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How I Lost 20 Pounds in 20 Weeks With My iPhone (or: Data is King) (chadaustin.me)
89 points by bemmu on Nov 2, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments

Couldn't agree more. I tried losing weight without keeping track of my daily weight, and got nowhere. Then I happened upon Jeremy Zawodny's spreadsheet (http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/archives/006851.html).

Maintaining a daily record of my calorie intake as well as my weight has really helped me keep my eating in check. It has also helped me get motivated to keep going to the gym - everytime I see that graph flat lining, I kick it up a notch.

Very similar to "The Hacker's Diet" by John Walker, author of AutoCAD. He wrote a book about how he lost a bunch of weight using an engineering mindset. He also includes some very cool tools (Palm, Excel, and web-based).


Hacker's Diet is a bit scary, with all the excels and formulas. The "short version" worked well for me: count all calories, and better fast then slow.

Pretty much exactly how I lost 18 pounds in 24 weeks. Budget 400 calories (technical kCal) for each of three meals, allow 400 kCal for snacks, fruit, biscuits in meetings, etc., and allow a blowout every week.

Works for me.

Sneaking the weight back on - three weeks visiting the folks back home will down that, but getting back on the plan again and looking forward to seeing the progress again.

Blowouts and budgeting for snacks is damn useful. I used to exercise on blowout days, and had them somewhat more often (every fourth day). Also made sure I went over 2000 calories - this way for a couple of days afterwards I actually feel like eating less.

I did something very very similar. I lost about 50lbs in about 2 months by very VERY closely tracking what I was eating.

I wrote a super simple little web form for myself to input what I had eaten, and how many calories were in it. There were no fancy graphs or anything like this appears to have, but it made me very aware how what was going into my body. What made it great was that it was accessible from my phone, from my friends phone, from my computer at work, etc. etc. etc.

If you care (although I suspect that anybody here could recreate this in about 10 seconds), you can check it out here: http://www.gibsonandlily.com/getskinny

Interesting. I lost 20 lbs in about 20 weeks with my G1. ;)

I've been going out running for about 30-40 minutes 2 out of every 3 days, and have pretty much stopped eating crap.

The phone really didn't have that much to do with it, though having an app that tracked my time and distance has made it something of a game to see if I can improve my time.

I got fed up with my gradually increasing weight, and started looking into what I was eating and the calorie cost. Granola will make you roly-poly! Who knew? Clearly I had some bad ideas on what to eat.

I'm really bad at tracking calories or keeping regular regular records of stuff. For me it's simpler to just not have something around to eat at all rather than try to limit consumption. Luckily, I have something of a short food memory so I can eat the same thing most days (oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast; raw vegetables with Wasa crackers for lunch) and not get sick of it.

A key factor was seeing real progress. I hate making myself get dressed and go out first thing in the morning, but losing belly fat and feeling (and looking) lots better makes me want to keep it up.

I still eat junk now and then, and don't go crazy over it, since I know that on average I'm still getting fitter.

"If you vigorously lifted weights for an hour, you’d only burn ~400 calories, less than a single cheeseburger! You’d have to keep that up every single day without increasing your diet to lose a less than a pound per week. I decided it’s easier to simply eat less."

What he is missing here is that lifting weights is anabolic and re-building damaged muscles from weight lifting takes lots of calories. Therefore, your metabolic rate increases and your fat burning increases 24/7 when you are progressively challenging your muscles by lifting increasing amounts of weight. Therefore, burning 400kcal in one hour lifting weights isn't the extent of the effect of that workout! This guy doesn't seem to know very much about physiology or metabolism...

"This guy doesn't seem to know very much about physiology or metabolism..."

Exactly! With a bit of effort and really no impact to my life schedule, I reversed a weight gain trend. I very well could have lifted regularly or gone running, but I didn't want to.

Agreed completely. While calorie counting is a great start, a little weight lifting would have helped him achieve his goals sooner. More on the EPOC effect described in the comment above: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excess_post-exercise_oxygen_con...


These guys are fantastic if you want to change your lifestyle. In the past, I've done something like this program and I lost about 70 pounds (meanwhile becoming relatively buff and, if I might say so myself, rather sexy). I like this program because it's a laid back version of most ketogenic diets mixed with a whole food mentality (read: it's sustainable for life).

