I’ve had a few people ask on FB about what the process/diet/recipe has been to drop weight so fast (50# in 2.5Mo so far this year). The answer is simply – a massive lifestyle change and diet change, and not leaving the house for roughly 2 months. This is the first post of a few I will do about this.
Now I love meat, I love salt, I love dairy, I love alcohol, I love pasta, I love savory rich dishes, and traditionally would be light on vegetables. But I’ve had a lot of those… for ever. I also love being healthy and feeling good doing outdoor activities, and just living life. It was becoming apparent that while I am not seeing health issues yet… they are going to hit and it’s going to be bad when they do, and at that point, this drive is out of our hands. Then it becomes less of a goal to change how we live, to a life/death race; No one does well with that in the long term. Older you get, the harder it will be to change or fix these things, and the more critical it will be to do so. So, something’s got to give. Here is how we’ve done it so far:
1. It started with a book – I was inspired by Penn Jillette and Kevin Smith’s process for their weight loss. I read Penn’s book, Presto, and while a lot of the book was BS, and he’s a well known person who likes to stretch the truth on things, he did point me in some good direction. His take was extreme strict, ours stared similar but is leveling off in a more sustainable manner. Reading the book if you get half way through before he completes to his weightloss goal… you’ll think its batshit crazy, if not just stupid. But as the book rounds out, then there are some significant pearls of wisdom from him and his guide on this journey Ray Cronise. I read a lot of Ray’s writings and studies on the side, and purchased a number of plant based cooking books. Dots start to connect and I started seeing how this could be sustainable and not the end of the world.
I bought the book on a flight from Austin to Denver after spending 4 days eating all the smoked meats down there. When in Austin we ate all the meats… it was glorious, but on the flight home the heavy feeling of endless fatty foods was just overwhelming. I didn’t pick up the book again until another flight a few weeks later. I read ‘Presto’ on flights to and from NOLA with my Wife, where we went to eat and drink and have a good time.
After NOLA, I realized while that was fun, and we can do that again (and will), in the meantime I need to change some things rapidly. So we made a decision to try this, and Feb – May was a perfect time to give it a whirl, with the agreement that we would try this as we could reasonably sustain it. Turns out that was much easier than either of us thought.
2. Step 1-Potatoes – Step 1 was two weeks of just potatoes. (aka Potato Famine in the books) . No salt, no oil, no butter. Just roasted potatoes of any kind. Eat as many as you want any time. This breaks a LOT of addictions to salt, fats and … flavor. A massive reset to the body. It was hard. The first week was headaches, lightheadedness, and endless hunger/cravings. This is because your body/liver/gut biome is going through a massive reset. Your blood sugar will bounce all over for a few days or a week. Once we got done with the potato phase our body was ready to eat real food of any kind… and LOVE it, flavors you never noticed before will come out in foods. And… overall… this phase is easy to plan and implement. SUPER easy.
Do NOT discount easy – easy is buying a variety of potatoes, roasting them, putting them in a pyrex/tupperware, and eating them by just warming them up and going to town. No thought, no drama, just eat a potato when you are hungry.
Note : We did take a multivitamin during this phase to keep some level of balanced nutrients going in our body. Normally taking the vitamin during the first potato of the day.
3. Coffee and Tea instead of Wine and Beer – To keep things at least a bit more sustainable and avoiding needless cravings, I drank a ton of green/black teas, and coffee/espresso. I switched our espresso machine to decaf bean so I can pour a shot anytime I want to satisfy some cravings. Keeping caffeine just for the morning. This was very effective at keeping urges at bay. We ditched milk from our morning coffee entirely, and do not miss it. Now cream in coffee tastes odd.
Neither of us drink sodas/pop. Sugary drinks aren’t our jam. We both kicked that habit many years ago. Note that if you stick to drinking diet sodas during this, you will have a harder time. As diet sodas are awful to your system, and cause similar insulin responses as sugary sodas. Want to be successful? Cut off the potentially toxic diet sodas from your routine before doing this kind of diet.
4. Zero Exercise- This is a big deal. Since you will be running at a significant calorie deficit, doing exhaustive workouts could cause you to pass out, go into a deep starvation mode, or in general seriously hurt yourself. We estimated that just under potatoes we were ~ 500 – 900 calories depending on the day. Under our plant based regular meals we are a more stable 700 – 800 a day as a goal, but with more comprehensive mixes of nutrition. In the first month of this diet, if we went from the ground floor to the roof of our town house in one move up 3 flights of stairs… we’d both be light headed and exhausted. Now 2+ months in, we can do it and not even be out of breath… amazing how the body changes to adapt. The rule is you are to maintain the no intense workouts deal until you finish the weight loss portion. I went skiing, but I had brisket too… so… I think that balances out 😉
This also is pretty easy, as taking time to work out hours a day to see similar losses is something that is just not sustainable. I didn’t see a big drop in muscle density to any significant measure. Muscle that I did lose, wasn’t needed with my lighter frame it seems.
