This is my completely unprofessional opinion on weight loss. My dad recently mentioned he was interested in losing weight and I would like to help him. I put together this post to gather my thoughts on the subject and emailed it to him. Should you listen to me? Probably not. I’ve always been skinny and never had to lose weight. My ectomorph body style means I can get away with a large consumption of fast food without paying the fat accumulating price. That said, health and weight loss are subjects that interest me and I’d like to learn more about. Please feel to correct any inaccuracies in my logic below.
The Physics of Weight Loss
The weight loss equation is simple. Burn more calories than you consume. A calorie is a unit of energy and if you make use of more stored energy (fat) than you eat (food), then you will lose weight. Food is the only source of energy for your body, so this equation is absolute.
That said, the weight loss problem is more biology than physics. The equation I mentioned above is like saying a person is broke because they spend more money than they earn. That part is obvious, but we need to focus on the underlying issues in order to solve the problem. The body’s usage of it’s stored energy is dependent on numerous environmental and biological factors.
Fat Can Be Helpful
Fat used to be a survival mechanism . Thousands of years ago, food was less readily available, and our ancestors needed to go days with eating. The only way to survive was to rely on stored fat reserves during these extended fasts. Think of a hibernating bear, subsisting on excess fat for the winter months. Today, caloric dense food is cheaper and more easily obtained than anytime before. The fat storage mechanism that was a means of survival for ancient man is now killing a large percentage of Americans.
The Ketogenic Diet: A Counterintuitive Solution
The body’s preferred source of fuel is carbohydrates, but it can only store a small amount. Any unused carbohydrates, above the volume of the body’s ‘tank’, is converted into fat. When the body’s carbohydrate stores are depleted, it will start converting fat into a usable state. Ideally for weight loss, you would remain in the fat utilizing state, shedding the excess pounds. This can be accomplished by starving the body of carbs, consuming a high-fat, low-carb diet. They call this the ketogenic diet, since your body produces ‘ketones’ when it starts to rely on fat for fuel. The ketogenic diet has come into vogue the last couple of years and seems to me to be the most effective solution for weight loss. It purportedly allows for a consistent stream of energy as your body has a large fuel tank of fat to burn rather than a tiny amount of carbohydrates that need to be constantly replenished. Let’s talk about some other facets of weight-loss.
Eat Lots of Vegetables
There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of fat vegetarians. Vegetables are extremely low in calories and extremely high in micro-nutrients, making them great for weight loss and health in general
Exercise Is Overrated
The calories that are quickly consumed in a dessert or soda can take upwards of an hour of exercise to burn off, which requires a lot of will power. Exercise should be thought of as a minor weight loss accelerator with the major focus on diet. That said, there are numerous health and wellness benefits that are associated with exercise. You’ll increase your energy levels, be more mentally alert, and generally feel better throughout the day. Exercise just shouldn’t be the main focus for weight loss.
Sugar is Poison
All diets seem to be in agreement on this one. Avoid sugar and its cousin high fructose corn syrup. Sugar is high in calories, extremely addictive, and triggers chemical reactions that make it easy to store fat and hard to burn fat.
Stress triggers a flight or fight response, releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol increases appetite and drives cravings for junk food.
Sleep Should Be A High Priority
Most people do not get enough sleep, Aim for 7 to 9 hours. You should wake up well rested and not need to ‘catch up’ on sleep over the weekend. The easy solution? Go to bed earlier and shut off all electronic devices an hour before bed. This article does a great job explaining how sleep and diet are related.
Checkout out Peter Attia’s website. He’s got an engineering background, was a general surgery resident at Johns Hopkins, and lost 40 pounds following the ketogenic diet mentioned above. His website is chock-full of information. He also had two great interviews on the Tim Ferriss podcast.
There Are No Shortcuts
The fat gained over a decade will not be removed in a month. You must adopt a series of healthy habits over the course of several months to the point that they become permanent. Start slow, adding one new habit every two weeks. Maybe start by eliminating sugar, then add vegetables, followed by increasing sleep. Aim for 100% compliance, with the realization that sometimes unexpected life events will get in the way. I aim for maintaining each of my daily habits for six out of seven days of the week, with a penalty if I mess up more than that. There must be a penalty for messing up. How valuable is accomplishing this goal to you? What sized penalty will force you to stay accountable? I’ve found $50 for each of my daily habits to be an effective stick that prods me into action.
You Must Start Now (Addressed to My Father)
Imagine I held a gun to your head and threatened to pull the trigger if you didn’t fully commit to this. That’s an accurate analogy when it comes to excessive weight and heart disease. The path that you’re on does not end well. I’m fearful every time Mom calls because of the growing chance of horrible news regarding your health. I say these things out of love. I care about your well being and want you to grow old enough to know my children and grandchildren. If you need someone to hold you accountable, I’d be more than willing to help. I too could adopt some of the habits outlined above.