My No-Diet Diet. Yes, it Really Does Work!

A little over a month ago, I took to heart what I read by Timothy Caulfield in the book The Cure for Everything: Untangling Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness so I decided to embark on a diet based on Caulfield’s diet chapter. For more details on this great book, see my earlier post that goes into great detail.

And what great timing: when I came to this decision, I was about seven weeks away from my marrying my soul mate, Suzanna, in Tuscany. And if that’s not a good enough reason to lose weight, I don’t know what one is.

In this post, I discuss the diet (after a little background) and share with you my results. Hopefully, this will be of some use to you if you are struggling with your own body mass or just curious.

Me as an Adult

I was a long distance runner and skinny and short growing up. I finally stopped growing in college but remained very skinny. Somehow after college and living on very little money in graduate school, I grew up. And not just in maturity. Like many people these days, virtually overnight, I seemed to grow from about 140 pounds when I was a starving grad student to the 175-185 pounds I have consistently maintained for the last 3 decades.

On the positive side, unlike many of my peers, I have managed to maintain a BMI in the range of 25 to 27. Not great, but within striking distance of a upper range of normal: 24.9, or so I have been telling myself for the last couple of decades.

BMI Chart

Even when I was training for marathons (I’ve completed four in the past decade; and three others back in high school), I never got into the normal range except for one brief period in 2006. (Here’s a blog post I dug up from January of 2006, where I was excited that I briefly hit a 24.9 BMI.)

At the same time, I was unhappy with the gut that stared at me every day when I looked into the mirror. Now when I was marathon or triathlon training, I generally was closer to 170-175 pounds with a BMI of 26, but still the gut was there. Look for example, at this photo of me after my 3:36 marathon performance (just missing qualifying for Boston, by the way) at the Eugene Marathon in 2008. I don’t know about you, but I can see a gut there even though I had just run a marathon and had logged on average 30-45 miles per week while training for the race for about six months prior to the race.2008_Paul Euguene Marathon 030

Which leads me to the book that inspired the diet…

Back to the Book

In The Cure for Everything, backed by his review of the current research, his discussions with nutritionists and top-of-the-field fitness experts, and his first-hand dieting effort, Timothy Caulfield asserts a few basic premises that I took to heart and have formed the basis of my current diet plan:

  • Most of us are fatter and shorter than we believe we are.
  • Weight loss and fitness are different things but are often conflated. That is, you don’t lose weight by exercising. At least not by exercise alone. After denying it for years, I finally admit that this is indeed true! (Recall, the photo of me after the Eugene marathon.)
  • Most adults need to consume about 1,800 to 2,200 calories to maintain their current weight. (Kids under 12 need only about 1,400 to 1,600 calories.)
  • The only way to lose weight is to consume less calories than you burn and you undoubtedly eat too much now.
  • Certain poison foods should be avoided. These include sugary beverages, junk food, candy, and most heavily processed foods.
  • Maintaining a food diary is a good way (the best way?) to lose weight.

That’s pretty much it; most everything else is noise when it comes to weight loss including how much carbs, protein, or fat you eat or what time of day you eat it.

And if you think this is all just a bunch of assertions from some random person, think again. While I won’t go into the details here (this post is long enough), Caulfield backs up his assertions with numerous references to research studies and interviews with nutritionists and physical fitness experts.

Start of the Diet

At the start of my diet on August 25, I weighed myself, and just to make sure, I also had Suzanna measure my height using a wall, a pencil, and a level. My weight on that day, first thing in the morning, was 174.6 pounds and my BMI was 25.8 as calculated on the US Centers for Disease Control BMI calculator page. Notice the mention of OVERWEIGHT!


Also, the circumference of my body at the belly button: 37 inches.

The Diet: What to Do

I have good news and bad news about this diet. First, the bad news…

    • The bad news:there is no magic.
    • The good news: there is no magic.

