Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fasting + low carb = dead sexy, part 1

Nutrition is one of my favorite science topics. I've written a lot about it here as well as at other outlets around the internet. My interest in the subject first sprouted after watching a documentary called Fat Head and eventually losing about 50 pounds by following a relatively strict low-carb diet.

Since late 2012, my weight has hovered between 200 and 210 pounds and my metabolic markers are all very good. With the addition of a simple weight lifting routine, I've added some muscle and improved my body composition a little bit more.

But I've gotten a bit lazy over the last year; it's just too easy to make bad decisions, and my weight has been gradually creeping up. I noticed that late last month when the nurse weighed me at the blood bank where I donate--219 pounds. "Dear, God, I'm going to gain all my weight back," I thought. Irrational, but it spurred me out of complacency, and I decided to tighten up my diet once again. My weight evened out to a more acceptable 208.6 pounds after a 12-hour fast following that weigh in at the blood bank, but my mind was made up. I wanted to see if I could slim down a little more.

As of June 1, I cut out all sugar and grains and began an intermittent fasting regimen, as well. I eat two meals a day, lunch usually at 11 am and dinner around 6 pm. After doing a little research, I decided to start skipping breakfast, because eating in the morning, thanks to elevated levels of cortisol, can actually make you hungrier later in the day.

This routine has been very manageable. I start to get hungry about an hour before each meal, but the fast is easy to maintain otherwise. The results are helping me stay strong, too. Along with the good results I've seen on the scale, I'm wearing shirts and pants that used to be too tight to wear comfortably, and I've had to tighten my belt another notch.

The graph tracks my weight in pounds and percent change  from week to week, total loss to date and body mass index (BMI). 
Weight (lbs)
Weekly % Change
Loss To Date (lbs)





BMI isn't always a reliable indicator of metabolic health, I'm aware. Having said that, body weight still correlates with metabolic health for most people; the 300-pound man who remains sedentary all day has a better chance of becoming diabetic than does the 140-pound marathon runner. So I decided to track my BMI along with the other numbers.

Anyway, my super secret approach to weight loss is as follows: eat nutritious food at the right times during the day, and stop eating once you're satisfied. For me, that means two meals a day, fewer than 50 carbohydrates and as much fat and protein as I want until my hunger is sated. 

I'll check in this time next month with my results from July. My goal by that time is to be down to 185 pounds, then maintain that weight indefinitely, but I want to make a few observations after following this plan for a month so far.

The advice to eat several small meals throughout the day is terrible, no-good bro science. You don't need to eat every few hours to maintain your blood sugar or keep your hunger in check. The published research confirms both points, should you doubt my anecdotal experience. 

Eating fewer calories is a necessary precursor to losing weight, but eating less is not the cause of the weight loss. I accepted the eat less and exercise more dogma before discovering low-carb diets. I lost some weight, because eating a little less and running three miles five days a week was better than nothing. But those lifestyle changes weren't effective enough to repair the metabolic damage I had done by eating cheetos and sitting on my ass for 23 years. There are entire populations that confirm this point.   

I used to come down hard on the idea that exercise could induce weight loss. I've softened my position a little bit, because the right kinds of exercise can stimulate hormonal changes that promote fat loss. With the proper diet, a weightlifting routine, for example, will probably help you lose weight. However, you don't need to exercise in order to lose weight. I cut my weight training back significantly at the start of the month, and stopped going to the gym altogether two weeks in because I was eating so little food. The weight still fell off. 

Finally, I'd like to take a swing at the Splenda haters of every stripe. Organic food aficionados, paleo diet purists and ordinary food scolds all claim that artificial sweeteners emulate sugar so well that they stimulate a comparable insulin response, which ultimately leads to weight gain. Diet soda, then, isn't so diet, perhaps. There is some research to support this conclusion, but we're talking about a handful of  (very small) studies, most of which involve rats. 

I'm not a rodent so I was eager to see how all my diet mountain dew consumption would affect my weight loss effort. So far, it hasn't. Maybe I have some nifty genetic protection against the ill effects of artificial sweeteners, or maybe the anti-diet soda crowd is just wrong. That's what most of the data we have suggests, and I now have my own n=1 experiment to further justify my consumption of the tasty sugar-free beverages. 

That's all for now. Let's revisit this in a month. 

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