Now for a post on the personal topic which either terrifically bores or engrosses people: my speculations on diets. I’ve decided I have to get down to 195 pounds, or under 11% bodyfat. And stay there. Five pounds a month is easily achievable.
Absent finding some fly-him-to-Zurich-for-study-now finding of me there is no reason I should weigh what NFL running backs do. I got a jump on New Year’s Resolutions worried about the Holidays – before Thanksgiving I was 250+. I had never hit 260 but it suddenly felt frighteningly possible. Here are some musings, goals, and my first month results.
With sufficient time, energy, and money for a trainer I (and probably most people) can lose a large amount of weight through a traditional calories-in, calories-out method…for a while. I’ve done it twice before in my early middle age. In both 2010 and 2012, I went from 250 lbs to 215, with a traditional approach: tons of exercise, and watch the number of calories; specifically fat calories.
Neither round was particularly pleasant nor likely a sustainable workout schedule and diet. Maintaining a weight under 215 was borderline impossible for me, despite an unchanged approach. The math didn’t add up for me – with a “resting” basel metabolic rate of 2,000/day (calculate yours here) and at least a 1.5x multipler for activity level I can’t explain how my weight should have steadily drifted back to 250 as it did by early 2014. I weighed more after four days of almost continuous hiking in Yosemite in April. After a while, sick of constant hunger and worn down, even injured, from exercise, I definitely let up on the throttle but by no means let myself go.
Nevertheless, I felt pretty sick and sleepless for good chunks of 2014. Weight gain accelerated. Was it an allergic reaction, stress, sleep apnea, something else? I had seen a total of five different physicians – two primary care, one allergist, two sleep apnea specialists – to try to address the weight problems, and an increasing inability to sleep. Was poor sleep adding to my weight? I could still run three or more miles, swam in the summer, and with the exception of too much beer, almost completely ingested foods off of Steven Pratt’s SuperFoods list. That approach feels pretty scientific: what are the healthiest foods eaten by the healthiest populations?
However, his list – like many others – includes such flavorful items such as Oats (& Wheat Germ and Flax Seed), Fruits, Honey, Dark Chocolate, Yogurt. All great on the macro-nutrient and micro-nutrient scoring chart. I had low fat yogurt with flaxseed, wheat germ, some dried fruit or blueberries and a touch of honey nearly daily for breakfast. If ordering pizza I’d always have whole wheat crust. Etc.
But maybe I was sick because I was fat again.
Hey, my responsibility but no doctor even raised this possibility. Just tests and suggested drugs. The only one I can recall warning of carbs was an acupuncturist in Pleasant Hill, Dr. Michael Shpak, years ago, and I ignored him. I walked to BART often – of course I could have a bagel, I protested.
I had not tried an Atkins Diet or its variants for any period of time before. The closest was two runs for about three days of Tim Ferriss’ “slow carb” with the beguiling cheat day concept…until the pounding headaches were too much and cheat day came four days early. (The headaches were my own fault for not following admonitions to take sodium supplements and drink a ton of water.)
The scientific inspirations that pushed me to try again were the writings of Gary Taubes. A NY Times science reporter for a long while who wrote the somewhat famous “Is Sugar Toxic” and “What if its All Been a Big Fat Lie” articles. He has written two longer scientific expositions on the same topic. I read How we get Fat and What to do about it. His previous book, Good Calories, Bad Calories is even more exhaustive, and you could get the main thrust of his arguments from the longest YouTube video I’ve ever watched (there are tons of others.) Challenging the salience for weight loss of the calories-in/calories-out model of dieting makes one feel like some huckster has gotten a hold of you. But give him a chance. The transformative passage for me was that people with high carb diets despite tons of exercise could have a very high triglyceride account despite all the other indicators being very healthy – bullseye.
I started the day after Thanksgiving – first with Ferriss’ diet, but the cheat days were too much for me. By mid-December I was pretty faithful to a basically “induction phase” Atkins — plus the glass of red wine a night. I did dig out the Fitbit from the bottom of the clothes basket for at least some of a cardio backstop as well.
The typical day, trying to keep carbs under 50 grams, and if possible, 20 grams, a day:
Vitamins: I did not really use these much until late December but garlic, alpha lipoic acid , fish oil tablets, and Vitamin C all get consumed off and on.
Breakfast: Eggs with cheese and myriad spices, salsa, sausage and coffee with cream (not milk.) Spices are underutilized in most diets: they add taste and some studies suggest all sorts of other good properties. Cinnamon in coffee, Tarragon, Pepper, Cayenne, Turmeric all appear in the rotation. Slight variance in the cast of characters does give the brain a trick of variety. Every few days I make an exception for All Bran with Almond milk. Water before the coffee.
Lunch: salads or the “burrito bowl” at Chipotle (no wrap, no rice: usually steak with gobs of hot sauces – this is covered as a diet in itself in Ferriss’ Four Hour Body book.) Diet coke occasionally but not too often.
Nuts as a snack in the afternoon. Lots of water.
Dinner: varies and mostly cooked by Erica. I am rigorous now even in social or professional settings not to give in to pressures for “just one bite” or the mostly well meaning, “ah, come on, enjoy this…” exhortations. Grass fed beef preferably but there have been a number of later night runs to In N Out burger (double double “protein style.” This comes with lettuce instead of buns. Careful to ask for no ketchup which has high fructose corn syrup. I ask for extra mustard and pickles.)
Evening snack: scoop of almond butter; whey protein in water after and before workouts. In December, also a glass of red wine.
Fitbit also has a great scale which syncs wirelessly and at least is accurate enough to give a directional reading on body fat composition. December results – 241.6 the final reading, down 10 pounds from November 24th.
I don’t have the time to independently test whether one can lose weight without exercise. It has its own health benefits of course, and in a possible excess of ambition signed up for the LA Marathon March 15 to hold to a goal. I plunked Hal Higdon’s Marathon Training Guide (beginner) into due dates in Asana and am trying to keep to that (sneak preview: the long runs have been hard on my feet) and to regularly hike. The fitbit was found mid-December:
The first week was really painful – blistering headaches and my stomach was in continuous revolt. This Taubes & others would say is the adjustment of insulin levels and hopefully me getting to a state of ketosis – where the bloodstream “learns” to live off of fat instead of carbs. Not gonna whitewash – this first week was super hard and included my birthday. No cake or beer on my own damn birthday. @#$@.
Since then I delightfully don’t have much of a sob story. The desire for carbs plummeted and accordingly so has the temptation. Second “cheat day” on the Ferriss schedule just felt gross to eat any bread so I didn’t have much. We didn’t rid our house of cereals and yogurts and I’d wait for more medical testing before altering our kids diets (such different age, different gender…not going to test this.) Social pressures are a different temptation but I’ve acclimated. There are occasional headaches still but those likely come from other causes, including when I skip the water.
I am sleeping much much better. Occasionally will have one mg. of melatonin and some Gaba to be sure. It’s made Erica’s night’s easier.
The fact is I probably had my insulemic response out of hand. For most people they could get most of the benefits by simply eliminating sugar and huge reductions in bread. A child of the seventies and eighties with a mother that followed all the best advice of the time – panicked about fat I’ve lived on bread a long time. (In addition to Taubes, a book suggesting alarm about fat comes from mis-attributing Eisenhower’s heart attack to fat instead of smoking looks very interesting.)
I needed to go cold turkey. Pace Atkins one can slowly re-introduce foods later and systematically in order to test the body’s response. I’m looking forward to full fat Greek Yogurt and blueberries again one day but for now marching forward.
I’m committing to giving monthly updates on the blog to keep me on the straight and narrow path here until I’m at 195/sub 11%.
I was on the fence whether to post something like this publicly. I am discussing with others if they compliment a change, or notice that I’m not drinking beer/eating the pizza. There seems to be less of a consensus whether a public commitment helps people stick to it, since the identity can be prematurely rewarded by friends? I think a public commitment likely helps me and I can use the sharing of my experience to help friends. Diets likely don’t change identity (or shouldn’t) and therefore it’s likely helpful to make such declarations. It sure seems the most common one on places like Stickk. (I am thinking about doing a Stickk. I’m not sure if I want to set a Carrot like travel.)