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The Blackmail Diet - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

Feb. 1st, 2008

09:27 pm - The Blackmail Diet

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As some of you may recall, on May 5th, 2004, I made a commitment to:

a. reduce my body fat percentage to around 5%
b. build upper body strength such that I can do 20 consecutive pull-ups
c. build my lower body strength such that I can squat 200 lbs.
I also promised:
On January 15, 2005, I will post nude photos of myself to this blog. Full body. Good lighting. Front, back, and side.
So how did I do?

I failed utterly.

And, to my shame, I chickened out on publishing the pictures.

(Several of you asked about them, including kitiara, ladykalana, gustavolacerda and others. My thanks to you for holding me to my promise. Please see the next post (NSFW) for my efforts to fulfill my promise as best as I can now.)

Now, nearly four years later, I weigh 198.6 lb, 20 lbs heavier than I did back then.

At 6 ft. tall, I have a 40 in. waist, and a BMI of 27. According to realage.com, ideally I should weigh 162 lbs, giving me a BMI of 22.

As you can see below, I'm right on the border of a rapidly rising slope of health risks, if my weight should increase further:

Picture 2

My failure to maintain my ideal weight is not uncommon. Even among those who have already suffered heart attacks, few change their eating habits. Our taste for fat, sugar, and salt is so powerful that even fear of death itself is often not sufficient to change.

Moreover, as you might expect, our weight appears to be heavily genetically influenced. In a study of twins raised apart, Albert J. Stunkard and his colleagues reported that "....the identical twins had nearly identical body mass indexes, whether they had been raised apart or together. There was more variation in the fraternal twins, who, like any siblings, share some, but not all, genes. They concluded that “70 percent of the variation in people’s weights may be accounted for by inheritance, which means that a tendency toward a certain weight is more strongly inherited than nearly any other tendency....”

Unfortunately for me, both of my parents are obese. I've probably inherited a genetic profile that makes it hard for me to maintain a low body fat percentage.

Despite these difficulties, it's clear that I could lose weight. For example, if I lived in a completely controlled environment, where someone else controlled all my food intake, I could lose weight. There were no fat guys in Auschwitz.

However, I don't live in a controlled environment, and I don't have the money to pay someone to follow me around and make sure I don't eat too much of the wrong foods. So what can I do instead?

In analyzing why I failed, I came to the following conclusions:
  1. The goal was too distant. A year is a long time to wait. The further into the future before we receive a good, the less we value it now. Economists call this hyperbolic discounting.
  2. I didn't monitor myself often enough. Therefore, had no idea whether I was on track to reach my weight goals. My failure to monitor frequently also allowed me to "forget" my commitment when I was tempted.
  3. As we saw, I chickened out when I was only accountable to myself. I need to be accountable to an objective third party that won't let me wriggle out of my commitment.
  4. The incentives for success were not high enough. I needed to make the incentives greater so that i valued the achievement of weight loss in the future greater than the pleasure of eating now.
  5. I did not have a detailed eating plan.
  6. I did not have a detailed exercise plan.
So, how am I going to do it different this time?

I'm going to blackmail myself.

I've put $600 dollars in an escrow account with the website stickk.com. I've also established a contract with stickk.com specifying that I will weigh 180 lbs 3 months from today.

Each week I must report whether I've reached my target for the week. If I fail to reach my weight target, $50 will be sent to my anti-charity, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (a gun control group). evillinn has agreed to be my referee. She will judge whether I have met my weight target.

Since evillinn does not live nearby, I will also post my weight and a picture of myself to my livejournal so that she can evaluate my progress. If any of you would also like to track my progress, let me know and I will send you an invite to stickk.com.

I plan to lose weight through both diet and exercise.

For the exercise component, I've signed up with the local Crossfit gym for a twice weekly workout. I'm also taking a twice weekly self-defense class. On the weekends, I plan to sponsor more Hike the Geeks.

For the diet component, I plan to follow the uniform eating plan recommended by Clarence Bass. The idea is that you eat mostly the same dishes every day, consisting of lot's of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and some fish or poultry. This frees you having to constantly calculate how many calories you're eating, and makes eating the right foods a habit.

In order to prevent appetite fatigue, and allow for social eating, I will also allow one cheat day, on either Saturday or Sunday. On my cheat days, I can eat as much as I want of whatever I want.

If I get too tired of the uniform menu, I can also change it from week to week. (Though not within a given week.)

