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Losing 58.3 Lbs for Science (zactownsend.com)
128 points by zt 1077 days ago | hide | past | web | 90 comments | favorite



Congratulations on your weight loss! I'm down 30 of a targeted 60lbs weight loss, half way there! It sounds like an interesting study, I can't wait to read the results. My view of weight loss is simple: eat less. I eat anything I want, don't eat until noon each day, do essentially no cardio, and lift weights for less than 30 minutes 2-3 times/week. My weight loss is fairly constant at 1 lb/week. My progress: https://trendweight.com/u/2c41346d238544/ (note: chart starts at 210 which is 15 lbs into my weight loss when I started tracking).

I say all this only to point out that losing weight can happen regardless of approach. One's chosen approach to losing weight may or may not be suitable to one's personal lifestyle or dietary preferences, but ANY approach can work because the math is infallible: calories in < calories out = weight loss. So, just eat less than what your body needs to burn on a daily/weekly basis.

If low-carb makes you happy because you can indulge in 1 lb block of cheese, then by all means go for it. Yes, things like ketogenic diets have other physical effects on our physiology but I prefer a simpler point of view: there are only so many blocks of cheese one can eat before you get tired of it. If you're restricting your carbs, you simply ultimately eat less. The restriction of choice is the root cause, for example.

So: for everyone trying to thinking about losing weight, find a diet you buy in to and go for it. Personally, I found the approach of analytically tracking my food and weight and permitting myself to eat ANYTHING I want liberating. I know precisely what I eat every day, and I like that. It fits my personality and liberates me from the nagging choice of where/what to eat. I have my favorite foods and I eat them, and have found ways to do so so that I hit my daily protein target and stay at or under my daily calorie target. The down side to this approach is I don't eat out much because it's hard to know what's in that food (this isn't a downside for ME, though).

Don't buy into the need to do a specific diet, all diets can work if you find one that you are in tune with, because ultimately, it's all about finding the optimum path to eat less than what your body needs without sacrificing whatever mental and physical joy you get from food.


Hey, congrats to you! I'm pretty much in your exact boat.

I started the year at 267 and I'm down to 225 now. My goal is an even 200 (or I'll sometimes say 199 for the joy of seeing that 1 in the front).

I've done it just as you have -- by eating less. At the start of my diet I was counting calories on a daily basis -- but after a while I started learning to pay attention to the calories of everything I eat. Now I simply keep a running tally in my head and know where I'm at. I'm fine with estimating when I need to.

The biggest change for me is learning to be happy with smaller portions. I used to eat 3 enchiladas, then have another 2, then another 3,.. THEY ARE SO DELICIOUS! Now I know going in that I'm going to make my plate and that's it. There's times I wish I could have more, but enjoying the one plate is the biggest key to my success so far.

The other side of it is avoiding calorie landmines. It's so easy to accidentally eat an extra thousand or two calories while eating out by not paying attention. Knowledge is power :).


i'm about 20 pounds into a 40 pound goal.

i too, like/liked to gorge. i wasn't obese so it was never a serious psychological problem, i'm just something of a hedonist.

i've found that intermittent fasting allows me to occasionally (occasionally!) gorge and satisfy that hedonist inside of me. i also do low carb so i will combine this with a carb cheat day maybe every couple of months. my weakness is popcorn so i will enjoy a small popcorn at the movies after dinner.

conversely, if i accidentally eat a 'calorie land mine' as you put it, i'll just skip the next couple of meals. i just focus on work instead.

i think most 'naturally' skinny people do this anyway. i was eating 3 (or more) meals a day no matter WHAT and that's not necessary healthy.


You and I have literally the same progress since the beginning of the year (mid 260s to 225). I don't really have much to add to that, I just find it interesting :)


Conversely, I've lost a bunch of weight by not tracking calories (or anything for that matter, beyond glancing at nutritional labels). I focus on eating protein, fiber and fat so I fill up quickly. Our approach might seem to be at odds but the mechanism of action is the same: we eat less. Figure out whatever approach gets you to do that and you win.


Oh the other side of it --- weighing in frequently and drinking a ton of water! I weigh myself most nights. I know what days I didn't get enough water, because I'll have "lost" 2 pounds that day. That tells me that (1) I need to immediately drink some more water and (2) drink extra the next day. Dehydrating yourself will have a negative impact on weight-loss long-term.


Are you only weighing at nights or also in the morning?


Completely understand your perspective. I don't subscribe to the calories in < calories out = weight loss philosophy. I think calories are are pretty blunt instrument and that people's body respond to different foods differently.

That is, one of the key ideas of the study is that different people respond to foods differently. Let's imagine that everyone had, for example, two responses to sugar: one where your insulin spikes and then comes down immediately and another where it spikes, plateaus, and then comes down later. (This is roughly true).

One theory is that if you have one of those profiles your body will respond better (in a weight loss sense) to a low carb diet and if you have another profile then you'd response better to low fat diet.

I don't know if that's true -- hence the study! But I think it makes some intuitive sense that our bodies burn calories, pass calories through, etc, differently and that those differences are partially based on the interaction between what we eat and our bodies (genetic) proclivities.


I think that saying calories are the key to weight loss is like saying altitude is the key to flight. If you want to fly, the key is to keep your altitude up. It is technically true and even useful in a way, but the truly difficult part is how to keep your altitude up.

Run a caloric deficit and you will lose weight, guaranteed. Just like if you maintain altitude above the ground you're flying. But how to run a caloric deficit day to day is the trick. You can look at it and say "just eat less", but eating is such a deep, fundamental drive that it's never that easy.


a common analogy is telling an alcoholic to 'just drink less'

sure, it's true. but it's not very helpful for someone who is in serious psychological trouble.


