Recently I lost 33 pounds/15 kg over the course of 11 weeks. Many people have asked me what my secret to such rapid weight loss was. Looking at the whole story, you’d probably have to conclude it actually took me five years to lose that weight. The purpose of this post is to tell the whole story, and let you form your own conclusions. The tl;dr answer to how I lost the 11-week portion of the weight is simple: I only ate about 800 calories per day, every day, for the entire 11 weeks. Most of those calories came in the form of one Carl’s Jr. low-carb Superstar Double Cheeseburger at lunch. The rest came from a handful of pork rinds in the evening. Some people have said it can’t be healthy to lose so much weight so quickly. They may be right, but I can’t believe it’s any less healthy than carrying around an extra 30 pounds of fat. I’ve also been told I have a lot of willpower. That doesn’t seem right, either, because if I had so much willpower, how would I have let myself get in the position to need to lose that much weight in the first place? And if I didn’t have the willpower before, then where did it come from all of a sudden? For the full story, read on.
In high school and through college, I weighed 165 pounds/75 kg. I am 5’8″/1.7 m tall. I was rather sedentary, always with a bit of a gut, no muscle definition to speak of, but fairly consistently so. When I was about 25, I gradually started gaining weight. I don’t know if my metabolism changed, if my income finally allowed me to eat what I really wanted (I’d always had strong cravings for junk food, but never had the money to indulge), if my diet changed in other ways, or if it was some combination of those reasons, including maybe others I haven’t thought of. I just know that I was gradually getting thicker, but trying hard to deny it. I avoided weighing myself, and willfully disregarded my tightening wardrobe. I was frustrated, but couldn’t understand why I was getting fatter.
Finally, five years ago, when I was 35, I weighed 235 pounds/107 kg. There was no denying it anymore. My clothes were huge and ill-fitting, I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror or in pictures, I got winded just tying my shoes, and I felt that some people treated me differently than before. It was agonizing, but I really didn’t know what to do. I tried several diets, but nothing seemed to work for me. I still wasn’t exercising, but I didn’t think that was going to be the magic bullet, either. I was desperate, and ready to try almost anything.
One of the blogs I liked to follow (and still do) was Instapundit. He regularly mentioned a book called Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes. That book changed my life. It taught me that while genetics is very important, carbohydrates still play a colossal role in making us fat. To sum up in a few sentences what he details by reviewing mounds of scientific literature: when we eat fat, it gets digested and turned into triglycerides, three per each fat molecule. The body’s cells have lipoprotease receptors on them. When activated, the cells uptake triglycerides, which then turn back into fat. What activates these receptors? Insulin. What causes the body to produce insulin? Consuming carbohydrates like sugar, bread, potatoes, wheat, rice, etc. Just by looking around, you can see people who don’t seem very sensitive to this effect. But that same look will also show you plenty who are. I am one of the ones who is quite sensitive to this effect. In fact, while it’s not at all an allergic reaction, I almost feel like I’m allergic to carbs.
I immediately put myself on a low-carb diet (the book mentions two such diets, reproduced at the bottom of this post). Over the course of several months, I lost 35 pounds/16 kg. It was wonderful, but the longer I was on the diet, the longer it took to lose the weight. I plateaued several times, going many weeks without losing any weight at all. The experience also gave me a false sense of security – since I knew what was making me fat, I felt I could choose to lose the weight at any time. Over the next couple of years, I drifted back up to 215 pounds/98 kg.
Then a few months ago, I read a post from another blog I enjoy: Seth Godin. The post was about a sale on a goal planner developed by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar (it looks like they’re out of stock for now). I bought the planners on a whim, and also bought some Zig Ziglar mp3s, and started listening to them in my car. By the time the planners arrived, I was excited and ready to use them. One of my goals was to weigh 75 kg at 15% body fat. I followed the planner, filling it out daily. I also started using positive affirmations: every morning and evening, I would go in the bathroom, look in the mirror, and say enthusiastically, “I weigh 75 kg at 15% fat!” 10 times. I had also ordered a big wall calendar off Taobao (here). I had heard that the famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld wrote jokes every day, marking a big wall calendar every day he did so. He said that after a while, you don’t want to break the chain. That’s what I planned to do with my diet.
That was around the beginning of August. By August 23, I weighed 198 pounds/90 kg. For whatever reason, on that day, something clicked. I put my calendar up, and decided I wanted to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner guilt free. That meant I would have to lose 2.2 pounds/1 kg per week for 15 weeks to reach my goal. A few months prior, a colleague at work had introduced me to the practice of intermittent fasting (see here for a good guide to the concept, but in brief, your body doesn’t go into starvation mode as long as it gets food at least every 36 to 48 hours). I decided this was going to help me reach my goal, and that I should fast in the morning, eat one Carl’s Jr. Superstar for lunch, then eat around 50 calories in the evening by consuming pork rinds (I buy them on Taobao here).
