One Strategy to Manage Your Weight

Paying close attention to how we fuel our bodies is essential for weight management. In this blog post, I intend to show you how I think about my weight management and share my insights on the subject.

Before I begin, you must know: I’m not a nutritionist, so I might not cover the subject with the required depth or perspective, so please do your research and take my words with a grain of salt.

You might find the content I present here overwhelming, especially when it comes to the effort of tracking calories and measuring your body. Why bother if you can follow a diet? Well, foremost, nobody truly believes diets work long-term. Second, suppose you try to follow this without looking at the numbers. In that case, you might become a victim of your own biases, such as the availability bias – the tendency to remember only recent things. Third, humans tend to overestimate what we do well and underestimate what we don’t. Putting everything into numbers will better prepare your intuition. Let’s get started.

Weight vs. Body Composition

Before you start thinking about your weight, you need to have a goal. Measuring only weight is dangerous because everyone is different. Let’s take a closer look at some of the things that affect our weight:

  • Skeletal Muscle Mass. (Muscles, bones, and organs)
  • Body Fat Mass. (Energy storage)
  • Water.

Most people are familiar with Body Mass Index. BMI is a simple yet very general measure that makes many assumptions. One is that your muscle mass directly correlates to your height. Another one is how much water that your body currently has. Water itself can make the difference between being considered obese or overweight when measuring BMI. Therefore, when choosing our goal, we ought to look at our body composition. You can read more about it here.

Accurately measuring your body fat mass requires specialized equipment. Some smart scales will give you a reasonable estimate of it. If you don’t have a smart scale, you can use this tool to estimate it. Once you know your current body fat mass, you can define a goal. It should be, ideally, what’s normal for your age and gender.

Energy Expenditure

Another critical piece of information is your basal metabolic rate (BMR); this number tells you the calories your body burns to keep you alive. Smart scales can calculate this number for you, but here is an online calculator. Now, during your day, you will spend much more than that. For example, on those days that I’m busy with work and I don’t move much, I’ve found that I burn 40% more than my BMR, around 2100 calories. This number can sharply increase if I go out for walks or a bike ride. I found that, on average, I burn 2700 calories daily; this is 73% of my BMR. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

There are many ways of estimating how many calories a day you burn. Smartwatches like Fitbit does it based on the heart rate, and I’ve found it to be quite accurate. If you have none of these tools, I’d recommend adding 40% to 50% to your BMR and calibrating as you go.

If your weight has been stable for some time, it means you haven’t made any significant surplus or deficit in energy expenditure; this is Calories Spent = Calories Eaten. So you can count your daily calories with an app for a week or so, average the number (make sure your body fat mass remains almost the same), and contrast with the number you previously estimated based on your BMR. That comparison should give you a ballpark idea of how many calories you effectively use daily.

Weight Management Strategy

At this point, you have the tools to strategize about your weight. Building a strategy will help you solidify your habits and better control what you eat. You don’t have to do this forever. I would recommend keeping track of the numbers until you learn more about yourself and your body.

Let’s start with keeping the weight that you currently have; this is the foundation for long-term changes. Thus, learn how to keep it off or on before losing or gaining.

The following figure shows the schedule I follow. I target to have my meals during a timeframe of 10 hours; this way, I give my body plenty of time to digest and process before I go to bed. This schedule helps me get better sleep, and I feel energized throughout the day.

Sample schedule of daily eating

You might already have your schedule; you can use it as a base to distribute your calories.

Snacks are optional. Only have them as a tool when you’re too hungry before your main meal, and you feel you won’t manage to control your portions.

One crucial aspect is not to over-obsess with the numbers and try to hit your target like clockwork. For example, I already have a cookbook of my staples that I know fit my targets; in that way, I simply cook as usual. Though revise what I’m eating if I see my body fat mass go beyond 20%, my target is currently 15%. I do weigh myself every single day.

I can’t emphasize enough that you shouldn’t feel bad if you under or overeat. Every day you might feel different. After one year of counting my calories, I understood how much variability I can tolerate without gaining or losing weight, about 10%. I show this in the following spreadsheet.

Spreadsheet showing the breakdown of calories into meals.

Losing or Gaining Weight

Now that you know how to keep your weight, we can build on that to take it where you want. There is much to say about this topic, and I recommend reading this article before jumping to conclusions. In simple words, you have to introduce a calorie deficit (or surplus) to allow your body to burn (or build) its fat reserves.

The toughest part is dealing with your hunger hormones. Also, there is much to say about this, and I recommend reading this article.

The easiest and most effective way is to reduce (or increase) 10% or 15% of your base calories and monitor your progress daily until you reach your goal. In my case, I reduced my calories by 420/day and dropped 17lb (8kg) in about four months. The following figure shows these numbers in a spreadsheet.

More advanced spreadsheet that shows your calorie budget and time to lose / gain.

I will admit that during the time I lost that weight, I did not have a great time. I was very irritable. I fought with many of my friends and felt helpless even when someone shared food with me. I would lose my mind if I didn’t know how many calories were in a particular dish. If I can, I would recommend a 10% deficit and lose over a year, building solid habits while doing it. It took me over nine months to solidify my habits before I felt confident to stop tracking my calories.

As you can see in the figure, minor adjustments in how you cook will do the trick just fine.

