What’s Dean been up to? (Part 2)

So it seems there is a debate that has started over Weight Watchers as a potential investment. Take a look at the Corner of BRK&FFH. I personally know little about the company, but did spend some time learning the market while researching Nutrisystem (NTRI). What I can do is share my weight loss story over the last 10 or so months to give potential investors and analysts some real world context to current state. I would never want to be on the other side of the trade with Geoff Gannon so take my points (get it) with a grain of salt. I will not do quantitative research on any company in this post, so those of you looking for investment advice ->skip this post.

I should mention that I am doing this because I have often started researching companies by trying to understand what end users (and potential end users) see as the company’s value proposition. Since I don’t have a background in finance and possess an average level of intelligence, I can be viewed “joe six pack”. This is (free) boots on the ground research in real time.

My Journey

For myself, you could really break my journey down into 2 parts. Don’t worry I won’t share any shirtless photos. Even with a lot less fat, I’m pasty white and my tan lines are horrible.

It started when I was looking at some vacation photos of myself and my family in California. I was kind of grossed out with my appearance. This led me to finally do something about it.

The first part is a quick weight drop. About 25 lbs in 4-5 months. This involved a ton of cardio and calorie counting. Once I reached this goal I spent about 15 minutes there before getting bored and moving into the second part. I will also focus on why I chose the route I did and why I think a few of the other options wouldn’t work for me (and potentially for others as well).

The second is actually going beyond just dropping weight and working towards a goal with a personal trainer. This stage involves weight lifting and becoming extremely careful about what I eat. I am currently 1/3 to 1/2 through this stage. The target at the end of stage 2 is to be in great shape, have a healthy relationship with food and be a little easier on the eyes.

I will focus my attention on stage 1 as that is where using resources like Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, Jenny Craig, various apps and gadgets, a couple of different pyramid schemes and fad diets are targeting people. They all want you to drop weight fast without major changes in your habits or how you think about food. I want to be crystal clear that I think none of these are sustainable ways to lose weight and keep it off. But most people are so concerned with just loosing the weight that they can’t think of how they will keep it off. To be fair I used to be one of those people. I have put on and lost 20 lbs at least twice before this endeavor. It’s only after this recent bout with weight loss do I feel I can keep it off. And it’s because I am not tied to any fad, corporation, scheme, or gadget to make it stick.

How I accomplished the first stage…

I counted…EVERYTHING. I use myfitnesspal. It’s free and I found it very easy. I set custom goals. I can track anything I eat and any exercise I do. Though I never used it, there is an online community. There are some annoying ads on the screen, but I grew up with annoying adds on the screen.

I just set some simple goals and counted all calories consumed and all calories burned. And it worked like a charm. I got a membership at the gym and did nothing but the elliptical trainer. I would go 3-4 times a week during lunch or after work and listen to pod-casts while I exercised. If I wanted a beer or a cheeseburger, I would just go the gym at lunch and offset it.

Why I chose myfitnesspal and not something else…

Jenny Craig – it’s for ladies in my mind. So that’s it. Plus it’s stupid expensive. My mom is on Jenny Craig and the meals suck. I know because she gives me them once in awhile.

NutriSystem – I don’t even know if I could get it in Canada. This could actually work for me as I hate to cook. But I also hate frozen dinners.

Fad diets – they suck and they only work while you are on the diet. You literally do something, drop some weight, but have no idea how to keep it off. It’s so ridiculous.

Weight Watchers – points are stupid. All it is really doing is calorie control, but for people who don’t want to change what they eat. There is like zero sustainability in that. Most people eat garbage, eating less garbage is not the answer. Their online is essentially myfitnesspal app and a community. I can google any recipe for free to tell me it’s content. I didn’t see the value proposition. 

There are 2 things that I think we underestimate after the Great Recession. 

  1. It’s cool to be cheap. Doing things for free is now cooler than overpaying a corporation to bundle them up for you. Maybe it’s me, but people brag about how much money they save or how much they get for free. I don’t remember that happening 7-10 years ago.
  2. Communities can be found in any place. Facebook, Twitter, etc have given people the motivation they need and the support system they desire to commit to things. My suspicion is that personal meetings worked before the internet. Once you have to move your products online, you will see your value proposition deteriorate in the eyes of the consumer.

Companies often talk about the “stickiness” of customers. How likely they can retain customers over the long term. The missing link in how people keep the weight off and how each company drives stickiness is one and the same. All companies want recurring revenue forever. So the real trick is to keep consumers buying the product so they can keep the weight off. The two do not need to be mutually exclusive. In fact I believe a company that had embodied the following would succeed.

