The (Kinda Secret) Secret to Weight Loss Success

Headlines were never my strong suit.

But there’s a trick, folks, beneath all this glitz and glamour — the piles of positive reports, glowing forum posts, and seriously embarrassing half-naked photos that mark our universal ultimate goal: the success story.

We want to lose weight. We want to look better naked.

And we see dozens of people all across the globe who, through some mystical combination of diet, exercise, and maybe blood magic, seem to be doing just that. They write stories, blogs, and books on how to go about it, and we dive in with gusto, always looking for the next big secret, the next big trick that will help us squeeze back into our high school jeans.

I’ve seen it myself. Hell, I’ve done it myself, what with this whole blog thing you’re currently skimming reading this post on. And while I’m in a pretty good place, overall, with my current body composition, I’ve started to realize a few things about the whole messy process that brought me here in the first place.

There’s a trick to it. I can’t guarantee it’ll change your life forever, but I think it might still help pull the curtain back on all this wizardry and help you realize just how weight loss really works.

You ready for this?

You have to experiment.

This is the point I think bears mention above all else: you have to experiment, damn it, to see what works for you.

I can guaran-damn-tee that not a single one of your success stories went like this: Moderately Obese Oliver found a plan, embraced it unconditionally, and stuck to it perfectly — no changes, no tweaks, no cheats — until he became that lean, mean, makes-you-stroke-your-monitor-fondly machine.

It doesn’t work like that.

Moderately Overweight Matt (to use a personal example!) did this:

  1. Started low-carb and high-fat, dumping a lot of water weight right off the bat and shouting “Huzzah!”
  2. Experimented with zero carb. Decided, upon waking up two or three times per night for a week straight, that maybe this 24/7 ketosis thing wasn’t for him.
  3. Experimented with high-carb, high-protein immediately after workouts. Ate way, way too much food for what amounted to a moderate level of exercise.
  4. Experimented with cutting out dairy completely, thinking that cow’s milk might somehow be to blame for his sudden not-losing-weight-oh-god-what’s-happening.
  5. Experimented with intermittent fasting, eating two meals daily and trying to maintain an increasingly rigorous exercise routine.
  6. Made a really funny t-shirt with the painted-on face of Shaun T. No regrets.
  7. Experimented with zero sugar: no fruits, no honey, and nothing remotely sweet. Some regrets whenever he passed rows of California strawberries.
  8. Experimented again with cyclical carb intake, going low carb for a week or two at a time before having weekend-long carb refeeds.
  9. Experimenting with his absolute favorite of them all: macronutrient agnosticism. Or, in plainer language, not giving a crap about his ratios of protein, fat, or carbohydrate, and simply trying to eat a little less at each meal.

(Whew. This is embarrassing to look back on.)

But that’s the story, friends, between the numbers — over a year of tweaking, changing, trying new things, all within the guidelines of a Paleo-style diet. Low-carb alone didn’t bring me all the way to where I am now (so close to my goals!), and nor did any fanatical, dogmatic approach to my diet give me the absolute best shape of my life.

I experimented. I tried something, and then when it stopped working (if it ever worked at all), I tried something else. A simple process, when painted like that, with benefits beyond the obvious.

I learned that I tend to overcompensate with food after strenuous exercise. I learned that I feel, by and large, so much better since I’ve given up my fear of carbs, embracing all the bananas, oranges, and sweet potatoes I’ve spent too long without.

I didn’t know these things when I started. Looking back, in fact, I remember believing that carbs were the devil when I first started out. But I’ve continued to read, ask questions, and try and figure out just what the hell all of those lean individuals know that I don’t, and I think it’s just this: they weren’t afraid to experiment.

They weren’t afraid to try new things. They weren’t afraid to reevaluate their approach, and to sometimes question those dietary concepts they’d previously held as gospel.

That’s the key to success, I think. And that’s the (kinda secret) secret you don’t always see: every twist in the road, every reevaluation of their approach, that every weight loss guru endured before they put out their book proclaming the One Right Way.

I’m not sure one exists. But I think we’re closer, now, than ever before, and — maybe this is just me — I’m excited as hell to see where this is going.

Just a quick note of thanks to everyone who entered the Well-Fed giveaway. Two lucky contestants have been picked, and I’ll be emailing them later this evening. Keep an eye on your inbox!


  1. Marie says:

    Feel so much better after reading this one. Maybe you could create a board game. Like mine would be getting past the “donuts my daughter brings home every morning” to avoid five steps backwards! Just kidding.. great post. soe asy to relate to!

  2. Rick says:

    Very interesting post as usual! I’m curious about how you felt in general during ketosis and this whole zero carb thing? And how come you woke up so often during the night?

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Hey, Rick!

      For the most part, I felt fine. Typical symptoms of full-on ketosis include manic energy, terrible breath, and an obsession with peeing on Ketostix, only the first of which I ever really dealt with. I’d have boundless energy when I laid down for bed at night, and soon I’d only sleep for a few hours before popping up again in complete wakefulness.

      Beyond that, though, I didn’t see any huge results. Everything I’ve read since, too, suggests that ketosis has advantages for treating certain medical conditions, but not so much in the way of perks for faster weight loss (the whole reason I originally tried it). Paul Jaminet over at the Perfect Health Diet has blogged enough about the dangers of long-term zero-carb diets, too, that I wouldn’t recommend them in the majority of cases.

      Hope this helps!

  3. susan says:

    great post, i know there’s not a “one size fits all” diet, despite what some people say. it’s just too bad it can take so long to figure it all out!

  4. Pingback: It’s All About The Food « Elle Off The Deep End

  5. Chris Harris | Between the Temples says:

    Wow! My jaw hit the floor when I read this- describes my experiments with weight loss to a “T”. I have literally gone through what you described almost exactly.

    I am still self-experimenting with what works for me. I have found that I do have to restrict my carbs and watch out for certain food combinations.

    I loved being in ketosis, I was the most energized then. Insomnia was a bit of an issue, but I found some ways around that- cold showers before bed were a big help.

    I have also found that my body really responds well to intermittent fasting as well as extended periods of fasting.

    Anyways- great article, I could totally identify with it.