Sample Menu

Now that you know how to think about what you put on your plate. Let me give you a few examples of my staples and how many calories they have. I base most of my recipes based on one serving of each ingredient. Since this is not a recipe blog post, I will not share the details, but please ask me in the comments section if you want to know more.

Breakfast

  • Whole milk yogurt with Granola and Berries + Almond Milk Latte: 420 calories.
  • Asparagus & Mozzarella Omelette + Almond Milk Latte: 400 calories.
  • Avocado Toast w/poached egg + Almond Milk Latte: 520 calories.

Lunch / Dinner

  • Spaghetti in tomato sauce: 580 calories
  • One bowl of chicken pho: 500 calories.
  • 6oz steak with lightly dressed salad: 600 calories.

Desserts / Snacks

  • Two squares of dark chocolate: 50 calories.
  • One small banana: 90 calories.
  • One red apple: 90 calories.
  • Two mandarin oranges: 80 calories.
  • Twenty grapes: 68 calories.
  • One serving of a plant-based chocolate pudding: 150 calories.

When I’m thinking about cooking, I adjust on the go, but the essential piece is to keep your meal per serving in the ballpark of your target. Of course, no food is off-limits; just budget your calories.

Weight Management Tips

The last thing to add is some tips and tricks to make your life easier:

  • Weigh yourself every day; it will help with motivation, and you’ll learn many things you didn’t know about yourself.
  • Target to eat foods with a low glycemic index. High glycemic index foods (processed items or simple sugars) may produce a glucose spike on your system, making your body feel hungry right after. Check the added sugars in the nutritional label.
  • Avoid “Diet” or “Reduced” items. This ties to the previous point of processed foods. Plus, diet branded items typically won’t make you feel satisfied, and there’s nothing worse than being hungry and with an unsatisfied craving.
  • Try to eat things that take longer to digest: Carbs with low GI, healthy fats, and protein.
  • Items with high water content will make you feel more satisfied with fewer calories.
  • Practice mindful eating and learn how your body feels when you eat.
  • Make your food look pretty!
  • Pay attention to the quality of your sleep. It will help you control your hunger.
  • Regularly moving your body must be part of your lifestyle. For example, go for a walk, run, ride your bike, climb the stairs, etc.; this doesn’t only help your heart work better; it also allows a few more calories for you to enjoy.

Many people trick themselves into thinking exercise is the key to weight loss. Let’s look at the numbers. One daily hour of moderate-intensity cycling (or 30 minutes run) will burn about 400 calories; this is close to the deficit I targeted with my diet. The problem is that fitting in your day that training schedule might be unsustainable, and after you drop your weight, you are likely to gain it back if you don’t learn how to hone your hunger. To be realistic, most people don’t have the time to do a cardio workout for an hour (+ the prep time) every single day.

After trying many apps to track my calories, like Fitbit, Noom, “MyFitness Pal,” and others, I recommend you use “Nutritionix Track.” It’s by far the easiest to record recipes, pre-built foods, and workouts. It’s free!

Conclusion

There are many more things to be said about weight management, and I’m not the right person to talk about them. I hope, though, that this post gives you an initial understanding of how weight management works and brings back the belief that conquering your weight goals is possible! If you feel I’m missing pieces of the puzzle or have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments section. Weight management is a journey, and it involves developing habits and understanding until it comes out automatically. Like brushing your teeth and flossing or saving money in your retirement account, it is not something you do at one time; it’s something that ought to be part of you.

Three Stunning Island Cycling Routes in Washington State

When I moved to Seattle, it took me a while to get used to cycling around here. Coming from California, I learned to enjoy routes that almost always traverse through 1000+ ft tall hills. I’m missing those routes here in Seattle, but now I’m learning to enjoy flat roads and rolling hills.

The three courses I’ll show in this blog post are both beautiful and challenging. Traversing over many rolling hills, they accumulate total elevation gain quickly, and it will drain out the energies of the unprepared cyclist. For the beginner, it might feel frustrating, but the intermediate and advanced cyclist will undoubtedly appreciate the quality of these rides.

Bainbridge Island Chilly Hilly

Chilly Hilly is a route created by Cascade cycling club. It looks like they have an event around it as well. This route offers lovely views and consistent but short climbing with almost zero cars to worry about. There are possible coffee stops at the beginning/end but also the midpoint. Mostly covered by trees, this is the perfect ride for a sunny day.

Mt Rainier from the Waterfront of Bainbridge Island

The best way to get there is by taking the Bainbridge Ferry in downtown Seattle. The trip costs about $10 round trip, and its schedules are pretty flexible.

Camano Island

This route offers stunning views and many rolling hills. If you begin at Stanwood, you will get a nice 40-miler, but I started it from Lake Goodwin for a strenuous 76-miler. This route is also mostly covered by trees and has almost no traffic. If I was training for a time trial, this is where I’d go.

Water views in Camano Island, unfortunately the day didn’t help me with the photos.

This area is primarily residential, and I found it challenging to park. I did see many safe spots in Stanwood, but I ended up parking at Wenberg County Park for about $10.

Lopez Island

The final route is a cycling paradise. It traverses through many rolling hills that take you to pictorial corners around the island. Mostly farms, parks, and residences, this island offers bike packers a treat. I would recommend, though, packing some snacks of your own as the restaurant options here didn’t please my inner foodie. There are many ways to explore this island, and I would come back multiple times. The island itself is perfect for riding, but so are the other San Juan Islands and Anacortes.