Site was loading extremely slowly. So I have mirrored it here http://www.manu-j.com/tmp/chad/

So calorie counting sounds great. Well not really. See I cook at home. By cook I dont mean "take out of box and put in microwave for specified time", I mean "chop, sautee, bake, stir, etc". If you have ever tried to figure calories from that, you understand why calorie counting sounds like 50-100x more trouble than it's worth.

You'd be surprised. After a couple weeks of obsessively counting calories and ingredients you get really good at estimating the caloric value of food. It's not hard to look at a sandwich and say "Oh, about 800." And if you're plus or minus 100, who cares? You don't have to be perfect, just show continued weight loss.

I don't find it hard to estimate this. Sure, the cow killed to make your steak might be slightly different than every other cow in the world... but probably not. Unprocessed foods often have a predictable nutrition profile.

My personal trainer said that weight lifting is better than aerobics because it elevates your metabolism for 36 hours whereas running will only elevate it for 4 hours. Also after my weight training session on Thursday my heart rate monitor / calorie counter unit said I burned 800 calories in an hour so I believe the guy.

I don't really trust the calorie measurements from heart-rate monitors. I have mine "calibrated" appropriately and I sometimes hit 1300 calories in an hour and a half on my bike. Yeah right...

I'm not completely doubting your trainer, but I'd be curious to hear some research to back this up.

Why did you he say losing weight makes you smell bad? I've never heard of that. It sounds like a folk legend.

Fat is a storage device for lots of stuff. For example, THC (marijuana) builds up in fat cells. Losing weight releases some of that stored up junk. It's not out of the question that some of it would cause you to stink up a storm.

Also, LSD and other drugs. So it must be weird? awesome? for an ex-consumer to try to lose weight.

I can't get the site to load, but if he's using the Atkins diet it's well-known to cause odors due to ketosis.

The one thing that I wish Lose It! and similar weight-tracking apps did is report a moving average. This is crucial to Walker's "Hacker Diet"---otherwise progress looks random rather than, as a (say) ten-day moving average would reveal, steady and encouraging.

How about counting how many calories you buy? I understand people eat out a lot, but the grocery store is a place where you can make it both precise and effortless. That’s a business idea for you, or Kroger...

I thought about this, too.

Hrm, a title with a healthy and realistic weight loss rate. Highly suspicious.

For Android a similar app is called Calorie Counter(free) and is also very good at making counting calories easier.

Site not loading?

Ack, sorry. I'm in the process of moving to Dreamhost and my home DSL isn't very good at being a webhost... Sorry, this was bad timing. :)

Not working for me either.

It's great a calorie counting approach works for this guy, but it has a horrible clinical track record. Dozens of studies conclusively show it does not work in the long run absent focus on the composition of the calories. Even in clinical studies where they control everything the subjects eat it doesn't work.

There is good empirical data on how to eat and exercise to get and stay thin. There's no reason to rely on outlier anecdotes like this. The prescription is: minimize starch and sugar (hard to do without eating fat), eat infrequently (don't snack), brief bouts of difficult exercise (sprinting, lifting) on an empty stomach.

p.s. The headaches he describes are from very poor insulin sensitivity. He has a more serious health problem than body fat. The starchy/sugary diet he continues to eat leaves him at risk of disease. He says he still lives on junk fast food. What's the point of being thin but malnourished?

p.p.s. Caffeine is not an appetite suppressant.

Original author here. In this thread, I see a lot of "calorie counting is not sustainable" responses. For me, the key notion is that forcing yourself to count calories recalibrates what you think about food. I grew up thinking that fatty meats were "bad" and rice was "good". In terms of kcal, white rice is brutal. While on the diet, I basically stopped eating rice and alcohol, because I'd rather spend those calories on a piece of meat or fruit.

I've since stopped counting and have stayed the same weight. Maybe calorie counting doesn't work for everyone, but it's certainly simple and easy.

(p.s. Where did I say I still lived on junk fast food? I eat a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables - my diet is all over the place. That just happens to include cheez-its sometimes. :))

It would be useful to say how long you have maintained the same weight after stopping the diet.

That's not the point. In order to maintain weight-loss, it's important to think of how and what you eat as a permanent lifestyle change. A temporary "diet" of any kind will never work for losing and then keeping the weight off.

I'm one of 4 people who tried the same diet. We are all IRL friends with the original author, and he got us into it. It worked for all of us.

