The Data-Driven Life
Living life by the numbers

Caloric Density: The Ultimate Hunger-Free Weight Loss Plan

In a previous post, I wrote about how the secret to maintaining a healthy weight was to eat like the person you want to become, and consistently eat foods with a low caloric density. Let’s unpack that in a little more detail today.

When it comes to weight loss, dieting is not a long-term solution. Although a diet can result in a temporary weight reduction, it’s often water weight and even muscle that is lost, and the fat that is lost is often regained shortly thereafter. Diets are unsustainable. The secret to weight loss that lasts is to make a permanent lifestyle change.

The problem is that the world tells us that we should eat less and exercise more to lose weight. There’s a better way.

In his book The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss succinctly lays out the problem with using exercise as your weight loss plan:

“Did you eat half an Oreo cookie? No problem. If you’re a 220-pound male, you just need to climb 27 flights of stairs to burn it off.” -Tim Ferriss

Runners have another way of saying the same thing: “You can’t outrun a bad diet.”

Which brings us to the other solution the world offers: eating “healthier.” This is so vague as to be unhelpful, which is why we see completely contradictory weight loss plans. One focuses on having the dieter eat less fat, while another suggests that more fat (but fewer carbs!) is the answer. The average person feels helpless amid this sea of contradictory advice.

In my previous post, I included a link to this calorie expenditure calculator. I recommend that you plug in your desired weight and activity level, find out how many calories that person would burn off every day, and then begin to consume no more than that many calories each day.

Unfortunately, accomplishing that is easier said than done. If you’re the kind of person who can simply count calories and stop at your target number, go for it. I personally know very few people who are like that.

For most of us, having the will power to stick to a caloric goal is an ongoing challenge. For me, personally, I can have great resolve toward a diet plan one moment, and a few hours later, as the hunger pangs kick in, that resolve is gone.

This is why the caloric density approach is so beneficial. It allows you to lose weight and then maintain a healthy weight without ever needing to feel hungry. This is where the world’s advice goes wrong: You aren’t going to lose weight from eating “healthier” food — you’re going to lose weight from eating food that has a lower caloric density.

Let’s look at two extreme options: 100 grams worth of carrots vs. 100 grams worth of peanuts. Both of these two snacks weigh the same and thus will make you feel equally “full.” The carrots have approximately 0.4 calories per gram of weight, so that 100-gram snack would have about 40 calories in it. The peanuts, on the other hand, have 6 calories per gram of weight, so that 100-gram snack has a whopping 600 calories in it.

The caloric density of the peanuts is fifteen times greater than the caloric density of the carrots! You would have to eat 1,500 grams (about 3.3 pounds!) of carrots to get the same number of calories as you would in 100 grams of peanuts.

“But Mark,” you’ll say, “isn’t this just the same as all other diets? Eat healthy stuff and you’ll lose weight?”

Not exactly. Eating foods that are low in caloric density can be different from eating foods that are generally considered healthy. (Many people, for example, would consider nuts a relatively healthy snack; as we’ve just seen, they are actually one of the worst things imaginable for people trying to lose weight.)

As you start to read nutrition labels and you begin to divide out the number of calories per gram of different foods you eat, some of what you find will surprise you.

I was happily surprised to find that shrimp, which I had always thought of as a special treat, had just 70 calories in an 85-gram serving (0.82 calories per gram). My favorite tortillas, which I had always thought were a healthy part of a veggie fajita meal I regularly made, had 140 calories in a 45-gram serving (3.11 calories per gram). Until I embarked upon the Data-Driven Life, I never imagined that these certain tortilla shells had almost four times the caloric density of shrimp.

Now that I know this, I eat more shrimp and fewer tortilla shells (and I also switched to a different brand of tortilla shells with a caloric density of just over 2 calories per gram).

So yes, focusing on caloric density can definitely give you a different result than simply trying to “eat healthy food.”

So what is a good amount of calories per gram? And what is an unacceptable caloric density? Let’s do the math.

The average person tends to eat between 3-5 pounds of food per day, depending on their height, activity level, and gender. Let’s take the example of an overweight, 35-year-old, 5’11” man who weighs 220 pounds and is used to eating about 4.5 pounds of food per day. Let’s also say that he wants to get down to a healthy weight of 170 pounds. If we go to the caloric expenditure calculator and enter his desired info (170 pounds, 5’11”, light exercise), we can see that he should be eating no more than about 2,300 calories per day.