The ferry terminal at Lopez Island already gives the ride a special vibe.

If you’re driving to the area, there is plenty of parking space available. You can also park long-term at the Anacortes ferry terminal. I parked outside the city for the chance of exploring Anacortes, also to add twenty miles to my ride that day.

Final Thoughts

All of these routes offer the temptation to blast through them. I recommend pacing yourself as the rolling hills might be deceivingly easy but build fatigue quickly. I also recommend for additional enjoyment, thinking of these as joy rides. Pack your favorite picnic items, and surrender to the feeling of stopping everywhere to soak in the stunning scenery. If you’re new to cycling in the area and want more tips, let me know in the comments section. Also, if you are very acquainted with the area, I’d love to know which are your favorite routes.

One of the many coastal views that Lopez Island has to offer

Caesar Salad Deconstructed

Keeping a good relationship with food is key to a healthy lifestyle. Thinking of what (and how much of it) is in each thing you eat will help you make better nutrition decisions. Now, not everyone has the time to think about these things while eating. The posts in this series will help you gain that ballpark knowledge of everyday items we have. If you like this analysis, please feel free to request more items.

In this post, I will analyze and deconstruct a salad. The salad of choice today is a Classic Caesar Salad that I found in Bon Appetit Magazine. Many people believe they’re eating healthy when they eat a salad, so let’s take a closer look at what’s going on, and I’ll follow with my analysis and weight management suggestions.

The following table depicts the recipe and displays the calories of each ingredient. According to Bon Appetit, the recipe serves 6. I wouldn’t consider it more than a side salad and double the portion if I wanted to make it an entree.

QtyUnitFoodCalories (kcal)% of Total

Dressing

1

clove

garlic clove

4.47

1

pinch

kosher salt

0

2

tbsp

fresh lemon juice

6.71

0.75

tsp

dijon mustard

2.3

2

tbsp

olive oil

238.68

10.29%

0.5

cup

vegetable oil

963.56

41.55%

3

tbsp

grated parmesan

70.88

1

pinch

ground black pepper

0.33

Totals

1286.97

55.49%

Croutons

3

cups

bread

319.2

3

tbsp

olive oil

358.02

15.44%

Totals

677.22

29.2%

Lettuce

3

heart

romaine hearts

116.79

5.04%

Cheese

2

oz

parmesan cheese

238.14

10.27%

Grand Total

2319.12

Per Portion (6)

386.52

Percentage of Oil

67.28%

Deconstruction of Bon Appetit’s Classic Caesar Salad

Highlights:

  • Lettuce takes most of the physical volume.
  • Only 5% of each portion’s calories is lettuce.
  • 67% of each potion is oil (olive or vegetable).
  • 14% of the recipe is bread.
  • 10% is parmesan cheese. For those who don’t know it, cheese is typically fat and protein. To be precise, 28% of it is fat and 28% protein.
  • The original recipe doesn’t specify the amount of parmesan, so I assumed two servings of it for the entire salad.

What an excellent way of eating oil with bread! Energy-wise, lettuce barely adds anything. It primarily adds micronutrients like iron. If it weren’t for the croutons, I’d even dare to say that this salad fits the keto target macros.

Analysis

Is this salad healthy? If you go backpacking and everything you have is a bottle of oil, you could keep taking sips of it and get the energy you need to keep going. It doesn’t sound too appetizing, but from the energetic perspective, it will do the trick. You might also read on the internet nutrition advice encouraging you to consume olive oil for its anti-oxidant properties. The bread is the only highly processed component. The rest of the items from the dressing will bring all kinds of micronutrients. None of these remove the fact that you’re eating garnished oil. I’m not a nutritionist, so I can’t talk about how healthy or not it is to eat vegetable oils. You can refer to this article on HealthLine to expand on the subject.

Weight Management Analysis

In terms of weight management, our bodies digest oils slowly. This fact makes the salad a great tool if your goal is to induce yourself into a calorie deficit because you will feel satisfied for longer. One serving of this salad will give you potentially a 200 ~ 300 cal deficit if you take it as an entire meal (I target my meals to be around 500 ~ 600 cal each to keep my current weight.) With the assumption that you can weigh it and serve the right portion.

Overeating this salad will quickly transform it into a calorie surplus. I’d say: proceed with caution.

I would personally not cut down on the oil, even if I’m targeting a calorie deficit. Reducing the amount of oil will drastically reduce the total calories and you might not feel satisfied at all. This might potentially lead to an episode of fog or storm eating.

This analysis applies to many of the salads that are out there when they only differ on the veggies. Beware of salads with seeds or nuts, as those will make the calorie count go up drastically. Seeds and nuts are also primarily fat.

Latte and Croissant Deconstructed

Keeping a good relationship with food is key to a healthy lifestyle. Thinking of what (and how much of it) is in each thing you eat will help you make better nutrition decisions. Now, not everyone has the time to think about these things while eating. The posts in this series will help you gain that ballpark knowledge of everyday items we have. If you like this analysis, please feel free to request more items.

Today we’ll look at the question: Which one has more calories? A standard 12oz latte or a traditional croissant. I will answer this shortly, and you might end up surprised.

Let’s begin with the easiest to decompose, the latte.