I weighed myself every morning, then wrote down my weight and body fat percentage (measured with this scale). I tried to make the conditions as consistent as possible, same time of day, same clothes, same bladder condition. I also decided to exercise three times per week. I used this exercise regimen (here or, if that doesn’t work, then here, and here is a link to the music I used for exercising – basically, 30 seconds has hard as I could go, then 10 seconds of rest, just following the music). Then I got going.
At first, I did feel very hungry. Whenever I felt hungry, I’d drink a coke zero (it has no sugar). Again, people often tell me this is not healthy, and they may well be correct, but I can’t imagine it being any less healthy than carrying around an extra 30+ pounds of fat. After about a week, the hunger turned into a very small, easily ignored feeling. I would only get extremely hungry at about 11:30, just before lunch. At that time, I very much did have to eat!
Beyond getting used to the hunger, I was surprised by so many other things during this period. First, that it would be so easy. It really was very easy, perhaps because I didn’t have to worry about what I would eat, or about counting calories per se. It was definitely the easiest diet I have ever been on. Second, that low-carb cheeseburger never got old. There is a saying: hunger is the best sauce. It is so true. Every day, that cheeseburger was about the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten, and I also quite enjoyed the pork rinds and coke zero. Third, my memories of other foods grew quite vivid, to the point that I could practically taste them, literally, when I remembered them – it was surreal. Fourth, I felt so full of energy! I expected to be light-headed or moody or weak, but there was none of that – I felt stronger and more energized than ever before. Fifth, I felt like I was floating when I walked – imagine carrying around such a heavy load for so many years, then suddenly dropping it. It felt great. Sixth, all my clothes no longer fit. My pants would fall off by themselves, so I had to keep making new holes in my belt. It didn’t look very good, but I wanted to wait until I hit my goal to buy new cloths.
And now I have hit that goal, and three weeks early, at that! I am in maintenance mode, meaning that I still weigh myself every day, and if I go above 18.5% body fat (still haven’t hit the 15%, but I’m not in a rush) I go back on the diet. It’s going great. I’ve bought a new wardrobe, had other clothes altered at the tailor, and I’m feeling more alive than ever.
Would this diet work for you? I don’t know. But it did work and still works for me, and I have every intention of maintaining good habits for a lifetime at this healthy weight. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.
The Practice of Endocrinology, 1951, Raymond Green et al:
Foods to be avoided:
- Bread, and everything else made with flour…
- Cereals, including breakfast cereals and milk puddings
- Potatoes and all other white root vegetables
- Foods containing much sugar
- All sweets…
You can eat as much as you like of the following foods:
- Meat, fish, birds
- All green vegetables
- Eggs, dried or fresh
- Fruit, if unsweetened or sweetened with saccharin, except bananas and grapes
“No Sugar, No Starch” Diet: Getting Started”This diet is focused on providing your body with the nutrition it needs, while eliminating foods that your body does not require, namely, nutritionally empty carbohydrates. For most effective weight loss, you will need to keep the total number of carbohydrate grams to fewer than 20 grams per day. Your diet is to be made up exclusively of foods and beverages from this handout. If the food is packaged, check the label and make sure that the carbohydrate count is 1 to 2 grams or less for meat and dairy products, 5 grams or less for vegetables. All food may be cooked in a microwave oven, baked, boiled, stir-fried, sautéed, roasted, fried (with no flour, breading, or cornmeal), or grilled.WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY, EAT YOUR CHOICE OF THE FOLLOWING FOODS:Meat: Beef (including hamburger and steak), pork, ham (unglazed), bacon, lamb, veal, or other meats. For processed meats (sausage, pepperoni, hot dogs), check the label – carbohydrate count should be about 1 gram per serving.Poultry: Chicken, turkey, duck, or other fowl.Fish and Shellfish: Any fish, including tuna, salmon, catfish, bass, trout, shrimp, scallops, crab, and lobster.Eggs: Whole eggs are permitted without restrictions.You do not have to avoid the fat that comes with the above foods.You do not have to limit quantities deliberately, but you should stop eating when you feel full.
FOODS THAT MUST BE EATEN EVERY DAY:
Salad Greens: 2 cups a day. Includes arugula, bok choy, cabbage (all varieties), parsley, spinach, radicchio, radishes, scallions, and watercress. (If it is a leaf, you may eat it.)Vegetables 1 cup (measured uncooked) a day. Includes artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, green beans (string beans), jicama, leeks, mushrooms, okra, onions, peppers, pumpkin, shallots, snow peas, sprouts (bean and alfalfa), sugar snap peas, summer squash, tomatoes, rhubarb, wax beans, zucchini.Bouillon: 2 cups daily – as needed for sodium replenishment. Clear broth (consommé) is strongly recommended, unless you are on a sodium-restricted diet for hypertension or heart failure.
