Preparing for my third 13-week season, working to lose weight, control my Type 2 diabetes, and improve my health. 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!
Okay, this is a long one, just to warn you. Here’s the basics:
I’ve been rethinking these 13 week sessions and how to do them; I’ve written a new explanation.
I’m starting to see how the emotional part plays into the issue.
I’ve used the pattern as I now see it to start planning my next 13 weeks, and provided that as a “worked example” for other people who want to try it.
I’m looking for people to volunteer to try a 13 week experiment of their own, and possibly to try a web site meant to support 13 week experiments. Volunteers should mail me at email@example.com
Now on with today’s show.
As I said last week, I’m taking a little bit of a vacation from attempting to strictly follow some eating plan while I think about my results and what to do next.
The vacation has been interesting. I gave in to one of the things I’d been missing, and had a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder and large fries for lunch, the same day I was going to my niece’s daughter’s first birthday party. Then at the party, I had a nice piece of cake as well as a bunch of things that were actually low carb.
From this I learned two things: I don’t actually like McDonalds as much as I used to, and I really can manage to drive my blood sugar up to the 230′s with carrot cake. But this was a momentary indulgence, especially since I, sure enough, had some of my old stomach troubles for a couple days afterwards.
As they say in Shangri-La, “Everything in moderation — including moderation.”
In the mean time, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about the experiments, and about the emotional/psychological/spiritual aspects of what I’ve been learning. (Let me just say, I don’t really believe there is a difference between the emotional, the psychological, and the spiritual. We’re not made up of a lot of pieces; what we’re thinking is what we’re thinking, and what we’re feeling is what we’re feeling, all together.)
What I’ve realized is that when I started my first 13 week experiment, I was groping toward something that would let me make changes in a way that didn’t scare me with the prospect of endless and unproductive deprivation, didn’t shame me as so many diets had done in the past, didn’t blame me for the lifelong problems I’ve had with weight, and gave me some emotional support in the process.
For me, writing about it has been a good bit of that support — I learned from Twelve Step programs that sometimes the best support you can get is by honestly admitting to the problems and your feelings about them.
Another big part of the support has turned out to be the rooting you, my readers, have been doing for me, and the sense that by talking about this I’m actually helping other people.
I hope to help other people use the things I’ve learned, and that means I need to figure out how to explain them. I’ve made a couple of previous attempts, but in this week’s thought I have what I think is a better explanation.
The First Insight
This is really what got me started: my first insight was not to think of a diet, not to think of of a weight-loss goal, but just to think of performing an experiment. I now realize that this was a first step in insulating myself from the years of fear and shame that had accompanied Dieting.
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.
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.
Week 12 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.
You know what’s worse than a day of nonstop meetings? Five days of nonstop meetings. That was my week at the day job, which meant lots of stress and lots of unusual socializing. Still, it wasn’t all bad by any means, and the numbers this week have done well. I lost all of that peculiar bounce and was down to 269 lbs again on Wednesday; this brought the seven-day average down to 270, and as you’ll see in my bodyweight chart I’ve had more and more days under 270 and am still losing weight, albeit slowly.
In a belated rush of intelligence, I got around to setting up my spreadsheet to compute the standard deviation of both my weight and my glucose. For those of you who aren’t statistics nerds, the standard deviation is a measure of how “wide” a distribution of numbers is, or in other words, how much things vary just randomly. It turns out the standard deviation of my weight is about 2.2 lbs. What that means is that if my weight weren’t changing at all, you would still expect to see it vary outside the range of roughly 268 and 272 pounds 3 days in 10.
The point is: when you’re losing weight slowly, it’s going to be hard to tell you’re losing weight at all.
I’ve got to admit right now I’m puzzled what the best thing to tell people might be if they were doing their own program. We all know that weight shouldn’t matter, but it does. A lot of people have suggested just weighing once a week, but that doesn’t actually help much, as you can see in the table. The standard deviation tells us that you have to lose about 5 lbs before you can have much confidence it’s not just random variation for a single measurement.
What you can do, though, is look at the graph:
On the chart you can see that I’m spending more days under 270 than I was before — something between 20 and 25 percent of the time in the last half of the 13 week experiment.
Week 11 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. And yes, I have been slack with the exercise this last couple weeks. Gimme a break, I had a car wreck.
Last week, Glenn Reynolds linked an interesting article in The Atlantic with a fascinating animated map.
Using CDC data, the map shows reported incidence of obesity by state starting in 1985. The reporting didn’t get started uniformly, but as you watch the progress, there is an obvious increase until by 2010 every state is reporting “high” obesity rates.