Latte Macchiato

ItemCaloriesCarbsProteinFat%
12oz Latte Macchiato192.022.17.88.1100%
8oz Whole Milk (1 cup)148.8411.717.697.9377.5%
4oz espresso (double shot)10.661.980.140.215.5%
2 tsp sugar32.518.40016.9%
Decomposition of a latte Macchiato

As you can see, the bulk of the calories are in the milk. I used standard whole milk, but more premium brands can range from 160 to 210 calories per cup. I recommend whole milk as the best tasting and the less processed option of all dairy kinds of milk.

There are some conclusions we can draw:

  • Regular lattes are not keto.
  • Reducing the volume of coffee would significantly increase the calories with the increase in milk.
  • The added sugar does not add significantly more calories: 16% if you go for both tsp of sugar, 8% just one. These calories are by far offset by choice of milk the barista does.
  • If you increase the milk by 4 oz, to make it a “grande” size, using the Starbucks lingo, then it easily goes to over 300 calories. Even more for premium milk.
  • The ratios of the macronutrients do not respond either to a normal diet or to a sports diet.

I’ll come back to this drink in a little bit but now, let’s focus on the croissant.

Butter Croissants

ItemCaloriesCarbsProteinFat%
16 Butter Croissants261.2 (each)27.14.215.2100%
370g all-purpose flour1346.8282.3538.223.6332.2%
125g bread flour451.2590.6614.982.0810.79%
55g Sugar212.8554.99005.09%
7g Instant Yeast22.752.892.830.530.5%
60ml Whole Milk37.622.961.9420.9%
284g Unsalted Butter2036.280.172.41230.3548.72%
1 egg (for the egg wash)71.50.366.284.761.71%
Decomposition of a Croissant

When I made this recipe, the yield was around 16 croissants plus some dough discard. I would dare to say that these croissants effectively are about 230 calories each. As you can see here, the calories come equally from the flour and the butter.

By looking at these numbers, here are some conclusions we can draw:

  • If we lower a bit the amount of butter, it won’t be as delicious, but there will be great savings in calories.
  • About half of the calories come from highly processed ingredients (Flours and refined sugars).
  • About half of the calories are empty calories.
  • The ratios of the macronutrients do not respond either to a normal diet or a sports diet.

Analysis

12 oz Latte from Bartavelle, in Berkeley

In combination, a 16 oz latte and a butter croissant make more than 25% of the standard 2000-calorie diet. This means that we certainly need to watch when and how we have these treats, as it can quickly escalate to weight gain. The main problem with having these is the enormous quantity of sugars and empty calories we’re getting, which by no means will satiate our hunger. The net effect, when eaten, will be a spike in your glucose levels and an increased level of appetite afterward.

While there are no simple tricks to make a croissant healthier other than sharing half with someone; you can make your latte healthier by following some of these tips:

  • Avoid sweeteners. Not for the calories, but they will contribute to the spikes in your glucose levels, making you feel hungry shortly after eating.
  • Replace whole milk with Oat Milk (110 cal per 8 oz) or Almond milk (70 cal per 8 oz).
  • Make it a cappuccino! This drink will take only 4 oz of milk, which is ideal for enjoyment and to cut calories by half without sacrificing texture or flavor.
  • Try to avoid having them together! Yeah, I know, not ideal, but if you enjoy these treats at different times, you’ll effectively make the experience less calorie-dense.

Weight Management Analysis

Would these two items make a nutritious everyday breakfast? If we add up the energy that these items bring, you can think this is a good option. I target my breakfasts to be in the ballpark of 500 calories. Do I recommend having it every day? By looking into what’s in it, we can observe that they have a high content of highly processed simple carbohydrates and simple sugars. While these calories will help you energy-wise, they might cause an insulin spike in your system that will make you feel hungry a few hours after having it. Not to mention the stripped-off micronutrients. With all of this, I would not recommend a daily intake for weight management reasons.

Avocado Toast on Yeast-Sourdough for Two.

This recipe is ideal for those weekends when you prefer to stay at home but still want to have delicious brunch. It will show you how easily you can bake a tiny loaf of bread with an open crumb. It’s ideal for two people. It also shows an alternative way to toast it. You’ll top it with avocado, ricotta cheese, and a poached egg, but feel free to make it your own.

Scheduling: I recommend to kick off the bread-baking process the day before at around 6 pm. Leave the dough proofing overnight in the fridge, from 10 pm to 8 am, bake it, and have brunch at 10 am.

Notes on the Bread: 

  • I call for 82 grams of water to produce the open crumb that you see on the photos. But a beginner might find that dough too sticky and difficult to handle. So, if you want to make an easier version, you may reduce the amount of water to, let’s say, 75 or 70 grams.
  • I will mention techniques that you might be unfamiliar with. Please see this youtube video, for demonstrations. It’s just a bunch of technical names for easy techniques.

This toast pairs well with an arugula salad, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. I paired it with some grapes I had.

This tiny loaf, which fits on the palm of my hand, was made with yeast but still shows a very light and open crumb.

Recipe of an avocado toast with everything made from scratch.

Bread

  • 100g Bread Flour
  • 82g Lukewarm Water, use 70 to make it easier to handle.
  • 2g Instant Yeast
  • 3g Sea Salt
  • 6g Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Toast

  • 1 Medium Hass Avocado
  • 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tbsp Ricotta Cheese
  • 2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 tsp Lemon Zest
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 tsp Vinegar of any kind.