I lost 60lbs in 40 weeks using this diet, and only felt healthier as I went along.

before: http://photos-e.ak.fbcdn.net/photos-ak-snc1/v274/234/41/1171...

after (contains puppy): http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1171451781&v=phot...

I didn't get headaches, and caffeine is an indirect appetite suppressant in that it makes me more interested in what I'm doing and less distracted by hunger.

The empirical data that I've read and used was to...

- count calories, and ensure that I maintain a calorie deficit (which is the only way to burn body fat).

- eat frequently, to reduce hunger and maintain an optimum metabolic rate.

- brief bouts of difficult exercise (3x30 minutes of anaerobic and 3x30 minutes of aerobic exercise a week) (the on an empty stomach part isn't very helpful).

- but, first and foremost, set goals and measure progress.

I've lost 25 pounds of body fat and gained 7 pounds of muscle mass in the last 14 weeks using this approach.

For the first 4 weeks I used the "Lose It!" application on my iPhone to help me better understand my calorie intake and burn rates. I couldn't recommend that application more.

My best source of information that I've found had been this...


(Note that the paperback is coming out in December.)

> eat frequently

The human body is made to run off a gas tank of fat reserves, not to be tethered to an extension cord of continuous eating. Eating every couple hours is historically impossible, and just on that basis one can reason it's likely maladaptive. You eat a proper meal, insulin levels spike to put the energy in fat and glycogen, insulin levels drop, then you switch over to running on the fat and glycogen. You are not built to always stay in the "post-meal" state of elevated insulin and fat storage.

There is no basis to the idea that eating frequently boosts metabolism. I think the practice really has origins in the body building community where they want somewhat elevated insulin levels in order to pack on mass. Body builders pack on fat along with muscle and then shed the fat later for competition.

Some recent studies indicate that the same life extending benefits of calorie restriction can be had by eating only every other day. The point is to spend much time with low insulin levels.

> I've lost 25 pounds of body fat and gained 7 pounds of muscle mass in the last 14 weeks using this approach.

Notice how you never hear from people who have stayed thin for years by counting calories. The research indicates it just doesn't work. Even in the short term we only get these anecdotes of success and the data indicates it's not very effective.

I'm not sure I can add much to the argument of meal frequency. A lot of the information I rely on has come from the body building community, since that is where I get a lot of my information (although, I'm not a body builder). I accept the fact that there are many different schools of thought on the subject, each with their own sets of "empirical evidence." Not surprisingly, I tend to champion the one that worked for me.

My change from 'three squares' to 4-5 smaller meals a day has had quite a positive impact on my health and my lifestyle. As such, I'm not about to give it up. I really like never being really hungry. (note that I define a meal as 'eating something', even if that something is simply a banana.)

> Notice how you never hear from people who have stayed thin for years by counting calories.

No, I didn't notice. In fact, a lot of the people I know that have stayed fit for years have used calorie counting as part of their tool-set. The author of the book linked in my above comment is one of those people. However, that's just my experience.

Like the author of the original author stated, counting calories is used more as an educational tool than a micro-management tool. It helps people understand their own personal energy (im)balance. That may well be the crux of your point though.

I find it interesting that the research indicates something doesn't work that I have seen work with much success. I've always thought that calorie counting makes sense, since "you can't manage what you don't measure."

Eating every couple hours is not historically impossible. The gatherer end of the hunter-gatherer duo usually do not have to search far for food. You don't need to guess at this, we have records of how the !kung san lived and continue to live.

Besides, people get really hungry if they don't eat for long stretches between meals, what to do about that? Turns out if you have a couple pieces of fresh fruit, every couple hours, it will suppress the hunger and you also won't gain fat. This is because the body handles the sugar differently than more complex sugars, and also because fresh fruit is more filling than a calorically-equivalent ball of white rice. Our primate cousins like the chimps are mostly-frugivores too, by the by.

> people get really hungry if they don't eat for long stretches between meals

If you follow garbage diet advice and eat a bran muffin, banana, and skim milk, yeah, you'll be starving two hours after eating. For breakfast I had four eggs scrambled in butter and full fat yogurt with blueberries. I'm just getting hungry now, 12 hours later.

> the hunter-gatherer duo usually do not have to search far for food

Are you kidding? They walk miles and miles.

> !kung san

I don't think the san illustrate your point, but in any case they are a bad model. They are stunted and generally unhealthy, scraping by on marginal desert land. They were forced off the good land. There really aren't any representative modern day hunter gatherers. There are only historical accounts.

You actually get used to not eating. I had to get used to it. What triggers peoples hunger is different for different people, some people get hungry when they need more food, some people get hungry when they CAN fit more food into their stomach.

You need to force yourself to become the first type, from the second type. It can be done.

I work in IT, this is my theory, I am not a nutritionist.

I can provide another anecdotal evidence. I lost around 20 pounds with calorie (and fat) counting and stood there for the recent 4 years. Last 2 months I switched to counting carbs, too. At all I lost more than I gained during my CS studies. :)

p.s.: I frequently work out and bicycle. That certainly adds to it.

Calorie counting always works - when you want to lose a lot of weight and lose it quickly. For maintaining long term you can't stick with it though, so you most likely want to make lifestyle changes, including exercise.

Exercise is fundamentally hard for weight loss. It takes a lot of time exercising in order to make a difference. Eating 600 calories less is not that hard - but from a bit of googling it looks like it would take 1.5 hours of continuous aerobics (plus time for changing and shower - that's over 2h every day). I'm not terribly out of shape, but I'm pretty sure I can't do 1.5h of aerobic and still stand. Also, I'd be famished afterwards.

If you have good data for exercise, please share. Otherwise it's still anecdote vs anecdote.

A few points about exercise: Some of the point I have heard is to change the metabolism, so that while you are doing other things, you are burning more calories.

The other issue is that simply eating less will cause you to lose muscle, not necessarily fat. Lifting will let you keep the muscle.

Also, regardless of trying to lose weight or not, you can't sit on your ass all day, every day.

So, maybe not an 2 hours of aerobics each day, but 30 minutes of something, for your heart and bones.

Calorie counting doesn't even work well in the short term. Metabolism drops dramatically at the cellular level on restricted calories. Insulin levels are the key to fat catabolism/anabolism. Calories are secondary. You can get fatter in caloric deficit if you're just eating sugar, or injecting loads of insulin.

The value of exercise for weight loss has little to do with burning calories. It's about hormones. Brief, intense exercise boosts growth hormone and testosterone, which make you shed fat independent of calories burned. Your body reconfigures. Note that endurance exercise doesn't really have this effect.

Anaerobic exercise on an empty stomach directly burns fatty acids released from body fat. A quick lifting session (20m) while hungry followed by a one or two hour fast will burn a lot of fat. Aerobic exercise with a focus on calories is fairly useless, as you indicate. It simply burns down glycogen levels which are then replenished at the next meal with little impact on fat reserves, unless you go for a very long run or bike ride. But then this has the effect of dramatically boosting appetite, which can negate the effect.

As long as you're not doing anything drastic and your basal metabolism stays fairly constant, reducing your caloric intake works fine. Second law of thermodynamics.

"As long as you're not doing anything drastic and your basal metabolism stays fairly constant, reducing your caloric intake works fine. "

But that's the entire point. Reducing your caloric intake causes your metabolism to drop, for reasons that ought to be fairly obvious if you think about it. If you think about it, it also should become obvious why that's the only possible direction of causality, too.

It doesn't necessarily cause your basal metabolism to drop. I just confirmed this with two physicians and a nutrition student.

I object that calorie counting doesn't work, especially coming from a summer of losing 6 kg with no exercise. Granted, I did pay attention to my insulin (lots of fat, no carbs for the first month or so).

However what you say about anaerobic exercise sounds interesting. I'll google it more thoroughly when I have the time.

It makes sense if you think about it. The body is like "I need energy!" and your glycogen stores are like "sorry dude, all out", so it goes and robs the fat-convenience store for its twinkies.

The issue is working out hard enough to take out all the glycogen stores, and not eating for a while (which just replenishes them).

Note, I have no idea what I'm talking about, but it sorta makes sense. Post any research you find here.

>Dozens of studies conclusively show it does not work in the long run absent focus on the composition of the calories. Even in clinical studies where they control everything the subjects eat it doesn't work.

If my Internet wasn't capped, I could easily list a dozen academic papers describing clinical studies where subjects lost considerable amounts of weight after being put on low calorie diets. In all of these studies, the addition of regular exercise had a measurable but small affect on weight loss.

I'd really like to hear some info on the headaches from you if you have any links - it sounds like something I deal with.

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