Advice on losing weight

Truth be told, if I really wanted to help people lose weight I would increase the price of Eat Stop Eat to 100 dollars per book. Far less people would buy it, but those who did would be invested heavily in making a change in their lives. They wouldn’t just read about fasting and weight training, they’d actually practice it.

~ Brad Pilon

Call it wisdom– Call it Imposter Syndrome— whatever. The more I learn about health, the more I’m convinced I know nothing.

For me, the solution to my unhealth was to change my life. Not, “more exercise,” but “rediscover moving.” Not, “eat better,” but “listen honestly to my body.” Not, “lose weight.” — there’s no, “but…” on that last one; The weight loss just happens the more I change my life.

What is health?

But as the saying goes, the darkest hour is just before dawn. At some point during this “dark night of the soul,” I realized that the depression and despair I was feeling was the direct result of comparing my actual experience with an idea of what I thought my experience should be. I saw that I was striving for an ideal of health that was—at least at that point—unattainable, and that this was the cause of most of my suffering.

~ Chris Kresser

This idea is right at the heart of my experience of the last few years.

On depression

Unfortunately, the “chemical imbalance” theory continues to be the dominant paradigm for understanding depression nearly 30 years after this profound discovery, despite the weak correlation between serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine and depressive symptoms.

~ Chris Kresser

I’m sure I have nothing useful to add on the topic of Depression– being not a doctor, psychologist, etc.

But I can raise my voice because I believe I understand the personal experience of depression. It sucks. Talk to someone.

Origin story

(Part 2 of 2 in ~ Weight to Waist Ratio)

“I should lose weight. Specifically, I should lose some of this fat. …actually, a lot of this fat.”

Since I began my health tracking grids I had been regularly tracking my weight, building the habit of stepping on the scale every day. I’ve read several opinions that this is a bad idea. Because one’s weight can fluctuate significantly day-to-day, daily weighing can lead to “fear of the scale” and stress. I disagree. After stepping on the scale every day for about 10 years, it is now simply something I do. The scale shows me a number and I write it down.

One day I started reading more about physiology. How your body composition changes. How a strength building session increases muscle mass (duh) and that can make your weight increase in the short term. Suddenly, the scale going up can be a good thing.

…and then I wondered, “how much should I optimally weigh?” At the time I began this “waist/weight ratio project,” I weighed about 230 pounds and the “male, 5 feet 11 inches tall” medical guideline is . . . 175 pounds. What?! I would be ecstatic if I weighted 220. I’m not sure what I would do if I weighed even 215— I’d probably fall down in a stiff breeze.

So how exactly should one “optimize” weight? Why should I select any specific weight target? Why 175 (as medically recommended,) or 220 (college body!). What if my weight isn’t changing as I make healthy improvements– how do I track that? I began to think perhaps I should optimize health markers: Blood sugar regulation, inflammation markers, and triglycerides, and that is far more complicated than “step on the scale.”

Waist-to-weight ratio

One day, I read the following article. It’s deceptively short, but quite complicated and subtle. You should go read this very carefully before continuing.

Type 2 diabetes

The traditional approach—which is clearly not working—is to “manage” this chronic condition with medications and the ever-ubiquitous “eat-less-avoid-fat-exercise-more” lifestyle interventions. At best, this approach only slows down the progression of the disease.

~ Peter Attia

Often the things I’m commenting on are “close to the ground” — things that are immediately actionable, or suggestions of things to go explore or do directly.

This one is different. Peter Attia sits in a certain niche — if you know of him, you are nodding knowingly — but this particular article is a neat attempt to zoom way out to think about wether the more “on the ground” sort of “do this”, “do that” personal direction is inherently scalable out to population-wide solutions to problems.


To test the relationship between exercise and ketosis I decided to examine my blood levels of glucose, B-OHB, and lactate immediately before and after three different types of workouts on three successive days. This interplay is complex and no one knows “everything” about it, including the world’s experts (which I am not pretending to be). I’m going to try to balance a fine line in this post – I want to be rigorous enough to explore the ideas with substance but not too detailed to put you to sleep. I hope I am able to balance these forces adequately.

