Monday, September 4, 2017

How to Lose 30lbs in 3 Months: An Intro to Quantified Self

Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, health advisor, doctor or any other type of certified anything in medicine. Any opinions are entirely my own, if you die or get injured after reading this it's your fault.

My Favorite Picture for Summer 2017

My Body Weight: From 205 to 175 in 3 months

I've spent the past 3 years working as a Project Manager for Global Strategic Initiatives. All the travel, with the lavish lunches, dinners, and early morning breakfast buffets, took a toll on my health. I gained a lot of weight, and although I never entirely stopped exercising my routine suffered.

A few months ago I decided to make some changes. For years I had heard of Quantified Self (QS) and had even dabbled in apps to check my steps, how much I eat, etc. Now it was time to make a concerted effort to test how much of an impact QS can really have.

QS is a broad category that covers all sorts of sensors people can use to track quantitative data about different aspects of their body. There is an essential mantra though, and that is to "support new discoveries about ourselves and our communities that are grounded in accurate observation...." There is a lot going on here... so I decided to just focus on two things: Exercise and Diet. These are the quintessential variables of weight loss, and I wanted to know how much more effective I would be at losing weight by keeping track of them every day.

Getting Started

Since at least the 1950s people have said that weight-loss is about Reducing Caloric Intake while Increasing Caloric Burn. In other words, "eat less, exercise more." Just getting started I didn't want to burden myself with too much information, so I decided to just worry about these two stats.

I had used LoseIt in the past with some success, and I really like the app. So I decided to try using it every day to track how much I eat and burn. It's really easy to do:

1. Download the app and signup
2. Set a weight loss goal: target weight and finish date
3. LoseIt will calculate how many aggregate calories are available to you every day
4. Track everything: food, and exercise
5. BE HONEST: if you go over because of a dinner party, make it count and don't hide it

LoseIt App

LoseIt includes a massive database of foods including groceries and meal items from international restaurants, has a Barcode Scanner for quickly adding new foods, and will analyse images as well.

Next, I am a huge fan of Strava. While LoseIt has an excellent database of exercises and estimates for calories burned for each, Strava is the best tool for sharing your epic rides, runs, or walks. It's also a good tool to give you confidence in how you are making inputs to the LoseIt app so you can be sure you are tracking the right amount of calories burned.

Being Honest

Be really honest about how much you consume in terms of calories. It will only take a couple nights-out with the boys to realize that alcohol and bar foods are your enemy #1. Likewise, it will only take a couple of breakfast scones and vanilla lattes to realize that sugar-filled pastries and beverages are your enemy #2.

If you are serious about weight-loss, you will quickly overcome these vices. Tracking them will help you acknowledge the problem and deal with it.

Hitting My Stride

The first thing you realise is that exercise will make you hungry, and if you want to combat hunger-pangs you need to find food that is low-calorie and filling. Sweet Potatoes are the champions, but also Light Yogurt, or Soy Milk, and Almonds (not too many) can be great. Sweet Potatoes have a lot of complex carbs so they take a while to digest. Yogurt, Soy Milk, and Almonds have protein and fats that are great for your body.

Fat is fuel, so the goal was to get my body to eat as much of my stored fats as possible. I really didn't know how to do that, but I figured giving my body food that was easy to convert to energy would divert energy away from digestion toward fat-burning.

Bring on the fruits and vegetables that give you lots of energy but are easy to digest.

Putting it in High Gear

After a month I started to see results. I was noticeably thinner and felt better.  Feeling better was the most crucial thing. Many of us start to feel pain in our body around our mid-thirties, and this launches us into a vicious cycle of exercising less (because it hurts). However, by eating healthy and exercising daily I started to feel up to more challenges and decided to set some new goals.

These could be anything, but I recommend doing something really awesome like Hiking Across Spain, or Ride a Century.

Since I had started to intensify my workouts with a new goal (I'm going to Spain!), I decided to get the most out of them by going 100% Vegan for at least a few weeks. Living in South Korea, only the most die-hard vegans survive, so I didn't expect to sustain a vegan diet forever. However, this got me cooking ultra lean super foods at home: lentils, broccoli, avocados, etc.

Although I only stayed vegan for a short while, I now prefer seafood and fish, or lean meats in really moderate quantities (around 100 grams). Also, having gone vegan for a few weeks has shown me how amazing that diet will make you feel. I highly recommend making an effort to eat a lot less of meats and dairy products.

Taking it in Stride

After a few months, I have lost almost 30lbs. I'm exercising almost every day, and have added a daily 3x3x30 routine: 3 sets of 30 pushups, squats, and planks. The weight continues to peel-off, though at a more tempered pace. I have allowed myself to reintroduce meat and dairy into my diet, but since I am tracking everything the amount of these foods is greatly reduced.

In short, I look really good, feel even better, eat all the things I love only in more moderate and measured amounts.


Getting serious about tracking has transformed me. I am a huge believer and have become interested in what other benefits there could be by discovering other areas for improvement. Starting out with the basics, getting a handle over those first is a great idea for anyone. You will see results, promise.

What can I track next? Well, for starters LoseIt has a pro version that allows me to track sleep and water intake. Next, I'm planning to add the new Apple Watch to my repertoire, and maybe Cat Eye computer to track my cadence while cycling.