How I lost weight

No, this is not an ad for a weight-loss product. This is a personal testimonial of how I learned to control my weight. I wanted to share it, because I think there are some facts that anyone who’s trying to lose weight should know. It turned out to be so simple, I’ve been surprised that I didn’t hear this from people more often. Here is the most important thing you need to know if you want to lose weight:

1,400 calories a day.

That’s it.

To lose weight, reduce your rate of caloric intake from a baseline of 2,000 calories per day, which is roughly what your body uses every day, to about 1,400. This is not a hard number. Just consider it a target you’re shooting at. Sometimes you’ll go over. Sometimes you’ll go under, but try to hit it each day. Don’t worry if you go over it. If you go 100 or 200 over, you’ll still lose weight, just probably not as fast. The idea is you’re limiting the rate that you consume calories.

Note: I’m assuming this is information for adults. I have no idea what the appropriate caloric intake should be for children or teenagers. I would suggest if there are people under the age of 20, or so, who need to lose weight that they look up specific information about their calorie requirements.

Also, if you have a medical condition, it would probably be a good idea to consult with your doctor before going on a weight loss plan, just to get some pointers on what to do and not do.

The idea with this method is that your body will continue using its baseline of calories, but you will force it to use some of your stored fat for energy, thereby reducing your stored fat.

I learned about this by trying to find a way to lose weight by searching on Quora, and finding an answer posted by retired physicist Richard Muller. See his answer to the question What is the best way to reduce belly fat and flatten your stomach? It laid out the basic parameters I needed:

  • Subtract 600 calories from the 2,000 baseline, and eat that amount (1,400 calories) each day
  • Eat at minimum 1,000 calories per day (don’t go below that!), though you should shoot for the 1,400 goal each day
  • You will feel hungry doing this, but you should not feel starving. As you follow this plan, you will learn the difference. If at any point you feel light-headed and anemic, that’s a sign you need to eat more soon. Generally, you want to eat calories at a rate that you avoid this. Muller described the hunger you will usually feel as you do this as a “dull ache.” I’d say that’s accurate. You feel hungry, but you don’t feel desperate to eat something. You just feel like you’d like to eat something. “Starving” feels like you’ve got a gaping hole in your stomach, you could eat a horse, and are anemic. That’s a sign you need to eat some more, because you’re not taking in calories at a high enough rate.
  • There are times where you will have cravings, where your stomach is bothering you incessantly, saying “Feed me!”, even though you’ve eaten enough calories for the time being. It’s not a “starving” feeling, but it’s bothering you, constantly making you think of food. Muller said in that case, eat some celery. It will calm your appetite. I found this usually worked, and I found out one reason why: One stalk of celery is 1 calorie! So, eat as much of it as you like! It doesn’t taste bad. Before I got onto this, I used to keep a bundle of celery in my refrigerator to use in salad. While in this regime, I kept two bundles of celery around, because I used it more often. It really helped keep me on my calorie budget sometimes.
  • This surprised me: Rigorous exercise will burn fat, but it’s actually less efficient than just consuming fewer calories per day. A common thing I had heard for decades was that to lose weight, you needed to exercise. That’s what most everyone talked about, with rare exception. Anytime I heard of someone trying to lose weight, they were always working out, or doing regular exercise, like running, doing aerobics, lifting weights, playing basketball, etc. In the advertising we see for weight loss, we often see people using exercise machines, or doing some workout program. All of those are fine to do. Your body needs exercise, but it’s for building strength, and supporting your general health. It’s not the best solution for weight loss. The ideal is to reduce your caloric intake and exercise. Your body needs exercise anyway. So do that, but to lose weight, reduce your rate of caloric intake. It turns out, for practical purposes, exercise/fitness, and weight loss are separate activities, unless you’re a dedicated athlete.

Once I started on this regime, I was really surprised how many calories some foods have. Before I started on this, I often ate twos of things. It became pretty clear how I had gained weight, because I was eating twice of what I probably should have.

