Never Weight — 2nd Quarter Update

July 1st, 2017 by Potato

I started the year off with some goals and made some early progress. In the second quarter though, that momentum was lost and things were bad, as you could probably tell by the fact that I all but disappeared from the internet. Weight backslipped (up a pound over the quarter), sleep was garbage, exercise program completely derailed.

Meaningless excuses: first off, I was sick for a month or month and a half in April/May. Spring allergies, head cold, strep throat, combination thereof, whatever it was I had a hell of a time concentrating and writing. I barely made it through each work day and then had nothing left for side projects/blogging/getting in shape.

Which is a real shame, because Blueberry was going to give me a medal if I managed to check off every cell in my exercise regimen for June. A medal! And I couldn’t do it. So I kind of feel like a failure as a father as well as on my own personal health goals right now.

Then in May I got a device to help my sleep apnea, a special mouthguard from my dentist that repositions my jaw to keep my airway open. It works for the primary outcome: I don’t snore or choke with it in. However, it takes me an extra hour or two to fall asleep with it because it feels weird and my jaw aches sometimes from holding the strange position. So it’s a bit of a catch-22: a small amount of good sleep, or a larger amount of sleep with apnea and snoring (because there aren’t enough hours in the day to just go to bed earlier and get both). Either way, as June comes to a close I’m feeling super sleep deprived, like it’s exam time cramming or a major grant deadline level of dark rings under my eyes. The last few days I have been falling asleep better with it, but it may take the rest of the month to get back to caught up on sleep.

Anyway, for the third quarter of the year I’ve got to get back on track: sleep better, exercise regularly, eat decently (in that order of priority).

Never Weight – 1st Quarter Update

March 30th, 2017 by Potato

Back at new year’s I decided (resolved, even) to focus on taking better care of myself. I had finally cleared some major things off my plate: the investing course was finished, the major grants for the season were done, and Wayfare was out of the hospital and on the long road to recovery. Plus I had hit my “never weight“, a line in the sand I had set long ago. I knew the things I needed to do were fairly simple: sleep better, eat better, exercise more — the challenge was just in implementation.

I’ve been better about my sleep, but not as good as I should have been given that a) things are really quiet right now on the work front and b) it was my top priority to start on. Part of this issue is I had a minor cold/sore throat for several weeks which meant that I was getting poor quality sleep even when I went to bed earlier. Still working on that one. However, I did finally get off my butt to have a sleep study done, which looks like will lead to a dental appliance in the next few weeks to see if it helps my sleep apnea.

For exercise, I have recruited Blueberry as my personal trainer. Let me tell you, four-year-old girls do not fuck around when there is a chart and checkmarks (or stickers!!!) involved. She helped me come up with a simple routine of basic exercises that can be done in ~10 minutes, including things like push-ups, sit-ups, and ballerina twirls. She’s been fantastic at checking in on me everyday to make sure that I’m doing them, and if I have to do it after she’s in bed, she will even critique the quality of my checkmarks the next morning. One day when I really pushed myself, I got two stickers for each exercise. I’m thinking of writing a paper for a change management journal.

The exercise regimen Blueberry helped create; the following week, I got stickers as well as checkmarks.

When spring finally comes (vs. the spring-tease we’re currently getting where we’ll get one or two decent days followed by a deep freeze and maniacal laughter from mother nature), Blueberry wants to start working on biking further and further each day until we can make it all the way to Grammy’s house (about 6 very hilly kilometers one-way — a pretty intense distance for a bike with training wheels). And I know she’ll get me out to the park and running around, so my personal training regimen should only get better.

I have not made as much progress on implementing a process for improved dieting: I’m eating a bit better, snacking a bit less, but haven’t yet gone into meal planning or tracking or anything that’s a substantial change beyond some low-hanging fruit (like eating more fruit). I started tracking what I was eating in January, but stopped in March (which is quite likely related to the backsliding from February’s weigh-in).

As for my weight, I was down 5 lbs by the end of February, but have plateaued in March and am still only down 5 now. So I’m sitting just under that “never weight” threshold still. Other than “doing better” (ideally in a life-long sustainable way), I haven’t quantified my goals yet. Am I aiming for my new-daddy weight of 5 years ago, or my pre-MSc-crisis weight of 12 years ago? And how fast should I try to get there? A pound a week seems to be a reasonable goal according to many sources, and I’ve only lost 4 in 13 weeks — just one third of that textbook rate. But even rolling back the clock by 12 years, which seems like such an unrealistic goal now — going all the way from obese to just a tad overweight in BMI — would be just over a year at that accelerated rate. Yet getting to that level would require some more serious dieting and exercise interventions — drastic lifestyle change, as Joe put it in the comments to the last post — whereas this more leisurely rate has been achieved with minimal actual sacrifices. And losing 16-20 lbs/yr with a lifestyle that has “minimal sacrifices” would make me pretty happy in the end, if I can keep it up.

For now, I’m going to continue to make better sleep and exercise my primary focus, and will get back to tracking what I eat to raise awareness without setting explicit weight goals (just “lower!”) or getting into meal plans for the next quarter.

Never Weight

January 2nd, 2017 by Potato

I’ve gained a crapload of weight in my life. I started undergrad as skinny and ended a touch on the pudgy side. But the final year of my MSc was the worst — I was depressed, my experiments failed so I had to repeat a number of experimental runs, and my nominal two-year master’s took over three to finish. Plus I got a kidney stone and was bed-ridden for over a week, and had trouble even making the 20-minute walk to work for several months afterward. In that short span of time I gained so much weight I blew right through fat to obese. Over half that weight was packed on in a span of just a few months, weight gain so rapid it left me with stretchmarks.

But I had work to do — thesis to write, experiments to science, thorium to mine. Losing weight takes willpower and mental energy (and moreover, can’t be done while also powering through consecutive all-nighters on the power of caffeine and refined carbohydrates).

After I defended my MSc, I managed to lose a tiny bit of that weight (not much) and get in a bit better shape (not much). As my PhD was coming to an end, I knew that I might backslide a bit, but set a “never weight” for myself so that I wouldn’t go through another round of that kind of damage to myself as I finished my PhD, especially because at that point I had (somewhat) figured out that I wasn’t destined for an academic career and science wasn’t worth the sacrifice. If at any point I hit my never weight, I made a deal with myself to miss deadlines or whatever it took to keep that under control. I managed to finish my thesis with minimal weight gain, and lost that and then some after Blueberry was born (having a kid is a great impetus for changing bad habits). I figured ok, this is just my life now: I’m overweight but have held steady here for a few years running.

Then I hit a few busy periods at work, and again all-nighters and 100-hour weeks became a central part of my life. Here’s a hot bio-hacking tip: you can survive on just 3-6 hours of sleep per night for up to 2-3 weeks of insanity if you just keep eating. Can’t fall asleep while you’re mid-chew!

I gained 10 pounds in just a few weeks for one big project (my “Discovery Frontiers” weight), managed to hold the line for a year, and then gained another 10 lbs over a few weeks (the “CFI Innovation Fund” bonus gift). By then I let some bad habits form (esp. eating at my desk at work), and got really run down from chronic sleep deprivation (many causes), so even holding the line became hard, let alone losing that weight after the crises passed. But as long as I had shown I could work so intensely for someone else, I decided that rather than simply throttle back after those busy periods and focus on recovery, I would keep it up and work for myself. I wrote The Value of Simple. I started developing the Practical Index Investing for Canadians Course, both brought to you by the letter C for chocolate, chips, coke, and caffeine, and the number 5, for the hours of sleep I averaged most nights.

