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I'm turning 40 this December, and that's caused me to deeply re-evaluate my health. In high school I had wrestled at the 152 lb weight level and was a gymnast. In my 20s, I ran two 50 mile ultra-marathons and a half dozen marathons. I had a 33 inch waist and weighed 185 lbs. I could eat whatever I wanted and stay in good shape. But after a decade of doing startups, I found myself in my late 30s in much worse shape. My metabolism hit a wall when I turned 30, and although I didn't eat terribly, I also found it hard to figure out exactly how to get back to where I was in my 20s. My waist was 38 inches and I weighed 245 lbs; 93 lbs over my wrestling weight. My triglycerides were 33% above where they should've been. I'd imagine this happens to many of us as we get older, and I felt helpless as I watched all of this unfold, almost like it was happening according to some script that I wasn't in control of. Most of all, I was really disappointed in myself for not staying on top of my health, but I couldn't find the right balance of eating and exercising to change the path I was on. It felt like I was on a slow motion slippery slope as I got older and more out of shape.
When my daughter was born in 2013, I made myself a promise: I would be in as good of shape when I turned 40 as I was when I turned 30. I didn't want to have a hard time keeping up with her as she grew up. I started doing CrossFit twice a week that year. I signed up and completed a few triathlons. But my weight still wouldn't budge from 245 lbs, and my triglycerides, although lower, were still 15% above the max recommended range. CrossFit was making me much stronger, but that was only part of the puzzle. I had to figure out the rest, and I hadn't quite cracked it.
In December of last year, I realized I was running short on time: I'd really have to hump it to get back in shape within the next year, before my 40th birthday in December 2015. By this time I had upped my CrossFit schedule to 3x per week and I started rowing for 15 minutes before CrossFit started in the mornings. But that still wasn't enough: By April I knew I was going to have to take some much more drastic measures to reach my goal.
This blog is a story of those drastic measures, and how they're going. It's a deep-dive into the rabbit hole that we call 'health' as I see it. It's a journey that I invite you to take with me as we all get older, together. I am only starting to unlock some of the things that affect my body and I would love your thoughts and opinions as well in the comments below.
Let me also caveat this entire blog by saying that some of what I write about below is contrary to the things we've been told to believe, and I fully recognize that. I'm not a medical expert and I'm not telling you to throw away what you believe to be true. But just walk into all of this with an open mind, as I'm trying to do, and more importantly, be willing to try some of these things yourself if you also want to experiment a bit to try to find a better path than you've found so far.
The Mind, or: My brain as my own worst enemy
I've often wondered if I have an eating disorder. I think I might. I've never had it properly diagnosed, but here's why I think so: When I look at food, it talks to me. I don't mean that it's literally speaking to me, but the feeling is that it's like a magnet and I feel this irresistable sense of attraction to it. It doesn't matter what kind of food it is, and it doesn't matter how hungry I am -- if there's food and it's out on a table, I want to eat it. I thought this was normal, and everyone felt this way, until five years into dating my now wife, I told her one day "isn't it crazy how food talks to you?" and she responded with "I don't know what you're talking about." And then I said to her (incredulously) "wait, are you saying that when you look at this delicious food, and then you look at something that's not food, like this glass, the feeling you get from those two things is exactly the same?" And she said, "that's exactly what I'm saying." That was a mind blowing moment for me. I had absolutely no idea that food didn't talk to other people. I have the hardest time not grazing on food that's accessible to me. I've talked to others about this since and I've come to the conclusion that people have this sense of irresistible attraction to food at varying levels. Some people say, for example, "yes I feel that a bit, but it doesn't cause me to pick food up and put it in my mouth." If you feel this a little, but you can control it, then just imagine that feeling but multiplied by 100x whenever you pass by any type of food. That's what it's like for me. And the worst part of having this feeling is that I get mad at myself when I eat the food, and yet I can't help myself from doing it. It's a really destructive thing, and I've literally never been able to control it.
Until I tried intermittent fasting. For the very first time in my life, I feel like I'm in control of my body.
I recently saw this BBC documentary that got me started with Intermittent Fasting. If you're interested in the topic, it's a really great place to start. I credit this documentary with helping me find an approach that puts me in control of my body for the first time.
