Thursday, March 08, 2007

postal scrotum: Sperwer on weight loss

Sperwer writes in:


I just got back to the rabbit hole from the real world and saw your posts on losing weight.

Richardson is right to emphasize the basics: eating less and exercising more; the fundamental principle is taking on fewer calories and/or using more calories than you need to maintain (or, shudder) increase your current weight.

The proof isn't just in diminishing the size of the pudding, though, but in figuring out how to do so. That means changing whatever behaviours and habits you have that prevent you from doing so and substituting other healthier ones. This is a very personal endeavor; there's no one size fits all routine. You gotta have your own game, and that means figuring it out for yourself. You must run your own offense.

Here are a couple of suggestions on (mostly) the nutrition side of things:

1. Figure out what your current caloric requirements are. There are are lot of more or less precise ways of doing this, but for now you can probably make do with the sort of simple calculation based on the rule of thumb that 12 kcals are needed to maintain each pound of body weight. Thus, someone weighing say 218, like me now, needs to take on ~2,616 calories a day to maintain that weight.

2. Decide how much you want to lose and how fast. This is the first tricky bit. If, like me, you're a descendant of the berserkers, you'll try both to reduce intake and increase expenditure of calories, drastically . I think I went from something like 3,000 a day to less than 2000 while simultaneously pursuing a burn rate in the gym and at the dojang of about 1000 every other day. So on a weekly basis, my net caloric load was only ~10,000 compared to a maintenance dose of ~18,300, and 11,000 or more than 1500 a day less than my customary intake. I lost about thirty pounds of fat in a little over three months, while substituting about 12 pounds of muscle, for a net reduction in body fat of more than 11 percentage points. This only works if you're a little crazy, don't have much else to do that requires caloric output (for things like thought and/or emotions) and can get a helluva lot of sleep. A more reasonable routine is to try for a daily calorie deficit of about 500 through a combination of diet and exercise. As Richardson says, though, even that's hard.

3. Make it eas(ier). The reason it's hard, as Richardson also says, is that you generally end up being hungry most of the time. In part this is unavoidable, at least in the short run, because your body/brain is habituated - physically and often emotionally - to certain stimuli and gratification patterns that often carry us well beyond what we "need" for maintenance. And of course, even without the extra freight that those sort of addictive impulses want to add to the train, there is the maintenance "need" itself.

The good news is that we can bamboozle the body/brain into being satisfied with much less than is needed to maintain current weight. I've found that two tactics work. First is eating 5 or 6 times a day, so that when hunger arises it's more like an active 8 year old than a hormone-addled, rambunctious 17 year old. Second is eating something small that feels like a lot more. I've found that eating a lot - and I mean a LOT: ~ 2 grams per pound of body weight - of protein does this for me. Eating 33 grams of protein 6 times a day annihilates my appetite almost immediately and keeps it in check until the next scheduled visit to the trough, when it's still mild enough to be satisfied with what's on tap (about which more below). [This level of protein is also well suited to my strength training regimen, and may be more than you need if you're not also interested in gaining muscle. On the other hand, as long as you don't have challenged kidneys or liver it won't do you any harm; and even if you do, it probably won't.)

This implicates the issues of calorie counting and determining the relative percentages of protein, carbs and fat in one's diet. I don't know about you, but I don't have the patience for the sort of research and meal planning that these require. What I do know is that chicken has about the highest protein value of any food, and that I like it fine just plain, thank you. So 6 days a week I have a chicken breast and a head of broccoli for dinner, occasionally with some sort of low cal sauce that I dream up.

I also don't have the patience for figuring out and preparing 5 other compliant meals a day, so I've opted for the protein shake method. Actually, the product I use has both a lot of clean (soy and whey) protein and some carbs and fat, as well as a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, and I drink it mixed in with 2% milk for additional protein and fat to make sure that I'm getting not only my protein fix but at least minimum amounts of carbs and fat.

For me, this does the job of satisfying my purely physical cravings for calories. It also goes along way to fulfilling my cravings for food because it takes care of (most of) my physical appetite. For the rest, and for a substitute for the satisfactions that I'd get from a diet of food that was richer in carbs and fat (and the accompanying sugars and flavors), I rely on the feel-good effects of exercise, which are similarly both physical and mental/emotional - although,admittedly, this is a sort of learned response that takes some time to kick in and build up.

4. Give yourself a break. I do. Once a week I eat pretty much whatever I want, except for breads, sweets, or anything alcoholic except a glass or two of wine. This is a kind of Saturday night or Sunday afternoon reward for a weeks' worth of effort. Interestingly, the longer I've been at this, and it's only been about 7 months now, my appetite for my weekend splurge has changed dramatically. I eat much less than I use to - I'm simply not interested in eating more - and I also eat simpler and healthier foods; I fill up faster and I actually get queasy about eating certain kinds and/or amounts of food that I used to pack away like the trencherman I used to be.

Bukhansan beckons!




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