Then in the last big project (that ended in early October) I gained some more weight and hit my never weight. I was about to put up this post and commit to focusing on my health as soon as the investing course was done, but then Wayfare got sick, which was not exactly a stress-free time. But now it’s a new year, and the course is done, so this seems like a good time to commit to making this year all about improving my health. I started already, skipping any bound-to-be-disappointing New Year’s Eve stuff to just get to bed by 8 last night :)

I don’t have a diet/exercise plan sorted out precisely yet, but I’ve got some ideas. My first priority is to fix my sleep schedule, as that alone will close some positive feedback loops.

And that’s it for the year’s goals: I’m not writing another book, I’m hoping that now that the course is done I’ll have put myself out of the investment coaching business, and I don’t have plans to take on many freelancing projects. A few speaking gigs will likely be the extent of my non-daddy, non-day-job stress-inducing activities.

Emergency Funds FTW

December 1st, 2016 by Potato

I don’t want to risk having my personal finance blogger license revoked, but I haven’t been paying attention to our budget as we deal with Wayfare’s recovery. I’m pretty sure we’re spending a bit more than average — we’re certainly eating more pre-made food, and spending more on drugs and parking and a walker, but much of that pre-made food is brought over by family and friends.

I actually haven’t been thinking or worrying much about money the past few weeks, which is as it should be. Early on my mind would wander to the topic and I’d try to crunch numbers as I rode the subway, without the benefit of a proper spreadsheet. But at some point I internalized the message that we’ve got an emergency fund and we’ll be ok. So I stopped worrying and focused my energies elsewhere.

And really, that’s what emergency funds are for, so you can make it through these completely random, crazy events without also having to worry about money in the short term.

TTP is a very rare disease, with an incidence of about 3 in a million. But that means that next year about 100 families in Canada will be hit by this. Another 200,000 or so will face a cancer diagnosis. Some others will be hit by a job loss, or a major repair bill.

As financial literacy month draws to a close I just wanted to quickly underscore how important it was to be savers when times were good, so that we could make it through a trying time like this. Yet many Canadians don’t have an emergency fund (here’s one survey that says a quarter have less than $1000). I mostly focus on investing stuff — it’s important too, and where I can actually make a difference — but emergencies can strike at any time. I don’t know what to say to all those people to get them to start, but having an emergency fund is important. I don’t know how we’d be handling this situation without it.

Out of the Hospital, Not the Woods

November 2nd, 2016 by Potato

Wayfare just got home after 14 consecutive days in the hospital (plus 3 of the 5 before that). It’s a serious disease and she’s doing much better than she was two weeks ago, but that’s mostly a reflection of how sick she was — there’s still a long way to go to full health and stamina. As an illustrative example, she can walk a few steps unaided now, but still feels the need for someone to support her going up and down the stairs.

Though it was a long stay in the hospital, she’s glad to be back just in time for the trick-or-treaters. She couldn’t get up and walk to the door each time, and didn’t want to catch anything with a suppressed immune system, so she bundled up under about a hundred layers, added a stethoscope to her face mask and gown to look like a doctor, and planted herself on a chair at the door to hand out treats. Priorities, you know. She’s also amazed that fall waited for her — here in Toronto I still haven’t had to rake yet as most of the leaves are still on the trees, some still green even.

But enough about her. I’m exhausted. Everyone has been great at offering support, especially her parents, who have been there in the hospital with us every day, and picking Blueberry up from school regularly. While we spent hours waiting at the pharmacy before getting to leave the hospital, her mom came over and cleaned everything, and then went out to help restock groceries and hand sanitizer, etc. But there are some things you just can’t outsource — Wayfare really didn’t want other visitors, especially when she was barely lucid and had tubes coming out every which-way. So I went downtown every day, tried to get an hour or two of work done to keep my job, and tried to hold it all together. Near the end of the hospital stay, Wayfare was thanking me for doing all the things, and said that perhaps the worst part of it all was that I had to commute down on the weekends too. And I think that is definitely part of why I feel so worn out right now — at least with big projects that lead to 80+ hour weeks, I get to work from home on the weekends.

Anyway, we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Fortunately, I should be able to work from home for the next little while to be here while not getting fired, and her parents continue to be awesome. We’re going to have to spend a day every week in the hospital for follow-ups to monitor her recovery. Unfortunately (and touching wood, spitting and turning around three times, etc. as I say this), this disease has a staggeringly high recurrence/exacerbation/relapse rate. So almost any instance of Wayfare not feeling well will be a trip to emerg to check things out, just in case. Though she finished her plasmapheresis, her central line will stay in for a few more weeks because of this danger. And that is itself a pain to manage (not to mention the creepiness factor — though in the right light it’s good progress to a rockin’ Borg costume).

And with her energy levels so low she’ll need someone here basically all the time, and it will be a while before she’ll be able to pick up Blueberry from school.

Blueberry has been just amazing through all of this. She’s written/drawn so many little get well soon notes and cards for mommy, and she’s been quite good with me (and fairly understanding when daddy’s patience is a little shorter than normal). And she’s been so good being gentle and helpful and considerate with her mom. One good thing out of all of this has been all the time I’ve gotten to spend with her. I’ve been walking her to school almost every day since she started kindergarten (for other somewhat related reasons), and now I got to pick her up most days too — and will continue to have that for a while yet. Though as much fun as all the daddy-daughter days have been, she’s awful glad to have her mommy home again.

Every now and then my mind wanders to what will happen long-term (particularly through the PF blogger lens). We have a good emergency fund, so I know at this point I’m just borrowing trouble, and there’s enough to deal with now. I’m glad money doesn’t really have to be a big concern, and that we’ve had so much support from family, which gives us the freedom to push these kinds of thoughts off until after the medical stuff is resolved. But still — we are not one of those PF uber couples that can live off just one salary. It’s been a while since I’ve done a detailed budget, but for the sake of argument let’s say that we need about $1.5-2.5k/mo (depending on how much we cut lifestyle spending, and not counting savings) from the 2nd person’s salary to live here. A friend recently moved, so on Facebook I saw the posts about her house and I was like “yeah, we should move to London!” — lower costs of living (nearly to the point of fully living on one salary), and instead of being an hour+ away at work, I’d only ever be at most 10 minutes away (20 if there’s a fucking train crossing) if something happened, and I’d get that much more time with Blueberry on all the days when nothing happened. Of course, then the thoughts spiral to how much help we got from family through this, and they probably wouldn’t follow us out (though Blueberry is the only grandchild on both sides, so maybe??). Anyway, we can put that crazy thought process on ice for a few months at least — and while it may take a few months, Wayfare should eventually be able to return to work.


It was tough trying to keep everyone in the loop. Social media is good for that sort of broadcasting thing, but Wayfare didn’t want me broadcasting too much to too many people online at first. She wanted to write something herself, but was too foggy to be able to write. So many people knew she was “sick” (esp. with cancelled events and the like), but didn’t know she was in the hospital with a serious condition. We were getting messages like “should I bring over soup?” Finally I asked her how much murdering she would do to her friends if one of them disappeared into the hospital for days and didn’t update her, and she let me send a message out on her account.

Other than that I didn’t really provide much detail to too many people — lots asked, and I gave brief answers (or pointed to posts), as keeping other people in the loop much beyond “this is a thing and it is happening, chat later” was not very high on my priorities. The old-fashioned social network also worked well — I told my mom what was going on, who told my aunts, who told my cousins, and on through the phone tree.

I alluded to being short-tempered above with Blueberry (only a tiny bit, but I’m usually super patient with her) — I was much more so with other people. One text message exchange went like this: “Happy birthday!” “OMG FUCK OFF right now.” [exaggerated] Imagine driving to the hospital and your phone pings. Is something wrong? Do you have to stop and pick something up on the way? Is there a safe place to pull over and read it? Is it worth the safety and ticket to try to read it while driving? Maybe just risk the ticket at a red light… Oh great, a birthday wish, like I care about that now.