“We believe that everyone on the planet is capable of living a healthly lifestyle through the combination of diet and exercise. We have several tools to help get you there (calorie counting app, online community, nutritionist information, etc.). Our goal is for you to one day maintain a healthy weight and attitude towards food without help from our organization.

That’s what is lacking…education. Some companies may say some derivative of this, but I have yet to find one that believes it. I have met personal trainers and nutritionists who believe it. The demographic of the first world will be more than enough to offset potential lost success stories and to drive new customers in.

Although as an investor, companies have an obligation to shareholders to earn a decent return. So I am sympathetic to corporations.

Once I lost the weight I asked a few personal trainers and people who live actively what they do. And I just copied it. The system they use works, why reinvent it. Sure I made some tweaks for me, but nothing major. And yes all of them maintain their health on their own. Some are more sophisticated than others, but not one does anything elaborate.

What’s next?

I have now gotten surgical with my diet. I have only one “cheat meal” a week, and have specific goals as to what % of my diet is carbs, protein and fat. I also put thought into what I am eating when. I have hired a personal trainer to keep me motivated and to do the things I wasn’t able to find online. The reason I chose my personal trainer is that when he asked me what my goal was I said “to still go to the gym on a regular basis in 6 months.” so I asked him what he thinks I should aim for. He said “to build functional muscle and to get to the point in the future where I don’t need a personal trainer.” He gets it. It had nothing to do with the gym I go to, but his personality. By Christmas I will actually be a few pounds heavier (on purpose) and won’t be afraid of the beach or the swimming pool.

Thanks in advance to my readers for sticking around through the lack of posts and “post drift” into dieting. There are a few posts that I have started relating to investing. So stay tuned.

Dean

3 Comments

Filed under Random Thoughts

3 responses to “What’s Dean been up to? (Part 2)

  1. chip

    Hi Dean, congrats on your successful journey. I agree with everything you say. I think the most difficult, but probably the most important component for sustainable weight control is the exercise portion.

    I just completed my first triathlon today, 2 weeks shy of my 40th birthday. Although I am a runner, and bike on a regular basis, I had never swam more than 4 consecutive lengths in a pool prior to 8 weeks ago, and had never done even 2 of these activities back to back. I didn’t set any world records, but finished in a respectable time. I have found over the last few years that signing up for a challenge or race like this, and then telling everyone I know, keeps me committed to the training, and is the best way for me to stay in shape.

    Once you have completed part 2 of your journey, I would challenge you for part 3 of your journey to sign up for a physical challenge that is a bit of a stretch goal, but achievable. Something like the Spartan race that has a strength and aerobic component, where you are being timed against others, or maybe an amateur powerlifting competition if you enjoy strength training. I have found training for a challenge keeps the workouts from becoming stale, and always improving.

    A book you might enjoy is Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. In it he reveals mental tricks that are based on research in his food lab, that we can use to eat less and enjoy food more. For example, he talks about how people eat way more if they use large plates and drink more calories if they use large glasses. Easily implemented without leaving you hungry.

    Lastly, this topic is very relevant to investing. When one is physically fit, the carryover to mental acuity and energy levels is staggering. and both are needed when slogging through a 150 page annual report at midnight on a weekday.

    • Saj

      I disagree with the above comment. IMO what makes us fat is what we eat, as is it is what we eat that makes our brains tell us whether to eat more or less. I highly recommend the book Why We Get Fat by Taubes for anyone interested in this topic.

  2. chip

    Saj,

    Although i haven’t read his books, I am somewhat familiar with Taubes work, although to be fair, I think he has just repackaged and updated Atkins work. His views are certainly unconventional, but there are some ideas that I would agree with him on, especially with regards to refined carbs (like HFCS), and it’s effect on insulin levels and fat storage. I am sure there is a small subset of the population that would benefit from following his/Atkins weight loss prescription fully – but humans are complex creatures, and a cookie cutter approach is not likely to work across the board. Exercise falls in the same camp – based on the best available evidence, there is a large portion of the human population that benefits from exercise as it relates to maintenance of weight. There is a subset of people that probably don’t benefit from exercise with losing weight as well. However there are many benefits to exercise other than weight management, and by discouraging people from exercising because it increases appetite is dangerous health advice by Taubes IMO. I mean if I was a couch potato, hearing Taubes advice would be like a Christmas present – I can eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, a hamburger for lunch and a T-bone for supper, I don’t have to eat fruit and i get to sit on the couch all day because exercise will make me fat – where do I sign up.

    Anyways, you have intrigued me enough to read Taube’s books.

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