The Fugue Counterpoint by Hans Fugal


The Hacker’s Diet

I came across this blog post while googling an unrelated gnuplot problem, of all things. The post talks about The Hacker's Diet. Duly intrigued, I whipped out my razor and plowed through the book. I like it.

The book is well-written, doesn't take itself too seriously, takes the subject matter seriously, and takes the audience seriously, i.e. you aren't expected to be Superman—the program is very down-to-earth and achievable. It is slightly aged (he mentions at one point that you need a color monitor to really appreciate the color graphs), but this isn't a problem.

The best part about the book (besides being free) is that he takes the problem of weight loss and attacks it as an engineering problem. He comes up with an understanding and a plan and implements it, and loses some 70 pounds. This book definitely appeals to every inner geek.

The worst part about the book is that his solution involves calorie counting. That makes me sick on so many levels, but I'll just rant on two of them. First of all, a calorie is not a calorie. I don't know if this is new knowledge or not, but we see it in all the latest fad diets. Atkins, GI, etc. are all based on the fact that a calorie is not a calorie. Second, I am not going to spend my life counting calories, thank you very much. I'd rather drink oil.

Speaking of drinking oil, this book has a very interesting parallel to the Shangri-La diet. They both use the thermostat analogy, but Shangri-La aims to adjust your off-kilter internal thermostat and this book aims to replace your broken thermostat with record keeping and conscious decision. Certainly, one could apply both at the same time.

In spite of me not wanting to count calories, I do intend to put a modified version of this plan into practice. Since I don't want to count calories, I am going to have to rely on some other feedback. Since most of us eat a relatively manageable variety of foods, we should be able to get an instinctive feel for "how much" we are consuming on a meal-by-meal and/or day-by-day basis. Indeed, he talks about getting to this point, by accident. I intend to get there much sooner, on purpose. By keeping a food log and comparing it to weight loss/gain over the period of a month or two or three, and studying it in hindsight, I should be able to get a feel for three "thermostat settings": lose weight, maintain weight, gain weight. It may be a bang-bang approach, but there's also the minute automatic adjustments and body's metabolism adjustment working in your favor while trying to stay stable.

I have adjusted my weight graph to include a trend plot as described in the book. While I was at it, I added the plot for measured body fat percentage (which I need to start doing more frequently). BMI is a linear relationship with weight, so the kg on the left correspond with the BMI on the right. So, by graphing measured body fat percentage you can see whether I am above/below the BMI for my given weight, plus see that otherwise invisble chasm between losing fat and losing weight. If you'd like to set up your own such graphs, I'm happy to share my code with you. Just drop me a line.

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  1. A calorie IS a calorie. Recent meta analysis of 10 different diets showed that number of calories was the overriding factor in weight loss.

    One guys just did a diet purely on chocolate and lost weight -

  2. You’re quite wrong, but I doubt I’ll change your mind here. I certainly don’t blame you for not believing it from this post, but there is plenty of evidence out there if you’re willing to read it. Basically, the human body is a complex system and unsurprisingly it reacts differently depending on a lot of factors. Not only is a calorie not just a calorie, but it’s a different calorie depending on when you eat it and other factors.

    And I don’t doubt some guy lost weight eating only chocolate. Complex system.

    Incidentally, the Shangri-La thing is ridiculous, so thanks a bunch for reminding me I once gave it the time of day. :-P

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