Three years and holding

Getting pretty bad at updating this it seems, but another year has passed and I am still holding at exactly the same weight, so I guess there wasn’t much to update.  My body composition drifts a bit from time to time, depending on my schedule, workload, the weather, how much traveling I am doing, and all the other things that influence my activity level, but through it all my weight remains pretty constant.  Thankfully, even when I go on an extended cheat period, I know how to mitigate the damage, and consistently recover from any excess within roughly the length of time I spent off plan.

Even though I feel like I have a good handle on how to maintain or improve for myself, I still  am constantly experimenting and trying new things.  I finally figured out how to cook chicken that I enjoy (recipe will be posted eventually).  I am also really upping my game in the kitchen, or more accurately, on the patio, where I am taunting all my neighbors with my new smoker.  More importantly, I am trying to figure out how to share what I have learned. I don’t take this task lightly, so it will take a while to refine, but hopefully within a year or so I will have put together a book, video, presentation, or something else that helps some folks.

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Probably should do an update!

I finished my second year of Slow Carb, and I met my goal of keeping all the weight off.  I didn’t want to lose more, gain some back, or really do anything but demonstrate to myself, and anyone else that cared, that I had figured out how to control how my body stores and burns fat.  In year three, the experiment will continue, including much more exercise, and more tweaking of things to see how my body reacts.  Maybe I will be eating yogurt for breakfast from time to time, who knows!  Theory be damned, it is all about the results and finding what works for me.

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Reflections After One Year on the Slow Carb Diet

Let’s start with the data.  In one year, I lost 70 pounds.  Measurements of my arms, waist, belly, chest, and a thigh lost a total of 42 inches (-16%).  Of the 27% weight loss, some of that was surely muscle, but that was expected, as it took quite a bit of effort to carry around an extra 70 pounds every day, all day long, and I wasn’t overly sedentary.

During this first year, I did not exercise, other than a 1 week experiment, but the resulting increased appetite made me stop until I met my weight loss goals.  I also experimented with things like adding in small amounts of carbs and extending cheat days to cheat weekends, but they all caused me to stall.  As mentioned in a previous post, I also took a month off to eat everything I could get my hands on, which took 3 weeks to burn off once I got back on track.  Interestingly, as long as I stuck with the plan, the loss rate was fairly consistent over the entire year.  Yes, there were “stalls”, but subtle tweaks quickly turned things around every time.

The strangest result from losing so much weight was finding out that I am at the age where people just assume I must be ill.  People I haven’t seen for a while, instead of being excited about how much weight I have lost, will get all grim and serious and ask if everything is ok.  I have just learned to take that one in stride, but the first few times it was quite disturbing.  The other strange reaction that I get fairly regularly is disbelief when I tell people I didn’t rely at all on portion control, low fat foods, or exercise.  Some will just block out what I say and attribute my success to their pre-conceived understandings of weight loss, regardless of how clearly I tell them the truth.  To an outsider, I am sure it would sound like we are talking to different people on the phone, as they probe deeper into my exercise routine, while I get progressively more frustrated with them for tuning me out unless I say what they are expecting.  Worse though are those that will just directly call me a liar, usually with much more anger in their voice than is warranted. Cognitive dissonance can be a pain in the butt to deal with.

The biggest sign that this is likely to stick with me is that I no longer think about food as a reward or social necessity.  Yeah, there was a day or two when I was thinking I should celebrate by getting a bunch of friends together at a local restaurant, but then the irony of that hit me.  Seriously, why do people eat when they are sad, to console themselves, or eat when they are happy, as a reward?

Huge thanks to my friend Tim Wilbur for opening my eyes to the Slow Carb way of life, and Tim Ferriss for doing all the research and sharing his results!  I will try to remember my current appreciation 30 years from now, when I have outlived my retirement account.  In the mean time, I will continue to spread the knowledge that I have gained, read more to develop a greater understanding, and perform more experiments to see what is applicable to me.

 

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My One Month Experiment Eating Non-SCD

After losing 60 pounds, I decided to take a month off my diet and see how much I could pack on if I ate pretty much anything I could get my hands on.  Most of that time was spent on a cruise ship with round the clock amazing food freely available, so I was expecting waistline chaos. The things I do for science! I figured that now that I know what causes my body to gain or burn fat, there was nothing to worry about if I put on a few pounds, and if there was something my body was missing, it wouldn’t hurt to restock on that, though, I am pretty sure there are no “essential sugars” or “vital carbs”, at least none that I wasn’t getting from my daily vitamins.  In reality, the majority of things I have been avoiding on the Slow Carb Diet had nothing of value to provide my body, regardless of the ridiculous claims of good health impacts that you may have heard (a glass of whine, an apple a day, or filtered cigarettes).

The weird thing was that I didn’t really enjoy eating crap food, which was kind of sad, because that use to be something I really found pleasure in. Ends up I have lost my love of many things like bread and pasta, though cookies always delivered with the happiness, especially when combined with ice cream. Probably the biggest change is that I just couldn’t stand drinking an orange juice or coke with my meals, so I almost always ended up just having water.  In order to keep my appetite up, I walked at least 5 miles a day, which before you start thinking “that must have burned off all those extra calories”, not a chance, as I more than made up for the 500 calories burned with just the first 2 cookies from lunch alone.

In that month, I gained 11 pounds, about 5 of which was just retained water that was gone within days of starting to eat right again. Three weeks later, I was back to my starting weight and back on the same loss slope from before my experiment.  It really amazes me how well the theory of this way of eating predicts the outcome when I eat the wrong thing and provides results when I eat right. I am not educated adequately (yet) to say that I am confident that it is 100% accurate in every explanation of cause and effect, but the results work, so I really don’t care.

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My favorite Slow Carb Breakfast: Mi La Lentils

The hardest meal for me while on the Slow Carb “diet” (SCD) has been breakfast.  The reason for this is simple, I don’t like eggs, and you are supposed to eat 30 grams of protein with your breakfast.  I don’t like them scrambled, in omelettes, hard boiled, in a box with a fox, or even in a house with a mouse.  Not sure if it is the taste, the texture, or the smell, but I just can’t eat them.  I have gone so far as to claim allergies when faced with people who were certain that I just hadn’t tried them cooked correctly.

Sure, there are other sources of protein, but almost all of the example menus shared by people that have had SCD success eat insane amounts of eggs, with legumes and vegetables mixed in for a well balanced quick meal.  Making a nice steak with a salad for breakfast gets old real quick, so I needed something that provided all the stuff I needed, but didn’t consume my mornings.  What I ended up with takes me about an hour every 2 weeks to prepare (including cleanup).

Sadly, I really don’t know if this dish has an actual name, and the recipe is never the same twice, but I should call it something.  My default name for all things good is Mila (or Milla, depending on my mood), so how bout Mi La Lentils, which sounds kind of fancy and European.  The core item  is around 3 cups of dry lentils that have been sorted a cup or so at a time on a big cookie sheet to avoid eating rocks, then rinsed until the water runs clear.  I usually use brown, but sometimes I will swap in some red or whatever else I find at the local ethnic grocery stores.  They get dumped into a huge pot along with enough water to cover them with an inch or so of water. I will usually add a little bit of Cumin, some truffle salt, a beef broth cube, and whatever else catches my eye on the spice shelf that day.  After it gets to a boil on high, I turn down the heat to medium and get to work on the rest.

I should probably admit at this point that even though I love cooking, I HATE cleaning up afterwards, so I may break some cardinal rules of proper cooking techniques, but until I meet someone that likes to do dishes, I will stick with my approach.

Back to the production.  I usually start with whatever meats I am using, to harvest their delicious fat.  Typically this is a few pounds of ground beef (not too lean, because fat doesn’t make you fat, and I pay quite a bit extra to get the grass fed beef that has the good fat, not the awful fat they get from being fed corn and other stuff I wouldn’t eat myself).  If I am including chicken, I will cut back on the beef, and add the chicken right to the pan with the beef, to help make it taste less like chicken.  When the meat is done I move it to the biggest pyrex storage bowl I own, then dump a huge load of minced garlic from a jar (as much as will fit on my knife blade, which is probably around ½ a cup), and then 2 bunches of green onions (scallions), and 3 or 4 red peppers, that I had prepped while the meat was cooking (and stored in the pyrex bowl until I needed it for the meat, at which point it just gets dumped into a huge pile on a flexible cutting board).  When that is all done cooking (I like it fairly well done), it gets dumped on top of the meat, hopefully leaving at least a hint of the grease in the pan.

