Joe Stump on How to Use Your Passion to Lose Weight and Stay Fit

In Chapter 1 of 14 in his 2012 interview, Internet entrepreneur Joe Stump answers "How Are You Learning to Apply Your Passions in New Ways?"  Stump applies his passion for programming and the software building process to his diet.  As a result, he is able to lose nearly 40 pounds in less than a year.  He compares the software programming process to dieting and the importance of turning bad habits to good habits and making it sustainable.  Joe Stump is a serial entrepreneur based in Portland, OR. He is CEO and co-founder of, a product management software company.  Previously he founded SimpleGeo, which was sold to Urban Airship in October 2011.  He advises several startups - including and ngmoco:) - as well as VC firm Freestyle Capital.  He earned a BBA in Computer Information Systems (CIS) from Eastern Michigan University. 


Erik Michielsen: How are you learning to apply your passions in new ways?

Joe Stump: I am at heart a hacker and a tinkerer. I like puzzles. I've always been that way, you know, I was the kid that had more Legos than he knew what to do with it and was always kind of putting them together in different ways. And I've taken that and have kind of started applying it to other areas in my life.

The hacking -- Probably the recent successful hack has been the fact that I've lost about 35, 40 pounds over the last year-ish and I approached it very much in the same way that I approached triaging a software bug. And when you're triaging a software bug, the first thing you do is you get a baseline, right? Where are we at right now? You then get a – you then do logging and statistics and kind of figure out, you know – basically you gather information as much as you can, right? After you’ve established your baseline. And then as you're gathering your information, hopefully you figure out what the problem is and you can then resolve it, right?

And I kind of basically applied that same approach to my diet where basically I started doing research and started tracking all sorts of things. And I actually, when I approached it, I approached it from -- again, in a very similar way to the way I approach bugs. So, when I go and change someone else’s code, I try to be as minimally invasive as possible. Because I don’t know whether or not if I change too much code, I don’t know whether or not that code will be sustainable. I may introduce other bugs. So, with dieting and changing health, like I wanted to change bad habits and the good habits and I wanted it to be sustainable.

And I think a lot of people, you know, you hear a lot of people talk about this with diet where they try and go cold turkey or they try to like do some really extreme diet and they end up falling off the wagon and they end up going back to poor eating habits. So I did things like I tracked how often I biked to work. I didn’t track how far; I just tracked yes or no. Did I ride my bike to work? And my goal was I wanted to ride my bike to work half of the time. I also wanted to cut down on my diet soda intake, so I tracked that. And if I had less than two, cool; if I had more than two, not cool, right?

And then I ended up going and getting really geeky and ended up getting like this thing called a DEXA Scan that tells you all this terrifying information about your body that you don’t want to know, like how much you're intestines weigh and how much muscle mass you don’t have when thought you were all ripped. And having that very objective analytical view into my body and how it worked really helped me approach turning the knobs in a much more nuanced way.

So, rather than going and saying, “I'm going to train for an Ironman and that’s how I'm going to lose 40 pounds.” I was like I’m going to go and bike to work half the time. I'm going to drink a little less soda, I’m gonna cut down my sugar a bit and introduce a very, very small amount of exercise. And it worked out very well. I've been able to sustain that over time. And what was really interesting also was when you overextend your body, you're basically shocking the system and when you shock the system like think about when there's a five-alarm fire, right?

People miss the little things that are happening around them when there's a five-alarm fire and I feel it's the same way with your body. When I introduced small changes, I was able to be a little bit more perceptive about what my body was telling, whereas if I had went really extreme and was like on a fasting diet or total vegetarian, my body would have been like -- and I wouldn’t have been able -- my body overwhelmingly would have been saying, “What are you doing?” whereas if you introduced a little bit more incrementally. It was like, you know, you can basically say, it's almost like committing transactions to a database.

So transactions to a database, you can commit like, you can do something and then if it didn’t work you can roll it back. No harm, no foul, right? And so if you do that incrementally, that’s what I was basically doing. I was like, I'm going to step in here, okay, that worked, cool. And then I'm going to step in here, that didn’t work, roll back, right? It was like a very iterative kind of process and it's allowed me to really be a lot more perceptive to what my body is telling me.

So now, what's kind of nice about this is I've been on the road a lot for the last six months and I've been eating – I’ve been cycling basically, eating like utter crap while I’m on the road. It's really hard to eat really healthy when you're on the road to cycling in the good habits. It's like my body tells me basically, “Dude, you're eating sugar. You got to like up your protein,” and I'm a lot better at listening to that now.