~ Peter Attia

The more I read about the human body, the more fascinated I become. One of the big dietary changes I started long ago was to just “try to eat fewer refined carbohydrates.” Less cookies, breakfast cereal, that sort of thing. And then I spun off into intermittent fasting and ketosis and on and on.

But this guy, he’s gone way WAY farther down the rabbit hole. This article is a superlative dissection of ketosis, fuels (carbohydrate, protein, fat), wattage, workouts and … well, the best part is after all of it, there’s no strong conclusion. It’s just this wonderful exploration of how one person’s body performed under a bunch of circumstances.

Anyway. File this one under: Human body = amazing.

Root of modern disease?

… the microbes are holding the reigns to a lot of what’s going on. If we were not doing a good job at passaging them around to additional culturing flasks — specifically other humans — they would undoubtedly discover ways to make us better at doing that.

I think a more optimistic, or different way to frame this, is just that we’re composite organisms. I think we traditionally think of ourselves — the human body — as a collection of human cells. And what we really are is an ecosystem. We have microbial and human parts that come together to work in a concerted fashion to make up this
super-organism. And we can’t forget about the microbes because they’re really an important part of our biology.

~ Dr. J Sonnenburg

If you haven’t heard much about how important are all the teeny little microbes living in your digestive track, this is a good podcast to get started.

Do calories matter?

In a word, yes.  But, technically this is the wrong question.  The correct question is probably closer to, “What is the impact of the calories I consume on my body’s ability to store fat versus burn fat?”

Conventional wisdom, perhaps better referred to as Current Dogma, says that you gain weight because you eat more than you expend. This is almost true! To be 100% true, it would read: when you gain weight, it is the case that you have necessarily eaten more than you expended. Do you see the difference? It’s subtle but very important — arguably more important than any other sentence I will write. The first statement says over-eating caused you to get fat. The second one says if you got fat, you overate, but the possibility remains that another factor led to you to overeat.

~ Peter Attia

All of the success in the last (roughly) five years boils down to the following strategy. Notice that “excercise” does NOT appear…

1) realize I would like to improve my health

2) read something (anything) about health, diet, metabolism… anything that piques my interest. But it has to be something I think is TRUE. No crazy “fad” stuff. Something sane like, “yogurt seems to be good for me to eat.”

3) reduce friction to lead to that change. NOT, “force change by making rules.” I want to eat more yogurt? …make sure it’s on the grocery list so it ENDS UP IN THE HOUSE. I want to stop eating Doritos? EAT LUNCH BEFORE GOING TO MARKET, DO NOT BUY DORITOS.

There is no step 4. Everything else happens automatically. There is NO CURE for curiosity. Each thing I read and adjust leads to more, interesting questions. And along the way, more activity just happens automatically as my health improves.

Yes yes yes. I’m personally interested in movement and Art du Déplacement, etc. So I’m also doing this process in that realm. Forget about that. The success with my health, came all from my diet.

Sneak peek

(Part 1 of 2 in ~ Weight to Waist Ratio)

Sneak peek at something I’m writing up from a year-long experiment. This is a graph of weight and waist measurements (plotted on the left in non-obvious units), and the ratio of those numbers (plotted on the right, x1000; so “2000” is a 2:1 ratio in the weird units of course) The measurements jump all over the place, but when I measure every day, a polynomial curve fit shows what’s going on over this three month window. Much much more to write about this…

Back pain

(Part 66 of 68 in ~ My Journey)

Somewhere in my 30’s, slowly, year by year, the frequency of my back problems increased. I’m not talking about, I helped a friend move over the weekend, or, I did climb-ups for an hour at Parkour class, and now my back is “out.” I’m talking about,

I sat down to put socks on — because I cannot hold my foot up to reach it standing — and my lower back “just” gave out.


