Scott Hanselman

South Africa 2008: NewsFlash - Turns out eating less and moving more causes weight loss

January 03, 2009 Comment on this post [36] Posted in Africa | Musings
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image0-1When I left for South Africa I was 193lbs/87kg, my heaviest ever on a 6 foot/1.8 meter medium frame. This was shocking to me because I could totally see 200lbs coming. It was right there ahead of me. As a Type 1 Diabetic getting fat(ter) is deeply uncool. You can literally be a Type 1 (insulin dependant) and Type 2 (insulin resistant) diabetic at the same time. This would mean I'd need to take MORE insulin to do the SAME amount of work. I'd already started seeing this recently as my total daily insulin dosage, usually under 30U (Units) was creeping up to 40U.

Then we headed to Africa for our semi-yearly sojourn. Fast forward roughly a month and I'm 176lbs/79.8kg. That's 17 pounds, or as a newly svelt person me likes to say "I lost, like, 20 pounds!" The trick will be to keep it off, but here's what I think worked (as I lose nearly 20 pounds on EVERY trip to Africa, and nearly every trip overseas. The tragedy here is the re-gaining and re-losing of that same 20 pounds.)

These are totally obvious observations/tips, but I'm a little dense, so I'm writing them down.

That picture to the right is me when I was thinner. I'm also the short one in the picture.

Don't Eat a Serving Larger than Your Fist

I didn't consciously do this, it just happened. As my wife and I discussed in our recent podcast, folks just show up to visit and food is divided appropriately. This is not to say that I wanted for food in any way. I didn't. It's that my hosts in South Africa gave us a reasonable amount of food, not an American Amount of Food.

This just happened to be about the size of one's fist. Kind of unrelated, I mentioned this to the boy's doctor since the older boy wasn't eating that much and he said that most kids will naturally eat what they need to, no more and no less, and that amount was often about the size of his fist. We'd been wasting a lot of food as I was giving him a plate full of food as big as his head! So, it's a fist-sized serving for me.

Eat Breakfast

I am notorious for eating one giant 1pm meal, ahem, then a giant 6pm meal, then a small (read: almost giant) midnight meal. This didn't fly in South Africa, as there was a lovely light breakfast at 7am, lunch at 1pm, and a dinner around 6pm. Each was appropriately proportioned, especially lunch which went on the assumption that you ate breakfast.

I realized that I've been eaten Epic Lunches to stave off death by starvation from skipping breakfast entirely. While eating breakfast does make my diabetes a little more tricky to manage as it adds a new variable, breakfast does support the next tip...

Eat Only Enough to Get You To the Next Meal


You Will Eat Again, In Your Life, You Know

My brother, the Ironman competitor and firefighter, taught me this not-obvious-to-me tip. He says that folks who aren't eating often enough eat like it's the last time they will ever eat. Rather, try eating with the knowledge that you will eat again in a few hours. If you realize that this meal only needs to get you to the next meal. This is the single most powerful dieting tip I've got.

Reset Your Full Indicator

My wife calls overeating "Pushing Through" as in "Oh, I pushed through with that last bite." Not recognizing what full feels like is a big problem for me. Basically you can reset your internal gas tank indicator by just thinking about it. "Am I full?" "Do I really need that next bite?" This has caused me to eat about 1/3 less without actually feeling any less full. Actually, I feel less bloated after meals.

Aside: I actually have personal data (and charts!) that reflects this - while I was in South Africa my daily insulin usage (and hence, carb intake) went from 30-40U a day to 20U. Basically I used 33% to 50% less insulin per day.

Move More

I didn't visit the South Africa that a lot of people do. In my South Africa not everyone has a car. In mine you can easily fit 9 people into a VW Golf. Either way, I walked a lot. If there's no car available and you want to go to the mall that's 3km away, you walk. This, along with sweltering heat and a lot of water, is another nice way to lose weight.

