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Four weeks ago I started a challenge:
- I promised to demonstrate how to lose 25 lbs in 12 weeks.
- I promised to quadruple my strength by adding 6 lbs of muscle.
I am a bit nervous because I’m live bogging this challenge and I have no way of knowing how it will turn out.
I called this challenge “Dogfood” because I am taking my own advice as an online health coach. I believe you deserve proof and not just promises that my methods work in the real world for busy people who have no time.
So the $64 question is:
Am I on track to make the Week 4 numbers?
The expectation is to be one-third of the way towards my goals (since this is Week 4 of a 12 Week challenge).
Week 4 Expectations
|34 reps||3 reps|
|43 reps||7 reps
|Week 4 |
|see below||see below||see below||see below||see below||see below|
|61 reps||16 reps|
You’ll see how I did in a moment.
But first, let’s talk about why the fitness and health industry isn’t actually helping you.
The Information Age Is Dead
For all that money being spent, you’d expect some results to show for it.
You’d be wrong.
The failure rate of diet and exercise is 80% after 1 year, 98% after 2 years, and almost 100% after 3 years (relapse rate).
Did you ever wonder why?
There are 2 reasons.
The first is the industry sells you what you think you need to succeed. Hence the endless and bewildering flood of ever changing diets, recipe books, meal plans, workout routines, fitness programs, pills and supplements. On Amazon.com there are 738,712 fitness related and 246,242 diet items for sale. But as my friend Ramit points out, tactics are for losers. It’s in our nature to think that in order to succeed this time we need new information. The health industry unerringly caters to our desire for the latest fad.
If something fails more than 95% of the time, it’s NOT serving your interests.
Welcome To The Transformation Age
But what you actually need? This is what I observe based on my research and experience coaching health online.
- The Information Age is Necessary But Insufficient: The thing is, you don’t need to learn anything more. If all we needed was more information, everyone with an Internet connection would live in a mansion, have abs of steel, and be blissfully happy.
- We Are Entering The Transformation Age:
It Ain’t Rocket Surgery
Everyone knows that good health is a result of eating better and moving more. Not exactly rocket science or brain surgery.
But what does that look like in practice?
It turns out that motivation, habits, psychology, stress, and sleep also play important roles in transforming our health. And I will address those topics below.
But first, let’s look at the math behind losing weight:
Weight Loss = Calories In (food) - Calories Out (exercise)
For my Dogfood challenge, I elected to reduce my food by 750 calories a day and expend 250 calorie a day through exercise. My calculations show that a deficit of 1000 calories a day will result in losing 25 lbs in 12 weeks.
This table shows my actual measured calories based on my food and exercise logs.
Weeks 1-4 Calories
|Date||Food Calories In|
(actuals from logs)
|Exercise Calories |
(actuals from logs)
|Calorie Requirement |
(for steady state)
(1,523 per day)
(-432 per day)
(2,150 per day)
(-1,058 per day)
(1,448 per day)
(-257 per day)
(2,150 per day)
(-959 per day)
(1,551 per day)
(-373 per day)
(2,150 per day)
(-973 per day)
(1,454 per day)
(-435 per day)
(2,150 per day)
(-1,131 per day)
(1639 per day)
(-660 per day)
(2,150 per day)
(-1,171 per day)
This table predicts I will lose 8.47 lbs based on my actual diet and exercise. I will show you exactly how that turns in practice based on my first 4 weeks of measurements (below).
Psychology: It’s An Inside Job
Last month I detailed my toxic psychology that caused me to gain weight and lose strength. After deciding to make positive changes I immediately felt better about myself.
Here are some tips and tricks I used to stay on track.
- Tip #1: Use the scales every day.
- The conventional wisdom is to only weigh yourself once a week. And that might be good advice when you are at your goal weight and in maintenance mode. But when I am in loss mode I do weigh myself every day. Here’s why. If I am above my target, this motivates me to make better food choices and make sure I hit my exercise goals. If I am below my target, this motivates me to keep making good decisions in order to keep my hard-won gains.
