Ten books in one month

100 books

I hadn’t heard about Aaron Swartz before his demise on January 11th. He was a brilliant chap: master computer programmer, co-founder of Reddit, activist for open data and much more. He was also just 26 years old.

After the news of his suicide, the web exploded with eulogies. Much was said about bullying by US prosecutors, openness of data and difficulties of dealing with depression, all of which contributed in someway to his suicide. But what stood out for me came mostly through Aaron’s own words. (His blog Raw Thought is a treasure trove and a great way of learning about him.)

One thing in particular stuck with me: his ability to read more than 100 books every year. (He dropped out of high school and that’s how he taught himself.) I want to do this. And I know managing that with a full-time job and my other writing work is going to be a hard thing to do. So I’ve decided to start by setting a goal of reading 10 books in the next 4 weeks. (This is a little more than the 2 books per week needed to make up 100 books per year.)

At first glance this seems like a difficult task given that previously I averaged about 1 or 2 books per month. But some simple calculations show that this is not a ridiculous aim. At an average size of 300 pages (70,000 words), I’m aiming to read 25,000 words per day. This means at an average reading speed of 200 words per minute, I will need just over two hours of reading time. Allowing for sometime for note-taking and breaks will make it 2.5-3 hours every day.

If I cut out watching TV and I read only the most essential things online, I should be able to do this. If I can do 10 books before February 24th and manage the rest of my life properly, I’ll extend this challenge to 100 books before January 27th, 2014.

With help of friends on Twitter and Facebook and my own reading list, I’ve compiled a list of 10 books that I am planning to read in the next four weeks:

  1. Breakout Nations by Ruchir Sharma
  2. The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
  3. Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution by John Gribbin
  4. The End of Science by John Horgan
  5. Genome by Matt Ridley
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  7. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
  8. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  10. Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch

If I find the book not worth my time, I will replace it with another one and update the list here. Although I doubt that this list of 10 will need any replacing. I will post a review of the book once I’ve read it (here and on Amazon). If you are keen to support me in this endeavour, you can buy me one of the books above. At present I only first 5 of them. Here is my Amazon wish list. (PS: email me if you need my address).

The #100bookschallenge starts now.

PS: I’m taking the average word count of a book as 70,000 because I am planning to read more non-fiction than fiction. Image from here.

End of the diet and the lessons learnt

Friday was the last day of my four-week slow-carb diet experiment. It has been a great experience and I have learnt many lessons which I plan to implement in my diet for the future.

Stats first: I now weigh 66 kg which is 2.8 kg less than the day when I started the diet. My total inches have gone down to 129.0 from 133.5 (lost 1 inch on the thighs, 2 on the waist, 0.5 on the hip). Even after taking experimental errors into consideration, this is definitely a good enough reduction.

cheat day breakfast

Before I talk about the lessons learnt, I have to admit that I have allowed myself a few deviations from the diet in the last two weeks. I’ve had a few chocolates (two or three in the week) and beer twice in the last two weeks. These weren’t allowed on the diet as I had planned but I happened to have them anyway. Apart from these confessions, I have stuck to pretty much everything i.e. no fruit, no milk, no white carbohydrates and no sweetened drinks.

Here are the lessons then:

  1. Sweets: I need tighter control on my sweet tooth. Normally, I need something sweet after every meal even if it’s something small. Then I tend to have something sweet in between my meals – cookies, chocolates, biscuits, muffins, etc. Now on, I am going to be careful about these. Try to keep to having only one sweet thing a day, if I can manage it.
  2. Breakfast: Before starting the diet, I rarely had breakfast. I was usually in a hurry to get to the lab and that meant skipping breakfast was an easy option. Not any more. A healthy breakfast (spinach and sweet corn is awesome) does plenty to keep me active till lunch time.
  3. Low carb: Too much carbohydrate isn’t good to maintain weight. I am definitely ok to skip french fries, bread and rice. I will have roti but only if I really want to. I will also be restricting my intake of sweetened drinks allowing myself only fruit juices.
  4. Snacks: As I realised at the end of the first week, on this diet I had to have five meals. Usually, my snack used to be something sweet but in this diet I instead chose to have carrots or peppers with humus. I think it’s a much healthier choice. I eat more but take in the same number of calories.
  5. Cheat day: I think it’s a great idea. I will keep up with it. On Saturdays, I will allow myself to gorge on whatever I like (a cheesy pizza, yum!). On the remaining days, I will try to keep my carbohydrate intake low.

