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Getting Healthy, Staying Fit, and Using Data to Create Habits that Last a Lifetime (Part 1)

Daren Sitting at Water with Microphone and bike
Read Time - 9 minutes

Health & Fitness Served Up as a Metaphor For Life in a three part written series.

“Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight — of your eating habits and knowledge of your learning habits. Your outcomes are a lagging measure of all your habits. You get what you repeat.“

James Clear

Wait, Another Weight Loss Article? Come On Man — How is This Different and How Can It Help Me?

Hello to you too! It seems like we are skipping the formalities and jumping right in. I’ll answer this more in depth shortly. #DidntEvenKissMe

It is similar to other weight loss articles except for a few things.

  • It is my personal experience of how I did it.
  • I share how I used data, systems, and habits to make a healthy and more fit version of myself that will last a lifetime.
  • I’ve put together a free and simple Data Tracking Analysis Form that you can use to help your journey.
  • In the past, my lack of data and systems forced me now, to overhaul some lazy habits and replace those with good ones.
  • I stuck to tracking my progress on a regular basis to keep myself motivated as the scale, mirror, and generally “how I feel” can be misleading and demotivating.

Before we start I need to address that awesome mouthful of a title. I know, I know! I had a bunch of titles floating around in my head but a few titles that almost made it were;

–  How a skinny kid got fat
–  What health, fitness, data, and systems all have in common
–  The wash that dish mentality (possible post on that in the future)

I could have gone with something clickbaity but in the end, the title I chose was something that authentically illustrates what I’m trying to do and who I am.


Please Note

Over the past 6 years I’ve been researching, experimenting, and competing in endurance running and triathlons events. Through that I’ve found a lot of great information and would love to save everyone reading a lot of time. I also aim to show you that this “data and habits” thing isn’t complex but does take some internal digging and questioning to see results.

This is a very shallow dive into some deep waters. It’s written as a quick guide for a friend so, I’ll be suggesting things for someone to do based on science, experts in my network, and anecdotal evidence. Feel free to scroll around to whatever image, headline or topic peaks your interest.

Alternatively, if you like to consume your information via audio, check out my podcast Master of Some as we tackle health and fitness and serve it up as a metaphor for life.

This article begins with my goals and targets (a strong why) using the S.M.A.R.T. criteria, then shows my real-world data with photos and then ends with how you, the reader could benefit from what I’ve done through my nutrition and fitness strategies. Also, how you can make it work in your life, using data to create systems and habits of your own, that last can last your lifetime.

Over the past year, I’ve had friends ask me for advice on how to get healthy, lose fat, gain muscle and create systems. I thought I should document it and send this out to them instead of re-writing it each time. Tackling health and fitness can be a beautiful mess, which means there is a lot of room to do it any way.

I’ve never attempted to lose or gain weight in my life, so this was a new and exciting place for me. I wrote in a tone similar to talking with a friend, and because of that, I will be toggling between the pronouns “You and I” a bit. The last thing I want to do is preach, so take it all with a grain of Himalayan pink rock salt.

NOTE: I am not a doctor nor do I play one on the internet. The following words have been approved by a certified professional dietician and acertified nutrition and holistic performance coach. If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, please speak with a qualified healthcare professional. Your doctor, dietician, personal trainer, or physio/physical therapist are great places to start as they know your personal situation and can make an informed decision.

Light and easy answer to your original question of why this is different:

  1. It really broke my heart to hear about family and friends who were “trying to lose weight” but they struggled to see results and stick with a strategy. Weight loss, in particular, seemed to me like black voodoo magic and I wanted to know the secret sauce behind it. Hearing about the cycle of getting into a gym routine, getting fit, being happy then getting sick/going on vacation, losing motivation, getting out of shape, and trying to get back into the routine didn’t sound like fun. I didn’t want to be another casualty of the cliche’ “Oh, doing [insert whatever is good for you] is just so hard, who has the time for that?” If you’ve struggled to lose weight, this may provide some insight and value.
  2. The appearance of physical health and fitness can hide potential medical issues. Even if I am fit, strong, and lean, I may not be metabolically healthy. I never knew what a healthy version of me was until a year ago, since I never tracked my biomarkers (weight, blood, body fat, etc.) I also wanted to run an experiment and determine if my diet habits were the cause of weight gain or if it was my lower volume of training. On the more vanity side of things, I had a terrible running race last year and wanted to outperform my results by getting as fit and lean as possible. Verdict — I ended up beating last year’s time by 13% (8 minutes)!
  3. Over the past 12 months, I deliberately tracked my progress through data. I then created systems which created habits which then allowed me to see sustainable gains over time. Because they are habits, I’m not worried if life happens. I can hop right back on the GAIN TRAIN with no problem and keep chugging along. Toot Toot, my friend. Toot Toot.

Heavy and serious answer to your question of why this is different:

  1. Back in my early twenties, I ran track for my university. In particular mid-distance events that were all out efforts lasting a few minutes. I struggled with what I recently found out was Exercise Induced Hyperglycaemia. Immediately after each race I would lay down and go to sleep for a few minutes. I would then wake up, feel relatively okay and progressively throughout the day develop a migraine that wouldn’t clear up until I woke up the next day. I also had significant issues eating foods high in sugar (desserts, candy, fruit, etc.) where I would experience a noticeable drop in energy and brain function immediately after eating those foods. That would continue for years, and I thought that is what normal was for me.
  2. Fast forward to mid-2017 — I took notice of how bloated I felt and the bloated feeling didn’t go away. “Maybe it was something I ate”, I said. My inner detective started paying more attention to my body. I randomly caught my not-so-defined stomach in the bathroom mirror and was baffled at how my pants were fitting more snug than usual.

