My friend Joe Salama is writing a book titled The Paleo Miracle, editing together stories of people who have lost weight by following a more natural diet and lifestyle. I am contributing one of those stories and sharing it here by permission, although I am not strictly speaking following the orthodox version of the Paleolithic diet. In fact, I usually roll my eyes at the mention of something that sounds like a fad diet. However, it seemed that I blindly stumbled into much of the Paleo concept when implementing my own custom plan. Sure, successful health programs have obvious common factors, of eating less and exercising regularly, but the way to get there seems to be what separates what works from what doesn’t. By rolling my own, I managed to lose 45 pounds in 4 months. I sometimes discuss this in conversation, but since it’s appearing in print soon anyway, it’s about time I share with you, dear reader, the story of what I cheekily call The Moledina Regimen.
Two years ago, I decided to improve my health. I wanted to return to my law school dimensions for aesthetic reasons, but I also wanted to have the energy to chase down my increasingly boundary-pushing daughter. And of course, there was the connected interest in actually functioning effectively as a father long into the future. Once I set that specific metric of law school measurements as a goal, I thought about how I got away from that condition. I had put on nearly fifty pounds over a decade and a bit, aided by cushy jobs, no exercise, and foodiness. I also thought about all the ways I had tried to lose weight in the past, and failed. At one point, I worked out hard for an hour at the gym every day for two weeks, saw no results, and then quit. I heard about Atkins, it sounded implausible, and never tried it. Another time, I tried to be a pesceterian, but that also had no effect. And so on and so forth. I had no real first hand proof that I could lose weight, but it had to happen. I had to find a way. I cleared my head, went back to fundamentals, and thought about what I remembered about human physiology, what should make sense.
And then it hit me. It’s simple arithmetic. Less food in, means less material retained by the body. However, I remembered that mere starvation would put my body into survival mode, and try to conserve body fat. Plus, all of my systems would slow down, directly affecting my ability to work effectively and enjoy life. I decided to piece together all the components that would support reduced intake, but encourage high performance. I picked a rough food intake target of 1,500 calories. Those calories would consist of as much raw, unprocessed food as possible. To keep my metabolism from slowing, I would exercise a minimum amount daily. To allow my liver to process the fat, I would stop drinking alcohol. To prevent refined sugars from instantly converting to fat, I would stop consuming it.
This is all well and good, to set out hard-edged rules, but I live in the real world. I live my life, I enjoy life. Plus I’m not good with outright deprivation. The real magic was in translating these rules and my commitment to my goal into my life. As a first step, to prepare better food and add daily exercise, I needed to create more time in the day. So I canceled cable. Battlestar Galactica was over, so removing TV wasn’t a big loss. In order to exercise the bare minimum to have a therapeutic effect, I decided to run 25-30 minutes every day. I had a treadmill, so that vastly cut the time wasted in getting to and from a gym near my home. I worked at Electronic Arts at the time, and the Club One gym at EA was right next to where I worked, so that was also an efficient option while at work. And the soccer field in one of the Mission neighborhood parks near my home was also a good option. I picked running because it requires no other people or special equipment. You can do it anywhere, anytime, and even use it as a means of getting to places on time if you’re running late. I didn’t work out for a long time per session, or run particularly fast. I did run continuously. When at the gym, I would lift weights too. But really, it was never to the point where I became too exhausted to do it again the next day.
But even so, those weren’t a fun 30 minutes. To counteract the pain and boredom of exercise, I created classic sci-fi and fantasy movie soundtrack playlists. Basil Poledouris’s iconic Conan the Barbarian score in particular has a great percussive hammer beat, that’s ideal for a relaxed but continuous running pace. But my top recommendation is Don Davis’s frantic score to The Matrix. You’ll be reliving those scenes as if you had been sucked into the Matrix yourself, and before you know it, your 25,000 B.T.U.s of body heat will have been channeled productively.
On food, I threw out all packaged and processed food from my home. I threw out all sweets. I only stocked natural foods, like nuts, fruits, and tuna steaks. Some grains remained, like pasta. I could never cut it out entirely, it’s my favorite food. Out in the commercial packaged food world, I bought things in the supermarket only if stocked around the perimeter – so that’s dairy, meat, and produce. I kept to my 1,500 calories by only eating raw fruits and vegetables for breakfast and dinner, and eating the normal entree portion of a lunch. EA’s cafeteria was great for this normal lunch, since they served small portions of highly nutritious and tasty real food. Perfect for me. At conferences, my first stop would be a supermarket, I’d fill my room with fruits and vegetables. I stopped drinking alcohol, and had water instead. I stopped drinking sugar-based beverages outright, they are just frivolous overhead calories. And because I’m not a monk, I would have one splurge day every two weeks. On that day, I would eat a lot of good food all day, and allow myself one dessert and some drinks. For a man living a mostly austere food life, seeing me pig out at Stubbs BBQ was quite mind-blowing for some of my Austin friends.
Following this regimen, I lost 45 pounds over the course of a summer. I also happened to shave my goatee, and replace my entire wardrobe. At PAX, people didn’t recognize me. It’s not that I was particularly overweight to start with, but it was still startling to a lot of people. Internally, I felt like a new man. My little aches went away, and I felt much more alive. Only then did I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Christopher MacDougall’s Born to Run, and all the articles tying caloric restriction to rejuvenation. All of these sources validated my own regimen, all the way down to my running in those ugly but unpadded Vibram Five Fingers shoes. My friend Joe discovered Paleo after I got back in shape, and as we shared stories of our experiences, we realized that his telling of the Paleo diet is a close match to where I already was. Today, I’m only running half as much, eating a little more, and drinking more frequently, but the soft drinks and most packaged foods are gone without regret. I’ve gained a little back, but I’m still wearing the same medium size clothes two years later. It took an overall lifestyle shift, but it had a successful and sustainable result.
Time to get on The Moledina Regimen program wait list!