DROdio http://danielodio.com A Sanctuary for Founders and Entrepreneurs en-us Fri, 28 Apr 2017 05:58:07 +0000 http://sett.com Sett RSS Generator Build Your Startup Like a Matryoshka Doll http://danielodio.com/treat-your-startup-like-a-matryoshka-doll "Experience is what you get right after you need it." - James C. Wofford Armory is the startup I've always wanted to create. I'm applying everything I've learned over the past fifteen years from previous startups. Below are some of those startup lessons explained as a se]]>

"Experience is what you get right after you need it." - James C. Wofford

Armory is the startup I've always wanted to create. I'm applying everything I've learned over the past fifteen years from previous startups.

Below are some of those startup lessons explained as a series of Matryoshka Russian stacking dolls, with the customer sitting at the center, encompassed by product, company and tribe.

Build The Product Around The Customer. This sounds obvious, and I thought I knew how to listen to customers, but I've never done it like this before, and now I see companies of all sizes missing opportunities to build value around their customers' needs.

At Armory, we've talked to over 150 prospective customers since starting the company just five months ago. We have learned from them and found consistent pain points across multiple customers that we are addressing as we build the product. Importantly, we didn't write a single line of code until we'd completed 100 customer conversations. And I don't just mean quick conversations -- I mean thirty to sixty minute deep dives with the target customers, where all the founders took copious notes, dissected the responses after the call, and looked for patterns across calls. We'd often ask if we could record the call and then re-listen to it to ensure we didn't miss anything the first time. It's an intense process, something I've never done before in any previous startups, and it's an approach championed by co-founder Ben Mappen, our Chief Product Officer.

For example, here's something we learned in our first month that surprised me:

The Armory team increased deployment frequency by over 300x at a previous company where we worked together and we experienced how incredibly valuable it was to deploy faster. Faster deployments led to happier engineers because they could actually see their code running in production, it led to us working on parts of the codebase that hadn't been touched in a long time because there was less friction to actually ship an update, and it enabled the executive team to focus on getting an entirely new line of business started. In short, when we started Armory, we were sure that velocity would matter to every company because we knew how transformational it had been for us, and we were excited about starting a company to bring deployment velocity to other enterprises.

But after talking to our first 100 prospective customers, we realized that what they are really looking for isn't velocity, it's safety. For much of the Global 2,000, software deployments are really scary. In some cases, prospective customers told us about how they still deploy software by taking their website down for planned maintenance, getting everyone in a room, pressing the "deploy" button, and literally crossing their fingers in the hopes that the new deployment didn't break anything. They do this on a Friday night so it affects as few customers as possible. But that means when something goes wrong, their team has to work over the weekend to resolve the issues. These companies are so scared of deploying software that they are literally turning their service off, ensuring the end user can't even access their service during an update, and then affecting employee morale by making them clean the mess up on the weekend!

So while as Armory founders, we were passionate about the velocity enabled by continuous software deployments, our prospective customers just wanted to be able to deploy with safety and reliability. If we hadn't teased that out at the beginning, we would have been solving the wrong problem -- one that did not yet resonate with our target customer. In fact, deploying faster is just about the last thing you want when you can't even deploy safely and with confidence today. And even though we know that once we can help our customers deploy more safely, they will then become interested in deploying with more velocity, our job is to listen to, and solve for, their urgent needs today.

It's hard to overstate the impact of this learning we teased out of our first 100 conversations. We are literally building a different company because of it. We thought we knew the problem we wanted to solve, but building the product around the customer taught us that we didn't.

If there's one opportunity I see large companies waste the most, it's usually this one. Established companies have a customer base they can learn from, but many of them have unhappy customers that feel unheard. It's the biggest irony because as a startup founder you desperately wish you could have actual customers to talk to, and yet large companies squander opportunities to innovate, often because they have existing revenue streams to protect, and innovating can mean disrupting their existing lines of business.

I've also seen large companies squander opportunities to learn from customers because they want to make their product (whether digital or physical) perfect before putting it in front of customers. Companies with established brands have a natural inclination to want to protect that brand and the consistency of that customer experience, and they have the luxury of time -- their existing revenue streams that remove the urgency of innovation.

The reality is more nuanced: A company's ability to segment customers into innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards will enable that company to put the right level of innovation and ideation in front of customers that will appreciate it the most, and keep it away from the customers that won't.

Building a product around the customer begins at startup stage with listening to the urgent needs of target customers, finding patterns of needs that span across multiple customers, ensuring the need is something the target customer will pay for, and choosing a large or growing market to do all of this in. When the startup matures, it's about segmenting the customer base so as not to loose that ability to listen and innovate. Regardless of stage, not doing this spells doom for a company of any size -- it just takes larger companies much longer to die than startups.

We're applying the same approach to our product roadmap. Every single item there has been validated through multiple customer conversations. It's easy to think you understand the customer after a few conversations, but my advice to founders after doing this is to talk to 100 prospective customers before you write a single line of code, because patterns emerge when you talk to that many customers that you won't see otherwise. If anyone wants to learn more about specifics surrounding this process, like figuring out who your target customer is, how to run these calls, what questions to ask, how to get them on the phone, etc., I'll be happy to ask Ben if he'll write a blog post about it. Just drop a comment in below.

Again, all this sounds obvious, but if you're a startup founder, here's the litmus test: How many prospective customers have you really talked to? How many customers have you understood urgent pain points from? Where's the document with your recorded conversations and copious notes of each conversation for you to refer back to and tease commonalities out of? How much code have you written (or prototyping have you done) before truly understanding your target customer's needs?

Build The Company Around The Product: Companies with great products that work well and solve real problems create lasting, durable and scalable value. Facebook's advertising revenue is skyrocketing because its core product, the news feed, is very good. The iPhone was a hit a decade ago because it was a better kind of phone; same thing with the iPod before that. Having a strong product at the core of our company makes all the other aspects of the business better. It's easier to recruit new hires. It's easier to market strong products because passionate customers enable very authentic marketing initiatives (like mixing current and prospective customers at events). As Marc Benioff says in his book, Behind the Cloud, his tactic when building Salesforce was to turn "Adopters into Addicts." I really like that phrase, and we're focused on doing the same thing at Armory. But this approach only works when the product works.

Building the company around the product also means we provide very high levels of support to our customers so we can make sure they are happy with the product. We even retrospect with our customers twice a month to dissect where we're doing well, and what we can be doing better.

It's also easier to sell a good product vs. a bad one -- such an obvious statement that it pains me to even have to write it, but I've seen up-close how companies that prioritize sales over product hit a wall and can't scale past a certain level. Chasing deals will drive some revenue, but long sales cycles and a churning customer base will keep you from achieving escape velocity.

One really good piece of advice I got on this topic was from a fellow tech CEO who told me his business started to scale when he realized that the word "interesting" in sales pitches is a very bad signal. "Interesting" really means "not urgent enough for me to dedicate a budget to it right now, but interesting, so come back later and see if you've solved my urgent problem then." He started to treat "interesting" as a bad word for closing deals and used it to dig deeper and find out how he could make the product better in a way that would solve a more urgent need for the prospective customer.

Build A Tribe Around The Company: Tod Sacerdoti, the founder of Brightoll, has a great post on the importance of creating a Tribe in a startup (in addition to other invaluable startup advice). His perspective greatly influenced our goal of building a Tribe around Armory. A startup is, by definition, doing something impossible (otherwise it wouldn't be a startup), and doing impossible work requires a lot of understanding and support, not just from the people working in the startup, but also from the support network -- the spouses, families, and friends. We specifically prioritize events that will foster the creation of a Tribe, and we offer family-friendly perks and benefits, including free companion airfare anytime we send someone on a business trip.

We've applied these Matryoshka Russian stacking doll principles at Armory via three maxims we live by. These are dedicated to optimizing the product around the customer, the company around the product, and the tribe around the company:

  • One hour of talking to customers is worth 8 hours sitting in the office
  • Why Are We Building This? Do We Need To Build It Now? [1]
  • The Tribe Is Not Built from 9 to 5

I can blog more about these Maxims and how we use them to guide our decision making if anyone wants to hear details on that or some of the other things I've learned over my past startups (like doing 10 year founder vesting); just drop a comment in below. You can also read my CEO Manifesto on Armory's blog to learn more about how I'm building Armory.


