Culture

13 Weeks of Fast Days and Slow Days

The hypothesis: a slow carb diet with intermittent fasting, along with continuing to work for greater integration of exercise into my daily life, will help me lose weight and improve my still too high blood sugar. This is the third experiment of 13 weeks duration, in an ongoing series. Follow my daily updates at Facebook and join me on Fitocracy to follow my progress there, of which there will be some, honest.

So, here we are, already a week in to the third 13 week experiment, and I’m about two weeks behind on things I was going to do. I haven’t been able to put together my participation in the Victoza experiment yet, and I haven’t gotten back to the volunteers — one of them called herself a “lab hamster” — as I promised. And my only excuse is that real life can be a pain in the ass sometimes. See also the Buddhism stuff: duhkha. That’s the word that’s usually mistranslated as “suffering”, but which is better and more accurately translated as “disappointing” or “unsatisying”. Duhkha is the disappointment of realizing that things do what they damn well please and you can’t necessarily control everything to work out right.

So now that I have you utterly confused whether this is a 13 Weeks piece or an Undecorated Buddha piece, let’s go ahead and talk about the experiment. It was a little difficult getting started — I sort of eased into the new diet over the span of a few days — but I was pretty well set by Wednesday. More on the actual diet in a bit, but here’s the first week’s results.

  • I’ve lost 5 pounts, from 275 — I was actually up to 281 or so during my vacation — to 270.
  • On the other hand, my glucose has been high, ranging from 120 to 140 morning fasting glucose.
  • But on the next hand, er, tentacle, my glucose has been much more stable, staying within a few points throughout the day. After my experiments with hypoglycemia last time, this seems kind of nice.
  • the notion was to try to get up to 2000 fitocracy points a week. This week’s total was, er, zero.

As won’t be a surprize to most of you, getting the exercise started was even harder, and you know, I think I need to think more about why. And heee’s one of those places where I’m going to dump some emotional and historical, if not hysterical, stuff. To start with, I’ve never liked much in the way of athetics, with the exception of martial arts; when other little boys dreamed of football glory, I wanted to be Sanshiro Sugata or Miyamoto Musashi. The sports or athetic endeavors I’ve enjoyed have always been stylized ways of killing people: karate, Japanese sword, Western fencing, shooting sports, later taiqi and Chinese wushu. (Which is to say “kung fu”. Gong fu (功夫) actually means “great accomplishment”, wu shu (武术) means “war technique”. This is your pretentious Chinese lesson for the week.) Other than that, I actually like lifting weights. In the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, the tortoise had “great gong fu”.

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龟兔赛跑 — The Hare and the Tortoise

So it’d seem the answer is to do martial arts and lift weights.

Yeah, right.

Well, it is what I mean to try, but I haven’t been good about getting to it. Once again, real life intervenes: I have so many more interesting things to do. I’ve got a day job, and after two years of struggle to change the approach we use to build software, I’m finally starting to get new approaches tried — and they work. But I’m also under a lot of pressure because two years of struggle against an embedded culture has, frankly, made some enemies. So it’s not easy to break away from that even for a little while. And of course, I have a writing career on the side, with these columns, occasional articles elsewhere, and some other ongoing projects. So it really feels right now like any time I’m not at a keyboard is stealing time from Important Work.

And yeah, I know, dying would also take away time from Important Work.

This week, though, in particular, it’s been hard to do any of these things because I’ve had a bout of pretty acute depression. In this context, pretty acute means “it feels like someone cored out my heart with a rusty #10 tomoto can.” Now, it’s not my first rodeo with this, and I’m managing — and it’s getting better pretty quickly — but there’s nothing like wanting to pull the covers over your head and moan to deter you from pushing through and trying new things.

Anyway, that’s a thing.

So, let’s talk about the diet itself. As I’ve said, I’m adopting a variant of Tim Ferriss’s “Slow Carb” diet. This has basically five rules.

