Stay Vigilant, But Not Obsessive: One of the reasons people regain the weight that they’ve lost is that they see their weight loss as a goal accomplished. Now that they’re done, they go back to their old lifestyle. Especially if we’ve lost weight quickly, new habits have yet to be locked in, so our bodies are happy to oblige. When we regain the weight, we then think that permanent weight loss isn’t possible. This could not be further from the truth!
So many of us have tried dieting. All too often though, many of us lose 10–20 pounds, but we end up gaining it back. Not only is yo-yo dieting unhealthy, it is also demoralizing and makes us feel like giving up. What exactly do we have to do to achieve a healthy body weight and to stick with it forever?
In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve A Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently” we are interviewing health and wellness professionals who can share lessons from their research and experience about how to do this.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Luu.
Overweight his entire life, Andrew almost had a heart attack around the same time he had his first son but took back control of his health by losing 100 pounds. When he saw that his simple methods and strategies helped others lose weight, he left his job to create Luuze, an app that uses tracking and mindfulness to help people lose weight for good. He now lives his best life, staying active in good health with his wife and two kids.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Of course! I was born in Canada after my parents immigrated from Vietnam as refugees. I grew up in a household where my parents worked hard to keep me sheltered and fed. Too much food though, because I was overweight even as a child. I was regularly made fun of as the “fat kid” of the class. Eventually it became a part of my identity, and I came to accept my obesity as something that I would have for the rest of my life.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I’ve had several careers in my life, from when I started out as an engineer right after university, and then in project management. I pursued Engineering because I was good at math, and then eventually moved into project management because I was good at moving big projects forward.
I had a really rewarding professional career and was lucky enough to become a director that led 6 different teams and over 50 staff. My experience in engineering and project management helped me take a unique approach to weight loss, allowing me to lose 100 pounds and keep it off.
When people saw my transformation, they asked me how I did it. I told them, and then they started losing weight as well! Seeing how others started to transform their lives and take back control of their health with my advice inspired me to leave my job and start my new career as the founder of Luuze so I could help others at scale.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely. There are many people throughout my life that have supported me, but my son was the main inspiration for my health transformation. Shortly after my son was born, I was over 250 pounds. My wife took a photo of me lying with him on the recliner, exhausted. I was so big and he was so little. Looking at the picture, I realized that if I couldn’t find a solution to my obesity problem, I wouldn’t be around to see my son grow up.
I now have two children and every day they inspire me to maintain my health so I can be around for them.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I’ve had my share of interesting and funny mistakes in my career for sure, but I think the biggest mistake that I’ve made multiple times has been the fact that I have often started later than I should have. I’ve always been someone risk-averse, afraid of failing. It was part of the reason I didn’t start on my health transformation journey until much later in my life. After all, you can’t fail if you don’t even try, right?
However, I found a way to start, and I’m so glad I did. I realized that “failing” is a good thing. If you can reflect on things such that you can grow and improve, failing turns into an opportunity to become better.
The same thing happened when I had the idea to create Luuze. I loved my job and was hesitant to quit. However, founding Luuze has been one of the most rewarding things of my life to do and it has been as transformative to my personal development as much as losing weight was transformative to my health.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
One of the quotes that I can immediately think of is one from James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits. He mentions that “you do not rise to the level of your goals, rather you fall to the level of your systems.” Reflecting on this quote, it’s how I was able to stick with my 3-year weight loss journey. Because my systems are now solidly in place, weight maintenance is also much easier.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Luuze has been keeping me busy full time, and with the feedback of all the people using the app, I am working on making it even better and more helpful to help people accomplish their weight management goals. I am also working on developing an Android version of Luuze.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field?
I’ve been there before. Overweight my entire life, I know personally how it feels to believe that it’s impossible to lose weight and keep it off. However, once I lost 100 pounds and especially now being able to maintain my weight for a few years, I know for a certainty that people can move towards better health, if given the right tools and guidance to help them do it in their own unique way.
I’ve also had the privilege of helping many others succeed on their own weight loss journeys through the creation of Luuze.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about achieving a healthy body weight. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Healthy Body Weight”?
A healthy body weight is where your weight doesn’t interfere with living your best life. Everyone has a different definition of what their best life is defined as. For me, it was having enough energy to be active with my kids and to be around for as long as possible to participate in their life milestones. When I was over 250 pounds, I realized that at that weight, my best life would not be possible.
How can an individual learn what is a healthy body weight for them? How can we discern what is “too overweight” or what is “too underweight”?
The devil is in the details and it can take time for an individual to figure it out, but to simplify things: get a blood test and keep track of your energy levels.