I reflected on how I used to hear fast food critics complain that a McDonald’s Big Mac is 540 calories. That was not excessive compared to what I had been eating. I thought I was eating healthy, since I often got my groceries from natural food stores. I looked at the prepared foods I’d get at these places from time to time, and my jaw dropped, because what seemed like small items would have 700-900 calories in them! I’d still get these things when I was losing weight, but I’d eat half, or a third, one day, and save the rest for another day.

A good rule I found that kept me within my calorie limit was to cut portions I used to eat in half. The exception being vegetable salad (without dressing or cheese). I could eat as much of that as I wanted, since a bare vegetable salad, even a large serving, is very low in calories. Fruit salad is a different story…

The way I thought about it was I wasn’t “reducing calories,” but reducing the rate I consumed calories. Spreading them out more over time will cause you to lose weight. You can eat what you want. Just slow it down, not by seconds or minutes, but hours.

Just because it’s about calories doesn’t mean that you don’t need to think about nutrition. You need a certain amount of protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. So, factor that in as you budget what you eat.

I learned to do what I call “flying by instruments,” and I encourage you to do it as well. If you’re a pilot who’s serious about flying (I’m not a pilot), a skill you learn is not just to “fly by sight,” which is just trusting what your senses are telling you. You advance to paying less attention to your senses, and trusting what the plane’s instruments are telling you. What I mean is that I wrote down my calories each day, adding them up, and even though I felt hungry, I’d look at my calorie count, and if I’d had enough for the time being, I wouldn’t eat, because my “instruments” were telling me “you’re good. Do something else for a while.” Likewise, even if I didn’t feel more hungry than usual, but my calorie count told me I needed to eat more, I would eat anyway. The goal is to not do what you were doing before, because your senses can deceive you. That’s how you gained the weight.

I tried to pace the calories I consumed throughout the day, about 300-400 calories in a meal. Really what “calories per day” means is “calories in 24 hours.” I found that it worked better if I could set a “reset point” for my daily calorie budget that fit with when I could find time to eat. It doesn’t have to match with when the next day starts (Midnight). You can pick any time of day you want, like 5, or 7 o’clock in the evening. Be consistent about it, though. Otherwise, there’s no point in doing any of this.

I found particularly with the internet, it was pretty easy to find out the calories in any food. If I didn’t have calorie information on food packaging to draw from, I could do a search on “calorie counter <name of food>”, where “<name of food>” was something like “cinnamon roll,” and I’d get fairly reliable information for it. If it was a specific brand of something I’d bought, like a sandwich at a store, I could sometimes find calorie information that was specific to that item. Other times, I would go by type of food like “hoagie,” or most any fruit, etc., and I’d have to make a rough estimate. That method worked well.

One thing I found really nice about Muller’s method is that anything below my body’s baseline daily calorie usage would cause me to lose weight, so I could go some amount over my target, and not fear that I was going to stop losing weight, or start gaining weight.

There’s no reason to “make up” for going over your calorie budget, by eating less than your budget the next day. That would actually be bad! If you go over one day, just hit the budget goal the next day, and thereafter, just like you have before. You’ll be fine, and you will continue losing weight.

The way I’m describing this is rather strict, by sticking to a fixed target, but that’s because this is what I felt was necessary for me to really accomplish my goal. I had to stick to something consistent, psychologically. You can make your weight loss plan anything you want. If you don’t like how you feel on 1,400 a day, you can up the budget to something more. As long as it’s below your body’s baseline calorie use in a day, you’ll continue losing weight. You can make it whatever works for you. You can even eat more some days, and less on others. What you’d want to avoid is making a habit of eating at, or beyond your body’s baseline, because if you do that, you won’t lose weight, or you could end up gaining some weight, and that’s just going to be demoralizing.

I found it was important to work with my psychology. An appealing thing about Muller’s plan was he said by following it, I would lose 1 pound of fat a week. I thought that would motivate me. It was an impressive enough amount that I could keep up with the regime.

