Losing Weight, When You’re Lazy (January 13)

“Play to your strengths” is the advice given to Harry Potter during the Triwizard Tournament, and it’s invaluable insight is applicable not just to facing dragons in a magical school.

When I set out to improve my health last summer, I knew it would take more than some kind of amazing burst of willpower. I was going to have to change some of my habits, and try to control my worst impulses, like the one to eat an entire pizza in one sitting. I didn’t buy any expensive supplements or go on a strict nutrition plan. I didn’t count calories, or even consider any individual food as being off limits.

What I did end up doing, starting in July of 2015, was make a commitment to eating less, and to exercising more. In making that commitment, I had a few things I liked doing built-in to my schedule to jump start my new diet and lifestyle. The biggest thing I did was to start biking to and from work every day, about 7 km each direction, unless it was pouring rain.

Really, the only other major change I made was to purchase Soylent, the food replacement I’ve talked about to death here, and eat only that at work. I know that I tend to eat when I’m bored, and so I would bring snacks to work and eat them throughout the day, even if I wasn’t particularly hungry. By replacing that snack food with Soylent, which fills me up but which I did not crave, I was able to consume a lot less calories during the day.

Since food wasn’t around, I didn’t feel any strong urge to eat, and if I did, Soylent would be there to fill me up. I started losing around two pounds a week on average, but I started to notice a pattern developing. During the week, I would lose about 4-6 pounds, and then Friday through Sunday, I would gain back about 2-4 of that. My weight loss came in cycles, because as I mentioned, I have no willpower, and so I wasn’t afraid to have a few slices of pizza when hanging out with friends.

The secret to weight loss: math, patterns, and patience.

After a couple of months of this pattern, where I would bike 4-5 times per week, play sports, and walk, my appetite, my waistline, and my stomach all shrank substantially. And through all of this, I never really had any strong cravings for food that I didn’t satisfy. When I did snack, I was less likely to indulge as much, mainly because I just wasn’t as hungry.

That’s not to say I didn’t get hungry. Another important part of this lifestyle was learning that it’s OK to be hungry sometimes without eating. I started treating hydration more seriously, and my hunger lessened in kind. In total, from the end of August (after my honeymoon) to the beginning of December, I lost about 35 pounds.

If you look in detail at my progress, weighing myself every single day from August 20, 2015 to January 13, 2016, I have lost a total of 98 pounds in the 89 days I lost weight. On the remaining days, I gained a total of 64 pounds over 57 days. In that time, I’ve learned that eating a bunch of snack food, or just too much in general, like I did on many of those 57 “gain” days, is absolutely not worth the work I put in on the 89 “loss” days

I am currently better, but far from perfect, at deciding when I’ve had enough. I still enjoy cookies, candy, pizza, delivery, chips, cheese, meat, etc., but I know a lot better how my body is going to react to those foods, and how much I eat will affect me.

Now, it’s the middle of winter, and I can’t bike all over the place (also, my bike was stolen back in October 🙁 ), but I am doing exercise where I can to keep up with food, and managing my intake better.

With the tracking system I’ve set up for myself, which I talk about here, I know that I can aim to weigh less today than I did yesterday, and less this week than I did the last, and I will be able to lose weight. It’s all about finding what works for you, and playing to your strengths. Stay healthy 🙂

If you want to get a copy of the spreadsheet I’ve been using, let me know and I can make a clean copy available for download. I have been using the wireless Withings scale to track my weight and body fat percentage, if you want to check it out, I would strongly recommend it (full disclosure: if you use that link, I do get a commission) and it’s been a big help to me. I have also been using the Withings Health Mate app, which is free, and IFTTT to make keeping track of my weight in a spreadsheet unbelievably simple.

You can do it, it’s all a matter of finding your own path.

I Still Hate Facebook

I have written a LOT ragging on the various things I hate about Facebook, and though some of my concerns have been addressed over the years, there is still a lot I just really don’t like about the social network. Today, I’m going to detail what has always been one of my biggest nuisances with the website, and try to articulate exactly why it’s so bad, and what they can do about it.

Part of me knows that the biggest “problem” with Facebook, the one I’m going to describe below, isn’t actually a problem with Facebook. The problem lies with us, the idiotic users who are using it (or not using it) in ways its designers never expected. But as any good engineer knows, anticipating your users’ needs and interactions is arguably even more important than creating an internally consistent and compelling product.

Pictured: Facebook Users

To put it simply, Facebook exists to make money for itself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s a business after all, but in that pursuit the company ends up making decisions that are openly hostile to new and experienced users. I think this hurts the platform and actually ends up meaning that people will use Facebook less.

When you open Facebook, you’re presented with a timeline called the News Feed, a stack of cards that can show status updates, photos, videos, links to websites, blog posts, events, pages, or crucially, advertisements. When the social network was just getting started, the thing that became the News Feed was essentially a linear timeline of the things people were saying to one another. You couldn’t really “miss” an update because everything was in order and scrolling more, or clicking through to the next page, would simply show you the next item chronologically.

Today, that timeline has been completely distorted by Facebook trying to make money for itself. In case you haven’t looked on the right side of the Facebook website lately, there are ads all over it. Facebook is fundamentally an advertising network now, because all semblance of time and chronology is lost when you are on the website today. Now, I’m not saying I mind ads on the side of my timeline, or even in between stories from my friends or sites I follow. I don’t even mind Facebook highlighting stories it thinks I might want to see from friends its algorithm considers close to me.

The problem I have with how Facebook operates is that it plays fast and loose with the updates my friends, family and acquaintances actually want me to see. This is never more painfully obvious when I am talking to two people, and one of them tells the other about something they posted on Facebook. As is so often the case, I frequently haven’t seen the story in question, even though historically I have enjoyed roughly 95% of the stories that those two friends have shared with one another.

This leads me to one of the problems with Facebook’s treatment of relationships between humans. Even if you go through the effort to catalogue your friendships, and put your friends into groups, becomes obsolete shortly after you finish the initial grouping. Our relationships are in a constant state of flux, and our connections are constantly changing and increasing in number. No human alive with a job and a life could possibly keep up with fine adjustments of their friends list in order to actually monitor what they see first on Facebook, and since many people can end up posting several things to the network every day, there are just too many stories to realistically see all of them.

When you make a new friend and add them to Facebook, the site or app could easily prompt you to categorize them as a friend, acquaintance, co-worker, etc., and perhaps even ask you if you want to see all, most, or none of their updates. This would be a completely voluntary grouping procedure, but it would be really helpful to be able to keep your Facebook friends organized.

One of the results of the network as it is today is a phenomenon called a ‘filter bubble’. This is when you spend so much time communicating with a subset of people that you tend to fall into a group where the views of the people in it all tend to be the same or very similar. As an example, if you’re friends with a bunch of Conservatives on Facebook, over time you will see more and more conservative viewpoints and posts. Eventually, you can start to develop a bubble around you, and more liberal viewpoints will stop showing up in your feed, even though those viewpoints still exist around you.

Now, many people may actually WANT this, as most people don’t want their viewpoints challenged, but when this happens totally invisibly to the user, it would be easy to start to think that maybe other viewpoints just don’t exist, or are the extreme minority of the overall culture. Unfortunately, at the moment, it seems like Facebook’s algorithms tend to favour this kind of extremist and filtering, and most people aren’t aware this is happening.

Using a linear timeline (something that is not available on Facebook’s main site by default) and exposing users to the built-in grouping tools would go a long way towards removing some of the friction people have when seeing ALL the things their Facebook friends post, as well as making it much more transparent to users that this kind of filtering and sorting of posts is happening. Facebook will continue to make money off its ads, and off Facebook Pages paying to show their posts in others’ feeds, but I think all parties will benefit if everyone is aware of what’s actually going on.

Milestones! Gains! Losses!

That’s a lot of views (I’m just one man)!

It’s been far too long since I last wrote something on here, and given that a whole heck of a lot has happened in the last month! First up, around the time of the writing of this post, my blog is going to pass another base 10 milestone, racking up a total of 50000 views! This isn’t a big milestone, but I still consider myself as just getting started, so I’m pretty pleased with it.

As well, in a follow up to my piece about weight loss/overall health, I’m pleased to announce that although my wedding and three-week vacation caused me to gain back a significant amount of the weight I had lost, as of today I will get back to a new all-time** low weight (**least I’ve weighed in over 2 years). I have been working really hard, and I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am now without my bike, my Soylent, and the willpower to not go nuts eating snack foods. I’ve also effectively eliminated traditional meals from my diet, relying on snacking and smaller portions throughout the day, which has also been nice for me.

During your wedding/honeymoon, you may experience mysterious weight gain paired with a complete loss of data.

Finally, I went almost a month without recording a single podcast, but I’ve been back at work on them now (Ottawhat did have an episode every week while I was on my honeymoon though, so you’ll have to go and catch up on those). Last week on Ottawhat, we interviewed my beautiful new wife, Julia, and Mike and I have been getting into some great conversations on Future Chat. On Ottawhat this week, we talked to the owner and manager (2 people) of a local 1-screen cinema, the Mayfair. It was a really great conversation and you should go and check out their podcast too! Links to the episodes can be found below:

This week on the show, we met with Josh and Mel from the Mayfair Theatre. These diehard movie buffs told us all about the origins of the theatre, why they…
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On this week’s show, we agree non-Celiac gluten sensitivity probably isn’t a real thing, electric, self-driving cars will be all over our roads soon, and…
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