[1] This second maxim deserves a blog post of its own at some point. It's a saying from Andrew Backes, our first employee, who uses it to make sure he's building the right thing at the right time, but it also applies beyond code to all activities we spend time on. We've happily adopted it as an Armory Maxim -- thanks, Andrew!

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Wed, 25 Jan 2017 00:53:39 +0000 http://danielodio.com/treat-your-startup-like-a-matryoshka-doll
Instrumenting a Startup: The Tools & Services We're Using to Start Armory http://danielodio.com/instrumenting-a-startup When Isaac, Ben and I started Armory late last year, I found a lot has changed since starting my last startup, Socialize, in 2008. There's a suite of new tools available to instrument a startup that didn't exist eight years ago, including: Incorporate + AWS Credits + Me]]>

When Isaac, Ben and I started Armory late last year, I found a lot has changed since starting my last startup, Socialize, in 2008. There's a suite of new tools available to instrument a startup that didn't exist eight years ago, including:

  • Incorporate + AWS Credits + Merchant Acct: We incorporated Armory using Stripe's Atlas program, which costs $500 but provides $15k in AWS credits in addition to a host of other benefits (including getting a Stripe merchant account set up).
  • GCP Credits: We also got $20k in GCP credits via Google's Cloud platform for Startups
  • Payroll & Benefits: We chose Gusto for payroll and benefit administration and have been very happy with them (use this link to get a $200 credit upon signup)
  • Accounting & Expenses: Xero is a next-generation bookkeeping system and it integrates well with Expensify & Stripe.
  • BackOffice: We're using OfficEngine for back office administration. We also looked at Bench and InDinero but chose OfficEngine because they specifically work with Xero (vs. having their own proprietary accounting system). This gives us flexibility to keep using Xero if we outgrow the services OfficEngine can provide, vs. having to export all our data.
  • Communication: G Suite is still the best thing out there. We power our email up with Mixmax which offers BigDripper-style functionality. I can't say enough good things about CloudApp for visual communication, especially when paired with Slack.
  • Cap table management: This is something I didn't even know I wanted, but now that we've started using eShares, I can't imagine how we managed cap tables using Excel.
  • Other tools: We use Ghost to administer our Armory Blog. We use Rebrandly for vanity short URLs, and it includes link retargeting functionality. We use Adroll for very targeted advertising.

I haven't yet blogged much about Armory because we've been busy building. But if you'd like to learn more about the Software Revolution and how Armory is involved, head over to our Company Manifesto. I've also written a CEO Manifesto that describes the main jobs of a CEO in a startup (and the importance of creating a Tribe culture), and if you're interested in working at Armory, take a look at why life is awesome over here!

If you're generally interested in startups, head over to my "So You Want to Start A Company..." hackpad with my best tips on startups.

Above is a picture of Andrew and Isaac on-site at a customer. I'll write more about the experience of doing another startup over the course of 2017.

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Wed, 11 Jan 2017 02:07:32 +0000 http://danielodio.com/instrumenting-a-startup
Leverage The Last Mile http://danielodio.com/the-last-mile Most of the work went into building I-40. But for the three houses in the circle above that live off of Lomaki Road, most of the]]> One of my best "get things done" tricks: is that I focus on the "last mile" of whatever I'm doing.

Here's a picture to illustrate what I mean:

Most of the work went into building I-40. But for the three houses in the circle above that live off of Lomaki Road, most of the value came from the last mile of service roads that were built to make the interstate accessible.

I see people spending a bulk of their time on the big parts of a project -- the equivalent of building I-40. But then they leave the service roads -- the details -- un-built, which means they never actually unlock that value.

A good signal this might be happening to you is when you hear yourself (or others) talk about ways you could accomplish something without actually doing it. And especially often, I hear people waiting for a trigger before they take an action.

So if I ever mention to you "how can you 'last mile' this?" what I'm asking is, "what's that one additional thing you can do, right now, to unlock the value of the project, that's not dependent on an external variable?" There are almost always small things you can do immediately that will unlock that value. Some specific examples include things like:

  • Lock in those dates right now instead of saying "we should meet sometime soon."
  • Create that slack team right now instead of saying "we should see if the group wants a slack team" (and then when you talk to the group about it, you can tell them "we have a Slack team for you to join")
  • Send a version of that contract redline back with all changes accepted and your signature already on it (it's incredible how powerful this is -- all the other person has to do is sign and they're done, vs. nitpick your redlines)
  • And the 'last mile' list goes on

Hope that helps you unlock more value in the things you spend your time on!

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Fri, 21 Oct 2016 18:53:04 +0000 http://danielodio.com/the-last-mile
A Step by Step Guide To Take Control of Your Body http://danielodio.com/a-step-by-step-guide-to-take-control-of-your-body It just blows my mind how little we know about our bodies and how to keep them healthy. Most people I talk to aren't happy with the state of their bodies. They either feel like they're too fat, or too skinny, or some other complex. And it's not just feelings -- many peop]]>

It just blows my mind how little we know about our bodies and how to keep them healthy. Most people I talk to aren't happy with the state of their bodies. They either feel like they're too fat, or too skinny, or some other complex. And it's not just feelings -- many people, especially on the Western diet, are too fat. And in fact, are clinically obese but don't know it. That described me for a decade. I was literally on the verge of metabolic syndrome and didn't even know it. That's incredible: I was putting my self at double the risk of coronary disease, diabetes and a slew of other diseases and I didn't even realize it. I see that same benign neglect of the body in most people around me. There's a general dissatisfaction of their bodies, but very little action taken to improve it, and I think it's because most people are a combination of confused as to what the best path forward is, and reluctant to make big changes without being sure they're making the right ones.

So while I don't necessarily have answers, I can offer a plan to help you begin your journey to figure it out, and the good news is, it's a very simple plan and so easy to follow that I guarantee this will work for you like it has for me. (Or "Your money back!" so to speak) You just have to decide you want to try. Here it is, step by step.

Step 1 in DROdio's "Achieve Your Body Goals" Plan: Adjust Your Attitude (Seriously.)

The very first thing you have to do is decide to take control of your body's fate, and not to let yourself feel like a victim. You are not a passenger along for the ride. You are driving. You have to believe that you impact the outcome with your actions, because you can, and you will. I have. For over a decade I felt like a helpless passenger. As my metabolism slowed down, I'd continue to put on the pounds and couldn't figure out how to stop it. I started hating the scale; hating that I was becoming someone other than who I knew I really was. It wasn't until I took this first step that I was able to take control. You have to really want to do this.

Step 2 in DROdio's "Achieve Your Body Goals" Plan: Mindfully Prioritize Your Actions

Like Ghandi said, "Actions express priorities." Part of adjusting your attitude includes adjusting your priorities. To put it simply, you have to put your body first for a little while in your life. Not forever, but for long enough to change your habits and find a 'new normal'. This means you put your body over your work, over your family, over everything. I'll explain how below, but if you're not ready to prioritize your goals with actions, then you're not ready to improve. Every day we're each becoming fitter or fatter. There is no middle ground. And worse, life's default state is to become fatter and less healthy. You have to put in work to achieve the opposite result.

Step 3 in DROdio's "Achieve Your Body Goals" Plan: Create a Goal and Figure Out How You'll Measure It

Have you decided you're ready to take control of your body, and to put actions behind that desire? The next step is to imagine an ideal you. What outcome do you want to achieve? For me initially it was a body weight goal, but I pretty quickly switched to a body fat percentage goal. I want to be no more than 20% body fat. For a male my age, that's top of the healthy range. In order to create this goal, I first had to understand my baseline. You can only improve what you can measure. I bought this body fat scale, which calculates weight and body fat. It's not stupendously accurate, but it's served as a great directional guide. Now I had the data to see how I was progressing on a daily basis. (Once I started getting serious aobut this stuff, I realized my baseline was 34.7% body fat. Wowza. I had lots of work to do!)

