Losing weight the lazy way

I have been described by my family and others as lazy and easily distracted. I do not dispute these claims. (The evidence is overwhelming anyway.)

In the past, I have rebelled against my lazy self and have tried my best to become a fastidious workaholic. The rebellions are generally quelled within 3 days, and the recovery process involves more laziness and more distractions.

Recently, I have found ways to channel my natural inclinations toward increased productivity. As an amusing and unintentional side effect, for the first 10 weeks of this year, I lost about a half-pound to a pound each week.

The effect has been noticeable enough that I’ve now got people asking me how I did it. Hence this blog post, my best guess at the changes that made the biggest difference.

As with most things of this nature, these methods won’t work for everyone, and I can’t even be 100% sure that what I describe here is what’s responsible for the weight loss (hey, maybe I just have a tapeworm). Please read on anyway.

First, some history.

In college, I gained a reputation for the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” approach to productivity. (Remember, this story is about my quest for productivity. But the weight loss thing is related. Stay with me.

Once, I stayed up 60 hours straight, with the result being that the final 24 of those were never written into my memory. The next day (after a nice 16 hour nap) I attempted to go to the previous day’s classes, having completely forgotten that I already attended them. But I digress.

This approach did not work for me at all, and I have the grades to prove it. Having more hours available simply gave me more leeway to put things off until later. So instead of putting tomorrow’s paper off until 10pm, I would decide, “well, I can just stay up till 4” and so I’d put it off until 2am instead. Naturally the quality of my work suffered since I would inevitably be more tired at 2am than at 10pm (and sometimes I would just fall asleep without completing the work).

As it turns out, the caffeine I was consuming in order to stay awake longer was also hampering my productivity. Caffeine, and other stimulants, tend to make you more distractable (conversely, depressants, like alcohol, can actually help you focus).

Not realizing any of this, I brought my college habits with me largely intact when I joined the working world. My coworkers and bosses were accommodating, for which I was grateful, at the time. I continued my coffee-powered, 12 hour workday approach for several years.

Over the years, my weight climbed steadily from around 140 lbs in my senior year of high school to just over 200 lbs a few years ago. This, I believe, is not a coincidence.

Crossing 200 induced a minor freak-out, and I began experimenting with various diets, none of which brought me back under 185. But since that time, I have generally lived what I consider to be a fairly healthy life. Mostly eating in, fresh foods, driving less, walking more. No soda, beer, etc. in the house (including diet/light). No desserts or snacks or artificial sweeteners most days. That kind of thing. Still, my weight hovered near the normal/overweight line (in BMI terms).

The solution? Eat less, exercise more. That is, create a calorie deficit. Yes, this is every doctor’s recommendation, and yes, it is essentially what I have done now that I think about it.

But if that was the whole story, this would be a very boring blog post, and I would surely not have written it.

I believe my weight loss is due to five relatively small lifestyle changes which, in total, have created a large, but healthy daily calorie deficit.

  1. Sleep at least 7 hours a day, 8 or 9 if needed.
  2. Eat only 2 meals a day, brunch and early dinner.
  3. Drink tons of water.
  4. Allow myself to be distracted, but set aside a few times a week to work like crazy.
  5. During some of the distractions (e.g. reading news) get up and walk around or exercise.

It may sound like only one of these has to do with weight loss. Keep reading.

An awful lot of weight gain can be attributed to sitting around, and to stressing out.

The problem with sitting around is obvious. The fix is pretty easy, too. Just get up and move several times a day. Get your blood pumping, it seems like a small thing, but keeping your metabolism going will make a huge difference in your energy levels, and accordingly you will burn a few more calories each day. For me, it helps to make a rule that if I’m reading news, which I read via an RSS reader on my iPhone, I have to get up out of my chair to do it.

The problem with stress is less obvious. Stress triggers cortisol release, which alters the behavior of other parts of the body. Staying up too long, working (or working out) too hard put stress your body, as does waking up at the wrong time (it’s wrong if you’re jolted out of bed and/or feel groggy all morning). Cortisol, in turn, triggers increased fat production and retention.

I’ve always been good at releasing stress, but recently I’ve discovered that it can be very freeing to recognize that it’s okay to be distracted, as long as I have a few 2-3 hour blocks each week of ultra-intense concentration (I prefer working this way because I am a hunter). While I try to make most of my distractions productive (e.g. writing this blog post, building connections on Twitter, studying Korean), I make sure the distractions are the kind that decrease my stress levels.

Drinking a lot of water keeps you full (you know, sometimes when you feel hungry, it’s actually thirst) and ensures that your body is comfortable burning fat (a water-intensive process). I drink the maximum possible, meaning that at least once an hour, I drink almost to the point of water intoxication (you’ll know pretty quickly if you go too far, because you will feel “too full” and probably nauseous as well). Drinking a lot of water also helps to bring your salt level back to normal if you tend to consume too much sodium, and this in itself can lead to weight loss. (For those rare individuals who you have lower than usual electrolyte levels, be careful with this tip.)

Now, for the last two somewhat counter-intuitive tips: sleeping more and eating only twice a day. It seems like sleeping more would mean you burn less calories, and that assumption is probably correct. However, it also makes you eat less, for (at least) three reasons.

The obvious one is that if you are awake less, there is less time for eating. At this point, I couldn’t imagine having 3 meals a day, there just isn’t enough time for me to get hungry enough. I eat a couple hours after I wake up, and around 5-7 hours before I sleep. Occasionally if dinner is not enough, I might have a small snack around 3 hours before bedtime. Portion control is usually not that big of an issue. I attempt it, but even if I go overboard, with only two meals a day it’s not a big deal.

Another reason is that, as mentioned above, sleep deprivation and overwork raise cortisol levels, triggering weight gain. Other recent research suggests that along similar lines, the body needs a full night’s sleep to assess its fat stores. Deprived of this inventory time, it errs on the side of caution and stockpiles more fat.

Finally, I believe getting a good night’s sleep works wonders for your self-control. Try an experiment of your own and let me know what you think of this.

As a bonus, when you get enough sleep (which studies show to be 7-9 hours a night), you won’t need stimulants to stay awake and alert. As mentioned above, stimulants can decrease your productivity by making your more distractable. Of course, there are also many more benefits of sleep, too numerous to list here.

So, the net result of these 5 small changes is that I sleep more, eat less (possibly saving money!) and still get my work done. And as a bonus, I seem to be shedding a lot of excess weight. Believe it or not, I made these changes to increase my productivity and general happiness, not to lose weight.

Again, no clue whether this will work for anyone else, but I hope it was at least an interesting read. And if you are a fellow hunter, some of the productivity tips may work for you as well.

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