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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
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).
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:
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:
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.
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:
Just a quick post to share a decision making pro-tip that I shared with a few people this week.
Anytime I need to consider a number of criteria to make a decision on something, I try to suss out what my needs are vs. my wants. (This is a framework my wife and I have been using in our personal & professional decision making for years.)
It sounds so obvious, right? But specifically writing it out brings clarity to a decision, especially when multiple people are involved.
Jazz Tigan, an insanely talented artist, is the lead designer of the 2015 Burning Man Temple of Promise.
Burning Man is a festival in the desert that's often misunderstood by those who have never been. It's not just a party, rather, it's a place to experience yourself as you truly want to be. A place without judgement. A place with incredible art and creativity. It's a place to refresh your soul and to re-evaluate your life's priorities.
The Temple sits at the center of it all. If the Man at Burning Man is the body of the event, the Temple is its soul. So when it turned out that the guy who dreamt up this year's Temple design was someone I went to school with, I had to go check out the build site, which is located in Alamedia, CA (just across the bridge from San Francisco) until mid August, when they'll ship everything out to Black Rock Desert to finish the Temple on-site.
Jazz has a special, secret project that he's looking to fund in addition to the main Temple build. He needs $5k to successfully finish this secret project. Think of it as the icing on the cake. If you're interested in donating any amount to make it happen, message Jazz on Facebook and let him know. Sue and I just donated to support it. Also, if you'd like to volunteer to help build the Temple between now & mid August, just let Jazz know. They're on-site in Alameda every day for the next 2 weeks.
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.
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: