After marriage, a honeymoon in Portugal, and a surprise eviction I settled into a new home after a long move and stood on a scale in my new bathroom. Both feet planted shoulder length apart, naked and ready for bed, I felt powerless, the way an alcoholic feels ordering a 5th drink. I had no idea how the skinniest and shortest kid in his 6th grade class was clocking in at just over 200 pounds.
This was the end of 2011. I'd just started a company with one of my best friends and finished a year of travel where I saw more of the world than my parents had seen their entire life. The road before me for the next year would be even more work, more travel, and a lot of reflection with my wife about where our life would be taking us in our new marriage. Six months earlier my doctor had told me I was obese. He said it very technically and displayed that for my height I was just over the line from "overweight" into the "obese" red section of the graph but that didn't hit me the way 200 pounds did seeing it on that scale a half-year later.
A few days later my good friend Marco Rogers told me that his fiancé Aniyia had decided to go on the Paleo Diet, which meant Marco was on the Paleo Diet. I'd heard about this diet years before from a friend that lost over a hundred pounds, so I was familiar but hadn't been considering it, or any other diet. Instead I was trying to accept a new self-image of fatness and dying younger than I had anticipated. Then Marco said something that piqued my interest more than dropping weight or living a longer healthier life; that he no longer had energy crashes around meals and had a more even and sustained energy throughout the day and could get more work done.
Nothing is a better motivator to someone who just founded their own startup than the promise of getting more work done in a day. I was already working most hours of the day but found it difficult before and after meals. I would later read about how high carbohydrate diets train your body to produce insulin when you get hungry, leading to a crash in energy before meals and a lethargic feeling after meals due to the dramatic shifts in blood sugar. At the time, I knew nothing of the science but after 3 days on the Paleo diet I could work all day without a crash.
That was the first thing that influenced me, and has influenced others since, that you can get more work done if you don't eat grains and sugar. That's easy to remember, no grains, no sugar, no legumes and no potatoes. With most diets it's just way too hard to remember what to eat and what not to eat or how much of something to eat or not eat. It's maddening to try and count calories or trade a few semi-prohibited items around each day. I found it much easier to just say: "I don't eat these things" so that I could focus on what I can eat. I frequent dishes I love at local restaurants and create new ones following a few simple rules rather than compile each meal from a set of variations and rules.
Everyone eats things they aren't suppose to at some point during the week. Any rule you're following all week you'll want to break every so often, it's human nature. If the rules of a diet say you can have something in moderation then you aren't avoiding it most of the time, you're moderating, and "breaking" the rule becomes eating far more of it than you should have. It's not that I don't ever eat sugar, that I never have a little crust of bread, it's that 99% of the time I don't and when I do I can actually notice the effect it has.
In the last year many friends have gone on and off this and a few other similar diets, like the suggested dietary rules of the 4 Hour Body. There were some key things that allowed me and others I've known to stick with it the first week: simple rules, no restriction on amount of food, and no required exercise.
Me, and most of my friends, are busy people. We can't keep up with a mental activity like counting calories, we can't be hungry for half a day when we're trying to work, and we definitely don't have a surplus of time to devote to exercise. Leaving all that out most of us can keep up with a diet like this.
After the first week, which is always the hardest, I'd lost 10 pounds. That's the second thing that kept me hooked, the Paleo diet was demonstrably working--and faster than I had ever thought possible. I went from feeling utterly powerless over my own body to feeling like I had almost complete control. This inspired me to read, a lot, about the effects of food and diet on the body which I never would have done without that experience the first week.
The first 3 months I followed a fairly standard Paleo Diet and lost about 35 pounds. I felt great, I was never hungry, and I was down not just a few belt sizes but had to get an entirely new belt. But my weight loss had started to lose momentum and I was looking for ways to increase it.
I took a lot of great information from 4 Hour Body. I've seen a lot of people criticize it and I do think that if I wasn't already 3 months into the Paleo Diet it wouldn't have helped me much but it does have some great insights and is well written which is more than I can say for the other dietary books I've read. The most important piece of knowledge I took from 4HB and haven't seen anywhere else is to eat a protein rich breakfast (I do 4 fried eggs) within 30 minutes of waking up. This was very hard for me to keep up with so I have sample data from weeks where I was very consistent and weeks where I didn't even make it out of the shower in 30 minutes. For me, eating that breakfast within 30 minutes of first waking up more than doubles my weekly weight loss. I still don't fully understand why this works, but it does, at least for me. It's one of those things you read and don't believe until you actually do it to yourself and measure often.
Another thing I did for a few months was cut fruit. This sucked, but it worked. This was the first time I did something I actually disliked on my diet. Cutting out bread and rice was no big deal once I realized I could double my steak intake but after cutting sugar fruit was the only thing that could satisfy a very identifiable craving you still get for calories at odd times. Many more things from the 4HB I found didn't work at all. The "cheat day" I found useless on a physical level and a source of anxiety on a mental level. The exercises I actually like, and still do, but have little to no measurable impact on my weight loss. Everyone is a little different but my weight seems to respond dramatically to diet and very little else. I still feel better in weeks where I ride my bike a few times or do some kettle bell swings but there's no measurable difference in fat loss.
After 6 months I was down to 150 and noticed a problem, I'd lost weight too fast. I had a lot of hanging skin around my stomach and back, nothing too bad, I wouldn't need surgery, but I did need to calm it down. In the second half of the year I was less picky about desserts and more lax during travel. I happily added fruit back into my diet and in November was down to 140 for the first time since High School. Then I went to Kauai for a week and gained 10 pounds but I'm nearly back to where I was before the trip :).
Most importantly, I'm in control, I don't feel powerless (at least about my body) and I'm healthy. I'm turning 30 in a few days and that might make me feel old if I didn't feel younger than I have in almost 8 years. And before you ask, my cholesterol is great. Prior to this diet my triglycerides were nearly 300, now they're 120, and my LDL/HDL are almost exactly where I want them to be (coconut oil to the rescue).
Most dietary advice is pretty poor and very little of it seems to be truly influential so I leave you with only this: you don't have to starve or be unhappy with what you eat in order to have control over what is happening to your body, you just have to stop eating bread.
I didn't take any before and after pictures but RealtimeConf did a good job of filming me near my largest and smallest.
Keeping It Realtime Conference 2011 - Beyond Realtime (Mikeal Rogers).
RealtimeConf 2012 - Mikeal Rogers.