This image has some obvious problems — among other things, the definition of “obesity” here is using body mass index (BMI), which has flaws we’ve talked about before — but it still makes the point that people in the U.S. have been gaining weight for quite a while now.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Among other things, we’ve gotten to the point that pretty much everyone can afford to get enough to eat. As has been pointed out before, this was the first country in history in which the poor people are the fattest. But I noticed something else: if you watch it carefully, the increase in obesity, first in deeper blue then a sort of funny beige color, and then on to red, starts in the early ’90s. I went looking for historical summaries of the Department of Agriculture’s “food pyramid” and found several (see, eg, this.)
It’s an interesting coincidence that this increase in obesity started roughly at the same time that the U.S. government started to advocate low-fat, high-carb diets. I remember that period pretty clearly, because I thought it was wonderful. Entenmann’s came out with no-fat pastries — the no-fat cherry coffeecake was one of my favorites — I could eat as much rice as I wanted, pasta was good and more pasta was better, as long as you didn’t use butter because of the evil saturated fat and cholesterol. But margarine, rich in transfats made by hydrogenating corn oil, was much better.
Oddly, this didn’t seem to do much about my weight. I was a vegetarian for a number of those years, and while I lost weight during the relatively short interval in which I was vegan, I also had mood swings and health problems until I added back at least eggs and dairy.
Week 10 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.
On Tuesday the 9th of April, about 2PM, I was at work and feeling very strange. I was sleepy, felt sick and shaky, and couldn’t think clearly. I decided to take off early. But driving home, not more than a mile from my house, well, something happened. I zoned out, I fell asleep, I fainted — whatever it was, I was looking at a green light at the interesection and then I was looking at a red light with traffic starting to cross the intersection. I hit the brakes, I swerved to drive around the front of the CenturyLink truck in front of me, and I almost made it. But not quite. I caught the front bumper of the truck with my left rear fender. I bumped my head against the door frame, and came to a stop crossways in the intersection. After a minute, I pulled off the road.
At first I felt — considering the circumstances — okay. I made sure the other guy was okay (he was) and went to stand by the car and wait for the police.
Then I realized I was feeling really really cold, and even shakier than I had felt when I left the office. I went to sit down in the car and when the police arrived told them I thought I needed the EMTs. Or else it was someone who was calling 911, I don’t remember it very clearly.
Anyway, both an ambulance and a fire truck arrived, and a rather cute female firefighter interviewed me for about 30 seconds before trotting to the EMTs, who came and walked me to the ambulance. I’m somewhat proud of myself for resisting my initial urge, which was to tell the firefighter “Hey, I’m just sick, I’m not on fire.”
Week 9 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.
When I started off on this second 13 week experiment, I decided I was going to emphasize losing body fat as well as glucose — and yes, my weight, I just can’t resist. There are a lot of ways in which we can measure body fat.
You can measure your waist and neck size and apply an empirical formula. This is the method the Army uses, and studies have shown it’s reasonably accurate.
You can take skinfold measurements with a calipers, and compute the result with a different empirical formula. This is a bit more accurate than the Army method (although not much).
You can have your body density measured by weighing yourself, and weighing yourself totally immersed under water. This is the “gold standard” method medically, but it’s not very practical at home.
You can go to a radiologist and have body composition measured by taking a full-body X-ray. This is called DXA body composition. (The link is to the radiology practice of which PJM contributor Paul Hsieh is a member. Just a random plug.) This method is very good but has several disadvantages: you certainly can’t do it at home, it means making an appointment and getting the full-body X-ray done, and it costs half a grand. Or,
You can use an impedance method device. This works by sending an alternating current through your body and measuring how the current flows. (I was going to write a description of what impedance is and how this works, but I kept falling asleep.) Never mind how it works, basically current flows more easily through muscle and bone than through fat, so the more fat you have the more you resist.
Here are the tools I’ve been using.
Week 8 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 few days ago, PJ Lifestyle ran an excerpt from Leonard Mosely’s book Disney’s World, in which Walt Disney, in a letter to his partner Ub Iwerks, expressed his frustration with the his first sound cartoon, the now-iconic Steamboat Willie.
He’s pretty depressed. he doesn’t like Hollywood, he doesn’t like being away from home, and he’s losing confidence in the still-unfinished film. You can see why, when he was having trouble selling the idea, and animation is a frustrating process anyway. This was in the days of the most primitive hand-drawn animation, where every frame of the film had to be hand drawn on clear acetate, with tiny changes from frame to frame. Twenty-four times for each second of film. In this 7 minute 23 second film, that’s something like 10,600 frames. He was tired, and he was bored, and he had trouble seeing any progress.
