How I lost 65 pounds

December 31, 2016

Weight loss

This graph would have been far more dramatic if I hadn’t been too embarrassed to weight myself at my heaviest.
 

It’s almost New Year’s and that means it’s time to make a New Year’s resolution. For many people, “lose weight” is their resolution this year, and probably was last year as well, and the year before that, etc. I hear you on that. So with that in mind, let me tell you how I lost weight, and am continuing to lose weight.

Before I say anything else, let me say upfront that I’m telling you my personal weight loss journey. None of this is a medical recommendation, I’m not a doctor. I’m not here to sell you anything, I’m not telling you what will work for you. If you’re looking for a magic solution you won’t find it here (or anywhere.) I’m not even going to post before and after photos. This is not a pitch.

End of disclaimer. Let’s start at the beginning.
 

I wasn’t always fat. In fact, I used to be a skinny guy. In college my weight fluctuated a lot, like many of us. For me it I entered college around 130 pounds and after some ups and downs left grad school at a just over 165. Add in some bad eating habits as I started my career, a messy romantic breakup, and a few years later I found myself at 235 pounds. Yikes.

Today I look at photos of myself from that era and it’s shocking. What did I do to myself? Well, let me give you some clear answers to that question, and then how I got my weight back down to a manageable level.
 

Packing on the pounds

The path toward fatness was pretty simple: I like learning how things work and I’m one of those types who likes making things, doing it yourself. And I liked pizza and beer. Well, guess what? Making pizza and beer at home is fun and interesting, but it also means you have an awful lot of pizza and beer to consume. Those empty carbs have to go somewhere, and in my case they tended to go into my mouth, and wound up as fat.

Breakups are always rough, especially if you care about the person you’ve been with and have a hard time being apart from them. I wasn’t the first person to gain weight after a breakup, and I won’t be the last. But in my case it wasn’t just overeating from post-breakup depression; all those empty carbs I was consuming were being shared across two people — now they were all going into me.

I kept thinking, week after week, month after month, that I had to take action. Somehow, I had to lose the gut and get back to a reasonable weight. Technically at 5’11″ I was over the line into the “obese” column on a BMI chart. Not good.

Could it have been worse? Yes, but it always could be worse.
 

The decision

I didn’t suddenly decide to lose weight on a New Year’s resolution. Instead I thought about taking action for a few years before I decided to actually do anything about it.

While I was thinking about how I should really lose weight I did go out and buy one of those “smart scales” that logs your weight online. It’s kind of silly, but I’m too lazy to chart this stuff in a spreadsheet or anything — more on this later. I also sold the beer making equipment on Craigslist.

For me the deciding factor to finally “Make Eric Fit Again” was pretty simple. I was scheduled to fly to Shanghai for a friend’s wedding. Aside from looking better, I also figured I’d have to be able to squeeze into seats on a Chinese airline meant for your typical Chinese citizen — in other words, not your average American fatass like me.

The first thing I tried was the so-called “juice fast,” a fad at the time. The idea is you don’t eat and only drink mashed up vegetables and fruit, so you’re getting all the nutrients you need and a little sugar. It’s essentially a very low calorie diet. This concept was popularized in the 2010 movie “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” I didn’t watch this film until later — I was surprised the film was so well received since it’s clearly a thinly-veiled infomercial for a specific brand of juicers. Despite the film, the concept still seems appealing, if not extreme in retrospect.

I did multiple juice fasts for various lengths of time. The longest I ever did was five days, the shortest was two. In all of the times I tried it, I did lose weight. But as time went on, it delivered diminishing returns. That’s a theme we’ll get back to shortly.

Juice fasts also aren’t something I was able to stick to for a long time, and I bet most people feel the same way. The trick to a diet is finding something that works for the long term. Diets aren’t a shortcut to losing weight, they’re a lifestyle change that you need to continue for the rest of your life; otherwise that weight will come right back.
 

Switching gears

So while I did lose weight, it was clear I needed a better method. My next weight loss experiment was to go low carb, but with a soup and salad approach. This isn’t terribly difficult if you work in downtown San Francisco where there’s soup and salad spots on nearly every corner. My initial thinking was that I’d refuse any bread and just go with the soup or salad on its own. I should mention that I’m pescatarian though that had little impact on this decision — I just wanted to eat healthy and figured, hey, vegetables are healthy.