With about 450 grams in a pound, this man will generally feel full if he eats about 2,025 grams of food each day. 2,300 calories divided among 2,025 grams of food equal about 1.14 calories per gram. If this man can eat foods that, on average, have just 1.14 calories per gram in them, he can get to his healthy weight without ever feeling hungry.

That rate of calories per gram is incredibly consistent. Take the example of a 40-year-old, 5’5″ woman who weighs 160 pounds, is used to eating 3.5 pounds of food per day, and wants to get down to a healthy weight of 130 pounds. If we enter her desired info (130 pounds, 5’5″, moderate exercise) into the same calculator, we can see that she should be eating no more than about 1,900 calories per day. Since she’s currently used to eating 1,575 grams of food per day, she needs to eat food with an average of no more than 1.20 calories per gram to lose weight without ever feeling hungry.

So there’s the small difference you do get when you add in more exercise: our hypothetical man who only wanted to do light exercise needs to keep the caloric density of his food down to 1.14 calories per gram, whereas the woman willing to do moderate exercise can go up to 1.2 calories per gram.

Try running the numbers for yourself if you wish, but I think you’ll come up with something similar: you can lose all the weight you want without ever getting hungry if the average caloric density of your food remains at or below 1.1-1.2 calories per gram.

How can we make that happen? Let’s break the foods we eat down into four categories.

Category #1: Foods with up to 1 calorie per gram (less than 30 calories per ounce):

Foods with less than one calorie per gram (or 30 calories per ounce) are outstanding. You may eat as many of these as you wish. In fact, the more of these you eat, the more likely you are to lose weight. Your goal should be to have 70%+ of your calories come from food with this level of caloric density.

Category #2: Foods with 1-2 calories per gram (30-55 calories per ounce)

Foods with between one to two calories per gram (30-55 calories per ounce) are still reasonably good. Your goal should be to have no more than 20% of your calories come from food with this level of caloric density.

Category #3: Foods with 2-3 calories per gram (55-85 calories per ounce)

Foods with between two to three calories per gram (55-85 calories per ounce) should be limited. Your goal should be to have no more than 10% of your calories come from food with this level of caloric density.

Category #4: Foods with more than 3 calories per gram (over 85 calories per ounce)

Foods with between more than 3 calories per gram (over 85 calories per ounce) should be eaten in rare and limited situations, such as at a special event. On a typical day, none of your calories should come from food with this level of caloric density.

If you follow this 70%/20%/10% plan for the food you eat, and you avoid drinking any calories, you will lose weight without ever feeling hungry.

To be proactive and take the first step, I urge you to begin calculating the calories per gram of the various foods you typically eat.

You might be surprised (like I was with the shrimp vs. the tortillas) by which foods have unknowingly been sabotaging you and keeping you from a healthy weight all this time. You might also be pleasantly surprised by certain foods which you thought were treats but which are actually not very calorically dense at all.

Building a Side Income: Arbitrage Opportunities

Arbitrage: the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets

Value is largely relative.

On October 30th, a frazzled parent might gladly pay $50 for a cheap Halloween costume with guaranteed overnight delivery. That parent isn’t paying $50 for the quality of the design and the actual materials in the costume; she’s paying $50 to salvage her family’s Halloween at the last minute.

Similarly, a new winter coat is worth more in November than it is in April.

In addition to seasons and holidays changing the perceived value of an item, geography can do so as well. Here in my home state of Michigan, you can buy a brand of ginger ale soda called Vernors. Vernors has a reasonably small-but-dedicated collection of fans here in Michigan, and some of those Vernors-loving Michiganders have moved to regions where you can’t find Vernors in the grocery store.

As a result, Vernors 12-packs, which sell for $4 or less here in Michigan, are currently selling for a ridiculous $18 on Amazon.

If you’re looking to use The Data-Driven Life to build a side income for yourself, arbitrage opportunities such as these could be a great way to get started. Let’s look at how:

High-Demand Items

The first and most straightforward way to profit from value arbitrage is to find items in high demand and sell them for a premium. This can occur when a company sets a fixed retail price on something and the item frequently goes out of stock (think the Christmas rush on Tickle Me Elmo dolls, for example).

