13 Weeks: And the Envelope Please

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.

I guess the weight loss is the biggest disappointment. Clearly I can go happily on a low-carb diet, and it has good effects, but after about 10 weeks the weight loss effects pretty nearly stopped.  Gary Taubes clearly has some things right, because the low carb diet seems to have resolved my type 2 diabetes, and eating a high fat low carb diet hasn't done what mainstream medicine would predict -- with a diet that has been upwards of 60 percent calories coming from fats and a lot of those calories coming from bacon and butter and other good things along with one whole damn lot of eggs, my total cholesterol is lower than it's ever been, actually really too low. (My various lipid levels are down in the data section below as well.) But viewed as an experiment, it's very interesting. My calorie intake has been relatively constant at what should be about a two pounds per week weight loss. But my actual weight loss was about half that, and happened largely in the first few weeks. Even with a pretty significant increase in activity, which should have been increasing my calorie output, somehow I stopped losing weight; after my car wreck, when my activity dropped markedly, my weight stayed stable. Neither of those observations are consistent with the usual "calories in, calories out" model of traditional medicine.

Take that, coaches and pediatricians of the world!

Which of course brings us to what I think was my biggest surprise. There's a TV reality show called Baggage Battles, about people who bid for lost and abandoned luggage in hopes of making a profit when they see the contents. Well, my head should be on an episode, because I've got more abandoned baggage in my head than the whole of American Airlines. This 26 weeks has caused me to confront feelings of being ugly, of being a failure, of repeated insults and bullying and quite a whole damn lot of people who would rather believe their theories than what I was telling them about my actual experience.

I didn't expect that. I thought after years of therapy and years of antidepressant drugs that I was pretty well caught up on that. Oh, I knew I still had scars, but I didn't realize this would rub so many raw spots I hadn't noticed in years.

As I wrote last week, what I now think was the emotional core of a lot of this stuff was the sense that I had to be perfect to be good enough -- that any imperfections were inexcusable and that my strengths were merely what was expected.

So, now what?

I could say "okay, I successfully controlled my blood sugar," and just continue with the low-carb diet. But dammitall, I still want to lose more weight, and I still want to be prettier. Some of that is still perfectionism, and I frankly don't know how to draw a line between realistic desires and perfectionistic self-abuse. That seems in itself a worthwhile question to explore with another 13 week experiment.

I also, as I said last week, feel like even if it hasn't turned out that this has made me a Geek God in 26 weeks, this notion of making a 13 week limited commitment to a change, measuring the effects, and treating it as an experiment in which the results are merely interesting and not a morality play, seems to have some power. It can be applied to other things besides weight loss, as Dave Swindle and Sarah Hoyt are showing. There are people trying it themselves. And I think that now, having gone through it for a while, I've learned some things that might help others. So, here's the next 13 week experiment.

For myself, what I'll be observing now are my blood sugar, my weight, and my physical dimensions, and after almost seven months of resisting, I'm going to actually admit that weight is one of the things I care about. This means new modifications in my behavior -- Charlie's First Law of Change is if doing the same thing isn't working, do something else.

I'm going to go back to tracking weeks from Saturday to Saturday. It's just more natural, and while I should be submitting these columns on Friday morning, I haven't been. Dave Swindle has been very good about putting up with that.

This time, I'm encouraging people to join in. To give everyone -- including me -- time to figure out and get ready for a new 13 week experiment, I'm going to start a larger-scale "clinical trial" that will start on Saturday, the First of June, 2013. In the comments here, or at the 13 Weeks Facebook page, or in my new email address 13weekexperiment@gmail.com, let me know who you are, what you want to change, and most importantly if you want to be public about it at all. Anything you tell me will be confidential unless you agree otherwise, and any advice you get is guaranteed to be worth exactly what it costs. For now at least we'll use the comments here at PJM for a forum; pick a new handle of you like, register and tell us about your experiences. If there's enough interest, we can arrange something like a Google Hang Out to talk.

So there it is. Put the date on your calendar: 1 June 2013, we start a new experiment.


My most recent blood work gives these interesting numbers:

Total Cholesterol: 123 mg/dL (under normal range)

Triglycerides: 139 mg/dL (within normal range)

High density lipoprotein (HDL): 26 mg/dL (below normal range, which in this case is undesirable)

Low density lipoproteins (LDL): 70 mg/dL (below normal range, which is good this time)

Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL): 27 mg/dL (above normal range; this is a marker for "metabolic syndrome", which is no surprise)

All in all, this now has me with no additional risk of heart attacks.

Daily weight over the full 13 weeks.

Morning fasting glucose over the full 13 weeks.

As I've noted, the body fat measurement approach was a total failure. I finally just gave up.

Seven day running averages of weight, glucose, body fat, and Fitocracy points.

Date7 day Weight7 day Glucose7 day BodyfatSum Fitocracy PointsWeekly Fitocracy Points
2013-03-28270.57113.8630.26% (??)8180499
2013-04-04271.31103.8629.95% (??)8404224
2013-04-11275.20109.5729.80% (??)9185781
Δ since 2-1-0.64-5.71(??)%N/AN/A