Saturday, September 1, 2012

Losing Fifty Odd Pounds

Well, they weren’t that odd. They were fairly typical. Doughy, unpleasant, insulating – you know, pounds.

I’m not entirely sure what my peak weight was. I usually go with 314, which is the highest weight I had recorded at the Doctor’s office, but it’s entirely possible I weighed a few pounds more at some point. Hence the fifty odd bit.

My weight was been as low as 259 recently (and briefly) but has generally settled around 262 pounds for the last month or so. Prior to that, I had been pretty stable at 270 or so. You’ll note a lot of vague “or so” and “around” in there, which is because my body can fluctuate mightly during day. I normally go to bed weighing about five pounds more than I woke up and I can run that up to ten with some work.

Some other stuff about me, in brief. I’m 34 years old, and six feet tall or so (again, I’ve been measured at anywhere from a bit over six foot to a bit over six foot one), and I was diagnosed as a type two diabetic five or six years. Actually, might be closer to seven, now.

Obesity and diabetes run in the family. My father and I weighed 309 at the same time, briefly, but he’s a good five inches shorter than me. And like me, was/is diabetic. Likewise, my maternal grandfather was diabetic, as was his mom. And so on and so forth. I got a lot of good genes, but the ones for sugar metabolism weren’t among them.

On the plus side, I am naturally pretty strong. I could, without lifting, do 185 for a single in the bench, 135 in the press, and deadlift 315. Not incredible, by any means, especially for someone my size, but I mention it because it’s relevant to my weight story.

I never felt bad. I mean, I could plan whatever sport I wanted, never felt bogged down by my size, and never felt especially fat, even, although I clearly was. That’s not just in retrospect, either – I managed to both be aware and in denial at same time.

Having a decent amount of natural strength and fitness insulted me from the damage I was doing. I fairly recently hauled my then 275 pound carcass up one side of a mountain and down the other, thirteen miles of no trail bushwhacking in a day’s time, without having had a lick of exercise in the two or three years prior to that.

That hike is also illustrative of another point: my body was starting to fall apart. I got some good genes: strength, fitness, flexibility, stunning good looks and a sparkling personality. I also got some bad genes: fatness, diabetes, the inability to see more than a foot or so and a love of bad puns.  And a tendency towards joint problems.

This is probably related to an extreme natural flexibility, oddly enough. My mother, who is around 5’3 and usually weighs around 120 and works out religiously has the same bendiness that I do, and the same joint problems.

So while I was physically able to do the hike, I developed some sort of problem with my Achilles tendon (possibly tendonitis) that took more than a year to heel. Likewise, when I spent a day canoeing through not quite enough water, I developed some sort of something in y neck, trap area.

And so on and so forth. Those two things actually happened after I lost weight, incidentally, but they’re the tip of the iceberg. But what they show is that my body was slowly losing the battle against fat and diabetes.

My diabetes was, generally, poorly controlled and slowly progressing. Mostly, this was only apparent in my blood sugar numbers. I could get fairly good control  by restricting carbs, but I could never stick with it.

Worse, I developed a bad habit of binging on carbs in preparation for the low carb periods to come, including some times when they never did come. This was not a happy state of affairs.

So I started losing weight. By using the shocking method of eating less. It’s not that I think that Gary Taubes and co are wrong, exactly. I think there’s a lot of truth to the idea of chronically elevated insulin levels damaging your body. But I also don’t think it’s the whole story.

There’s a lovely idea that if you restrict your carbs, your hunger will be blunted and you will eat less. After all, they say, who can overeat on steak.

Uh, me. Because I am the black hole of Pennsylvania and no food can escape me.

I’m absolutely sure there are people for  whom the hunger blunting equals weight loss idea is true. They may even be the majority. But they aren’t me. Me, I can eat tremendous amounts of food, even if I restrict my carbs to as close to zero as possible. I mean, I just this past week ate more than a pound of meat in about ten minutes. I can absolutely eat an entire bag of grilled chicken breasts at a sitting.