I was just standing at the sink washing dishes.

For me, these incidents where I was clearly not doing anything amazing and was still somehow injured, became a clear sign that I needed to change something. In hindsight, this is the article I wish I had found first and so I hope it helps someone.

Elsewhere, in my Changes and Results series, I’m laying out all the big things I’ve changed, project by project. But there was never any one thing that I worked on specifically to fix my back. It simply turned out that many of the things I did contributed to — knock on wood — resolving my back problems. Of course my back still gives me trouble when I deserve it. But these days, I know when it’s going to be a problem. I can feel when my back is getting tired, and if I listen to that quiet signal I can avoid the worst of the problems.

My spine and me

Although I had been doing some intentional, general improvement efforts, such as losing weight and getting better sleep, my back-focused improvement journey really began when I heard Ido Portal say something to the effect of:

Your legs are for moving you through your environment. Your arms are for manipulating your environment. Your spine is for orienting yourself within the environment. So your spine should be this incredibly mobile and powerful system with a huge range of dynamic movement.

(That’s not an exact quote because I don’t feel like going through the entire “Rewild Yourself Podcast” episode where Daniel Vitalis interviewed Ido Portal. It’s episode number 8: Ido Portal on the Movement Diet which you should probably go listen to.)

When I heard that, I realized that my spine was nothing at all like Ido’s vision of a human spine. Mine barely moved at all, and when it did, I often felt nervous about impending disaster. After hearing Ido’s way of describing the spine, I had this new perspective where each time I’d do some movement, I could see how much my spine was right at its limit of ability. I realized that my spine should be an incredibly varied mover, and that my spine’s flexibility (the total movement possible) and range of motion (the smaller space of movement where my back is usable, comfortable and strong) are critical, foundational elements to all of my health and movement.

I realized that for years I had tried to “stabilize” and strengthen my spine as a defense against movement causing injury to my back. But I now see that this is an erroneous reaction to weakness. If instead of being immobilized as a defense, my spine is strong, then it can be mobile, able to make all the movements I need, and not be injured.

Awareness and honesty

The first step was to learn to avoid injury. This sounds trivial, but it was not at all obvious to me at the time. When I was so fat and inflexible that putting my socks on regularly endangered my back, it was a terrible, humbling experience to admit that I had to change how I put my on socks.

I had to identify all the landmines, and own up to them. I had to learn that stretching — really just moving around — was mandatory each morning. I had to stop automatically rushing to help everyone move heavy objects. I had to stop trying to be “the strong guy,” and generally dial down all my activities to a level my back could handle. I had to acknowledge those random days when my back felt “off”, and learn to take a rest day for recovery.

All of which forced me to face that I was no longer indestructible and to own up to the deteriorated state of my body. Awareness and honesty were the only way that I could stop taking frequent steps backwards. They were the only way that I could begin to make glacial forward progress.

(I’ve written more about the Philosophy of the changes I’ve made in my Changes and Results series.)

Weight loss

Losing weight is obviously not easy. But every pound that I peeled off paid dividends to my back. It turns out that weight around your middle drastically increases the load on your lower back. “Lost weight” is a woefully inadequate summary for this element of fixing my back, but hopefully I’ll get around to writing out everything I did to lose weight.

Recovery work

What began as endless massage work by my spouse, slowly morphed into self-massage and then into mobility work; Basically, I learned to lay on the floor moving in all the ways my spine was meant to move. I mastered the use of a foam roller and Lacrosse ball for myofascial release and self-massage. As my back got stronger, I was able expand this recovery practice to a more general, whole-body movement, stretching and — much later — general strengthening.

(I’m writing a separate post on my “20 minutes of morning stretching” which is one of the cornerstones upon which I have built the whole new me. It’s not yet published, but will eventually be part of my Changes and Results.)

Finally, chiropractic has saved me countless times. I know many people who believe chiropractic is quackery. But for me, it doesn’t matter how or why, it simply yields results.


