13 Weeks: Week One -- Endorphins Are Our Friends
Our Story So Far:
I'm 57 years old, and in the words of my doc, I'm "massively deconditioned." On October 19 2012 I weighed 301.5 pounds, my average blood sugar was around 150 mg/dL -- in other words, I'm type II diabetic -- and I got out of breath climbing a flight of stairs quickly. I've always -- literally since I was 6 years old -- fought my weight, never with a lot of success. I've tried all the diets, and drugs, and I've considered gastric banding or bypass.
Last year, however, my mother had a heart attack, and declined, and died about 3 months later, two days before her 77th birthday. Then I had my 57th birthday. My father had died at 69, weighing over 400 lbs.
Very little advanced math leads us to the realization that 69 minus 57 is only 12 years; 77 minus 57 is only 20.
I'm too young to die.
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So, I've just completed the first week of my 13 week experiment, and to cut to the chase, I've lost around 6 lbs, although I insist that weight loss isn't the primary goal. In fact, I've decided the primary goal is to do this for 13 weeks and tell the tale. We'll see what else happens. So far, there hasn't been much change in any measurements. Here are some observations.
So far, it's been easy. In fact, the eating part is ridiculously easy -- you can see the plan below, but basically I've found it generally difficult to eat as much as the plan demands. To see why, let's look at what was not a normal day, but my big eating day of the week, in which I actually consumed over 300g of protein and 206g of fat, but still only had 27g of net carbs:
- 2 eggs, hard boiled
- 4 strips bacon
- 3 oz hard salami
- 8 oz turkey breast, roasted
- 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts
- 1 cup broccoli with bacon and pine nuts
- 3 cups baby spinach
- 8 oz tuna marinated in olive oil
- 4 oz feta cheese
- red wine vinaigrette (olive oil base)
- 2 pork chops
- 4 eggs over easy
That was Friday. As I write this on Saturday, I've only eaten about one third of that, because frankly I haven't been hungry.
That's a whole damn lot of food, but net against the day's exercise only about 2600 calories. (But see below for why calories are not a primary measure in this plan.) And mind you, that was a day when I was really striving to eat "enough"; most days this week I ate much less, without feeling at all deprived.
The same day, I did both interval training and strength training.
Both high intensity interval training and high intensity strength training are hard, but they don't take very much time.
The weights were done with exercises that use large muscles and compound motions, mainly, with enough weight that a 20 second repetition leads to muscle failure in 5-6 repts. So, for example, I do leg presses with 400 pounds, pressing the weight out to a slow count of ten, then letting it back to a slow count of ten, until I simply cannot move the weight any more. Then I hold the weight for another slow count of 20.
When you do this, you may have to hold on to something for a little bit before you can really stand.
Here's the interesting observation: after doing this, I felt great. I mean great.
When stressed, the body produces chemicals called "endorphins", which just means "chemicals like opiates made by the body." They're the cause of the runner's high, they're probably why people in combat don't notice wounds, and they may be why we like hot peppers. From my experience, I deduce that this kind of work-to-failure weightlifting is very effective at bringing about the release of endorphins. Whatever it is, I may, late in life, become a gym rat. This was almost as good as sex, and maybe even almost as good as chocolate.
GERD and Irritable Bowel
One of the other problems I've had for my whole life, or at least since I was diagnosed with a "nervous stomach" at 5, is gastric reflux and irritable bowel. Since I was restricting carbs, especially refined carbs, it was easy to also cut out wheat entirely, as suggested by William Davis MD in his book Wheat Belly.
I really kind of hate to admit it, since it's so trendy this year to say you're allergic to wheat or gluten, but I've got to say: I haven't had any wheat products in about 10 days, and about Thursday I realized I also hadn't needed an additional antacid in days either.
It's been known for years that many people in the first few days of a carb-restricted diet feel bad -- achy and cranky and a couple of other dwarves. It certainly hit me, but getting extra water and salt seems to help. The usual suggestion is to drink boullion, but honestly it was such a busy week I never got around to getting any boullion, and within a few days it resolved itself.
So there you have it. Certainly so far, honestly, this has been so little disturbance to my normal life, and has made me feel so much better, that whether I am losing weight doesn't much matter.
* * *
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.