Next comes the vegetables.  I usually start with a pound of organic baby spinach, which gets cooked just a few minutes before it is dumped into the pot with the lentils, which by this point are mostly finished cooking.  Next I cook down around 4 pounds of cabbage, which even though my pan is gigantic usually takes 2 loads to keep from making a mess.  I usually pick up the cabbage at a local restaurant supply place in 5 pound bags, so no prep for that.  Finally, I will add in whatever other vegetables I am feeling willing to eat (usually broccoli), but these usually go right into the big pot to keep them from getting all squishy and nasty, followed by the meat and stuff in the big bowl, and maybe a can of garbanzo beans or something similar to add some supporting flavor (seriously, canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce would probably make cat food taste good).

After stirring everything together, I will usually taste it to see if it needs more seasoning, but it rarely does.  After a quick rinse, I then fill up the big bowl with the resultant delicacy (that only superficially looks like pig slop).  Next I fill up all the smaller bowls that I own, leaving around 1” at the top of the bowl.  After everything has had a chance to cool down, I add a few strips of bacon cut into thirds so they will fit, put the lids on, and pack the fridge and freezer full.  (The bacon usually gets distributed onto 5 racks stacked on top of a cookie sheet and thrown in the oven while waiting for the cabbage and spinach to cook down.)  When it is time to eat, I just heat it in the microwave, then add a few huge forkfulls of organic raw sauerkraut on top, and some freshly ground black pepper.

This was my breakfast every day for the first 4 months of SCD, at which point I switched to a protein shake to try to get my 30 grams quicker.  As I run out of body fat to metabolize though, I will be switching back to Mi La Lentils to help keep me full until lunch, and I will just have to tighten up my morning routine.  They are also a reasonably well balanced SCD meal for any time of day, but to me, they taste very breakfasty now, unlike pancakes, which just don’t do it for me anymore.

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Fun Fat Math

Or, my appetite is gone, what kind of voodoo is this!  

And no, before you think I am losing weight because I am eating less, that is not the case.  The last thing I want to do is support the silly mindset that starving yourself is a good way to be healthy.  Of course, I realize how confusing that is when I just told you that I have a reduced appetite, and I currently am probably eating fewer calories that I use to.  The thing is though, for the first two or three months, I am pretty sure my calorie intake was actually increased substantially, and I had my biggest progress then.

Probably the best thing to do is just set aside any attempts to fit my theories into your framework for now, and just follow the math.  If you know me well, you probably know that even though I am a rocket scientist by trade, I am actually not a fan of math, or even all that good for it (I make up for it with sweet dance moves).  Still, in this case, it seemed worth spending some time to address some confusion and concern regarding me having a reduced appetite.

In my case, loosing 50lbs in 6 months, that comes out to about 0.28lbs/day on average.  If you examine the plot, you can see that on a daily basis, it was more like an awesome bacon fueled roller coaster, but lets just keep things simple for now.  Along those same lines, lets use the commonly accepted energy balance concepts, just for the sake of discussion.  My suggested caloric intake to maintain my weight is somewhere around 2400 Calories/day if I am not being too active.  Now, if I take that 0.28lbs/day and assume that it was mostly fat that was lost, using 3500 calories/lb of fat, that means that every day I liberated 972 calories from storage (on average), which is about 40% of my needs.  That is why I was less hungry.  I was sustained by my fat, meaning that not only didn’t I have to eat as much, I didn’t feel a need to either.

Sure, you could also say that eating less was why my body was forced to liberate stored fuel to make it through the day, but I would not agree with you.  I needed less because by hacking the way my body functions by controlling when and what I eat, I was forcing the fat cells to give up the stores.  Confusing cause with effect is bad science.