Rule 1. Don’t eat white stuff. No white bread, no white rice (or even brown rice, in fact no grains at all), no potatoes, no milk or cream. Ferris officially says “no dairy” but I don’t care, I’m keeping cheese. As before, I’m avoiding all wheat possible without doing things like looking for wheat in sauces in restaurants — no gravy, but I’m not going to ask if a little flour got into the texas-style chili.

Rule 2. Eat a few stereotypical meals over and over, composed of protein, vegetables, and legumes, especially beans and lentils. He recommends including fermented foods, in particular kimchee, but that’s not a real change for me, I love the stuff anyway. Eat as much as you want, 3 or 4 times a day, and make sure to consume at least 30 grams of protein within a half hour of getting up.

Rule 3. Don’t drink calories: no sweetened sodas, no milk (see Rule 1), no liquor. Do drink lots of water. Coffee and tea are fine, but avoid diet drinks as well as sugar-sweetened soda.

Rule 4. Don’t eat fruit, except tomatoes and avocados. (I’m slipping in an occasional small package of apple slices.)

Rule 5. One day a week, break the rules and eat whatever you want. Again, I’m making a small modification here, because I know that a lot of carbs drive up my glucose and make me feel bad; even so, I’m going to eat what I want, I just know I don’t want lots of sugar and if I eat wheat I’ll pay for it with a lot of stomach pain for a couple days.

Now this, so far, isn’t radically different from what I’ve been doing with two exceptions: I haven’t been eating beans and legumes, and I haven’t been taking off days.

Looking back, though, I think the beans could have been part of my first two experiments — and in fact I was slipping some beans in after my hypoglycemic episode to see if they would level things out a bit. But beans are relatiovely high in carbs, and even with their large proportion of indigestable fiber, it’s hard to put much in the way of beans into a diet staying below 30 grams of effective carbs a day. So the effect of adopting slow-carb is that I’m eating more carbs, both total and net of fiber, than I had been.

I’d stayed away from taking off days because of the question of maintaining ketosis. The thing is, I seem to be really really good at adapting to a ketotic diet after some weeks — even on a mere 10 grams of carbs or less, I wasn’t getting very ketotic at all, and I wasn’t losing much weight. I was also not eating nearly as many calories as I — in theory — required, and I was still not losing any weight. My glucose seemed to have plateaued too, although the variance on that was so high that it was hard to say for sure.

Clearly, I was adapting to the low carb diet and my metabolism was somehow down-regulating enough that I was not losing weight on about 2000 kcals a day even when I was exercising rigorusly. Further evidence that there was a metabolic regulation happening was that I didn’t actually gain any weight when I stopped exercising after the car wreck.

(Mental note: I need to write about the evidence for homeostatic weight regulation even in fat people.)

So, the science — what there is of it, it hasn’t been really well studied — behind the days off is that it convinces your body that you aren’t really in the middle of some kind of famine, and so it doesn’t need to slow everything down.

Paradoxically, there’s another way of changing the metabolism that has been effective, and that’s actual intermittent fasting. It’s a little weird that cutting back radically for a short time wouldn’t have the same effect, but again their’s some science to support it. So, thanks to hints from a number of people on the Facebook page, I read The Fast Diet and have adopted an approach of having one or two 600 kcal fast days. I took one this week, on Wednesday, and it wasn’t too bad. I cooked a mess of turnip greens in ham stock the night before, so that day I had a salad for lunch and greens for dinner and wasn’t awfully hungry. It turned out to be about a 700 kcal day because I ate some cheese sticks before bed, but it won’t take but minor adjustments to get it under 600.

The next morning I’d lost three pounds, and they didn’t come back when I had a normal day. In fact, I wasn’t as hungry the day after either; with more greens (with ham this time) I only ate about 1500 kcals on Thursday.

So there’s my diet for the next twelve weeks: slow carbs 4-5 days a week, low-carb fasting 1-2 days a week, and a vacation day in which I’ll continue to avoid wheat and sugar, but I’ll eat other carbs, like potatoes and rice. So this will be a diet with fast days and slow days, and in a few weeks we’ll have a good idea how effective is may be.