This year I've started working out, six days a week, for eat least an hour. I'm alternating cardio and anaerobic exercise. I'm finding that if I time my workouts with the length of certain television shows, I can make it through without going insane. That means, 40 minutes of cardio while I watch, say, Heroes. Then 22 minutes of weights as I watch Arrested Development. I'm actually watching more TV (and enjoying it) but I don't have to feel bad since I'm moving.

Drink Water

Yes I know if you drink WAY too much water you can mess up your salt/electrolyte balance, but a few liters a day are what I've found is the right amount for me to lose weight. I can't overstate how water intake directly affects weight loss. It's really amazing. Everyone I know with 6-pack abs carries a water bottle around with them. While I was in Africa I really upped my water intake because of the heat, to the point where drinking water at every turn was second nature.

What are your weight loss tips, Dear Reader?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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January 03, 2009 10:41
Since that picture was taken, I've regained that same 20 lbs 3X over. Is this post a "not so subtle hint" for dad to lose some weight?
January 03, 2009 10:59
I would just point out also that the goal is not to "lose weight" the goal is to change your body composition. Strength training is an important part of gaining muscle mass and shedding fat (increased muscle mass increases Base Metabolic Rate, i.e., how many calories you burn at rest).

I think your other advice was great, especially hydration.

Good luck Scott and everyone :)
January 03, 2009 11:26
Well, what I finally learned is what you resist, persists. So rather than worrying about my weight, I started to put energy into my health. When I took care of that, my weight took care of itself.
January 03, 2009 11:54
Great tips coming into the new year :)

Another tip I have is to eat smaller portions still but eat them more frequently. Almost a constant grazing. This kicks your metabolism up a gear, so you end up burning your food more efficiently.
January 03, 2009 16:44
Being diabetic, that would be tough...

I've always eaten lots of small meals, thought I used to overeat a lot, especially at restaurants... or when I had a new sack of chips and jar of salsa!

However, I've lost 40-45 pounds in the past 6 months. My tips? Not very fun ones...

First, get some sort of weird problem swallowing things, so anything you eat makes you burp excessively, and you feel like you can't really swallow food all the way. If you don't burp, you'll have headaches, shoulder aches and fatigue. Also, get some food allergies so eating soy, sunflower or nuts makes your throat itchy and/or makes you feel all weird and tired.

Then, also be a vegetarian. Spend the summer biking every day and drinking coffee excessively. The weight will pour right off!

Whoah, this love comment preview is pretty cool.
January 03, 2009 16:48
This reminds me of No S Diet, also known as the "Grandma Diet":

No Snacks, No Sweets, No Seconds, Except (sometimes) on days that start with "S".
"No Seconds" here mean that you should eat only one plate. After a few weeks I did not need more, and have now lost around 13kg/25lbs.
January 03, 2009 17:27
My number one weight loss tip is not to go on a diet. That may seem kind of self contradictory, but try follow me for a second.

The notion of "going on a diet" implies that is for a limited time only. If you really wants to lose some weight and maintain your weight loss you have to change your food and exercise habits on a permanent basis. This way of thinking has the downside that it will take you longer to lose the same weight opposed to going on a "real" diet, but the only way to a sustained weight loss is to permanently change the way to think about food and exercise. The upside of course is that you for the rest of your life eat and exercise the way you actually want to live.

This of course doesn't mean that you at some periods put in an extra effort in the gym or you focus on eating fewer sweets and more vegetables. But the key part is that you in the back of your mind always remember that a diet is not something that you endure for a limited time only - a healthy diet and good exercise habits is a permanent state.
January 03, 2009 18:01
I drink a tonne of water each day mainly due to the heat here in Australia but also because I really like water.

Everyday I run about 6km and go to the gym for an hour (for 5 days in the week). I'm just under 6ft and weight about 83kg. I have found that my natural bodyweight is around 83kg. The only way I drop below that is if I don't go to the gym for a week or so and I can drop a few kg's by doing that.

Sure, eat sensibly but I'd just join a gym and run a bit every week. With that said the meals I tend to cook for my dinner could easily feed two people.
January 03, 2009 18:12
Regarding Reset your full indicator:

A good tip I've read on being full is to wait 20 minutes after you've eaten your meal. It takes that long for your body and mind to sort themselves out and agree on whether you're full or not. So before going for the second helping, wait 20 minutes. Still hungry? OK, have some more.

I've done this and I never go back for seconds.
January 03, 2009 18:45
My own successful regime includes:

1. Avoid liquid sugar (you probably do this already)
2. If having a bad snack (i.e. chocolate) keep it away from a proper meal
3. When eating chew, chew and chew some more

I know #3 sounds stupid but slowing down means the "not hungry" feeling hits with less food :)

January 03, 2009 19:33
I have a very basic rule of thumb: do not eat more calories than you spend.

Somehow, it puzzles people why i eat less. As though I am training for a marathon or bodybuilding....
January 03, 2009 21:59
1) Do at least 15 minutes exercise _every_ day. The only exception - the days when you are really-really sick. I'd recommend 30-60 minutes physical activities every day. More is welcome, but not necessary.

2) Don't eat when you are not hungry. Don't eat just because you are bored.

3) Remove food temptations. Don't stay in the kitchen for too long. Don't tease yourself with the food if possible.

4) Move to the place with warmer climate.
That would help you to exercise more and eat less.
January 03, 2009 22:01
I started practicing Agile Weight Loss to adjust my habits and knock of 25 pounds over the next few months (or adjust body composition as one person noted). In a world of complex diets and fads I'm keeping a focus on simplicity and the two things that count - weight and calories. I have enough common sense to not go overboard on any one nutrient so I will be aware of them, but I'm not going to track them. Each day I put a 3x5 card in my wallet that records the date, my current weight, and whether or not I made it to the gym. From there I list the time (to the nearest half hour), what I ate, and the caloric intake. If I blow my calorie budget I know where and why as it happens (or adjust along the way if I know we're going out for a beer after work).

I recently ordered an EatSmart Nutrition Scale to help speed up the measurement when I am making stuff from scratch. There are still times that I need a simple method of tracking to make informed choices when I haven't pre-packed a lunch, or made a home cooked meal. If I can't access the caloric data right away I can still record the meal and look up information on it later on various calorie database sites. The awareness of portion sizes is another benefit as I can see what types of things are not so good in large quantities.
January 03, 2009 22:32
Some great reminders and tips for us! Thanks!
January 04, 2009 0:17
I recommend eating a helping, then waiting 20 minutes. If you're still hungry, eat more. More than likely, you will NOT hungry after waiting.
January 04, 2009 2:44
Five words:

Avoid High Fructrose Corn Syrup

Like the plague.

Out of curiosity, as a diabetic, how do you get away with skipping breakfast at all? Congrats on your newfound healthier self and I hope it lasts.

p.s. minor typo "for eat least an hour".
January 04, 2009 7:39
I've found that the basics as mentioned above work really well, less calories than are burned, watch the carbs, more water, and excercise. To assist cutting down, I use Carb Solutions shake mix, it's low carb (3 net grams), around 100 calories for a serving, mix it in a blender, throw in a banana and low carb yogurt and call it breakfast, good till lunch. I'm a type 2 diabetic, and this, in addition to cutting back, eating healthy and excercising, has helped not only in losing weight but stabilizing sugars and lowering A1C numbers. I just wish I could code while I'm walking.... 8o)
January 04, 2009 15:08
Thanks Scott, different to your usual posts! A very interesting and useful read :)
January 05, 2009 5:38
My weight loss tip? Lap-Band surgery. I just had mine two weeks ago, not for morbid obesity but because it is considered one of the best treatment options for type 2 diabetes (some even call it a "cure").

I'm recovering well. I've lost over 10 lbs. since my surgery, and I don't even have any restriction in my band yet. After my first "fill," I should be able to lose 1-2 lbs. a week.

If anyone has any interest, I've been blogging about it.
January 05, 2009 16:32
The fact that you're diabetic means you should remove all processed/refined carbs out of your diet anyway - just eat fatty meat (not lean) & green vegetables. Cut out anything that contains flour/sugar/starchy Veg. You should soon be able to start taking less insulin.

And as a side-effect, you'll lose weight (eventually)

Check out:
Barry Groves 2nd opinion
January 05, 2009 17:53
A very simple but extremely effective tip to avoid piling on the pounds is: "Don't snack".
January 05, 2009 18:13
This advice fits well with what I'm currently reading in In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. This post is one more data point that suggests getting away from the typical Western Diet is a good idea.
January 05, 2009 21:51
Lotsa good ideas.

Can't say enough about the thought to "eat just enough to get to the next meal". Great mindset.

I have a cousin who got a high cholesterol count at the Dr. and decided to start working out. He went from a "not exactly fat but kinda doughy" guy to looking almost exactly like Daniel Craig in Casina Royal. Very buffed. His plan was to go to the gym 6 days a week, even on days he didn't want to (which he said was every day)! He also lifted high reps of weights but not the "max" weight. Just enough so he could do several sets of 20 or so reps, not the usual 8 - 12 at high weight. Surprisingly little cardio he said because he was breathing hard during his whole workout with his heart in his target zone.

This is the biggy. His trainer reminded him that you don't build any muscles or burn any fat whatsoever in the gym. You do it during sleep. So plenty of sleep is very important. All you do in the gym is tear down the muscle and send a message to your body that "this guys gonna be using this muscle, so I better build it up".

End result. Pulse: 60, Cholesterol: scary low, Blood pressure: 110/70. Went from needing about 9 hours of sleep to not being able to sleep more than 6 or 7.

Glad I bumped into him over the break. I'm starting my program now...
January 06, 2009 1:02
Using a food log to count calories has helped me more than anything because I have become way more aware of what I am consuming and I become more accountable. Studies show that on average you lose 2x weight when recording.

I settled on the free because of its flexible food entry functionality, but there are many others out there.
January 06, 2009 22:58
Actually a lot of time we aren't hungry at all. It's actually a thirst 'hunger'

So try this.....when you feel hungry, drink a bunch of water and wait 15mins. If you are still hungry after the 15mins go eat.
January 07, 2009 23:11
The most effective weight loss tip I've come across is to develop a healthy addiction to a healthy food. I like peppers: Bell peppers of all colors, Jalapenos, Habaneros, you name I take a bag of pepper slices to work with me and munch on those between breakfast and lunch. Lunches then end up being smaller, my need for snacks is satisfied, and I've eaten about two servings of vegetables before noon. Carrots, cucumber, and other veggie slices are rotated in for good measure and some variety.

-- Stu
January 08, 2009 20:15
As a diabetic as well (although not Type I, I had 95% of my pancreas removed after a bout of pancreatitis), controlling caloric intake and losing weight while using insulin has been a challenge. What I don't think a lot of non-diabetics realize is that taking more insulin to cover a higher carb/sugar meal works against weight loss-- insulin lowers your blood sugar by taking glucose out of your bloodstream and putting it in long-term storage as fat. And that totally sucks...

I'm usually not a fan of dieting sites, but (and the extremely handy iPhone app) has a great calorie/exercise/weight tracker that gives lots of instant feedback about food choices and your progress throughout a day. For me, it's nice to be able to see in real-time how long I'm going to have to ride the Bike To Nowhere if I indulge in that second helping or snack.

Someone should invent a glucometer that is wired to stimulate the vagus nerve and cause you to feel full when you have hit a blood glucose ceiling. Hopefully they would steer clear of the Freescale Semiconductor RTC implementation :)

A travel/diabetes question for Scott: how do you keep your insulin cool for the 26+ hours of travel from SA back to the PNW?
January 09, 2009 1:22
Weight loss is on its face extremely simple and you pretty much nailed it on the head. Implementation is often the hardest part.