Conversely, if I had eaten a bunch of fruit, rice, corn, and such  altering the way my body was functioning, I could have eaten 5000 calories worth and still been hungry and without energy to do anything hours later, as all that energy would be sent right off for storage.

Bottom line though is that if your body is tuned to liberate and burn stored fat for fuel, your appetite will reflect the reduced need to intake more.  For me, that means more leftovers, less cleaning up after cooking (I like the cooking part) and less money spent on crazy expensive organic ingredients!

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Slow Carb Diet: How I dropped 50 pounds in 6 months, without exercising or eating less

Well, that isn’t all true.  I did eat less sugar, mostly by cutting out Coke and fruit juice and all the other fattening food that I use to enjoy.  I also stopped eating most of the yummy carbohydrates that doctors have been telling me for years would reduce the risk of heart disease.  To compensate, I added substantial amounts of protein and fat (yes, even saturated fats), mostly in the form of bacon, because bacon is awesome.  I still eat lots of carbs, just the kind that are more slowly digested (beans and lentils).

All of those changes in what I eat (I don’t like to call it a “diet”) take place six days a week, and on the seventh, I get a cheat day!  Initially that was a terrifying thing to behold, but after the first month, my cravings for fattening food (bread, fruit, etc.) had pretty much evaporated, so it devolved into a simple quest to  stimulate leptin release.  Besides the necessary aspect of the cheat day, there was a psychological perk that made everything sustainable.  If I saw something that I really thought looked tasty during the week, I would just remember it for cheat day and magically I was fine going without, except for french fries, they still kill me.

But why!  The answer that would make the most sense is that I was trying to avoid the heart disease and such that are pretty common for the men in my family, but sadly, it was nothing so noble.  Hell, if anything, that bonus result has me concerned about my retirement account, which was doing great if I only had to make it last 5 years, but now is looking pretty darn anemic.  No, my reason was curiosity.  My buddy Tim had been on the same plan for about a year, but it wasn’t just his awesome progress that caught my attention, it was the cognitive dissonance that his explanations caused.  Having seen the insanely poor results of most diet plans, I knew something about the basic mindset of the calorie counting and blaming dietary fat was just wrong.  I don’t actively try to be exclusively contrarian, but when an opportunity to investigate a huge flaw in commonly accepted knowledge arises, I just can’t resist!

Oddly though, I have little desire to debate or discuss this topic with people that think I have it all wrong.  Maybe it is that we are in an election year?  Trust me, I have tried discussing the topic of what and how I eat, but an overwhelming wave of apathy consumes me when we get to the part of the conversation where the person I am talking to refuses to acknowledge the supremacy of results matching a theory.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy explaining what is working for me though, or sharing my understanding of why it works with people that are curious, but I am guessing that reading a book would help most folks much more.  The plan is based on the The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss, but there are probably multiple similar plans that might work just as well if not better for others.  I have seen good results with the Wheatbelly diet (don’t eat wheat), the paleo diet (rawr, i r caveman), and even the low carb diets, which people often confuse the Ferriss diet with because it is called a slow-carb diet, because again, it includes quite a bit of carbs.

The basics are as follows:

1)  Don’t trust whitey. Actually, that was from the movie The Jerk now that I think about it, but still, it is the first rule.  To be more accurate, it is white carbohydrates that you are supposed to avoid (or anything that can be white when processed), you know, the tasty ones, like rice, potatoes, pasta, bread.  If I lost you there, fine, I can’t blame you, but seriously, for some of us, they are about the most fattening food we can eat.  And no, you can’t eat whole grains, brown rice, or anything like that.  Read the book if you want to understand the details.  Also, “Lord loves a workin’ man” and “see a doctor and get rid of it “where the other parts of rule 1 according to Navin, but I am not certain that they apply here.