Satiety is a completely different issue. I have no problem with those who differentiate, but there are legitimately a lot of people who think the laws of thermodynamics do not apply to human biology.


Trouble is that there are a lot of people who think it's reasonable to tell an alcoholic to just stop drinking. They tend to be the same people who think that "just eat less" is good weight-loss advice, and they often have alcohol and weight problems.


> I don't subscribe to the calories in < calories out = weight loss philosophy.

Yeah, I'm not a fan of the laws of thermodynamics either.


I subscribe the "calories in < calories out = weight loss" philosophy, but I understand when people do not. It's not easy to measure calories in and calories out.

Food calories in labels are the actual chemical calories in the food. As in, if you burn them, how much energy do they release. The problem is obvious. You don't burn food for energy, and it is perfectly natural that different people have different efficiencies in converting food energy. 1mg of fat is 9kcal in the label, but perhaps I use it at 50% efficiency and you use it at 40% efficiency. It makes for wildly different dietary outcomes.

Calories out suffer from the same problem. You can estimate how much is my basal energy quota or how much energy I use in running a mile. However, I've never seen the variance of this measurement anywhere. There is a variance, and it is acceptable to assume it may be relevant.

If you add to that the glycemic properties of food -- as in the evolution of blood sugar over time upon food intake -- and again, its variance across individuals, and there's a whole lot of unacknowledged error in the simple philosophy.

How to tackle modelling error? As ever in engineering. Measure input, output, and do a regression analysis.


The problem is measuring calories out. Often it is recommended to use an average value for your build and call it good. But this is not a very good model imho, and involves a lot of guesswork.


Estimation of one's TDEE is pretty simple. Once you have a starting point, adjustment is common sense. If you're not losing weight at the rate you expect, lower your TDEE and thus lower your caloric budget. Now, adding cardio into the mix is where things can go off the rails. One reason cardio can be BAD for a diet is precisely because it is hard to measure how many calories you burn while exercising. Estimate too low and you end up in much too deep of a deficit to maintain the diet. Estimate too high and you're not losing as much weight as you want. These problems are easily solved over a long run if you can accurately do approximately the same amount cardio each time you do it, but this is also quite hard.

Cardio is great for heart health and overall wellness. It's crap for losing weight effectively, IMO. The absolute easiest way to lose weight is to simply estimate your TDEE requirements using a sedentary activity level, eat at a 3,500 calorie deficit each week, preferably at 500 calories per day or cycled if you are lifting weights, and adjust accordingly.


Here is another stable algorithm for losing weight, which is fully compatible with cardio.

Choose a desired rate of weight loss and a measurement period. Each period, measure your inputs and do the following:

    IF (weight_loss_rate < desired_rate)
      input -= 200 cals
    ELSE
      input += 50 cals
    END
After following this algorithm, your caloric intake will converge to the region [optimal rate - 150, optimal rate + 50]. This is true even accounting for noise in the measurements - that just smears out the -150 and +50 a bit.

The nice thing about bodyweight is that it's a stable monotonic dynamical system. Noise and uncertainty don't hurt you much provided you build robust controls.


Measurement is a different problem altogether.

Again, my problem is not with speciality diets or finding good habits / regulating eating through macronutrient partitioning. I get it; trust me. But these diets show few benefits beyond "tricking" the person into eating fewer calories, period. There are other variables, but not when it comes to pure weight loss. Thermodynamics cannot be defeated by human biology. Otherwise we could hook up people who are not subject to these laws to treadmills with generators on them, and bam. Free power for the world.


It's not that I was disagreeing with you regarding thermodynamics, just that usually when that point is made the emphasis is on calories in (such as you are making). From what I have seen it seems that many things, including diet can have a strong effect on calories out. That is worth exploring. I just simply disagree with the fact that all diets show few benefits beyond tricking the person into eating fewer calories. How a particular diet makes you feel is an important part of the equation.

If I eat a poor diet and work out, that workout is going to be terrible (even if I ate a lot of calories for example).


A puzzle: how many ways can you come up with to gain weight while consuming less calories than you use. How can you lose weight while consuming more calories than you use?


The trick to this question is the 'less calories than you use'. You could obviously 'gain weight' by drinking several kilograms of water, but if we are talking about building tissue things get a little more complicated.

Metabolism is highly flexible and in a more general sense tied to tons of lifestyle factors. It's not uncommon for athletes to change weight rapidly in hospitals. Extremely lean athletes may put on several pounds of fat while more muscular athletes can lose pounds of muscle. Clearly there is nothing inherently anabolic or catabolic about hospital diets, but the change in behavior makes the whole thing make sense.

The same sort of nuance is needed when thinking about changing body composition. Since a normal persons BMR (amount of calories needed just to keep the body running during the day) is in the 1000-1500Cal range, it's pretty clear that activity is not the be all and end all of 'calories used'. If you suddenly change the type and quantity of calories, the body can respond by reducing calories burned through metabolism and adding fat stores to aid in future survival. This will have some adverse effects on day-to-day performance, but the body sees it as an acceptable tradeoff.

Tl;dr - A sudden reduction in calories can cause metabolic changes, so even if X amount of calories barely maintained a body weight it's possible to gain fat at a calorie amount less than X


Synthol is one way, but that's cheating. Injecting foreign substances into your body while maintaining weight.

Water weight manipulation is the usual way to do this, especially in weight class sports (MMA, Boxing, Wrestling, etc).


IIRC, the energy content of muscle is lower than that of fat, so it seems like it could be possible to gain weight with a calorie deficit by an activity/diet pattern that burns fat and builds muscle at the right rates.

