13 Weeks: Week 12 — In Which We Get Cross and Fit

It’s week 12 of 13, and time to start thinking about the next thirteen weeks. I’ve taken to calling it my “second season,” indulging my fantasy of writing for TV. As I’ve been saying for a while, I’m going to emphasize the fitness part of the training for the next thirteen weeks.

This is in addition to the dietary changes that turned out to be the focus of the first 13 weeks, so let’s summarize the whole: overall motivation and what I’ve been doing.

It started back in the middle of October, when I was doing my morning pages and found myself writing about how my father had died at 69, my mother at 77, and I was now 57; neither 12 nor 20 more years seemed near enough. What’s more, I weighed 301.5 pounds, I was clearly type II diabetic, I was having real sustained trouble with both gastric reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome, and I was avoiding going up and down the two flights of stairs in my own house.

Come right down to it, the motivation was that I don’t want to die.

There was and is a second motivation that I only came to understand during this first thirteen weeks. I’ve been overweight, heavy, and fat since I was a child — the first time I remember it being an issue I was between six and nine, and I think it was probably the summer I was seven. I was running through the house in shorts and no shirt, and I slapped my belly for some reason, and my mother just exploded that I should go put on a shirt, I was fat and disgusting. She also liked to dwell on a couple of minor scars on my face and joke to her friends that she’d get me plastic surgery when I was 18 and after that I was on my own. So make that fat, ugly, and horribly scarred, and disgusting.

I don’t think it was the first time I was called fat, but I do think it was the first time I had cared that I was fat. It was not, however, the last.

During this 13 weeks, I had a sudden insight. Now, I actually like people, at least in small groups. I like talking with people, I like finding interesting people and interacting with them. Put me in front of an audience, say giving a talk, and I both enjoy it and seem to be good at it. (Here’s me in front of an audience several years ago, talking about “big organizations that act like idiots.”) But whenever I’m dealing with people one on one, I’ve always had in the back of my mind that I’m fat, ugly, and disgusting. And yes, this did tend to be an impediment in that sort of social situation.

So, anyway, motivation #2 was to just to not feel fat, ugly, and disgusting. Neither losing weight nor improving my blood sugar is actually going to make much difference to the extensive baggage, but one result of doing this and writing about it has been to at least uncover the issue; I’ll be unloading the baggage and calling Goodwill about it during this 13 weeks.

The Goal of No Goal

One of the rules I set for myself at the beginning of this, although perhaps I didn’t say it in so many words, was that I wasn’t setting any goals: I was trying something for thirteen weeks to see what effect it had on certain measureable things. Last week, I laid out some other rules for the next 13 weeks. Let’s lay these out again, generalized a little bit.

Rule One: No Goals

The thing about having goals, at least for me, is that if you have goals, you can fail at them. My prior experience with “dieting” had been that I’d hit a plateau — I’m on a doozie right now, at least in terms of weight — and get depressed thinking about being deprived for the Rest Of My Life And Nothing Is Happening.

So rule one is “no goals.” There are some things I’m measuring and a direction I want them to go, but as long as the change is in the right direction, I’m satisfied. I’ve got no prom dress to fit in, no Academy Award ceremony to walk the red carpet for, and no awards coming for achieving a particular weight. No goals.

Rule Two: Accountability

At least for me, this whole process has been easier for the last 13 weeks because I came out about doing it. Closets are cramped. Writing about it makes me face up to some things, plus as Saul Bellow is supposed to have said, I don’t know what I think about something until I’ve written about it.

So, I’m continuing that, with weekly postings here and daily updates at the 13 Weeks Facebook page. I’m making one change, however: to fit my publication schedule here, the start date for this 13 week season will be the first of February even though the last 13 officially runs out on the third. So the weekly measures and conclusions will be from the Thursday of the week, I’ll write up the column on Friday and it’ll be published on Saturday.

Rule Three: Measurability

If I’m not setting goals — and I’m not, see Rule One: no Goals — I still need to be able to tell if what I’m doing has an effect. I’ve thought a good bit about the measures I want to use this season, and have arrived at these:

Blood Glucose

The most important measure for me is blood sugar as measured by HbA1c, as I talked about in Week 9. My most recent A1c was 6.2 percent, which is way down from the 7.5 percent I started with, but still not good enough.

You can’t take an A1c very often, though, as it’s a blood test and it’s measuring something that only changes slowly anyway. So I’ll continue taking my fasting blood sugar every morning with a home glucometer. Right now I’m using a Bayer Contour USB.

Body fat

Lowering body fat helps a lot of things, from systemic inflammation to, yes, insulin tolerance and blood sugar. I have a Withings scale and I’m going to use the body-impedance body fat measure to track this daily, but that has a lot of variance. So I’m going to continue the weekly measurements I’ve been doing and track that using the Army body fat computation.


I’m continuing daily weights, because I can’t resist. It’s not about weight but what the hell.


I still haven’t figured out a measure I’m very happy with for exercise. At least to start with, I’m just going to record the exercise I’ve done and report it; I’ll talk about this more below.

The best I can think of right now is to measure two things: how compliant I am being, and the amount of work done, in thermodynamic kilocalories, which happen to be the thing we are used to measuring diet in anyway. For the weights part of the plan, I’m going to compute this as product of weight lifted times repetitions, which will give me kilocalories directly, as well as amusing conversions to horsepower, kilotonnes yield, and other perfectly silly conversions.

For compliance, I’m going to keep a “Seinfeld calendar.” The idea comes from Jerry Seinfeld, who apparently used to keep a calendar on which he marked a big red X every day he wrote. The idea is you have a chain of accomplishments that keep you oriented and motivated. There are a number of applications for this, none of which seem to me to be very well done, so for the start at least I’ll keep it in a spreadseet and publish it weekly.

I’ve also got a new Fitbit activity tracker, so I’ll have the data from that. But the addition of exercise plans to this second season of 13 Weeks led me to define two new rules.

Rule Four: No Dogma, No Boredom

I don’t do boring well. I’ve got a million interests, I’m always many books and projects behind, and I can’t imagine spending seven to ten hours a week exercising.

I’ve also been looking at various exercise plans, and I’ve learned at least one thing about them — there are even more determined, dogmatic, and argumentative people talking about fitness than there are talking about diet.

Still, there is some good new science, and the CrossFit folks have in general got what looks to me like a very good philosophy of fitness with decent science backing them. So as I’ve mentioned before, I’m at least using the advice of a CrossFit trainer, our own David Steinberg, to set this up. But I’m not using an Official CrossFit routine, at least not to start. That leads to Rule Five.

Rule Five: No Puking

I’ve tried working with personal trainers, and I’ve tried Bikram hot yoga, and I found in both cases there were things about them that really deterred me. In particular, I found I really didn’t like the part where I got dizzy and threw up.

I’m sure that doing a workout where you throw up probably stresses the body more and so leads to faster increases in fitness, but I don’t care. If a routine makes me throw up, it’s too hard.

Rule Six: Only Five Rules

I don’t want this to get too complicated.

So, now, here’s my plan.

Thirteen Weeks Season Two: The Plan

So here it is.

Eating plan

  • target at least 175g a day of protein. The old plan was 200, but frankly I almost never made it.
  • target grams of fat > grams protein. There’s some good reason to think that you need plenty of fat in a high-protein low-carb diet.
  • do not exceed 30 grams of net carbs, defined as total carbs in grams – fiber in grams.

Exercise plan

  • A Sun Salutation yoga routine every morning.
  • one aerobic session using a Tabata protocol every day except Sunday. I’m going to mix this up among kettlebell exercises, martial arts exercises, and exercise bike. I’ve just finished rearranging my bedroom to make this easy.


My workout corner. There’s also an Xbox Kinect on the TV I’m facing from here.

  • Lift weights twice a week using the same slow-repetition routine I started in the first season. Basically the reasoning was good, my compliance was dreadful.
  • Either a yoga lesson or a Pilates lesson every week.

So there it is. This starts officially on February 1, but I’m going to start unofficially tomorrow. For some value of tomorrow.