I'm going deep on intermittent fasting in this first health blog installment because although it's just one of several things I'm doing to get in shape by December, it's the most effective and meaningful change I've made. In addition to fasting, I'm also rowing on an indoor rower 6x per week, and I'm going to CrossFit 3x per week. But here's the simple truth: Controlling the food you put into your mouth pays much greater dividends than trying to control how you burn the calories later.
It's not even close -- in our society today, with restaurant dinners that easily surpass 1,000 calories and scientifically engineered foods that trigger our primal savory + sweet cravings, it's hella easy to ingest way more calories than your body needs. If you only try one thing from this blog, my suggestion is that you try intermittent fasting.
First off, some vocab:
IF: Intermittent Fasting. IF means you fast for some period of time on a regular basis (and the time periods vary as you'll learn below.) Here's a guide to five types of intermittent fasting.
ADF: Alternate Day Fasting. Also called a "4:3 fast" because you are fasting every other day (i.e., on 3 out of every 4 days per week). This is one specific type of IF.
I'm two weeks into an eight week, 5:2 intermittent fasting experiment (where I fast for two non consecutive days each week), and although it's been the most meaningful thing I've done to date to lose weight, I'm not even doing it for the weight loss. That's just the great side benefit. I started doing it because of the amazing body of science that's starting to show how ridiculously good fasting is for one's overall health.
Although below I provide a summary of the benefits I've found in researching intermittent fasting (and some associated quotes), watching that BBC documentary above is the easiest way to get up to speed on the benefits of intermittent fasting.
"There is nothing else you can do to your body that is as powerful as fasting." - BBC Documentary
"Fasting alone is more powerful in preventing and reversing some diseases than drugs," said Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor of regulatory biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California
" Data show that IF, when done properly, might help extend life, regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids, manage body weight, gain (or maintain) lean mass, and more."
Research on mice as far back as 1945 showed that calorie restriction in mice promotes up to 40% longer lifespans in rodents.
" Mattson thinks that intermittent fasting acts in part as a form of mild stress that continually revs up cellular defenses against molecular damage. For instance, occasional fasting increases the levels of “chaperone proteins,” which prevent the incorrect assembly of other molecules in the cell. Additionally, fasting mice have higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that prevents stressed neurons from dying. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to everything from depression to Alzheimer's, although it is still unclear whether these findings reflect cause and effect. Fasting also ramps up autophagy, a kind of garbage-disposal system in cells that gets rid of damaged molecules, including ones that have been previously tied to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurological diseases."
"Restricting caloric intake to 60–70% of normal adult weight maintenance requirement prolongs lifespan 30–50% and confers near perfect health across a broad range of species. Every other day [ADF] feeding produces similar effects in rodents, and profound beneficial physiologic changes have been demonstrated in the absence of weight loss in ob/ob mice. Since May 2003 we have experimented with alternate day calorie restriction, one day consuming 20–50% of estimated daily caloric requirement and the next day ad lib eating, and 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. We hypothesize that other many conditions would be delayed, prevented or improved, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, brain injury due to thrombotic stroke atherosclerosis, NIDDM, congestive heart failure."
"The limited human evidence suggests higher HDL-cholesterol concentrations and lower triacylglycerol concentrations but no effect on blood pressure. In terms of cancer risk, there is no human evidence to date, yet animal studies found decreases in lymphoma incidence, longer survival after tumor inoculation, and lower rates of proliferation of several cell types. The findings in animals suggest that ADF may effectively modulate several risk factors, thereby preventing chronic disease, and that ADF may modulate disease risk to an extent similar to that of CR"
"A large body of evidence for the physiologic benefits and life-extending properties of CR now exists. Restricting daily energy intake by 15–40% has been shown in both animals and humans to improve glucose tolerance and insulin action, which indicates an enhancement in insulin sensitivity (7, 8); to reduce blood pressure and the heart rate, which is consistent with benefits for cardiovascular health (9-11); and to reduce oxidative damage to lipids, protein, and DNA, which implies a protective effect against oxidative stress (12-15). Many other effects of CR have been documented, including increased average and maximal life span (12), reduced incidence of spontaneous and induced cancers (13), resistance of neurons to degeneration (14), lower rates of kidney disease (15), and prolongation of reproductive function (16)."
