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2015/03/09

Diet, Exercise and Other Issues

Nerd Fitness posted "Why Exercise is the Least Important Part of the Equation", where Steve argues that getting your diet in line is the necessary first step to health and weight loss, in part because you're going to eat anyway, so eating something different is a small change.

Of course I understand and agree. I can show you my first year of documented weight loss, point out when I started doing Couch to 5K and when I ran walked a 5K, and note that the close-to-straight-line of 1 lb/week doesn't change.

Let's do that.


That red line is what's important. I started running at about day 170 and did the 5K at about 250. Maybe later. I can look it up if it's that important, but the key is, there's no dip in that trend line where I started and stopped "running". It was good for me, I'm glad I did it and need to do more, but it had zero to do with weight loss.

So, what did affect that weight loss?

Dunno for sure.

I have theories, sure, but I can't prove anything. Here's what it wasn't: Food Intake. For years, I only ate dinner. I ate it late, and soon after, I crashed out from exhaustion. Somewhere about six years ago, I started making sure I had lunch, storing a bunch of microwave meals in the office fridge just to make sure. I now do something similar with breakfast, too, and both those changes occurred several years before I started.

That's two of three daily meals that didn't change, and as I didn't try to force any diet changes on my family (and doubt it would've worked if I had tried), the third meal can't be counted as significantly different.

I say Diet Coke instead of diet cola because,
as the pic above shows, it truly was my drink,
from 1987 to 2011.
Honestly, I did two things that I credit for my weight loss:
  • I stopped drinking Diet Coke and started controlling caffeine intake
  • I started plotting my weight
The plot is shown above. The idea came from The Hacker's Diet, which I had heard of before but really understood enough to try after reading (part of) Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Body. I had no real expectation of change, but had a desire to familiarize myself with the statistical programming language, R, and needed an excuse and data set to do so. Once I had everything in place and started watching the numbers, I intentionally avoided making too many changes in the rest of my life, just to see how long the one pound a week drop would last.

The significant change is when I stopped drinking Diet Coke, and because there's so much involved there, I'm not sure what the significant parts are.

The first thing it might relate to goes to insulin. Theory goes, just like you're tricking your tongue with the sweet-but-not-sugar artificial sweeteners, you might be tricking your pancreas. All that insulin is created, doesn't find any real sweets to handle, so it goes crazy on whatever else you might have around. This is not widely accepted, as this LiveStrong article shows. Another LiveStrong article on diet cola shows that the effect of stopping varies wildly between people.

Let me introduce a vicious circle: You're exhausted, so you drink caffeinated beverages. You drink caffeinated beverages, so you sleep poorly. You sleep poorly, so you're exhausted. I lived in that cycle for years. It took a lot to get me to sleep, but when I slept, I slept so hard that, I'm told, all of my kids danced on my head while I slept. They were toddlers at the time, but still. Add to this hormonal and decision-making changes, you'll see the problem.

I've mostly switched to just drinking coffee and water — "Don't drink calories", Tim Ferriss wrote —  and not being dehydrated might be a factor, too. Plus maybe something else. I don't know.

Anyway, the 280 lb guy I used to be was just a switch away from Diet Coke to being the 213 lb guy I am today. There's diet switches I should do — the food that's easiest for me to eat at work is the easiest for me to buy a month at a time, decreasing my cognitive load, but not best food for me to eat every workday — but I doubt those changes would've meant much before I stopped drinking Diet Coke.