I eased into this diet over time, adhering to it more strictly as time went on.

What did prove challenging though is that soups and salads aren’t necessarily low carb. Soups are often thickened with flour, which adds an enormous carb load — not to mention calories. Similarly, salads can have this “hidden carb” problem, particularly with sugary dressing or a lot of fruit. Not that I think anyone out there has gained weight from eating too much fruit, but in the spirit of the diet I tried to cut back on fruit to a limited degree.

It turned out that this approach worked quite well once I got in the groove and began sticking with it every day. A lot of healthy restaurants post nutrition facts online which is also very helpful. But I want to point out two important factors here that most dieters don’t consider. One, my version of low carb dieting involved eating an enormous amount of leafy greens. This means I got significantly more fiber than your average steak-devouring low carb dieter. Two, the initial weight loss slowed after a while. Why? The answer is pretty simple, and it applies to any diet.
 

Staying motivated

Let’s talk about motivation and diet. This is the most important part of this post in my opinion.

If you’re dieting you’re going to have to weigh yourself frequently to see if it’s working. Personally I’ve been weighing myself almost daily with a Withings smart scale that automatically syncs to the internet (hello, Big Brother) that I’ve owned for several years at this point. From there I can see that my weight loss has been very rocky, with many fits and starts, and plenty of plateaus on what’s generally a downward slope.

One odd thing about this is that jumped out to me after a while is the shape of the graph. The plateaus seem to occur at nice round numbers, pounds divisible by 5 or 10. I have the strangest feeling there’s a psychological element at play here, and if I’d measured in kilograms the plateaus would have occurred at kilogram masses divisible by five as well. But I have only anecdotal evidence to back this up.

The most pivotal discovery I made is that while the weight simply flew off when I started dieting, it dramatically slowed down the further I went. If you think about this logically, of course someone who’s super overweight would have an easier time shedding fat than someone who’s skinnier. After all, the amount of weight you can lose is a factor of your body fat percentage! We’re talking about a logarithmic scale here, not a linear one.

To me the logarithmic scale factor is important. In my mind, I want to see a nice steady progress towards the goal. As I continued my effort and saw diminishing returns, I started to feel helpless. Should I just go back to beer and pizza because I’m only losing half a pound a week instead of three? On the surface the question sounds absurd, but after years of effort… it starts to feel degrading.

At some point I started realizing that diminishing returns were inevitable. I found I had to accept that this wasn’t a failure at all, but rather an unavoidable artifact of biology.

Let’s break this down with an example. Say you weigh 500 pounds. In that case, losing 10% of your body weight means losing 50 pounds. Sounds like a lot, but 450 pounds is still pretty fat. It’s not a big change… if you’re that heavy you might not even notice. On the other hand, if you’re 100 pounds, losing 10% of your body weight means losing 10 pounds — the difference between 100 and 90 pounds is so drastic for a typical adult it’s potentially dangerous.

The point here is that you have to be realistic about your weight loss goals as you continue losing weight. If you expect a linear progression, as our minds are want to do, you will inevitably be disappointed. You MUST accept that your weight loss will slow down as it continues.
 

Exercise

The other point to consider is exercise. Depending on your goals, you may wish to build muscle while losing weight. Not all exercise is intended to build muscle of course, but if you want to do so remember that muscle weighs more than fat. This may give your scale the impression that you’re not losing weight as fast as you could, even if your muscle to fat ratio is increasing.

Personally I’m on my second rowing machine (I used my first one so much that I broke it) but I love the form of exercise. It’s something to do while watching TV or listening to podcasts, and it’s more physically demanding than riding a stationary bike.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that exercise alone is a path towards weight loss. Technically that’s true, but I haven’t found it to be nearly as an important factor as diet. Unless you’re an Olympic athlete you too should probably focus more on diet than exercise.
 

Conclusions

In the end, my lesson here with weight loss is this: slow and steady wins the race. I know it’s not what most people want to hear but it’s true. Stay focused on the long term goal, try different methods and see what works for you.