Everybody should get a blood test and have one done on a regular basis. Measures such as one’s blood pressure, cholesterol levels, complete blood count, and thyroid levels should be within a certain range. A lot of these measures are directly related to your weight.
For example, when I was 250 pounds, my blood pressure was off the charts. When I lost weight, my blood pressure went down. My obesity was a direct threat to my health due to a family history of heart disease.
The second thing is a bit more objective, but an honest self-assessment of your energy level can help you understand what the next steps are regarding discovering your healthy body weight. My definition of a healthy body weight is one where your weight doesn’t interfere with living your best life. Do you have the energy levels that will allow you to move towards the things that you want in life? For some people, losing some pounds will increase their energy levels — it certainly did for me as I went on my weight loss journey. For others, gaining some muscle will go a long way into increasing energy level.
In my own weight management journey, when I first started at 253 pounds, losing weight directly led to increased energy, simply because I was carrying fewer excess pounds. When I hit 153 pounds, I decided that gaining a bit of weight and building muscle through strength training would support me in living my best life. I now maintain a weight of 165 pounds give or take 5 pounds while exercising regularly, and my energy levels are the best they have ever been in my entire life!
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons why being over your healthy body weight, or under your healthy body weight, can be harmful to your health?
Being overweight has a connection to higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. For me, my blood pressure was directly related to my weight. It was at a dangerously severe level when I was at my peak weight, and I likely would have had a heart attack or stroke if I didn’t lose weight.
Being underweight has a connection to skin and hair problems, fatigue, and a weakened immune system.
These are just a few health-related impacts to not being a healthy weight. It doesn’t only impact physical health, however. Mentally, we can often feel that our weight is holding ourselves back from being accepted or we may fear that we are being judged.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few examples of how a person who achieves and maintains a healthy body weight will feel better and perform better in many areas of life?
As someone who was both significantly overweight but is now at a healthy weight, I have direct experience with this. When I was 250 pounds, I often had migraines which kept me from performing my best, and although I didn’t know it at the time, the excess weight I had took a lot of energy away from me. As I started to lose weight, I started to simply feel like I had more energy.
At 250 pounds, I was never in the mood to exercise. Yet when I approached 180 pounds, I had enough energy to start an exercise routine, which then accelerated my health transformation.
I was promoted at my job to a major position as a director after my weight transformation. The promotion may not have been directly related to my weight loss, but the additional energy and clarity I gained due to the improvement of my health certainly supported me with success at work.
Most importantly however, I can keep up with my kids, be around for their life milestones, see them grow up, and be a part of their lives. Not only will a person who achieves and maintains a healthy body weight feel better and perform better in their lives, but the people around them will benefit as well!
Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve a Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently?”. If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
Here are the 5 things that you need to do to achieve a healthy body weight and keep it permanently.
- Find Your Defining Motivation
There are a lot of temptations in the world that prevent us from achieving a healthy weight. To fight back against these temptations, we need to be mindful what is more important. I call this a Defining Motivation.
A Defining Motivation is the biggest and most important reason why you want to lose weight, described to yourself in vivid detail. For me, with a heart condition history in my family, the odds of me getting a stroke or heart attack were high. I started taking weight loss seriously when I became a father. I connected my health (or lack of health) to the fact that if I passed away, my son would grow up without a dad.
Imagining myself dead strangely didn’t scare me that much, but imagining my child growing up without me did. That Defining Motivation was more important than a lot of short-term temptations that exist in this world.
We often ask ourselves HOW we can achieve a healthy body weight, but the first question should be WHY we want to do that in the first place!
2. Set a Reasonable Goal to Get There
The fastest way to fail when trying to get to a healthy weight is to try to get there too fast. Imagine that you needed to complete a marathon and you started off on a sprint. You would be the first person to quit. Getting to a healthy weight can be like a marathon. Pacing yourself to get to the finish line is critical!
In 2015, I was 253 pounds and had over 100 pounds to lose. This was so much weight to have to lose, so for most of my life I didn’t even bother to try! A light switch flipped in my head when I realized that it took me over 30 years to get to that weight. What’s three more years? Dividing 100 pounds into 3 years was losing less than 0.1 pounds of weight a day, which is making the commitment of eating 350 fewer calories a day, the equivalent of a fancy donut or a couple glasses of soda. This was a reasonable goal. I don’t know if I could lose 100 pounds, but I certainly could skip a donut. Added up, it led to 100 pounds lost.
There’s a concept called creeping normality that I have found incredibly useful. Creeping normality is like the fable of the boiling frog. The fable talks about how if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out immediately. However, if you slowly increase the temperature, the frog won’t even notice. People have often gotten out of their healthy weights this way: they eat a little too much every day and then a few years later they realize they’re overweight and out of shape. The flip side is that by going slow, it is a lot easier for your body to manage the changes you are putting it through. Don’t try to lose 5 pounds a week. 0.5 pounds a week is a lot more reasonable!
