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13 Weeks: And the Envelope Please

It's the end of the second season of the experiment. What did I learn this time and what's coming next?

Charlie Martin


May 11, 2013 - 12:12 pm

The end 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.  A new 13 week experiment starts June 1 2013. Join in!

So this is the end of the second 13 week season. That’s 26 weeks, six months, on this attempt to get my heath and weight under control. It seems like an appropriate time to summarize what has happened and think about what happens next. I started the first 13 weeks insisting it was an experiment; I think I lost track of that for a bit. Evaluated dispassionately, as an experiment, what we’ve learned so far is that the low-carb diet, in me, is very successful at controlling blood sugar. It doesn’t turn out to have resulted in continuous weight loss, although it did result in significant weight loss. (Charts and tables are at the end of this article.)

  • First of all, I’ve lost significant weight, about 10 percent of my body weight. On the other hand, my weight loss has plateaued fairly dramatically.
  • My blood sugar has been a definite success: my average blood sugar has been right around 110 mg/dL. Maybe too much of a success, since I’ve been having trouble with hypoglycemic episodes.
  • Cutting out wheat has certainly appeared to help my really life-long stomach troubles.
  • The intention to get more exercise hasn’t worked out as well so far; in fact, after my accident a few weeks ago, I slacked off pretty well completely.
  • Measuring body fat flat out doesn’t work, at least for me and at least on a time scale of 13 weeks. Basically, no two methods have agreed within 5 percentage points, and the range has gone from 26 to 42 percent. This is just nuts; you can’t do anything useful with those numbers.

But what about the experience itself? I’ve been following a pretty radical carb restriction regime for six months now. As a diet, it’s not been particularly difficult. I’ve had few lapses and only rare cravings, usually for chocolate. Even so, most cravings for sweet things have been easily satisfied with sugar-free gelatin. Cutting out wheat has been harder, not because I craved it so much as because it’s freaking everywhere: noodles, bread, soups, sauces, I’m not nearly as sensitive to wheat as a real celiac sufferer, so it doesn’t make as much difference to me if I get exposed to a bit of flour used to thicken a sauce, but it’s given me new sympathy for a friend who really does have all-out celiac disease.

The exercise thing — well, look, I’ve never enjoyed exercise. Long walks bore me, and my knees are too bad for running. Riding a bike makes my, er, man-bits go to sleep. My exercise bike and kettlebells watch reproachfully from the corner of my bedroom to which they’ve been assigned. At least I don’t have clothes hanging on my exercise bike. And frankly, exercise enthusiasts don’t seem to be able to stir any matching enthusiasm in me. Mostly, personal trainers make me want to turn a hose on them.

Still, damn it, I know exercise has good effects and know it makes me feel better when I’m doing it. The Crossfit enthusiasts, like David Steinberg, have what seems to me a basically good basic approach: do things that correspond to real tasks faced in real life. Measure power output — weight moved times distance over duration. (A little algebra tells us that this is basically saying how many calories are expended per unit time, and God this is one of those times I wish we just used metric.) So far, I just don’t think I’ve got a good handle on the exercise thing.

I guess the weight loss is the biggest disappointment. Clearly I can go happily on a low-carb diet, and it has good effects, but after about 10 weeks the weight loss effects pretty nearly stopped.  Gary Taubes clearly has some things right, because the low carb diet seems to have resolved my type 2 diabetes, and eating a high fat low carb diet hasn’t done what mainstream medicine would predict — with a diet that has been upwards of 60 percent calories coming from fats and a lot of those calories coming from bacon and butter and other good things along with one whole damn lot of eggs, my total cholesterol is lower than it’s ever been, actually really too low. (My various lipid levels are down in the data section below as well.) But viewed as an experiment, it’s very interesting. My calorie intake has been relatively constant at what should be about a two pounds per week weight loss. But my actual weight loss was about half that, and happened largely in the first few weeks. Even with a pretty significant increase in activity, which should have been increasing my calorie output, somehow I stopped losing weight; after my car wreck, when my activity dropped markedly, my weight stayed stable. Neither of those observations are consistent with the usual “calories in, calories out” model of traditional medicine.

Take that, coaches and pediatricians of the world!

Which of course brings us to what I think was my biggest surprise. There’s a TV reality show called Baggage Battles, about people who bid for lost and abandoned luggage in hopes of making a profit when they see the contents. Well, my head should be on an episode, because I’ve got more abandoned baggage in my head than the whole of American Airlines. This 26 weeks has caused me to confront feelings of being ugly, of being a failure, of repeated insults and bullying and quite a whole damn lot of people who would rather believe their theories than what I was telling them about my actual experience.

I didn’t expect that. I thought after years of therapy and years of antidepressant drugs that I was pretty well caught up on that. Oh, I knew I still had scars, but I didn’t realize this would rub so many raw spots I hadn’t noticed in years.

As I wrote last week, what I now think was the emotional core of a lot of this stuff was the sense that I had to be perfect to be good enough — that any imperfections were inexcusable and that my strengths were merely what was expected.

So, now what?

I could say “okay, I successfully controlled my blood sugar,” and just continue with the low-carb diet. But dammitall, I still want to lose more weight, and I still want to be prettier. Some of that is still perfectionism, and I frankly don’t know how to draw a line between realistic desires and perfectionistic self-abuse. That seems in itself a worthwhile question to explore with another 13 week experiment.

I also, as I said last week, feel like even if it hasn’t turned out that this has made me a Geek God in 26 weeks, this notion of making a 13 week limited commitment to a change, measuring the effects, and treating it as an experiment in which the results are merely interesting and not a morality play, seems to have some power. It can be applied to other things besides weight loss, as Dave Swindle and Sarah Hoyt are showing. There are people trying it themselves. And I think that now, having gone through it for a while, I’ve learned some things that might help others. So, here’s the next 13 week experiment.

For myself, what I’ll be observing now are my blood sugar, my weight, and my physical dimensions, and after almost seven months of resisting, I’m going to actually admit that weight is one of the things I care about. This means new modifications in my behavior — Charlie’s First Law of Change is if doing the same thing isn’t working, do something else.

I’m going to go back to tracking weeks from Saturday to Saturday. It’s just more natural, and while I should be submitting these columns on Friday morning, I haven’t been. Dave Swindle has been very good about putting up with that.

This time, I’m encouraging people to join in. To give everyone — including me — time to figure out and get ready for a new 13 week experiment, I’m going to start a larger-scale “clinical trial” that will start on Saturday, the First of June, 2013. In the comments here, or at the 13 Weeks Facebook page, or in my new email address, let me know who you are, what you want to change, and most importantly if you want to be public about it at all. Anything you tell me will be confidential unless you agree otherwise, and any advice you get is guaranteed to be worth exactly what it costs. For now at least we’ll use the comments here at PJM for a forum; pick a new handle of you like, register and tell us about your experiences. If there’s enough interest, we can arrange something like a Google Hang Out to talk.

So there it is. Put the date on your calendar: 1 June 2013, we start a new experiment.


My most recent blood work gives these interesting numbers:

Total Cholesterol: 123 mg/dL (under normal range)
Triglycerides: 139 mg/dL (within normal range)
High density lipoprotein (HDL): 26 mg/dL (below normal range, which in this case is undesirable)
Low density lipoproteins (LDL): 70 mg/dL (below normal range, which is good this time)
Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL): 27 mg/dL (above normal range; this is a marker for “metabolic syndrome”, which is no surprise)

All in all, this now has me with no additional risk of heart attacks.

Daily weight over the full 13 weeks.

Morning fasting glucose over the full 13 weeks.

As I’ve noted, the body fat measurement approach was a total failure. I finally just gave up.

Seven day running averages of weight, glucose, body fat, and Fitocracy points.

Date 7 day Weight 7 day Glucose 7 day Bodyfat Sum Fitocracy Points Weekly Fitocracy Points
2013-02-01 272.50 116.43 33.1 447 447
2013-02-07 272.63 114.57 30.79% 1881 1881
2013-02-14 271.91 110.43 30.36% 2606 725
2013-02-21 273.79 115.29 29.16% 3775 1169
2013-02-28 274.44 104.00 30.00% 4929 1154
2013-03-07 273.11 115.86 30.24% 6022 1093
2013-03-14 269.86 101.86 30.10% 7233 1211
2013-03-21 272.08 112.25 30.64% 7681 448
2013-03-28 270.57 113.86 30.26% (??) 8180 499
2013-04-04 271.31 103.86 29.95% (??) 8404 224
2013-04-11 275.20 109.57 29.80% (??) 9185 781
2013-04-18 273.97 111.86 (??) 9185 0
2013-04-25 270.09 111.43 (??) 9185 0
2013-05-02 271.17 115.86 (??) 9185 0
2013-05-09 271.86 110.71 (??) 9185 0
Δ since 2-1 -0.64 -5.71 (??)% N/A N/A

Charlie Martin writes on science, health, culture and technology for PJ Media. Follow his 13 week diet and exercise experiment on Facebook and at PJ Lifestyle

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All Comments   (13)
All Comments   (13)
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Re the calories in/calories out comment, I refer people to "The Four Hour Body" and the change in fat from White Adipose to Brown Adipose Tissue This can be seen by using meds that boost adiponectin. If you don't on the next cycle, I will. I'm pretty sure (about 100 %) I can't use anyone I'm using in a clinical trial.Still, I had some extra VZ and thought , "Who deserves to look young and thin as much as I ?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't know why the gibberish was included in my post
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you're having trouble with your sugar,decrease one cinnamon/day.And,have you started on the GLPs?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ten percent! Congrats and kudos to you, Charlie!
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Unless you've managed to repeal the First Law of Thermodynamics (calories in - calories out)/(9 calories/g) is going to give you your change in weight. The problem is that calories out depends on calories in (and several other factors) in ways that are complex, poorly understood, and highly non-linear. Just like the relationship between tax rates and tax receipts.

I've just started my own 13 week program, inspired by you and the weight loss I've seen since starting to walk the 1.5 miles to work every day (not sure how much, I don't have a scale, but the box scale at work says I've lost 10 pounds. Of course it only reads in 5 pound increments). I'm working on upper body strength and endurance with body weight exercises: push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, etc-ups.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, something like that. Calories out aren't that simple either. For example, the Pina Indian experiments showed that the basal metabolic rate can be down-regulated dramatically, so two people of the same mass and activity level may have very different caloric expenditures. Also, the calorie content of food isn't determined metabolically -- which would admittedly be hard -- but instead my literally burning the various foods in a calorimeter. So the input isn't as well understood as it might be.

I'm glad to hear about your program; I'd really like to know more about it. Also, what would you want to use to track what you're doing? Do you have a spreadsheet or anything like that?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
That was kind of my point, that we simply don't know enough about metabolism to say how many calories will result in weight loss. Any attempt at a "balanced approach" to weight loss is going to run into nonlinear responses.

I use Fitocracy to track, I'm not as data-oriented as you. The routine is just what came on the DVD with the door-frame pull-up bar (wide grip pull-ups, push-ups, narrow grip pull-ups, hanging leg lifts, tricep dips, and sit-ups for 1 minute or until exhaustion with 1 minute rest between each activity) every MWF. Right now I'm doing one set with bands supporting about half my body weight on the pull-ups. I've been noticing improvement of about 1 rep per session. When and how to decrease the assist and add sets is something I've been thinking about.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hm. I'd love to see how you do the bands thing. I aspire to do at least one pull up.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The aforementioned box scale says I weigh 260. I've got about 135lbs of assistance and I'm able to do 8-9 pull-ups. I do most of them in one push, then rest for a few seconds before knocking out the last 1-2 before time runs out. Right now my plan is to drop the assistance one level, to about 120lbs, once I can do 10 pull-up in a set. I'll probably get there in a couple of weeks. Lather, rinse, repeat until I'm pulling my own weight.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good job. In 6 months you'll be at 240.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, thank you for what you are doing so very publicly. I sent my dad the books you recommended. I described a bit of your experiences. I didn't send him links, since he's so leftist that he thinks communism is a good idea wrecked by naughty Russians. He'd have spent 26 weeks sending me books about heroic social workers and Studs Terkel interview books. Don't laugh- he's done it before.

So, really, thank you, you're helping people that you would never have a chance to meet or help, otherwise. I am very grateful to you.

Pretty skin is a function of vitamins: Vitamin D, vitamin K, and magnesium and some vitamin C, at least as far as I can piece together Mr Instapundit's advice. And carrots. Spousal unit's skin changes according to his nutrition and sleep levels. You can google Kassy's Kickass Vitamin C cream, if you want the sturdiest DIY skin serum. I've never tried it, but I'm impressed that at the makeup store, the manager gets kind of googley-eyed talking about her customers that use it. Apparently, it really works.

I think you are lovely and smart and funny, so I'm glad that that part of you is showing through in your body, these past six months, rather than your pain and grief.

49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks, Ari. It's not so much pretty skin I'm worried about -- my skin is holding up very well, possibly because I refuse to be exposed to natural light and that strange unnatural 3 dimensional real world -- as it is I still want to look like Tom Selleck during Magnum PI days.

I really do appreciate the kind words.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Congratulations Charlie! You've done so well! My second 13 weeks thing about publicly advocating for Staplehouse won't last 13 weeks. It stops at the end of May so I'll be thinking of another experiment. My hope for you is that you continue to grow in your self-acceptance. None of us see you in those derogatory terms, but I know that doesn't matter in the internal workings of the mind. Looking forward to June 1.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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