The short version: my diet and exercise data guided me to two fat-burning practices:
- reaching a caloric deficit (Only consuming ~ 1,400 daily calories instead of the normal 2,000)
- doing medium to medium-high intensity cardio for at least 1 hour (I burn anywhere from 250-550 calories on a bike. This means that my daily net calories are 850-1150, or about 1,000 net calories per day)
I couldn’t do just one of them. I had to practice both methods for the magic to work. It might not work out like that for you. Use the data, dummy.
My Big Fat Story
My Fitbit weight graph probably tells the story better than I ever could:
One weird thing about me is that I’ve been the same weight since high school (up until recently).
I tried to gain weight for football, and couldn’t. I tried to lose weight to get an 8-pack, and couldn’t. I just assumed that I had one of those unresponsive bodies with a stubborn metabolism.
Everything changed a few years ago when I went on a 3-month stretch of intense work where I did no physical activity at all and ate everything I possibly could. This led to absolute disaster. Never ever ever do this to yourself!
By the time I finally came up for air and took a look around, I had gained 15 pounds. But I wasn’t a college freshman. I was in my late 20’s. That’s dangerous. I know what happens to overweight men in their 30’s. They get that horrendous gut that never goes away. No thanks!
Me being a relatively health-conscious person (usually), I was determined to do something about it. And that’s when I entered into The Inferno.
Why Losing Weight Is Hell
You see, if I know how to accomplish a goal then I assume that I eventually will. I assume most people have the same mindset. But, when it comes to weight loss there’s an endless flood of advice. And for me, other people’s advice just wasn’t working. At all.
I guess I had to take control, all on my own.
Looking back, maybe it wasn’t their advice. Maybe it was my approach to their advice. And that’s why I’m writing this blog: because I think that having the correct approach may be even more important than the advice.
Here’s what I mean:
I don’t really like calorie counting, but I like working out.
However as the saying goes, “If you didn’t measure it, it didn’t happen.”
What I mean is that I couldn’t gauge the impact of what I was doing without keeping notes and taking measurements. Not only of the types of workouts, but the time, the reps, what I ate, and the approximate amounts (calories or servings).
Trial and Error
I went through a few different experiments over the next year or so:
- Basketball. I’d play a game or two at nights maybe twice a week. This ended when I got injured, which is a story for another post.
- Kettle bells. Shout out to Tim Ferriss, but it didn’t work for me.
- 100 squats every day, thanks to the SuperHumanYogi. I lost weight, but I was too sore to stay consistent!
- Body weight exercises (pushups, sit-ups, squats, planks, pull-ups, yoga, etc.). I got strong, but lost no consistent weight.
- Fasting. A good temporary solution after I ate bad, but it wasn’t working consistently and the results leveled off after a while.
So when did the breakthrough happen?
When I started taking notes and getting serious. I was tired of not seeing progress, so I decided that if what I was doing didn’t show results within a week that I would move on and look for something new to try.
This helped me to isolate the things that worked and scrap everything else.
Eventually, I came across two health videos from one of my favorite media sources, Business Insider.
The first video showed the ideal intensity levels for different activities to help slow down the aging process:
- walking for 5+ hours/week
- leisure biking (<10 mph) for 4+ hours/week
- running for 2 +hours/week
I hate running, and walking is too slow. I happen to love biking, and it’s easier on the joints so that’s what I chose to do. The problem was, 4 hours/week (34 minutes/day) wasn’t showing me any results. Something was missing.
The second video had a chart emphasizing the impact of intermittent fasting and how it increased ketone levels 5 times more than the ketogenic diet (which I’d tried before). This gave me an idea:
What if I combined biking and intermittent fasting? 🤔🤔🤔
Could the old “diet and exercise” routine really work?
I tried it out. I skipped breakfast, going down to two small meals a day (lunch and dinner). I also drank a cup of tea and as much water as I wanted while avoiding coffee. This gave me a total of about 1,400 daily calories instead of the recommended 2,000.
I biked for an hour at night, and weighed myself the next morning. I was surprised the next day when the scale showed that I had lost a pound. That’s it? That’s all I gotta do?
I was skeptical, thinking that maybe the weight loss was just water weight from sweating. I repeated the routine again the next night. Lost another pound. This went on consistently over the next two weeks. I was on to something big here. But then I ran into a small snag.
Take It Easy
I started getting too sore to exercise. Then I got too excited and did 2 hours of biking, which backfired. I lost 3.2 pounds, but I was super sore and got a hunger headache from not eating enough. The side effects taught me my lesson: don’t do too much.
You’ve been warned!
I value consistency over fast results, so I adapted and found another workout that didn’t make me so sore: the arm bike. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s got two handles for your hands, and it pedals like a bike. I tried it and wasn’t sore the next day.
I burned about 300 calories and lost 0.9 pounds. Close enough!
I also found out that the timing of my meals didn’t have as much impact on weight loss as my total calories. Therefore, I’ve been having my favorite tea (which is about half milk and 200 calories) for breakfast. I haven’t been hungry, but I’m still losing a pound a day.