At the time of this writing, you can buy a Nintendo Classic Edition for $59.99 from Best Buy (of course, you should be getting at least 2% cash back on that purchase as well as using other rewards like EBates, so your effective price should be even less). Also as of the time of this writing, the cheapest new version of that item is currently selling (as of the time of this post) on Amazon for $90.73.

Boom — there’s one arbitrage opportunity you could exploit right this minute.

 

But how can you consistently be one of the lucky people to get to purchase a high-demand item at the fixed retail price? That’s where NowInStock.net comes in. From that site, you can sign up to be contacted immediately when an item of your choosing is in stock at any one of a number of different online retailers. When you get the notification, you can purchase the item (or multiple items) as quickly as possible, then list it on Amazon for a tidy profit.

The next time you see massive demand building for a new product set to become this year’s Furby, Cabbage Patch Doll, or Beanie Babies, don’t just roll your eyes. Set up a notification alert from NowInStock, purchase a few items when they become available, and enjoy your easy profits.

Exploiting Regional Arbitrage

Selling Vernors soda on Amazon is one form of regional arbitrage, but my all-time favorite example of regional arbitrage has to be one couple in Utah who began selling tumbleweeds (which were free, abundant, and worthless in their area) and had so much success that, as the article states, “The Rigbys eventually quit their previous jobs to work full time in the tumbleweed industry.”

Who knew tumbleweeds were an industry?

To take advantage of regional arbitrage opportunities, consider them in both directions: What items, common to your area, could be scarce or unavailable (and thus more valuable) somewhere else? Conversely, what items are freely or cheaply available in another area that you could bring to your location and sell for a higher price?

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, check out Alibaba.com. Alibaba is designed to link manufacturers (typically from low-cost areas) with sellers in other parts of the world. I’m not advising you to purchase huge amounts of items off of Alibaba to try to resell them — many others do that, and the market is fairly saturated and competitive — but it’s a great website to examine while trying to brainstorm your own niche product to sell.

The Mindset of Arbitrage

A major purpose of this blog is to help you to benefit from approaching life mathematically. Arbitrage opportunities can sometimes be short-lived, but if you train yourself to look for opportunities where the value of an item could be different in two different markets, you’ll find these opportunities fairly frequently.

Best of all, you’ll develop an entrepreneurial mindset of being able to identify value imbalances and profit opportunities, something that could eventually lead to a full-fledged business of your own.

Exploit Sunk Costs

A while back, I bought a one-month Kindle Unlimited subscription for $9.99. You probably know the deal: through Kindle Unlimited, you can read as many Kindle e-books as you want for just that one $9.99 payment, but only certain books participate in this program, so you don’t exactly gain access to all of the latest and greatest best-sellers.

Once I paid my $9.99, I was highly motivated to start reading. Within two weeks, though, I had blasted through about two dozen ebooks about everything from teaching to mathematics to marketing. By now, I was realizing that the selection of ebooks participating in Kindle Unlimited was fairly weak. I had already read most of what had caught my eye.

But I was committed. I had paid the $9.99, and by golly, I was going to make the most of it.

By the end of week 3, I was reading material of incredibly iffy quality. Finally it hit me: I was wasting my time. My sunk costs of just $9.99 were driving me to read books I would never otherwise give a second glance. To not read for even one day felt like throwing away 33 cents, and it was causing me to waste time worth far more than that.

We all know what they say: Ignore sunk costs. The $9.99 had already been spent, and as a result, it should no longer influence my decision-making process. If a book wasn’t worth reading, the optimal thing for me to do was to not read it. So I stopped. By the final week of my Kindle Unlimited subscription, I even went ahead and paid for a better book that I actually did want to read. I finally managed to ignore sunk costs.

Knowing how difficult it is to ignore sunk costs (even for just 33 cents per day), we can actually use sunk costs to our advantage. Want to get in shape, but can’t find the motivation to work out regularly? Buy a one-month membership to a local gym. Now you’ll be compelled to go just to avoid wasting money. Want to guarantee that you’ll lose weight? Place a bet on it and your chances of success will soar.

Ignore sunk costs is good advice, but here at The Data-Driven Life, we advise you to take it one step further: Exploit sunk costs.