Why did this strike me, he asked rhetorically? Well, it reminds me of my ongoing glucose/bodyfat/weight project. Here I am, eight weeks into my second season, 147 days since I first started tracking this, and it’s a little frustrating and hard. I’ve been less diligent about the exercise, and I do find myself missing things I used to eat. Like chocolate. And pasta. And bread. And while I have lost some weight, it’s slow and the day to day variations make it hard to see. It’s like Disney must have felt — another 24 frames, another day’s work, and what did he have? Another lousy second of film. That no one wanted to distribute. He was past the initial excitement and into the slog.
Right now, this project feels much the same. I’m actually losing weight, and I can see changes — more muscle coming back to my arms, and to put it bluntly, my boobs are smaller. I’ve lost six inches around my waist, and I can feel that every time I put on a pair of pants that were in the back of the closet because I hadn’t been able to wear them. But at the same time, the progress is a little slow and hard to see, and it’s a little hard to explain why it should matter to anyone — especially me.
But then I got thinking, and a little Excel-fu got me this. Here’s my actual weight, charted over the last sixty days, with a trend line. This is very much like the other charts I’ve been posting.
Trend line is down. This is good. It’s not down very fast, and the added muscle certainly explains that — but also notice that individuual weights vary pretty wildly around that trend line. So here’s another chart.
Week 7 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.
You know, sometimes it’s just not your week.
Last week I was happy about breaking through the 270 pound barrier. This week was, well, weird.
I was diligent about the carbs again, averaging something like 15g a day. I ate plenty of protein, and I was oddly hungry all week, but no interesting carbs; my big splurge has been corned beef and cabbage. But nonetheless, my glucose spiked up to 130 one day, my weight went up to 274, even my body fat bounced up.
Oh, and I felt tired and achy all week; I only got like 450 Fitoccracy points all week. All in all, as far as scientific method and careful record-keeping, I’d have to say that this week, I just don’t know what was going on.
Now, the news wasn’t all bad. I’m down to a 42 inch waist — that makes it 6 inches off my waist and 2 off my neck. By the Army’s method of calculating bodyfat, I’m down to 25-26 percent. Interestingly, that corresponds to what the Withings scale shows me at in the evening. I am definitely noticing that the impedance method from the Withings scale is very sensitive to what time I weigh — in fact, body fat on the Withings scale can drop as much as 4 points between 8 AM and noon.
The answer, I think, is I need to get my body fat done using one of the extremely accurate methods, probably the body scan, in order to get an idea of what really is happening. But in the mean time, there is another lesson. Bodies are complicated things, and as the Harvard Law says, no matter how rigorously you control the environment, the organism still just does what it damned well pleases.
|Date||7 day Weight||7 day Glucose||7 day Bodyfat||Sum Fitocracy Points||Weekly Fitocracy Points|
|Δ since 2-1||-0.43||-4.18||-2.46%||N/A||N/A|
Week 6 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.
So let’s just end the suspense right away: yes, I am feeling a lot better this week.
At one point or another, the draft of last week’s column started with the line “Okay, ‘despair’ may be a little strong…”. I cut it because as I thought about it, I realized despair was the right word. Look it up and we find “Noun: The complete loss or absence of hope. Verb: Lose or be without hope: ‘to despair of ever knowing’” (via Google.) That’s exactly what I was fighting against — the feeling that there was nothing to be done, that there was no real hope. That’s the real enemy of any attempt to change, or to do anything extended really — that moment of no hope, when you don’t see the end in sight. It’s not just diets, either — it happens to me in writing, when I hit the point at which I think “oh, this is awful, no one will want this.”
That’s why I started this on the basis of a 13 week “season” — it was long enough to see some real changes, short enough to be bearable. Even so, about the fifth and sixth weeks of the first season, I’d reached the point where I was wondering if it was going to really do any good.
So look at the results this week: my 7-day average weight is down 3 pounds, my 7-day average blood sugar is down 16 points. What happened? I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you one thing I did differently, based on a lot of suggestions from others who’ve done the low carb thing. I broke training. I got out of the no carbs jail for a couple days. I had my ice cream, and I had some congee (zhou, Asian rice porridge). I didn’t go real far off the overall diet except for violating the carb rules, and based on calories I was actualy doing fine.
So now I’m back on the low-carb diet. What did I learn?
First, yes, you can break the diet for a day or a few days and get back on. What’s more, for me at least, if you do it with rice and ice cream, you don’t get sick like I did after Thanksgiving.
Second, your body can get used to anything. In weight training, they tell you to change routines fairly often if you want to keep making gains. The trick is to watch what happens. I broke the rules a little bit, up to maybe 100g of carbs one day, and didn’t have my blood sugar go nuts, didn’t gain back lots of weight. (Right now, I’m on a little bit of a bounce, but I’m basically up to where I was complaining about not being able to break in the downward direction.)