The point is that if I don’t make a conscious decision to eat less, I will eat more. This has little to nothing to do with hunger and quite a lot to do with psychology and habits. I like being stuffed to the gills. I do. But I don’t feel deprived if I’m not. It’s a trait that needs to be managed.

So what I did was found places where I could remove food with out it bothering me. If I were eating hamburgers at home, I ate them without the bun and chips or whatever. I didn’t eat ice cream more than once every few weeks. I didn’t drink any liquid calories. Stuff like that. Which worked.

Sloooooowly. I actually lost four pounds between every Doctor’s appointment for a long stretch, something like two or three years. It was so predictably regular that I joked that if I scheduled an appointment every month I’d be down to flyweight in no time (demonstrating the same ignorance of causality as your typical diet and exercise journalist, too).

So over the course of a couple of years (three, I think) my weight went from 314 down to around 270. Where it promptly stopped. For several years. Which was actually sort of interesting, because my diet was all over the place back then.

I’m not sure where I stand on the set point theory. It clearly exists, for some people. My best friend, for instance, has weighed about 150 pounds his entire adult life. He had back surgery a few years ago and his weight dropped, naturally and without conscious action, by fifteen pounds because without activity, he wasn’t hungry. As soon as he started moving, he was back to normal fairly quickly. So yeah, he’s got some sort of internal equilibrium

What I’m less sure of is how it all works. Most people will max out on how fat they get, regardless. You hit a certain weight and don’t get much fatter. Otherwise, half the country would be getting the walls cut out of their house to get them out.

But regardless of how it worked, it seems like my set point changed to keep me at 270. I’d go a couple of weeks eating obscene, ridiculous amounts of food, and there’d be no notable weight gain – two pounds that would be gone in days. You might think that I was overestimating the time I was overeating or the amount, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.

On the flipside, I wasn’t losing any more weight. And I assure you, I did and do need to lose more weight. At 270 my around the navel measurement was 50 inches (49 if I snugged up the tape) which is, uh, big. Periodic forays into more restricted eating didn’t seem to make much difference, and in any cases I didn’t stick with them.

Still, forty pounds is no joke. It just wasn’t enough. My diabetes was somewhat improved, but nowhere near good. So earlier this year I tried eating a low carb diet again, to see what effect it had on my blood sugars: a big one, and quite notable.

Unfortunately, a few weeks into this, I suffered a pretty big personal loss and while I was able to keep going for a few weeks more, I eventually went off the rails again. What’s interesting is that I ate as much as I wanted, just low carb, and my weight was rock solid stable. No weight loss at all. So for me, it was pretty conclusive proof that I needed calorie restriction or I would eat everything, ever, even on low carbs.

But I started to feel as if the diabetes was catching up with me. Nothing I could be sure was diabetic complications, but enough to give me significant amounts of anxiety about the whole thing. Nightmares about losing your feet are not fun. At all.

So this past month, I committed to going all month eating as close to zero carbs as possible. I would eat most beef, with some cheese and some chicken, but a good ninety percent of my meals were cow.

I started eating within a somewhat narrow window, between noon and seven o’clock. Which in practice was more one to seven, but hey, close enough. I tried to keep my calories to less than 2,000 a day.

I also started experimenting with both my drugs and supplements that were allegedly by credible sources to maybe help. All this while stringently monitoring my blood sugar, generally more than a dozen times each day.

And it worked. I slipped up, if you want to call it that, twice during August. Once was when I was just flat out wrong about carbs in something, and once when my blood sugar kept dropping and I couldn’t get it to stay where I wanted it without eating some carbs. But still, I consider it a success.

My weight dropped down to as low as 259 (the lighest, by several pounds, I’ve weighed since I hit my adult height at age 13) before stabilizing at 262 or thereabouts. And actually, I’m fairly certain the couple of pounds bounced upwards was a result of my supplementing with taurine in doses that are said to have a cell volumizing effect, pretty much the same as creatine.

My calories would at points drop fairly low. I know I had a number of 1000 calorie days especially in the beginning. This was because while I am capable of eating a whole lot at any one meal, my urge to eat between meals was pretty much gone, so as long as I kept my meals to 500 calories or so, I didn’t eat much.

I did notice that I started getting cold all the time when my calories were that low. My gut feeling is that my metabolism was slowing down. I started eating more calories, and the cold went away but my weight remained stable. So make of that what you will.

But blood sugarwise, I’m almost there. I spend most of my day with my BS in the normal range for a healthy person, which is better than most doctors will try for. I’m not all the way there, because I still have a rise between noon and four that I can’t get locked down. It’s physiological – it happens regardless of whether I eat or not. I just haven’t been able to find a way to compensate for it.

I still have a good ways to go. I’d like to get lean enough that, if possible, I can control my diabetes through diet alone, which I’d consider cured. But that may not be possible. Still, going to try. I’d like to get my waist down to 36, which would be half my height which is apparently nice and healthy. Probably look okay, too.

This month, I’m staying at near zero carb, but I’ve opened up my options a bit: I’m eating some spinach salads, for instance. Still tracking against my BS readings for all of that. August was No Carb August, and September is going to be All Walkies September, where I will attempt to walk for at least 30 minutes every day of the month.

Some takeaways, which certainly apply to me and may or may not apply to you:

You Have To Find Out What Works

For you. I have no idea if intermittent fasting works for everyone. Almost certainly not. I’m definitely not sure if there is a physiologic benefit to it. But it works for me and my goals. Likewise, I make no assertion that a diet consisting mostly of beef was anywhere near ideal, but it worked for the goals I had set out.

I am terrible patient for a doctor, and I’d probably be a terrible trainee for a coach, because I’ll do my own thing and hodge podge stuff together without asking. What can I say, I am who I am. But I found something (things, really, because it’s a moving target) that worked for me. And did them, which brings me to point two…

(And as a side note, my bloodwork improved across the board. If the cow was bad for me, it was more than offset by my blood sugar improvement)

And Do It

I knew low carb would reduce my blood sugars. I’d seen that. I just didn’t do it (and may fall off the wagon again – I hope not, but I’m realisitic) and that applies to a lot of stuff. It’s not especially helpful to know what works for you if you don’t do it, and there’s a good argument that stuff that works but you don’t do doesn’t actually “work”.

So eating all beef for a month was something I could do. I have plenty of beef, it’s easy to prepare and I like it. Ideal for health? Probably not. Ideal for doing a month controlled experiment? Sure. For me.

The walking thing is based around this principle as well. It’s not that 30 minutes is probably going to tremendously improve anything. But it’s a positive thing for my health, and 30 minutes a day is something I will actually do. And 900 minutes of something I will do is a lot better than the 0 minutes of the ideal.

Set Conditions For Success

My aforementioned best friend gave me advice, which was good advice because he is smart and awesome, which I didn’t take for a long time. The advice was this: set conditions for success. By which he meant that need to make sure that you have your environment prepared for whatever it is you want to do.

Dan John once wrote that if your diet involves eating three apples a day and you only have twelve apples, you’re gonna have problems.

So, for the No Carb August, I planned ahead. I chose August, for one thing, because it’s a month where I had virtually nothing going on travelwise. No conventions or signings, no big birthday parties, nothing like that. No situations that would make it harder to succeed.

Likewise, I knew that having stuff ready that was palatable and required little preparation was a must. If you don’t have time to cook, it gets very easy to eat pre made carb heavy stuff. So I got beef cooked up and prepared and stashed in the freezer. I got the foods and supplements and everything else I thought I need.

For the September walk challenge, I bought an iPod and an Audible subscription, because I find walking to be incredibly tedious. I found a rail trail near my house that’s nice, and prevents me from being mistaken for a bear and shot or being run over, which are actual considerations for walking anywhere else. I even got tee shirts with a front pocket so I’d have some place to put said iPod while I walked. I basically did everything I could think to be prepared and to minimize complications, which actually flows nicely into the next thing…

Conserve Willpower

I believe, and there is a decent amount of evidence to back this, that willpower is a finite resource. That every time you do something you do something you don’t want to do (or vice versa) you use up your daily allotment of will. So if I go some place with bread, and then visit Mom and she’s making pie, it’s gonna be a lot harder to say no to the second thing.

