19 Fat Loss Experiments I've Tried & Failed At
The story of a 20 year overnight success
As alluded to in Losing 43lbs in 144 days I’ve tried tons of experiments to lose fat. Diets, exercise, and random other stuff. At one point I was quite convinced that neither diet nor exercise were the reason I was obese; I thought I’d tried them all.
Some have asked me to talk in more details about these prior attempts. Maybe because what failed for me worked for them or maybe just cause it sounds fun. So here are some more details for each of the experiments.
Note that most of these weren’t necessarily intended as experiments in my mind at the time and there wasn’t much rigor. I was mixing ideas and confounding everything. But most of them had no obviously great results in terms of fat loss and some even had catastrophic, negative results, i.e. I gained so much fat that I didn’t need much rigor to declare them a failure.
Caloric restriction/Just eating less
This is, of course, the first tip every fat person hears and tries. Have you tried eating less?! My friend Jimmy ate half his usual portion size for 3 days and lost 70lbs!
Of course I tried it and of course it didn’t work as it likely won’t for anyone with a seriously deranged metabolism. I suspect that’s 25% or more of the population.
It just made me hungry and I wouldn’t lose much weight. Maybe a pound here or there that I’d quickly gain back once I eventually fell off the unsustainable diet.
Honestly I did this one because I liked a girl who was vegetarian. As a vegetarian I naturally gravitated to very high amounts of dairy and I’d eat lots of milk, yogurt, and eggs. I didn’t eat much vegetarian junk food as this was before the current “Fake Meat” craze began. I did try fake franks and burgers a few times but they were pretty gross.
I did this for about 7 months, I think, and I did lose a little bit of weight. But less than 10lbs.
Could’ve probably sustained this diet forever but the girl ended up not liking me anyway and since I wasn’t losing a significant amount of weight I stopped.
Of course I didn’t simply stop vegetarianism: I escalated the idea as I always seem to. I became a militant vegan for 3 months or so, a short enough time frame that people laughed at me for switching moral positions so rapidly.
Veganism cut out all dairy and eggs which felt extremely restrictive to me. I did eat all the fancy vegan stuff like quinoa and what not, this wasn’t junk-veganism. I was often hungry, hated the diet, and wasn’t losing much if any weight. I wasn’t tracking muscle or athletic performance but I suspect I lost a little lean body mass during this time.
Almost the peak (or leaf? Ha!) of the vegetarian part of the diet tree I managed to be a fruitarian for almost a month. I only finished this because I eventually allowed myself to define beans and tomatoes as fruits.
After 2 weeks of fruits I had such severe caloric restriction symptoms that I would take a lot of hot showers just to keep from shivering and was lethargic and constantly in a bad mood.
Eating beans in tomato sauce allowed me to get enough energy in to finish the month’s trial.
I’ve eaten almost no fruit since. Maybe a piece here or there, but not as a regular part of my diet. It’s been about 15 years.
After I ended my vegetarian/vegan/fruitarian journey I ate so much fried chicken in one sitting that I ended up puking that night.
The Warrior Diet was the OG intermittent fasting plan, at least for me. Written by Israeli Special Forces member Ori Hofmekler it laid out what is basically a paleo-style 23:1 OMAD eating plan. You don’t consume calories all day. You work out fasted. You eat your entire intake for the day in one big meal that is also a social event and a feast. You eat hot soups and stews first and carbs last because otherwise they will make you hungry.
I will say that I still think most of his recommendations are pretty decent. There’s certainly worse takes on diet and exercise out there. His ideas seem to mostly come from practical experience.
That said, while I felt great on the WD and it really was a gateway drug to fasting, I didn’t lose a significant amount of weight.
Not sure exactly but I probably came across low-carb as in Atkins and maybe even Keto before I got into Paleo. I remember trying it for a few weeks but not getting anything notable out of it. But I also don’t think I suffered much so I was probably already OK at burning fat and getting into ketosis.
Paleo became super popular, maybe one of the first of those internet-fad waves. Not that I think Paleo is a fad, it’s still a good recommendation.
