1. Look at the evidence and decide that I'm tired of being fat.
  2. Look at the evidence and decide that I can make becoming not fat my top priority for 2013.
  3. Look at the evidence and prepare the simplest plan (read on for details) that could possibly work for me.
  4. As soon as there's evidence that my plan is working, write this post.
  5. As soon as there's evidence that my plan has stopped working, review and adjust until it's working again, then write another post.


A weight goal suffices

I can worry about optimizing my body composition, blood chemistry, and other measurements in 2014. For 2013, I'm treating mass as a proxy for health, and worrying only about reducing total mass (as measured by proxy, in pounds, on Earth).

200 pounds is worthwhile and achievable

As recently as a few years ago, I was a healthy and fully functional adult human at that weight, and I had maintained it for six or seven years with ease. (Under normal life conditions, I'm really good at maintaining whatever weight I already have, whether or not it's a good one. Better make it a good one.)

I won't do dumb things to lose weight

I've just defined success by a single number, which means I have to be careful with myself about how I try to hit that number. For instance, amputating a leg would get me there immediately, and the ensuing blood loss would get me well under. I'm more concerned about choices that are less obviously stupid, such as taking supplements whose mechanisms of action I don't understand or whose side effects are risky.

For the record, I plan to keep both legs and ingest objects commonly understood to be food. But when people have their performance measured by specific known criteria, they tend to optimize for those at the expense of other criteria. (”Be careful what you measure, because you'll get it.”) I'm the one measuring my own performance, so my bias can hurt me if I'm not careful. More generally, as a person with many person-like characteristics, behavioral incentives can hurt me if I'm not careful.

I'll have to be careful, that's all.

I understand my metabolism well enough

I don't believe “calories in, calories out”. Some reasons I don't believe it:

  • Calories measure how much energy is released by setting fire to something. Incineration is not one of the metabolic pathways found in humans.
  • Every now and then I'll eat some bread or a slice of pizza, and the next day I'll weigh 2-3 pounds more. The experiment's results are unnervingly repeatable.
  • My calorie intake over the last several years would surprise you with how low it is. For a person of my size, the calorie math says I should have been at least slowly losing weight. Instead I've gained some.

As an extreme example, after an Ultimate tournament in Philadelphia wherein I partook of the sideline fare of bagels, bananas, and soft pretzels, I came home to find that I'd gained 10 pounds. Gained! 10 pounds! After running around all day for two days! It sounds crazy, but it happened, and it took a full week of careful eating to get back down to 200.

”Careful eating”, for me, means avoiding carbohydrate entirely. I feel better and I don't gain weight. It's hard to look at all my experiential data without concluding I'm exhibiting insulin resistance.

Since “calories in, calories out” is a falsehood commonly accepted as truth, it's dangerous. If you think calories are a reasonable metric, you'll try to optimize your calorie input and output. Are those the choices that optimize your health?

I understand exercise well enough

I'm an ex-athlete. This means I'll tend to overestimate my abilities, which I'm aware of, and careful not to. It also means I have useful knowledge and latent skill. For instance, I know that typical aerobic exercise is a very inefficient way to up-regulate one's metabolism and that high-intensity strength training is a very efficient way to do so. I also know how to safely practice high-intensity training, including which data to track and observe. I know it's a form of exercise I enjoy doing, which makes it far more likely that I'll stick to doing it. And I know that increasing strength and muscle mass is a three-step process, of which deliberate trauma to muscle fibers is step 1.

Step 2, starting immediately afterward, is nutrition. In the 30-45 minute window after an intense workout, insulin sensitivity is very high (yes, even for me) as my body decides how to react to the trauma. If in that window I eat nothing, my metabolism will take the hint and downshift, plus I won't get stronger; if I instead eat high-quality carbohydrate — ideally accompanied by minimal fat and protein, which slow absorption of the macronutrient I'm temporarily after — my metabolism will immediately press it into service to replenish glycogen and rebuild muscle.

Assuming sufficient nutrition, the bottleneck to rebuilding muscle is rest. Step 3, if I want to be stronger than last time I went to the gym, is to wait long enough. In high school I could lift three times a week; now I can manage two; much later, when I'm very strong and have to work my muscles very hard in order to push their limits, I'll only be able to lift once a week, and I won't even be able to work the same muscles in consecutive workouts. (That's a very long way off, though.)

Another reason I'm likely to stick with high-intensity strength training: because it's hard work the whole time, a workout takes no more than 30 minutes. I think I can spare a half hour twice a week to efficiently win a metabolic advantage by doing exercise I enjoy.

I'll be able to formulate a workable plan

I have strong knowledge of metabolism and exercise. I've lost nearly this much weight before (a decade ago). I recognize the importance of data and of fast feedback to achieve goals.

I'll be able to enact the plan

In 2012, work made unhealthy demands on my time and cortisol levels (another known contributor to weight gain). I made some changes midyear and they've paid off: I get to define and implement the lifestyle I want. I can consistently devote attention to recording data, observing feedback, and adjusting.

The plan


On January 1, 2014, weigh no more than 200 pounds.


  • Every morning, I record my weight and push to GitHub. (Why GitHub? Because my repositories there are visible to the public, which makes me feel more accountable, and because I like using Git.) A cron job emails me at 7:30am if I haven't already committed and pushed that day's weigh-in.
  • Every time I weigh in, my screensaver picture is automatically updated.
  • Within a half hour of waking up, I eat some fat and protein. Examples: bacon, eggs, high-fat cottage cheese, high-fat yogurt.
  • On non-workout days, I eat no carbohydrate, just fat and protein.
  • On workout days, I eat clean carbohydrate immediately after training. (I bring an old-school purple-paste PowerBar with me to the gym so I can eat it on the way home. After showering, I eat another.) Anecdotally, I don't gain weight when ingesting carbohydrate in this specific context.
  • Once a week, I work out in the late afternoon, then eat carbohydrate for the rest of the day. This prods my metabolism in a way that prevents down-regulation, seems to be going to good muscle-building use, and is fun.


5 weeks in, I've lost more than 10 pounds. That rate won't continue forever, but it's a promising start. I feel some muscle where I didn't before. With each workout my form is a bit better, the weights are a bit heavier, and I can push myself a bit harder. Yesterday's was the first where I sustained an intensity that made it an aerobic workout too.

Thus far, the plan is working. Stay tuned.