And third — there’s a new-ish idea in the nutrition world: orthorexia. It means an unhealthy fixation on a healthy diet. Maybe, just maybe, an occasional 4 oz cup of ice cream (26g carbs) is good for you.
|Date||7 day Weight||7 day Glucose||7 day Bodyfat||Sum Fitocracy Points||Weekly Fitocracy Points|
|Δ since 2-1||-2.64||-14.57||-3.00%||N/A||N/A|
Week 5 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 and follow my daily exercise.
It was hard this week. On Friday morning, I got up and found my 13-year-old Abyssinian cat Radar, apparently peacefully asleep in his favorite spot — except he didn’t look up when I came down the stairs. He had died during the night.
Now, i’m one of those people for whom my cats are like my kids, and Radar hadn’t shown a sign of distress the night before — he met me at the door as usual, fought me for bits of chicken before I was ready as before. So it was a shock. I took care of him, but I was useless the rest of the day, and in fact all weekend. The other two cats — Ali’i and Kaleo — were clearly missing him too, and they’ve been very clingy all week. Still, I think we’re all recovering, finally.
But the week continued to be ridiculously stressful, with work issues and all, and then — the depression I always have to watch started creeping up on me, probably as a result of stress and poor sleep (and like the old Catskills joke, not only was the sleep bad, there wasn’t enough of it!)
And here I am, on week five of the second season.
Sticking to the diet and exercise plan when I feel like this is really tough. I took to putting my workouts in Fitocracy before I did them, because then I’d be too ashamed not to actually do them. Even so, I only worked out four times this week. The stress also apparently affects blood sugar — the morning Radar died I had the highest blood sugar I’ve had in weeks at 127 and it’s stayed high.
All in all, if I could take a week off from the column I would.
The thing here being that I didn’t, and I haven’t slipped on the diet anyway — and really haven’t slipped far on the exercise, as I still got in 1093 points, or just 61 fewer than the week before, thanks to having raised the weight I did on my heavy lift days. So my blood sugar is up a little, my weight is actually down a pound from last week (but still basically flat) and my body fat hasn’t changed much in a week either.
Week 4 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 and follow my daily exercise.
I haven’t published new charts recently, so I think it’s time. Here’s the first one, my weight.
OH, NOOOOOES! My weight is going up! I’m a failure! Eeeek!
Well, maybe not, although certainly if all I was tracking were my weight I’d be mildly hysterical. (And I have to admit I get qualms looking at it this time, even though I swear I’m not primarily interested in my weight. But 50 years of dieting doesn’t go away quickly.)
The thing is, that weight in general isn’t really our primary interest. I asked whether weight itself was a primary concern over at my Facebook page, and got a lot of different interesting answers; almost none of them included weight. “Feel better”, “better health”, “more attractive”, “sexier” all did show up. Now a couple of people with bad knees and backs did say weight in itself was a problem, but for most people it’s more a symptom of something else that troubles them. Certainly so with me — blood sugar, health in general, and as I realized during the first 13 weeks, simply feeling ugly and disgusting were my major issues.
What people use as a proxy for all this is weight, of course, and especially with daily weighings, this can be very disheartening.
What’s worse, I’ve been at least as diligent with the diet — in the last full week, according to LostIt!, I’ve been 8200 kcals in deficit, with an average of about 9g carbs a day net of fiber. Being diligent with the diet isn’t so awful, but still I’d sure like a chocolate bar or a plate of spaghetti sometimes. In anything, I’m doing better with the diet plan that in my first 13 weeks.
Add to that I’ve been pretty diligent with the exercise — not every day but at least five days a week (I’ve got more to say about the exercise, below) so I’m lots more active than I was in the first 13 weeks — and probably more than I’ve been in the last 13 years.
But still, I’m actually gaining weight.
Picked this up from USA Today.
Bonnie Franklin was best known for her series “One Day At A Time”, playing a divorced mother of two girls, played by Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli. I remember the series fondly, mostly because I thought all three of them were hot. The show was known for all sorts of dumb firsts, starting with first sitcom based around a divorced woman, but really worked because Franklin, Phillips, and Bertinelli played real, warm, flawed people. Franklin was also an accomplished musical performer, with lead roles in Broadway musicals.
She died today of pancreatic cancer, and is survived by her mother and stepsons.
Picked this up from the Washington Post:
Cliburn was born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. on July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, La., the son of oilman Harvey Cliburn Sr. and Rildia Bee O’Bryan Cliburn. At age 3, he began studying piano with his mother, herself an accomplished pianist who had studied with a pupil of the great 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt.
The family moved back to Kilgore within a few years of his birth.