It’s all quite simple. Here is what I did…

  • I pointed my browser to and created an account. I entered my current weight (174.6), height, gender, my goal weight (165), a few details about my job (sedentary) and amount of exercise I planned to do, and how quickly I wanted to lose weight (I put in one pound per week). Based on my inputs, my fitness pal suggested a basal number of calories I needed to maintain my weight (it was around 1900-2000 calories) and a suggested daily goal of 1500 calories to lose weight.
  • I also downloaded the iPhone version of my fitness pal and use it regularly.(There are also versions for Android and the Windows Phone.)
  • I started logging my calories—everything I put into my mouth—in the my fitness pal food diary.
  • I continued to exercise 5-6 days per week. Most days this was 60-120 minutes of exercise. My exercise included biking to work most days, weight lifting, running, brisk walking, and use of the elliptical trainer.
  • Note: to get the most benefit from exercise, it’s important to do it vigorously. Low intensity exercise doesn’t make you fit and won’t help much with the weight loss either though I will admit it’s better than sitting on your butt!
  • One more important thing: my fitness pal will tell you that you can eat extra calories that it calculates based on your exercise. I did my best (with a few exceptions) to ignore those extra calories and stick to the 1500 calories.

Maintaining a food diary on my fitness pal or some other online log or even on paper costs nothing. The diet itself costs nothing but does require a healthy dose of diligence and persistence. At the most, you might need to purchase a few measuring cups and spoons that will come in handy. A kitchen scale may come in handy too but we did fine for a number of weeks without one although we did purchase one recently.

The Results

On Sept 18, after about 3 1/2 weeks, I had lost 9.6 pounds, and achieved my goal weight of 165 and my belly button measurement was 34.5 inches. I was speechless. Not really, I was telling everyone of my success.

So I updated my goal weight to 160.

A snapshot of my progess on the my fitness pal iPhone app

Now, on Sept 29, after only 5 weeks, I have lost 13.6 pounds. This morning I weighed in at 161.0 pounds and now am only a pound away from my goal weight! Not bad, not bad at all! My belly button measurement is 33.5 inches and my BMI is 23.8, significantly under the upper limit of normal!


The astute reader will note that my weight loss velocity was only set to one pound per week when I first configured my fitness pal yet I lost on average 2-3 pounds per week. And I wasn’t hugely obese to begin with so that can’t explain my accelerated weight loss. This is all true. I attribute the quicker results to working out hard 5-6 days per week and—and I think this is important—not eating the extra calories that my fitness pal awarded me. Sure, you may need to increase your calories if you do a 3 hour bike ride or a 2 hour run, but for most lesser exercise routines, you simply don’t need to compensate by eating more. And if you are able to do this, you should be rewarded handsomely!

How I Did It

I did it because I stuck to the plan.

What I did right…

  • I logged everything I ingested. My fitness pal makes this incredibly easy with a large database of existing foods contributed by its users. It has lots of name brand, restaurant, and generic foods. But it also allows you to add your own.
  • I got used to eating less. And eating out less!
  • I got used to measuring things. Almost everything unless it was pre-packaged.
  • Bear in mind that working with 1,500 calories is sometimes challenging and wasn’t exactly easy but if you set your mind to it, it can be done.
  • Sometimes I let myself go over my limit. I wasn’t perfect although those were usually days where I had somewhat of a buffer because of exercise. However, I did not get in the habit of using up my “extra exercise calories” buffer.
  • I generally would work out by running and/or doing weight training 3-4 days a week and would also bike to and from work most week days in addition to this exercise. On those days when I both biked to work and worked out before work, that would mean 1.5 – 2 hours of exercise. I’m sure this helped.
  • The majority of my calorie consumption was devoted to fruits and vegetables, whole grains, non-fat milk (in my café latte) and plain Greek yogurt.
  • Things currently not on my diet (with just a few exceptions): bread and cold cereal. Note: I love bread and used to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich almost every day for lunch but this is currently not on the menu for me. I certainly could fit it in, I just choose not to.
  • Treats included small amounts of dark chocolate (as in 1-3 squares), an occasional glass of wine or beer, and popcorn.

It’s worth emphasizing, that when you have fewer calories to work with, you need to make smart choices. And these decisions will be different for different people. I choose to have a latte (sometimes two) most days but this costs me 135 calories a pop. Others (especially those not addicted to lattes) will choose a different way to spend those 135 calories.

The important thing is to stay on track and emphasize whole foods over processed junk with artificial sweeteners and other phony ingredients. Oh, and you need to lay off the salt too!


Aside: although I won’t reveal her details here, Suzanna has been quite successful too.

A Typical Day

Here are some reports straight off out of my fitness pal to give you a sense of a typical day for me…

The first one is from Sept 14th. Notice how I log everything. For breakfast, I had oatmeal with lots of fresh fruit, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds and a grande-size latte.

For lunch it’s Fage (please don’t ask me how to pronounce it!) Total Zero Greek yogurt with fruit and slivered almonds (a half a tablespoon). Also, a couple of pieces of dark chocolate.

Dinner in this case was estimated. Probably for a meal out though I don’t recall exactly. Finally, I must have had some sort of snack that was estimated as well. Sometimes, an estimate is all you got but it’s best to be as honest as possible. Notice I was over my target by only 10 calories!

Sept 14 Food

Here’s another example day: the September 7th food diary…

Eggs for breakfast; I entered a custom recipe into my fitness pal which added up the calories for me.

Lunch was Greek yogurt (again).

We had a guest over for dinner and ate wild salmon and quinoa. Plus two glasses of wine.

I snacked on sliced jicama, carrots, and 2 tablespoons of hummus while at work. Plus a peach and then later in the evening some pretzels. I was over my 1,500 calorie goal, this time by 194 calories, but again, I was pretty darn close.

Sept 7 food

Here’s another day—actually it’s from today. Cooked rye flakes (a lot like oatmeal) for breakfast with the usual fruit and seeds and a latte.

Lunch was a little unusual in that it was mostly veggies and hummus plus a square of chocolate.

Dinner was out at a Thai restaurant but we kept it smart. I had half of a lightly dressed salad and only a 1/4 of a tofu-based curry dish with a bit of rice (we took home half the curry dish instead of eating the whole thing).

And some fruit, dark chocolate, and coffee for snacks.

Sept 29

Here’s an example of an exercise routine at the health club. Running on the treadmill for 33 minutes followed by some weights work from last week.

Sept 24 Exercise

Dealing with Challenges

Not every day goes smoothly. There are challenges. Some of the challenges we met were caused by back-packing, travelling, and eating out at restaurants. There are the times where someone brings brownies to work. And of course, there are always days where you just want to eat and eat!

Something I do that really helps is to pre-measure meals and snacks into containers (often setup the night before) and bring those containers along with me.  I do this for my lunch at work and we did this for our recent trip to San Francisco and when we went back packing on the Olympic Peninsula  And don’t forget the snacks! The more you can do to prevent breaking down and buying a cookie or a bag of chips at work or the airport, the better! I bring snacks to work almost every weekday (in addition to lunch) consisting of things like a couple of pieces of fruit, a small serving of nuts, a dried fig or two, carrots and celery with 1 or 2 tablespoons of hummus, or a square or two of chocolate.

Getting a cup of coffee helps me too. Of course, there’s also tea and you can’t knock a good old glass of water or sparkling mineral water. And, if I’m having an especially tough day at work, I will buy myself a second latte later in the day and perhaps a banana or an apple.

And if you have to go over, try and minimize the damage. And once in a while, you are going to blow it; forgive yourself, get over it, and set out to work harder the next day to stay on plan.

