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13 Weeks: Is Health a Thing of the Spirit?

Has this all been about the way I think, not what I weigh?

by
Charlie Martin

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May 4, 2013 - 2:00 pm
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Week 13 of my second 13 week season: low-carb diet and more exercise, tracking my weight, blood glucose, and body fat. You can follow me at my 13 Weeks Facebook page for daily updates, and you can join Fitocracy (free!) and follow my daily exercise, and maybe even start tracking your own.

We’re now in the last week of my second 13-week experiment.  I’m planning another 13 weeks and I want to talk about what I’m going to change and why, but first I think it might be useful to look back at when I started this, six months ago:

It struck me just a couple weeks ago. I’m 57, weigh 300 pounds, massively deconditioned, verging on type II diabetes if not actually there, and I don’t want to die.

It’d been a hard year. A year ago this week, my mother had a heart attack, and over the ensuring months failed and died, passing away on 11 January, two days before her 77th birthday. Following that, I had a succession of illnesses that put me in the hospital for a day, four times between January and August. One of those times was with pneumonia, and as my friends all insisted on reminding me, “you can die from that!”

A sense of mortality struck me on my birthday, 57 this year; arithmetic started showing up for me. My father died in 1994, at 69. That’s only 12 years older than I am now. Mom at 77, only 20 years older than I am now.

Now, my Dad weighed in the neighborhood of 450 lbs when he died, and he smoked. My Mom, around 200 lbs and she’d smoked heavily, drunk heavily, and generally been rode hard and put up wet nearly her whole life. I’ve got some advantages, since I don’t drink or smoke; on the other hand, I’ve been struggling with my weight since I was literally 6 years old. You can hear a lot of bad diet advice in 50 years.

The long and short of it is that I want to change this and need to change this, and there’s relatively new science that suggests there are better, faster, more efficient ways to change this. So I’m doing an experiment: for 13 weeks, which I plan to start a week from today, 4 November 2012, I’m going to start an experiment where I’ll be keeping a very low carb, more or less “paleo” diet, and doing “high intensity interval training” and “high intensity strength training” two sessions a week. This scheme has good reasons behind it, biochemically and otherwise.

Then I’m writing about it, and I’m going very public with it, so, frankly, it’ll be too embarrassing to quit.

And I have changed my situation.  I’ve lost 30 pounds, 10 percent of my bodyweight.  My blood sugar is down, way down.  (As we saw a couple weeks ago, maybe a little too far down.) I have been more successful with exercise, if not astoundingly successful.  And my health is definitely better, both by objective medical measures and just in the way I feel.  But I’d still like to lose maybe another 50 pounds, and I’d like to get completely off diabetes meds. And I’m bored with what I had been doing.

Here’s the basics of the next 13 week experiment:

  • I’m going to change over to Tim Ferris’s Slow Carb Diet as defined by his 5 rules. Now, that’s kind of the Reader’s Digest Condensed version of his full diet plan, but I like simple things. Also, his full-fledged diet cuts out dairy and I like cheese. This is still low-carb, although not quite as low, but with the episodes of hypoglycemia I’m hoping to maybe level out by blood sugar some.
  • I’m going to pick out two (gasp) goals: by the end of this 13 weeks I want to do 100 pushups in a row, and I want to do at least one unassisted pull up.  I’m going to continue to track my Fitocracy points and plan to get 2000 points or more a week.
  • I will continue to track weight and glucose, and I’ll make a full set of body measurements at the beginning and end of the 13 weeks.  Measuring body fat is going overboard; I’ll talk more about it next week, but basically I don’t think any method I’ve got easily available is turning out to be either precise or accurate.
  • I’m going to concentrate more on mental, or if you will spiritual, aspects. As part of that in a way I’ll explain in a minute, I’m going to ask those of you who are inclined to try to change something in your life to join in.  We’ll talk a lot more about coaching and support; I’ll also want to know what tools you feel would help you perform a 13 week experiment of your own.

The mental/spiritual idea is, I suspect, a surprise. It sure as hell was to me: Dave Swindle, who edits the Lifestyle section, suggested it to me as an addition for the next experiment and — well, I replied “Hm. I’ll think about it.” but what I meant was “Don’t like it, no.” But there was a chain of events I didn’t know was happening. Dave had put the idea in my head. I recently became enamored of the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coehlo, and was reading his book Aleph.  (I recommend Coelho, by the way, even if he did get noticed because Bill Clinton was reading his book The Alchemist.)  Aleph is a sort of fictionalized (I think) biography; in a powerful scene, in a ritual in a church Coehlo asks a woman he wronged in the past for forgiveness. Then she continues by spontaneously saying essentially the same words, forgiving herself for past wrongs she had done to herself.

Reading that, I had one of those moments of visceral, pleasurable electricity, and I realized that there had been an emotional theme I’d been working on during the last 26 weeks. Part of it was seeing the ways I’d been hurt by things said about my weight and appearance, general lack of athletic motivation, extreme nerdiness and the emotional distance that comes with long-term depression. I’ve devoted a column on several occasions to various kinds of baggage, including that column about the car wreck, which I found hard to write because it felt like I was admitting to failings.

Reading Aleph, I realized there was a central theme: I needed to forgive myself for sometimes being imperfect.

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (34)
All Comments   (34)
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I have a new 13 weeks challenge that will be a little different. What I want to change: I need to get out more, out of my house, out of my own head. And I need to get back into helping others. I was emotionally devastated at the detah of several seniors I cared for through my church and as a result ended up somewhat paralyzed in a cocoon. Starting Sunday, every Sunday for 13 weeks I will be advocating and raising awareness about an initiative which has captured my heart and my mind. I'll be at a Farmer's Market (outside!!!) in a strange (to me) section of town, talking to *gulp* people! To say I'm a little nervous is an understatement. Staplehouse.com is the home for the initiative called The Giving Kitchen. I hope I can make a small difference for Ryan and Jen and I hope to cut through some of this overgrown garden of weeds in my head. Wish me luck.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
At 70 I find there is a spiritual aspect to physical activity too. Boredom is a powerful signal to keep an open mind and try new things. I have had to change and change again to find my way to a pretty reasonable balance to my life around diet, exercise, personal growth and meditation practices. And I have been at it long enough to know they are all interconnected. I never had your weight problem. 225-230 maximum under 200 for years and now 191. I've recently discovered fasting with Mosely's BBC doco Eat, Fast, Live. I'm doing the under 600 calorie fast (on two nonconsecutive days a week). And right this minute I am at that point in a mid evening when I really want something to eat! You have to concoct your own approach, and be medically safe, but this is exciting and feels doable. And dropping in to see how you are going has helped me stick to my guns too. Thanks.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
You may want to look at The Hacker's Diet by John Walker (the founder of Autodesk, Inc., and the co-creator of AutoCAD) This free resource has been a great help to me and could also be used in conjunction with other plans and programs. Possibly, it is only effective for engineers and programmers. Overweight friends that have seen me lose 40 lbs and maintain an ideal weight (within ~5 lbs), don't seem to pick up on the hint.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, of course, I *am* an engineer/programmer.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are doing great. Isn't it interesting that just feeling good and maybe being at a plateau in the weight loss makes people say you must be doing something wrong. You may have a goal to lose more and that is laudable, but so far just your lifestyle changes have worked wonders for you. Be proud!

My particular bugaboo (if you will) is making myself do something outside of a class. As you know from other comments I've made on your fb page, I do 3 advanced pilates classes a week. I also walk on weekends - my husband and I have several walk routes of between 4 and 5 miles each that we manage to fit in. When sailing season starts we only get in one day otherwise we go both weekend days. Exercise is not a problem.

My problem is I really really really need to make myself stretch every day. I consistently start a set program then fail to do the stretches I need to do. As I get older, my flexibility gets worse (although I'm hoping the gluten-free diet will help there it will be months before I know if it will or not).

So my goal is simple. To make stretching such a habit, I don't "not" do it. It takes lots of time and effort to build these habits and I'm lazy...

Now I have written it... maybe I'll be able to do it :)
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Congratulations on your weight loss! Not to be hypercritical, but at what point do you abandon a program if it is not working? Your weight essentially remained the same over the past 3 months. Most medical weight loss programs have ~2 pounds per week as the reasonable goal. Have you considered something more severe like medifast?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
On your second question, there are a couple answers. The first thing is that I've tried pretty much every diet program you've ever heard of, and at least three more. There was a point, in fact, where in these columns I wouldn't say the word "diet". But my intention isn't to lose weight per se -- it's to get to be really really old, as slowly as possible. As I note above, I've made some radical improvements to my health even if I've only lost 10 percent of my body weight (which, as others note, is a pretty big success statistically.) But there's a second point to it as well -- I can't stay on something like Medifast forever, and I'm kinda hoping for another 50 years at least. So I'm looking for something a little less like 90 days on bread and water.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I guess I am confused as to your specific goals. Less diabetes means less body fat which means losing weight. And to do that, one must run a calorie deficit. Period. By definition, that ain't sustainable indefinitely. So whatever program, you chose, it's not indefinite.

But definitely congratulations on losing and maintaining a ten percent weight loss. You're absolutely correct in that is NOT trivial.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Another 50 years? Seriously? I'm looking to check out in 10 or so. Obviously there's something wrong with me.... besides the obvious.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, *that* question's easy: 13 weeks :-)

That's sort of the reason I chose 13 weeks -- long enough to see results, short enough it doesn't seem like eternity.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
100 consecutive push-ups is extremely optimistic. Good luck with that!