Years of sitting, and progressive weakening of my back, took their toll. Worse, the hunched back, rolled shoulders posture was so common in my environment, that it seemed normal. So I didn’t even realize what was happening to me.

The first baby step to improving my posture was when I learned how to understand, and control, the orientation of my pelvis through learning to sit as part of martial arts training. The traditional Japanese seated posture, seiza where you sit with folded-under knees and pointed toes is great for learning posture. Of course, this type of sitting initially rewards you with agony from the knees and ankles. But once your legs adapt, there is a delightful feeling of peace and centralized weight when you learn to center your pelvis and to balance and align your entire spine. But maintaining this alignment, even in a statically balanced seated position, required a certain muscle tone. A tone which I had lost through endless sitting in a poor posture.

I soon realized that the orientation of the hands as they hang at your sides is indicative of your upper back posture. Palms turned to the back, (the shoulders being in interior rotation,) with that “knuckle-dragger” appearance is a sign of a week upper back and poor scapular position. I began incorporating various exercises, (the ‘Sphinx’ pose from yoga, ‘shoulder dislocations’, and thoracic extension in supine position, etc.) into my daily recovery work. (For a great introduction, read De-Quasimodo Yourself.)

As I’d gained weight, I hadn’t realized that I had also, slowly transitioned to a “dumped” lower abdomen: guts hanging out the front, pelvis tipped forward, and lumbar spine pulled forward into a maximum arch. This led me to lower back agony whenever I spent time on my feet, especially if I over-worked my lower back by strolling and slowly shift my weight from one leg to the other. But as I’ve lost fat from my typical abdominal male pattern, and as running and jumping in the context of parkour have strengthened my glutes, it has become easier to maintain a neutral pelvic position and a neutral curve of my lumbar spine.


Solvitur Ambulando ~ It is solved by walking

Today, I have a ton of stuff here on my site about walking.

But it all started, long ago, when I read a blog post by Steve Kamb, about Walking to Mordor. “One does not simply walk into Mordor!” Except, that is exactly what Sam and Frodo did. Elsewhere I’m writing an entire post about my efforts and progress related solely to walking; But all of my walking was kick-started by Steve’s Nerd Fitness blog post.


This was the least obvious thing which improved my back: The closer I get to living barefoot, the better my back feels.

Long ago, I was wearing “normal” shoes, and then I started taking some parkour classes. Turns out that I want to wear the lightest weight, and thinnest soled, shoes I can; because I want to use my feet and toes. Anyway, roll with me here when I say: I wanted to wear minimal footwear for parkour. So, I started wearing Feiyue shoes to class — not the fancy French brand of shoes, but the el’cheapo, crépe sole, martial arts shoe. They have no structure, no arch, and just some padding and protection from most (not all) things you might step on.

I started to run in Feiyue. I ran 10 feet and my calves cramped up. I kept at it. For years. I relearned how to run. Then I relearned how to walk. Then I relearned how to use my knees. Then I realized that to get things working again, I needed to stop wearing “normal” shoes entirely. So I started wearing Feiyue everywhere.

I went on reading about feet. …and about minimal shoes. …and about barefoot training. Then I learned about the amount of nerves in our feet, (the same as in your hands,) and I had some discussions about sensory input through your feet. …and balance. …and acupressure points.

It is not an exaggeration to say that learning about my feet has changed my life.

Today, I exclusively wear an old-school track running shoe called Bullets, made by Saucony. I remove the insoles, so that from the midsole to the toes there is ZERO padding; just a few millimeters of hard rubber sole between my foot and the world. I wear these same shoes for everything. All surfaces, all activities — everything.

The ah-ha moment

It was at this point — after all of the above changes, and after I had spent about two years full-time in minimalist shoes — that I realized my back was fundamentally different.

Then I set out to write this, over the course of 18 months. :)

Recommended reading

Despite all that I’ve written here, this is still only scratching the surface of information about the back and spine. Take a look at the Human Back and Spine topic over on Hilbert’s Library.