First of all.
You have to eat and a regular interval and you have to eat enough. Too many people try to drastically reduce calories and generally eat too little when they are trying to lose weight. You also need to buy smaller plates and eat more slowly. The plates we use typically in this country are huge and that makes us want to put more on them. Smaller plates equal smaller portions combine that with slower eating and you will feel more full.

You need to eat 6 times a day and eat the right amount at each meal.

Lets say you are 250 pounds and 6 feet tall.

You need approx 2300 calories to maintain that weight at a basic level of activity.

You should eat about 1300 calories by 1 pm then they other 1000 between 1 and approx 30 minutes before you go to bed. Spread the calories out over 6 meals with the last meal being around 150 calories to keep your body working as you sleep.

Secondly you have to move. Most of use spend the vast majority of our time infront of our computers and that makes moving hard.
January 09, 2009 6:10
Scott, I really like the "Exercise to TV" idea. Great 2 for 1.

Ironically, podcasts and audio books keep me going (so thanks). The truth is, I spend most of my day sitting in front a screen and reading stuff. Listening to a book instead of reading is actually quite refreshing. Lots of time with little ear-buds can be annoying though, so if you're working out at home an iPod dock (actual computer and speakers) is also a lot easier on the senses.
January 09, 2009 12:52
I've been on a weight loss programme for the last 19 months, and I've been blessed enough to shake off 51 kg's (112 lb).
During this time I've learned the following lessons:
* Crash diets don't work. You need to change the way you think about food.
* Don't do it alone. You need someone to check your progress on a weekly (or better, daily) basis.
* Cut out alcohol. It's much more satisfying to eat your calories than to drink them.
* You need to exercise. Again, it helps a lot if you have a gym buddy. It makes it easier to get up early and drag yourself to the gym.
* If you can, use a heart rate monitor when you exercise to ensure that you're not taking it too easy.
* Start reading food labels to check the fat content and calories.
* Even if you need to buy take-aways, you can make good choices. When I buy from steers, I order a chicken burger with an extra fillet and no sauce. It's not ideal, but it's much better than the default items on the menu.
* Water helps your body to burn fat, so the more, the better.

If you live in South Africa, Weigh-Less is a great program (I'm not sure if they are in other countries). They teach you to make healthy choices and you don't starve to death
January 09, 2009 12:59
Please stop spreading myths about drinking water,

"Scientists say there's no clear health benefit to chugging or even sipping water all day."
"Drink when you're thirsty. That's the way the body is designed."
January 09, 2009 13:02
PS. The best way to loose weight is to eat when you are hungry, but stop eating the second you aren't anymore. Always leave food when you are not hungry anymore, don't eat until you are full.
January 14, 2009 1:49
Good tips.

I find that when you feel like snacking come bed time - eat fruit - and the more watery the fruit the better.
As noted, remaining well hydrated is important to help the digestive system to speed things along.
If you dont do much physical exercise then eating less carbs is good.
January 21, 2009 2:50
your posts on South Africa have really been interesting to me, as I'm going in May. I'm very excited as I've never even been out of the states. I'll be sure to get to the Johannesburg airport very early. Oh, and in the information I got from the program with which I'm going said that South Africa is requiring extra pages in the passport now and 6 months extra time on the validity as well. I'm sure they just want to make sure everyone's prepared and in the clear so there's no holdup like what you experienced. Thanks for sharing!
January 26, 2009 23:45
I'll recommend the Hacker's Diet
Or, if you want it to be a bit more light-weight (No pun Intended), Jeremy Zawodny had a blog post series about his Diet as well.

It's not really low-maintenance, but it's geeky juggling with an Excel sheet, fancy graphs and stuff :-)
February 27, 2009 19:11
Found your post via a link on my son's blog. The added photo and post by "dad" were the icing on the cake... (no pun intendd.)


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.