My Maintenance Plans

With two weeks to go before our wedding, I am a mere pound away from my revised goal weight. I am pretty sure I will attain my goal but even if I miss it by a pound or three (I could always gain weight between now and then), I will still have been successful. Still, I’ve worked hard enough and have come this far, that I doubt I will slip backwards at this point.

Once I attain my goal, it will be time to maintain my weight! My maintenance plan is simple: continue to try and stay under 2,000 calories and, when I over-indulge, compensate by eating less at other meals and exercising more. And don’t beat myself up for the occasional misstep.

Exercise plans to be a big part of my maintenance plan. And it’s important to me not just for maintaining weight. I have a strong desire to maintain a high degree of fitness for health reasons too. And because I enjoy being fit!

I’m sure our three weeks in Italy celebrating our wedding and honeymoon will be a challenge but we will hopefully make wise choices and walk, hike, and exercise a lot to make up for some of the indiscretions that are likely to happen.

Let me be honest: I can’t predict what will happen on my honeymoon, or what will happen next month or next year. I admit that I am venturing into new unchartered territory as I circle around my target of 160 pounds.

But I also know that following this dead-simple, gimmick-free diet and exercise plan has given me new hope and makes me realize that even if I have temporary setbacks, it shouldn’t be that hard to get myself back on track.

And just maybe by putting my story out in the open in the blogosphere, it might just help me stay on track even more!

TEDx is Coming to Back to Seattle

TEDxWe thoroughly enjoyed TEDx Rainier last year, held at the University of Washington in Seattle. We had such a enriching experience there last year watching great talks from Rick Steves, David Horsey, and others along with our Seattle GiveCamp friends Felice and Glenna.

Well, we just signed up again and, if you live in the Seattle area, I highly recommend you apply to attend. It’s being held on Saturday, November 10.

And if you don’t live in the Seattle area, you can checkout the list of other TEDx events here.

Windows Keyboard on Mac

This summer I bought one of those super-duper high-end MacBookPro Retina laptops and so far I am loving it. Bear in mind, this is no small feat for a lifetime PC guy who mostly programs on the Microsoft platform. This was my first Mac (assuming one doesn’t count iOS devices that I own).


I use VMWare Fusion to run Windows on my new Mac. In fact, I write blog posts using Windows Live Writer, which is still one of the best (perhaps the best) blogging editor around even though Microsoft is rumored to be killing it. (Of course, that would be entirely short-sighted because this a great foot-in-the-door for Microsoft to show non-Microsofties that Microsoft loves them too and welcomes them into the Microsoft world.)

Anyway, one of the frustrations in using my new MacBookPro is in figuring out how to map the Mac keyboard to my Windows virtual machines in order to simulate keys like the Windows, Home, End, and Delete keys.

Interesting, I just installed a Windows 8 VM and talk about disorientation on top of disorientation…but I digress…

Fortunately, I have found some resources to help me sort out the keyboard issues. Hopefully, if you are in a similar situation, you will find them useful too…

Full Disclosure: I wrote this post mainly so I could easily find these links myself!

Simplify, Simplify

This is a great post about the need to move away from processed crap and towards whole foods!


“Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”


After secreting the third 100 calorie pack into the bedroom and knocking it back like a shot of  tequila I realized that I had a problem. It was 9pm and I was so hungry that I had gone into a frenzy pacing back and forth across the house. I was feeling guilty and bargaining with myself.

“Okay, so I’ll have one more pack of cookies and then go to bed and then get up early and run and run and run and then it won’t matter.”

It was pathetic really.

These frantic negotiations had been happening every night in August from the time I recovered from my first bout of illness at the beginning of the month until the time I came down with the flu at the end of the month. Since June I’d been on a 1500…

View original post 1,428 more words

Coming Soon: Paul’s No Fuss, No Gimmick Diet Plan

I am working on post where I share my dead-simple, gimmick-free, evidence-based diet plan and why I think it could work for you.

Stay tuned…


Since originally posting this, some additional posts…

Steal …Err… Buy This Book!

