Weight Loss and Penn Jillette

“You can’t say your favorite kind of cake is birthday cake, that’s like saying your favorite kind of cereal is breakfast cereal.” – Tom, Parks and Rec


The way I look when I’m in a cake coma.  Mmmmm, cake.

I was hanging out with The Main Squeeze, talking.

Me:  “What are you doing next weekend?”

The Main Squeeze:  “Nothing.  You?”

Me:  “I’m free.  Let’s fly to Vegas and get married.”


The Main Squeeze:  “Okay.”

I called up the frequent flyer number and got two tickets to Vegas.  This was before e-everything, so they actually overnighted the tickets to me.  Actual paper tickets.

We got there late on a Friday night and the next morning took a cab downtown to get a marriage license.  We debated the Star Trek chapel, the Elvis chapel, and decided to get married in the mall area at Bally’s Casino.

If you’ve not been to a casino, the first principle is to get you gambling, and then give you enough booze that you make poor decisions with your gambling.  The second principle is to overwhelm the senses.  The final principle is to have really extravagant stores so that winners can be parted with their money prior to getting back on the jet to Peoria.  We didn’t have to worry so much about the extravagant stores, since principle one and principle two had separated us from enough money that buying the signed NFL™ football© helmet® wasn’t going to be happening.

Sunday morning, we got married.  Truthfully we were a little hung over.  At the wedding chapel in the mall, the hostess went through the checklist.

“Married, right – have your certificate.”

“Right here.”

“Okay, religious or secular ceremony?”


“Candles or no candles?”

I looked at the soon-to-be The Mrs.  She shrugged.

The hostess leaned conspiratorially closer to us and said in a low voice, “Candles cost extra.”

The soon-to-be The Mrs. shook her head.

“No candles.”  The hostess smiled.

We waited about 15 minutes for the pastor to show up.

He looked about as hungover as we felt, but his face brightened as he went down the checklist.

“Religious.  Good!”

He performed the ceremony and The Main Squeeze was now officially The Mrs.

So, you’re in Vegas, you just got married, what do you do?

If you’re the Wilders, you go and get tickets to Penn and Teller.  Penn and Teller, if you’re not familiar with them, they are comedy/magic, and, if you’re not careful, a bit of philosophy.

They performed this trick at the show, but unfortunately shot three audience members.  Remember, magic is not pretty!

At one point during the show, which I will remind you was being held at a casino, Penn Jillette said (and I’m paraphrasing):

“Folks, if you’re looking at an investment, look at those slot machines out there.  It says, in flashing neon, 98% return.  From the beginning, you know that you’re going to lose.  The best odds out there are the black jack tables, and if you use probability, and can count cards, over the course of gambling for a weekend with a $10,000 stake, odds say you might clear $500.  See all the bright and flashing lights out there?  The only thing keeping them on is the Hoover Dam, and bad math.”


There are moments when you’re cured of something, but at that moment, I knew that I’d never be a serious gambler or have a gambling problem.


of gambling,

in a casino,

by a magician.

Now, that’s magic.

After the show was complete, Penn and Teller ran off stage towards the doors that let us in.  Literally, they ran.  I thought they might have been late for something, like free yogurt, but when The Mrs. and I got to the exit, they were standing there, shaking hands with and talking to every fan.

Teller is the “silent” part of the act, and we talked with him first:

John Wilder: “You put on a wonderful show.”

Teller:  “You are a wonderful audience,” and he exuded humility and sincerity with every word, like he was grateful we came to his show.

We then moved on to Penn.

John Wilder:  “You were great out there.”

Penn put his hand to his head as if concentrating, eyes closed.  “John, that is your name, right?”

I was stunned.  He continued, “Thought so.  John, in 2017 you will write about my miraculous weight loss, and both the Red Sox and the Cubs will win a World Series® between now and then.”

He then disappeared in a cloud of smoke.


 Potatoes, stupid hobbit!

Fast forward to 2017 and my meeting with Bruce Wayne.  I’d promised myself that I would lose weight, so I began researching.

In the back of my head I remember hearing on the Internet about Penn’s weight loss.  I looked up what he did.  He lost NEARLY A POUND A DAY!  That’s 450 or so grams per day (as if that means anything to anyone).  He ate nothing but potatoes for two weeks.  It turns out that he was hospitalized due to his high blood pressure, which was caused by his weight and that got him motivated to change.

My conclusion was:

That’s simply not reasonable.

But weight loss isn’t reasonable.

Wilder Age Effort Required to Lose Two Pounds a Week
Before 20 Run.  A little.
Mid 20’s Run, 2-5 miles a day for several weeks
Late 20’s An hour a day on the exercise machine
Mid 30’s Run, 4-6 miles a day five times a week, skip lunch
Late 30’s Radical Atkins diet
Early-Mid 40’s Radical Atkins diet plus six hours a week exercise machine
Late 40’s Radical Atkins/Food Restriction plus three hours a week
Late 50’s (Projected) I will have to work hard enough to power Nebraska on a Skittle® a week
By the time I’m 70 I am declared a national treasure because my energy output is greater than all the oil and I pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and eat nothing, but my jeans are tight

And weight gain isn’t reasonable, either.  Let’s say you see someone who, like Penn, was 100 pounds (that’s sixteen megaparsecs in metric!) overweight.  You say, indignantly, “Boy, they sure let themselves go.”

Unfortunately, the math doesn’t quite agree with you.

A pound is roughly 3600 calories, so 100 pounds is 360,000 calories, or enough Diet Coke™ for all of the sororities at USC for a weekend.  But, 360,000 calories is around 300 calories a day for three years.  That’s two 12 ounce Cokes© a day.  (One ounce in metric = one Italian squirrel bladder.)

Let’s say 50 pounds.  That’s one soda pop.  A day.

As I said, weight loss isn’t reasonable.

So, in addition to being accountable, I now must cease to be reasonable.

So, what goal to go with?

The average goal for people in the literature is two pounds a week.  Seems legit.  But then I see 1% a week.  So, if you’re 200 pounds, that’s 2 pounds a week.  One hundred?  One.  That seems even more legitimate.

But then I see Penn losing nearly a pound a day.  Is that really real?

Yes.  A 27 year old from Scotland fasted for 382 days.  No food.  Over a year.  Of course, he had a head start at 456 pounds.  He made it down to 180 pounds, and five years later was 196 pounds.  There are multiple, similar cases on record.

When you think about it – that’s exactly what fat is for – it’s the emergency storage of calories so you don’t die during periods of prolonged famine.

I’m awesome at weight loss, I’ve done it a lot, but unlike my previous results, the man from Scotland’s main success wasn’t the 382 days, it was the fact that he reset and didn’t gain the weight back.  It seems to be working so far for Penn as well.

There’s a goal, the loss.  But that goal must be followed up with a change in lifestyle.

So, what am I doing next weekend?  Not eating potatoes, but I’m also not being reasonable.

Reasonable didn’t get me married in Vegas, and reasonable won’t get me where I want to go on weight.

John Wilder is not a doctor.  You would be stupid to take medical advice based on the ramblings of an internet madman.  As always, own your own decisions, and talk to a doctor if you have questions. 

As a bonus – if you have 45 minutes to spare, Penn and Teller’s 1986 film, “Invisible Thread.”


Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom – How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.

3 thoughts on “Weight Loss and Penn Jillette”

  1. Keep on keepin on, you’ve tried to get me going. Message received…you’re first to read it! Thanks My friend….Kelly.

  2. Kelly, outstanding!

    We change the world as we change ourselves, and as we learn to like ourselves.

    And as for me, I’d like a beer. 🙂

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