CrossFit also switched from everyone being on the Zone Diet-train to everyone being on the Paleo-train endorsed by guru Robb Wolf. So when I got into CrossFit I obviously ate Paleo. I liked Mark Sisson’s content a lot at the time.
Paleo did fix some acid reflux issues I had simply by cutting out bread and pasta. But over a year of doing CrossFit religiously while on Paleo the entire time I didn’t lose a significant amount of weight. Maybe I lost 10lbs of fat and gained 10lbs of muscle, but I stayed in the 210-220s the entire time.
Nonetheless the Paleo principles still make total sense to me. Don’t eat stuff we didn’t evolve to eat. People have fights over what we did evolve to eat but most everyone agrees that sugar should be limited and partially hydrogenated oils (artificial trans-fats) completely avoided. Many in the low-carb spectrum also agree that PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) from pressed seed oils should be avoided.
The beef between factions seems to be over how much meat would’ve been available, how fatty it would’ve been, how much we would’ve eaten from the muscle meat/organs/fat, and how much wild honey, starchy tubers, and fruit we’d have encountered.
I don’t always follow Paleo. E.g. I tend to eat some junk keto foods when I’m on my regular “maintenance” keto. But overall I think prepending “paleo-” to any diet probably makes it better.
After the Warrior Diet got me onto the intermittent fasting train, I played with various models. Some of the more popular ones like 16:8. I naturally am never hungry upon waking up and I drink a lot of coffee in the morning, so besides cream in coffee, I almost never eat before lunch. 16:8 therefore is almost normal for me.
23:1/OMAD was another one that I tried frequently.
At one point I tried to titrate fasting days with eating days to caloric intake and my weight. I would fast until my weight would drop, then do non-fasting days for a few days of maintenance, then fast again.
I got more and more extreme with these because they never made me lose much weight. At one point I did “fasting weekdays vs. feasting weekend.” So 5 days fast, 2 days eating. Turns out I can easily make up for 5 fasted days in a weekend.
But it was a mind-opening experience and I’m glad I did it. At one point I was on day 3 of a fast when my co-worker said that he was “literally starving” and went to get a snack. I’d seen him eat breakfast less than 3 hours prior. Crashing blood sugar is a hell of a drug.
None of these fasting ideas did anything real for my fat loss. It turned out that fasting was just another way to restrict calories and restricting calories didn’t work to begin with.
If it did we could all just stop eating until our six pack-abs appeared.
That said I do think IF is a useful tool for a lot of people, be it to control blood glucose or simply to learn that they won’t literally die if they don’t eat for a day.
Keto was “the one” and kind of still is (ex150, my current diet, is ketogenic as heck). I had quit my job and was traveling around Asia. I’d just failed to lose any weight on 2 months of a strict 1,000kcal/day OMAD diet consisting of the same meal over and over: white rice with some chicken for protein, some butter for fat, and some vegetables for vitamins.
I’d also just self-diagnosed with Non-24-hour sleep/wake disorder, a circadian rhythm disorder that means you experience about an hour of jet lag every day, even when not traveling.
Being on a prolonged vacation is what allowed me to diagnose this in the first place as most people don’t have the luxury to take months at a time off and let their sleep cycle run wild around the clock.
I tried keto for fun after the 1,000kcal-rice-OMAD fiasco and it fixed my Non-24 within 3 days.
And I lost 100lbs.
Not in 3 days, of course, it took about a year and a half. I don’t have records from that time so I’m not exactly sure but I began keto between Christmas and New Year’s of 2015 and I’ve never stopped except for some tiny experiments recently.
It was easy, delicious, I was never limiting or starving myself. I barely exercised. The pounds were just melting off without any effort. It was magical. I got down to my lowest recorded adult weight ever of 197.6lbs.
Then I moved back to the U.S. and not only did it stop, I began gaining the weight back. Despite eating pretty strict keto (depending on your definition, but certainly as strict as it was when I’d lost the weight) I gained everything back over 2 years and ended up weighing over 300lbs.
Having just lost 100lbs I had the confidence of a man who knows he’s invincible. I wore a lot of tailored suits to work :) After all, I knew how to lose weight.
Then it all came back.