3. Choose Your Lifestyle, Not Your Diet
When I first set out on my 100-pound weight loss journey, I did a ton of research on weight loss methods. I realized that almost every diet has its success stories and disaster stories. I even read about people who lost weight just eating twinkies and junk food, or just eating McDonalds! Doing the research made me realize that what will work for one person won’t work for another.
Being a new dad with a wife that did most of the cooking, I realized that if I added more work through dieting or exercise on top of my new responsibilities as a new parent, I would likely fail. So instead of doing more, I decided to do (or eat) less. I still ate everything that I regularly ate, but was more mindful of the portion sizes, eating a bit less. It worked, and because my plan was aligned with my lifestyle, I was able to stick with it. Over time, I realized that eating more of the filling foods and less of the unhealthy foods would help me feel less hungry, and I slowly changed to healthier eating, but I still give myself permission to eat all the stereotypically unhealthy foods, now in moderation.
I connected my weight management approach to one that would best fit my lifestyle. And that was what led me to a key insight:
Only a permanent lifestyle change will create a permanent weight change.
If you go on a temporary diet, you might be able to lose weight, but if you go back to your old diet and your old habits, you will just gain the weight back. When people say “diets don’t work,” this is why.
Yet we also hear success stories with diets like keto and intermittent fasting. This is true too! Diets DO work if you make the diet your permanent lifestyle.
The truth is that there are an infinite number of ways to approach your healthy weight. Many of them will work for others, but not for you. Finding what works for you and your lifestyle is key to sticking with it.
4. Fix Your Feedback Loop Through Accurate Tracking, Feedback, and Reflection
I have an Engineering Physics degree. A lot of principles in engineering can work for weight loss!
I used to work at a manufacturing plant where some microelectronic devices we made had to be a very precise size to work properly. We would measure the sizes of these devices, and if they ever started getting slightly larger or slightly smaller, we would investigate why and then adjust the machines to ensure they stayed the right size.
When I started my 100-pound weight loss journey, I applied the same philosophy to my weight loss. I had a goal of 0.1 pounds of weight loss a day, so I weighed myself regularly to track myself to this goal. If I was behind my goal, I reduced my portion sizes, and if I was ahead of my goal, I gave myself permission to eat more. This way, I never felt like I was continually being restricted in my weight loss journey. In fact, the tracking helped motivate me to work harder!
I know that people say that you shouldn’t weigh yourself regularly, but contrary to popular belief, there are numerous studies that show that daily weighing improves weight management outcomes. Imagine that you were training for a marathon but never tracked how many miles you ran. It would be difficult to know how well you were doing!
The reason weighing yourself can really be bad however, is that the scale lies to you. If you’re trying to track a 0.1-pound weight loss every day, the fact that water retention can shift your weight by 5 pounds completely hides your progress! Being an engineer, I knew how to smooth out these measurements and find a way to track my progress using weigh-ins from the scale. Getting accurate tracking helped give me the feedback I needed to learn what caused me to gain weight and what caused me to lose weight. Knowing this helped me make adjustments, doing more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff.
Weight management can be an incredibly complicated topic, but it is also simple when it comes down to it. It can be a skill to be learned! And like any skill, if you track your progress, get the right feedback, and then adjust, you can become an expert at that skill. I created Luuze to give people the tools and support that will help them build that skill.
5. Stay Vigilant, But Not Obsessive
One of the reasons people regain the weight that they’ve lost is that they see their weight loss as a goal accomplished. Now that they’re done, they go back to their old lifestyle. Especially if we’ve lost weight quickly, new habits have yet to be locked in, so our bodies are happy to oblige. When we regain the weight, we then think that permanent weight loss isn’t possible. This could not be further from the truth!
To maintain our new healthy weight, we need to continue with our new healthy lifestyle, and that’s why it’s important to choose a new lifestyle and not a diet.
However, even with a new lifestyle, old habits are tough to get rid of. Honestly, sometimes I feel like my bad habits are just hiding in the darkness, just waiting to come back and send me back to my prior, unhealthy weight. I experienced that when my father passed away shortly after I achieved my weight loss goals, and the added stress dealing with that loss caused me to gain back around 20 pounds. Vigilance is important.
Luckily, I kept with my process of weighing myself daily, which helped me realize that stress in my life was putting me on a path back to obesity. If I didn’t, creeping normality may have caused me to regain the weight much like many others do. The daily weigh-ins kept me vigilant enough to realize that I needed to get back to doing the things that helped me lose weight in the first place. I did, and I lost the weight again.