- Trap #1: I’m doing really well, I should reward myself.
- It turns out your brain can hijack your success to derail your progress. If I lose an extra pound, it’s very tempting to reward myself with a doughnut (or two….see the problem?). My mind urging me to sabotage myself isn’t my only struggle. If I don’t keep a close watch, my mind will try and “crowd out” my health goals by becoming over-run with too many urgent but not important tasks.
- Tip #2: Think like an astronaut.
- Astronauts mentally pre-rehearse difficult situations in advance. Why? It turns out that anticipating problems in advance makes them easier to deal with when they actually arise. When I know that I will occasionally get hungry due to temporary calorie restriction, then I am much less likely to give in and much more successful at waiting to my next snack or meal.
- Trap #2: Obsessing about mastery.
- Don’t get caught up on what kind gear or esoteric techniques your favorite role model uses. Remember that pros were once beginners, and that they too started with the fundamentals. Reading about the “newest” or “latest” is really a disguised search for “easier”. This is just wishful thinking that you can skip over doing the basics.
- Tip #3: Well begun is half done (proverb).
- Start of your week right and get a longer walk in on Sunday. It sets up a positive mindset for your week, and it feels way better to “race from the front” instead of “coming from behind”. For the same reason, don’t put off exercise till the end of day when one is prone to be tired, demotivated, or distracted.
Psychology and motivation is perhaps 80% of the battle when making changes, whether they be in business or lifestyle or health. Still, we are human, and the other 20% is also important to take into account. So I want to be open and honest about what I experienced during the first 4 weeks of my challenge:
- Emotionally: I feel really good taking action to improve my health. Before this challenge I definitely felt worse because I knew I was putting off something that would benefit me.
- Productivity: My productivity has not gone down even though I have added 30–45 minutes of daily exercise (this will drop to 15–30 minutes a day post-challenge). In part I think it’s because I consciously use my time walking as opportunity to think through business problems.
- Cognition: I definitely observe less “fog” in my thinking. I attribute it to sleeping better due to walking daily and cutting back wine 85% (from once a day to once a week).
- Physically: I experienced some initial soreness in my feet from walking, calves from sprinting, and thighs/pecs from lifting. But those same activities also contributed to my abs feeling stronger and tighter (let’s call it a 2-pack for now :)
- Self-Image: I believe in leading by example. What better way to do that than to personally demonstrate what works as an online health coach?
- Sex-Appeal: I was pleasantly shocked when my girlfriend saw a noticeable improvement in my face and upper chest at the end of week 2. It turned her on. Believe me, I was extra motivated to perform during week 3 :)
- Motivation: I felt pumped starting my 12-week challenge. Using apps and the scales daily reinforces my commitment levels and seeing my measurements improve weekly is also very positive feedback.
- Stress: I feel hunger before some of my meals due to my caloric reduction (especially on weekends when I walk more). But I know the hunger is temporary and within my coping abilities, which is a form of eustress not distress.
- Social Support: Did you know that research shows that people with social support lose more than three times the pounds of a self-help group? I will talk about how I used Social Media to achieve this effect in my next post in this series.
- Travel: Business took me from my boat in Mexico back to Silicon Valley. Then I spent a week with my kids to celebrate their birthdays. Then I had a fight with my ex-wife. I coped with my stress eating using these 33 countermeasures.
- Temptation: I definitely felt tempted to eat more and to watch sports instead of going for a walk. I deal with my temptation using one simple question:
Is my decision moving me closer or farther from my goal?
Healthy Executive Food
80% of the weight loss battle is creating a negative calorie balance as I showed in Rocket Surgery.
But food macros (proteins/carbohydrates/fats) are the other 20% of the battle. Especially when trying to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.
That’s because there’s a nutritional balancing act between losing weight (catabolism) versus building muscle (anabolism). I will go into more detail about the science behind this in my next post. But for the purposes of this challenge, I simply aim to double my protein intake (to support muscle growth) while cutting my carbs in half (to support fat loss).
Here are my exact daily food logs for the first 4 weeks.
- Tip: Last month I mentioned one good way to lose weight is to cut your carb intake by half. A simple way to do this is eliminate all the white carbs from your diet (sugar, bread, potatoes, tortillas, naan, rice, etc) . I motivate myself by rhyming “the whiter the the bread, the closer to dead”.
- Tip: Lose weight on autopilot using “repeatable” meals. This means I shop, cook, and eat out only a dozen specific foods I know will keep me within my targets.
- Tip: Breakfast foods I favor include eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and turkey bacon (for example the Starbucks reduced fat turkey bacon sandwich).
- Tip: Lunch foods I favor include ceviche, shrimp , burgers without buns (for example Carl’s Jr original low carb burger), steak salads, and tuna sandwiches.
- Tip: Dinner foods I favor include sushi (sashimi style), meatballs in marinara sauce (no pasta) or white meats (chicken, turkey, fish).
- Tip: Dill pickles are a flavorful low calorie snack food. I use them between 6pm (dinner) and 6am (breakfast) to prevent binge eating.
- Tip: Buy expensive wine. Instead of drinking a daily glass of vin de pays, I switched to drinking an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon once a week.
Tip: Caffeine can help with weight loss, but sugar and cream can add a lot of calories to coffee. Try this instead: Add chocolate or vanilla protein shakes as a sugar/cream substitute. It’s the best of both worlds (more protein and less calories) and tastes good too.
- Tip: Adding muscle while losing weight requires boosting protein from 100g to 150g a day. If you try to meet that protein target solely using red meat or diary, you will exceed recommended fat and carb macro targets. Here are two easy solutions:
- Add one high protein shake to your daily routine. Try it with coffee.
- Increase your intake of white meats; particularly shrimp, chicken, and turkey.
- Tip: Consider slowing down.
- Losing 2 lbs a week is at the upper end . What does that mean in practice? 1500 cal/day for an adult male basically means 0 snacks, and hunger pangs for 2 hours prior or every meal.
- Instead, consider losing 1 lb a week. This will take longer, but 2000 calories a day means more snacks and less hunger. Losing weight is not race, it’s about cultivating enjoyable and sustainable long-term habits.
- Tip: Relax and aim for getting this 85% right.
- 1 cheat day a week is fine. As strange as this will sound, don’t be a keener and skip your cheat day. At the hormonal level, a cheat day is required to prevent leptin from up-regulating fat-storage mode in your body.
- Tip: Never tell yourself, “No, I can’t have that.” Instead, tell yourself, “I’m going to have that on cheat day!”
Quite a few of my health coaching clients ask me about the role of supplements in diets. It’s tempting to want nutrition in the form of a pill, but in my next post I will talk about the science of why supplements matter less than 1% in the overall scheme of things.
Healthy Executive Exercise
At the start of my challenge I set a goal of burning a minimum of 250 calories a day using these three basic forms of exercise.
The forms of exercise are: walking, running, and lifting.
I find walking is the easiest to incorporate into my busy schedule, especially when traveling.
In the most basic scenario I can burn 250 calories a day by walking 3–4 times for 10–15 minutes (a total of 2.25 miles at 3.0 mph).
- Tip: On days where I do a lot of desk work, it’s actually pretty enjoyable to step away from my desk and go for a short walk break.
- Tip: Have lots of meetings? Consider pedaconferencing. Like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg (FaceBook) and Jack Doresy (Square) are believers in walking meetings. I prefer to do business on the hiking trail instead of the golf course.
- Tip: For weeks when I travel, it feels pretty good to walk after arriving at my destination and get the kinks out of my legs after sitting in the plane or car. If my schedule is really tight, I may miss a day or two, and simply make it up on the weekend. If I know my travel schedule in advance, I may walk a little longer the weekend before and “bank” a walk for the upcoming travel day.
- Tip: I make my walks productive. Typically I’ll grab the dog, throw on my headphones, and meditate on a business problem. Other times I will use text-to-speech on my smartphone to dictate notes to my journal or to tackle important but not urgent emails.
- Tip: If you increase the intensity of exercise, you can achieve the same level of fitness in less time. If your body was a car, you can get there sooner by driving faster, right? In coming updates I will show you exactly how to do this.
Here are my exact exercise logs for the first 4 weeks.
Healthy Executive Apps
I maintain the value of apps (or a homebrew spreadsheet) is simple:
What gets measured gets done.
With that in mind here are my app tips (these are not full reviews):
- MyFitnessPal: Simple but powerful way to track daily calories and nutrients. Unparalleled database of restaurant meals and can nutrition labels on food packages.
- Tip: Keeps me from deluding myself about my food consumption and a very good way to make better food choices when eating out and traveling.
- RunKeeper: Handy way to log calories burned through exercise, especially walking, hiking or running. Good free reports (pro version offers more detailed analysis).
- Tip: Helps me make sure I am hitting my daily walking goal of at least 250 calories a day (2 or more miles).
- Instant Blood Pressure: Clever paid iPhone app ($4.99) that measures blood pressure without an arm cuff (using the phones built-in mic and camera). Handy to use on-the-go and seems ballpark accurate.
- Tip: High blood pressure decreases in response to diet and exercise changes over a period of weeks and months not days. So save yourself $5 and use the free BP machine at the drugstore pharmacy every 4–6 weeks.
- MotionX Sleep Analysis: This app monitors your overnight sleep quality, including recordings of when you snore (that you can playback). I didn’t find the reports very useful in improving my sleep quality, but this app is a clever way self-diagnose whether you have sleep apnea.
- Tip: This app came in a with a handy built-in motion-detection feature that reminds me to take a day-time stretch break if I don’t move for 60 minutes. I find it very helpful in making sure I took periodic 10 minute walk breaks.
- Apple Health: I really want to like this iPhone app, particularly its ability to integrate and report data between apps or even your doctor (or your online health coach). But the reporting is weak, and it lacks basic measures like waist size. On the plus side, it has an built-in pedometer that automatically logs the number of steps you take daily.
- Tip: This app seems to be in the stage of seeding the market with an SDK/API for adoption by 3rd party developers. Not ready for prime time, check back in a year.
Did I Make My Week 4 Numbers?
Based on forecast progress for Week 4 and my calculations Rocket Surgery I should lose 8.5 lbs of fat and gain 2 lbs of muscle.
The table below shows that YES I did make my weight loss numbers and came pretty close on my strength gains.
Week 4 Results
|34 reps||3 reps|
|43 reps||7 reps
|Week 4 |
|40 reps||6.5 reps|
|61 reps||16 reps|
Will I Make The Week 8 Numbers?
Next month I will publish a detailed update on Week 8 of my 12 Week Plan: the exact measurements of where I started, how I ate and moved on a daily basis, and my logs and journals so you can judge for yourself.
My forecast Week 8 weight should be near 174.5 lbs and I will provide commentary on what’s working, what’s not going well, and any needed changes to stay on track to reach 166 lbs by Week 12.
I believe you deserve proof, not promises.
Plus I will provide you practical tips on the following:
- The motivation psychology I use.
- Why your Grandma lied to you about food.
- How to harness social support and how to upgrade your social media.
- The simplest supplement strategy. Ever.
- Speed up your progress using LHT and HIIT.
Find Out What Happens Next…
You can find out whether I eat dog food or humble pie in week 8 of my 12 week plan. Just enter your email address here and I will notify you of my next monthly update:
- Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?, Forbes
- Calculated using linear interpolation.
- Exercise Science Programs, George Washington University Medical Center study,
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Long-term weight loss maintenance study
- Stories From a Fitness Insider, Life Hacker,
Why The Fitness Industry is Broken, Dick Talens
Thou Shalt Not Eat, Scott Kustes
- hat tip to Darren Hardy.
- Chris Hadfield Ted Talk “What I Learned From Going Blind in Space”.
- The exact amount depends on your weight, see recommended protein .