Here are more specific benefits of intermittent fasting I've culled from my research:
The following are reduced:
The following are increased:
The following are improved:
I don't know if all of the benefits above are true. As I said, I'm not a doctor, and everywhere I researched, I kept seeing cautions that most of the real research done so far has been done on animals vs. humans. But I was intrigued enough to give it a try, so I went to my doctor 2 weeks ago and got a baseline of tests done: IGF-1, Hemoglobin, full metabolic panel. I'm going to try a 5:2 fast for eight weeks, and then get another set of blood tests done for a true before & after comparison. I'll also leave updates in the comments below on how things are progressing for me.
This 5:2 schedule allows for one small (600 calorie for men, 500 for women) meal on fasting days, which I've been doing in the first few weeks, but I'm going to try skipping that meal on my next fast day because by the evening of a fast day, I find that I'm not super hungry, as I mention in the video above.
The other thing I really like about 5:2 intermittent fasting so far is knowing that I can easily dial it back to 6:1 once I reach my target health goals, or I can ramp it up to 4:3 if I don't feel like I'm progressing enough. This is really what's helped me feel in control of my body for the first time: On fast days, I just say 'no' to all food. I don't have to fight individual cravings.
As this article mentions, we all practice intermittent fasting on a "12/12" basis already. We eat at regular intervals, typically between 8am-8pm, and then we don't eat between 8pm and 8am the next day (largely because we spend much of that time sleeping). The crazy thing about intermittent fasting is that it's not necessarily about restricting the overall calories you eat, but just about when you eat them. There's a lot of science that shows that you can eat the same number of overall calories in a week, but by fasting for several days per week, you still gain many of the benefits listed above. In reality, it's also likely you'll consume fewer total calories in a week if you restrict meals on 2 days, and in fact in the first two weeks of doing it I've dropped from 245 lbs to 230 lbs (the picture at top was of the scale the morning I wrote this blog!) which is a bit surprising. I'll be curious to see how that trend continues.
Exercising During Intermittent Fasting:
As this article mentions, "if you’re fairly sedentary during the fast, you may need the full 20-24 hours without food to realize the benefits. However, if you’re very active, or you exercise purposefully during the fasted state, you may be able to enjoy the same benefits after only 16-20 hours without food." I'm following a pretty robust exercise schedule, so I'll report on specifically how it is exercising during fasting. So far, it's been great -- here's a post I recently posted on Facebook:
That's quite a bit to take in to start! More to come, including more comments below. I'd love to hear what you think, and how it goes for you if you decide to give it a try.
Want to go deeper?
About a year ago, I wrote a blog called "Show Me the Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work," where I talked about two new(ish) investment strategies my wife and I were using. I wrote a followup blog about the first strategy, Electronically Traded Funds (ETFs), where I compared Betterment vs. Wealthfront. Now here is a followup on the second newish strategy that you're probably not yet trying out, but absolutely should be: Peer to Peer lending... or put another way: Lending money to complete strangers as an investment strategy.
I'm going to write this blog as a step-by-step how-to guide on trying P2P lending. Don't think you have enough money to become an investor? Wrong. Just set aside $25 to invest in each of the 2 biggest platforms. Seriously, who can't part with $50 to try something that will change your perspective on lending?
First, more on what P2P lending is:
I'm going to share a story about the forest vs. the trees. But it's not the story you're expecting to hear.
My last blog post was about Doing Less, Better, which is my theme for 2015.
A big part of doing less, better is achieving focus. But that very word is often misunderstood. Focus means the elimination of distractions, not the mitigation of distractions. Let's dig into that more deeply:
The first hard thing in a startup is knowing what to focus on initially. When you first start, you don't have strong product/market fit in anything, so like any good LeanStartup you might start with a hypothesis and work through the build --> measure --> learn cycle as quickly and effectively as you can. The key is to find some early area of traction & demand that you can build off of.