The important thing is achieving the results you want. But you have to be flexible about your expectations in the meantime, because your pace can and will vary. Mine certainly did. 65 pounds later though, I’m glad I lost the weight. You will be too if you choose to stay the course. There’s nothing that feels better than bumping into someone you haven’t see in a while, watching them gasp, and say “Holy shit, you look great!” I always reply with “It turns out there’s something to that ‘diet and exercise’ fad after all.”

Hôtel de ville de San Francisco

December 11, 2016

SF City Hall in red white & blue
 

I stopped by City Hall today to find it’s still lit up in red white and blue in commemoration of the attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. It looked particularly dramatic set against the wild evening skies.

But then I got to thinking about it: those three colors are pretty common choices for flags. In this case, the stripes of color seem to evoke France’s flag specifically. This evocation is compounded by the fact that SF City Hall is specifically built in the Beaux Arts style of French neoclassical architecture.

So in the immortal words of Nicholas Cage, “Vive la fuckin’ France man!”

Ghostwatch reviewed by an American in 2016

October 29, 2016


 

For Halloween this year I thought I’d so something a little different — I got my hands on a copy of an infamous British TV horror special and decided to write a review.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Ghostwatch is a 1992 Halloween TV horror special from BBC. It never aired in the US, nor has it ever been made available to US viewers through legal means (unless you have a region-unlocked DVD player.)

The TV special scared many viewers at the time because it masqueraded as a live, non-fiction TV show featuring hosts familiar to BBC viewers. You can read more about the effects the show had on its audience over on Wikipedia.

I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, so I’ll just give you a brief rundown. The 90 minute show alternates between a talk show host with a paranormal investigator, and two on-scene reporters investigating an allegedly haunted house where two girls live with their single mother. The talk show segments include everything from “live phone calls” to interviews with a skeptic from New York.

 

 

The type of horror leans toward the subtle variety one would expect from BBC. Think Doctor Who and you’re not far off. There’s no terrifying violence or jump scares here. As an American viewer, I’d say the closest analog would be if The Blair Witch Project had been a TV special hosted by Geraldo Rivera.

One minor spoiler: the ending won’t be a surprise to you if you’ve seen The Onion’s Halloween episode of In The Know. For all I know The Onion could have been making an homage to Ghostwatch.

Overall I can say it’s entertaining, but twenty four years later it feels very dated. TV shows don’t do call-in segments anymore, for example; instead they read responses on social media. But the biggest problem isn’t the format, it’s the storytelling. The haunting theory presented toward the end casts the ghostly villain as two lazy stereotypes; mentally ill and transgender.

I don’t mean to say that a mentally ill transgendered person returning as a ghost couldn’t be compelling, but Ghostwatch doesn’t make a case for this. Instead these attributes only serve to advance the story while neglecting any potential motivations behind the ghost’s actions.

The horror aspect also deserves some critique, as the host segments tend to deflate the sense of dread building up in the on-scene segments. For the most part the tension built up inside the haunted house dissipates once the show returns to the comfort and safety of a TV set.

 

 

There are two paths Ghostwatch could have gone that would have made it a more timeless classic. One, it could have played its cards closer and have never tried to explain away the details of the haunted house. Two, it could have gone the opposite route and explored the alleged ghost in more depth.

That said, I could easily imagine the show doing well in the US market in the early 90′s when similar “truth seeker” reality shows were popping up on Fox, cable TV, etc. But stripped of its cultural context, the show seems more enjoyable for its curious novelty factor than its ability to scare.

 
Verdict: B-/C+

Good for: People curious about unusual television history, those looking for a mildly scary 90 minutes of television.

Not good for: Those bored by typical horror tropes, anyone seeking modern horror.

Hiking Bernal Heights Park

October 2, 2016

If you live in San Francisco you’re undoubtedly familiar with Bernal Heights Park, even if you don’t know it by name — it’s the big rocky hill at the south end of the Mission District. From a distance, it looks like a bonsai arrangement due to a few short trees growing at the top.

 
 

Somehow I’d never actually hiked to the top of it before, a strange lapse on my part especially because I’ve spent many afternoons in Precita Park, which is just below Bernal Heights. Not having anything else to do on Saturday and given the reasonable weather, I thought I’d go exploring.

