Weight For It
As I mentioned, this quick, two-part series is a complete diversion from the normal meanderings on this blog. If you’re reading this on the day it posts, I’m on vacation, enjoying some time at Disneyland with my 11-year-old Disney fanatic and our family. Next week, I’ll be right back at it, talking about the trials and tribulations of teaching, learning, education administration, and more. But for now, welcome to the second part of my “health” series. (And as always, seek out medical advice from your doctor before doing anything I might mention below…)
I remember exactly what I was doing when I decided Brad Pitt was worthy of my attention. I was watching the movie “Seven.” Until then, Pitt was an inconvenience to me. I knew he was extremely good looking and popular as a model, but also as a quasi-actor. So, as someone not even in the same ballpark in the looks department, it was easy to discount his movies (and simply dislike him for being so bloody handsome). Then came Seven. Crap. He was really, really, really good in that movie, darn it! And so, as I watched it for the third time, I concluded that Pitt was worthy of all the praise, regardless of how handsome the man was and my own jealousy.
I’m going to share another such person with you today, as we delve into how I lost a bunch of weight. I’m going to urge you to look past this guy’s chiseled features and body-builder physique to see (first and foremost) a super nice guy, but just as important, a super credible nutrition and health advocate. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the start.
I’ve struggled with weight my entire life. I have blogged before about my elementary school gym teacher and the junior high typing teacher (who were friends) making fun of me during physical fitness testing. They called me “tubby” and snickered as I tried to do some pull-ups, much to the delight of every other 6th grader sitting against the wall, waiting their turn.
Luckily, I grew like a weed throughout my teenage years, very much elongating my weight onto my 6’5” frame. I never really looked overly heavy, just a “big guy” in every sense of the word. But, after graduating from high school, weighing 180 lbs, I soon saw and conquered the Freshman fifteen in college. In fact, by some point during my sophomore year, I weighed 325 lbs, yet had only grown about an inch or so in height. I had cleared categorically obese about 120 lbs ago.
It’s important to stop here and note that I ate (and still would if I could) all the time. I had no off switch. I love food. I eat when I am happy. I eat when I am sad. I eat when I am sick. I could push through “full”, especially if dessert was involved. And I loved it when doting mothers or even some restaurant chefs would give me “extra” because I was obviously a “growing boy.” So, when I was introduced to the University cafeterias, with all you can eat of every single item, I went to town. At the same time, I was done with high school sports and activities, so I suddenly became quite sedentary. I always had enough energy (in college) to play some pick up hoops, plus my new girth allowed me to “own” the blocks under the basket, so I didn’t really think much about it.
Until I graduated.
Upon graduating, I suddenly saw more pictures of myself in a two week span of time than I had seen in a decade. And it was not pretty. My face looked like it was imploding on my neck. So, coming out of a long-term but dysfunctional relationship, my first course of action was to diet in the only way(s) I knew how. Atkins was just coming onto the scene so that wasn’t on my radar, but I did what I guess a lot of people do. I stopped drinking soda and lost 10 lbs immediately. Seeing some improvement, I started jumping rope every day and tried to eat more fruits and veggies. I lost another 20 lbs. OK! So far, so good!
But after getting “down” to 295, I stopped losing weight. I didn’t know why. So, I started looking for other diets to try. I did Jenny Craig for a while and dropped 3 lbs, despite paying a ton of money a new college graduate didn’t have. I did the Mediterranean diet and went down another few pounds. I tried the blood type diet and lost nothing but time. I even went to a “boot camp” for overweight people. Over time, I would try about 15 new diets, losing a bit here or there, but not much. But eventually, I whittled my way down to 260 lbs, where I would stay for decades. (Again, for anyone who has read my stuff, you likely know my wife is a vegan due to her diagnosis with Crohn’s disease. At the same time, she’s as close to a nutrition expert as you can be without a degree. So, I always ate vegan at home with her. But to date, while it may have contributed to a few pounds of weight loss, nothing permanent really applied.)