Step 4 in DROdio's "Achieve Your Body Goals" Plan: Embrace Experimentation and Timeboxing

This is the really key step. There's so much conflicting literature (which I'll dive into below) that it paralyzes most people even if they can get through the three steps above. I hate how the scientific community changes its mind every couple decades. We're just coming out of a 'fat phobia' generation where we've been using artificial sweetners, margarine vs. butter, and sugars to reduce the amount of fat we consume. If you look at Western (and especially American) waistlines it's pretty clear this approach isn't working. Many nutritionists recommend eating many small meals daily, while more recent research extolls the benefits of fasting, including intermittent fasting. It's hart to know what to believe.

This is the only answer: You have to decide you are going to experiment for yourself to see what drives results for you. Here's the best way to do that:

1) Create a framework for experimentation. I would recommend you break your experiments up into one month chunks. You can do anyting for a month, right? Whatever actions you decide to take, do them for at least 30 days and evaluate how it's affecting you. Remember in step #2 above you decided to prioritize your body over everything else. That comes into play here. For example, let's say you decide you are going to try a 5:2 fast for 30 days. This means that in every 7 day period, you skip meals on 2 of those days nonconsecutively. In order for this experiment to really work, you can't do 5:2 "except on the nights that I have a work dinner." Or "except on the nights that I have guests in town." You have to prioritize this 30 day experiment above all else. This is your body we're talking about -- the thing that keeps you alive and in this world. It's worth a month of your prioritization. Maybe you decide to only do one 30 day experiment every three months. That gives you two months off between each experiment. You can run four experiments a year this way. Prioritize those precious months to find a new normal that you can benefit from for the rest of your life.

2) Decide on your first experiment. I have some more specific advice about that below. Nothing replaces just jumping in and tryig it. Start your first experiment today.

3) Decide in advance how you will measure the success or failure of your experiment. Are you going to be tracking some metric like body weight or body fat? Do you want to get baseline blood labwork done so you can track things like triglyceride levels, HDL, LDL, blood pressure? Decide in advance what will constitute success in your first experiment. An example might be something like "I want to lose 1% body fat within the next 30 days."

Step 4 in DROdio's "Achieve Your Body Goals" Plan:

Rinse and repeat until you find a set of experiments that a) are effective for you and b) are sustainable. Here's what this process has looked like for me:

As I wrote here, I was turning 40 and scared enough by the way my body was degrading that I was ready to do something drastic about it. I've run the following experiments that are both diet and exercise-related:

  • 5:2 Intermittent fasting: Fasting two non-consecutive days of every seven
  • 4:3 Intermittent fasting: Same as above, but fasting three non-consecutive days per week. You can find my fasting blogs here
  • Ketogenic Dieting: Staying in state called "ketosis," by eating a high fat, low carb diet, which I dig into here
  • - Rowing 1 million meters in 8 months
  • - Doing CrossFit three times weekly

I've gotten to the point where I really enjoy experimenting to see what the effects are, because for the first time in my life, it gives me control. It proves to me that I can move the needle; that I am in fact driving, that I can affect the outcome.

The challenge is that while I've found things that work incredibly well for me (like fasting), as I've gone down the health rabbit hole, I've ended up with more questions than answers. I'm going to dig into those below by layout the things I know to be true, think to be true, and am not soure about, and how all of this is driving my future experimentation.


The healthier I am today, the longer and richer a life I will lead overall.

Inflammation = cellular destruction. "Chronic inflammation has been associated with many medical and psychiatric disorders, including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer, autoimmune diseases, schizophrenia and depression" - Nutrients v.5(3) 2013

Insulin must be controlled. The human body secretes insulin in response to the consumption of carbohydrates and protein in order to regulate blood sugar. This process, in turn, drives the body to store fat.

Fasting is healthful for a number of reasons, backed up by strong science. "Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have found that a compound produced by the body when dieting or fasting can block a part of the immune system involved in several inflammatory disorders such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. - YaleNews... The ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) "is a metabolite produced by the body in response to fasting, high-intensity exercise, caloric restriction, or consumption of the low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet"

Sugar is toxic. There's ample science that it is. A great place to start is this NY Times article and this 60 Minutes video.

The ketogenic diet may lower chronic inflammation in the body: "Our findings suggest that the anti-inflammatory effects of caloric restriction or ketogenic diets may be linked to BHB-mediated inhibition of the NLRP3 inflammasome." - NatMed 3/15 (What are "inflammasomes"? They are "key signalling platforms that... activate the highly pro-inflammatory cytokines," so, inflammasomes = causes of inflammation in the body). NLRP3 (a type of inflammasome) specifically "is associated with complex diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, gout, and multiple sclerosis... Blocking NLRP3 represents a promising therapeutic approach to complex diseases" ...and the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) may inhibit them.

Refined carbohydrates with high glycemic indexes are bad: In Good Calories, Bad Calories, "Taubes elaborates by examining evidence of the effects of carbohydrates on tribes with a "traditional" diet high in meat or fat and low in carbohydrates. He finds that the introduction of refined carbohydrates in the diets in these cultures resulted in increased prominence of diseases of civilization like obesity and heart disease." ... "Taubes contends that carbohydrates, specifically refined carbohydrates like white flour, sugar, and starches, contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments. Taubes posits a causal link between carbohydrates and cancer, as well." Related: Bread is carbs; most bread is bad. Wheat bread has the same glycemic index as white bread. 100% grain whole wheat bread's glycemic index is 30% lower. (Often people eat wheat bread thinking it's 100% grain bread.)


Is a 100% ketogenic really good or really bad for you -- or neither? There's conflicting evidence. On the one hand there is research that shows that a diet high in animal fats and proteins combined with low carbohydrate intake (aka the classic Atkins diet) creates a higher mortality rate: ... but on the other hand there is newer research showing the exact opposite: "People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades, a major new study shows." - NY Times article 9/14, referencing this study funded by NIH: ... and that the act of being in ketosis (which occurs when you restrict carbohydrates) can protect the body from certain types of glucose-dependent cancers, delay the onset of dimentia, and reduce chronic inflammation.

My Next Experiment:

I've been eating ketogenic since November, and have enjoyed it. And I believe there may be some significant health benefits to staying in ketosis. My take-away from my three month ketogenic diet experiment has left me with more questions than answer, which is an indication to me that I want to keep experimenting. I might come back to a 100% ketogenic diet in the future, or I might do it for shorter periods of time in the future. I'm not sure yet.

What I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that fasting has been life changing for me. I've gone from a 38 waist to 32. From XL to M shirts (skipping over L entirely). From 245 lbs to 185 lbs. I'm going to keep fasting for the forseeable future, and I'm going to stay on a 4:3 fast until I hit my 20% body fat goal.

My wife Sue has been incredibly supportive as I've experimented. She's cooked some delicious keto foods, including keto bread, keto ice cream, and other keto deliciousness. Since I have very poor food willpower (part of the reason fasting is so good for me is it's binary: I'm either eating, or not, which greatly reduces the cognitive overhead for me), we're going to try the following experiment for a while to see how it goes:

  • No breads, pastas, noodles or other carb-rich foods on "regular" days
  • No food with high sugar or added sugars (includes yogurts, juices) on "regular days"
  • A de-emphasis on meat on "regular days" with the exception of high Omega 3 fatty protein (certain types of fish)
  • OK to break the rules occasionally on "indugent" days -- but when we do so, we do it together to make it something special for us as a couple. This might mean we eat out at our favorite french restaurant once in a while.
  • A focus on whole, unprocessed foods and an aversion to processed foods
  • A focus on low glycemic carbs like beans, lentils, colored yams, berries
  • A focus on nuts, high fat fruits and vegetables like avocados (technically a fruit!)

This pattern of eating is similar to the one espoused by National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner in "Blue Zones," which identified holistic lifestyles of populations that have long lifespans, which also includes strong social interactions and regular amounts of exercise. Here are some great blog posts written on the topic:

I hope you'll join me by beginning your own journey of experimentation!


The picture above is of a keto-friendly "five dollar toast" that Sue made. It was as delicious as it looks!