There’s a variety of ways to get to Bernal Heights Park. I took one of the most obvious routes: starting on Folsom Street, I walked all the way to the southern end of the street. The sidewalk ends on the right side, but continues on the left. If you turn around at this point you’ll see a home with an interesting mural.

 
Bernal Heights
 

Not far up the road there’s a somewhat infamous rock that tends to get painted over by local pranksters. Not long ago it was painted to look like the poo emoji. More recently it was painted a bright cyan color, and someone added a troll-ish looking face.

 
Bernal Heights
 

Crossing the street here leads to an entrance to the park. There’s a gated paved road winding around the hill that’s presumably intended for utility workers, but for parkgoers it’s a place to walk, bike, or play fetch with your dog.

From this particular entrance you’ll spot a colorful memorial honoring the life of Alex Nieto, a young man who’s life was tragically ended by police brutality. Though his death was over two years ago, the memorial is still immaculately maintained.

 
Bernal Heights
 

Continue walking around as the road turns and you’ll eventually encounter a stone labyrinth. Right now it could use some love, but you can still see the rough outline of the maze.

 
Bernal Heights labyrinth
 

From there you can get a clear view of the top of the park, where there’s the trees and a mysterious wireless hub of some sort. I headed up to check out the wireless thing. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but the building at the bottom is covered in murals, and there’s one of those air raid sirens next to it that’s tested at noon every Tuesday.

THIS IS A TEST. THIS IS A TEST OF THE OUTDOOR WARNING SYSTEM. THIS IS ONLY A TEST.

 
Bernal Heights Tuesday at Noon siren on Bernal Strange device on Bernal Heights
 

Jutting out just below the top of the park is a flat-ish rocky area where some children were running around, dogs were being walked, and some dude was flying a kite.

 
Kite flying on Bernal
 

I walked out to the edge of this area and snapped a giant panoramic photo. Click the image for the full view and you can see the “bonsai” trees on the left. Moving right you can see Sutro Tower, the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, the office towers downtown, and the two spans of the Bay Bridge near the left.

 
Bernal Heights pano
 

As for getting back down, there’s really only one way to go. Why? One word: slides! If you head to the northwest side of the park, there’s an unmarked staircase heading down to Esmeralda Ave. Head down that staircase, walk one block in the same direction, and you’re at the slide park. Grab a piece of cardboard and let gravity do its thing.

After that, keep heading in the same direction and you’ll get to one of the city’s smallest parks, Coleridge Mini Park. This tiny “park” is really nothing to write home about, but there’s a nice view of Sutro Tower from there and a micro-sized playground for little kids.

 
Sutro Tower from Coleridge Mini Park
 

To get to Mission Street, keep heading down the hill and you’ll wind up near the intersection of Mission and Valencia.

Want to see all the photos I took on this excursion? Take a peek at this Flickr album.

City Guides tour of Lands End: Sutro Heights

September 6, 2016

I’m no good at planning, so it comes as no surprise that I’d neglected to make plans for Labor Day and had to find something interesting to do at the last minute. I figured I’d go on another City Guides tour — I’ve been on dozens of these — and somehow managed to pick one of the most interesting tours with spectacular views on a day that was shockingly not foggy. I’d highly recommend this particular tour.

If you’ve never been on a City Guides tour, here’s the briefing: they have many 100% free walking tours in San Francisco led by volunteers every day. The program is run by SF Public Library and paid for through the hotel tax and donations by people like you and me. At the end of each tour they pass around envelopes and you can put in a few bucks if you like, but there’s no obligation. The tour groups range in size greatly depending on a number of factors; sometimes there’s only a couple people, other times — like today’s tour — there’s over forty.

As the title suggests I went on the Lands End: Sutro Heights tour. I’m writing this to entice you to go on it yourself so I’m keeping the “spoilers” to a minimum. But I’m going to bait you with some photos of the views and a few neat tidbits you probably haven’t heard about.

The tour starts at the Sutro Heights park, which is just up the hill from Sutro Baths and across the street at 48th Ave; look for the big lion head statues.

Like many things in San Francisco, Sutro Heights is named after a certain local businessman and former mayor Adolph Sutro. The area is now a park, but was originally where his own home once stood. Sutro made the area into a garden with flowers and statues, but the flowers died out long ago and most of the statues mysteriously disappeared. Someone even removed the antlers on this remaining deer statue; now people occasionally replace what’s left of the antlers with tree branches.