There's a great article in the NYTimes about Slack, a new startup that the Valley is buzzing about. Slack is a business messaging & collaboration app, and it's really, really good. The reporter in the article questions whether this year-old company is really worth $2.8 billion.
Slack is not good because it has a ton of features. In fact, it's missing the things that I would expect it to have.
It's good -- and worth its valuation-- because it does less, better.
The things Slack chooses to do, it does insanely well.
This new startup, Jet.com, is looking to be the Costco of the web, and to undercut Amazon's prices by an average of 10%. They won't focus on speedy 2 day "prime" delivery. Instead, by being a member and paying a $49 annual fee (like you do with Amazon or with Costco), you'll get access to discounts, but the products will take longer to ship to you. This is a great model for non-time-sensitive things, like re-ordering diapers.
But the best part of it is how they're building a pre-launch interest list: When you sign up, they give you a unique sharing code. For example, mine is https://jet.com/#/ji/cj2tx and I'm currently member 124,837 of 124,877 on their interest list. The more people sign up based on your code, the more rewards you unlock. That's not all that new or innovative -- but the part that's great is that they're offering lifetime memberships and even stock options to their top sharers. Which is a great marketing move, although the reality is that getting 100k options doesn't mean much unless you know how many total shares are issued, and what the strike price is. But it's marketing genius!
At a recent DFJ venture capital conference, I heard the story of Arash Bayatmakou.
He fell from a 3rd story balcony a few years ago and landed on his neck, paralyzing him from the chest down.
Incredibly, he's determined to walk again. We exchanged emails after the conference and he signed off with this:
A high five, coming from a guy who's facing incredible challenges every day just to get back to doing the things we take for granted. I loved it, and decided that from now on, I'm going to sign my emails with a high five as well, as a tribute to him and his positive attitude.
Time is our most precious asset, and none of us know how much of it we have left.
It's ironic, then, how easily we let it slip away. An hour for a meeting, an hour in traffic.
Next time you get asked to spend an hour doing something, just hold it up to this filter before you decide:
I'm going to share one of my most powerful negotiating techniques. The funny thing is that up until a year ago, I didn't even realize this was a technique -- I thought everyone did this. But apparently not -- here's the backstory:
But before we get started, remember what Spiderman was told: "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility." The technique I'm going to share with you can be abused, and when it is, you'll come off as a total jerk. That might be fine if that's what you're going for. But make sure you focus on using it responsibly. More on that at the end.
I absolutely love this video of Zuck talking about Facebook back in 2005. If I had been in that room, I wouldn't have been able to guess that Facebook would become a $180+ billion company.
The best part: Zuck describes Facebook in minute 1 as an "online directory for colleges." Not only does that not like a billion dollar business, but it also sounds like a terrible startup idea.
The lesson: The key nugget is "I launched it in Harvard in early Feb 2004, and within a couple of weeks, 2/3 of the school had signed up". That is an incredibly strong signal that there's a really good initial product/market fit. This is a recurring theme that also permeated Y Combinator's recent Startup School, which talks about the importance of finding product/market fit above all else.
The kicker: I love how, in minute 3:55 Zuck is asked "And where are you taking Facebook?" He responds with "I mean, there doesn't necessarily have to be more."
The richest 1% of Americans have access to great financial tools and advice: Firms like Goldman Sachs provide them with (legal) tricks like Tax Loss Harvesting (TLH). Never heard of TLH? Neither had I until my buddy Andrew Dumas, after reading my post titled "Show Me The Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work," mentioned a new startup called Weathfront that was on the cutting edge of ETF fund-based portfolio management. This opened a whole new world of investing up to me, which I'd like to share with you.
But first some background: In my past blog post I talked about ETFs, or Exchange Traded Funds, which are a class of funds that create a basket of stocks based on a particular segment of the market. For example, in the past if you wanted to invest in technology companies you basically had two options: You could pick the companies you thought would be the winners, like Google and Yahoo and buy stock in those directly, or you could invest in a mutual fund that has an expert who picks the companies, and you'd pay a management fee for his or her expertise. But ETFs offer a third choice, and it's worth really understanding how they work. Here's a description from Wikipedia: