There is no “one weird trick” to weight loss

On July 1st, 2015, I weighed in at 248.5 lbs. Today, I average just under 195 lbs, and I feel better than I have in my entire life.

This isn’t a diet guide to compel you to buy something, hell, I’m not actually trying to sell or promote any product. What I do have for you is a set of principles, and things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about trying to lose weight.

When I set out to lose weight, I was over 250 pounds. I owned a WiFi-connected scale, I was already fairly active, and I had a deep-seated love of food. I was hoping that if I could stick to a diet, and exercise regularly, I might be able to get down to 210-220 lbs. I knew that would be a challenge, and that gaining the weight back would loom over my head.

I had been recording my weight with a scale that sent my measurements to a spreadsheet online since February of 2014, but those numbers alone didn’t help much for about 18 months. Then, in the summer of 2015, I started doing a few things that have fundamentally changed my life and made me WAY healthier.

First, I read this piece about how keeping a moving average of the last 10 days of weigh-ins could prove really helpful (and I made my own super-powered version of the spreadsheet; ask me about it!). Next, I started riding my bicycle to work. Third, and finally, I started taking Soylent to work and having that as my lunch.

By mid-September, after 2 months, I’d lost about 10 pounds, and found my appetite was starting to shrink. By the middle of October, 3 months in, I’d lost another 10 pounds, and was already more than halfway to my goal. This happened for a number of reasons, but the most important ones can be summarized like this:

  1. I was drinking more water (hunger can be a symptom of thirst).
  2. I was being very conscious to only eat when hungry (hunger is often a symptom of boredom).
  3. I chose my foods carefully, because many foods I ate simply weren’t worth it (like bread, and ice cream).
  4. I didn’t let 1-2 bad days get me totally down (because my spreadsheet was reinforcing my progress).

Over the course of the last 13 months, I have been keeping meticulous records of what I weigh every day (vacations aside). I know that I’m not going to lose weight every single day, but I’m always surprised when I look at the stats of how the weight came off.

In the 407 days I’ve been tracking my weight, I lost weight on 242 of those days, which means I gained weight on 165 days. On the days I lost weight, I’ve lost a total of 241 pounds, and I gained back a total of 184 pounds on the other days. If you told me that the road to losing almost 60 pounds would include gaining over 180 pounds in a little over a year, I’d say you were crazy.

Such is the nature of weight loss. You won’t lose weight every day. When I started this little ‘experiment’, I was eating burgers and fries, and loving every minute of it, but I didn’t realize that I felt like garbage most of the time. Now, I feel vital and healthy almost all the time, and I’m much more likely to enjoy a delicious soup and salad at a restaurant.

My final piece of advice that I think is entirely common sense, but is hard to actually fully embrace, is that eating and food are rigged against you. Restaurants offer massive portions, and peer pressure and social situations can make it easy to eat way more than you want to do, or realize you are. Getting a salad isn’t “manly”, but I actually don’t enjoy more than a few french fries anymore, and I don’t miss them.

Making good choices feels weird, and sometimes, the ‘good’ choice is actually to just get something you’re really craving at a restaurant. That’s OK. Like I said, I gained 183 pounds in 165 days over the past year. That is a lot of indulgence.

It’s hard to ‘cheat’ at losing weight, because you have to actually eat healthier and form good habits if you want to make it a sustainable lifestyle. There’s no set of instructions anyone can write you to get you to a health or weight goal, and now, I don’t have one. I’m doing what feels good.

Moderation, and making changes you can enact permanently, are the best way to meet your health goals.

What the hell can millennials do to fix the world?

With each passing day, week, month, and year, young people in North America and the world grow up. As we do so, more of the ills of society come into sharp relief. Typically full of optimism, I find it very hard to continue ignorantly living my life day-to-day, sheltered from the worst of what’s going on around me, but exposed to a flood of horror stories from around the globe.

We’re told from a young age that parents, adults, authority figures, they know what they’re doing. But it’s becoming increasingly clear we’re all just winging it, and many in older generations are handling society very poorly.

Donald Trump is going to be leading the Republican party in US elections this fall, even though his racist, xenophobic, isolationist rhetoric is laughably outdated.

Older Brits have overwhelmingly voted to leave the European Union, stranding many hundreds of thousands of younger people from experiencing an open Europe that has been so beneficial to previous generations.

A combination of racism and ignorance (deeply rooted in the United States) have led to a pattern of racial discrimination and police brutality that is increasingly visible as smartphone cameras roll to witness these atrocities.

Gun violence in general in the United States is also increasingly visible, and a huge faction of the US population would rather die defending their right to bear arms than consider a more peaceful or safe alternative.

Though world literacy, public health, education continue to grow, millions of people around the globe live in poverty, unable to earn enough to live comfortably with even a fraction of what is considered too little in North America.

A global discussion surrounding human rights, gender equality, religious freedom, and much more, is constantly met with fear and concern by folks who see anybody who doesn’t look or act like them as less deserving of the “humanity” label.

The list of major systemic problems in the world today is too long to name, and there’s seemingly no end in sight. For every Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples can legally wed in the United States, there is a football team with a racial slur for its name that refuses to change in the face of intense criticism.

We as a global nation have the power to heal these problems. I yearn for the day we can all live in unity, a World Union, so to speak. But I fear that for that to happen, we are going to either have to wait at least another generation, or suffer through another global conflict on the scale of World War II.

There is clearly, among other things, a generational divide between young people and some members of the generations before them. There are simple solutions to many of the world’s problems, that, while difficult to actually carry out, aren’t all that complicated logistically.

I want to be a member of the group that set out to change the world for the better, and succeeded. We live on a planet that is more than capable of supporting our population. Resources can be used renewably and shared by all, as they have for millions of years before “humanity” was even a glimmer in the eye of a prehistoric newt.

Money, the driver and motivation for most individual pursuits in contemporary society, is a human construct that we all take for granted. Political and geographical borders, are human creations. We enforce them, they are not natural law. Food scarcity, the idea that you don’t deserve to eat if you can’t pay for food, these ideas are predicated on the fact that some are more deserving of basic human rights than others.

I am overwhelmed by all of these thoughts on an almost constant basis. I know that coming up with working solutions for the very worst of societal problems isn’t a simple or straightforward thing. But I also know that it can be done. Setting the world on a different path may not be politically popular, especially to those for whom things aren’t currently difficult, but it is exceptionally important.

The world is presently in the hands of older generations, people whose ideas come from last century, and whose views of the world are shaped by cynicism and self-importance. Someday, my generation, the millennials, will surely become just as cynical and smug, but we can change the world for the better in the meantime.

Obviously, the first thing young people need to do is vote in democratic processes. Bernie Sanders has done an exceptional job in courting younger generations with the idea that their voices do matter, even though that message hasn’t been enough to win him a chance in the 2016 election, it has resonated with young people everywhere.

What can I do as a young person to be sure my thoughts, feelings, and ideas are considered, understood, and absorbed? Justin Trudeau truly feels like a breath of fresh air in Canadian politics. His message of acceptance, change, and evidence-based policy, among others, has been a huge source of reassurance that maybe things will turn out well.

As the generation finishing school and starting careers, what can we do to protect Muslim families from discrimination and violence against them after fundamentalist group pervert their religion for personal and political gains?

How can we bring an end to profiling and violence against black people and other minorities, and how can we convince supposedly well-meaning police forces to stop resorting to deadly force in situations that objectively do not demand it?

How can we show our love for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, size, or any other physical or biological trait? Even more importantly, how can we compel others to have compassion for all life even if it doesn’t fit into neat little compartments like “Male” or “Female”?

What do we do when a 200+ year old document like the Bill of Rights gets perverted and misinterpreted by political groups to convince Americans they have to right to carry assault weapons around? Especially considering the massive number of accidental shootings that take place every day, and statistics showing the increased death risk associated with gun ownership.

When can we stop tearing each other down, and when can we start building each other up, and how can young people help? I’m tired of waking up to news of another mass shooting, or a black man shot during a traffic stop, or a Presidential candidate getting hours of airtime for saying something shitty.

Please, help me understand how I can influence the people in my city and country and world positively, to help those blind to their biases to see the errors of their ways.

Though I am a straight, white, and male, my friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and family are not necessarily all of those things. I see and hear how the tragedies that play out every day affect them to their very cores, and even though I haven’t faced even a fraction of the hardships they have had to endure, my own guilt, compassion, and empathy run deep. I want better for those around me who have been victims of history.

I’m also very lucky to have been born in Canada, so many of the problems I describe above are not nearly as bad as they are elsewhere in the world, but it doesn’t mean this country doesn’t have its own sources of deep shame historically. The fact that Canada in 2016 has advanced as far as it has is proof to me that we can do better. We cannot give up.

I can’t continue to enjoy such a gilded life as my fellow humans endure such extreme hardships. People around the world are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandparents, just like we are. We can do better, and I want to help.

What can I do?

Cyclists are NOT the Enemy

People who bike hate cars. People who drive hate bikes. You’re both wrong.

I personally take issue with anybody who doesn’t follow the rules of the road, or who (through apathy, or ignorance) puts others in danger.

The Ottawa Citizen has published a few pieces in the last couple of weeks about cycling, bike lanes, the driving/cycling dynamic, and a whole lot of other stuff pitting bikes against cars on the capital’s streets.

This kind of article is hurting a relationship that could be harmonious and mutually beneficial, if everybody could just agree to follow simple rules that already exist, and not presume they are special. Let me address a few points from the latest op-ed piece in the Citizen now:

I’ve never really understood just what it is that makes riding a bicycle so special. Sure, riding a bike is good exercise and an inexpensive way to get around, but that’s all it is.

This is such an incredibly shortsighted point. Isn’t this a very valuable and noteworthy goal, especially as cost of living rises in cities and obesity skyrockets around the world? Not to mention global climate change, to which any motor vehicles (including electric cars powered by coal) still contribute.

…[T]hey claim a right to ride on sidewalks as required and to ignore the laws that apply to bicycles. All while complaining about drivers and claiming that cyclists are subsidizing motorists.

Riding a vehicle on the sidewalk is illegal. You can get a fine for doing it, whether you’re in a car, or on a bike. Yes, people do it, but it’s because they don’t feel safe on streets. We live in a car-first culture, where many people are deterred from riding bikes when they hear almost daily about collisions between cars and bikes (which bikes always seem to lose). And like I said, bikes hate cars and cars hate bikes (in general). We all pay taxes and cars use roads much more than bikes do (more on that later).

…[C]ycling makes up about 2.7 per cent of the morning commute and two per cent over the whole day. As a means of practical transportation, it is close to irrelevant.

Considering how many people either have long commutes, poor health, or any number of other reasons (the feeling of danger notwithstanding) not to bike, this number would definitely be higher if cycling wasn’t an afterthought, and I’m sure we’d all be better for it.

You’d never know it from watching Ottawa’s cyclists, but a bicycle is classified as a vehicle under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. That means cyclists must obey all traffic laws and have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers, but who hasn’t seen cyclists drive up on sidewalks, sail through stop signs, ride the wrong way on one-way streets and make unsignalled turns?

This one is almost too easy. Yes, a car and a bicycle are both vehicles. Cyclists need to obey traffic laws, and need to be responsible drivers and pay attention to their surroundings. However, on bike, on foot, and by car, I see cyclists and drivers up on sidewalks (check out #ottbike on Twitter), rolling through stop signs, driving the wrong way on one-way streets, and making turns and lane changes without signalling. Surprise, drivers do this just as often as cyclists.

I actually want to yell at cyclists who are in full gear, with racing bikes, when they roll through red lights to save a few seconds (both when I’m driving and when biking). Bad cyclists who refuse to wait their turn and follow the rules are just making the relationship between bikes and cars worse. We’re not all perfect, but we can be a lot better.

Without endorsing the practice, [Reevely] explains that cyclists make a habit of gliding through stop signs because bike routes off major roads are often on streets with stop signs every 50 feet. Actually stopping would take away all of a cyclist’s momentum. Similarly, cyclists ride on sidewalks because the city has refused to make major roads like Bank Street safe.

Clearly, these things happen, but who really thinks it’s safe to ride a bike on a sidewalk meant for pedestrians? One can easily imagine the sympathy a driver would get if he rolled through a series of stop signs, citing reluctance to wear out his brakes, or a desire to burn less fuel.