 
Sutro Heights
 

Back in Sutro’s day there were a number of observation decks open to the public with a spectacular view of Ocean Beach. The only remaining one was built in stone, and once had an area (now sealed off) that acted as the wine cellar for Sutro’s home.

Not pictured, but just to the right and below is the Cliff House, which Sutro bought and turned it into a restaurant; one factoid the City Guides tour mentions but is strangely absent from most tourist literature is what the Cliff House was used for before it was a restaurant. (Hint: it involved sex.) After Sutro bought the place it was infamously blown up by accident, rebuilt, burned down, then rebuilt as a small cement building that still stands to this very day.

As with other photos in this post, click on the panorama below for a larger version.

 
Sutro Heights
 

Another interesting story is Sutro’s long, expensive battle against Southern Pacific Railway, which he felt was gouging travelers coming to spend money at his attractions. After all, how can you squeeze money out of someone when their pockets are empty? But that’s a story too long for this post, so either go on the tour yourself or read about it online or in a history book.

Which takes us to Sutro’s other attraction, Sutro Baths. Before people had showers and bathtubs in their homes, your average Joes would head over to a public bathhouse to clean themselves. Without getting into how fucking gross this is, the project was a severe miscalculation by ol’ Adolph; by the time he’d built the thing it was already obsolete as most homes in the area had modern bathrooms. Whoops.

The building stood there until the mid 1960′s when it was burned down, probably on purpose. Now it’s this strange modern ruin that attracts tourists for some weird reason that I’m not sure I fully understand.

 
Sutro Baths
 

The City Guides tour itself ended before we walked down to the baths, presumably for liability reasons. But I headed down anyway and have a couple more photos to share.

First, here’s the ruins of Sutro Baths from the walking path just above it:

 
Sutro Baths
 

Next up: until this afternoon I’d somehow never walked through the cave next to Sutro Baths. I couldn’t get any great photos because a) it’s way too dark and b) it was filled with people. Also I was too busy trying not to trip on the rocks inside the cave to get my phone out.

The cave is completely terrifying — you can hear the echo of waves crashing against the rocks and the entire thing feels like it’s going to probably collapse at any second, and one day it inevitably will. Until then, you can see the ocean waves in a couple of spots where it’s already eroded a hole away. Incidentally, these waves were also what fed into the Sutro Baths. The ocean water went through a natural aquifer, then into a steam-powered heater.

 
Sutro Baths
 

On my walk home I decided to head past the beach and through Golden Gate Park, so here’s one final shot of Ocean Beach. It was such a sunny day there were nine (nine!) beach volleyball games going on at once, and that’s only at this end of the beach.

If you look carefully at the photo you can see both of the windmills in Golden Gate Park. But did you know? Those windmills both served an important function in the park back in the day, and there was once a third windmill in Sutro Heights. What where they used for and why? You’ll have to go take the tour yourself to find out.

 
Ocean Beach

What is it a nice day for?

September 4, 2016

It's a nice day...
 

Near 24th and Folsom I encountered the above pull-tag flyer, which sports an old photo of Billy Idol along with the heading “It’s a nice day.” The pull-tags include the following phrases:

  • To start again
  • For a white wedding

If you’ve somehow never encountered the 1982 hit song this is referencing, here’s the music video for your enjoyment. Have a nice day!

 

Murals of Lilac Alley

These days it seems pretty much every alley around 24th and Mission is a de-facto canvas for street artists. Overall this is a good thing; it keeps the Mission’s colorful, artistic elements in plain view, acting as a counterbalance to the obscene housing prices that have made the area affordable to many artists. Go out there almost any weekend and you’re bound to find at least one such mural in progress.

Here’s a few I snapped photos of today on a stroll through Lilac Alley. Click any of them for a larger view on Flickr.
 

Lilac Alley murals

Lilac Alley murals

Lilac Alley murals

Lilac Alley murals<

Lilac Alley murals

Lilac Alley murals

Lilac Alley murals

Sam and Max mural spotted in the Mission

August 21, 2016

Mural of Max (of Sam and Max, Freelance Police)
 

While wandering through the Sunday Streets crowd today I got a little off the beaten path and spotted the mural above. It’s unmistakably a depiction of Max, the short, sarcastic, violent bunny character from Sam & Max. I looked around but couldn’t find a corresponding mural of Sam, the 6-foot tall dog who dresses like he just walked out of a hard-boiled detective novel.

