How I lost 12lbs in 30 days (and that's not the best part)

weightjuly2013 Recently I finished an interesting experiment. And as a result I'm 12 lbs lighter. But that's not the headline outcome, not by a long shot.

About a year ago I started my weight loss journey and I'm delighted to say I've managed to keep 50lbs off ever since. However in the last few months my diet lapsed a bit, I was traveling a lot, and embarked on a new career chapter - none of which are conducive to a healthy lifestyle. As a result, I gave back a few of the pounds I lost. Maybe 5 or 6, tops. But it was enough for me to reconsider my approach to food, drink, and exercise.

But instead of going back to the regimen that was so successful for me in the first place, I thought I'd try a body hacking experiment. What would happen if I adopted an ultra-strict regimen with no cheat days? What would the effect be on my physique, my mood, my sleep, my concentration? The results were fascinating.

I decided for 30 days I would have:

- NO white or refined carbohydrates (e.g. sugar, pasta, bread, potatoes, flour, etc)

- NO dairy

- NO alcohol

- NO red meat

- NO soda

- NO coffee

(For context, I drank 3-4 cups of coffee per day, at least one diet coke, and a glass of wine in the evening.)

The elimination of soda and coffee was to see the effect on my teeth and on my sleep and concentration.

Removing white/refined carbs, alcohol, red meat, and dairy was to see the effect on body composition and weight loss.

I wanted to see a) if I could even do this for 30 days and b) what the overall effect on my body would be.

I began the experiment on a Monday.

As I wandered bleary-eyed into the office on the first day, I instinctively lunged towards to the coffee machine but managed to catch myself before deploying the mediocre "americano" into my chipped and overused mug. I opted for green tea instead, a habit I maintained for the entire 30 days.

The rest of the day looked like this:

Breakfast: Protein shake first thing in the morning followed by fruit when I got to the office.

Lunch: The office salad bar (leaves, vegetables, hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon, tuna, etc) or cold grilled chicken and vegetables.

Dinner: All manner of chicken, fish, turkey, pork, eggs with every vegetable I could think of. Dinner was easy and satisfying every single time.

Snacks: Almonds, fruit, carrot sticks, etc.

Exercise: Nothing beyond my 4-mile roundtrip walk to/from work.

The first week was the toughest but not what I predicted. Giving up carbs, red meat and dairy was easy. It was the coffee and alcohol that proved very difficult. Coffee was such a habit that its absence in my daily routine was immediately noticeable. And I enjoyed a glass of red wine when I got home in the evening, especially after a hard day. But after the first week, the changes started to happen.

Immediately the weight started to come off. But I also had better concentration, more energy, no afternoon slumps, and the quality of my sleep had noticeably improved. The cravings also disappeared after the first two weeks as well.

I kept the routine up for a full 30 days, no cheat days, no cheat meals. And I dropped 12lbs and inches off my waist. I now wear a small size t-shirt and need a new belt.

But on the 31st day, something weird happened. I was finally free to eat whatever I wanted, drink a load of coffee, have a hunk of cake and wash it down with some wine. But I didn't want to do any of that. Instead, I had my protein shake, my green tea, a salad for lunch, and a protein heavy dinner. It was the weirdest goddamn thing.

I kept thinking, if I'm going to have a cup of coffee then I want the best damn cup I can find. So I waited until I had access to one, and it was totally worth the wait. Made it all worthwhile. Same with wine, red meat, and soda. I actually paid £3 for a can of Diet Dr Pepper imported from the US so the reward would be so much sweeter.

So ultimately here's what I found:

- for me 30 days seems to be what it takes to turn exception into rule, hardship into habit.

- it's easy to lose weight even with kids and an office job as long as you have a shred of discipline.

- carbohydrates are a dangerous addiction with almost no value.

- good food is worth waiting for. If I want something that's not so healthy, I'm going to find the most delicious, well made example I can.

I'm interested to see if I can apply this 30-day mentality to other challenges. Exercise, finance, learning, etc.

Live in the UK, die young*

A recent study came out comparing the general health and life expectancy of 19 countries of similar affluence, including the UK. It concluded that:

The British are less likely to live long and healthy lives than the inhabitants of most European countries – and we also trail Australia and Canada, whose people are more likely to be dancing a jig at a lively old age than we are.

One wonders where we'd be without the NHS, of course, but according to the study "how long and healthily we live is not so much about how hospitals look after us – medical care contributes only about 20% to our healthy lifespans – as how we care for ourselves before we get there."

The Guardian, in interpreting this data, offered up 10 ways to live longer which include moving to Japan. Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world not just because of diet but also because:

 "Japanese people give attention to hygiene in all aspects of their daily life. This attitude might partly be attributable to a complex interaction of culture, education, climate [eg humidity, temperature], environment [eg having plenty of water and being a rice-eating nation] and the old Shinto tradition of purifying the body and mind before meeting others."

The rest of the tips are pretty obvious (don't smoke, move more, eat better, don't stress, etc) but this one is a damning indictment of the north-south divide:

A major study published by the British Medical Journal in 2011 found that people who live in the north of England are 20% more likely to die before the age of 75 than those in the south. The researchers from Manchester University said the gap had reached its widest point for 40 years. The reasons are complex. The researchers said that "socioeconomic, environmental, educational, genetic and lifestyle factors" needed to be looked at – as did the reasons why government efforts to bridge the gap fail. On the other hand, it is far easier to find a stunning and uncrowded beach for a jog on the north-east coast – but swerve the fish-and-chip restaurants and make do with a packet of unsalted peanuts.


