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13 Weeks: Weekend Update

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Charlie Martin


November 17, 2013 - 5:50 am


The last two 13 Weeks columns could have been confused with science columns, which is good because I’ve actually missed the science columns, but bad because I haven’t talked about my progress or lack thereof at all. Well, the last couple of weeks have been confusing to me too, if it’s any consolation — I spent a week in San Francisco in an extended interview/audition for a new web startup called Sumazi. I’m now doing consulting for them, but they’re still operating under the radar so I can’t talk a lot about it, except to say they’re doing exciting things with social media data. But the result is that I’ve been busier than a — oh, hell, pick your own cliché. I’ve been really busy.

As a result, the whole diet-and-exercise thing has gotten away from me — hell, I haven’t left the house since last Sunday and last night I resorted to eating frozen burritos I didn’t even know I had because gleanings were getting pretty slim.

Yes, frozen burritos have wheat.

The results are interesting; my weight has crept back up to 269 — that same old stuck point. Glucose is doing fine, and with the exception of the burritos I have been quite good about eating few carbs — what carbs I’m getting are mostly in the yoghurt I’ve continued eating.

Of course we’re heading for the Season of Diet Horror — Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

So here’s my plan. I’m declaring this 13 week season a Learning Experience. As my old therapist Joe Talley called it, an AFOG (“Another F-ing Opportunity for Growth.”) This season would be over on 1 December anyway, so I’m gonna roll with it, and just maintain blood sugar and weight until 1 January — or rather until 4 January, which is the convenient Saturday after New Year’s Day. That will give me a chance to consolidate my other life changes.

In the mean time, the plan is to make this first year of 13 Week Experiments into a book, so I want to use the column to consolidate some of my thoughts about this, and to think more about what I can do to help other people start making their own experiments.

So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts about the process and the results.


Weight Loss is Hard and Poorly Understood

Kipling said, In the Neolithic Age, that

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,

“And every single one of them is right!”

We’ve gone through various diets in the family of “low-carb high-fat” (LCHF) diets through the last year, and for me they’ve all been successful up to a point, that point being around 265 pounds. Now, that’s not a bad thing — that’s close to 40 pounds lost in a year, and that really does make a difference even when you start at 300+. On the other hand, the plateau is annoying, doubly so because there are so many anecdotal reports of people losing 60-100 pounds on an LCHF diet.

The thing is, there are about a million different approaches to diet, high to low fat, carnivorous to vegan, and all of them can point to people who have lost much more weight in a year than I have.

I think we are sort of forced into a new hypothesis and it’s one I can’t test on my own 13 Weeks program. That hypothesis is that there are several sub-populations of people who have different causes for their obesity, and so several differing types of diet that lead to significant weight loss depending on which of the sub-populations you’re in.

Diet Tracking is Helpful But Can Be Confusing

I’ve kept careful food diaries and tracked my weight and blood sugar very rigorously through most of this year. Here are some observations:

  • The food diary certainly helps; it literally helps “watch what you eat.” On the other hand, the relationship between what you eat and what happens to your weight is a lot less simple than it appears, because we are complicated organisms. The whole notion of calorie counting, I think, is flawed, not because the thermodynamics aren’t in some sense true — every erg you produce has to come from an erg you’ve consumed — but because the way we estimate food calories and how they’re used is not that great an estimate. We don’t consume calories by burning the food in pure oxygen in a calorimeter bomb, and we don’t use them by running a steam engine with the results.
  • Tracking your weight day to day is psychologically and emotionally risky, especially if you’re on a “sensible balanced diet” leading to a weight loss of a pound a week, or plateaued in some other diet — which can look a whole helluva lot like that sensible diet. In fact, I suspect that tracking your weight every week is a little chancy, especially if your weight loss is slow.Why? Because our normal variation in weight is a good bit larger than the amount of weight you lose in a relatively short period. Think about it — 1 pound a week is 0.15 pounds a day. Which is a little over the weight of 4 Tablespoons of water. A pound a week is 2 cups, a pint, of water. A weight loss of a pound a week can be hidden by drinking a glass of water at the wrong time.
  • Quantitatively, over the last year the variance in my weight day to day has been ± 5 pounds, and I know that salty popcorn or eating some wheat can spike my weight 6 pounds overnight. Those weight gains and losses aren’t meaningful, but if you’ve been on a strict diet for a while, the tiniest slip can translate to the appearance that you’ve completely blown it.