It'd probably be pretty tricky to hit and maintain the right pattern, though.


Never thought about it this way. Pretty likely requires a very strict diet and the use of anabolic-androgenic steroids.


Yes. It's generally extremely difficult to gain muscle on a calorie-restricted diet and you have to turn to diet/exercise regimes that do things like caloric cycling and carb-refeed days. It's still a challenge, even with strict adherence.


Losing weight while consuming more calories than you use is simple: surgically remove something. Arms and legs will do, but removing fat is more popular.

A diet that manages to get half your fat cells to die off would be magical (and probably dangerous).


DNP does just that. And it's... not safe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2,4-Dinitrophenol


A recent study (I can't find it unfortunately) on eating breakfast discovered that people who ate breakfast would fidget throughout the morning, as their body did its best to burn extra calories. Whereas people who didn't eat breakfast wouldn't fidget, since there was no need for their body to burn extra calories. This is entirely subconscious.

The fallacy of calories in/out has nothing to do with "thermodynamics" (seriously, will this misunderstanding please die!), and everything to do with the fact that metabolism and behavior are not constants, but can change based on calorie intake. Just like the body's ability to gain or lose fat is not a function just of available calories, but of hormonal regulation that makes fat cells absorb or release calories.


There is no

> fallacy of calories in/out

and it has everything to do with thermodynamics. This is exemplified in your very own example: fidgeting more means a higher expenditure of energy. Chemical energy doesn't magically disappear. While metabolic regulation is certainly a complex subject it is simply wrong to categorically state that thermodynamics is somehow obviated.


It's wrong in the sense that the human body isn't a closed system.


This is not a "misunderstanding" on my end. I know quite a bit about nutrition science and exercise physiology.

There are a large number of people who honestly believe that the laws of thermodynamics can be trumped by human biology, excluding any and all externalities. The OP made a statement that may place him in that category.

If you want to talk about satiety, diet patterns, behavior remapping, nutrient partitioning, fat/muscle ratios, glycogen stores, or other advanced topics, feel free. But the idea that thermodynamics do not govern 85% (being very generous here) of the effectiveness of a weight loss program is willful self-delusion.


Honest question - how good a fit / approximation is the concept of a calorie (as in, we burn the material in question, and measure energy given off as heat) in approximating the energy extracted from the material through digestion?

Obviously the laws of thermodynamics hold, but I find the above equality to be slightly presumptuous - an obvious exception is that "fiber" can be burnt, but not digested (by humans, at least). What other caveats are there to this system, and are they employed to adjust calorie numbers for foodstuffs? I'm genuinely curious to know more about this, are there any good, concise sources?


You may want to start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermic_effect_of_food.

Thermodynamics are mostly useless when you look at nutrition, even if they are true. The same amount of calories from different sources get metabolized differently, have different effects on satiety, insulin, and a whole host of other factors. Nutrition is biochemistry, not physics.

Sure, you will lose weight if you reduce calories. But that information is about as useful as general relativity when you want to throw a ball to another player.


I think the idea is that 10 grams of sugar for example may get broken down by person A in such a way as to generate 40 calories whereas person B might only generate 30. No violation of the laws of thermodynamics there.


Just violation of basic biochemistry, I suppose.


Absorption of food energy from food is affected by several factors, including the proportions of different species of microbes inside the intestines.

Sucrose sugar will be more uniformly absorbed, as the enzymes required to break it down into fructose and glucose are nearly universal. Glucose metabolism is fundamental to animal physiology. Fructose metabolism is about the same for all humans.

For something like the lactose in cow's milk, the relative metabolic impact for different humans can vary greatly. Some people can metabolize it directly. In others, gut bacteria must digest it into a usable form first. For those people, the composition of their gut flora will determine how efficiently the food energy from lactose is absorbed by their bodies.

That is how the energy calculated by complete combustion in a bomb calorimeter might differ significantly from the energy added to a biological organism. That calorimeter value is essentially the upper limit for "calories in". Using that value means that you still have an unknown value for digestion and metabolism inefficiency in the "calories out" column.

This is why counting "calories in" and "calories out" does not work as expected. The former can be determined easily with the aforementioned calorimeter. But the latter is a complex function that includes "calories in" as an input parameter. You would literally have to wear measurement devices on your body 24 hours a day in a controlled environment, and use special toilets to ever know exactly what your "calories out" numbers are. You would have to calculate thermal losses, water balance, and gas exchange.

This is simply not practical for anyone. Recommending it is madness. It is far more useful to experimentally determine, on a per-person basis, the actions and activities that result in changes in body composition, do the ones that cause adverse changes less, and the ones that cause desired changes more.

There are very few recommendations that work the same way for everyone. But for people that want to reduce their body fat percentage, some stand out. Consume fewer monosaccharides, disaccharides, and trisaccharides. Do strength exercises regularly. Do cardio exercises regularly.

Following those three recommendations often achieve the desired results without the need to count calories. But other ways are possible, some of which are not universally applicable to all humans. In the absence of sophisticated measurement equipment, it is more practical to simply experiment, using plausible hypotheses, until the desired results are achieved.

Do what works. Avoid what does not work. Your results will vary from other animals with different biochemical responses, including other humans that may be closely related to you genetically.


I guess I got misunderstood.

I was commenting on the claim that 10 grams of sugar may give different amount of calories when broken down by different persons.

I've made some assumptions perhaps to hastily that he meant table sugar and by broken down he meant going in full, through the whole route in which body processes sucrose.

