I claimed I would (maybe) lose 45 pounds this year. I've been at it for over six months. What schemes and adjustments did I discuss with the team in the locker room at halftime?

Well, hang on. My thinking about nutrition, exercise, and weight loss seems to surprise some people. For me to have a chance of explaining my adjustments more convincingly than I explained my original plan, I'd better elucidate my thought process in this context. I have no pretense that what I'm doing is replicable science (especially since my girlfriend of several years is a scientist who just presented a talk at the Animal Behavior Society Conference), but I do start by being as honest as I can about what I don't know, what I think I know, and why I think I know it.

How I think about my hypotheses

When someone devises a plan of action intended to reach a goal, they've formed a hypothesis about the causes needed to bring about the desired effects. If Bob doesn't realize he's formed a hypothesis, that doesn't mean he hasn't formed one: it means it's implicit, may not be well specified, and certainly hasn't been carefully considered. Bob's hypothesis could prove wrong for reasons that are forehead-slappingly obvious, or it could be so fuzzy that it can't even be wrong. In the former case some small amount of learning is possible; in the latter, zilch. In either case, has Bob arranged to make efficient use of his experience so that he can more reliably improve his results? No.

Conversely, if Alice is aware of the nature of her experiment, her hypothesis stands a much better chance of being wrong for interesting reasons. By recognizing what she doesn't know and would like to find out, she is forced to more directly confront and tolerate some amount of uncertainty, but her hypothesis is more likely to lead to meaningful learning.

How I think about my conclusions

When the context of a hypothesis is limited to a single person, drawing strong conclusions is difficult. The experiment necessarily has far too many uncontrolled variables and far too little data. Our bodies are incredibly complex machines about whose workings we are incredibly ignorant, further confounded by our unwillingness to admit as much. Many humans persist in believing that there is nothing more complicated about losing weight than eating less and moving more, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary. Imagine how ignorant we are in areas where there aren't mounds of evidence.

Any plan of action to lose weight makes a hypothesis that necessarily subsumes conjectures about how human metabolism works in general, how the particular person's metabolism works in general, what the current conditions of the person's metabolism are at the time of conjecture, and finally how the person's metabolism works under those particular conditions. I've hardly ever heard anyone frame their weight-loss goals in such terms. Many people's weight-loss hypotheses seem to be formed implicitly, so it's no surprise that they not only fail to lose weight, but also fail to learn anything interesting about why not.

How I think about learning

I don't want to fail. I don't want to fail at failing, either. But the learning that each iteration makes available to me is quite limited. The most extreme possible conclusions I can hope to safely draw after making a well-defined hypothesis about my personal health and observing for a while are:

  • ”It's mostly doing what I thought, possibly because my reasoning was right”
  • ”It's mostly not doing what I thought, probably because my reasoning was wrong”

Strong stuff. And of course, the most likely possible conclusion:

  • ”I can't tell what it's doing, for reasons I don't know and can barely guess”

For a guy like me, this last outcome is a small but very palpable version of hell. When it happens, I'm able to tolerate it only after I've produced a new hypothesis that I believe is more likely to produce a conclusive result.

How I feel

Enough reading my writing about meta-thinking! Over halfway to 2014, how's it going for me?


  • T-shirts fit better
  • Beginning to have serious problems with my jeans and shorts
  • My nice work clothes are much easier to tolerate for a full day, and almost comfortable again


  • My face looks like my face, whereas it used to look like something my face had been stuffed into
  • My butt must be less large, because in stadiums and subways I find it much easier to get out of someone's way
  • My belly continues to gently subside


  • Definitely less lethargic, especially considering what I'm usually like during the summer
  • I'm beginning to imagine what it'll be like when I can play a casual game of Ultimate, have fun doing it, and not be broken the next day

How I weigh

On a bad day, 20 pounds lighter than when I started. On a good day, halfway to my goal, and my lowest weight in four years.

How I plan to continue

A month ago I was just about ready to change my goal. I hadn't lost weight in months, but I could tell my health was improving, I really liked my regimen, and I didn't want to change it to suit a goal that had been arbitrary in the first place. Then some pounds dropped off, and suddenly I was back within range of the chart's path. And that reminded me of a change I was ready to try: go back to not eating carbohydrate after workouts. No carbohydrate whatsoever.

This is no different from how I was eating last year. If I didn't lose weight then, why should I expect to lose weight now? Because strength training for six months has built some muscle and almost certainly raised my resting metabolic rate.

It's possible that not eating carbohydrate after workouts will stall or even reverse some of my strength gains. I wasn't willing to accept that in January — or in May, when Zooko and Amber suggested the idea — because I knew I needed to get stronger in order to be able to lose weight; I am willing to accept it now, because I've accomplished that step. Someday later, if I want, I can choose to make strength training an end in itself. For now, it's a means to lose weight (and feel good). As long as I keep most of the muscle I've built, the furnace will keep burning hot, and my belly fat will keep being recruited as fuel.

That's my current hypothesis, anyway.