Bread Preparation

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the water and the flour until there are no lumps or any dry flour. Cover the bowl with plastic and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Mist with water your counter, and stretch the dough like if forming a pizza, trying not to tear it. Sprinkle the yeast and the salt evenly over the surface. Fold 1/3 of it towards the center, and repeat with the other side (like closing a taco). Rotate 90 degrees and fold it in the same way. Return the dough to the bowl.
  3. Sprinkle the olive oil on top of the dough and massage it with one hand until it’s fully incorporated. Around 5 to 10 minutes. Return it to the bowl and cover it with plastic.
  4. Let the dough sit for 30 to 40 minutes until it’s relaxed, then perform one coil fold on each direction. Cover the bowl again.
  5. Repeat the previous step every 30 to 40 minutes until the dough can hold its shape. Typically 2 or 3 times.
  6. Let the dough rest until it has gained some volume (50% to 60%), usually after 1 hour.
  7. In a lightly floured counter, pre-shape it into a small boule and let it rest for 20 minutes.
  8. If the dough has relaxed after 20 minutes, flour the counter generously and repeat the boule shape (this might mean it’s too weak!). Otherwise, simply sprinkle a generous amount of flour on top of the previous boule. Flour a piece of cheesecloth with semolina, whole wheat, or white flour (in that order of preference). And place the dough upside down, with the ‘soft side’ on the cloth. Transfer to a soup bowl and put it inside a plastic bag with plenty of air inside.
  9. Proof the dough overnight on the fridge. It will double its size after around 7 to 9 hours. When it does, it will be ready to bake!
  10. Cut a piece of parchment paper, place the dough on it, and perform a 1 1/2 inch score at the top.
  11. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Until the crust is golden brown. Then remove from the oven and let it cool off completely.

Avocado Toast Preparation

  1. Slice your tiny loaf of bread in half like a sandwich, making sure the bottom part is thinner, no more than 1/2 in (~1 cm). Then cut it in two lengthwise. You will have four pieces.
  2. In a medium bowl, puree the avocado then mix it with the ricotta, 1tsp olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, and salt to taste.

Poach 2 eggs.

  1. Bring 3qt of water to boil.
  2. Add 1 tsp of vinegar and reduce the heat to a simmer.
  3. With a spatula, spin the water to form a whirlwind, then quickly throw the egg into the vortex, so the white wraps around the yolk.1. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes and take the egg out with a skimmer.1. Repeat for the second egg.

Toast Assembly

  1. Toast the bread. Heat 1tsp of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet, then place the bread pieces with the crumb side touching the skillet, to toast, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn it to toast the crust side.
  2. Assemble the two toasts in the following way: Place half of the avocado mixture over the thin toast. Distribute the avocado mixture evenly, and place the poached egg on top. Finally, slice and reserve the top toast to dip in the egg’s yolk while eating. Decorate it with a bit of cayenne pepper.

I Tried Keto, This is What Happened

During the pandemic, I had a lot of spare time to try things out, so I tried going keto. I thought it was a good idea after reading a lot about it. It seemed like I could reduce fat mass pretty quickly, which was my goal. It also looked like an excellent opportunity to clear my liver. Finally, I wanted to re-establish my relationship with food, as I had demonized some items when I was doing Noom.

If you want to learn about the ketogenic diet, there are many videos online; here is my favorite.

Those who swear by the keto diet claim some benefits: 

  • An enhanced mental clarity,
  • A more stable mood.
  • Automatic calorie intake control.
  • Being able to enjoy those fatty treats, etc. 
  • Medically, it is used to treat epilepsy and diabetes.

During my tests, I could confirm some of these claims and bust others. I also will share how it affected me during the time I did it.  

The Process

Before going keto, I counted calories and measured my body composition without paying attention to the ratios of my macronutrients (macros for short). The first step was to think about these macros and gradually reduce the carbs; this happened a week before ‘keto day one.’ At the same time, I began researching keto from different resources and bought a cookbook on Amazon.

These ‘Deviled Eggs’ Were a delicious snack!

During the first week, I minimized my intake of carbs by removing grains, rice, cereals, fruits, and starchy vegetables from my diet. There are some fruits like berries that are still ok to eat.

By doing this, I noticed some changes :

  • I felt thirstier.
  • I visited the bathroom much more often.
  • I didn’t have any trouble reaching my calorie goal.
  • I struggled to eat enough food because I was feeling full and satisfied. 

By the end of the first week, I experienced the ‘keto flu,’ which I thought was regular flu. I even got a little scared of the possibility of having COVID-19 as I had visited several airports. It started with a 5-mile hike in the snow. Suddenly, I felt Ill. I spent two days in bed with the shivers. It all ended after having a very salty Thai soup that made me feel better instantly. Apparently, my sodium levels were too low.

Week two came with the first lockdown. I decided to shop for groceries and follow the meal plan from my keto book. I followed it to the T.

I enjoyed cooking foods like meatloaf and cauliflower mash. It felt refreshing to go all-in with cream and butter while cooking. I could not develop a liking for keto sweets based on stevia.

I monitored daily my ketone levels with the urine straps. I was happy to observe that having a PB&J sandwich in the middle of a long bike ride did not kick me out of ketosis.

This test stripe shows I had a high level of ketones in my system.

