Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

HOWTO: Lose weight

The standard advice for losing weight is to eat less and exercise.

Exercise is almost worthless as a weight-loss strategy: the number of calories you burn through exercise is miniscule and typically more than made up by your instinct to eat a little extra after exercising. Increased exercise is a consequence of losing weight, not a cause — when you lose weight you will have more energy and it will be easier to move, so you will then exercise. You have to lose weight first.

That leaves eating less. I have found three strategies to be effective here:

  1. Get rid of all snacks. It used to be when I was hungry, I’d just grab a snack from the kitchen. It got so I basically did this without thinking and, as a result, I ended up eating a lot of snacks. Now the only food I have is unprepared; if I want to eat, I have to consider it and take the time to actually cook something or travel to someplace that sells prepared food.

  2. Drink more water. There are lots of reasons to drink more water, but it’s also a great way to lose weight. A lot of what feels like hunger is actually thirst, while having water in your stomach seems to counteract certain feelings of hunger. Furthermore, burning fat requires extra water.

  3. Don’t be afraid to be hungry. This is no doubt my most controversial tactic, but I do tend to think the body has a “set point” for the number of calories it’s used to consuming. Lowering that set point may mean ignoring a bout of hunger or two and possibly even going a whole day without eating. But after that, your body gets full after eating much less. Again: I’m not saying more than a day — this isn’t anorexia — but a one-day fast is far from unheard of.

    This may be easier for me since I almost always eat meals alone, making it no big deal if I skip them. People who eat meals with others may need to get used to only eating a side dish or just nibbling at their order.

Losing weight has been better than I ever imagined. Not only am I dramatically thinner, but I have more energy, I waste less time eating, and I now like the way I look. I’m much more flexible and mobile and, most incredibly, I’ve gotten taller — this at the age of 23. (A lot of people are skeptical that I’ve actually grown taller, but the changes are measurable and dramatic and come with all the symptoms of height growth I remember from my childhood (including the strange urge to stretch vertically on a regular basis). I suppose it’s possible the height difference simply results from better posture, but that seems worth counting.)

I do not propose a new diet or some new theory. These are very simple commonsense tips: remove temptation, get enough water, remove obligation. But I’ve found they’ve been enough for me to lose dramatic amounts of weight. I used to be embarrassingly chubby, now people worry I have anorexia.

You should follow me on twitter here.

March 1, 2010


Yes, this is called the starvation diet. It’s been done a few times before. You read Good Calories, Bad Calories?

posted by john P. Speno on March 1, 2010 #

Was the point to change your shape or become more healthy?

I’ve started running for the first time for the last few months. I’m much much stronger and have much more energy, though I’ve probably gained weight if anything. (Which has me pushing 220.) Mostly I’ve been trying to learn how to run, with fat loss being a secondary goal. I do wonder though how much easier it would be if I wasn’t lugging all this mass around…

Getting core strength has improved my posture and thus my height; lifting up the rib cage makes a big difference.

posted by Will Schenk on March 1, 2010 #

Exercise only works as a weight-loss strategy if you exercise enough to burn off your body’s sugar stores and get your body into fat-burning mode. This is actually quite difficult — it takes longer than most people are willing to exercise.

posted by Wayne on March 2, 2010 #

When the body is undergoing caloric restriction, it not only uses stored fat to produce energy but also excess muscle. Anyone who sets themselves up with the myopic goal of “losing weight” can succeed, at least for a time, with simple caloric restriction. However, one of the results is a lowered metabolic rate. This is why people who successfully “diet” and then revert to a “normal” diet not only gain their lost weight back but actually add more. Understanding that one’s metabolic rate is decreasing along with one’s weight is mandatory to successfully maintain weight loss attained via simple caloric restriction.

When you say that “Exercise is almost worthless as a weight-loss strategy,” you are only right if you are talking about low-intensity endurance exercise. However, as low-intensity endurance exercise has cardiovascular benefits, it’s foolish to dismiss it if one is concerned about actually being healthy instead of just being skinny.

Your dismissal of exercise as a successful weight loss strategy is most wrong when speaking of resistance training. Resistance training increases the metabolic rate, meaning one can often not only eat the same amount and lose weight but can even eat more and still lose weight. Moreover, combining resistance training with low-intensity endurance exercise is a great way to burn fat, especially when undergoing moderate caloric restriction. The resistance training mitigates the loss of muscle mass and decrease of metabolic rate while the low-intensity endurance exercise becomes ever more effective as the body’s lean muscle mass increases.

Given that a major contributor to adult obesity is the gradual loss of muscle mass associated with aging and the resultant decline in metabolic rate, it is irresponsible to promote methods that will result in further decreases in metabolic rate, the which most often leads of itself to obesity as it becomes increasingly difficult to eat smaller and smaller amounts over time. Caloric restriction alone is not a viable long-term solution for optimum health and fitness. The best way to obtain a healthy body and maintain it through the decades is a combination of good nutrition and regular exercise, the latter of which should include intense resistance training and a cardiovascular endurance regimen.

posted by Ferdinand Bardamu on March 2, 2010 #

That’s how I lost weight — eat less. Pretty simple. I’m pretty sure John Walker would agree: http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/www/hackdiet.html

posted by srid on March 2, 2010 #

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