2)  Stop trying to be so fancy.  If you try to make a big elaborate dish for every meal, with every mouthful being a savory reward for your awesomeness, you will likely not do well on this plan.  Keep it simple. Find a few dishes you like and stick to them until you have a good baseline, then do basic science and change just one thing to see how it influences your progress.  To be sustainable you will obviously need to have some variety, but don’t let that be a big part of your plan.  Learn to think of food as fuel, and educate yourself on how your body deals with the things you eat and if you are like me you will be content with one day a week of culinary joy.

3)  Don’t drink calories.  Seriously, this was a huge problem for me.  I drank way too much coke and orange juice (2 gallons a week was common, but it was the good stuff, fresh squeezed, organic, healthy I thought).  Now I mostly drink water, with some lemon, which for some reason is ok even though it is a fruit.  Thankfully I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t like diet drinks, so I am not tempted to work those into my day, even though some people have success with them.

4)  No fruit, seriously!  It is the fructose (sugar) that is the problem.  I know that I just lost most of the rest of you that believe that the secret to good health is plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, minimal saturated fats, and plenty of exercise to match your calorie intake.  I grew up being told the same thing, and I believed it, yet somehow, no matter how hard I tried, that didn’t work for me.  Now I understand why. If you want to understand why, I strongly suggest Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes.  Just assume he is completely wrong and do your own research to see if his wrongness is a better match for reality than the more commonly accepted theories.

Rule #5: On the seventh day, eat the stuff you have been missing.  It is pretty much a free day to go nuts, but most folks find after a few belly busting days that it really isn’t worth the misery with their new body.  Typically it takes me 3 or 4 days to get back to where I was before the cheat day, but it isn’t a race, so I don’t worry about the day to day variations.  Slow steady progress that is sustainable is good enough for me!

More details are all over the web at places like http://www.4hourlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/4-Hour-Body-Slow-Carb-Diet-ENGLISH.pdf if you don’t want to read the book just yet.  These rules don’t cover everything (like you need a rule to tell you that sugar is bad), but they cover the highlights.  The big thing the rules don’t cover, and by a long shot the most important aspect for me was that it is just a starting point.  Tim Ferriss strongly suggests taking LOTS of data and adjusting things to see what works best for you.  To imagine that we all work the same is insane.  Hell, like Tim’s dad, I don’t follow rule #3 because I often have a protein shake for breakfast to get 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up, but thanks to a ton of data collection I found that this worked better for me than waiting until I got to work to eat my “approved” breakfast.  I also do intermittent fasting, not because I believe or even understand the science behind what many might call a “fad”, but because for me it really works, and results count more than some nerd on the internet telling me I am wrong.

If you are thinking this all sounds like it might be interesting, but probably too much of a hassle, it really isn’t.  My non-protein shake breakfast takes about an hour to make, but I make enough for 2 weeks at a time, so that ends up being around 5 minutes/day.  Lunch is a bit more of a pain, well at least for people that join me for lunch and don’t want to eat at Chipotle.  I didn’t eat there EVERY day, just most days because their burrito bowl with no rice, extra vegetables, avocado, and lettuce is still tasty after 6 months.  Yeah, you have to skip the cheese and sour cream, and go light on the salsa, but those don’t really add as much as you might think to the tastiness.  Besides being delicious, the ingredients are fresh, mostly organic, and the meats are about as healthy as you can get (hormone and antibiotic free, grass fed). Dinner is usually a salad (with some beans and meat, because that is the deal) or leftovers from lunch with more veggies added to fill the bowl back up.   When I get tired of the same old thing I mix things up a little bit, but I am usually back to the regular rotation after a day or two.

One last thing to clarify.  I do exercise, in the sense that when I hack my body to keep all the energy from getting stored as fat and instead let it course through my bloodstream antagonizing my muscles to do something, I tend to be more active.  I have been playing the drums lately, to the point where my muscles in my arms, legs, and back feel the burn (imagine a less hairy version of Animal from the muppets).  I often go for a long walk on my cheat day, because society doesn’t let me go to the mall and slap hipsters, and I feel compelled to burn off all the extra crap I eat, not because of the calories, but because I just feel like sitting might kill me.  I also often walk around the office with a kettlebell or such while making my rounds, just because.

So yeah, the title may be a bit misleading, but not really.  Fifty pounds in six months.

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