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13 Weeks: Week One -- Endorphins Are Our Friends

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The 13 Weeks Experiment

I'm trying some of the most recommended -- and coincidentally trendy -- diet and exercise approaches for 13 weeks, and seeing what happens.  You can follow me weekly here on PJ Lifestyle, and see my daily thoughts and updates on the 13 Weeks Facebook page. I first announced the experiment here; you can find the start of this first week, and some really embarrassing "before" pictures, here.

The eating plan, such as it is, is very simple.  I'm attempting to:

  • eat 200g of protein every day (by the old bodybuilders rule of 1 gram per pound of desired body weight)
  • eat around 200g of fats every day (giving a ratio of about 60 percent calories from fats and 40 percent from protein)
  • eat no more than 30g of available carbohydrates (which is total carbs minus fiber carbs) every day.

This is what's known, technically, as a "high protein, high fat, low carb diet" (duh!) and has proven effective in several incarnations for weight loss.

This is not your usual doctor's idea of a reducing diet, although its history goes back to William Banting's Letter on Corpulence. The history of diet and obesity is complicated, and you'd have to go far to find a better source than Gary Taubes in his Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Why We Get Fat. But the gist is this: traditional ideas of simply limiting calories -- the "thermodynamic model" -- have never worked very well; Taubes has collected a lot of scientific literature to show what has worked well, and to propose that refined carbs, in particular refined sugars, are the underlying cause of at least a very large part of obesity, and strongly implicated in hyperlipidemia ("high cholesterol") and the increasing incidence of type II diabetes.

One thing to notice is that I explicitly haven't mentioned calories; that's because I'm treating calories as incidental. In theory, this should come out to be 2720 calories a day, but so far, I'm almost never close to eating this much;  it works out I'm usually eating around 1800 Calories.

The science of low-carb eating is very interesting, but the upshot of it is that if you take those refined carbs out of the diet, and make no other changes, a very large proportion of people lose weight.

Because of some other problems, I'm completely eliminating wheat for the moment.


Along with the eating plan, I've added two kinds of exercise:

Again, there are many variants but the gist of these is also simple: in high intensity interval training, you do something exercise-ish and go like hell for a short time, then rest for a short time; repeat several times; do this once or twice a week. In theory, it's only necessary to do it once a week, but it's really hard to get to really full intensity as a beginner, so I'm experimenting with various approaches 2-3 times a week. Since a single session only takes about 10 minutes, this isn't an awful commitment.

I did martial arts for many years, so after some experimentation, I realized that a really good choice for me is to beat the hell out of a heavy bag, going just as fast as I can, for 20 seconds, resting for 10 seconds, then going again for a total of four sets. This is called the Tabata method.

I described the weight training a bit above, but let me summarize again. I'm doing large-muscle compound exercises: squats or leg presses, upright row, lat pull-downs, and some others I've not really settled on yet. (I'd like to add deadlifts but I'm afraid.) What's different is that I an doing "super slow" repetitions to failure. That is, for each exercise, I use very heavy weight, and move it very slowly, so that the concentric (contracting) phase of the motion takes about 10 seconds, and then the eccentric (lengthening) phase takes another 10 seconds, completing one repetition. I pick a heavy enough weight that between 6 and 8 repetitions my muscles completely fail -- I can no longer keep moving the weight at that speed. So, for example, this week I did leg presses with 400 pounds on a Nautilus leg machine.