My Trash and Childish Diet
In case you’re curious, my lunch is chicken tenders (about 550 calories) and my dinner is a chicken pot pie (about 650 calories). I also drink London Fog tea at night (about 200 calories). Not a “healthy diet” by anybody’s standards, including mine. But this ain’t about me.
It’s about figuring out what works in the fastest way possible. Find out what works for you and keep it going until you reach your goals.
A Word of Caution
My biggest piece of advice by far is this:
IF you find something that works well for you, it’s probably best to just stick to the script until you reach your weight loss goals. Your results depend heavily on your motivation, which is mostly psychological.
So don’t sabotage yourself up by getting too fancy. Embrace discipline and see it through to the end, because if your progress slows down – or even worse, you gain weight – it could be devastating for your momentum. Don’t risk it. Stay the course.
Watch Your Sugar
I can’t stress this enough.
When you inevitably get hungry, you’ll be tempted to cheat, but if you have to eat something WATCH YOUR DAMN CARBS. I can’t tell you how many times I went through my normally successful routine and the ruined all my hard work by eating just one bagel (gained 1.5 pounds that day) or a piece of candy or something.
You’d be better off cheating with protein or healthy fat.
I know I said that I hate calorie counting, but there is an upper limit to the calories and carbs you can eat while still losing a pound a day. For me, it’s about 1,400 calories and 140 grams of carbs.
One day, I ate 177 grams of carbs and I lost almost no weight that day (only 0.2 pounds) . An hour sweating in the gym was wasted, just because I had to have a mini pack of M&Ms and a fortune cookie!
My Biking Tempo
You don’t have to go fast. Although I’ve gone over 100 rpm sometimes, I later found out that I was still able to lose a pound in a day by going only 68 rpm. In case you’re wondering, that’s the same tempo as “Quickie” by Miguel. Don’t worry about how I know this.
My Ideal Diet
If my diet wasn’t trash and I had the time to do better, I’d choose an organic, ketogenic diet. But I don’t have that kind of time. Plus, eating healthy is expensive. When I was eating salads from Whole Foods were like $15-20 each, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Plus, I must’ve been eating so much that I wasn’t losing any weight.
Timing my Meals
My timing goes like this: I wake up and skip breakfast. Then I eat chicken for lunch (4 strips from Wendy’s or Chick-fil-a). Around 5:30 I have tea. Then around 6:30 I eat a pot pie.
I do this for one reason: it’s easier for me to be hungry in the morning than at night. Since I don’t like working out hungry or going to sleep hungry, I eat my pot pie right before I go to the gym. I’m still one pound lighter than the day before by the next morning.
How to Beat Hunger
If you’re thinking “1400 calories isn’t enough,” I understand why you’d think that. I fast pretty often, so hunger isn’t really a big deal for me. But if it was, I’d recommend a high-fat ketogenic diet. After a few days on this diet, you really start to lose your sense of hunger unlike a high-sugar diet.
Why Lose Weight Anyway?
For me, the motivation was that I was entering my 30’s and well aware of all the risk factors that came with carrying extra weight: diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. So I felt like I was running out of time to make a change.
Obesity runs in my family on both sides, and I knew that the longer I waited the less responsive my body would be and the harder I’d have to work. So for me, it made sense to start taking things serious now.
Ideas for More Weight Loss Experiments
- Combing my current “caloric deficit + one-hour cardio” routine with a ketogenic diet (lots of healthy fats with little to no carbs).
- Combining idea #1 with intermittent fasting: No food from 6pm to 12pm.
- Combining idea #2 with 2-hour cardio. This could be doing too much, but I’m curious to see what the results would be.
- Combining idea #3 with a vegan diet. This is one of the most extreme experiments I can imagine. I went vegan before: I didn’t get enough protein in my diet and the only weight I lost was from my muscles. I’ll probably never do this.
- Doing idea #4, but replacing 2 hours one the arm bike with an hour on the leg bike and an hour on the arm bike. That’s a full body workout! It also sounds insane. But just imagine the results… 🤔
- Combining idea #5 with weight lifting. In a protein-deficient state, this sounds like a good way to injure yourself…
- Combing idea #6 with HIIT (high-intensity interval training), such as sprints. This is for certified maniacs only.
- Combine idea #7 with 100 squats every day. This combines proven fat-burning weight loss methods, but you must hate life if you’re seriously considering it.
- Combine idea #8 with actually running outside for an hour instead of using the leg bike. I almost died just thinking about it.
- Doing everything up to idea #9, but in the sauna. Just kidding, you’ll die.
Personally, I probably won’t do any of these, at least until I reach my goal weight. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?
They’re good ideas, but healthy food is expensive and I’m too busy and impatient for the meal prep and extra shopping I’d have to do. Also, 2 hours is a long time to spend in the gym sweating and working out.
If my progress slows down, I may have no other choice but to resort to trying these ideas out to lose those last few pounds. We’ll see what happens. Good luck!