Winning Free Money through Skill Gaming

Over the past 16 years, I’ve profited more than a quarter of a million dollars (!) through skill gaming. While I can’t promise you those results, I can definitely hand you hundreds of dollars per year on a platter, even if you are absolutely terrible at gaming. If you find that you’ve got some skill, your profits can increase from there.

Again, this is a situation where “common knowledge” is wrong — “Online gaming is rigged! Everyone cheats and there’s no way you can win!” It’s also a spot where we can look for +EV opportunities and exploit them to their fullest. Here’s how.

GameDuell: Our skill gaming journey begins at GameDuell.com because they generously allow you to play a free game every single day against “the joker” where you can win 50 GameDuell dollars (G$) for beating a set score. (50 G$ are worth about 60 cents in USD.) The games on this site, too, are simple ones that you may already know how to play, including things like Solitaire, a knock-off of Tetris, and a version of Yahtzee.

As part of my Miracle Morning routine, I love to begin each day by earning some amount of side income. (On a side note, if you’ve never read The Miracle Morning, I highly recommend it!) Winning my free GameDuell game is a fun way to make that happen.

To be able to play for and win real money on GameDuell, you’ll have to make an initial deposit. Deposit $10 onto the site, and then you’ll never need to deposit again, because all future GameDuell dollars to play games will come from your free daily wins. Once you’ve won some daily games against the joker, find one game to excel at. You’ll have to play through your free game winnings once before they can be withdrawn.

Even if you aren’t very good at any of the games, your rank will drop until you get matched with other less-skilled players, meaning that you’ll still win a decent percentage of the time. If you are able to beat the joker even half of the time, that will be a free 182 x $0.60 = $109.20 per year that you can use to play games on this site. Again, if you have a spouse or significant other willing to join as well, this amount could be doubled.

RoyalGames.com: The next stop on our skill gaming journey is RoyalGames.com. To begin winning on this site, you’ll want to make the maximum initial deposit of $30, because they give you a free $15 bonus when doing so. Turning your bonus money into real money on this site is actually an interesting trick.

When you try to withdraw, you’ll see a screen that looks like this:

Notice that your bonus money becomes “Non-withdrawable funds” that cannot be withdrawn. But there’s one catch: when you make a deposit, your non-withdrawable funds can never be more than your current account balance. In other words, if you lost all of the money in your account balance, and then you deposited another $10 (with no new bonus), your non-withdrawable funds would go to zero.

We can exploit that phenomenon. On RoyalGames, you can play tournaments against other people, or you can challenge individuals directly. What we need to do is spend all of our money challenging other players, taking our account balance down to zero (or as close to zero as possible). To do that, we must first earn 500 jewels (which can be done through free games). We want to challenge people who will NOT accept our challenges so that our entry fee eventually gets refunded to us. Look through usernames to find someone who hasn’t been on the site in years (or better yet, challenge a friend you know on the site if possible). Spend all of your money challenging them in games. Then deposit an additional $10.

Bang. Your non-withdrawable funds now drop to $0. After 72 hours, your entry fees will be returned to you as real money. And you’ve now changed bonus money into withdrawable cash.

RoyalGames offers 30%-50% deposit bonuses once or twice a month, so you’ll be able to generate a solid $12-$36 per month from this trick without actually having any gaming skills whatsoever. Again, if you have a significant other, you can double this, and $500+ per year in free bonuses become very doable.

Even better: get good at some of these games, and you can win significant money, especially in the lower ranks! YouTube videos will show you how to play games well enough to win at lower rankings. Playing some real games will also get you your 500 jewels (which you need to be able to challenge others). If you play enough, you can also earn the right to play a free game each day, which can also be quite valuable.

Typically when you start winning in a game, your rank will go up. Eventually you will move into a new ranking bracket and be forced to play against harder opponents, until eventually you are no longer profitable in that game. Your ultimate goal is to always play against people that are lower ranked than you. Tournaments allow players in a certain range of ranks (e.g. 2000-3999) to play. Once your rank starts to approach the top of that range (and you can tell by examining all of the rankings of your opponents to see what the highest one is), you’ll want to avoid letting your rank go over that number. Occasionally you will find a tournament where you can profit and still have your rank go down. That, of course, is like owning a money machine. You can and should exploit that type of scenario to the fullest extent possible.