If at some stage some part of sucrose is not broken down then you can't count it towards 10 gram. It seems like cheating but assuming the opposite would be like claiming that you can affect breaking down of sucrose by taking it with healthy amount of laxative or dropping some from your mouth as you are munching it.

Besides you said yourself that sucrose, glucose and fructose are pretty much processed by all humans at about the same rate.

Considering all that, claiming that you can get significantly different amounts of energy from (table) sugar would be claiming that basic biochemistry is different for different people (and it's not).

I'm not entirely sure about what you said, that measuring calories spent is so hard. Energy is mostly turned to heat eventually, which is expelled with air you breathe out and the sweat. You could probably estimate the rate of sweating, rate of breathing out, temperature differences, how much sweat evaporated to calculate a lower bound on how much energy a person spent.

It's nice that you can measure upper bound on calories absorbed and lower bound on calories spent. You just match the two and observe if person is dying of starvation or not. If not, then you have got a diet. Write a book and make few persons happy and very many unhappy and some thinner.


You can't stop with sucrose in the intestines. Once that sucrose is split into fructose, which goes to the liver for additional processing, and glucose, which goes into the bloodstream, you have to deal with the individual's hormonal responses. You have insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and a host of other signaling chemicals, and they all interact with each other and with specific areas of the nervous system.

Give 10g sucrose to one person, and they may bounce off the walls for a few minutes (increasing caloric expenditure). Give 10g to someone else, and they may feel an urge to eat more (increasing caloric intake). Try it on a third person, and they may want to take a nap (decreasing caloric expenditure).

The chemicals in foods can act upon the body's biochemistry in as drastic a manner as pharmaceutical drugs, together with side effects. People that just consumed large amounts of ethanol have different eating and activity patterns than those who have not. The drunkenness is obvious, but the Buffalo wing consumption still varies.

Sugar intake influences metabolism, just like drugs such as caffeine, nicotine, ethanol, or epinephrine, though those are active at far lower doses.

Thus, the thermodynamic equation of "energy_in - energy_out = delta energy_stored" is certainly valid at a technical level, but it has no practical utility for weight loss. Both energy in and energy out are black box functions that vary by individual, and include types and quantities of foods eaten and current fat stores as input parameters.

The black boxes are not currently well understood. The genome has already been sequenced, but that only led to epigenetics and proteomics. As research in those areas proceeds, we might see a magic pill for fat people that reprograms their black boxes to be more like athletic people. Until then, their effort to lose weight will be a conscious struggle against the natural inclinations of their own body.

And they will continue to be judged as deficient by people who do not need to consciously oppose the biochemical signals of their own bodies, and are therefore ignorant of what that may entail. This is why weight loss is a touchy subject for some people. If you can't be unambiguously supportive and encouraging to someone trying to get fit, it is usually better to just maintain your distance and pretend to not have an opinion. A person who has lost 100 kg will have a far greater understanding of what is involved than someone who has never even tipped the scales past 100 kg in total. And even that person may not understand all that another 200 kg person has to overcome to lose half their body weight.

So here's what you say: "Good for you! You're already a winner! I know you have the ability to reach your goals!"

You don't suggest that they could do better by buying more accurate or more precise scales. They aren't fat because they were lax in their data collection protocols. The stoichiometry of inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide won't help. Taking body temperature and recording urine and sweat volume won't help. Anecdotes about how you lost your weight won't help. If you aren't currently activating genes or folding proteins as part of your regular job or primary hobby, you're better off simply providing the psychological support to just keep trying, without getting into specifics.


> Thus, the thermodynamic equation of "energy_in - energy_out = delta energy_stored" is certainly valid at a technical level, but it has no practical utility for weight loss.

It has immense practical utility as the only sure way to loose weight. If you can obey it.

> Both energy in and energy out are black box functions that vary by individual, and include types and quantities of foods eaten and current fat stores as input parameters.

The point is you can estimate upper bound of energy_in and lower bound of energy_out.

> The stoichiometry of inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide won't help. Taking body temperature and recording urine and sweat volume won't help.

No one does that. People just read values of calories expenditure for various activities from the tables. Same way as they don't own a calorimeters to control their calories intake just read from the tables.

Since you don't need to match the intake with expenditure exactly, rough values are sufficient to let you know if you are in the ballpark of eating less than you spend.

You don't even need values, just cut your meals size in half without changing their contents or number. Or cut their number in half. If you don't loose weight cut them even more. The only trouble is to pay less attention to how you feel and what you want. Physics won't help you with that.

As for the anecdotes ... I lost some weight when I stared eating at Mc Donalds. Because I ate one big mac and fries per day and just some apples apart from that.


Cut your food intake in half. Your body responds by cutting your body temperature by 3 degrees, cutting your immune system budget by 75%, and increasing your appetite by 300%. You lose no weight. The next month, you go crazy, eat until your body finally says it's enough, and your weight loss plan fails.

I don't know how to put it more simply than this: when energy intake and energy expenditures are both functions of the same input, you cannot guarantee a positive or negative difference solely by adjusting that input, especially when you do not know exactly how those functions work.

Is ( f(x) - g(x) ) greater than or less than ( f(x/2) - g(x/2) )?


Does the hungry person have lower body temperature or are you making stuff up for the purposes of argument?

If we are at that, turn off your home thermostat few degrees lower and ignore your body. Don't turn on heating in your car. You'll loose weight even faster. The point is to ignore what your body is telling you. That you are going to die. You won't. It's lying to you. Same goes for excercise.


Not all hungry people, no. But anecdotally, a person that lives in my household has a body temperature that routinely measures 96 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the 98.6 degF that is considered normal. That person is overweight, and frequently attempts to restrict calories. So I didn't pull it entirely out of thin air.

The point is that energy expenditure is a function of foods eaten. You already accept as given that energy input is a function of foods eaten. You may even accept that energy input is not exactly equivalent to the combustion energy of the food.

So you still haven't answered my question.

Is ( f(x) - g(x) ) less than or greater than ( f(x/2) - g(x/2) )?

You cannot answer it. You do not know how the functions f and g work. Likewise, you cannot say that cutting food intake in half will result in weight loss.

Turning down the thermostat and increasing exercise will actually work, as a couple of those thermodynamic inevitabilities. But they still don't address the psychological barriers of weight loss. People don't want to feel hungry, or cold, or exhausted. If they are required to do so to lose weight, it probably won't happen, as being too fat causes them less acute discomfort than the effort to not be too fat.

It is unwise to compare their perception of their discomfort to your perception of your discomfort, in the same way that it is unwise to compare the pain from that one time you got a compound fracture on your agony bone to the pain of a woman in labor. Even if you were objectively hurting more, you just don't do it. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

Give encouragement, not advice. Most of the time, a fat person knows exactly what he must do to not be fat. He just doesn't want to change his lifestyle to something that is guaranteed to be subjectively worse and more difficult for months--or even years--before it even gets back to his current level of comfort. He may be angry and frustrated at himself for not being able to do it; that anger is all too easily projected onto other people or things. You really want to help, but there's really not much you can do, other than stand back and play "Eye of the Tiger" at them.


> The point is that energy expenditure is a function of foods eaten.

But there is a lower bound. If you carry some bags up the stairs, drink cold water and excrete warm sweat, inhale cold air and exhale hot there is some value of energy that you had to expend that's calculable by physics only.

Also energy intake is a function of lot's of stuff but it is not higher than the energy you could get from food by burning it (also calculated by physics or rather simple chemistry).

If you choose foods and activities so that there is a match between the upper bound of intake and lower bound of expenditure you will loose weight. That sounds like a sure recipe for weight loss for me.

> But they still don't address the psychological barriers of weight loss. People don't want to feel hungry, or cold, or exhausted. If they are required to do so to lose weight, it probably won't happen, as being too fat causes them less acute discomfort than the effort to not be too fat.

Yeah. You are right. But what makes me wonder is why gut reduction surgery works. If people physically can't eat as much as they are used to, they somehow magically are able to bear all the consequences of extremely low energy intake. They don't stuff themselves with pure sucrose and lard to maintain high calories at reduced volume.

> Give encouragement, not advice. Most of the time, a fat person knows exactly what he must do to not be fat.

Fortunately I don't know any fat people that I could hurt by my simplistic approach to what is for me almost purely intellectual problem.

What always made biggest difference for my weight was routine changes. Public transportation or cycling or walking instead of car for commuting, skipping the lunch, unsubscribing from meals cooked by my mom, not buying cheese. That's what I would advice. Skip some meals, change the way you usually move around.


>Cut your food intake in half. Your body responds by cutting your body temperature by 3 degrees, cutting your immune system budget by 75%, and increasing your appetite by 300%.

You actually believe this, huh?


> But the idea that thermodynamics do not govern 85%

It does govern 100%, in a technically useless sense.

If it was just thermodynamics, you'd be able to drink hydrocarbons (e.g. gasoline) for food. In a bomb calorimeter, it's as good as carbs or fat, only denser. Or you'd just eat wood or paper. Cellulose is, after all, a carbohydrate!

But it's not that simple.

- See e.g. this article: http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/inde... - It does not mention control for "calories out", but assuming rats just do what rats do - it indicates that food composition goes much deeper than calorie intake.

- some cells some time use fermentation instead of oxidation, which gets much less energy from food (about 1/6 if I recall correctly). Mostly in tumors, but not only in them.

- Some people can apparently get ~2kcal/gr from fiber carbs, where others cannot. People of Japanese origin, in particular, http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100407/full/news.2010.169.ht... - but this is just the most studied example, not the only one.

- Atwater factors, which everyone uses to estimate intake often based on 100 year old tables, are horribly inaccurate, e.g. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18065582 (4%-11% error) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22760558 (32% error)

- Actual digestion processes depend on enzyme availability, the supply of which lags demand by up to 3 weeks (and tails by up to 6 months), and apparently depends nontrivially on olfactory clues whereas most models assume everything about nutrition and digestion is static. e.g, if you start daily drinking of a gallon of fat you haven't had in the last 6 months, you're going to put most of it out in the bathroom until your body ramps up production of some relevant enzymes, which can take a few days and up to 3 weeks.

- Simple stated, "a calorie is a calorie" violates the second law of thermodynamics. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC506782/ ; It's not from Richard P. Feynman - it's from a Richard D Feinman, btw.

So, yes, thermodynamics reigns supreme but your ability to estimate your actual calorie intake is very crude. Similarly for your expenditure. The result being, two people can basically eat the same food and do the same kind of activity, and still have significantly different energy balance.


Assuming all that. It is still 100% true that any subject who consumes less food than they did before, will intake fewer calories and lose weight.


> "less food"

But that is true only if it is proportionally less food (that is, 15% less would mean exactly 15% less of everything). Any variation would mean that it is not 100% true:

If you eat 2kg less lettuce but eat 0.5kg more fat, you're eating "less", but taking in more energy (whether you use it or not is a completely different issue ...)

And if you replace your food with calorie sparse food, you can eat "more food" but take in less calories.

How much calories you will actually keep or use, rather than throw out is a different question.

Thus, your statement of 100% truth is wrong, and logically useless, even if practically it is mostly useful.