Some of you reading might be like “Bruh, you just gained weight, that’s life, and it’s normal!” False. Don’t skinny shame me! I don’t want this to be my defined normal. I’ve always been “The skinny kid” according to people around me. I don’t identify with Dad Bod. There was no way I could be fat. No sir/ma’am. (Please know that I’m half joking here. I understand that I was born with solid genes that allow me to occasionally eat garbage and still be on the thinner side of the spectrum. I understand some readers may not have that luxury.)

This GUY!

So What Happened Next?

I always thought my diet was okay, but I never researched what healthy eating was. My whole life I’ve been relatively skinny and active. Therefore I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. After reading and hearing about different diets and eating patterns (KetosisIntermittent FastingPaleo/Atkins/Primal Low CarbSlow Carb, etc.) I decided to biohack myself and experimented with a few of the diets to see if this could change my body composition. Cue my desire for a Generic Men’s Health 6 Pack that I always wish I had but didn’t know how to achieve.

Over the last year I was able to become;

  1. The healthiest I’ve ever been — Long-term health is always the priority. My biomarkers are well within the healthy range for my age, weight, body fat, and blood tests. I removed my blood glycogen/insulin spike throughout the day and I can run 2.5 hours after fasting for 16 hours. I’m now much more fat adapted and don’t experience the dreaded post-race naps. I’m also injury free, with steady energy throughout the day, have improved brain function (my attention issues are under control), and I sleep 7–9 hours every night

2. The fittest and fastest I’ve ever been — Second priority is performance. I’m running, cycling, and swimming my fastest times ever by almost 25% in some areas (2 Hour Marathon Time Trial). I did my first Vo2 Max test (56.57 ml/kg/min) and ranked “superior” for a 20–24yo (I’m 36yo at the time of this writing).

I lost 8kg (18 pounds) of mostly fat in four months and then gained almost 3kg (7 pounds) all lean muscle mass three months after. One year later of consistent living and I now have the lowest body fat to muscle mass percentage I’ve ever recorded, at almost 8% body fat (as of the time of writing this). For reference — when I was my skinniest at 16 years old, I was 11.5% body fat. I’m in a strong position to delay age-related muscle degradation (aka sarcopenia).

3. Allow my data tracking process to create systems and sustainable habits in other areas of my life — This was a cool addition. I realized that my systems could easily be modified to start tracking my finance, career, relationships, and more.

Bonus: I can finally see a proper six pack for the first time in my life. What what!

Random Things I Discovered Along The Journey

As we age it’s an uphill battle since you are losing muscle mass through atrophy/sarcopenia. It’s about 1% per year sometime in your thirties, which can be hard to notice everyday. It becomes easier for your body to add fat because you are naturally burning fewer calories with age. It’s a triple whammy of fat!

Nutrition and diet are more important than training and exercise when it comes to general health and body composition. Exercise and fitness alone are not the most efficient, effective, or only tools for losing body fat or weight. It also may not give you the body you want.

It gets complex, but there are a lot of studies on how our bodies burn energy and how it’s not as easy as the calories in/calories out equation. I can also say from personal experience and others around me that a consistent, high-quality diet was the primary cause for my body transformation.

I’d rather be healthy and unfit than fit and unhealthy. There is a higher return on investment with eating clean and training low than there is eating whatever you like and training to win your next Ironman triathlon. #BeMoreWithLess

Enough talking. Check out a few real-world “before and after” photos of my transformation for some proof this shit works.

Blacks Beach, San Diego, USA — — — — — — — -Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

Obsessive Analytics and Measurements

Dexa Scan — Highly Recommend doing this or skin-fold assessment before you start any body transformation journey
Full Fat Loss Data Tracking Info
The doctor said I was getting too many blood tests done in a year. #lulz

Now that I’ve gotten all of the “why and what” out of the way feel free to read part 2; how I got healthy, stayed fit, and used data to create habits that last a lifetime here.


I’ve put together a free and simple Data Tracking Analysis Form that requires a Google account. (You will need a google account to use this) Click the link, save a copy to your google drive, and set a schedule to fill it out each day. That form automagically dumps into a Google spreadsheet for you to look back on periodically. And voila, next stop, GAIN TRAIN! (The form is meant to be edited for your needs, so change as necessary.)

If you want to know more or have any questions, feel free comment below or hit me up at DarenLake.net and say hello.

If you want more in-depth homework on behavioural changes, then James Clear is your guy. He’s the OG with habits and behaviour but presents it in a simple and easy to consume way. Start with this, then read this.

  • Got what you needed? Dope! Thanks for reading, please comment below and share this with someone that would get value out of it!
  • Was it too long? I’m sorry for your time loss. R.I.P. But while you’re grieving, you can furiously type up a hate comment below and send this article on to a friend that might be into “this sorta thing”.
  • Again, if you liked this, please check out my podcast Master of Some, as Phil Cross and I tackle health & fitness and serve it up as a metaphor for life.
  • What have you done that’s worked for you? Feel free to comment below and let me know!

STUDIES, ARTICLES, AND LINKS

2 thoughts on “Getting Healthy, Staying Fit, and Using Data to Create Habits that Last a Lifetime (Part 1)

  1. Very impressive. It is obvious that you have done quite a bit of research on this. Love, love the results. When I grow up I want to be exactly like you.

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