When you’re actually losing weight quickly, tracking your weight can really help your morale; when you’re losing weight slowly, it can destroy your morale.


The Science of Weight Regulation is NOT Settled

What’s more, there are plenty of people who will tell you it Is So.

We talked about that a couple of weeks ago — the way some scientists, doctors, and nutritionists treat human metabolic regulation as if people were more or less homogenous boiled eggs. The reality is that weight and body fat regulation is complicated, which probably accounts for why so many different diets have some good effect for some people.

What to make of this?

It seems to me that the whole issue of weight regulation, not to mention Type 2 Diabetes and other metabolic problems, needs a different approach. We need to think about all the different ways weight regulation can be affected — all the metabolic “knobs” that can be adjusted — and look for changes that can affect each of them.

Thinking about how to do this is the topic for next week.

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   (15)
All Comments   (15)
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I'm seriously starting to wonder if Type 2 is in fact an infectious disease; with weight gain being a symptom. Since structurally we are just shambling mounds of various specialized bacteria colonies, all cross-contaminating each other and also interacting with the world outside, the idea of the recent epidemic being, well, an epidemic isn't really that far-fetched.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And the evidence isn't bad -- there are a whole bunch of studies now suggesting a connection to gut bacteria. It's less clear which is the cart and which is the horse.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have been reading your 13 weeks posts for a year. I am a 71 year old male who has had a triple bypass and surgery for spinal stenosis within the last 12 years.
I was on the heart healthy diet my doctors recommended. I was pudgy had no stamina and rarely felt really good.

Then 2 things changed my life -- Kettlebells and the low carb, high protein, high fat diet I have been on for the last 8 years.

Things got better for me as I learned to use the kettle bells properly and continued on the LCHPHF diet. I felt considerably better as the years passed.
I didn't lose much weight but I gained a lot of muscle and was able to move around with greater ease than I had in years.

About 23 weeks ago I was convinced by my son to start doing deadlifts along with my kettlebell routine.

I started deadlifting 2-70 lb kettlebells doing sets of 5 lifts up to a maximum of 5 sets, every Wednesday. When I was able to do 5 sets I would increase the weight the next week. I am currently deadlifting 275 lbs. I currently weigh approx 250 Lbs. On Monday and Friday I do pullups. On other days I do double KB swings, double KB snatches and double KB cleans and presses (I use 2-45 LB kettle bells for this and am thinking about going to 2-55's. My entire workout schedule consumes about 35 to 45 minutes per week. After 23 weeks I have lost about 15 to 18 lbs and about 3 inches on my waist and have gone from XXL to XL shirts. My entire body has started to change in appearance. I am developing a lot of "cut" and even starting to develop a "6 Pak" and striated lats in my old age.

The key to this regime is to lift heavy weights (never to failure), eat lots of LCHPHF food and get a sufficient amount of sleep.

I occasionally go off the LCHPHF diet when we have a lot of company and I will indulge in a dessert. Other than that I have no problem keeping to this regimen as the food and sleep are great, and the workouts are never boring because they usually don't last for more than a couple of minutes. I work out at home with my KB's and we have a complete set of KB's, Barbells and a pullup rack at the office.

My diet consists of Coffee (lots) with Heavy Cream,
Brie, Gouda and Jarlberg cheeses, Greek yougurt (plain), Nuts, Peanut butter, various types of sausage, 88/12 hamburgers, NY Strips, Ribeyes, Smoked Babybacks, Smoked brisket, Porkchops and Steel Head Trout. At diner I generally have a salad and steamed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots with a heap of grated cheese melted on top of it with the Meat. I also like brussel-sprouts fried in olive oil and garlic.

That is my simple method I have not felt as good as I do now for about 205 years.


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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hi Charlie: Doing HFLC for most of the year. Took off 15 lbs. easily, then plateaued by eating my homemade, whole wheat bread. Can't resist. I'm 63, and will not exercise unless it is productive, so I ride the bike to work whenever it is not raining (4 miles each way). My problem is I like to eat, so I stuff it in, and if it's HFLC, I still lose weight. If I stick to the diet AND ride the bike, I drop lbs. If not, it goes back up 10 lbs. But I just lost 9 lbs. last 2 weeks, so will keep on the diet until Thanksgiving. Hoping to shed another 40 in the next year. (I'm at 253 now)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Paul McKenna (the hypnosis guy) has a few very simple weight-loss strategies, which make a lot of sense. First, eat only when you're genuinely hungry. Not starving or feeling faint, but not "it's time for lunch" either. You're not allowed to eat until you feel the rumbly in your tumbly. Second, eat s l o w l y. Put your fork (or burrito) down between bites, and chew each bite thoroughly, like 20 times or so. Third, stop eating as soon as you're not feeling hungry. Not until you're stuffed, just stop when you're not hungry! This will mean that you're eating a lot less in one meal than you used to, so change your portion size to match so you don't waste food.

McKenna says that if you follow these guidelines, you can eat anything you like, with NO restrictions on diet, so you're never depriving yourself of a type of food, just the quantity of it at one sitting! :-) Give it a shot!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Years ago, the South Beach diet really took the weight off for me. Of course, I slacked off and the weight came back. I am thinking about taking that up again. (After the holidays of course)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah. I lost 60 lbs on a South Beach like diet 15 years ago, and hit a plateau at 240. This experience was much the same but the plateau was higher.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Me, too - I lost on South Beach (ie - low carb, low fat, hi protein & veggies), but plateaued - and I had to stay on the very low week 1 or week 2 to have an extremely slow weight loss of less than 1/2 pound a week. I'm currently trying low carb-hi fat. I haven't lost anything, but I haven't gained anything, either. And my HDL rose - it was borderline before. (My other bloodwork and blood pressure numbers have always been fine).

I'm very interested in what you report on metabolism tweaks. (These days, I'm thinking I may be hypothyroid - I have all the symptoms, but my bloodwork numbers are normal - though there's good reason to believe what's "normal" is wrong. I've started taking iodine - I haven't lost weight, but I've seen improvements in other ways, but dealing with bromine detox is a pain.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have been trying to keep up an exercise regime -weight lifting and swimming, but real life tends to get in the way
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Curious as to your view on exercise.

I used to do the stair stepping thing, with some weights. Got tired of having my feet hurt, and started thinking about what it is, exactly, I was trying to accomplish. Me, middle age, bit overweight, always fighting it. You hear that exercise helps glucose control. What, exactly?

Decided that I was doing it all wrong. The idea is to create a glucose sink...which means, maximizing the efficiency your muscles have at taking up glucose.

So I started my own version of a high intensity, high interval weight training program. Not so much for strength training per se, but that comes with it. I began on those band type machines at the gym, and first could barely do 15 reps 3 sets.

I now work out once a week for 3-4 hours, do a total of 2400 reps in that time on about 12 machines, all muscle groups. Pretty much 4 sets of 50 reps maxed out on the machine, do the reps without stopping, give myself 3-5 minutes between each set.

I usually only eat a small amount of protein before the workout.

I do feel much better, could still stand to lose some weight, but I've cut out most carbs as a white bread, etc.

Resting heartrate is in the 50s and my glucose is normal now...I was having high fasting blood sugars prediabetic kind. Anyway, as we age, we lose muscle and I think weight training is underrated and not emphasized enough.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think the evidence is pretty good that HIIT/HIST are the most efficient way of gaining strength and general fitness. I also think there are multiple variables in this too: for example, Pilates and yoga seem to increase flexibility and the kinesthetic sense. But all of these thigns have the same problem as weight regulation -- the mechanisms are pretty complex and it's hard to do good experiments.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It has been interesting watching you go through your process, and yes everyone is different, basic items still remain, less food, more activity especially as we get older. It has always been and always will be those two things that are most important with an eye to new ways to enjoy them and stick with them. Which again as you get older gets harder :)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
less food, more activity

Sigh. If there's anything this year has made clear, it's that this is the central myth of weight control.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
More activity, then less food?

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So funny, people just can't get past this!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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