In addition, I will follow these rules:
  1. Only eat at the table
  2. Only put food on the table that I plan to eat
  3. Weigh myself daily and log the results to my blog
  4. Measure my waist daily
Once I reach my target weight of 180, I'm going to re-evaluate my goals. Most likely, I'm going to change my goal from a weight target to a waist target. Instead of shooting for a particular weight, I'll shoot for a particular waist measurement.

Weight isn't a particularly good measure of health, since it doesn't distinguish between fat loss (good) and muscle loss (bad). Belly fat is associated with a lot of health problems, so measuring it will be a good way of judging progress towards my health and aesthetic goals. I may also set a fitness target, such as completing one of the standardized Crossfit workouts in a given amount of time.

Finally, I can't go back in time and keep my commitment to post nude photos on the date that I promised. The best that I can do is post them now. Therefore, in the following post, I've published un-retouched nude photos of myself, taken 1 week ago. Please consider them the "before" shots for this experiment.

Here's the menu:

Breakfast

1/2 cantaloupe
1 cup cottage cheese

Mid-morning snack

apple/banana/pear/orange (pick one)

Lunch

2 slices of Food For Life Ezekiel 4:19 bread with almond butter
1 cup non-fat yogurt, Pavels, vanilla flavored
3 cups mixed greens

Mid-afternoon snack

fruit (see above)

Dinner

grilled fish (salmon, trout, or talipia)
2 cups steamed mixed vegetables

Bedtime snack

1 slice Ezekiel 4:19 raisin bread.

Comments:

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From:evelynne
Date:February 2nd, 2008 03:00 pm (UTC)
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I have wondered sometimes if the genetic tendency is not completely physiological, but has a psychological component. Like, if people have a tendency toward emotional eating, or a taste preference for high-calorie fatty foods. So if you're aware of and are able to overcome those tendencies (which, though difficult to control, are less difficult to control than how your body processes food ;)), you've won a significant portion of the battle.

Because I want to live a long time, I have been gradually trying to make my diet more healthy over the last 10 years. I used to eat almost nothing but white foods ("chicken fingers and french fries") and essentially no vegetables. Now I am scarfing down broccoli and spinach and red peppers ON PURPOSE (I have cravings for them) and found out that I even like brussels sprouts. And because my husband can't tolerate dairy, we don't use any milk or butter or cream in our recipes and we use lean meats, so they're usually fairly low-calorie. But we like intense flavors, so they are not bland meals. If you want me to pass along any recipes, let me know. Unless you are trying to think of food as fuel and not as something to be enjoyed. ;)
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From:evelynne
Date:February 2nd, 2008 04:38 pm (UTC)
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BTW, I read the uniform eating thing and it doesn't look to me like interesting food necessarily has to conflict with it. If you know the exact caloric count of the meals you're eating (which is often printed on a recipe), you should be able to take a few interesting meals and work them into the "uniform".
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From:evelynne
Date:February 2nd, 2008 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Learning about nutritional values of different foods is always a good idea, but I'm not convinced that the uniform diet is a bad thing. Not having to think about what I'm eating is pretty liberating, even if it's sometimes boring. And I think that as long as the daily plan is nutritionally balanced, how is it unhealthy? My concern was more that the food looks incredibly dull, so it would be more tempting to cheat and eat something that tastes good but is unhealthy. It's possible to have great-tasting healthy food with herbs, spices, and vinegars.

Plus, what if you're a boring person who likes to eat the same thing every day? I eat the same exact thing for breakfast every single day, and I look so forward to breakfast it's ridiculous. My husband is even worse, eating the same thing for breakfast AND dinner. I really think it might work for some people.
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From:lightling
Date:February 2nd, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
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Wow... that's some serious accountability going on there. Dang, yo! I'm impressed.

I think that you should reconsider the "diet" part of this. It would more ideal to change your eating habits for good. If you do this uniform eating plan, and then stop doing it, what will happen?

I recommend using MyFoodDiary.com to track your calorie intake... that's something that will be beneficial in the long term.

Also, have you considered doing themodified calorie restriction diet?
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From:crasch
Date:February 2nd, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
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It would more ideal to change your eating habits for good. If you do this uniform eating plan, and then stop doing it, what will happen?

I agree. I should've made it clear that I see this as a permanent change in my eating style, though once I've achieved the fat loss I want, I will increase my calories to maintenance levels.

Thanks for the pointers to the food diary and the modified calorie diet!
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From:perspectivism
Date:February 2nd, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
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Awesome.

You CAN do the 20 lbs in 3 months...and it's a very fast pace since you'll be adding serious muscle if you're doing CrossFit!!

Your plan is frankly Stalinesque, but maybe that's what your psychology craves right now...

I'm gonna give you two words that may actually do more for you & for the 2nd Amendment than EVERYTHING ELSE YOU'RE PLANNING: intermittent fasting. Simply, eat a LOT less most every other day (starting whatever time you feel like, going 16-24 hours of sharply reduced intake) and eat only as much as you feel like (you'll find you feel like less than you think!) most other days.

I'll paste in some e-mails I've sent about the miracle of Intermittent Fasting.

I've become a big believer in Art De Vany's health/fitness observations/analyses generally. The guy is a raging genius, and you're absolutely acting epistemologically reckless on your body until you've read http://www.arthurdevany.com/webstuff/RevisedEssay.pdf (really) .
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From:perspectivism
Date:February 2nd, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC)
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In research settings animals that are intermittently fasted are fed
every other day, so they eat whatever they want for a day, then they
are denied food for a day. Interestingly, on feeding days most of the
animals eat a almost double the amount that their ad lib fed mates do.
Thus the IF animals eat about the same number of calories overall that
the ad lib fed animals eat, but, and this is a huge 'but,' the IF
animals enjoy all the health advantages that the CR animals do, and,
in fact, are even healthier than the CR animals.

Like caloric restriction, intermittent fasting reduces oxidative
stress, makes the animals more resistant to acute stress in general,
reduces blood pressure, reduces blood sugar, improves insulin
sensitivity, reduces the incidence of cancer, diabetes, and heart
disease, and improves cognitive ability. But IF does even more.
Animals that are intermittently fasted greatly increase the amount of
brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) relative to CR animals. CR
animals don't produce much more BDNF than do ad libitum fed animals.

What's BDNF? (The Wikipedia definition is actually pretty good)

BDNF, as its name implies, is a substance that increases the growth of
new nerve cells in the brain, but it does much more than that. BDNF is
neuroprotective against stress and toxic insults to the brain and is
somehow–no one yet knows how, exactly–involved in the insulin
sensitivity/glucose regulating mechanism. Infusing BDNF into animals
increases their insulin sensitivity and makes them lose weight. Humans
with greater levels of BDNF have lower levels of depression. BDNF
given to depressed humans reduces their depression. And Increased
levels of BDNF improves cognitive ability. In short, you want as much
BDNF as you can get., and with IF you can get a lot.

But, who wants to go all day every other day without food?

Well, you don't have to.

http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/intermittent-fasting/fast-way-to-better-health/


One of the recent papers published on the less rigid IF schedules
caught my eye because one of the authors was Don Laub, who used to be
the chairman of the plastic surgery department at Stanford. When I was
in medical school I thought I wanted to be a plastic surgeon so I went
to Stanford during a part of my senior year and worked with Dr. Laub
as my mentor.

In this study, published in the journal Medical Hypothesis in March of
this year, Dr. Laub along with two other physicians (neither of whom I
know) underwent their version of and intermittent fast. The three of
them have since May 2003 been on a version of the IF in which they
consume about 20-50 percent of their estimated daily energy
requirements on the fast day and eat whatever they want on the
non-fast days.

Since starting their regimen they have observed health benefits starting in as little as two weeks, in insulin resistance, asthma, seasonal allergies, infectious diseases of viral, bacterial and fungal origin (viral URI, recurrent bacterial tonsillitis, chronic sinusitis, periodontal disease), autoimmune
disorder (rheumatoid arthritis), osteoarthritis, symptoms due to CNS
inflammatory lesions (Tourette's, Meniere's) cardiac arrhythmias
(PVCs, atrial fibrillation), menopause related hot flashes.

In their paper these researchers discuss a 1957 paper from the Spanish
medical literature.

…the subjects were eating, on alternate days, either 900 calories
or 2300 calories, averaging 1600, and that body weight was maintained.
Thus they consumed either 56% or 144% of daily caloric requirement.
The subjects were in a residence for old people, and all were in
perfect health and over 65. Over three years, there were 6 deaths
among 60 study subjects and 13 deaths among 60 ad lib-fed controls,
non-significant difference. Study subjects were in hospital 123 days,
controls 219, highly significant difference. We believe widespread use
of this pattern of eating could impact influenza epidemics and other
communicable diseases by improving resistance to infection. In
addition to the health effects, this pattern of eating has proven to
be a good method of weight control, and we are continuing to study the
process in conjunction with the NIH.
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From:daphnep
Date:February 2nd, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
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That's so cool. I am heartily impressed by your attitude.
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From:crasch
Date:February 3rd, 2008 11:56 am (UTC)
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Thanks!
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From:inpetto
Date:February 2nd, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
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I think you're making smart choices that are likely to motivate you. I believe they make success more likely. You probably know what your failure modes are when it comes to trying to clean up your diet, and if I don't miss my guess, one of them is one I also have: oh shit, I haven't eaten in awhile and I'm !@#$%* HUNGRY and there's nothing in the fridge/I didn't pack a lunch. Next thing you know, you're eating something you'll regret later.

Uniform eating strikes me as a good way to ingrain new habits. Replacing the habit of Arby's with the habit of broccoli and salmon will be easier if the initial few months are designed like a script. Much in the same way, CrossFit's WOD takes the planning and thinking out of 'working out' (but not the variety). You just go to the gym and do whatever Greg Glassman said you should do.

My experience is that when I know what I am going to eat all week and buy it all at once, I am less likely to eat unhealthy food. It doesn't have to be exactly the same thing every day (though it usually is for breakfast), but it *does* work better if the whole week is planned out and in the fridge.

Good luck!
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From:crasch
Date:March 10th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
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Thanks!
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From:ravenmimura
Date:February 2nd, 2008 09:50 pm (UTC)
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excellent!

best of luck to you!
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From:crasch
Date:February 3rd, 2008 11:56 am (UTC)
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Thanks!
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From:zarex
Date:February 2nd, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC)
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This is all kinds of awesome. I, for one, want to help keep money out of that evil anti-charity.

I would caution you on this diet though; you really need to hit at least 1500 calories a day to keep healthy, especially if you're working out.. you don't want your body to go into starvation mode, lose muscle, and the rest.

I'd recommend logging everything into www.fitday.com . You can even make your weight and food journal open to the world (us).
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From:crasch
Date:February 3rd, 2008 12:00 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! I agree, I'm shooting for 1500 calories/day, plus X calories on my cheat day.
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From:integreillumine
Date:February 3rd, 2008 12:53 am (UTC)
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How do you measure your BMI? There are ways to do it, but I've noticed most weight-height charts for it are a bit circular. They can still be useful for a range, though.
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From:crasch
Date:February 3rd, 2008 12:01 pm (UTC)
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I used realage.com's online BMI calculator, which took in my height, weight, and waist measurements.
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From:kittles
Date:February 3rd, 2008 01:33 am (UTC)
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Wow, I can't believe the blackmail diet was four years ago! I do remember when you posted it.

I think what you should do is look at this as your "before" starting point photos and go from there. You have many good features (arms, legs, and the aforementioned adorable rear end) and slimming down gradually will emphasize those parts. And you've got a handsome face (IMO). :)

I didn't see a call for advice, but I'll give you some anyhow. You're right, one year is waaaayyyy too long to attempt to make a goal. I do much better with "one week resolutions" or "one month resolutions" at most.

I think the number one biggest thing you can do for your weight is: keep a food diary. My diary is what kept me from drinking a dew last night when I REALLY REALLY wanted one. Instead I had a bag of trail mix and a bottle of water because I knew I wouldn't feel guilty writing that down. (I use SparkPeople now, and like FitDay also).

I'm happy to see you trying Crossfit!

I'd love to look in on your progress if you want to add me.

Oh yeah, and I am really impressed at your courage and follow through!
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From:crasch
Date:February 3rd, 2008 12:03 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the encouragement and the tips!

I actually did Crossfit for about 6 months when I lived in Raleigh, but quit when I moved to California. It's great! As you know, it really kicks your ass.

I'll send you an invite to track me on stickk.com.
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From:darius
Date:February 3rd, 2008 06:51 am (UTC)
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I'd like to second the recommendation for Shangri-La.
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From:smjayman
Date:February 3rd, 2008 06:35 am (UTC)
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Some people do best by chucking themselves in the deep end. I'm one of them, perhaps you are as well.
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From:crasch
Date:February 3rd, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I think it's easier for me to have "bright lines", where the progress I'm making (or not making) is very clear.
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From:kimeidoplex
Date:February 3rd, 2008 09:05 am (UTC)
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Good luck!
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From:crasch
Date:February 3rd, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC)
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Thanks!
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From:tdj
Date:February 4th, 2008 05:16 am (UTC)
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Best of luck!
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From:crasch
Date:February 5th, 2008 07:57 am (UTC)
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Thanks!
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