So I reduced temptation as much as possible. Like I said, I picked August because of minimal willpower requiring situations. I made sure stuff I liked and was carby was out of the house or, at least, out of sight. Even the eating beef thing was this; the less choices I had, the less will I needed to use.

Set A Time Limit

And I did the No Carb thing for a month. And you know what was hardest about it by month’s end? Logging the stuff, which was part of my commitment. By month’s end, the eating was a breeze, but the typing up what I ate and such was a tremendous pain in the ass.

But setting a time limit helps that whole willpower thing. That’s one of the key things in a twelve step program, I think, the notion of one day at a time. You don’t look at forever, you look at today. Or in the case of me, you look at August. You can tell yourself that you can have that bread in September and that’s a whole easier than saying you can’t have it ever.

Add One Thing At A Time

Or subtract. Basically, one change at a time. As I mentioned, I’m doing the walk thing in September. Because I don’t really like doing it, and doing both that and not eating stuff I want to eat would use up too much willpower. But now that not eating carbs has become a habit thing and not a will thing, I can switch that over to other areas.

Calories Count

They do. But what trips people up, I think, is that they don’t matter in a way that is necessarily consistent or predictable. By way of a for instance, I have been meticulously weighing my food this month, so I can tell you that 1200 calories and 2500 calories are, for me, the same.

But I did and do have to make an effort to restrict what I eat somewhat. Intially I did this by cutting out certain stuff I wouldn’t really miss. Lately, I’ve added eating in a narrow window to that. Both help.

And this is all a bit of moving target. 2500 calories was definitely enough to lose weight when I was 314, but it holds me steady at 262. I’d bet that if I dropped them way down below 1200, I’d drop weight again. I just don’t want to. I don’t like being cold and hungry all of the time.

So Do Carbs

But carbs matter too. They matter quite a lot to me, since my body can’t deal with them. How much they matter to the non diabetic is up for grabs, but I reckon it depends on the individual.

But I can tell you this – 2500 calories with high carbs has a different effect on weight loss than 2500 calories of protein and fat. Mostly because with the high carbs, my blood sugar runs high, and that means that I have less energy and become generally more lethargic and THAT means I burn less calories.

Exercise Doesn’t Matter

For weight loss, for me, so far. About half the time when I lost weight, I was exercise pretty vigorously – I lifted weights for an hour and did the elliptical for forty five minutes four days a week. And I was busting my ass at both; on the elliptical I was always trying to beat my calories burned which while not accurate in absolute terms seemed a good enough way to judge the progression.

The other few years I was about as sedentary as could be without actually lapsing into a coma. I felt better when I was exercising, but my weight loss was exactly the same. And incase you were wondering, the exercise was the first half, not the second.

So for weight loss and just weight loss, exercise hasn’t made a huge or even noticeable difference. I like to exercise and it improves pretty much everything else, so I do it anyway.

So there, in apparently novel form, is how I dropped the weight and what I think I know.

1 comment:

  1. Dude.

    Holy shit, you've just rocked my world. See, this is MY story. (Only I'm 5 inches taller and 50lbs heavier, and I haven't been diagnosed as diabetic yet, though it does run in my family.) The rest is pretty damned dead-on. Scary.

    See, I came by to read about Luther Strode. I was thinking about ordering the TPB from Amazon, but as a writer I get curious. Who's writing this thing? Who is Justin Jordan?

    A Google search got me to your Image pitch (love the REDACTED bits, BTW) so I then jumped to the most recent post, and what do I find? A mirrored-version of my life, shared so personally, so HONESTLY, that I forgot why I came.

    I'm buying your book this weekend, and be fore-warned ... If I ever get a chance to meet you in person, you just might get a man-hug. I'll probably ask permission first, but you never know. I'm a big, emotional guy and it's just freakin' AMAZING to me that there's someone like you out there. Someone who GETS it.

    I'm stopping now, and praying that this doesn't come off as too creepy. I just thought you'd be interested that somebody heard you.

    Thanks, man.

    -- Jake