From those two sites alone, you can easily make $600+ per year, even without any special gaming skill, and much more if you get good at some games and find long-term profitable plays. If you like looking for +EV situations on sites like these, other sites that you could consider trying include Worldwinner, Game Colony, and other sites from the list found here.

This post is already quite lengthy, and we haven’t even begun to address the +EV opportunities that exist in other types of gaming sites, such as poker, fantasy sports, and video gaming. We’ll get to those in a future post, but for now, if you know of similar +EV plays on other gaming sites, let us know about it in the comments!

Building a Side Income through… The Lottery?

Conventional wisdom says that lotteries are a “tax for the stupid” — that it is ignorant to play the lottery because in the long-term you are certain to lose more than you win.

Again, conventional wisdom might be true for the masses, but not for us. As with credit cards, this is a spot where we can exploit the mistakes the masses make to our benefit.

Before we dive deeper into this, though, let’s discuss the concept of expected value (EV). Let’s say that you were offered the chance to flip a coin, and if it came up heads, you would win $10. In that scenario, the expected value of each flip is $5. Flip the coin 100 times and you would expect to win $500 (50 wins x $10 each). A profitable situation has a positive expected value (+EV). For example, if you could play the coin flip game for anything less than $5, it would be a +EV game. If the game cost more than $5, it would have a negative expected value (-EV).

When we examine the lottery (and in another post, when we look at various forms of skill gaming), we want to look at everything in terms of EV, and we want to exploit any +EV situations we can find.

One famous example of a +EV lottery game was the Cash Winfall game that ran in Massachusetts from 2004 to 2011. A group of students at MIT won millions of dollars by taking advantage of that +EV opportunity; an older couple from Michigan won millions from the game as well.

Certainly there aren’t any +EV lottery opportunities today, though… right?

Wrong.

In my home state of Michigan, the Michigan Lottery has an online component. You can play instant-win games directly on the site. Here’s an offer they currently have running there:

That offer above is +EV to the tune of $62.50. Put this $200 on a credit card with 2% cash back (or better yet, as part of a bonus churn) and your EV becomes $66.50 or more. Have a significant other who could join as well? Now your collective EV from just this one offer is $125 before any credit card bonuses.

Why is the EV $62.50? When you deposit $200 through this offer, you receive $300. You must play through the $300 one time before withdrawing. Your best bet is to play one-number Keno, which has an 87.5% rate of return. (Fuzzball Keno is the safest option on this site, since you get back half of your bet even on a losing one-number game.) 87.5% of $300 is $262.50. So on average, you will profit $62.50 from this deal.

If you live in Michigan, you’d be crazy not to take this free money. In addition to the welcome bonus, they have a daily spinner where you can win additional prizes, and they often give away free games hoping you’ll be induced to continue playing on your own dime. In all, last year my wife and I profited more than $2,000 from the Michigan Lottery. No luck was involved.

Over the past few months, I have told several dozen of my friends and family members about this opportunity. Just three have actually chosen to take the easy money.

Perhaps I’m just not a very persuasive guy, but I think the bigger issue is that it is hard to break through people’s prior misconceptions. They’ve been taught that the lottery is a sucker’s game, and no amount of data can change their mind. After all, only a select few people took advantage of the Cash Winfall game in Massachusetts despite it running for years.

The goal of this post is two-fold. First, if you happen to live in Michigan, take the free money as described above. If you live in another state with an online lottery, investigate any welcome offers and check for any +EV plays you can find. (Not sure if your state has an online lottery? States with online lotteries are colored green in the map below.)

For people who don’t live in states with an online lottery, keep alert for offline +EV lottery opportunities (many states, for example, post a list of unclaimed prizes for scratch-off tickets; these can become +EV if a disproportionate number of large prizes remain with few tickets yet to be sold).

The second goal is a mindset shift. There are two general lessons to take away from this post as we seek to live The Data-Driven Life:

  1. Challenge “common knowledge” to see if it aligns with actual data. “Lotteries are for losers” is not always true; the same goes for “Credit cards are dangerous.”
  2. Customer acquisition is often a profitable moment that we can exploit. Companies are often willing to give excessive value in exchange for what they hope will be future profit. We can use this to our advantage in a wide variety of situations (anyone up for a free year of cell service?).

If you liked this post, check out this related post about making money through various forms of skill gaming!