This practice of rolling through stop signs is not unique to bikes. Most drivers and cyclists don’t travel through stop signs without looking or slowing down (though I see the behaviour more often than I’d like in both).

However, the reason I think bikes and cars need to be treated a little differently when it comes to rolling through stop signs without coming to a full stop is as follows (spoiler – it’s all about momentum):

A bike and rider, weighing about 150-250 pounds together, moving at 5-10 kph, has a total momentum of 100-300 kg m/s. This means they can see if a car is coming and easily stop by lightly braking.

An average car, in 2010, weighed a little over 4,000 pounds. Even moving at only 2 kph, that’s still over 900 kg m/s, or more than 3 times as much momentum. Those of you who ride and bike will know that it’s much easier to stop a bike than it is a car over a short distance. In terms of safety for vehicles and pedestrians, a cyclist slowing right down as they approach a stop sign and looking both ways, is much better than the typical driving stop, which sees cars slow down and come to a nearly complete stop before heading off again. [editors note: if you come to a complete stop at every stop sign, you’re a beautiful snowflake, and an upstanding citizen, and also you’re probably lying to yourself.]

…[C]yclists are responsible for their own safety. Anticipating hazards when riding in urban traffic would seem to be a basic survival skill. A bicycle lane isn’t an autobahn for cyclists.

Totally agree with this point. Though I’m not sure you want to have to worry about your survival every time you hit the road, being aware of your surroundings, and the rules, are vital for drivers and cyclists. A bike lane doesn’t give you free rein to do whatever you please, but these lanes are also often disrespected by drivers too (see the bollards recently put up on Laurier on the bridge near City Hall). We all bear responsibility to get everybody home safe at the end of the day.

Of all the claims that are made about cycling, the idea that cyclists are subsidizing motorists is the most dubious. Cyclists use the roads, just like car drivers do. Unlike car drivers, they don’t pay licence fees and gas taxes to contribute to their upkeep. Everyone benefits from roads.

This is a fine point, but sort of misses the fact that bike-only infrastructure requires almost no upkeep, as the effect of bikes on roads is negligible compared to cars/trucks/semis. Add that to the fact that cyclists also drive on these roads at least occasionally, and likely pay for their construction and upkeep with taxes, and that argument loses a lot of its power.

Cyclists would get a lot more respect if they were willing to follow the rules of the road. This is not just because drivers like rules. It’s a safety issue. Unpredictable moves lead to accidents. Despite what some cyclists seem to think, drivers actually do not want to run them over.

Absolutely. Everybody needs to follow the rules of the road, and I have no doubt that cyclist unpredictability has a lot to do with accidents/injuries/collisions/fatalities where bikes are involved. Just like what happens when cars break laws or behave unpredictably. The only difference in this case is that when a car and bike collide, the driver of the car will never be hurt (physically) by the collision. This is where compassion comes in, and a little training, and learning the rules of the road, can go a long way towards bikes and cars sharing the road more safely.

Bikes are supposed to take about a meter from the curb, but are legally entitled to take a lane if they deem it necessary for safety or if the roadway is impeded in some way. If you’ve ever tried to bike in the one meter closest to a gutter, you will know it’s a VERY narrow swath of road, and one that is often full of potholes, construction equipment, drains, and other detritus that makes a ride perilous. Consider these facts as you commute by car.

Cyclists want to share the road too, and no cyclist wants to cause an accident (and on that last line from the quote above, I have heard drivers muttering or yelling about running over cyclists, and whether it’s in jest or not, I’m not laughing). We all want to get home safe at the end of the day.

Too many of our major streets are tough to drive on in a car, much less a bike. Fixing those roads, not more bike lanes, would be the best thing the city could do for cyclists and drivers.

I half agree with this. Some of our roads REALLY need a revamp, but I would argue the value of lanes for bicycles is pretty high in most places. Study after study shows the more car lanes you add to roads, the more traffic you get. More people end up buying cars, and you’re left with no less congestion. More space for cars isn’t helping anybody, whereas more space for bikes has great benefits for public safety, the environment, public health, noise pollution, traffic, and lots more.