Useful means actionable. Eating at a restaurant? Eat half the meal, take half home.

The reason folks find it hard to apply the simple thermodynamic truth is, they are actually working hard to eat as much as they can get away with. Instead of just eating very little and losing weight, which would in fact work for almost everybody.


Um, no, it's not. If the amount of calories you burn decreases more than the calories they intake, for example, you might not lose weight. You might even gain weight.

And that's the point -- calories burned is not a constant. It changes a great deal, and it's very common for the body to respond to less calories in, by burning less calories.


To test the truth, try the converse. If you eat more, will you gain weight? Most of us would agree this is an obvious truism.

Or take the limit. If you eat nothing, will you lose weight? Obviously you will.

The question exists because folks want to eat as much as they can, and also lose weight. Give in to thermodynamics, eat very little, and lose weight as quickly as you like. That's chemistry and physics right there.


Again, nope. If you're ~50 lbs overweight, and then cut out starches and sugars, replacing them with protein and fat, but increase your overall calorie intake slightly, there's still a good chance you will lose weight.

So, not an obvious truism, but actually incorrect.


What was that in response to? Did you post to the wrong comment? I'm confused.


I think the point was that you feed a foodstuff to few different people and each one will derive different caloric and macro nutrient value out of it. Let's say there are two different diets, both provide strictly less calories than you use.

One of the diets works well with your metabolism and biochemical processes to give you energy and keep you sated.

Second diet makes you feel constantly hungry and apathetic.

So, yes, you will not lose weight if you consume more calories than you spend, but bare calorie count is not sufficient to quantify the diet.


The way you're using thermodynamics to support your point is wrong, you are asserting that the human body is a closed system, which of course it is not. A human will absorb and excrete carbohydrates,fats and proteins at differing rates depending on a bunch of factors. To simplify the human metabolic process down to a simple (in)-(energy burned)= zero equation is completely false, as again, the body is not a closed system.


Yes, everything you said about absorption rates is true.

It also does not fundamentally change the laws of thermodynamics. Net calories, no matter how you want to spin it, matters most.


But that slogan, which is almost always said as briefly as zt posed it, is as useful as saying "to continue living, keep your lungs ventilated and your heart pumping". There's no useful, actionable advice there. "Eat less" is largely useless - someone can eat less than they are and still be eating too much, for example.


> My view of weight loss is simple: eat less. I eat anything I want, don't eat until noon each day, do essentially no cardio, and lift weights for less than 30 minutes 2-3 times/week.

As someone who lost nearly a third of his body weight and has kept it off for more than half a decade and running, I would provide the following constructive criticism of your approach: weight loss in and of itself is a red herring.

What gets lost in so many weight loss discussions is that we're really talking about health. Losing weight, especially when you're overweight or obese, is comparitvely easy; getting healthy is much more difficult. We treat our weight as a proxy for health, but it's not the only one, and once you reach a certain point, it actually ceases to be one of the better measures of one's health. There are plenty of slender people walking around with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and who can't lift a modest amount of weight or engage in moderate aerobic exertion. They're not healthy by any stretch of the imagination.

When you overly restrict calories, you are far more likely to lose significant amounts of muscle. When you regularly skip meals, you mess with your metabolism and blood sugar levels, and there's some evidence you might even increase your odds of developing diabetes. When you fail to consider what you eat, you are less likely to get adequate nutrition. When you avoid sufficient aerobic activity, you put your cardiovascular health (not to mention sustained weight loss) at risk.

Obviously, you can lose weight in any number of ways, healthy and unhealthy, but the diet you describe rarely produces sustained weight loss over the long haul and, more importantly, it's not healthy. When you're overweight and want to get in shape, food seems like the enemy, but food is actually your body's fuel and diets that simply reduce its intake and little else are at odds with what we know is conducive to health.


I appreciate the feedback. I agree with you. Losing weight is not the goal, losing fat is. That is why I specifically lift heavy weights 3 times a week, to encourage my body to choose fat over muscle when deciding how to fill the caloric deficit I current live in. My goals are mostly strength based and focused on ratios to body weight: 1.5x BW bench, 2x BW squat, and 2.5x BW dead lift. Given that I was significantly overweight I've made good progress towards these goals, but as I approach the end of my cut I'll be focuesd on adding muscle rather than just preserving it. Thanks again for the thoughtful response.


Yes. Actually the more you exercise, the more you eat. The less you sleep, the more you eat. I eat quite a lot.

If someone ever wants to make a doco about not gaining any weight (other than muscle) with [insert crazy 'bad' diet], I'm your guy.


> don't eat until noon each day

I'm trying to cut back on my late night snacks, but I don't understand the rationale for not eating in the morning.

Great job, BTW. A pound a week sounds great.


I don't eat breakfast because I do intermittent fasting. The reasoning is simple: (a) once I eat I get hungry, and the 6 small meals method just doens't work for me. I would eat breakfast at 8 and be hungry again by 10. (b) I drink a lot of coffee, if I dont eat the coffee supresses my appetite. I'm simply not hungry in the morning. (c) COmpressing my calories into a smaller window keeps me sated and makes them more fulfilling as I can eat bigger meals. Its good for the soul, if you will.


It's a part of a concept called "Intermittent Fasting". The basic rationale is that you go from three medium sized meals each day to two larger meals each day.

It's something I've been doing for over a year as a way to let my inner fat kid still get to feel like a piggy while keeping calorie intake at a maintenance level. All it takes is skipping breakfast, which doesn't really have a huge effect on my life.


Based on the post, one should eat breakfast:

These folks have some common behaviors. Among them is: tracking their weight, tracking what they eat, eating breakfast, and being active.