My Findings

  1. The first two weeks I lost about 6lb of water weight. At the same time, my body composition went the opposite way I wanted. Reduced lean body mass and gained fat mass. I think, though, it was part of the fat-adaptation process.
  2. I restored my relationship with fatty foods. I got to experience with ingredients I had demonized and cooked meals I didn’t think of healthy before.
  3. My mood was very stable, but I didn’t get any additional mental clarity. If anything, I found it harder to focus. I believe it’s also part of the adaptation process.
  4. My appetite and eating patterns changed. Moved to just three meals a day without snacking in between. I felt satisfied most of the time. I had to force myself to eat more; otherwise, I’d have less than 1400 calories a day, which is even below my BMR.
  5. I felt weaker: I could barely do ten push-ups. I felt my usual weights more challenging, and while cycling, my legs felt the strain on roads that before didn’t feel that challenging.
  6. My endurance improved; I could ride 100km on my bike while eating very little food.
  7. Snacking was hard. It’s hard to find keto snacks in grocery stores; these snacks also typically need refrigeration. Hiking or riding bikes is not compatible with refrigerated snacks. You end up only carrying Jerky, nuts, or packets of nut butter. Even some nuts have too many carbs to be considered keto. Virtually everything has sugars, so if you want to follow it by the T, you need to be a good planner.
Here you can see how my body composition changed (towards the end) when I started the Keto Diet

Final Thoughts

Going Keto was a good decision from the learning perspective. I learned a lot about nutrition, and I learned about my own body. It also showed me that it’s impractical if I’m not at home where I can control every aspect of it. Would I do it again? No. As an athlete, it’s not my goal to compromise lean body mass, and I need the bursts of energy that only carbohydrates give. I would recommend it only for people who want to learn how to control their calories or lose the fear of eating oils and healthy fats. If you already know how to manage your weight, then intermittent fasting with a Mediterranean diet seems to be a better long-term sustainable solution—my two cents.

Almond Milk Flan

Since I’m a kid, I’m obsessed with flan. It is one of those desserts I’m sure I’d not be able to stop eating. That’s why I like to have them once in a very long while. It’s more of a treat rather than something habitual.

Not long ago, I baked a horrible loaf of bread. It was probably the worst loaf I’ve ever baked, and I’ve done many! To not waste it, I decided to make bread pudding with it, but I only had almond milk available. I felt adventurous, so I decided to give it a go. I soaked the chunks of my loaf in that almond milk and then prepared a custard with the liquid that the bread had not absorbed. In the end, my custard did set beautifully, and the flavor was incredible. So I thought: this ought to be a great way of making non-dairy flan! That’s how this recipe came to be.

One characteristic of almond milk is that it tastes significantly different from dairy, so if we want such a confection to work flavorwise, we need to build its flavor profile. I used Meyer lemon zest as a base, and since my almond milk is not the “unsweetened version,” I didn’t use as much sugar as I would have for a regular flan. Then I found the combination of cardamom and cinnamon as garnish gave the flan a lovely flavor component without being overly sweet.

My flan beautifully set and chilled, ready to eat.

I use the same techniques as a regular flan for this preparation, and it works well. Here is the recipe.

Almond Milk Flan

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 5 tsp of cane sugar, two for the caramel and three for the custard.
  • 1 large egg (I also added one egg yolk, but I feel it can be avoided)
  • ½ tsp zest of Meyer lemon.
  • 1 tiny pinch of salt.
  • 1 Cup of vanilla-flavored almond milk.
  • ¼ tsp cardamom & ½ tsp cinnamon.

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF or 180ºC
  2. In a small saucepan, melt 2 tsp of sugar into caramel, making sure not to scorch it as it will develop an unpleasant flavor. Once it’s pourable, pour it to coat the bottom of the container where you’ll bake the flan. I used a glass microwaveable food container. Place the container in your freezer while you prepare the custard.
  3. In a small saucepan, warm up the almond milk to about 165ºF, or 73ºC. Make sure it doesn’t go too much over that, or it will cook your egg.
  4. While the milk is heating, In a bowl, combine and whisk the egg and yolk (if using) with 3 tsp of sugar, salt, and lemon zest.
  5. Temper your egg batter by whisking in vigorously ¼ of your almond milk first, then slowly incorporate the rest of the almond milk. It’s crucial to get this step right. Otherwise, you can potentially end up with sweet scrambled eggs.
  6. Pour your batter into the container with the caramel.
  7. Prepare your bain-marie: Fill out a larger saucepan, pot, or tray with enough water so your flan container is submerged 80%. Bring the water almost to a boil. Then place your flan in. Transfer everything into the oven right away.
  8. Bake for about 50 minutes or until the custard is set. Then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  9. Plating: Run a pairing knife through the edge of your container and un-mold the flan into a serving plate. Garnish with cardamom and cinnamon.
  10. Enjoy!

Freshly un-molded almond milk flan with a light caramel on top.

Cycling Hurricane Ridge: Pacing Yourself on Long Climbs

Last weekend I went out to explore the Olympic National Park, partly on my bike, partly hiking, and driving around. That place is an outdoor paradise that can offer something to everyone.

One of the activities I chose to do is cycle up to ‘Hurricane Ridge’ visitor center. This place is a ski resort located over 5000ft above sea level. Accessible from Port Angeles, this smoothly paved road winds up without interruption for about 19 miles. This route challenged me in two ways: first, it’s the highest I’ve cycled uphill, and second, almost without any ‘downhill break.’

Larger patches of snow as I pass the 3/4 mark of my climb.