When my patients ask what is a reasonable level of fitness, I refer them to the U.S. Army Physical Fitness Test. Its standards are based on weight and sex. A 57-year-old man is expected to do 18 push-ups, 27 sit-ups, and cover two miles on foot in 19 minutes and 54 seconds or less. Its a starting point, at least.

A website called FitDay allows you to track your weight, food intake, and exercise. And it's free. (I have no financial connection with them.)

-Steve
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, you know, that goal thing comes in here. I don't *do* goals -- if you have goals you can fail at them. I do experiments, and I'm curious how this one will work. I suspect 2K Fito points will be a bigger net effect. On the other hand, for various reasons I've never been good at push ups and pull ups, and I think doing them would be cool.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm following on Fitocracy, and I hope you get back at it soon. I made a point a number of weeks ago that I think are largely born out here. The main one is that there are no shortcuts. People choose the low carb diets because they are easy. No restrictions, eat a pile of bacon and eggs every day and still lose weight. But unfortunately not usually true.

I'm a fan of Tim Ferriss, and I think his slow carb diet will be good, but I can tell you I tried it, and the legumes cause gas, and you have to eat a lot of legumes on this diet. I moved on after a week. Give this a good chance, and if you don't see the success you want, look into intermittent fasting. This can be done with either an 8 hour per day eating window, or 5 days on 2 days fasting, and there are incidentally fitocracy groups which explore this.

Tabata intervals sound great because they only take 10 minutes a day! but the thing is, they don't burn many actual calories, and the after burn (EPOC) is really only 7-12 % more. And most importantly, you really need to be in good shape to even achieve the targets in the protocol. I am in good shape, and Tabata knocks the crap out of me, cycling or kettlebells.

There is a lot to be said for standard steady state cardio, and I highly recommend a 30 minute walk every day, 7 days a week while fasting before breakfast. Hold some dumbbells if you want, speed walk, stop every 10 minutes for bodyweight squats, or whatever you like, but do it. Mix it up with cycling or swimming or anything else, but get those 30 minutes in.

In the end, there is absolutely no medicine, herb, diet or supplement that can hold a candle to regular exercise in terms of health and well being, and mortality rates.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm seriously thinking about doing intermittent fasting. I've had some success with juice fasts in the past.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would love to see a site where users could post their own progress and ideas.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I seem to have sort of randomly spelled the name Coehlo and Coelho. As far as I can tell, the book covers have it right. Also, my Portuguese sorta sucks.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I do agree with you that being fat is a moral failing. I think it's part of living the overindulged culture we turned this country into. Some people overmortgage, some oversex, some overeat.

I've failed for about the past 20 years, but I'm down 12 pounds since the beginning of April. I hope to be normal weight by some time in September.

You will reach your goal. The fact that you've stuck to your plan, even when you suffered a blow to your morale, demonstrates that you''ll make it.

I can help you with the technical aspects of the website if you decide to do it. I've been doing web development for about 15 years.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hm. Well, that's kind of a surprise; I was rather looking at the notion that being fat is a moral failure was an error that was getting in my way.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
As fond as I am of sugar, I don't want to sugarcoat failures. Rationalization is just another form of indulgence that we Americans have overborrowed. I don't understand the alcoholic or gambler who claims to be a victim of a "disease". These people made choices and are responsible for those choices. Fatasses like you and me brought it on ourselves. Our redemption will be complete when we're at a normal BMI.

That being said, your moral failing is certainly not on par with a "real" crime. Your only victim is yourself, the loved ones you might leave behind prematurely, and perhaps a few tasty pigs that might have been spared if you hadn't boosted the demand for bacon.

Good luck. But I'm confident you'll make it, and I say that as someone who doesn't sugarcoat.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hardly. Certainly caloric excess plays a role, but after a time hormonal regulation, changes in metabolism, bacterial gut balance and numerous other factors conspire to prevent weight loss. Obese people are often malnourished due to inadequate calorie and nutrient intake. Stigmatizing and labeling do not help, and probably hinder.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry, correction to my post: 35% of Americans are obese, not 20%
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sounds like a good bit of pseudoscience intended to help rationalize obesity. It reminds me of John Candy in the movie Stripes when he said that "retains water."

Sure there are other factors that cause weight gain. But it's hard for me to believe in a country where 20% of us are obese that there's not a larger cultural problem at work. I don't have any of the problems you describe. I just like cereal and ice cream a lot. The foods were always easily accessible and I believe that I felt I "deserved" them the same way some people feel these deserve a McMansion or a boat they can't afford.

I know other people who have lost weight by controlling their calorie intake. They didn't have to eat fancy yogurt to rebalance their gut bacteria, and they didn't even require a psychotherapist.

Enough rationalization. if someone needs to lose weight he should cut calories, exercise, suffer a little. If that still doesn't work, then see the doctor about your hormonal imbalance.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Willy, honestly, the pure thermodynamic model really doesn't turn out to be very predictive. For a first look at it, try Gary Taubes book "Why We Get Fat".
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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