>If you're restricting your carbs, you simply ultimately eat less. The restriction of choice is the root cause, for example.

Yeah, there have been a few studies confirming people on low carb diets simply end up consuming fewer calories. The problem is that it doesn't hold for everyone. I don't get sick of eating cheese and butter and meat. I gained 20 pounds on a keto diet before I switched to a potato diet and started losing weight.


Yeah, it really is so individual. I lost a lot of weight on keto but overshot and ended up kind of underweight for a bit simply because I find meat and cheese so filling.


Of course calories in, calories out. That's why I eat 3,000 calories of sand a day to gain weight.

Read a few books before ignoring what decades of science are teaching us. 1 pound per week is pretty abysmal, and what you're doing isn't sustainable. Exercising increases your appetite. You're going to gain the weight back.

Ketosis works completely independently of how much you eat. How could you possibly be happier constantly monitoring your calories, when instead you could be eating bacon-rich food at will and lose weight without trying?


You realize there are no calories in sand, right? You are free to eat as much weight in sand as you like, you'll gain no more weight than what you input.

Ketosis works by encouraging your body to release ketones and burn fat. If it fits the way you want to live your life and the foods you want to eat, by all means go for it. You're not losing weight because you don't eat carbs, though. You're losing weight because you're burning more calories than you input.

Also, not sure why so mad. I was pretty clear: do whatever works for you. The most important thing is consistency.


> and what you're doing isn't sustainable. Exercising increases your appetite. You're going to gain the weight back.

Says who? If it works for OP and he's kept it up this far, the only way he'll gain that weight back is if he is treating this diet as a short-term fix as opposed to a long-term lifestyle change.


Nice write-up. My experience is quite similar to the author's. I've gone from 230 to 170 over the last year or so. (Oh, and I'm also from NJ!) I wasn't involved in any study or organized plan though; I just stumbled through it on my own. I tracked calories with an iPhone app. I stuck to a plan that, theoretically, would allow me to lose one pound per week. That actually worked out pretty well. I never bothered tracking anything other than calories. I just tried to be sensible about fat, carbs, and sugar, but I didn't explicitly track them or set goals related to them. And I'm curious about the National Weight Control Registry now. I'm going to have to follow up on that, after I've maintained the weight loss for a bit longer.


To anyone else considering this, be careful what you do - there can be long term consequences to rapid weight loss that may not be obvious, and you know that bit where people say "consult your doctor" - they mean it.

I shed about the same amount of weight over the same amount of time in 2010, in the same of way. I'm having my gall bladder removed some time in the next few months, as about eight months after finishing my diet, my life, in a nutshell, turned to shit - literally. Turns out that eating plenty of protein (along with the fat that comes with, if it's animal) and not much in the way of carbs (>20g/d) can be a great way to give yourself gallstones. Which are horrendous, and cause you to lose days at a time of your life to feverish pain-and-vomit-filled null-time.

I've been about 180-190 lbs since then, and I'd rather be 240lbs again than have these to live with.

Graph: the big drop in Aug '11 is the first gallstone attack. http://i.imgur.com/7fHJNqR.png


That sucks; but not every diet is for everyone. Our bodies are all different, but you're right: if you plan on undertaking a massive weight loss plan (more than 30 lbs) you should probably have a doctor monitor you. Many insurance companies will cover this kind of care under a wellness plan, because let's face it: if you can lose a lot of weight in your 30s, you're probably going to have fewer health problems when you're older.


I actually lost 79 lbs (25 kgs) from 220 lbs to 165 lbs in 6 months with an ebook (Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle), together with a lot of exercise (1-2 hours a day)... Remember that my genes aren't easy and i did a lot for it. (None of my family is actually slim). I did that 3 years ago at the end of college.

This is what helped for me (if you don't agree, no problem, but it helped me a lot and there is so much research out there that it is difficult to get a decent perspective):

- Get your metabolism as high as possible, eat every 3-4 hours except when you are a sleep. In the evening, eat less carbs. Last (very light) meal = 2 hours before you go to sleep. The higher your metabolism, the more your body will become a energy burning machine.

- Losing weight = eating less then your daily requirement (intake of calories) or training more. Do this max. for 3 days in a row.. (so your body doesn't realize you are losing weight -> remember people surviving without eating in a month? it's a hormono called Leptine, it can severely destroy your metabolism :) )

- 60% is food, 40% is exercise (don't eat to little, it will hurt your metabolism. I don't advice a protein diet for too long.. Most people get much fatter afterwards because they destroyed their metabolism)

- Sleep enough (this is a hard one for me)

- No alcohol - it slows down your metabolism and contains empty calories.

- If you want to exercise as less as possible, here are some pointers:

- Running (= cardio), in the morning after a protein shake. Maximal effect + positive effect during the day, untill you go to sleep.

- Reduce sugar intake as much as possible (don't worry about fructose and dextrose though)

- Adding muscle (this is harder for women), in the evening after eating. If you want to do cardio combined with this, do it after your weight exercises. Muscle needs 48 hours to recover, so that's two days of extra fat burn.

One way of eating would be Paleo diet (popular with Crossfit). I call it : "eating like a caveman" and starting with it in 2 months.

PS. Changing the way you eat shouldn't be a diet (=temporarily), you should be changing your lifestyle or eating routine.

PS 2. I seriously advice Tom Venuto - Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle... If you want to know more about how your body works,i also liked the stuff Lyle McDonald wrote.. (but that's more extreme)


Congrats !

A few points:

- metabolism: http://examine.com/faq/do-i-need-to-eat-six-times-a-day-to-k...