The road was stunningly beautiful. At ground level, I could see green vegetation everywhere and the stunning distant background of the Olympics. As the ride progressed, I saw the vegetation get smaller, fewer trees, and an increasing number of snow patches. By the time I reached the summit, it was, well, a Ski resort. I have seen such dramatic changes in scenery only on my virtual rides on Zwift.

I leave the route and details here if you decide to place it on your bucket list.

Mastering the Longer Climbs

When I began riding on the road, I dreaded going up hills. I would go completely out of breath, my legs would hurt, and I would feel compelled to stop and catch my breath every five minutes. Riding non-stop for two or three hours uphill only seemed unimaginable. I often had to stop and do the ‘walk of shame,’ walking my bike up the hill. If this feels like you, I will give you some tips that will help you conquer any paved mountain.

Train for Endurance: Before attempting to go up to large mountains, you need to make sure your heart (cardio endurance) is up to the task. You can train this by riding progressively longer and longer non-stop. You can start with intervals of 20 minutes and gradually increase to 30, 40, and so on. If you can afford it, buy a heart rate monitor. Then you can ride at a comfortable pace where your BPMs are under control.

Keep a steady pace: Initially, I got very competitive, especially on group rides, and I wanted to go as quickly as the first ones on the pack. While I managed to keep up for like five minutes, I quickly ran out of energy and then went even slower than the slowest. Keeping a steady pace is pivotal. Remember that you’ll be using a lot of energy, so it’s best to preserve it.

It’s best to go to start with your lowest gear: I also learned this through frustration. For some reason, I felt there was something shameful out of going to the minimum. It was not until I started joining organized group events that I saw people blast past me on the climb in their lowest gear—the secret: cadence. When you’re at your lowest, you have finer control of your power output by tweaking how fast or slow you spin your legs. The easiest way to produce more power (and thus climb faster) is to bring your cadence up.

Mentally prepare: In the end, climbing hills with your bike is a test of your endurance. You need to go with a mindset of resisting. You can take some breaks to recoup by lowering your cadence, zigzagging up the hill, or turning momentarily on the intersections, so it becomes flat. But try to keep yourself mentally on the bike as much as possible.

Climb progressively harder hills: The last one is the most obvious. Before tackling 3k+ ft. hills, I trained weekly on a moderate 1100ft route close to home. You would not imagine how happy I was the first time I could ride it non-stop.

Fuel yourself well: these types of endurance efforts will exhaust your glycogen stores quickly, and that’s when you begin feeling miserable. Eat plenty of simple carbohydrates (sugars, fruits, processed flours, and grains) before riding, and carry a few granola bars to replenish every hour.

My Pacing Strategy to Ride the Hurricane

This little guy welcomed to the summit by saying “No way you came here on your bike!”, then proceeded to take a selfie as I prepared my bike for the victory shot.

Being a cyclist for a long time, I’m used to training with all the bells and whistles. My bike carries a cadence sensor, a speed sensor, power meter pedals, and other gadgets. These pieces of technology are not essential to riding, but they do help you go beyond what you perceive is “too hard” or “too easy.” Here I describe my strategy:

  • I went on my lowest gear throughout the climb, switching to a harder one only when it was too easy.
  • I tried to keep my heart rate constant at 90%. As soon as it went higher, I would reduce my cadence (and thus power output) to stabilize it.
  • I kept my power output between 75% and 90% of my FTP. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry. I’m simply using a cyclist term to say I was pushing hard but sustainably by not going over the limit of what I can sustain for an hour.
  • I ate a crepe before the ride and one PB&J sandwich split in half during the climb.
  • I made sure to drink a sip of water every 15 minutes.

With this, I close my post. I hope you find some of these tips helpful and can apply them on your next gravity-defying ride.

Book Review: The Righteous Mind

“If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you.”

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

During the 2021 COVID-19 pandemic, I witnessed and experienced strain within my social circle. Friendships, romances, and family relationships were eroded because of differences in opinions and beliefs. Friction amongst people is nothing new, but it was impressive to see how the pandemic accentuated and accelerated the effect.

Jonathan Haidt, is the author of “The Righteous Mind.” He is a psychologist and morals specialist. He is the creator of the “Elephant and the Rider” analogy, which Noom uses very extensively to describe people’s eating behavior. And that’s what drove me to look into his books. At the time, I also was into reading behavioral psychology, and morals seemed a natural step.

The book promised to answer my question: “Why can’t people just get along or be more tolerant?” It delivered the answer loud and clear.

Throughout the pages of the book, the reader will discover many interesting facts:

  • How humans feel first, and reason second.
  • All the various components of morals, and how people are sensitive to each.
  • How we behave as individuals and as groups.

Every topic is discussed with examples that apply to today’s social context.

My takeaways:

After reading the book, I began to see the world slightly differently. It became very evident how quickly I was judging, and all the information I was not taking into consideration. It also opened the door to another topic for book hunt: compassion.

The book is very well written and backed by an extensive amount of research and it’s full of citations. What I liked about it, is that the author starts by saying “I’m a democrat” but at no point in the book his narrative seems to take any side, but rather being very descriptive.

I definitely recommend this book to everyone.

Bread Baking Essentials

So you’re ready to start baking bread, you’ve got your flour, your yeast, your salt, some water, and now what? I know there is seemingly endless bread baking material on the internet, and everyone prefers different tools. Here I intend to share what is essential to my bread baking needs and why it makes a difference.

