Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Necessary Lifestyle Changes

I've never been particularly skinny. I was a tubby kid growing up. When I hit a growth spurt in middle school I shot up to 6'3" and that was the slimmest I've ever been. This mostly continued through college. Since college, it's been a slow decline. My diet has gone through periods where it was atrocious. The health issues I was starting to have and the continual pressure on my waistline and pants were just depressing. I've never made a serious commitment to a dietary change to support myself being healthier. I haven't gotten consistent exercise. I've tried and failed a few times. I've read lots of books about the subject, but I've never been motivated enough.

Having kids changes your perspective and also makes you realize that you want to be around for them and see them grow into adults. The history of heart disease and cancer in my family cannot be ignored, and while I'm already at genetic risk, the things I was doing to my body were not helping.

It was time to do something. Christmas was a great time with family. It was also rock bottom for my dietary habits. Cookies and candy out the wazoo. Processed foods, baked goods, just lots and lots of eating for a week. The only things healthy I ate were the meals my mom cooked for dinner. At the end of my vacation, I stepped on the scale in my parents guest bathroom and was appalled at what I saw. I weighed 306 pounds. My mom made a deal with me to lose 40 pounds by July when we have our mini-family reunion. I accepted her challenge.

I got home and immediately fired up SparkPeople.com to track my food intake. I've had moderate success with it before but never stuck with it. It pushes the restricted calories and exercise approach, but doesn't get too drastic with anything.

I started out with that for a week, trying to hit the ranges it recommended, but not doing any other restrictions otherwise. I had one or two bad days, New Years Eve being one of them. But I figured I had cut my calorie intake by at least 30-40% from what I was eating during the holidays. A good start. I also started drinking lots and lots of water. I've always had hydration issues so it's probably good to work on that also, and it does help you feel full and contributes to faster weight loss.

After a week, I had already dropped about 8 pounds. Having been through this before, I know that was a lot of water weight, but it was encouraging. Things were going well, but I knew I wanted to do more. Straight calorie restriction works for me for a while because it steers me away from most foods I shouldn't eat, but I've had issues sustaining it in the past. And from reading various books like Gary Taubes Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It and other resources about Paelo and low carb diets, I knew that I wanted to also try to severely restrict carbohydrates.

Modern diet literature comes at dietary structures from many angles on what you can and can't eat. Despite their different angles, they all share one thing in common - refined sugars and processed carbohydrates are bad for you, they are toxic and inflammatory and will potentially shorten your life span and increase your risk of disease and cancer. Unfortunately, we live in an era and in a country where billions are made selling crappy food to us. And I think most Americans get sucked into that, and there's a large machine protecting it. The reality is, in a shift to low-fat over the past 30 years, we've loaded everything up with sugars to compensate, which is even worse. I have Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Robert Lustig in my queue to read. He also put out this video which I have yet to watch, but it's along the same theme. This stuff is everywhere right now, as doctors discover that 30 years of carb loading is screwing us all. Most of Taubes' book is about this dietary shift and what we need to do to reverse it.

With that in mind, and after a lot of research in various places. I decided to try cutting out processed carbohydrates and refined sugars out of my diet as much as possible. So for the next two weeks after the initial week, I tried that. I kept fruit and higher-carb vegetables in my diet. But no more sugar or artificial sweeteners and no more grains or starches. I cut sodas, flavored waters, juices, breads, baked goods, pasta, ice cream, and basically anything with refined sugar or processed carbohydrates, and any root vegetables. I was hovering around 100g of total carbs and 60-80 net carbs (net carbs subtracts carbs from dietary fiber, good carbs, if you will).

Refined sugars are pretty easy for me to cut out - I already wasn't drinking regular pop, or eating much candy or baked goods (tending to binge on these things when I did ate them, which was causing me heartburn issues galore). Other processed carbs like breds and pastas are harder. It's a chunk of my family's diet and pasta was a staple for meals.You do get pangs for this stuff the first couple of days/week that you try to eat this way. It's tough.

The results have been great. After a month, I'm down 18 pounds to 288 from my peak of 306 just after Christmas. I feel so much better already, pants are already fitting better that were basically goners in my closet. I'd switched mostly to pants with that elastic waste-band cheater thingy. Won't need it much longer. May even go down a pant size or two. My heartburn is basically gone. I feel pretty good. I have more energy. I'm sleeping better and I'm not getting sleepy during the day.

I started out going back to the gym and I've stopped for a few weeks, mostly because I wrenched my back and aggravated an old injury getting too aggressive on an elliptical machine. I will go back in a few weeks, and may have to make some adjustments to my diet to have the stamina to do it.

I still have a long way to go. My immediate goal is to drop 40-50, but if I could drop closer to 100 and be around 200, that would be amazing.

In the past week, I've decided to further reduce my carbs now that I've gotten over the grain hump, and I'm starting a ketogenic diet (aka Low Carb/High Fat). This is a diet that severely restricts carbohydrates in order to switch your body to burning fat. It's a diet that's emerging as a healthy weight loss diet which is easier for people to stay on. The nice part about it is that you can still eat animal fats and other healthy fats and protein in decent quantities, so I can eat a big part of my meals with my family. I first heard about this diet from Dez, who is on his own weight loss journey and doing very well with it. It sounded like something I could get into given my dietary habits and food preferences. After reading r/keto for a few weeks to get ideas and understand the diet, I decided I was ready.

I will write more about these changes as I go - as I've found other people a great source of encouragement in this journey so far, and I also think it will help hold me accountable.