Abbie_hoffman_steal_this_bookWhen I was a kid, there was a subversive counter-culture book with the crazy title Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman. While I would never endorse stealing – it goes against my ethics – one of my siblings obtained (hopefully purchased or borrowed from a friend rather than committing the act endorsed by the book’s title) a copy. I have to say I was intrigued by the subversive writings in the book where one could learn how to shoplift, make Molotov cocktails and similar illegal and immoral acts.

cure-for-everythingAnyway, for some strange reason, I thought of that legendary counter-culture tome, when coming across the book I just finished reading, Timothy Caulfield’s The Cure for Everything: Untangling Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness. Bear in mind, The Cure for Everything is not counter-culture and does not espouse anything remotely illegal or immoral. Still, I think everyone with even the most remote interest in health, fitness, or weight loss should get a copy of this book; but please don’t steal it because the author deserves every dollar for writing this wonderful book.

So why the ringing endorsement of this non-fiction work? Because in this book, Dr. Caulfield, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Alberta, manages to take a balanced, scientific, but decidedly non-academic, look at health, fitness, weight loss, medicine (both western and alternative), genomics, the corporate food and fitness industries, and the pharmaceutical industry. Furthermore, on each of the subjects, Caulfield also manages to share his personal experiences, all the while, reminding his audience that his personal experience should carry less weight than the results of the clinical trials and other research he discusses.

Dr. Caulfield takes nothing for granted and unlike the vast majority of books and websites on the subjects of health, fitness, and diet, he takes no point of view other than applying healthy skepticism and the scientific method to the analysis of these immensely important issues.

In this post, I hope to share the essence of this very-readable book.

On Fitness and Weight Loss

In the first chapter of the book, Caulfield makes an important assertion that I, for one, never believed:

You don’t lose weight from exercise. At least not from exercise alone.

For decades I chose to disagree with this fact, thinking if I just exercised regularly, I would be of normal weight. Now you need to understand that I’ve never been obese and have always considered myself athletic.

That said, I have cursed my mid-section for some time. In fact, while training for marathons (I ran my last one 4 years ago and have completed 7 in my life), I was still unable to eliminate my pudgy gut. Talk about frustrating. Furthermore, according to the standard BMI calculations, I was indeed overweight (though never by more than 10-15 pounds) for at least 3 decades.

On the subject of diets, Caulfield asserts that the only way to lose weight is to take in less calories, and the exact approach you take is immaterial. In fact, he goes onto share his personal experience by going on a diet for the book. (Interestingly, Caulfield, like me is an athletic middle-aged adult, although with a much better BMI than mine.)

His diet approach is incredibly simple and one I have followed with almost equal success:

  • Maintain a food diary.
  • Cut back on calories. Smaller portions. Get used to eating less because you probably eat too much now.
  • Eliminate poison foods. That is, “foods that are high in calories and so truly devoid of nutritional value that they simply are not worth eating. This list includes “junk food, fast food, highly processed products, and sugary beverages.”

Aside: I maintain a food & exercise diary on They have a great web-based tool as well as apps for all major smart phones, including iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone. I highly recommend using myfitnesspal.

On The Food Industry

According to Caulfield, the food industry likes us to eat. They pin the blame for obesity on personal responsibility and physical inactivity. So go ahead, eat that Big Mac and down it with a couple of Coca Colas. And then go ahead and exercise, because that will keep the pounds off and cure obesity. Never mind the fact that exercise alone doesn’t keep the weight off. But then if eating well was the answer, the food industry wouldn’t make money.

That’s why the food industry, including Coca-Cola, regularly sponsors athletic events.

On Exercise and Fitness

Exercise, while it won’t help you to lose much weight, is the recipe to fitness. But despite what you may have heard, low-intensity exercise doesn’t make you fit. You need to crank up the intensity to achieve fitness. High intensity interval training is best.