These tools are:

  • A kitchen scale.
  • A container for my dough or “Dough Tub”
  • Bench Scrapers
  • A large wooden board.
  • A proofing vessel.
  • A baking vessel.
  • A razor blade.
  • A bread Knife
  • Two small-sized glass jars to keep your starter & rubber bands.

A Kitchen Scale

During the first six months of baking bread, I did not have a scale, I was just mixing based on the “feel.” Sometimes it would come out decent, sometimes it would be a rock. Well, let me break it to you, a small amount of any ingredient yields a very different loaf of bread. So, if you want to be consistent, you need to learn how to be precise. I have not yet found the perfect one size fits all scale. But if you have to prioritize, buy one that can measure grams & kilograms over more precise quantities. I have two: one that measures the flour, and the other one that measures the salt and yeast.

These are my two scales, the first one measures up to the milligram, the second I use to measure heavier items.

A “Dough Tub”

Baking can be a very messy hobby. Mixing dough in a bowl, performing folds, kneading, etc. You end up with many things to clean. On top of that, using plastic wrap to cover the dough every time you do something to it is somehow wasteful. One container with a lid that’s big enough can become “the one place” where you mix, fold, and ferment your dough.

I have two preferred options:

  • A “Cambro” general purpose container with a lid. A four qt works excellent for me, and sometimes I use the two qt. The levels help you identify when your dough has doubled in size.
  • A Pyrex baking dish with a lid. It’s a little bit more expensive, but glassware with a wide bottom works better when performing folds inside the container.
From left to Right: Cambro 4qt, 6qt, and 2qt. Square shape makes easier to perform “coil folds.”

Bench Scrapers

Plastic flexible scrapers are relatively inexpensive and make your life easy when handling the dough. I also love having a hard bench scraper; it has been a game-changer for me. I use it to divide and shape the dough, as well as to clean my board.

These are my two go-to scrapers. I use the metallic one for shaping and dividing doughs, and the silicone one for my folds and helping the dough out of the tub.

A Large “Kneading Wooden Board”

Kneading or manipulating dough on your kitchen counter takes a lot of work. Flour can end up in the most unsuspected places, and if you haven’t cleaned carefully, your dough might end up with suspicious particles. I bought a wooden board for $10 in Ikea that’s big enough to work in but lightweight and convenient to store. I keep it in its original bag.

Somewhere to ‘Proof’ the Dough.

The ideal thing to ‘proof’ your dough depends on what you’re making. Baguettes are proofed in a “couche,” Boules in a round basket, Batards in an oval basket, and so on. If you start collecting these items (like I have), you will soon realize how expensive it gets and how much space it takes for something that’s single-purpose.

The minimalistic baker can use a cheese or pastry cloth and a bowl. I like the most an oval-shaped proofing basket.

This is my oval-shaped proofing basket with an 82% hydration dough in it. After I shaped it on the wooden board.

A Vessel to Bake your Bread.

This is key if you want your loaf to bake evenly without having to open the oven and turning it every now and then. For at least a year, I used a baking sheet. It does the job, but it’s more hands-on when it comes to your loaf baking evenly. Now I have two preferred methods:

  • Cast Iron Dutch Oven: It’s useful when all you want is a “Boule” (The round-shaped loaf”), but you might find it limiting if you’re going to bake loaves of other shapes. This was my preferred method for a couple of years.
  • Pizza Baking Stone: This one is my absolute favorite. You won’t get the great crust you get in the Dutch oven, but you can bake all sorts of things in it. Plus, you get to see how your loaf grows inside the oven and maybe shoot time-lapses.
This shows my Lodge cast-iron combo. I used this pot for a long time before switching to the baking stone.

A Razor Blade

Traditional bread bakers bend the razor lightly and build a home-made bread lame. I have one that my dad made for me as he works with wood. To create that perfect score, you need a very sharp blade or edge. Not scoring your loaves before baking affects the oven spring, and you might end up with cracks in your crust (which some find visually appealing).

The lame my dad made for me resting on top of the cheesecloth, that I use for proofing smaller pieces.

A Good Bread Knife

There is nothing more frustrating than slicing into your freshly baked loaf with a dull or non-serrated knife. You compress the crumb structure. It’s hard to get through the crust. All of which could make your slices less visually appealing. One of the first items I got after I started baking was my bread knife. Many years after I bought it, it’s still doing the job nicely. I would advise you to go for the models with longer blades. Mine is 8 inches, and it feels too short for some loaves.

The bread knife that I had for years is a Wusthof Classic. Mine is 8” long but sometimes it feels too short.

Containers For your Starter

Most books that teach you how to start a yeast culture recommend and discard large quantities of flour. As long as you keep your proportions right, you can keep and feed a tiny amount of starter and perform what a blogger I follow calls ‘micro-feedings’.

To this end, I use a few 4oz glass jars that are perfect for 45 grams of starter and have just enough space for it to quadruple in size. I also save the tiny rubber bands from my bunches of vegetables to mark my starter’s initial level. This way is easier to keep track of where it is at in its cycle.

My starter growing in a small dessert glass jar.

Closing Thoughts

The list of items I shared might seem long, but each one makes a difference when aiming for the perfect loaf and baking consistency.

There are many additional gadgets out there that will make your baking life even more comfortable. Still, I tried to keep it to what I believe it’s essential. Please feel free to leave questions or comments in the section below. Happy Baking!