5. Potatoes – So I loved the potato phase of the diet. It was easy, I liked the taste of the potatoes (especially the deep indigo/purple small potatoes… you kind of turn into a potato expert in those 2 weeks trying to keep things interesting). My wife struggled with the flavor to a significant level and by day 11 was done with them, so we shifted a couple days early to the plant based foods portion of the diet. But I am comfortable going back to potatoes in the future for a reset and re leveling if I see the diet going too far off course. Because it’s easy, and simple to implement.
6. Step 2 – Plant Based foods: So we jumped head first into the world of plant based diets immediately after the “potato famine”. This is polar opposite to Keto. Keto has the potential for significant long term health issues, and is essentially a hack on the system. It is largely a crutch for people who want to keep the salty, fatty, heavy foods they love, and still drop some weight. Short term it’s a solid deal and works for many people. But… mounting evidence of how costly it could be in the long run is significant.
Plant based diets are far more well rounded, sustainable, and healthy in the long term. Many scientific studies confirm a calorie restricted, plant based diet leads to longer life, lower blood pressure, less arterial hardening, and reduced cancer risks (especially colon/stomach cancer). But… you need to give up (at least initially) all diary, oils, fats, meats, added salts, sugars, etc… That is a bridge too far for many and could be for us?… who knows… we never tried it before. But the only way to know, is to commit and give it a fair shake.
Most any vegetable, legume, fruit is fair game, as long as its whole, and not some processed zombie version of its previous self. This is far easier than Keto/Paleo where people avoid beans, and many other things that have a lot of beneficial aspects in a diet.
7. Strict Vegan meals – Most vegan meals we look at are loaded with salts, oils, sugars, but no meats. What we are eating is a few steps beyond Vegan. Focusing on real plants/vegetables/fruits, no processed or as little canned as we could get by with. If stuff was cooked in a pan and would use oil normally, we used low sodium vegetable stock instead. Yeah crispy stuff doesn’t happen with this diet much… but we found other ways to keep things interesting. But in general, a true clean plant based diet is significantly more serious than ‘Vegan’. No Soy/Almond ‘milks’, no meat substitutes, no weird vegan ‘cheeses’ or ‘yogurts’… We learned to love the taste of clean foods.
I looked at what is in vegan cheese, and I swear most of the ingredients sound like what happens when DuPont gets their hand on designing a food. I have a serious dislike/distrust of fake meats too. Want meat? eat meat. Want to not eat meat? Avoid eating plants turned by machines into meat like things. Seems simple to me at least. Fake meats are sad…
8. Spice and flavor – Eating just plants without salt, oil, butter, etc… for months could seem brutal. But my wife found a way to make these things interesting and sustainable. Spices, lots and lots of spices, herbs, currys, etc… We eat a lot of Indian, Asian/Thai, middle eastern, spanish, mexican dishes now. Things that have a lot of beans, spices, vegetables of various kinds, textures, and colors. Some things have good amounts of heat as well. Spicy heat offsets lack of flavor pretty easily in many cases.
8. Progress breeds more progress – This diet is no joke. On the Potatoes we both saw a large initial transformation. Digestively our bodies were working in ways and better than they have ever before and signaled that positive changes were happening. Weight wise we were shedding water weight (edema), and overall resetting on a rapid pace. I think we both lost 10 – 15# just doing the potato thing for 12 days or so. That was serious inspiration to look at the next phase with some motivation.
Over the next 7 or so weeks, we saw consistent drops… some days .1#, some days 2#… depends on how the body processes stuff. Averaging out to ~ .5-1#/day. That is the best inspiration you can get.
9. Momentum – A personal trainer I worked with years ago to drop 40 lbs over 6 months through working out 60 -90minutes a day and minor diet changes. (Which turned out to NOT be sustainable, but was extremely informative and taught me life lessons on working out and general training concepts.) He used to talk about the “flywheel principle”. The more momentum you put into a flywheel the harder it is to slow down. This is working for this diet as well. We built a huge bit of momentum at the start of the diet, so even when we both hit a week of no weight loss, or a glitch in the plan (we’ve both had 3 -5# jumps upward, then lose it right after)… no worries, it’ll start back up. Just keep looking forward.
