 cases where I would have thrown off my routine but didn't.
- Me and my wife went to see MotoGP after 3 weeks I started the new routine. MotoGP is a festival with Bratwurst and Beer and Water and enjoy super fast motorbikes. We sure did. I drank at least 2 liters beer on Saturday and 2 more liters of beer on Sunday. It was delicious, especially when there was heat wave and temp reached 37C and we were on Grandstand without roof. We had bratwurst and some chicken wrapped in Bread. Recall that I wanted to avoid bread. Couldn't do here because that's mostly all there was inside the race track. We had it. Did I gain weight? No. Why? Both of these days we walked around 20KM each inside/outside the track as race circuits covers 5KM radius and getting to and from hotel and train requires walking. At night I had simple Salad at hotel and lots of water. I was being mindful of situation, getting along when I can and remedying. I was surprised that I didn't gain weight coming home.
- We went to Greece for our 4th Anniversary, 3 days after the MotoGP event. Greek beaches and food are something I long very much. I enjoyed both. And I managed to not gain weight. How? I ran 5KM every evening. It was beautiful as I was grasping this new island vibe, looking at things, long stretch of beach, wondering whats on the other side of never ending ocean and checking out new places. It was hot and humid but the sights kept me pushing. We rented car for the trip but I squeezed walks and runs even though I could just drive around. We swam a lot and swimming burns a lot of calories. I was burning around 1300K Calories every day. I could take 1300K Calories and be at net 0 Calorie intake. Sure I had few drinks of cocktails and beers late after night too. However I was mindful to not provide more than my body needs to maintain. I didn't lose weight during the holiday but I didn't either increase.
I was afraid these 2 events would throw me off the routine I was building at first but it was manageable and I got more fun out of both trips while maintaining my long term goal.
For instance, If I have to meet friends and drink beers in Sunday afternoon, I would skip meal and just have beer. Same calorie but not the vitamin contents. I will afford to socialize and connect sometimes while balancing calories. I wont do this frequently though. My alcoholic intake has decreased a lot after I started the routine because I know I can't afford to drink lot and my body is fed on plain diet and good foods, it won't crave for that after work beer. It feels awesome.
I'm no expert, I just tired once. I fasted just with water for 56 hours straight. I lost around 2 kg during this time.
There is a huge body of research on the benefits of intermittent fasting (also time restricted feeding at noon and dinner is the same as 16-18 hour fasting) and long term fasting. Please be aware of the science inside the body during fast before you actually jump into.
My parents, in Nepal, they fast as tradition/ritual. When my mom fast for a day on Monday for example, she is allowed to drink tea with sugar, milk and fruits. She avoids proper meals like rice, cooked vegetables, onions, meat and so forth until the dinner time or maybe skips dinner time. However, after researching (not scientific but listening to scientists and so-called experts and understanding on Podcasts, YouTube and books) this is not fasting, precisely fasting that I came to know about. Let me explain:
I fast to lose weight among other benefits. I lose weight if the body starts decomposing my stored fats in liver, stomach or wherever it finds fat deposits (I couldn't just say to my body to consume my stomach fat and nothing else. I wish). It does so when Blood Glucose drops and Insulin drops. Blood Glucose drops when I don't consume food. Different food spike Blood Glucose level in different magnitude. Simple sugar spiking the most. When this happens, body digests the incoming food and stores them as fat. When the body is low on Blood Glucose level for long time, it knows there is no calorie intake and thus starts finding fat deposits and converting them to energy thus burning fat. Say I am 6 hours into fasting and then have tea with sugar. That 1gm or more of sugar will spike the Blood Glucose and it takes time for it to settle into fasting state. Maybe 5-6 another hours. This takes the body out of fasting state. The same with milk, fruits and whatever you eat mostly.
Sure, the traditional fasting might have other benefits, who am I to challenge that. I am no expert on this field. However for the things that I know, it doesn't help me. So when I fast, I consume water only. Water doesn't affect Blood Glucose level, hydrates body especially because when in fasting mode, Insulin level are down and body doesn't retain much water, and sure I excrete a lot of water.
I did 56 hours water fasting and lost around 2KG. I started after Sunday dinner, Monday was fine as usual, I ran for 5KM spitted by 2 times and did some workout, walked for 4KM as well. I burned 900KCalories and water fasted. Sleeping at night is hard psychologically as it was weird for me to have nothing on my stomach and try to fall asleep. However I entertained myself with some water fasting videos on YouTube and it helped. Tuesday Morning I lost a Kg. I ran 4KM in 2 turns. I walked for 6 KM. I had to travel to usual external appointment. I worked as usual both days.
Second day was a bit strange and hard for me. My body was in Autophagy stage, consuming fat and recycling cells within the body without external support. My heart rate dropped, I was colder than my wife and at times it was hard to context switch. But I was normal. I had no solid food in me and everything was depleted. I took a pinch of Himalayan salt after I experience some symptoms of Diarrhea, this helped retain water without throwing me off fasting. Sleeping on Tuesday night (48 after) was hard. I had muscle aches, dry mouth and was not 100% sharp. I didn't have deep sleep, it was light and I woke up multiple times in night. I even dreamt of food at one point. It was unthinkable. Wednesday, after 56hours with just water I was dizzy and I didn't have strength to go for run and thus decided to terminate my fasting. I ate egg, 1 peach and 100gm of Salad. It spiked my glucose level and heart rate from 50BMP to 75+ BPM. I felt different, a bit high and after 3 hours it was okay. I lost another 1 KG previous day.
Surely the 2KG lost are not sustainable. After I resumed eating but I want to see the 1KG drop last at least. The other 1KG could be no solid in my system and water loss due to dropped insulin level.
I felt awesome because on Sunday night I casually thought, why not water fast for 48 hours. At 48 hours, I thought I could go for 10-12 hours more. I wanted to go for 72 hours straight (3 full days) but I had to listen to my body. Maybe next time.
And again, today as I am editing this post, I am on water fast. It started from Sunday later afternoon small lunch of baked chicken. I went for a 5KM run, 6KM walk followed by it, came home pretty late at 23:00 and decided well, lets fast. And again I am not sure how long I will water fast today. And I don't care either, time and my body will tell what happens next.