It is important to not make weight maintenance an obsessive thing that you need to constantly think about. At the same time, it is important to know if you are getting off track. I still weigh myself daily and if I see myself getting away from my ideal weight, I adjust as necessary to get back on track.
The emphasis of this series is how to maintain an ideal weight for the long term, and how to avoid yo-yo dieting. Specifically, how does a person who loses weight maintain that permanently and sustainably?
I repeat this often: only a permanent lifestyle changes creates permanent weight loss. Consequently, temporary lifestyle changes only create temporary weight loss! It’s why most people who lose weight gain it back: they treat it as some temporary mission. To maintain your weight after you’ve lost it, keep doing what you were doing when you were working towards getting towards your ideal weight, but just a little bit less!
It is so important in a weight management journey that the method you pick to lose (or gain) weight is one that you think you could do for the rest of your life. If you don’t do it for the rest of your life, then odds are you will regain the weight.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to lose weight? What errors cause people to just snap back to their old unhealthy selves? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
Often the biggest mistake is to try and lose weight too quickly. The truth is that doing it slower often increases the odds of success!
Whether it is physiological or mental or a mixture of both, when we try too fast to change, our bodies try to resist this change. Metabolic compensation happens when we try too hard. Weight loss can already be a challenge, so why are we making it harder by trying to do it faster?
I’ll share an analogy with you. It is very hard to run a marathon. Months of training and a lot of work. Running 42.2 km or 26.2 miles can be incredibly challenging. However, if you add up all the steps you take during a month or two, odds are you’ve actually walked the equivalent of a marathon. And you didn’t even need to train for it!
Not many people have lost 100 pounds in their lives, but practically everybody has lost 0.1 pounds at least one day in their life. It was so easy for most of us to do this that it was practically unnoticeable.
Of course, it’s a hard to do this day in and day out. I didn’t lose weight every single day on my 100-pound weight loss journey either. Another big mistake is not forgiving ourselves for the inevitable delays and setbacks that come with every single weight loss journey. It is just not possible to do things perfectly! What’s important is to reflect on those moments, learn from them, and get back to focusing on having more good days than bad.
How do we take all this information and integrate it into our actual lives? The truth is that we all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
The main blockage is in trying to do it all at once. It happens all the time, that we try to make a big change, but then our old habits come back to us. This is human, change is hard!
Lifestyle change can be hard, but lifestyle change does not have to come all at once. When I was over 250 pounds, I didn’t exercise, and ate huge portions. Now that I am at my healthy weight, my lifestyle is completely different and I exercise regularly. But during my weight loss journey, you would never be able to tell that I was doing anything differently. It’s better to make micro-lifestyle changes one day at a time that all add up to something significant.
Don’t try to do it all at once! Making a few micro-changes here and there like reducing your portions or adding 5 minutes of walking to your routine can add up significantly.
On the flip side, how can we prevent these ideas from just being trapped in a rarified, theoretical ideal that never gets put into practice? What specific habits can we develop to take these intellectual ideas and integrate them into our normal routine?
For myself, the habits that I started with were simple. Weigh myself daily, be mindful of portions to eat a little less. At the beginning, no extra exercise, no crazy diet changes. In time, when I started to learn what foods caused me to overeat and which ones helped me stick to a deficit, I started to adjust what I ate. As I gained energy and I built on my initial success, I built up the confidence and courage to start an exercise routine.
I do want to make it clear that everyone’s weight loss journey is different: if there was a one-size fits all solution, everyone would be doing it! These specific habits worked for me, but something else may work for you! I think the key is to just get started on the smallest positive habit you can think of that you could commit to every day if you are having trouble getting started. Do it, repeat it, then build on it over time.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
When I was 31, holding my newborn son, I was pretty nervous. If I didn’t get my act together, I wouldn’t be around to see him grow up. However, through the process of tracking, reflection, and repair, I fixed my feedback loop, lost 100 pounds, took back control of my health, and now I get the incredible privilege to not just see my two kids grow up, but to be an important part of their lives and live an active life with my children.
Through my journey I realized that it was not only possible for me to succeed, but for others as well. There are dads and parents out there like me 6 years ago that if not given the tools to succeed, may die too early due to poor health and not be around for their kids. I founded Luuze to empower people to take back control of their health and live their best lives, not just for themselves, but their loved ones.
If there’s a movement that I could support, it would be one where we all decide to take small steps that help benefit our health, every single day. Through doing this, we will amaze ourselves in how much transformation is possible and how much we are able to accomplish.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I am a big fan of James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits. I wish I discovered his book during my weight loss journey, as his philosophy of small habits that add up over time really resonates with the approach I take towards getting back control of one’s health. If you haven’t read his book yet, I highly recommend it.
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Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.