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Fri, 12 Feb 2016 00:48:19 +0000 http://danielodio.com/a-step-by-step-guide-to-take-control-of-your-body
What I've Learned After a Year of Prioritizing My Health http://danielodio.com/uid/1241393 When I turned 39 last year, I knew I was in trouble, and although I hadn't recognized quite how bad my health had gotten, I knew enough to realize I had to do something about it. On my 39th birthday I vowed that by 40, I would be back in the kind of shape I had been in a]]>

When I turned 39 last year, I knew I was in trouble, and although I hadn't recognized quite how bad my health had gotten, I knew enough to realize I had to do something about it. On my 39th birthday I vowed that by 40, I would be back in the kind of shape I had been in a decade earlier, when I'd turned 30.

Today is my 40th birthday, and I've not only hit that goal, but surpassed it. I might be in the best shape I've ever been in. I'm in much better shape that I was when I turned 30. Possibly even better shape than I was when I turned 20, back in 1995. In this blog post I'm going to share how I did what I never thought I'd be able to do: Take control of my body and health for the first time in my life, which would require me to overcome my genetic predispositions and a tortured relationship with food.

The formula is equal parts motivation + relationship w/ food + relationship w/ exercise. So let's break it down in that way:


Motivation is a funny word; it sounds like something you just do. But I've been "motivated" to be healthy for decades. Who isn't? Nobody wants to be out of shape. And so I tried to eat low fat, tried to eat smaller portions, tried restricting sugar, tried exercising. I even ran a few marathons while in the kind of shape you see in the picture above, at left. And yet my body weight (and more importantly, body fat percentage) would still creep up every year from the year before... and I really didn't know what to do to stop it, even though I was "motivated" to try.

What I've realized after this past year of intense focus on my health is that my previous "motivation" was only a shadow of what I needed to actually effect change. It took a looming milestone like my 40th birthday to get me to really prioritize my health. But even then, four months into my "motivated" state, I hadn't made any significant changes. It wasn't until May of this year (when I realized I was going to miss my goal) that I really started making drastic changes to my life: I started rowing and I started fasting. I started prioritizing my goal with actions. More on that below. But the point is, your body is never static: Every day you're either becoming more or less fit. And unless you are truly motivated to become more fit by making changes the actions around how you eat and how you exercise, over time life will by default make you less fit. And that hole gets harder and hard to crawl out of the longer you let it go.

Relationship with food:

I've come to the conclusion that one's relationship with food matters way more than one's relationship with exercise. In our modern society with abundant food, it's just so much easier to ingest way more calories than you can burn. My relationship with food is what required the largest adjustment. In July I started fasting two days per week, and have written a lot about it here. If you only do one thing to try to improve your health, start by recalibrating your relationship with food. Research is proving that fasting is healthful in addition to helping reduce your caloric overload. I've posted my best tips about how to give fasting a try in this comment.

I've also recently been experimenting with a ketogenic diet. I'm running that experiment through the end of 2015 and will report back on how it goes. I've been reading up on recent research which shows that being in a keto-adapted state can help regulate blood sugar and may help starve pre-cancerous cells, in addition to other benefits. I don't know how bulletproof the recent research is, but I do know this: It takes 17 years for medical research to reach clinical practice. This means that much of the guidance you get from your doctor is based on decades old science. I encourage you to be curious, to experiment, to see what works for you and your body. At stake is nothing less than your very life and well being. You owe it to yourself to put some time into trying to optimize it.

Relationship with exercise:

I've always enjoyed being active, but I've never enjoyed having to exercise for health. I used to run a lot but never enjoyed it much. It was always an obligation to put my running shoes on, and I often wouldn't do it even though I knew I should, which made me feel even worse. But then, through CrossFit, I realized I really enjoyed rowing. So I bought this Concept2 Model D rower and set a goal for myself: I would row a million meters before my 40th birthday. When I set that goal I didn't quite realize how much work it would be -- I ended up having to row a marathon's worth of distance every week for half a year to hit that goal.

But I did it successfully, achieving it yesterday, one day before my 40th birthday. I've really enjoyed rowing -- it's low impact, utilizing my legs, my arms, my back, and my core. And it's really good cardio; I can keep my heart rate in the 135-150 range for an hour or more. I've also found that I've gotten some of my best personal record rowing times on fasting days, which makes me think that I really do burn energy more efficiently when rowing while in ketosis. Rowing may not be the thing that does it for you, but I recommend you keep trying different types of exercise until you find something you enjoy doing, and then set a big hairy audacious goal for yourself to meet.

I'd love to hear your stories -- if you're at the point in your life where you're ready to prioritize and optimize your health-- so we can walk this path together.


Pic at top by SKO of me rowing the final meters of my 1,000,000 meter goal, at Pinnacles National Park

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Mon, 07 Dec 2015 07:09:41 +0000 http://danielodio.com/uid/1241393
Beyond Fasting: The Ketogenic Rabbit Hole http://danielodio.com/beyond-fasting-the-ketogenic-rabbit-hole I'm about to take you down a deep rabbit hole, on a path that will challenge what you believe about nutrition and health. This is a journey of experimentation, and I encourage you to keep a very open mind, and in fact, I hope you decide to experiment with these themes ]]>

I'm about to take you down a deep rabbit hole, on a path that will challenge what you believe about nutrition and health. This is a journey of experimentation, and I encourage you to keep a very open mind, and in fact, I hope you decide to experiment with these themes yourself. I'm not a nutritionist or doctor, but I am very passionate about finding ways to optimize my body and health (especially as I age), which is why I've been doing intermittent fasting for the past five months -- and that experience has been life changing. I've gone from XL to medium sized shirts, from a 38 to 32 waist, and most importantly, from 34.7% body fat to 24.5% (and my goal is to get under 20%). Intermittent Fasting has put me in control of my body for the first time in my life.

And just when I felt that I was really starting to figure it all out, this rabbit hole opened up. And it's called ketosis.

In addition to intermittent fasting, I'm experimenting with ketosis through the end of 2015, which is triggered by eating a ketogenic diet comprised of 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs. Yes, that's right -- in order to lose fat and become healthier, I'm going to eat mostly fat. The mind blowing counter-intuitiveness of that statement is why I'm writing this blog.

But before we can talk about this ketogenic approach to nutrition and health, we have to understand how the body uses two energy sources -- glucose and ketones -- and why, with your diet, you are probably only ever tapping into glucose (and how that may be making you unhealthier, especially as you age).

See an enlarged version of this picture here. The illustrations come from a video for a ketone supplement called Keto-OS -- see my comment below.

Glucose is the "lighter fluid" energy source that your body uses to create energy for its cells, whereas ketones are the "charcoal" -- harder to ignite, but can power your body for longer when used because ketones burn fat and are a more efficient metabolic energy source. Why does the human body have the ability to burn two entirely different types of energy? The theory is that as humans evolved, we went through periods of feast or famine and had to be able to make use of energy when available, as well be able to as stash away longer-term energy, which was stored on our bodies as fat, and then convert it to energy (via the creation of ketones by the liver) when the glucose was depleted.

But in our modern society, sugar and carbs are all around us, all the time. We never starve for 2 days between meals. This means our bodies dutifully store away excess glucose as fat, but we never tap into those reserves to actually use them -- we don't need to; our bodies can be powered 100% of the time with glucose thanks to plentiful access to calories all around us.

What this meant for me was that six months ago, I was on the verge of having Metabolic Syndrome, and I didn't even know it. Metabolic Syndrome (a proxy for insulin resistance) put me at an elevated risk for getting many types of Cancer, Alzheimers, Obesity, Diabetes, Stroke, and Coronary Heart Disease. One is defined as having it if one has three of the following five indicators:

  • Expanding waistline (above 40"; mine was 38")
  • High Triglycerides (above 150 mg/dL; mine were at 141)
  • Low HDL (below 40 mg/dL; mine was at 38)
  • High blood pressure (systolic BP > 130 or diastolic BP >85 mm Hg)
  • High blood glucose (above 100 mg/dL; mine was at 98)

Astonishingly, the prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome is estimated to be 34% of the US adult population, and if you've got it, you have a 2x increase in risk for heart attack. Dr. Peter Attia has an excellent hour-long talk about the ketogenic diet and Metabolic Syndrome, which I highly recommend to anyone who's flirting with these numbers, as I was. Here's a screenshot from his talk showing his numbers (and I've overlaid mine):

I'm going to get my blood re-tested next month to see how (or if!) intermittent fasting has helped bring my markers down from these at-risk numbers, but I know that at the very least my waist has gone from a 38 to a 32, which is encouraging.

The big take-away: When you eat sugar and carbs, your body burns what it can and converts the rest into fat as storage. But when you don't eat sugar or carbs your body switches to a fat burning mode called ketosis, and it becomes "keto-adapted" which means it gets good at burning fat directly, and your body doesn't care if the fat it's burning is fat you're ingesting, or fat it has stored away. This is why, counter-intuitively, when you almost completely remove carbs from your diet and replace those calories with fat, your body becomes more adept at burning fat instead of storing it. The ideal caloric intake ratio is 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs.

The big caveat here is that you can't have a diet that's high in fat and high in carbs, because whenever you ingest carbs, your body switches to burning them and you fall out of ketosis, which also means you start storing the fat. So if you're inclined to cheat on diets, and you just can't resist eating those carbs, then this approach will backfire on you. And I happen to be one of those people. I just hate having the cognitive overhead of having to think about whether I should be eating something or not (that's why fasting has been so good for me -- either I'm eating that day, or I'm not. Very binary). So why would someone like me who absolutely hates "diets" try the ketogenic diet for a month? It's because, just like with fasting, recent medical research is starting to show that staying in ketosis is very good for one's body, including:

  • Being in ketosis makes your body more efficient, which makes you less hungry. (Many people also experience a clarity of mind when their bodies switch to ketosis, myself included)
  • Ketosis helps get rid of abdominal fat, which is an especially harmful type of fat
  • Being in ketosis tends to lower triglycerides dramatically
  • Being in ketosis is known to raise HDL
  • Being in ketosis dramatically lowers blood sugar and insulin levels (In one study in type 2 diabetics, 95.2% had managed to reduce or eliminate their glucose-lowering medication within 6 months)
  • Blood pressure tends to go down in ketosis
  • Removing carbs from one's diet leads to lower inflammation
  • And most importantly for me: Low-carb diets are the most effective treatment known against Metabolic Syndrome

Eating on a ketogenic diet is interesting -- you can have in abundance the kinds of foods you usually restrict, so long as you don't let yourself go near sugar or carbs. Here are some examples:

A very ketogenic dinner: Pork belly (perfect ratio of fat to protein) and lots of veggies. The glass of wine contributes about 4 grams of carbs (my daily limit is 50 grams).

Dumplings made from cabbage instead of flour... and delicious!

Salami, with some special gluten free, grain free, very low carb "keto crackers" that my wife Sue baked.

For a snack, I have nuts or sardines, an incredibly healthy way to get protein and other nutrients.

If you'd like to go down this rabbit hole with me, I'd love your company. I don't know if I'll keep eating ketogenic past the end of 2015, but I am enjoying the experiment so far. If you want to dive in head first, I highly recommend the following resources:

Tim Ferriss interviews Dr. Dom D'Agostino:

This three hour-long podcast is incredibly medically dense but also incredibly good. If you're skeptical about what I've written above, I highly recommend you give it a listen. This is the single best resource I've found to date about this topic.

Dr. Stephen Phinney - 'Optimising Weight and Health with an LCHF Diet' - Part 1

This is a three-part series of videos (I've only linked to the first video), each about an hour long, and they're spectacular.

Dr Peter Attia on How he changed to burning fat instead of burning sugar

This is the video I linked to earlier in the post.

Peter Attia: What if we're wrong about diabetes?

This is a TEDx talk about re-examining the relationship between Type II diabetes and obesity

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Sat, 28 Nov 2015 05:11:15 +0000 http://danielodio.com/beyond-fasting-the-ketogenic-rabbit-hole
15 Month Performance Review: Betterment vs. Wealthfront vs. S&P500 vs. Other Options http://danielodio.com/15-month-performance-asset-allocation-review-betterment-vs-wealthfront-vs-s-p500-vs-other-options I wrote this post in August 2014 comparing Betterment to Wealthfront, so it's been about 15 months, and I thought it'd be a good time to check in on relative performance, as a buddy of mine recently wrote: "I saw your post on betterment. I'm thinking of moving everythin]]>

I wrote this post in August 2014 comparing Betterment to Wealthfront, so it's been about 15 months, and I thought it'd be a good time to check in on relative performance, as a buddy of mine recently wrote:

"I saw your post on betterment. I'm thinking of moving everything over to a roboinvestor. What's your thinking on betterment vs wealthfront, and whether you'd just dump everything on there?"

As I wrote in my original post, I put $5k into both Betterment and Wealthfrontto test them against each other. To date, both have under-performed the S&P 500 by a considerable margin. S&P is up 10% since August 2014. Betterment is down by 2% and Wealthfront is down by 5.4%. So, should I just have invested in the S&P 500? And as per my other previous blog, Show Me The Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work, how should I re-allocate based on this new data? And what would I recommend to my buddy? Let's dig into the data a bit to come to a conclusion:

Here's a chart in my Betterment dashboard that compares the performance of my Betterment investment (in orange) to the S&P 500 over the same period (in blue). I also threw in a Vanguard bond fund's performance just for a benchmark on how a more conservative investment has done:

Sadly, Wealthfront's dashboard isn't nearly as sophisticated. Here's all they show me:

Interestingly, here's how the Wealthfront has actually performed vs. how they predicted it would:

Meanwhile, in my "six strategies" blog post I referenced investing in peer to peer micro-lending via LendingClub, and then I wrote this update on using the LendingRobot API to be more sophisticated about how I do the P2P lending. Here's the LendingRobot dashboard of my P2P returns to date:

So LendingRobot is predicting that the money I invested in LendingClub using its "automated investing" service (before I knew that LendingRobot existed) will return 8.92%, but the money I'm investing in LendingClub using the more sophisticated rules I've created with LendingRobot will return 13.20%, for a blended return of 9.79%. Needless to say, I've stopped using LendingClub's automated investing service and am using LendingRobot exclusively for all investments in LendingClub moving forward. But let's just assume I can make an average of a 10% return in LendingClub. Does that mean I should move all the ETF investments over to LendingClub?

Well, not necessarily: There are several drawbacks to P2P investing, namely:

  • Income that comes from P2P lending is taxed at ordinary income rates, whereas equities that are held for a year or more are taxed at long-term capital gains rates.
  • Dollars put into P2P are very illiquid because they're deployed into 36 to 60 notes, whereas the Betterment ETF funds are immediately available if needed.
  • The interest rate of those 36 to 60 months notes are fixed, so if inflation were to kick into gear in a big way, those returns would be fixed while costs rise. Arguably equities could perform better in a higher inflationary environment, or at least the money is more liquid so I could move it to other places.

And to add to the complexity, I recently found a Vanguard high yield ETF that's returning a 3.11% yield, which provides for a blended approach: the liquidity and tax benefits of long-term-hold equities with some of the income elements of P2P lending.

So at the end of the day, here's my answer to my buddy who asked: Your decision really has to be based on your goals. Are you looking for an income producing asset? Are you willing to deploy cash in a risky way? In that case I'd focus on putting cash into LendingClub, via LendingRobot. But conversely, are you looking to stash cash somewhere that it can grow with the markets, where you don't need any immediate income from it? In that case I'd go with equities because historically they return in the 7% range annually, they're more liquid and get better tax treatment. And even though the Betterment and Wealthfront investments have greatly under-performed the S&P 500 over the past 15 months, I'm still sticking with them for now (and for the bulk of my cash, with Betterment specifically, which I greatly prefer over Wealthfront from a user experience perspective). Logically, I buy into their approach -- I like the Tax Loss Harvesting, I like the diversification into large, mid and small cap stocks and emerging markets. But I'm definitely going to keep tabs on how things go over the next couple of years, and I'll keep writing these updates (I'm in this for the long haul -- here's to decades of updates!). If I don't see Betterment start to out-perform other alternatives over a multi-year period, I'll likely change my approach.

I'd love to hear feedback from anyone who loves to geek out on this as much as I do! And for those of you who don't invest at all: Start with something small. $50. $100. Just get into it. Try a few things. There's a world of difference between $0 and $100, even just in the way you feel like you're investing in yourself and your family's future.

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Fri, 06 Nov 2015 19:26:57 +0000 http://danielodio.com/15-month-performance-asset-allocation-review-betterment-vs-wealthfront-vs-s-p500-vs-other-options
Optimize the Passive Income on Your Short-Term Cash http://danielodio.com/uid/1233759 When I wrote my orginal post Show Me The Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work, one of the strategies I included was leveraging General Electric's high-yield money market account for the cash you want to keep readily available (i.e., cash you might need to acces]]>

When I wrote my orginal post Show Me The Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work, one of the strategies I included was leveraging General Electric's high-yield money market account for the cash you want to keep readily available (i.e., cash you might need to access in the next 3 to 12 months). But GE has shut that program down as an overall strategy shift away from its GE Capital business, and so I was left searching for an alternative. In this post I'll detail what corporate money market accounts are, how they work, how they differ from other types of savings or income generating accounts, and which the best alternative is. I'll also tell you what I ultimately ended up deciding to do, which was different than I expected.

Why you should care about this at all:

One of the mistakes I made in my 20s was not being curious enough about financial instruments, and how I could leverage them to reach my personal goals faster. I was so focused on building startups that I didn't pay enough attention to how to optimize my investments. I set out to change that in my 30s, and I've been blogging about it in the hopes that anyone else who isn't yet leveraging these tools can learn about and use them.

As with anything in life, from optimizing your health to optimizing your finances, you have to start with a goal. My family's financial goal is currently optimized for asset growth, with a secondary focus of passive income generation. Since we're still (relatively) young, we're willing to take aggressive stances on both. Here's how this breaks down for us:

Asset Growth:

  • A bulk of our assets are in equities, which we do via 'robo advised' Electronically Traded Funds (ETFs), with the risk dial turned up to '10'. This allows us to reap the benefits of general long-term gains in the stock market over time, while taking advantage of advanced functionality like Tax Loss Harvesting. The two leaders in this space are Betterment and Wealthfront. I've tested both and greatly prefer Betterment. Here's my blog where I detailed why.
  • Some people also turn to real estate, or investing in startups in this asset growth category; I talk more about that in my original blog post.

Passive Income Generation:

  • We also have a big chunk in Peer to Peer lending via LendingClub for passive income generation, which returns about 10% annually. We use LendingRobot to create sophisticated lending rules. I wrote an in-depth blog about how LendingRobot works here.
  • Some people also turn to equities that pay dividends in this category; I talk more about that below.

But what do you do with cash that you want to have more readily accessible, but you don't want to put at risk using the options above? For example, you may want to have 3 to 12 months of living expenses stashed away somewhere where you can access it in a pinch. You could put it into an FDIC-insured savings account, but the return is absolutely dismal -- the average bank savings account return is a crummy 0.06%; basically nothing. Alternately, you could put it into a CD, but then it's locked up for the duration of the CD, which defeats the purpose of having readily accessible cash. This is where these corporate money market accounts come in handy.

What corporate money market accounts are (and aren't):

This article from the WSJ explains these accounts (and their risks) well:

"With these corporate accounts, you essentially lend your money to the companies, and they in turn reinvest your money in higher-yielding investments, such as equipment leases to corporations or car loans to consumers. Because the corporate money-market account's debt is backed solely by the company's promise of repayment, investors in corporate money-market accounts are paid higher yields than they could fetch in traditional money-market accounts, which are typically insured by the FDIC."

That last sentence is important -- these accounts are not insured by the FDIC. This means if the company goes bankrupt, your money is at risk. You have to be ready to take that risk, which is why I recommend these accounts only for short-term cash allocation (cash you want to have access to that you think you could need within the next 3 to 12 months). Also important to note is that interest income is taxed at your ordinary income bracket (vs. stocks that you hold for a year or longer, or qualified dividends, which are taxed at a long-term capital gains rate).

Since GE recently stopped offering its money market account, I went on the hunt for other options. Here are the most reputable ones I found:

The winner of this batch is Ford for its high returns, relative company stability and ease of use. Sallie Mae Bank comes in a close second (and probalby comes in first if the FDIC protection is a must-have for you).

An alternate approach -- and the one I ended up choosing:

If you're willing to roll with the ups and downs of the stock market, but would still like some passive income generation, a good option would be to choose a stock which pays a dividend. This means that the stock throws off a cash payment, usually on a quarterly basis. (Not all stocks pay dividends). A good option here is the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (NYSE:VYM), which is currently paying a 3.11% yield. This ETF invests in a basket of stocks that all pay dividends (its ten largest holdings are currently Microsoft, ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson, GE, JP Morgan Chase, AT&T, P&G, Pfizer and Verizon), with a low expense ratio of 0.10%. An ETF, while it's a basket of stocks, trades under its own ticker symbol and acts like a passive mutual fund, with much lower management fees than mutual funds charge. I recommend you trade stocks using the Robinhood app, which provides $0 commission fee stock trades. Another benefit of buying dividend-paying stocks is that qualified stocks (like the Vanguard ETF) get capital-gains treatment on income instead of ordinary income treatment, lowering your tax bill. The downside of this approach is that your cash is tied up in equities, and if the market tanks, the value of your investment will fall.

Since our family's primary goal is asset growth, i'm taking the cash we had in the GE corporate money market account and moving it to the Vanguard ETF. While it's subject to the ups and downs of the stock market, it also provides passive income at a 3x higher yield and a lower tax rate than the other corporate money market options above, and since it's an ETF, it's easy to move in and out of the position quickly, meaning the cash is readily accessible when we need it. I wasn't expecting to go this route before I did my research, but it just goes to show the importance of setting a goal and then comparing your available options to your goal to make the right decision for you.

Lastly, at the end of the day, what matters most is that you start thinking about these things if you aren't already. I'm not an expert in these areas, and I'm learning as I go. I'd welcome comments from those who are experts in the comments -- whether you agree or disagree with my approaches.


The picture above is one I recently took in Hawaii at a friend's wedding. Since this post is about optimizing your finances for the benefit of your -- and your family's -- financial goals over time, I thought the symbolic nature of a wedding and the long-term commitments it produces was a great illustration of the importance of diving into these topics.

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Mon, 26 Oct 2015 14:24:17 +0000 http://danielodio.com/uid/1233759
Fasting Update: Three Months In http://danielodio.com/uid/1232365
NOTE: I've had many people tell me this article has motivated them to try fasting. Here's how to try it in the way that's most likely to ensure success.

It’s been 13 weeks since I wrote the in-depth post on my fasting experiment (read that first if you haven't already), which I originally only expected to try for 8 weeks. But the results have been so life changing that I’ve decided to continue doing it through at least the end of the year, and possibly indefinitely. Here’s what I’ve learned and experienced over the past couple of months, along with the pro-tips I recommend for others interested in trying it themselves, and answers to the questions I get most often.

The main thing I’ve learned in the past couple of months is that fasting is deeply misunderstood by people, including the reasons for doing it, the science and nutrition behind it, the actual experience of fasting, how it makes you feel, and how best to be supportive of someone in your life who’s giving it a try. Fasting just isn’t mainstream enough to make sense to people, and they often immediately respond with “I could never do that” (which is how I used to also feel before really diving into it).

From my fasting experience I’ve also become convinced that the obesity epidemic in America can be solved by integrating fasting elements into our culture. I don’t know if fasting will ever reach that level of cultural prominance, but I do now know with certainty that there’s a solution out there that works, and although fasting is a very individual thing, I’m convinced that it could be codified into an approach that could work for anyone. This also means that if you are unhappy with your current level of health, fasting is something you can do to fix it. It may not be the only thing you can do, but from experience I can tell you that it is absolutely an approach that will work. If you’re serious about trying to become healthy, fasting will work.

Pic at left is from earlier this year, before I started fasting. Pic at right is from a recent trip to Hawaii (thanks Amanda for the acrobatics, and Sarah for snapping the action shot!)

Here are my results from the past 3 months: The most obvious change is in my physique: I’ve gone from 245.8 lbs, which is a weight I’ve been at for the past 7 years, down to 209 lbs, a reduction of 15%. My body fat has decreased from 33.7% to 26.3%, a reduction of 7.4%, and my Body Mass Index has dropped below 30 for the first time in as long as I can remember. My muscle mass has improved from 32% to 36.1% (more on that later). I’ve dropped from XL to L shirts, and even put a medium sized shirt on at the beach the other day, which I never thought I’d do. My waist has dropped 4 belt buckle sizes, from a 38 to a 34, which has meant that I’ve had to donate most of my old clothes. But even more importantly, I feel great — sharper mentally and with more energy overall. I did a baseline series of blood tests when I started this fasting experiment, but I haven’t yet run the “after” set of metabolic panel blood tests, as I want to reach my goal first, which is to get my body fat below 20%. In July I dropped 2.8% body fat, then 2.3% in August, 1.2% in September and 1.1% so far in October. If I can keep a pace of about 1% body fat reduction monthly, I should be able to hit that goal by April 2016, and I’ll run the “after” blood tests then, along with an blog post update.

Although the changes to my physique are the most obvious ones, and the ones that everyone comments on (with people literally saying they don’t recognize me from older photos), those are the secondary benefits of fasting, and they pale in comparison to what I believe are its true benefits, which is that fasting promotes a healthier body that can repair its cells more efficiently, lower the risk of diabetes, lower the risk of coronary artery disease, better regulate blood glucose levels, fight off cancers more effectively, stay mentally sharp longer into old age, and possibly even extend lifespan. This is what makes fasting so misunderstood. People think it’s a diet, because that’s what they see. But I believe it goes much deeper than that. I believe fasting enables my body to perform better, for longer; maybe even decades longer. And few things are more meaningful than having an opportunity to craft a body that lasts longer and serves you better into old age, so you can do more of the things you want to do, with those you love, for longer.

A side note: If you don't know the important stats of your own body, like your BMI, body fat percentage, HDL, LDL, triglyceride levels, etc, then before you really consider whether or not you should fast, you'll have to decide if you want to get serious about your health overall. If you don't know your baseline, you won't know how much you need to improve to get to an overall level of health that's ideal for you.

The science around fasting is still in its infancy, so deciding to fast for reasons other than the immediate health benefits (which alone are tremendous) requires one to make some decisions today about what you want your life to be like several decades from now, and some of those decisions aren’t yet fully backed up by large-scale, randomized, controlled clinical trials, although the early science on smaller mammals and some human studies is promising and fascinating. Here are a few quotes to illustrate what I mean (with a bunch more in my original blog post, if you want to dig deeper):

  • "Together with our prior studies that showed decades of routine fasting was associated with a lower risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease, this led us to think that fasting is most impactful for reducing the risk of diabetes and related metabolic problems." - Medical News Today
  • “Prolonged fasting appears to shift stem cells of the immune system from a dormant state to an active state of self-renewal.” - Medical News Today
  • In mice, prolonged periods of fasting - repeated cycles of 2-4 days with no food - over the course of 6 months, killed older and damaged immune cells and generated new ones. - Medical News Today
  • "A study in the June 5 issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Stem Cell shows that cycles of prolonged fasting not only protect against immune system damage — a major side effect of chemotherapy — but also induce immune system regeneration, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal. In both mice and a Phase 1 human clinical trial, long periods of not eating significantly lowered white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles then “flipped a regenerative switch”: changing the signaling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems, the research showed." - Michelson Medical Research Foundation
  • “Intermittent fasting probably lowers the risks of degenerative brain diseases in later life. Mattson and his colleagues have shown that periodic fasting protects neurons against various kinds of damaging stress, at least in rodents. One of his earliest studies revealed that alternate-day feeding made the rats' brains resistant to toxins that induce cellular damage akin to the kind cells endure as they age. In follow-up rodent studies, his group found that intermittent fasting protects against stroke damage, suppresses motor deficits in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease and slows cognitive decline in mice genetically engineered to mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.” - Scientific American
  • “As the researchers report online today inCell Metabolism, the mice shed fat and were 45% less likely to fall victim to cancer. During their lean cuisine episodes, their level of blood sugar fell by 40% and the amount of insulin in the blood was 90% lower. And although brainpower usually declines with age, the mice retained more of their mental ability; they bested control animals in two kinds of memory tests, perhaps because they produced more new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain area crucial for memory. - Science Magazine
  • "Although the clinical results will require confirmation by a larger randomized trial," they add, "the effects of FMD cycles on biomarkers/risk factors for aging, cancer, diabetes, and CVD, coupled with the very high compliance to the diet and its safety, indicate that this periodic dietary strategy has high potential to be effective in promoting human healthspan." - Medical News Today
  • “People on the diet had improvements in blood glucose and decreased body weight compared to the control group. Those with initially elevated C-reactive protein levels (a marker of heart disease risk) had lower levels, while those with normal levels had no change.” - NIH Research
  • “By the end of three months, the participants in the FMD group had reduced markers of aging, diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, and cancer. Importantly, the FMD was linked to lower levels of the hormone insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-I), which previous work has found is connected to cancer risk and aging” - Forbes
  • “We do know for certain that fasting can have beneficial effects for the heart— significantly changing blood cholesterol levels and reducing the risks of heart disease. There is also evidence that it can combat obesity, lower blood pressure, lessen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Anecdotally, some patients find fasting before chemotherapy lessens the negative effects of the powerful cancer drugs.” - FOX news

As I read articles like those, coupled with my experience over the past three months, I quickly went from “I could never do that” to “how could I not do it?” The data is strong enough for me to be willing to make a long-term bet on the health benefits of fasting, and even if they don’t pan out, it’ll still have very much been worth it for the immediate benefits in my physique and energy levels. Here are some of the common questions I’ve gotten from people who are curious about what it’s like to fast:

“How hard is it?” This is probably the one I get the most often, and the answer is a bit nuanced. Fasting the way I choose to do it isn’t easy, and I’ve watched some people around me not be able to stick to it. They just get too hungry. But I’ve also built up to a pretty intense version of fasting over the past three months, which I describe below. There are milder forms of fasting that one can start with, and I highly recommend starting with something sustainable for you as you learn the limits of your mind and body. Here are various options, from what I consider easier to harder:

  • Overnight fasting for 8ish hours: The good news is that unless you get up in the middle of the night to eat, you’re already doing this one. Congratulations! They don’t call it ‘break-fast” for nothing; you’re literally breaking your fast from the night before when you eat breakfast. If you want to slowly build from this base you’ve already established, try eating your last meal earlier. Maybe you don’t let yourself eat after 8pm, for example, and then don’t eat again until 8am the next morning. You’ve just extended your 8 hour fast by 50%, to 12 hours this way.
  • 8/16 fasting: This is a more extreme version of the overnight fasting above: You only eat in an 8 hour window each day; say from 10am-6pm, and then you fast for 16 hours. Most people who utilize this approach maintain that eating vs. fasting window for 5 to 7 days of the week. I skipped over this level so I can’t speak to it, but I’d love to hear from people in the comments who do it.
  • 6:1, 5:2 or 4:3 fasting: This is my preferred fasting approach. I fast for two (5:2) or three (4:3) days per week. Fasting for 3 out of every 4 days of the week means fasting every other day, which is why a 4:3 fast is also often called Alternate Day Fasting, or ADF. NOTE: There’s also a modified, easier version of these fasts which is called a “Fasting Mimicking Diet” or FMD. There’s some science that shows that one can consume up to 25% of your normal caloric intake and still achieve the scientific benefits of fasting described above. This would mean, for example, that a male could consume about 600 calories on fast days. When I started fasting, I would do FMD by having dinner on fast days, but I pretty quickly dropped that because by dinner time I wasn’t hungry. More on that, plus how I choose between fasting for 2 or 3 days per week, below.
  • Multi-day fasting: This is what most people think about when they first hear about fasting; going without food for days at a time. I’ve never tried this; while I might at some point I don’t feel the need to now. The science to date is pretty solid that you don’t need to fast for consecutive days in order to reap the benefits of fasting, so my current attitude is “why put myself through it if it’s not necessary?” Dr. Michael Mosley did a four day fast in the BBC documentary on fasting I embedded in my first post; it’s a good watch to understand what the experience was like (spoiler alert: not great).

“What kind of fasting do you do?” I’ll fast for two or three non-consecutive days per week, with each fast day comprising a 30 to 36 hour period without food. An example would be that I eat dinner on Sunday night, then have nothing except water, coffee or tea on Monday, and I don’t eat again until breakfast on Tuesday. Depending on the week, I’ll either do that one more time (say, on Thursday or Friday) or I'll do it two more times (say, on Wednesday and Friday) later in the week. I try to plan my fast days based on how much I know I’ll be eating on other days. For example, I was just on vacation in Hawaii for the week and knew I’d be eating well there, so for the two weeks leading up to Hawaii, I fasted three days each week instead of my usual two. Then, I fasted on the day I traveled to Hawaii, as well as the day I traveled back from Hawaii, which meant that I was able to fast just one day while actually in Hawaii. I found this to be a good balance between indulgence and fasting.

“Do you eat more on your non-fasting days?” For me, fasting has been an incredibly liberating experience, as I wrote in my initial post, because it’s the very first time I’ve ever felt like I’m in control of my body. I’ve always had a really hard time not eating when food is in front of me, even joking that food ‘talks’ to me — or at least, that’s how it feels. Fasting removes all of that difficulty: There are days when I eat, and days when I don’t. On the days I eat, I don’t try to control myself like I used to, which means that I definitely eat more than when I was constantly battling myself. But over the course of the week, my overall calorie count is still greatly reduced. For example, I used to eat 2,500 calories per day, seven days per week, for a total of 17,500 calories in a week. There’s science showing that people who fast eat about 115% of their normal intake on non-fasting days, which feels about right to me. That means that in 5:2 fast weeks, I’m ingesting 2,875 calories per day, five days per week, which still creates an overall deficit of 3,125 calories in a week (and in weeks when I fast 3 days, a deficit of 6,000 calories each week). So fasting gives me the ability to not need to battle my food consumption desires on my eating days, which is incredibly liberating.

“How does nutrition play into fasting?” Our family prioritizes fresh, organic, and less processed foods (i.e., the foods you’ll find around the edges of the grocery store, not in the middle aisles). I limit all types of sugars (fructose, table sugar, honey, agave, etc) by not adding them to anything I eat (i.e., I don’t add sugar to coffee) and I also treat carbs (bread, pasta, beer, etc) as indulgence vs. everyday items. You can think about fasting and nutrition as separate but related: You don’t have to change your nutritional habits in order to begin fasting, although by fasting you’ll likely become more aware of nutrition generally. The more hardcore you are with nutrition, the more effective fasting will be.

“Aren’t you starving all day?” Surprisingly, no. On fasting days I’m hungriest between lunchtime and late afternoon for about five hours. By dinnertime, I’m not very hungry and by the next morning, I’m not at all hungry. If you can get through the part of the day when you are hungry, it’ll go away. Not being hungry in the evenings is what allowed me to drop the evening meal on my fast days.

“Do you exercise when you fast?” Yes! Exercise has played a key part in my fasting. As I wrote in my original post, fasting is a part of a larger goal I have to get back into the kind of shape I was in when I was younger. I primarily do two things: CrossFit 3x per week for strength, and indoor rowing 4x to 6x per week for endurance and general fitness. Interestingly, I’ve found that if I do CrossFit the day after a fast day (say I fast on a Tuesday, and then have CrossFit on a Wednesday morning) I’m noticeably weaker. Fasting keeps me from hitting personal records around max weight movements as quickly as I was before I started fasting. However, I’m also getting leaner, which helps me improve in other CrossFit workouts that aren’t just about lifting max weight, and as a percentage of my weight, my muscle mass has increased, so not hitting PRs as regularly is a trade-off I’m happy to make. In contrast, I find that my rowing often improves on fast days, which was completely unexpected. If I fast on a Tuesday and row that night after fasting all day, I find that I can often hit a rowing PR. There’s something about having already exhausted the glucose in my body earlier in the day, and rowing with energy my body is getting from fat stores that makes for a longer, more even power output. It was really a surprise. So I’ve found fasting to be bad for pure strength output but great for endurance output.

“Will you fast forever?” Possibly. All I know right now is that I’ve found something that gives me control over my body in a way I’ve never otherwise had. I expect that once I hit my goal of getting my body fat below 20%, I’ll likely switch between 6:1 and 5:2 fasts, meaning on some weeks I might only fast one day per week, and on other weeks (say when I know I’m going out to a big dinner that week) I’ll fast two days. What I do know for sure is that I’m happily extending my eight week test through at least the end of the year, and likely through mid next year so I can reach my goal.

“What’s the best day of week to fast?” I’ve found weekdays, when my mind is on work, are much better than weekends. I’ll only fast weekdays with one exception: When I’m traveling, I’ll fast on a travel day, which is often a weekend day, because eating while traveling is usually a pain anyway since it’s hard to find healthy airport food. I’ve found that traveling West, while generally easier, is harder from a fasting perspective since the day is longer than when traveling East.

If you'd like to give fasting a shot, I highly recommend starting with the hour-long BBC documentary embedded in my original post. I've also been reading a free PDF e-book written by Dr. John Berardi, a nutrition expert, who tried various types of fasting and wrote a detailed review. But most of all, I encourage you to post your questions and comments below. I'd love to know what kind of impact fasting has in your life!

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Mon, 19 Oct 2015 08:07:46 +0000 http://danielodio.com/uid/1232365
Elon Musk goes Back to the Future http://danielodio.com/elon-musk-goes-back-to-the-future Elon Musk did a fireside chat (why is the fire always missing from these fireside chats?) with Steve Jurvitson of DFJ at Stanford this morning to celebrate an event called FutureFest. In the movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly went 30 years into the future to October ]]>

Elon Musk did a fireside chat (why is the fire always missing from these fireside chats?) with Steve Jurvitson of DFJ at Stanford this morning to celebrate an event called FutureFest. In the movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly went 30 years into the future to October 2015. Now that we're 30 years into that future, how does it compare to how people thought it would look? Steve also grilled Elon on what he thought the world would look like 30 years from now (except he made it 20 years to account for the increasing speed of change).

Since there was a long queue of Stanford students waiting outside to hear Elon who weren't able to get in due to space restrictions, I captured the talk on my phone. The audio's pretty poor, but if you wear headphones you can make their conversation out reasonably well.

Here's the video. And below that are some of the things Elon covered, which include:

- How we could re-imagine self governance on Mars, including ways to improve democracy (moving from a representative democracy to a direct democracy where everyone participates now that technolgoy enables that to happen; was impossible 200 years ago when everyone had to send letters to each other to communicate across vast distances.)

- Why AI is a big deal, including how it's accelerating, as evidenced by Elon's timeframe for self-driving cars being technologically possible moving from 10 years into the future two years ago, to five years out last year, to three years out now.

- How Elon thinks about 'the headline' when imagining change, and then dials back to a set of prioritized actions he has to achieve to get there.

And lots more. As someone who's been betting on Elon for many years and knows about content like the WaitButWhy Tesla and SpaceX posts, the majority of what he talked about was known to me, but it was interesting to hear more detail on how Elon's approaching the success of Tesla and SpaceX (for example, he and the SpaceX team are spending 30 minutes per week thinking about how to transport a high volume of people to Mars).

The most interesting thing to me about predicting the future is how it always seems to look like the present with a futuristic element. It's like we have a really, really hard time getting the present out of our heads enough to really envision the future. For example, here's a painting from the early 1900s World Fair where an artist envisioned a self-cleaning robot. It looks nothing like a Roomba, because the artist couldn't conceptualize anything other than his or her present, but just doing futuristic things. Predicting the future is a tricky business; I'll be super interested to see how the things Elon said today come to pass.

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Wed, 07 Oct 2015 21:53:20 +0000 http://danielodio.com/elon-musk-goes-back-to-the-future