*compared to our neighbours and allies, anyway.

via Ten ways to live longer | Life and style | The Guardian.

Weight Loss Update

I'm now down around 45 pounds. I flirted with 50 pounds and that's my ultimate (weightloss) goal but I'd like to get there on a steady, sustainable decline instead of a one off burst. It's been a weird journey so far. I've had friends and family not recognize me, I've had to buy an entirely new wardrobe (I used to hate clothes shopping but now I absolutely love it) and I'm wearing clothes sizes I've never even glanced at before. Not to mention the fact that I'm getting strange and unfamiliar attention from the opposite sex. My wife teases me mercilessly about this.

I thought it might be interesting to note down a few observations and surprises I've had since my initial post on the subject:

I've developed a real love of running. I never thought I would say that but I actually look forward to my daily runs. One of the things I'm struggling with though is my form. I'm definitely not a natural long-distance runner and my style of running is entirely graceless. As a result I think I'm expending more energy than I perhaps should be, and I am quite sore in certain areas in the next morning, especially my right hip for some reason. I'm lead to believe that this is all down to how I run and I have a horrible feeling I'm going to have to re-learn how to run. An extraordinary notion.

Fitness is a fascinating thing. In rare instances I'll go 4 or 5 days without running and assume that I'm really going to suffer when I go out for my next run when in reality it will be the easiest run I've ever done. I'm still not sure why, but I can only assume it's because my fitness is continuously improving and that the rare break of 4 or 5 days is restorative and beneficial to my overall fitness. And it's actually a pretty cool feeling to breeze through a run that would have broken me just a week or two before.

Nutrition is confounding. Recently I went to France for a week and ate so much of their wonderful bread and drank so much of their wonderful wine that I assumed my weight would skyrocket upon my return. Granted, I ran with reasonable regularity while I was there, but didn't think it would offset the carbohydrate explosion I indulged in while I was there. Net weight gain upon my return? 0 pounds. In fact in the subsequent week I dropped to my lowest weight since I was 17 years old.

Carbs = hunger. An interesting side effect of my French bread gorging was that upon returning to a protein-dominated diet, I found myself feeling a lot hungrier during the day and this lasted for at least a week until my "systems" returned to normal. This feeling seems to emerge even if I carb load only for day or two - I'm not really sure it's worth it.

Strength requires patience. I took my son to a playground recently and was goofing off on the monkey bars. Out of nowhere I did eight pull-ups without really even trying. Eight. At the start of this journey I couldn't even get close to doing one pull-up. I looked at my wife in stunned disbelief and all she could say is "'ve never been able to do that before." As soon as we got home I ordered a pull-up bar, one of those ones that slots into any standard doorway. It's the single best investment I've made in this entire process. Now every day I do three sets of 15 pull-ups and three sets of 15 chin-ups and I feel awesome afterwards. I think this further reinforces the really important philosophy of patience when doing something like this. I'm a very impatient person and get down on myself when I don't see instant results but I think this really shows that with time and patience and dedication you can get your improvement. Okay, motivational peptalk over.

Protein is your friend. I haven't really altered my diet much since my original post; I'm still heavy on the protein  and very, very light on carbs and white food. I've slowly been introducing whole grains and brown rice into my diet on a regular basis. I have also found myself "indulging" a little bit more frequently but these are one-off meals, once every couple of weeks as opposed to every meal, every day. That's how I became the "before" guy in my picture at the top of this post. Oh and I've had about six beers since June - I don't miss it nearly as much as I thought I would.

Biking is entirely addictive. I've really gotten into biking, but not in the way a lot of other people seem to. Many of my friends and family enjoy long distance cycling - 3 to 4 hour 20+ mile rides done at a consistent pace. However what I enjoy is 5 to 7 mile sprints, especially if there are hills involved. Using the awesome Strava app, I've created a few circuits near my house and my goal each time I do them is to knock several seconds off my time, especially on the individual hills. Don't get me wrong, I like doing the 20 to 30 mile rides as well but for pure cardio satisfaction those hill sprint circuits are pretty hard to beat.

I can see why weight-loss and fitness is challenging for people with office jobs. I'm lucky, I work from home and if it's sunny at 10:30 on Tuesday morning I'll go out for 45 minute bike ride. I get really frustrated when I'm traveling or not in control of my schedule and I can't get out and run or bike or lift weights , etc. So I can't imagine how frustrating it must be if your schedule is dictated by an office job or some other rigid workday schedule. But it *is* possible so don't get discouraged. It's a question of finding spots in your day, just 45 minutes here and there to knock out a quick run or some weights...that's all it really takes.

I ditched my gym membership. While I was in California for the summer I had access to a really great gym. But my nearest gym here in England is a fair distance and not nearly as well equipped as the gym I was a member of in California. It's also a lot more expensive and I just didn't feel like I was getting my money's worth ,so I canceled my membership. I replaced it with bodyweight exercises, the pull up bar, kettle bells and I'll soon be adding various free weights so that I can continue my weight training regimen.

What's next? I'd like to continue trimming fat, as I still have a ways to go in some areas of my body. Then it will be a question of continually increasing my stamina and fitness as well as  increasing my general strength. I keep reminding myself (and other people) that this isn't a diet or a's a total lifestyle change. I have no intention of ever looking like I did in my "before" photo ever again.