The author is especially fond of resistance (weight) training, claiming you will get the most bang for the buck with resistance training. Again, not wimpy weight training, but you need to work the weights hard and push yourself to the edge. IOW, “no pain, no gain” is true!

One more thing: spot toning is a fallacy. To get six-pack abs, you need to reduce your body fat to the point where your abdominal muscles are exposed so there is no layer of abdominal fat between your skin and you ab muscles. Oh, and for the most part, stretching is a waste of time.

And while exercise alone won’t help you lose much weight, it is helpful to maintain weight loss.

On Alternative Medicine

The vast majority of alternative medicine is based on faith and the placebo effect. Not the scientific method. Of special note, homeopathy is a croc. I mean the whole idea is to take drugs and dilute them to some ridiculously diluted potion and then have faith that it will cure your malady. Horse-pucky says Caulfield (I may have paraphrased him).

Aside: I had an overuse injury to the ball of my left foot several years ago caused by marathon training. A co-worker acquaintance at the time who had studied homeopathy at Bastyr University decided she would treat me. So for a number of weeks I took these homeopathic concoctions. They didn’t work; she finally gave up.

Big Pharma

And just in case you thought that Caulfield only has negative things to say about alternative medicine, he also has a mouthful for western medicine as well, especially the untoward influence of Big Pharma (the pharmaceutical industry).

Big Pharma influences research in big ways (amazingly, just like Big Food; surprise!) according to Caulfield. How, you ask? “In every way imaginable,” according to the author. By funding and not funding research, by ghostwriting articles, by underwriting medical conferences that are friendly to the company’s products, and by providing free samples to your family practitioner or specialist physician, just to name a few.

Caulfield (and I) believe that many scientists in the research community are fighting back against the influence of Big Pharma money but it’s a difficult battle.

The solution: independence. That is, don’t allow pharmaceutical companies to directly fund research. Like in the old days when the NIH (National Institutes of Health) were fully funded.

Steal This Book!

Not really, but go out and get yourself a copy of this book, either in print or electronic form!

Day of Caring

Today I was part of the United Way of King County Washington’s Day of Caring. Fortunately, my employer, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, like many other local organizations, paid me my salary while I volunteered at a retirement community in the area called Hilltop House.

Hilltop_GroupThe eleven us from FHCRC worked at this wonderful home to 120 seniors. We didn’t do anything too special: we dusted, cleaned carpets, blinds, windows, and bathrooms. Changed light bulbs, turned over mattresses, swept out front and spruced up their gardens and shared areas.

Part of the effort was also to engage with the residents who showed us their appreciation with kind words and big smiles. I was lucky enough to help clean two lovely women’s apartments, both lacking the mobility to bend over, reach high places, or lift heavy objects.

Caroline_Me_KatieIt was nice to be part of an effort that helps to keep senior housing more affordable and within reach of those who need it. Thanks go out to the other members of my team, United Way, Hilltop House, and Fred Hutchinson Research Center.

Seattle GiveCamp 2012 is Calling All Geeks

I am part of an amazing event that we are holding in October 2012 in the Seattle area: Seattle GiveCamp. I have written about our upcoming event elsewhere. Please take a look at the post and, if you are a techie living or working near Seattle, please consider volunteering. I guarantee it will be worth the effort. While I am currently knee deep in planning this year’s event, I will not be onsite at this year’s Seattle GiveCamp weekend, because I am marrying my soulmate in Tuscany the week before and we will be on our honeymoon at the time.

Why This Blog?

I am creating a new blog. A blog I call The Whole Geek.

You probably want to know why?

Because I feel I have something useful to say in the respect of wholeness for techies.

Here are the three basic categories of posts I anticipate covering in this blog:

  1. Fitness & diet
  2. Sustainability & the environment.
  3. Charity.

That’s it for now. Oh and I will try and avoid political discussions as much as possible.

Thanks for taking a look at my blog. I hope you find something here of use to you or at least something to laugh at.