For those unfamiliar with the characters, Sam & Max started out as a series of relatively obscure comic books by artist Steve Purcell. The two characters work together as “freelance police” to solve crimes, though they don’t have any particular respect for the law themselves.

In 1993 Purcell produced an adventure video game based on the characters at LucasArts called Sam & Max Hit the Road. In the game the two go on a road trip to solve a missing persons case, visiting tacky tourist destinations (a carnival freak show, the world’s largest ball of twine, etc.) It’s widely regarded as one of the best — and funniest — adventure games of the era.

In the years since the characters were adapted to a short-lived animated TV show and several smaller adventure games from Telltale.

So why is this find interesting enough to be worthy of a blog post? It’s not uncommon for street murals to feature well known commercial characters like Ronald McDonald, Bugs Bunny, or even the Mario Bros. But these characters are not well known outside of a relatively small circle of fans. I bet most people who’ve seen this mural don’t know what it’s referencing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go rummage through my closet and see if I still have my old Sam & Max comics somewhere.

Details leaked regarding mysterious new restaurant at 17th and Valencia

August 8, 2016

Almost a year ago I reported that the team behind Garcon seemed to be quietly working on a new restaurant at the former site of Young’s BBQ in the Mission. Normally restaurant openings involve some press releases and fanfare, but this one seemed to fly under the radar. Naturally, that made it all the more intriguing.

Now new details are slowly starting to emerge in public: namely, the name: “Bayou.” New signage recently appeared above the space:

Bayou
 

Here’s where things start to get a little fuzzy though. A quick Google search revealed a link to Bayou’s website, which is still incomplete. There’s missing information, like the phone number being listed as “(415) XXX-XXXX.”

Other signs that the website is incomplete include the fact that many links go nowhere, and the social media links direct you a brand design agency called The Imagists.


 

Sleuthing a bit further, The Imagists have a page on their online portfolio about Bayou, which includes this description:

A new multi-location concept, Bayou Creole Kitchen & Rotisserie proposes a casual offering of creole and cajun-inspired dishes to the lunch crowd of the Mission and Financial districts [sic] of San Francisco.

The second Financial District location isn’t mentioned on Bayou’s website, nor could I find any reference to it in the California liquor license database. Perhaps that’s intended for the future or was just a bit of wishful thinking. As for the “lunch crowd of the Mission,” that’s not even a thing.

Regardless, the one item on their website that appears to be (mostly?) complete is the menu. As the name suggests it’s focused on the cuisine of New Orleans. It features everything one might expect such as gumbo, fried green tomatoes with shrimp, rotisserie chicken, and po boys. Not much for vegetarians or vegans at the moment.

Perhaps the biggest bombshell on Bayou’s website is bad news for fans of Garcon. Though he’s still listed as the executive chef on Garcon’s website, Arthur Wall’s bio on Bayou’s website indicates he’s moving on:

Arthur Wall is the Executive Chef and proprietor of Bayou Restaurant in San Francisco. He previously spent six years serving as Executive Chef of Garçon restaurant in the Mission district, where he developed a strong, local following and connection to the community.

Obviously I can’t vouch for any information on an unfinished website, but it’s certainly unusual for news to leak like this in the hyper-scrutinized world of Bay Area dining.

I’ll update if I hear more.

Mini Strandbeest

August 4, 2016

Mini Strandbeest
 

I received an unexpected gift at work today; a Mini Strandbeest kit. Like a wildly complex Ikea furniture set, there’s dozens of parts to stick together, but it doesn’t take terribly long if you follow the directions.

If you’ve been stuck under a rock for the past few decades and are unfamiliar with Strandbeests, check out the Wikipedia page on the artist who created them.

This particular tiny Strandbeest is powered by wind, with a small windmill and two reduction gears. Like its peers you can also just push it along with your hands, but it’s far more entertaining to blow on the windmill and watch it spring into action.

Want to see it walk? I placed it on the floor and pointed a fan at it. Here’s a short video of the result, complete with silly music to complete the effect: