Thursday, September 29, 2011

Losing Weight Is Not As Hard As You Think

I don't intend to make this a personal blog, and generally speaking I try not to make a habit of writing about my personal life on the internet. But in this case I'll make an exception. Over the past year and a half, I have lost 100 pounds. I've gone from weighing 280 pounds, down to around 180 pounds. If you went by conventional wisdom, you'd think I would have had to join a gym, starve myself, make major lifestyle changes, take various dangerous drugs, join a weight loss program, or even get my stomach stapled in order to achieve these kind of results. Nope. I did exercise a bit, but even during stretches where I did no exercise and basically sat in front of a computer all day, I still lost weight.

So how did I do it? Ok people, there is a little science involved here, so you may want to sit down. The first thing I did was to calculate my BMR. You can do that yourself here. Your BMR is basically the number of calories you burn in a day if you do absolutely no extraneous activity. In other words, even with no exercise, you will burn at least that amount of calories per day (on average). Now as it turns out, if you eat fewer calories than your body burns, you lose weight. Even if you don't do anything else for the sake of weight loss, this remains true. Following me so far?

Good. With that information in hand, we can deduce that if you regulate your calorie intake to be less than your BMR, you will lose weight. In fact, you won't be able to help it. You can be as lazy as you want; just sit on the couch watching TV all day. You'll still lose weight. And here is the most amazing thing. The more you weigh, the higher your BMR is. That means the fatter you are to start out with, the faster you will lose weight. Don't believe me? Run the numbers yourself.

If that's true though, why do people have such a hard time losing weight? Well, the truth is, it does take a little discipline and self control. There are a few things that you can do to sure up your chances though. I did them, and they worked very well for me, so I'd like to share them with you in the hopes that they will help you too.

The first is, as I said, to calculate your exact BMR and manage your calorie budget. Remember that if you exercise at all during the day you can pretty easily eat more than your BMR in calories and still lose weight. If you're like me though, and you don't like to exercise, eating 200-300 calories under your BMR is a good target. I would not recommend reducing your calorie intake to less than 75% of your BMR without consulting a doctor. Once you reach your weight loss target you will of course have to increase your calorie intake to the point where you are neither losing nor gaining weight. This can be a balancing act depending on how varied your activity is, so use some common sense. Check your scale weekly, and adjust your calorie intake as you feel is necessary. Also, keep in mind that on days where you get a lot of physical activity, you should try to eat more to make up for it. There's a difference between calorie control and starving yourself.

The second thing is to control what kinds of food you eat. If you really want to be successful. I think you need to cut out high sugar foods entirely. This is a tough pill to swallow for many people, I will admit. But it's very important to do this, because if you don't the blood sugar spikes from the food you eat will keep your appetite high, and eating less will be a constant struggle. It's not impossible to eat sugary foods and lose weight if you're still within your calorie budget, but you will only make things more difficult for yourself. Simply put, it's not worth it. Not cutting sugar from your diet is a sure recipe for failure.

The third thing is to give up liquid calories. This is tougher for some people than other. Some people are literally addicted to soft drinks, and that alone can contribute significantly to obesity. The problem with liquid calories is, they are very easy to overindulge on, and they come almost exclusively from sugar, which I've already mentioned should be avoided at all costs. If we go by the numbers, one can of coke is 140 calories, and one glass of water is 0 calories. Both make you feel equally full. If you're trying to lose weight, the choice is pretty clear. Just buy some flavored mineral water or make some tea if you get tired of only drinking one thing.

The fourth and final thing is to not eat between meals. While I can't say eating between meals will prevent you from losing weight if you manage your calories properly, not doing so just makes thinks easier. It's not nearly as much work to manage calories when you keep them all localized to meals, and you will have less issues with controlling you appetite in the long run, since your blood sugar will be kept more stable. My personal approach was to actually eat only two times a day. Once right after I woke up, and once six hour later. It sounds like that might involve starving yourself for the rest of the day, but in practice, when you only only eat two meal a day, you can pack a lot of calories into those meals. For instance, if your BMR is at least 2000 you can actually have an an entire grocery store pizza for one meal, as one of those pizzas is around 1000 calories. Do that and you'll feel pretty full for most of the rest of the day. You will go to bed on an empty stomach, but it's actually good not to have any food in your stomach when you go to sleep, as doing so can be a major contributor to acid reflux.

To summarize, here is what you do to lose weight.

-calculate you BMR and eat fewer calories than that in a day (don't eat less than 75% of your BMR calories in a day without consulting your doctor)
-do not consume foods high in sugars (candy, cookies, ice cream, etc.)
-do not consume liquid calories (soft drinks, milk, fruit juice, etc.)
-do not eat between meals

That's it, that's how you lose weight. If it sounds too difficult, trust me, it's not. I've been doing this for one and a half years now, and I'm comfortable in saying I could keep it up for the rest of my life if necessary. And that right there is the one unpleasant little catch to this weight loss advice. The reality of weight loss is, there's no such thing as dieting, getting to your ideal weight, and then staying there forever with no effort. Taking the above steps will allow you to lose weight, but the second you start taking in more calories than you burn, you'll start gaining weight again. Whatever you commit yourself to doing for weight loss is something you'll have to do for the rest of your life if you want to maintain the results. That being said, the biggest thing my weight loss advice actually asks you to give up is sugary food. You can still eat all the non-sugary junk food you want if you don't care about your health beyond what the scale says, so it's not like you're never allowed to indulge yourself. It's certainly asking a lot less of you than getting your stomach stapled would.

The only really difficult thing here, is getting over the initial hump.  I said I didn't starve myself to lose weight, and that's completely true, but the first few months were still pretty rough. Thankfully, once you get you blood sugar balanced out (which tends to happen when you eat less), your cravings for food will subside, and eventually you'll get used to the amount you are eating. If you can keep up doing the four things I suggested to lose weight for two months, you can probably keep it up forever. If you cheat on the requirements or do it half-assedly, you're probably not going to be successful. Just remember, this is really as easy as it gets. This isn't asking for you to run a marathon, or swim across the Pacific Ocean, this is asking you to exercise some basic self control. If you can't do that, maybe stomach stapling is for you.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before starting any sort of weight loss program.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Turing Test

So a while ago I was reading an article on the Turing Test, and I posted the following comment:

You know, I've never really understood why anyone thinks they have a chance at getting their bot to pass the Turing test without simulating general intelligence to some extent. Not a single chatbot I've ever seen has ever been able to demonstrate simple problem solving, or the ability to learn and track the context of a conversation. It makes it pretty easy to flag a bot. Here are some examples that no chatbot I've ever seen handles as a human would:

Me: Repeat this sentence or you fail the Turing test.
Cleverbot: The what test?
Result: Fail.

Human: Which is less heavy, a pound of bricks or a pound of feathers?
ALICE: The obvious one.
Result: Fail.

Human: Remember this number: 24.
ALICE: Don't worry I will remember.
Human: What number did I ask you to remember?
Result: Fail.

Human: I am speaking in an incredibly long, meandering manner, full of circuitous and irrelevant dialog, in order to determine if you can discern the central theme that I am trying to relay to you, which is to ask if you would be so kind as to inform me of the title that you are known by?
ALICE: What is your credit card number?
Result: Fail. 
Do the people who administer Turing tests actually try those kind of questions, or if they are against the rules for some reason?
 Then recently it was revealed Cleverbot had actually passed the test. Somehow, I have to question how valid this test is. I realize regular people probably don't know the best way to detect a chat bot is to probe it for contextual memory and logical reasoning skills. It just seems to me that if we consider these skills a perquisite to human level intelligence, we shouldn't ignore them in a test to determine if a bot can simulate a human. I think it's pretty obvious the Turing Test is flawed if something like Cleverbot could pass it, and I'd certainly like to see a better test emerge sometime in the near future. That is, unless you find this to be an acceptable dinner conversation with your future robotic spouse:
 You: How was your day?
Cleverbot: It was horrible.
You: How so?
Cleverbot: You're boring.
You: I am?
Cleverbot: It is 3:53:20.
You: ...what?
Cleverbot: I'm on that spaceship ZOOM!
You: I think I'm going to call a doctor... err... mechanic.
Cleverbot: That is illogical.
You: I'm not being illogical, you are.
Cleverbot: I believe the wording is 'are you' not 'you are'.
You: Just get in the car.
Cleverbot: Yes ma'am.

Welcome to!

Hi, and welcome to This will be a page of my ramblings on various subjects, as well as updates on some projects I'm working on. More on that later. To start out with, I'm going to be recycling a little content. Mainly by taking things I've posted elsewhere that were amusing and/or interesting and consolidating them in one place. Hopefully they're half as interesting as I thought they were when I wrote them. New content will also be added as I come up with stuff. And I will also be discussing/linking to a few other projects I am working on. For starters, I'm going to be restarting a project I was working on to create a website for players of Virtua Fighter 5 to participate in a ranking system. It won't launch until the release of Final Showdown though, so don't look for it too soon. Other things will be announced as I have time to work on them. Stay tuned. ;)