FOODS ALLOWED IN LIMITED QUANTITIES:Cheese: up to 4 ounces a day. Includes hard, aged cheeses such as Swiss and Cheddar, as well as Brie, Camembert, blue, mozzarella, Guyere, cream cheese, goat cheeses. Avoid processed cheeses, such as Velveeta. Check the label; carbohydrate count should be less than 1 gram per serving.Cream: up to 4 tablespoonfuls a day. Includes heavy, light, or sour cream (not half and half)Mayonnaise: up to 4 tablespoons a day. Duke’s and Hellmann’s are low-carb. Check the labels of other brands.Olives (Black or Green): up to 6 a day).Avocado: up to 1/2 of a fruit a day.Lemon/Lime Juice: up to 4 teaspoonfuls a day.Soy Sauces: up to 4 tablespoons a day. Kikkoman is a low-carb brand. Check the labels of other brands.Pickles, Dill or Sugar-Free: up to 2 servings a day. Mt. Olive makes sugar-free pickles. Check the labels for carbohydrates and serving size.Snacks: Pork rinds/skins; pepperoni slices; ham, beef, turkey, and other meat roll-ups; deviled eggs.THE PRIMARY RESTRICTION: CARBOHYDRATESOn this diet, no sugars (simple carbohydrates) and no starches (complex carbohydrates) are eaten. The only carbohydrates encouraged are the nutritionally dense, fiber-rich vegetables listed.Sugars are simple carbohydrates. Avoid these kinds of foods:white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, corn syrup, beer (contains barley malt), milk (contains lactose), flavored yogurts, fruit juice, and fruit.Starches are complex carbohydrates. Avoid these kinds of foods: grains (even “whole” grains), rice, cereals, flour, cornstarch, breads, pastas, muffins, bagels, crackers, and “starchy” vegetables such as slow-cooked beans (pinto, lima, black beans), carrots, parsnips, corn, peas, potatoes, French fires, potato chips.FATS AND OILSFats and oils, even butter, are allowed. Olive oil and peanut oil are especially healthy oils and are encouraged in cooking. Avoid margarine and other hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats.For salad dressings, the ideal dressing is a homemade oil-and-vinegar dressing, with lemon juice and spices as needed. Blue-cheese, ranch, Caesar, and Italian are also acceptable if the label says 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrate per serving or less. Avoid “lite” dressings, because these commonly have more carbohydrates. Chopped eggs, bacon, and/or grated cheese may also be included in salads.Fats, in general, are important to include, because they taste good and make you feel full. You are therefore permitted the fat or skin that is served with the meat or poultry that you eat, as long as there is no breading on the skin. Do not attempt to follow a low-fat diet!SWEETENERS AND DESSERTSIf you feel the need to eat or drink something sweet, you should select the most sensible alternative sweetener(s) available. Some available alternative sweeteners are: Splenda (sucralose), Nutrasweet (aspartame), Truvia (stevia/erythritol blend), and Sweet ‘N Low (saccharin). Avoid food with sugar alcohols (such as sorbitol and maltitol) for now, because they occasionally cause stomach upset, although they may be permitted in limited quantities in the future.BEVERAGESDrink as much as you would like of the allowed beverages, but do not force fluids beyond your capacity. The best beverage is water. Essence-flavored seltzers (zero carbs) and bottled spring and mineral waters are also good choices.Caffeinated beverages: some patients find that their caffeine intake interferes with their weight loss and blood sugar control. With this in mind, you may have up to 3 cups of coffee (black, or with artificial sweetener and/or cream), tea (unsweetened or artificially sweetened), or caffeinated diet soda per day.QUANTITIESEat when you are hungry; stop when you are full. The diet works best on a “demand feeding” basis – that is, eat whenever you are hungry; try not to eat more than what will satisfy you. Learn to listen to your body. A low-carbohydrate diet has a natural appetite-reduction effect to ease you into the consumption of smaller and smaller quantities comfortably. Therefore, do not eat everything on your plate just because it’s there. On the other hand, don’t go hungry! You are not counting calories. Enjoy losing weight comfortably, without hunger or cravings.It is recommended that you start your day with a nutritious low-carbohydrate meal. Note that many medications and nutritional supplements need to be taken with food at each meal, or three times per day.IMPORTANT TIPS AND REMINDERSThe following items are NOT on the diet: sugar, bread, cereal, flour-containing items, fruits, juices, honey, whole or skimmed milk, yogurt, canned soups, dairy substitutes, ketchup, sweet condiments and relishes.Avoid these common mistakes: Beware of “fat-free” or “lite” diet products, and foods containing “hidden” sugars and starches (such as coleslaw or sugar-free cookies and cakes). Check the labels of liquid medications, cough syrups, cough drops, and other over-the-counter medications that may contain sugar. Avoid products that are labeled “Great for Low-Carb Diets!”