I weighed 240 pounds in March 2017. After being on this regime for about a year, I weighed 178 pounds (though I had lost most of the weight after 9 months, but I spent a few months trying to find a reliable “balance point” where I could maintain my weight). The 2,000-calorie baseline is actually a rough estimate. Each person is different. I found my balance point is about 1,900-2,000 calories.

I bought a body fat caliper tool, the Accu-Measure Fitness 3000, for about $6.50 to determine when to stop losing weight. It turns out it’s better to have more body fat when you’re older than when you were younger. I’m 48, so my ideal fat percentage is about 18%. I’ve got a little flab on me, but it’s where I need to be. I’ve gotten back to eating normally, and I’m enjoying it.

I’m trying a rougher method of tracking my calories than what I used for losing weight, because I didn’t want to be adding up my calories for the rest of my life. Now what I do is if I eat something that’s, say, 230 calories, I just call it “2”. If it’s 250, or above, I call it “3”. I round them up or down, just keep the most significant digit, and add it up that way. It’s easier to remember for how much I’ve eaten. I go up to 19 or 20 in a day, and keep it at that.


I thought I’d talk some about developing your fitness, because there’s a technique to that as well. I happened upon a book that was mostly about recovering from sports injuries, but I found its recommendation for “ramping up” your exercise regime worked well for me, even though I had not suffered an injury.

I am by no means a dedicated athlete. Throughout my life, I would exercise from time to time, more like sporadically, but otherwise I’d had a habit of being pretty sedentary. So, my muscles have not been well developed. One of the best recommendations I’ve seen about exercise is to pick an activity that you can stick with, something that will fit into your daily routine, and/or be something that you look forward to. I’d tried walking, going a couple miles each time I’d go out to exercise, but I got bored with that after several years. A couple years ago, I got this idea that I might like swimming better. So, I tried that, and as I expected, I liked it quite a bit better. A question I grappled with when I started was how long should I swim? I ran into the same issue as my eating habits before I realized what was causing me to gain weight. I just did what “felt right,” what I enjoyed. I’d swim for too long, and then I’d be sore for days. I liked the water, so I was staying in the pool for about an hour, taking breaks when I’d get tired.

This book I started reading said this is the wrong approach. You need to start small, and increase the time you spend exercising gradually. When you first start out, exercise for about 10, maybe 15 minutes, and then stop. Give your body a couple days where you’re not exercising vigorously. Then exercise again, but add 2-3 minutes onto the time you spent last time, then stop. Wait a couple days. Do it again. Add on a few more minutes to your last time, etc. The author said exercising 3 times a week was a good rate that would give you the optimal amount of exercise to build strength and stamina.

Another point he made is it’s important to keep up with the exercise plan every week, because each day that you don’t exercise beyond the 2-day breaks you take, some amount of your strength conditioning goes away. Taking the 2-day breaks is good, because it gives your muscles a chance to rest after exercise, which is important for building strength. However, if you go for a week without exercising, he said you need to start over, meaning you start again with your initial time (10, maybe 15 minutes), and do the same thing of letting 2 days pass, and doing it again, with some more time than the last. He said as a consolation that you’ll notice that you recover your stamina more quickly than when you started on this regime. I’ve found this to be true.

The goal with this technique is not to tire yourself out, and get to the point where your muscles are sore. The author talked about how dedicated athletes do this, stressing their bodies to the point of pain, and they can do it, once they’ve developed their muscles to the level they have, and it can help them gain strength more quickly. They put extreme stress on their bodies. This is where the phrase, “No pain, no gain,” comes from, but it is not good for people who have not exercised vigorously for a long period of time. It can lead to tissue damage, or if it doesn’t, it makes you sore for days, which lessens your motivation to keep the exercise schedule you need to build strength and endurance, and you don’t get anywhere.

If you keep up with this plan, you will eventually reach your peak performance, where you can maintain the most strength and endurance your body can muster. You’re not going to advance your strength and stamina forever. You will eventually reach a maximum amount of time you can exercise, and a maximum amount of stress your body can endure. At that point, you just keep up with that limit.

— Mark Miller,

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