If you read my last blog, you know that I have also had a bad back, which goes out yearly. As I did more and more research about my back, I started to see more and more people suggest that weight loss can help with a bad back. Add to that my joints always hurt, I was unable to go jogging (which I hate by the way) without major pain issues, and other physical symptoms, and it has been made clearer and clearer to me for years that I need to do something. But then I got some life insurance and I knew. Why? Not because of my blood work or other numbers - they were (literally) perfect across the board. The nurse was shocked at how good my cholesterol and LDL/HDL and everything else proved to be. No, the one number that mattered to the insurance company was my BMI, calculated solely with height and weight. And according to that measure, I was obese, which also meant my life insurance premium would be about $150 more per year.
(I don’t want to get into the stupidity of the BMI here, but suffice it to say that many, many NFL and NBA athletes are also obese when using this number, despite the notion that they have 1-2% body fat…)
So, about three years ago, I once again started trying to seriously lose weight. First, I started tracking EVERYTHING that went into my body. I use MyFitnessPal (I use the web and iOS app) and track every meal I eat. I have data on myself going back almost five years now, literally only having missed 3-4 days over that time. But in addition to tracking, I thought I might try any number of new diets out there. I started with Intermittent Fasting, sometimes known as the 5:2. (Five days of eating with two days of fasting.) If nothing else, the proponents said, you will eat about 3/5 as many calories in a week, which will see weight loss. Great!
Except that it didn’t happen. Nothing happened. I didn’t lose a pound and I didn’t lose an inch off my waist. I tried the 5:2 for six months, thinking that any time it would “kick in.” But it never did.
After a few months of binge eating out of frustration, I moved on to Paleo. I bought books and watched videos, then went into it as well researched as possible.
Again, after six months of trying, I lost nothing.
During all of these rounds, I upped my gym game too. I was doing 3 pure cardio days per week and 2-3 combined days of cardio and weights. But before you say, “muscle weighs more than fat!”, know that I never lost an inch from my body at the waist nor at the chest…
By 2017, I started with a testosterone diet and ended on the Keto diet. Again, I saw nothing. I was in ketosis a lot (at least according to my odd breath and the little strips you urinate on), but I did not see a pound drop, nor did I see a change in my pants sizes. It was not looking good for the home team and I was considering some radical stuff like stomach stapling and liposuction.
Ok, we’re almost there. But first, I have to diverge into some things that I have discovered along the way which will matter in the next paragraphs. First, to anyone suffering from a weight problem (which the CDC suggests is almost 75% of Americans who are “overweight” or “obese”) this information is gleaned from thousands of hours of reading, watching videos, and looking at medical journals. That’s kind of “my thing” - I do a ton of research on things that matter to me. Second, there are more opinions out there around weight, health, and nutrition than imaginable. It’s actually quite annoying to anyone looking, but you know what I mean. Everyone has a plan and only their plan is the best plan…for everyone…no matter what! Sigh. Stay away from those people. Third, let me state outright that I will not listen to anyone who tells me that weight loss is ONLY about calories in / calories out. That is such an incomplete statement, it borders on malpractice. I’ll try to illustrate this moving forward, but I can tell you that I have fasted for three days and not lost a pound, nor did I lose an inch. When in Florida, after eating 3500-4000 calories per day, I went down to 2000 calories per day for a month. Nothing. I tried 1600 calories per day. Still nothing. I went to 1200 calories per day and still nothing. Calories is part of the equation, but only PART of it.
And finally, the last thing is some news that made me literally weep in my car one day. I did not realize until I heard an obesity expert from Houston (on the radio) explain that weight loss based on calories had a lot of important caveats, not the least of which is this. Person X and person Y both weight 200 pounds. Both wish to lose 10 pounds. But, going into their current weight, person X just became that heavy last week whereas person Y has already lost 25 pounds, coming down to 200. From a pure calorie perspective, person Y will have to consume about 500 fewer calories than person X in order to lose weight! In fact, person Y will need to consume fewer calories for years (likely forever) than person X, just to maintain their current weight.
Doctors call it a set point. Your body’s set point can change, but for whatever reason it’s far easier to “reset” on the way up, than it is on the way down. In other words, your body will always try to work to get you to your set point, no matter what you are doing to combat it. The big lesson in this? TELL YOUR KIDS! Yes, it’s easier to lose weight the younger you are, but it’s messing around with your set point and the ramifications of that will follow you for the rest of your life…
So, with all of that in mind, how did I finally crack the code? How did finally figure out a way to lose 32 pounds (and counting) over six months? Two words: Insulin and Fasting.
So, here is my first introduction. You may notice that I haven’t linked to any sites for the above diets. I don’t want to do that as I can’t endorse them. But the following book started me on the right path, after three decades of searching. “The Obesity Code” is by Dr. Jason Fung. He is a Canadian physician (sorry, he isn’t taking new patients…I’ve checked), a Diabetes specialist, and a researcher. But his book, which is packed with experiments and research performed on hundreds of thousands of people (vs the typical experiments done on less than 20) showcased some powerful conclusions.
As he likes to say, “it’s the insulin, stupid!”
Dr. Fung explains that he can easily make someone fat or skinny by giving or taking away insulin. 100% of the time this will work. So, while the equation for normal fat loss is never the same for everyone, insulin is always part of the algorithm. So pay attention to it.
Sugar substitutes often spike insulin levels, even though blood sugar does not rise! (I likely sabotaged previous diets by continuing to consume Diet Coke and sugar-free energy drinks…) BTW, apple cider vinegar can help reduce the affects of any carbs, including sucrose, glucose, and fructose, so taking it daily is ideal.
Wheat (all wheat) is not just bad for Celiac’s, but especially when you look at how we’ve bastardized ‘dwarf wheat’ for the past 50 years. It is making people insulin resistant like crazy.
Calories do matter, but not nearly as much as nutritionists typically think. Example: give a person 2000 calories of broccoli every day for a week and give that same person 2000 calories of soda and chocolate. Guess what is likely to happen? Weight loss and weight gain (respectively).
Exercise also matters, but not as much as we want it to. Part of this is largely because we tend to compensate as human beings. In other words, tons of research shows that people who go to a gym are less active other parts of the day, whereas people who do not go to the gym are typically more active throughout the rest of the day. Dr. Fung suggests that exercise (for the purpose of weight loss - not health) is 5% of the equation, whereas food is the lions share and sleep is also a major contributor.
Fasting speeds up your metabolism while calorie restriction slows it down. I know, I know…I was shocked too. We always hear that eating is what revs up our metabolic rate, right? Not so. That is actually a complete lie, perpetuated by snack food companies who lobbied to Congress people who gladly took the money and helped perpetuate the lies. Dr. Fung has a great YouTube video (from a conference) where he shows the metabolism of “BIggest Loser” contestants. By restricting their calories and exercising (a ton), their metabolisms slowed to a crawl. However, after 24 hours of fasting, your metabolism climbs higher and higher through the 72 hour mark!
I’ve blogged before about “Why We Sleep,” by M. Walker. He and Fung would agree that it is highly possible to diet right, exercise a lot, and eat the “perfect” amount of calories, yet not see a single pound drop due to problems (95% of Americans) have with sleep. Sleep is the only way to reset the body, heal damaged tissues, and more, yet most of us ignore all of that and just watch a bit more tv.
I may not even need to continue, as you can likely guess what I did. I started eating a diet to battle insulin-resistance and I began fasting regularly. But first, I had to determine my caloric needs. Luckily I had some experience doing this over time, so I started at 2300 calories, but saw nothing. So, after two weeks, I moved down to 2000. Still nothing. But once I got to 1650, things worked. (Note above when 1600 and even 1200 did nothing for me! Calories in / calories out is just not enough!)
