This post is a follow up on the video I posted on my YouTube channel. I don't really script my videos so I have found that I have things I want to say that I didn't cover in the video. These posts are an attempt to give more nuance and context to what I post for people who want to read more in depth. The video is below if you haven't seen it.

I can't remember a part of my life where I didn't feel overweight. I think I was fine as a little kid but I didn't feel that way. Even when I was nine years old I felt overweight. I look at pictures of myself from that time and I wonder why I felt that way. But that's an issue for another essay.

Regardless, my entire adolescent and adult life I was obese. I've tried many different interventions to address this issue; pharmaceutical interventions, medical, trainers, therapists, half a dozen different types of trainers, every diet you can think of and then some...

All of these interventions had various levels of success. Either they helped me lose some weight or they taught me something that was valuable that helped me get closer to what would work. In that sense I have been living Thomas Edison's quote

Complicated problems are usually multi-variate in nature. It is a mistake to assume that there is a magic bullet that will solve a complicated problem. So I won't insult your intelligence by suggesting otherwise.

Despite the fact that problems are multivariate in nature it doesn't make sense to try and tackle more than one variable at a time. If things get too complicated it is easy to mess it up and to quit. I know this for a fact as I have quit on my weight loss journey plenty of times.

I don't claim to be an expert on weight loss. But I do consider myself to be the number one expert on how I managed to lose weight. Of all the things that I have done over the last ten years here are the three things that have been the most valuable and sustainable.

I believe that almost anyone who does these three dietary choices and one exercise choice that, if done over time in a sustainable fashion, will result in a tremendous improvement in weight over the long term.

If I could quantum leap back into my past these are the three things that I would focus on to lose weight.

Tracking macronutrients

Most people don't have the slightest clue what they are eating in a day or how much they are eating. Research suggests that we underestimate our caloric intake by anywhere from 30-75% and similarly overestimate our physical activity by a comparable percentage.

Some of that can be due to lying but my guess is that most people don't have a clue how to accurately track macronutrients and calories. It isn't easy to do and it isn't intuitive but it is a useful skill to hone in on.

When I started working with a trainer in 2011 who is a body building fitness champion I was eager to get into a hardcore muscle building program. But we spent the first month of the program not even lifting a single weight. He didn't want me to even touch weights until I learned how to track food accurately. That meant writing down my meals and weighing them on a scale.

He told me to not change what I ate because he wanted us to see just what I was doing. Obviously I didn't eat what I normally ate when I was doing that. Whenever anything is being observed you will see a change.

But even though I ate healthier than I normally ate for those weeks I was still eating 3500-4000 calories a day. People argue the importance of calories as a measure of health but it is still a useful guide.

Using a fitness tracker I was able to get an accurate assessment of my macronutrients alongside my caloric intake. Like most people I was eating in line with the Standard American Diet - 50 - 60% of my calories were various kinds of carbohydrates, 30-40% of my calories were protein and about 10-20% of my calories were fat on average.

Macronutrient breakdown of Standard American Diet (SAD)

I don't need to weigh my food at this point because I have gotten good enough at gauging my food. I know what six ounces of steak looks like.

Just about right for most people

and I know what two tablespoons of peanut butter look like

Still way too little compared to what I normally would use

I couldn't have an accurate assessment on the fly until I had learned to get hyper specific.

This is the basic pre-work that I needed to do in order to lose weight and maintain healthy weight loss. Once I had that under my belt I could ballpark my calories and gauge how much I ate fairly accurately.

Intermittent fasting

I discovered the benefits of intermittent fasting much later but I believe that this is the single most valuable thing that anyone can do to lose weight and get their body back to a healthy state.

Maybe you're not in a place in your life to start measuring macronutrients and calories. Maybe you can't afford a gym and a trainer. Maybe you have no time for any kind of working out whatsoever and even if you did your body is in such terrible shape you would struggle to even walk a block.

All fine. Intermittent fasting is still an option for you.

Intermittent fasting is essentially the act of restricting the window of time in which you eat. In a given 24 hours we typically sleep 8 hours a day. That means our eating window for most of us is about 16 hours. We eat breakfast when we wake up. Then we have lunch a few hours later. Often we munch on snacks throughout the day. Then we have dinner and dessert and go to bed.