Cliburn won his first Texas competition when he was 12, and two years later he played in Carnegie Hall as the winner of the National Music Festival Award.
My family had a music store when I was growing up, and Van Cliburn was generally considered a demigod at least by every piano teacher in the Southwest — the Texas boy who had beaten the Soviets at their own game, winning the First International Tchaikovsky Competition so decisively the Russians couldn’t deny it. I met him once when I was about 10, and vaguely recall that he seemed awfully young — he would have been about 36 — and that he seemed to have big hands.
He died of bone cancer in Fort Worth, where he made his home.
Homeostasis. This is our vocabulary word for today.
Homeostasis is “[t]he ability of the body or a cell to seek and maintain a condition of equilibrium or stability within its internal environment when dealing with external changes” (via Biology Online.) On any diet or exercise program, homeostatis may not seem to be your friend.
|7-day weight||7-day glucose||7 day bodyfat||Weekly Fitocracy Points|
Certainly, for the last six weeks it hasn’t seemed to be mine. Above is a table of the current results of this second season (I’ll be running similar tables for comparison for the rest of this 13 week season.) I’ve been keeping to the diet pretty religiously, with a very few days in excess of my 30g carbs target. According to LoseIt!, I’ve run a total calorie deficit in the previous six weeks of roughly 42,000 kcals (Calories), or on average about 7000 kcals a week. It only requires the tiniest application of higher math to see that at 3500 kcal/pound, I should have lost 12 pounds, or should have been losing 2 pounds a week. While I’ve hit several new lows, including breaking 270 about ten days ago, I haven’t lost any weight, according to the 7-day running average, since the second season started. In fact, what has really happened in is that I’ve actually gained something like 1.3 pounds.
This could be depressing. Believe me. What this is, is a demonstration of my body trying to preserve homeostasis. Basically, bodies don’t want to change, and they have mechanisms to prevent it.
Luckily, this isn’t a weight-loss experiment, this is a better-health and better-glucose experiment. (Repeat after me….) And I’m doing much better there — my cholesterol is now great, my glucose is near normal (and it’s been ten days or so since I cut my metformin dose in half, with no apparent damage to the glucose level), and — here’s the kicker — my body fat has dropped from around 33 percent to just over 29 percent — which means I’ve changed my body composition fairly radically in these three weeks.
Now, part of this is another demonstration that the naive “calories out minus calories in” model of weight loss is once again breaking down. Of course, since that model is so entrenched in so many people’s minds, the usual doctor’s explanation would be “you must be cheating”, as I talked about in an earlier episode; presenting the food diary and such wouldn’t deter them.
Another possible explanation is that it’s water — just as when they tell you rapid weight loss early in a low-carb diet is “only water”. But just as when I was dropping weight quickly, we’re talking about a lot of water. “A pint’s a pound the world round”, and that means we’re talking about 12 pints, 6 quarts, a gallon and a half of water. Call me crazy, but I’m thinking an additional gallon and a half of water would be pretty obvious in edema and puffiness and heart failure and such.
But the body composition — and one other thing — are hints at what I think is actually happening. That other thing is that after weeks of little change, I’ve begun to have measurements changing. Specifically, I’ve lost 2 inches around my neck and 5 (!!) inches around my waist from when I started the first 13 weeks.
The third favorite explanation of this would be that I’m gaining muscle as well as losing fat, and that one I think is plausible. What’s more, you can do that even when you’re running a big calorie deficit, as I have been, because a pound of fat contains about twice as many calories as a pound of muscle. The explanation that makes sense is that I’ve lost fat at 3500 kcals a pound, and gained muscle at 1800-odd kcals a pound, leaving me slightly heavier, and a good bit skinnier.
I can live with that.
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
So, as far as my own progress goes, the last couple weeks were kind of boring: I wasn’t losing any weight, my glucose was coming down, but nothing very dramatic was happening.
Since the last time, though, I’ve done several things: I got “after” pictures taken for the first 13 weeks, I have started tracking bodyfat as well as weight, and best of all, I got my post-13-weeks bloods done.
Those are the most fun, so let’s hit them first.
Glucose. My A1c is now down to 5.9 percent, from a starting A1c of 7.5. That means I’ve lowered my average glucose from roughly 170 mg/dL, or just over 100.
My doc was more or less slack-jawed. I had to talk her into doing the A1c, as she didn’t think it could have changed much since the one I had in January.
I’ve cut my metformin to 1000 mg/day from 2500 when I started this.
Cholesterol. Or more generally, blood lipids. Now, remember that I’m following what is, by traditional medical measures, the perfectly wrong diet for cholesterol — heavy on meats, no grains at all, and with roughly 60 percent of my calories coming from fats.