So, what does insulin-resistance mean? It means I do not look at the glycemic index, but instead at the insulin index (see image at right). I try to eat foods lowest on that index whenever I can. Obviously that means my diet consists of about 50% (healthy) fats, about 30% proteins, and about 20% green, leafy carbs.
I know you’ll want an example, so here you go:
Breakfast: 2 hard boiled eggs and 2 Simple Truth sausage links OR 1 piece of crustless quiche with ham and spinach
Lunch: 1 small bowl of Fiber One with cashew milk, 4 Tbs of hummus, several olives, and some (clean) salami
Dinner: Spaghetti squash with homemade tomato sauce and chicken plus a large, leafy green salad with Bragg’s apple cider vinaigrette
Snacks? NEVER! Stop eating all the time!
Sugar? Sorry, no. I have only had 3 meals since last Christmas (7 months) with added sugar. (Two birthdays and a party.) Will I have sugar again? Sure - when I get all of this under control, I believe I will be able to have a sweet here or there. But part of this has been mindset. I cannot think that I will lose to a point where I can do anything I want. That’s just not in the cards ever again. (I had a good run….)
And then there is the fasting. I fast for 72 hours, once a month. Yes, the first one was hard. The second one was easier. Etc.
But in my case, the fasting is what seems to do the trick, potentially even helping with my set point difficulties. Here is what I mean. My first fast saw me lose 7 lbs. (My second fast saw me lose nothing, by the way. Don’t get discouraged too soon!) After coming off my fast, I immediately gained back 2 lbs. But with the insulin-resistance diet, I then lost that 2 lbs in about a week and I continued to lose a tiny bit, like another 1-2 lbs over the next three weeks. Then I fast again and typically drop 5-7 more. Etc.
So let me introduce one more person to you. This is the “Brad Pitt” of nutrition, from my perspective. I know, I know…get past the amazing abs and muscles and just listen to the guy. While I’m not really Keto (I eat a bowl of Fiber One with cashew milk every day or else bad things happen….), this guy has helped me find a lot of little tricks and nuances to help with fasting, diet, and more. I cannot recommend his YouTube channel enough and it has helped keep me motivated and informed, which are both crucial to me. Thomas DeLauer is a body builder, nutritionist, and health coach who provides new videos for all to consume three times per week. His insights are really powerful and highly researched, not to mention he seems like an incredibly nice guy.
So, between Fung, Walker, and DeLauer, the results I have seen in the past half a year have been nothing short of a miracle (to me). Absolutely nothing else had ever worked. Ever.
I will admit that sleep has been a major factor that I still struggle with. I’ve blogged before that I am a night owl, living in a lark world. My job has not afforded me the ability to sleep when it’s best for me and I am absolutely convinced that I am hurting my ability to lose weight much, much quicker.
Well, that’s it. I’ve already had to buy new jeans, some new shirts, and new shorts. It’s incredibly satisfying! If you want to hear more or pick my brain, don’t hesitate to email me. Not everything has worked while some things have really clicked. There is a LOT more information I could share, if you want it, especially with a few points Dr. Fung make that are hard to figure out or seemingly incongruent with other arguments. And I’m happy to talk! I can’t guarantee it will work for you, but if you’ve tried everything else you can think of, maybe it’s worth a try. As much as I truly love talking about education, teaching, and learning, I equally enjoy talking through issues of weight. It has encompassed my life for so long, I can’t even remember it not being a top-of-mind issue. :(
If you are not an educator and don’t care about how learning does or does not work, then I’m glad you stopped by. I sincerely hope these last two blogs have been worth your time. And if you are on your own quest for health, whether because of a bad back or weight issues, or whatever else it may be, I wish you the absolute best. I know how hard this can all be emotionally, socially, psychologically, and especially physically.
For my regular subscribers, please come back next week as I get back to the normal topics, hopefully refreshed from our vacation.
My progress so far…