Charlie's Blog: How to Lose Weight


How to Lose Weight

If the furnace was hot enough, anything would burn, even Big Macs.
JOHN L. PARKER JR. , Once a Runner

I feel weird writing a post on this topic because I am fat. My weight has been as high as 350 pounds and as low as 180 pounds. But I consider myself an expert on losing weight because I know what works and what doesn't work from my own successes and failures. Losing weight is a simple strategy that is just hard to implement.

This is not a typical how to guide with a list of bullet points. Instead, it is my answer to a debate that has raged for decades. It is purely anecdotal. I cite no scientific studies whatsoever. I am just telling you what I have discovered in my own experience.

People already know that fad diets are a terrible way to lose weight. I remember hearing about them all the way back in the seventies when I was a child. I think the grapefruit diet was having its moment in the sun. Today, you have madness like Atkins, Paleo, Keto, and intermittent fasting that give you results that do not last. This can be frustrating. But these strategies are inherently doomed to failure. I will explain why.

Weight is a matter of simple math. If your caloric expenditure exceeds your caloric intake, you lose weight. If your caloric intake exceeds your caloric expenditure, you gain weight. It doesn't matter if those calories come from carbs, fat, protein, or leafy green spinach. A calorie is a calorie.

Some people will argue that not all calories are the same. I can tell you from my unqualified non-medical personal experience that this is not true. I have lost weight while eating greasy burgers and fries, and I have gained weight on a plant based vegan diet. There is more to that story than what was going in my mouth, but it proves that a calorie is a calorie. (And, for the record, you need to go vegan.)

When it comes to losing weight, people will argue for one side of the other. You can either attack the problem on the intake side or the expenditure side. I argue that your best and most successful route to weight loss will be on the expenditure side. Don't starve it off. Burn it off.

The easiest way to lose weight is to starve yourself. You just stop eating. People who do intermittent fasting report incredible weight loss. This makes sense. When you are in caloric deficit, you will lean out every time. Then, you will eat again except the weight will come back faster than you lost it. I know because this happens to me. The reason for this is that my body is calorie efficient. My metabolism adjusts downward to match my caloric intake. I think this is true for other people as well.

When you calorie restrict, you feel bad. You feel lethargic, and you move around less. You may feel a short term boost when you begin a fast because your body is motivating you to go hunt or forage for calories. But after so much time, it gets the message that calories are not coming, so it shifts down a gear or two to conserve the energy.

Endurance athletes know this truth. When they are low on carb intake, their performance suffers. Even so-called paleo/keto endurance athletes consume carbs and sugar on race day. It defies the conventional wisdom, but you have to eat food to lose weight. By carbing up, you can do more stuff which revs up your metabolism which burns off weight. It shouldn't work, but it does. I know this for a fact because I have done it.

When I was about 18 years old, I weighed 240 pounds. I took a job stacking hay and delivering feed for a feed merchant in my town. The job lasted about seven months for me. It was brutal. During that stretch, I went from 240 to 180. I was also eating hamburgers, french fries, fried chicken, and every calorie I could stick in my mouth. I could not eat enough food. I was burning it off, and I loved it. I could eat whatever I wanted and still lose weight.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson. It is better to burn it off than starve it off. After I left that job, my weight went right back up to where it was before even as I started eating less food. But it took awhile to get there. Knowing that exercise was the secret, I thought that I would go to the gym and burn it off there by lifting weights. This was a failure. The only thing weights did for me was add muscle to the fat. I gained 15-20 pounds doing that. But I did feel stronger and did my job better.

When it comes to losing weight, your preference should be for cardio. This could be brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing. or whatever. This was the kind of exercise I was getting from all that hay stacking. Lifting weights burns some calories but not for a sustained amount of time. If you could bench press straight for 3 hours a day, you would burn a large number of calories, but you can't maintain this. You will fail because this is what bodybuilders do when they work out. They lift to failure. This is why an out of shape guy can lug a couch up the stairs one time but can't climb twenty flights of stairs empty handed. Cardio is where you get the results.

I ditched the gym and decided to start running. I began with walking and got up to running for an hour each day. This worked. I lost weight even though I was a regular at the Burger King drive thru. I would also add cycling to the mix as I liked commuting this way, and I had a part time job stacking boxes for FedEx and later UPS. That knocked my weight down quite a bit. When I dropped those exercise habits, my weight soared again.

Going vegan had a good effect allowing me to trim fifty pounds off my body. My job was easy, and I did not exercise in my non-working hours. My weight has remained constant since then. I am fat but just less fat than I was when I was eating crap. My metabolism adjusted to the caloric downturn, so I now feel stuffed after eating a bowl of ramen. Even eating this meager fare, I have added some pounds because I am spending more time in front of my desk these days.

The vegan diet is awesome for making you feel better and making you healthier. It will trim your weight down and make exercise way easier. My heart rate and blood pressure numbers are amazing. But my weight remains with me because I don't move enough. Diet is not the magic bullet. As for fasting, this is a regular thing when you're Catholic, and I shed a couple of pounds each Lent. But they come back when I return to normal eating even on a vegan diet.

The magic bullet to weight loss is cardiovascular exercise. McDonald's takes a large portion of the blame for the obesity epidemic, but the couch and the automobile are probably more to blame. I meet people who live in cities like New York, and they are trim from all of the walking they have to do to get around a city where a car is a liability. They eat pizza and hot dogs and don't gain weight. If you look at marathoners and Tour de France cyclists, they are painfully skinny. Yet, they eat tremendous amounts of food. A cyclist in the TDF has to consume 5000 calories per day which come mostly from carbs.

This is what I have learned. The vegan diet is the optimal diet. You can get fit eating crap, but this is stupid. Cardio is the optimal form of exercise. Strength work should be done as a supplement to the cardio to keep your body in overall shape and to prevent injury. Calorie restriction just kills your metabolism. All fad diets work by calorie restriction.

I hate exercise. I wish that changing my diet did the trick, but it doesn't. You have to move your body for at least 30 minutes each day. If you can do more, that is even better. As much as I hate it, exercise has magical results on my waistline. Like I said, it is a simple strategy that is hard to implement. I am going back to the couch now.