- Losing weight = eating less than your TDEE. Training more is a bonus, all you need to do is eat less to lose weight

- what do you call a protein diet? around 2g/kg of bodyweight is enough (http://examine.com/faq/how-much-protein-do-i-need-every-day....)

- alcohol is ok if you are not abusing it (ie a 6 pack is unlikely to be good), you can pick the alcohol depending on how many calories they have if you want http://getdrunknotfat.com/

As for timing of exercises, do it whenever you can really, I workout fasted at 7am but that's not going to be a huge difference if you are working out at 6pm or noon.

As mentioned, Lyle McDonald (http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/) has lots of good stuff


I did no-carb dieting for about 6 months and lost 30 pounds. Obviously it's not right for everyone, and I absolutely love carbs so I could never keep it up forever, but the author mirrors many of my observations. Cutting out carbs entirely for even a short period of time will change your relationship with food: it's actually pretty hard to eat your daily recommended calorie intake while avoiding carbs. Thus you end up eating because you have to.

It's just incredibly easy to over-eat on carbs: they generally have a neutral flavor, and our bodies evolved to prefer the taste of sugar. They also tend to dissolve into liquid in your stomach almost immediately upon contact with stomach acid, so they don't keep you full for long. They're also incredibly calorie dense: something like french bread is almost 100% digestible carbs.

It's not so easy to over-eat other things. I could probably sit down and demolish 600 calories of ice cream, pasta or bread without a second thought. Serve me 600 calories of steak and even though I like steak, I'll have a hard time finishing it. Vegetables are even worse (or rather, better) - they have lots of nutrients, but very few calories by weight or volume. Hence the author's use of cheese (I'm guessing hard cheese, which has fewer carbs) as a source of dense calories to replace most carbs.


Awesome article, especially regarding your relationship with food. Way to go zt. If you haven't seen this TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/sandra_aamodt_why_dieting_doesn_t_u...) about why dieting doesn't work, do so - the speaker talks about being intentional with what you eat.

Also: Manresa is a great reason to skip out on a diet!!


Following the exact same approach helped to lose 20 lbs and motivated me to start a product around it.

Check out http://8fit.com, where we propose simple HIIT workouts you can do at home and low-carb meal plans (40/40/20 ratios).

I'd love your feedback, if you'd like to take a look! So far we have about 50k users and 500 customers with great feedback.


First of all, congratulations. Having lost around 40 lbs, I know all the work that it takes to achieve something like that.

One thing that I want to share is I quit drinking sodas for about 1 year, and when I was finally 'allowed' to drink them again I just found them too sweet for my taste, I cannot drink them anymore. Also during the last month I've been using Freeletics to exercise with very good results (I'm not affiliated with them in any way).

The most important thing that I've learned through my personal process is that the only thing that really matters is being disciplined and constant.

Good luck and keep it up!


Cool if the study confirmed the dichotomy of low-fat vs low-carb genotypes. This article doesn't say - its essentially a straw-man. One success doesn't prove anything.

In fact, I'm not sure what the study was trying to do? Imagine they're right - you have to choose a diet that works for you. What else is new? What's actionable about that? Already folks would try one diet, and if it didn't work they'd try the other. Now you can take a blood test and save a couple of days? No thanks, I don't like needles.


Major congrats! How helpful were the group therapy classes in helping you jumpstart the weight loss?


Holy shit! Congratulations.


Thanks Brandon.


I'm confused about why you would differentiate between vegetables and carbohydrates. That's like differentiating between a car and the engine within a car. Vegetables are mostly carbs and water.


"Carbs" in this context is referring to foods that have a high carbohydrate content, like potatoes, yams, bread, pasta, and to a lesser extent things like carrots, beets, parsnips etc. Foods to avoid if trying to keep carbohydrate intake below 20-50, as these diets typically require.

It doesn't refer to cruciferous/fibrous veggies, as well as things summer squash, even though they are almost entire carbs, because the carb content per serving in these foods is quite low - low enough that you can probably eat as much of them as you like and still be within the prescribed range.


I know it's only intended to refer to a particular subset of foods. It's just a personal pet peeve that people have this mindset and use this language and forget that the things that aren't "carbs" contain carbohydrates. It displays an ignorance on the topic.


Ya, well, when you're trying to eat fewer than 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, one becomes quite familiar with how many grams there are in broccoli. Sorry that my vagueness offended.


Congratulations, by the way, on your great results!


Not to belabour the point, but I disagree. People who "have this mindset" probably appreciate this distinction better than most. It's just a domain-specific shorthand use of the word "carb."


Vegetables are mostly fibers, which are mostly non-digestable carbs. Normal carbs get metabolized, fibers not. It's really a huge difference, especially wrt weight loss.

When people talk about avoiding carbs, they don't mean fibers.


Not really, no. There are some high carb veg like sugar beets or potatoes but most are like cucumbers where a plate full is about one gram. Carrots are kinda borderline about 10% carbs so 100 grams of carrots (which is quite a bit) is about 10 grams. Most are kinda like celery which is about one gram for an entire stalk.

My personal strategy is not counting but ranking and never eat something worse if I can eat something better. So I could roast some potatoes, but why not just buy carrots that are practically on the same shelf at the store?


Root vegetables are usually higher in carbs. For my diet, i stay away from them. I second the substitution is key to stay under your carb daily limits. Instead of mash potatoes, you can make it out of cauliflower. Lost 30 pounds, over a year with lots of cheat day/weeks.

Low carb diet does make a big difference losing weight but watching net calories makes a bigger difference. If you're 500 calories under the maintain level. You'll easily drop a pound a week. Combine with some light daily exercises and you get that close to 2.




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