But my Non-24 is still fixed and so I’m still on keto. That alone is worth the diet and I’ve never seriously considered quitting just for that reason. Of course almost nobody has Non-24 and so I don’t necessarily recommend keto to people who just want to lose weight.
Although it is a nice feeling to be in ketosis.
3-10 days long water/coffee/fat fasting
When I was in the low 200s I began plateauing. I don’t know if this was a precursor to keto no longer working or if I’d just arrived at a somewhat natural weight.
I began fasting longer. 3 days are pretty easy, but 5 becomes tough. My record with a coffee (+ cream) fast, so basically a fat fast, was 10 days. It was a very fun experience and I’d lose a lot of weight in the short term, but most of it was water weight. I’d usually gain all of it back within 1-2 days of quitting the fast.
You can see some of these extended fasts show up in the big weight graph as crazy spikes down that immediately bounce back up.
Fasting puts you in a funny state of mind and teaches you a lot about how the body works. For example: my brain becomes very good at lying to me when I’m fasting. It will tell me things that I factually know to be false and appear very convincing. I will find myself browsing pictures of steak or others foods (though mostly steak). My brain will tell me that I might die instantly if I don’t go out right now and eat food at 2am. Of course I know this to be false because I’ve fasted for longer before. But my brain can be very convincing when it’s hungry.
Maybe the most interesting aspect of fasting is how it teaches you that your body and your brain are “hungry” in very different ways. I can be totally fine and somewhat energetic on a fast yet my brain thinks it’s dying.
I never did the OG Soylent because I was already on keto and I wasn’t going to give up my Non-24 fix for this insanely sugary drink. But there’s a whole bunch of keto meal replacement powders out there and I tried various brands over time.
None of them were satiating, none of them made me lose weight. They do seem to work for some people but not me.
Interestingly a lot of them recommend heavy cream to reach your desired calories or fat ratio, so maybe this primed me for going all-in on heavy cream years later.
Up to 90 days of zerocarb/carnivore
It took me at least 3 attempts to manage staying on the carnivore diet. A lot of keto people were migrating to it because many of them weren’t actually losing weight on keto. Carnivore seemed like a logical next step, like the fruitarianism of the animal-eating world.
My first 2 attempts failed. I couldn’t handle all the rendered beef fat and had very bad indigestion. After 1-2 weeks I began getting persistent headaches that wouldn’t go away no matter how many advils I took. The standard advice is to reduce protein and increase fat but I already couldn’t handle the fat.
The 3rd attempt I didn’t use any salt. I was a pretty heavy salt user on keto at the time. Some carnivores say salt is necessary. Others say salt is bad. Others say it doesn’t matter.
I don’t know if this is coincidence or causality but on my 3rd carnivore attempt I used no salt and it went great. No headaches.
I limited the hot fats by letting cooked ribeyes cool in the fridge, getting more of my fat from heavy cream, adding butter to burger patties, and eating lots of cheese. This improved digestion a lot.
But I wasn’t losing any weight. It also tasted a lot worse than keto. Compared to keto it felt like I was cutting out 90% of my favorite foods. Yes, ribeye steaks get boring. Very quickly. Like 5 days in. I ended up mostly making meat balls and adding butter to them because they were easier to make and clean up after than steak or burger patties.
The meat I was eating was mostly commercial, grain-fed U.S. beef, 80/20 or 85/15. Never big on pork or chicken though I ate some here or there. But it wasn’t grass-fed beef or anything. No organs.
My Non-24 also came back. I am still not quite sure why. My hypothesis at the time was that lack of fiber was kicking me out of ketosis but many carnivore/zerocarb people say that can’t be true. I’ll have to test it.
The only upside to carnivore was that my teeth got extremely white. A legit 2 shades brighter than even on paleo/keto. I think it’s the lack of plants, especially fiber.
Yes, eating plants seems to stain your teeth. More than coffee. I was drinking a ton of coffee at the time.
30 days of eating only 4 protein-style double-doubles at In’n’out burger
This experiment was very specific. I was going to do exactly 2,000kcal/day. One protein-style (aka lettuce-wrapped) double-double is 520kcal according to their menu. So I ate 4 a day, 2 per meal.
I didn’t make it the whole 30 days. After 16 days my sleep had gotten really bad and I felt cold all the time. I couldn’t concentrate on work well. Typical caloric deficit symptoms. So I stopped.
Never did I get tired of the double-doubles, I love them to this day.
I did lose 17lbs in the 16 days but a lot of it was water weight. I gained half of it back in a few days and the rest in the span of the next few weeks. The diet of 2,000kcal/day this way simply was not sustainable.
30 days of a low-fiber diet
After my 90 days of carnivore brought my Non-24 back, I began to suspect that carnivore kicked me out of ketosis. I had two suspects: too much protein and lack of fiber.
The idea that too much protein can kick you out of ketosis is pretty common in keto/carnivore circles. Not everybody agrees that it happens at all and some say that it might happen but doesn’t matter if you’re in ketosis. Well, if my Non-24 was fixed by ketosis and carnivore kicked me out of ketosis this definitely mattered to me.
The fiber idea I got from a paper that reported patients falling out of ketosis after receiving antibiotics. The idea was that the antibiotics kill off their gut flora and those bacteria are necessary for staying in ketosis, e.g. by converting some fatty acids.
My hypothesis was that by eating zero fiber the bacteria responsible for doing this were dying off and I would subsequently no longer be able to produce ketones, thereby resurfacing my Non-24.
The timing on this seemed roughly right. When I straight up eat carbs I fall out of ketosis pretty much immediately and my Non-24 comes back within 2-3 days. The first 2 days can be tricky to detect because it moves by about 1h per day. Going to bed 1h later isn’t that big of a deal, it happens sometimes when I stay out late or am reading something intensely. 2 hours is a stretch but not unheard of. But staying up 3 hours later is definitely something you notice, especially when you have to get up for work the next morning. After that it becomes obvious because 4h is half of how long I sleep and 5h or more means I’m basically not sleeping during the night.
On carnivore, though, it had taken about a week until I noticed anything. My theory: it would take about 5-7 days after I stopped eating fiber that those bacteria in my gut would die and from then on I’d fall out of ketosis and my Non-24 would come back, an additional 2-4 days. This would make for a total of 7-11 days between starting carnivore and the symptoms being too obvious to miss.
Destined to find out what the root cause was I designed 2 diet experiments, one to invalidate either hypothesis. This was probably the first time I explicitly devised an experiment to refute a hypothesis, not just try something to see if I’d lose weight.
The two experiments I came up with were 30 days of low-protein-zero-fiber to refute the high-protein hypothesis and 30 days of very-low-fiber-high-protein to refute the zero-fiber hypothesis.
The low-fiber experiment came first. I ate carnivore like I had before meaning lots of ribeyes, 80/20 ground beef, added butter, cheese, and so on. But I would eat 2 In’n’out protein-style double-doubles each day. One’s listed on their menu at 3g of fiber coming from the lettuce wrap, 1 slice of tomato, and diced onions. So I’d get 6g of fiber per day.
After 30 days of this my Non-24 had not come back. I concluded that this proved the fiber theory correct but I still wanted to run the low-protein experiment too.
30 days of a low-protein diet
The follow-up experiment to the low-fiber diet, this one consisted of only 500g of 80/20 ground beef per day with the rest of food exclusively from butter and cream. In that sense it was a definite precursor to ex150.
I’ve since been told by zero carb adherents that 500g of beef is not considered a low-protein diet, still clocking in at ~85g of protein or ~0.6g of protein per pound of lean body mass. I’m planning to re-run this experiment with ex150, which has significantly lower protein (20-30g/day). Several zero carb advocates have confirmed this amount of protein would be low enough to disprove the protein-ketosis-hypothesis.
I didn’t need to do 30 days on this experiment. Before the experiment started I woke up around 9am most days pretty consistently. Four days in it was 10am. On day 11 I woke up at noon. The next day at 2pm. That’s when I knew my Non-24 was definitely back and I stopped the experiment.
After stopping my average wakeup time came back to around noon. That’s pretty common with my Non-24. It doesn’t usually go back down to where the equilibrium was before, it settles at the higher end of the “normal” 2-4h window most people have. E.g. if you wake up at 9am every morning you could probably deal with 8-10am. This is the equivalent of starting at 8am, Non-24 sets in and is stopped, then your wakeup time settles back down around 10am. I’ve seen the same thing the few other times I purposefully broke ketosis to trigger my Non-24 and move my circadian rhythm, usually for jet lag.
But now look at the weight graph for the same experiment.
What?! 10lbs down in only 12 days? Of course that huge drop in the beginning is water weight but the weight loss did continue after that. And remember: this wasn’t a diet restricting caloric intake like that 2,000kcal In’n’out diet. I was eating ad libitum, just from butter and cream (sound familiar?)
I made a mental note that this low-protein thing seemed to be awesome for fat loss even if it brought back my Non-24 and to design a new diet experiment to try this. That would be ex150 about half a year later.
Oh yea: I concluded from this result that lack of fiber kicked me out of ketosis because my Non-24 came back with a vengeance. I am as of yet unsure if that conclusion was correct as I did not test my blood ketones but simply went off the Non-24 symptoms.
30 days of a potato diet
Inspired by the Slime Mold Time Mold hypothesis about lithium I tried to do a 30 day potato diet experiment. I cut it short after only 17 days because I didn’t seem to lose any fat, was extremely bloated and uncomfortable all day from the massive amounts of fiber, and got skin rashes.
The first week of the Potato Diet I only ate boiled potatoes with nothing added. No salt, no pepper. I could barely get 600kcal/day down. I got pretty severe caloric deficit symptoms including feeling cold and shivering but made it through the week. I literally could not force myself to down enough potatoes to remotely meet my energy needs. I would stand at the fridge, potato in hand, and my mouth would refuse to chew.
The second week I added salt, pepper, hot sauce, grilled onion crumbles, and some other condiments. I mashed down the potatoes and mixed all these in and that allowed me to get enough potato down to at least survive the second week. It was still not pleasant. I think I also started peeling the skins off because I began getting skin rashes and was too bloated, hoping to reduce fiber.
The third week I added butter to the mashed potatoes and soon I was eating a stick of butter in every meal of mashed potatoes. The butter of course allowed me to meet my energy needs without eating literal pounds of potatoes a day so the caloric deficit symptoms stopped. That’s probably why the average waist circumference begins to go down again 3/4 through the experiment: I was eating less potatoes and more butter, reducing fiber-induced bloat.
The weird skin rashes got worse which was one possible symptom of eating a ton of potatoes.
The combination of skin rashes, not getting any thinner, feeling terrible and bloated all day, and just hating life in general made me quit the potato diet before I finished week 3.
30 days of drinking only distilled water
Another experiment inspired by Slime Mold Time Mold and their lithium theory of contamination. One of their arguments is that drinking water across the country has increased in lithium levels over time.
Their post on the Mysteries of Obesity has maybe the most mind-warping maps I’ve seen in my entire life.
If I didn’t tell you what the colors meant you could clearly identify the Rocky Mountains, the Sierras, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Mississippi delta on this map.
It turns out that there’s a massive negative correlation between altitude and obesity and people have been studying this for a long time. Lower oxygen is one theory. Self-selection for nature-loving hikers and skiiers is another. Most of these have been isolated and seemingly disproven and it doesn’t seem entirely clear what the true cause is.
The contamination theory from Slime Mold Time Mold suggests that whatever the contaminant is, it accumulates in drinking water which runs downhill. That’s why the people living near the source (in the mountains) are drinking less contaminated water than the people living further downstream (literally) and those who live near the Mississippi delta will have their drinking water contaminated by thousands of miles of accumulation.
So I thought I’d drink only distilled water for 30 days including for making coffee.
Alas! The experiment did nothing for my weight. On the other hand it was the first Real Fat Loss Experiment I ran. I bought a scale for it. I designed it to invalidate a hypothesis. And I suppose I invalidated that lithium in my drinking water was making me fat.
Even while I ran this experiment I remembered the low-protein one that had me lose 10lbs in 12 days without restricting calories at all and I began formulating ex150 during this time.
To clarify I ate my normal diet ad libitum during this experiment. I simply replaced drinking water and water for making coffee with distilled water. This was NOT a 30-day distilled water fast! Sorry if that wasn’t clear.