The goal of intermittent fasting is to close that window in which you are eating bit by bit.

Maybe that means you skip breakfast altogether and just eat later in the day. Maybe that means you have breakfast later in the day. I have brought my eating window down to about four hours during the work week. I don't eat anything until I get home at 5 pm and I stop eating at 9 pm. I avoid carbohydrates during that time but sometimes I have them without too much stress.

There are physiological reasons that intermittent fasting is so beneficial - By giving your body a rest from eating you give it time to metabolize the stored glucose in your liver. You also give your pancreas a break from producing insulin, which means your body can start to metabolize stored fat. But I think the most important reason intermittent fasting works so well for people is that it is very difficult to stuff 2-3000 calories into a small window. It is almost inevitable that people will eat less if they restrict their feeding window.

The goal would be to continue to shrink the feeding window over time until you get to some level that is sustainable and still allows you to lose weight. I had gotten to One Meal a Day (known as OMAD in the intermittent fasting world) but I found that was too difficult to maintain at this point in my life. I will push towards that again down the road but for now I am still seeing weight loss when I restrict my eating to a four hour window. At my best I was fasting for several days at a time but I am not there right now.

There are tremendous physiological benefits to fasting in prolonged windows. It is worth exploring in a future essay. But for now I can't say enough about the benefits of closing your eating window to whatever you can sustain.

Cutting sugar and carbohydrates

So delicious - so deadly

I firmly believe that human beings are, from an evolutionary point of view, meant to primarily eat red meat and other animal products. We are omnivores but we are more specifically opportunistic carnivores - if you look at our digestive tract it has far more in common with obligate carnivores like dogs and pigs.

Wolves are capable of digesting some plant matter but they do not actively seek out plant matter - they primarily seek out ungulates - four legged hooved mammals.

Cutting out carbohydrates is incredibly difficult. I don't exaggerate when I say that it is as difficult to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet as it is for a drug user to quit whatever their drug of choice is. The immediate impact of taking drugs is far worse and the potential for immediately dying isn't present from carbohydrates but the cumulative effects of overconsumption of carbohydrates; diabetes, obesity and heart disease, is every bit as lethal over time.

Fortunately this is an issue where any reduction is a step in the right direction. If you can cut 10% of your carbohydrate intake it will offer tremendous health benefits. The more you can cut the better.

Part of the reason why I have committed to a carnivore diet is because I want to have simplicity in my diet - it is easier for me to subsist primarily on meat and eggs than to try and figure out which vegetables and other things I am willing to eat. I am sure the Broccoli and Kale are not what got me to 400 pounds. That is why I don't advocate going carnivore right away - I think there is plenty of room for improvement in health without going that extreme.

The key here is that you need to replace the carbohydrates with a comparable amount of fat and protein. Fatty cuts of meat, butter, olive oil and cheese are physically satisfying and can reduce cravings for carbohydrates over time.

Keto heaven!

If you aren't ready to completely eliminate carbohydrates commit to eliminating rapidly processed carbohydrates like cookies and chips. If you succeed at that for three months you will see an improvement in weight provided you don't replace those with other carbohydrates.

How long would it take?

This is a key shift that I needed and has been the hardest shift. I believe that these three interventions would be all that anyone needs to lose weight if they gave it enough time to work.

Every single obese person could lose a substantial amount of weight if they did these three things consistently for at least two years. I don't care what your unique set of circumstances are; if you did these three things for two years you will lose weight and will be healthier.

Would you be at your target weight? Depends on how much you weighed to begin with.

But I can guarantee that no human body would be able to resist the two physical interventions that I described. Even if you don't ever track a single calorie in your life you will lose weight if you close your eating window over time and reduce your carbohydrate intake.

Both of these interventions feel extreme which is why they are rarely advocated. They also don't make anyone money which is why they aren't championed by dieticians and healthcare professionals.

These interventions can be done at different levels and all of them will improve your life.

In a future essay I'll discuss what I believe is the best kind of exercise program a morbidly obese person should begin if they want to see massive quality of life improvements. Exercise is important but needs to be done in a way that can be continued over the long haul. I don't recommend people who need to lose 80 pounds or more to begin any kind of intense exercise until they have gotten their diet under control.