My total cholesterol is down to 123. That’s the bottom of the normal range; that’s a score that the ultra-low-fat Ornish diet would be happy to reach.
Low-density lipoproteins — LDL, the “bad cholesterol” — is down to 70.
High density lipoproteins — HDL, the “good cholesterol” — is up to 26 (up in this case being the good direction.) Although it’s still low as an absolute number, what’s perhaps more important is the ration of HDL tot total cholesterol. HDL of 26 makes my total cholesterol over HDL ratio about 4.7. This is now well under the boundary the American Heart Association recommends.
In other words, while my HDL could be better, I am now in the “good” to “very good” range.
Body fat. I’ve just started tracking this, so the numbers don’t mean a lot yet, but as you can see from the chart, it is showing a real down trend. I’m somewhere around 30 percent right now, and obviously I hope it’ll drop significantly in this 13 weeks.
So far, I’ve mainly been tracking Fitocracy points, which are a kind of arbitrary measure of various kinds of exercise, but handy because it converts various exercises into one easily-tracked number. (I hope to have an interview with some of the Fitocracy people in the near future; in the meantime, if you want to follow me, you can sign up for Fitocracy here.)
Since this 13 weeks season has started, i’ve accumulated 2800 Fitocracy points.
Of course, David Steinberg is doing his own series on this. I sent him some videos which didn’t work out, but I’ve just taken another set. Have a look at his piece this week, in which he makes some entirely unsubstantiated suppositions about how I’ve managed to practically break every bone in my body over 57 years. It’s pretty funny, and good advice.
I want to believe that when i perform any piece of music, it is as if it is being heard for the first time. As if it was actually being composed as it is being played. This is because I am not really a conductor, I am a composer.
Yes, this is also Somtow Sucharitkul the science fiction writer.
I’ve now completed the first week of my second 13 week program, which is like the first 13 week program with more
cowbell exercise. I’ve also been thinking a lot about something that had been in the back of my mind for awhile: that this notion of thirteen week “programs” was applicable to lots more than lowering blood sugar. Dave Swindle noticed the same thing, and mentioned it in one of his own self-improvement pieces.
So let’s think about this in more general terms. My first, unformed, thoughts went like this: If I don’t do something about the diabetes I’m going to die, and I don’t want to die. But I’ve been on a million zillion diets and they’ve always been heartbreakers, appealing and attractive and exciting and then after a while leaving me flat. So I decided to try something I’d had some success with in the past, a low-carb diet informed by Gary Taubes books. Somewhat coincidentally, going low-carb meant not eating much wheat, and about the same time I read Wheat Belly, and realized my lifetime stomach problems might have something to do with wheat. But then I thought “I’ll never eat chocolate and pasta and bread again?” and wanted to shoot myself.
Which would really screw up the “I don’t want to die” part.
So I decided to make it an experiment. Limited time, limited goals, just doing something that I supposed would be helpful and seeing what happened. How long? It had to be long enough to see some real differences, but not so long that it seemed endless. I narrowed down to thirteen weeks sort of by intuition, based on liking the number 13, but thirteen weeks turns out to be 91 days. It’s basically one meteorological season, and when I was a kid at least it was a TV season — would Batman get picked up for another 13 episodes? There are four 13-week periods in a year, with a a day or two days change.
And it worked — I’ve lost 30 pounds, my blood sugar is back into more or less normal range, and as a side effect my stomach troubles are much much better.
By accident, however, I’d noticed a process, or pattern.
- Decide there’s something you want to change.
- Find ways to measure your progress.
- Decide on some small unthreatening things you can do that should affect those measures.
- Track the results for 13 weeks and see what happens. It helps to pick appropriate tools and techniques for that tracking, but something as simple as a Seinfeld calendar, where you just draw an X on a calendar for every day you do something can be very powerful.
I also, over this thirteen weeks, have realized there are some things that have been key insights for me.
So here it is: week 13 of the 13 Weeks, which officially ends tomorrow. This is also Day One of the next 13 Weeks, which I started today to make everything match with the publishing schedule.
I pretty well explained what I’m doing for the next 13 weeks in my post last week, so I won’t linger on that: same eating plan or similar, but adding a Seinfeld calendar with six days a week of a Tabata protocol workout, plus weightlifting and yoga or Pilates. I have a new spreadsheet which tracks body fat as well as weight and glucose. As of today, this is a new experiment, so I’m starting from an empty spreadsheet. As of today, weight is 272.1, body fat by Withings impedance scale is 33.1 percent, and morning fasting glucose is 109. “After pictures” and a comparison in next week’s column.
So, below the fold, a little change of pace.
See you next week.
It’s week 12 of 13, and time to start thinking about the next thirteen weeks. I’ve taken to calling it my “second season,” indulging my fantasy of writing for TV. As I’ve been saying for a while, I’m going to emphasize the fitness part of the training for the next thirteen weeks.
This is in addition to the dietary changes that turned out to be the focus of the first 13 weeks, so let’s summarize the whole: overall motivation and what I’ve been doing.
It started back in the middle of October, when I was doing my morning pages and found myself writing about how my father had died at 69, my mother at 77, and I was now 57; neither 12 nor 20 more years seemed near enough. What’s more, I weighed 301.5 pounds, I was clearly type II diabetic, I was having real sustained trouble with both gastric reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome, and I was avoiding going up and down the two flights of stairs in my own house.
Come right down to it, the motivation was that I don’t want to die.
There was and is a second motivation that I only came to understand during this first thirteen weeks. I’ve been overweight, heavy, and fat since I was a child — the first time I remember it being an issue I was between six and nine, and I think it was probably the summer I was seven. I was running through the house in shorts and no shirt, and I slapped my belly for some reason, and my mother just exploded that I should go put on a shirt, I was fat and disgusting. She also liked to dwell on a couple of minor scars on my face and joke to her friends that she’d get me plastic surgery when I was 18 and after that I was on my own. So make that fat, ugly, and horribly scarred, and disgusting.
I don’t think it was the first time I was called fat, but I do think it was the first time I had cared that I was fat. It was not, however, the last.
During this 13 weeks, I had a sudden insight. Now, I actually like people, at least in small groups. I like talking with people, I like finding interesting people and interacting with them. Put me in front of an audience, say giving a talk, and I both enjoy it and seem to be good at it. (Here’s me in front of an audience several years ago, talking about “big organizations that act like idiots.”) But whenever I’m dealing with people one on one, I’ve always had in the back of my mind that I’m fat, ugly, and disgusting. And yes, this did tend to be an impediment in that sort of social situation.
So, anyway, motivation #2 was to just to not feel fat, ugly, and disgusting. Neither losing weight nor improving my blood sugar is actually going to make much difference to the extensive baggage, but one result of doing this and writing about it has been to at least uncover the issue; I’ll be unloading the baggage and calling Goodwill about it during this 13 weeks.
The Goal of No Goal
One of the rules I set for myself at the beginning of this, although perhaps I didn’t say it in so many words, was that I wasn’t setting any goals: I was trying something for thirteen weeks to see what effect it had on certain measureable things. Last week, I laid out some other rules for the next 13 weeks. Let’s lay these out again, generalized a little bit.
In a complete violation of literary tradition, I’m going to start this column with a digression. Kids, don’t try this at home.
Buddhism is divided roughly into three traditions, or “yanas”, a word that basically means “raft”: Hinayana, the “little raft”, Mahayana, the “big raft”, and Vajrayana, the “diamond raft”. Hinayana is also known as Theravada, or “the teachings of the elders” — especially, as you can imagine, by Theravadans. Honestly, the size of your raft isn’t important; all of them derive from the same source, but with one major difference: Theravada or Hinayana uses literary sources in a language called Pali, while Mahayana sources are in Sanskrit.
Pali in turn comes from a language called Prakrit, or more precisely is a prakrit: Prakrit means “common language” or even “practical language.” The comparison with “practical” isn’t a coincidence. English, like nearly every other language you hear in Europe, derives — along with Prakrit and Sanskrit and Pali — from the same source language that was spoken in what is now northern India. Linguists, elegantly, call this language “Proto-Indo-European“, or, familiarly, as PIE.. Who says there’s no poetry in science?
Sanskrit, by contrast, means “ornamented” or “fancy” language. Classical Sanskrit is a literary language that really developed hundreds of years after the historical Buddha lived, and is used for Buddhist literature in the Mahayana tradition. I lean toward the Mahayana tradition, and a good bit of the original translations of Buddhist literature were made by the Victorian hippies from Sanskrit, or from literary Chinese translations of Sanskrit.
The problem is that when Buddha was actually teaching, speaking to pretty much anyone who walked past, he was undoubtedly speaking Prakrit of some sort. Religious texts were in a sort of liturgical language we call Vedic Sanskrit from which Classical Sanskrit derives, but it doesn’t seem to have been anyone’s normal language, just as Latin nowadays isn’t used very often except in Church contexts, and as I say, Classical Sanskrit hadn’t even been invented yet.
Now, Classical Sanskrit is a beautiful, eloquent, expressive language, but things written in Sanskrit tended to be purposefully eloquent. Then you add those Victorian hippies, with their desire for Oriental things to be mysterious and odd, translating the Sanskrit, and you get things that frankly sound like they were composed by total goons. On bhang.
It turns out that I happened on a picture I took of myself on the 16th of October, which is just about the time I started finding myself writing in my morning pages that I was only 12 years younger than my father had been when he died….
Here’s a picture from a similar angle with the same (iPod Touch) camera, taken today (Friday):
I see where I’ve lost the 30 lbs: it was all from my neck. Jaysus.
So, even with my troubles seeing myself clearly, I’ve got to say, now I’m seeing some differences.
I’m continuing to plan for my next 13 weeks experiment, and you know, there’s a question I’ve been asked multiple times now: why 13 weeks? Honestly, the answer is probably “I don’t know.” Some of it is pure superstition: I have good luck (contrarian that I am) with thirteens. Both of my parents were born on the 13th, and they married on the 13th; I’ve lived at #13 addresses many times. But there are some practical points about it.
Thirteen weeks is exactly one calendar quarter — there are 4 of them in a year, with a day left over. Thirteen weeks is long enough for longer-term trends and effects to show clearly, but short enough that I can foresee an end. If I hadn’t decided to do this experiment for thirteen weeks no matter what, there have been a couple of weight plateaus (and sudden weight gains) that could have been very demoralizing — about which more below. Thirteen weeks is right around the average lifetime for a red blood cell, so an A1c (average blood sugar) taken next month will be from entirely within the experiment. (As you’ll recall, it’s my blood sugar that concerned me more than weight in itself. Even though, dammit, I do tend to obsess about the weight loss.)
Now, I’ll say, the thirteen has put some people off for the opposite superstition from mine, the common triskaidekaphobia. I do intend to write this up in book form; I’ve had people tell me that I’ve got to change the title. But I have to say, 13 weeks seems to have worked for me.
As far as consolidation. The pictures above do show the difference I think, and I’m really feeling other differences. I’ve got a two story house; I’m not putting off trips up and down the stairs as I used to. I feel exceptionally good. I got a CPAP about 10 days ago, which is also helping — I may be sleeping well for the first time since puberty. I’m sure that the apnea has been helped by the weight loss and I’m hoping continuing weight loss will help more. And, of course, my blood sugar has showed a marked improvement — as I said last week, from diabetic to post-diabetic (although it’d be more correct to say “type II diabetic in remission.”) My mood is better too, which for someone who has had paralyzing depressions is a good and useful thing.
I seem to have more energy, both physically and mentally. Again, this isn’t too surprising. I buy water in 1.5 liter bottles from Eldorado Springs Water Company, in cases of a dozen. That’s basically 40 lbs; 9 bottles is just about 30 lbs. The effect is like if I were carrying around nine of these bottles in a backpack and I took the damn thing off. But I’m just finding it easier to do things, and not just physical things — I’m actively studying Mandarin again, and getting more writing done. Some of that also may be the CPAP — I don’t think I understood the effect of actually getting a decent night’s sleep.
As I’ve promised, the next 13 weeks will be more about exercise, physical activity, and so forth. i’m accumulating a number of experts to help me with this, and reading a bit more widely. Now, you may have noticed that there is a fair bit of controversy about different diets — low fat, low carb, paleo, and so on.
(Heinlein fans may remember this from “The Roads Must Roll”.)
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Golly, I feel old sometimes.
I became a buddhist in 1966. It turns out my new favorite Zen Master — boy, he’s gonna flinch if he reads that — is a guy who was about four years old at the time. His name is Brad Warner, and he’s rockin’ the Zen world.
Literally. Brad is a hardcore punk rock bass player, who recorded with hardcore bands like 0DFX (Zero Defex) and started a psychedelic band Dementia 13, and I’m telling you right here and now that my knowledge of punk rock is entirely derived from reading Brad’s books and a couple of Wikipedia articles: when punkers were listening to the Dead Kennedys, I was listening to Styx and Kansas.
I also like Glenn Miller. Sue me.
Brad then moved to Japan, where after a year of teaching English, managed to wangle a job working for Tsuburya Productions, which made Ultraman; he acted in bit parts in a number of Ultraman movies and did promotion in English for the company. He also married. While he was there, he also started to study Zen with Gudo Nishijima, a teacher in the Soto lineage, and as he tells it in his first book Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality, Nishijima-sensei decided to confer Transmission, making him an official certified Zen Master and Nishijima’s Dharma heir. He then moved back to the US, lost his job, got divorced, and began writing for the general public with Hardcore Zen, followed by becoming a columnist for the Suicide Girls website, largely a repository of pictures of young hipster girls with lots of tattoos and few clothes.
Brad has been controversial more or less from the start. (Not every Zen Master writes for a porn site.) First of all, he doesn’t look the part.
This guy looks like a Zen Master.
This guy looks like a Zen Master.
And then there’s Brad.