Eating only pemmican
Pemmican is a raw meat paste invented by Native Americans. I came across it by reading r/zerocarb and the amazing book The Fat of the Land by Vilhjalmur Stefansson. I read the whole thing twice. Stefansson was a Canadian-Icelandic anthropologist who lived with Eskimos for months to years at a time totaling, if I remember correctly, about 4 years. He would sleep in their houses, eat their foods, and help catch and prepare the food, of course. The book is fascinating and he describes many of them eating a basically all-animal meat/fat diet plus the total absence of any modern conditions like tooth decay, diabetes, or obesity.
He came back after his adventures and told his scientist colleagues in New York that the people he’d visited lived on meat only because no plants would grow in the cold and that he and his friends had done the same.
Of course nobody believed him.
So he and a colleague volunteered for a study where they would eat only meat for a year while living in New York City. The first 30 days or so were even in a hospital room under medical supervision. It was predicted they would die within 7-14 days without eating plants.
Stefansson and his friend did fine and were healthy the whole year.
So, obviously, everybody decided to just ignore this.
In any case, Stefansson spends a considerable part of the book highlighting and promoting Pemmican, a food invented by Native Americans and picked up by European settlers like trappers, traders, and loggers.
It’s a paste made of ground, dried beef (basically ground jerky) and melted tallow. Because it contains practically no water, is extremely high in fat, and contains raw beef for nutrients, it is essentially the perfect travel food. It contains about as much energy per weight as you can pack into food, the raw meat retains all the vitamins and minerals you need, and because the saturated fat from tallow is stable at room temperature, it does not need to be refrigerated.
I’d been interested in trying this for years, ever since coming across Stefansson’s writing.
Unfortunately I found Pemmican to be extremely unpalatable. It was worse than the potatoes. It tasted so strongly of cow that I couldn’t stomach more than a few bites a day. The texture was that of soft slime at room temperature and it was so fatty it made me gag. I quickly realized I wasn’t eating 1/3 of the amount I’d need to reach energy balance and so I stopped after 7 days and threw the remaining Pemmican out.
Stefansson describes in his books how the men on his polar tours would take 1-2 weeks to get used to the Pemmican. It seems like there’s a period where you simply can’t stand it but eventually it’s the only thing between you and starvation. Once they got over that hump the men began to tolerate it fine, even cherish it.
I never made it over the hump, maybe because I wasn’t actually dying in a lonely snow desert dragging sleds.
Of course I lost 9lbs in the 7 days, largely water weight because Pemmican is zero-fiber, zero-carb, and pretty low protein. In that sense it’s a lot like ex150 and that’s why I count the 7 days of Pemmican as part of my “time on ex150.”
Oh, I did eat 1 square of dark chocolate per day on the Pemmican diet just in case a lack of fiber could would bring my Non-24 back. It did not come back, but then I only lasted 7 days, so in that regard it’s pretty inconclusive.
Conclusion: Don’t stop believing?
As you can see in the pretty large gap in weight measurements in the chart at the top of this post, at one point I had given up on weight loss. I’d just be morbidly obese, or close to it, for the rest of my life.
But then I got really inspired by 3 raccoons in a lab coat and, although my lithium/distilled water experiment didn’t yield any fat loss, it set the stage for me to formulate ex150.
And now I jurs had to buy new pants for the third time in less than half a year.
So you could say it’s been a pretty good run after all.
Reading this I can see it's the 24 hour circadian rhythm thing that forced you to keep going. That's a tougher symptom to handle than obesity in some ways and it's forced you to experiment.
I'm not so different - I'm on keto now even though I'm probably lighter than I'd like to be, just because it is helping with another health problem I have. Of course I got on keto to lose weight at first, and it worked for me, I dropped over 10kg without any drama, having never previously been able to lose more than a few kilos on regular diets.
I bet there's loads of people out there persisting with weird diets for health reasons that know more about dieting than the weight loss people do!
Now, I'm a rabid over-eater when I'm on carbs and since I've been roughly the same weight my whole life, a big follower of smtm's work (even though I am dubious of the lithium hypothesis) I am very interested in hearing about hings that work to create satiety and might go buy some cream right now!