10. Keeping Distracted – During the main part of the diet (which is still ongoing as of this writing, as we both still have weight to drop, and are looking at this for the long term) we’ve kept close to home. No eating out on any daily basis or outside of special occasions or people visiting, no drinking (until the last week or so with travels and people visiting), and just generally laying low. We watched all the Harry Potter movies (my first time… Those movies are about how wizards are bad at their jobs right?) during the potato phase to burn time at night. We’ve taken up other series and such to fill the time as well.
Since we did this over Feb – May at this point it was a good time of the year to hide out, avoid crappy winter weather, and just keep focused. I took up a project of building a new 3D printer, my wife took up needle point, we found things to keep us busy and distracted for the duration.
Sitting on the couch thinking about food… is a disaster waiting to happen otherwise. We also stopped watching Top Chef mid season to avoid that kind of temptation entirely. Know yourself, know what keeps you occupied and away from things that could pull out off track until your routine is well established.
We play shuffleboard at a local brewery, I get my mug every time we are there, and just have it filled with water. Turns out I am wayyyyy better at Shuffleboard sober anyway.
11. Cost Savings – Look, potatoes are cheap. So the first 2 weeks you can eat for fractions of what it would cost to have one or two meals eating out. The following phases, are also not that bad as ‘proteins’ like meats, Dairy, etc… are all traditionally the most expensive items to buy. And eating in keeps costs way down. We estimated that in 1-2 months we would have effectively saved enough from alcohol and food to fund a round trip to Europe for both of us. Now a lot of that went into my 3D printer project instead… but still, the savings are not arbitrary, and has been an excellent change as part of this.
12. Intermittent Fasting – Once the potato phase was over we went into an IF routine as part of the diet. We try (and rarely actually keep tight to it) a 5 hour window to eat. So no breakfast, eat lunch around noon, and then an early dinner. Generally we actually get it done in a 6 hour window, but we do try to keep it as tight to 5 as we can. This has had a profound effect on resetting our urges and hunger cravings. Helped us ID what is real hunger, from just a craving.
It took a few weeks of that for it to feel normal. Neither of us need more than coffee until lunch now, and rarely have cravings after dinner. But yes, it takes a bit for the body to get used to it.
We also do not eat in that 5 hour window if we are not hungry. Eat till you are not hungry, don’t eat when you are not hungry. A key part of this plan is to kill social eating. Eat for utility.
13. Tracking everything – We rely on MyFitnessPal heavily to track what we eat, calories, and such. Its super effective and easy to populate with recipes. A credit to my wife who has kept us honest and tracking things consistently. The insights that brings also truly helps keep “in the band” of what we should and shouldn’t be eating.
We also have a Garmin Index body composition scale that syncs to Garmin’s website every day. We use it every morning to track our progress up and down. Sticking to weight yourself, and tracking what you eat is the easiest way to not slip out of the diet and back into old habits. These tools are all about accountability for us. I also wear a garmin Vivoactive 3 and track my movement, stress, exercise,resting heart rate every day as well which gets rolled into that data set.
Current view on things:
We are 2.5 months in, and probably won’t level off into “non weight loss” mode until mid summer. We’ve both lost considerable weight, we both feel awesome, we both have beat endless food cravings/addictions to salty, cheesy, fried, meaty, foods… Now when we have them, they are good to have, but our bodies/minds at the same time understand moderation, and understand the costs of going overboard now. We can feel the weight of the food better, and if we ignore it, our bodies have many other ways of reminding us to keep in line.
Alcohol leaving our diet for 2.5 months was significant, but actually turned out to be one of the least eventful aspects of the diet. We’d both kill for an Illegal Petes burrito before a tasty Margarita. We’ve had some limited consumption of Alcohol in the last few weeks, but neither of us want that bloated, achey, shitty feeling of drinking too much right now. So it keeps things in line a bit.
I smoked an epic 15# brisket for family in town. And I had a good bit of it. This (as Penn states in his book) is a “rare and appropriate” excursion. As soon as the brisket is gone, and the guests are gone… we are back 100% on our normal schedule. But god damn that brisket was awesome 🙂
I went skiing for the first time since starting the diet on 4/20 and the difference over 2.5 months was incredible. I was strong, stable, and my body didn’t struggle at all to do top to bottom runs at Copper Mountain. My HR was down 30% from what it was last time I went out skiing in similar conditions but with 50# more weight on me.
So that’s a quick write up on how I got here, and what we are looking forward to. Next up I’ll post some of the sources for our meals, and what we are eating these days. I am hoping to get the wife back on her blog as well posting some of the tasty stuff she has been preparing.