One of the important aspects of doing this experiment was to understand the difficulties of keeping control on my diet. I have to admit, it’s hard. I don’t think that a low-carb diet is something I can keep forever even if that’s a healthy alternative. But it’s doable. I know if ever I add those unnecessary kilos to my body, there is a way to get rid of them.

But more importantly, I know the cost of losing just 3 kg is substantial. So it’s better to keep an eye on the diet. Eating habits are amongst the  hardest habits to change. Now that I’ve already spent four weeks trying to adopt a diet, it should be easier to keep the lessons in mind and to continue with the habit that I’ve formed.

The first week of a new diet

Tikka masala with flavoured rice, maple pecan plait (1x), rice pudding (1x) for Lunch. Mango juice (500 mL), rice pudding (1x), crisps (2x), cheese twist (1x) for evening snacks. And 12″ margherita pizza, one tub of cookie dough ice cream, maple pecan plait (1x) for dinner. By the time I went to sleep, I was a little sick. 😉 That was probably more than 4000 calories on Saturday, my cheat day!

I started a new diet regime on 31st July. Six days a week, I maintain a slow-carb diet and on the seventh day, I eat what I want how much ever I want. Apart from that cheat day, the first week hasn’t been easy. I never thought it will be that hard to keep my cravings at bay. But I succeeded and overall, it’s been a good exercise.

Stats first: I’ve lost ~1 kg (68.8 to 67.5). My total inches have gone down from 133.5 to 133.0. I suspect within experimental error that can be considered to be no change.

Chilli Con Carne

Through the week (Sun to Fri), I’ve had to cook a few times. I made the following things: Chilli Con Carne with this recipe (replace beef with hydrated soy mince), egg bhurji, boiled eggs (12), bean salad, chickpea salad (2x) and stir fry (2x, once with black bean sauce and once with sweet and sour sauce). Other things I ate but did not cook: veg fajita (without rice, 1x), hummus (3x, various flavours), carrots (300g), peppers (6), cous cous salad and corn tortilla (8).

Two things I was wrong about:

  1. This diet blends with my old diet but not quite. I can make my rajma masala, mix veg curry, daal, etc. but without roti or rice it’s not enough.
  2. Keeping control over my sweet tooth has been really hard. Saturday was a saviour.

Throughout the week I found that in the morning I did not feel that energetic but after breakfast I was back to normal. This is, of course, not that alarming because before last week, I had not had breakfast in the morning for almost two years. I suspect that because my body was taking less calories now than it needed, those morning calories were essential.

The first two days I felt I wasn’t eating enough. I was hungry but not because my stomach was empty (weirdly enough). Each night before sleeping, I took Ferris’ advice and had a teaspoonful peanut butter (which I relished dearly). Also, to stop that from happening I had to increase the number of times I ate to six: breakfast (8 or 9 am), lunch (12 pm), snack (4 pm), dinner (7 pm), 2nd dinner (10 pm), peanut butter (12 am).

Getting used to what I can eat and what I can’t was pretty straight-forward but knowing where to buy the things I can eat in the supermarket wasn’t. It meant I had to look in places where I had never looked before! Also, I had to go to the supermarket thrice this week instead of my usual once-a-week routine.

Chana Chaat

Some interesting notes:

  1. Eating spinach with sweet corn is awesome for breakfast.
  2. Raw pepper on its own or with hummus is great.
  3. Mix some chana (black chick peas) with chaat masala, chopped onion and some sweet corn to make an delicious snack.
  4. Green tea works wonders to keep hunger at bay.
  5. I don’t think I will survive on this diet if I don’t have that cheat day.

Bring on week 2!