Friday, February 07, 2020

tentative thoughts on my current diet

Earlier this week, I happily announced that I had lost 5 kg, going from a shameful high of 128 kg (282.2 lbs.) to a slightly less shameful 123 kg (271 lbs.). My ideal weight is about 200 pounds, i.e., about 91 kg. That means I have another 32 kg (70.5 lbs.) to go. Will I reach this goal anytime soon? No. Might I reach it within a year? Possibly, assuming there are few temptations, distractions, and other obstacles. That's a big assumption.

In a comment to a recent post, friend John McCrarey asked:

Is there a secret you can share about overcoming the desire to eat? Is it just a matter of dedication to losing weight overcoming the craving for food?

I could ask John the same question, really; he seems to have found it fairly easy to move to a low-carb regimen—something that I, with my sweet tooth, have a very hard time doing. His activity level—if I go by the average indicated on my phone's Samsung Health pedometer—is nearly five times* that of the average man: John does about 23,000 steps' worth of walking every day, which is almost twice what I've been averaging. Lots of exercise and good dietary discipline have brought John's weight way down while bringing his fitness level way up. So, yes: while I want to talk about how I'm approaching my current fitness regime, it's important to note that there's a lot that one can learn from John's example.

To review: the dietary side of what I'm doing revolves around an attempt at keto, plus intermittent fasting, plus 24-hour fasting. I do my 24-hour fasts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; on my "eating" days, I follow the 16:8 intermittent-fasting regimen, i.e., I eat my day's worth of calories during an 8-hour period, then fast the remaining 16 hours. If you're mentally doing the math and realizing that this means my 24-hour fasts are actually longer than 24 hours, well... yes and no. If I'm self-disciplined enough, then yes, a supposedly 24-hour block of fasting can last closer to 36 hours. But in many cases, because I'm going from midnight to midnight on the hardcore fasting days, I'll often misbehave and eat something right after midnight. Technically, this means I'm not strictly following the aforementioned 16:8 intermittent-fasting schedule, but you know what? I seem to be losing weight by giving myself these little allowances, and the results are—finally—visible on the bathroom scale.

The loss that I'm enjoying now took a while to gather momentum, but the ball at long last seems to be rolling. The first two weeks of this regime were discouraging and disappointing. I suspect that, on some level, my body was digging in its heels, metabolically speaking, and resisting this "new normal." The reason the pounds are coming off now is that my body has begun to relent: it's finally getting used to living life in this new, strange way. Both Saturday and Sunday are "eating" days, so that's when I get to relax a tiny bit, although I'm still on an intermittent-fasting schedule (in practical terms, this means I'm eating lunch only). If I eat too much and go over the caloric limit set by the MyFitnessPal app, then I trust that the amount of exercise I do on that day will put me back in a caloric deficit. So there is a bit of a calories-in, calories-out dynamic here, even though people like Gary Taubes and Dr. Jason Fung argue that the body's way of processing calories is never that simple.

In practical terms, this means I'm now randomly snacking about 90% less than I had been. I'm also consuming far fewer carbs, although I'm nowhere near down to where I should be to induce ketosis. Many of the meals I've cooked have been keto-friendly, but since I keep lapsing in my keto discipline on weekends (and, truth be told, during the week as well), I haven't yet had a two-week block of strict carb-rationing (i.e., eating under 20 g of carbs per day for 14 days straight). Coupled with nearly daily walks, I'm maintaining a caloric deficit that has slowly, almost grudgingly, translated into actual weight loss. While a loss of 5 kilos might still be attributed to water weight, that argument becomes harder to sustain the more weight I lose. Once I pass the 10-kg mark, I'll be satisfied that actual fat loss is occurring.

The keto diet is, by its very nature, absolutistic. You either induce keto, or you don't—it's that simple. By that harsh reckoning, I am not on the keto diet. That being said, I do make a flailing, fumbling effort to eat keto-friendly meals, and my carb intake has been severely truncated. I'll be visiting my doctor next week, and I'll be very curious to see how a month of dieting has affected my blood sugar.

The keto-diet community, I've discovered, does have a bit of a weird, cultish vibe to it. I recently watched a keto-related video on YouTube where one lady gushed unironically, "I'm really into the keto lifestyle!" That gave me the creeps. While I have nothing against a community whose members support each other as everyone strives for self-improvement, I get nervous around communities that start to weave linguistic shells around themselves through the use of specialized terminology. I suppose some of that is inevitable; all communities have their own particular jargon. But the keto community reminds me uncomfortably of the Smurfs—those little blue elves who use the word "smurf" to mean just about anything, such that "smurf" is being constantly injected into conversation: "I was so startled I almost smurfed!" "Boy, you're looking smurfy today, Lisa!" By the same token: "keto pizza," "keto pasta," "achieving keto," "inducing keto," "dropping out of keto," etc. Keto, keto, keto. I don't want to become one of those pod people who constantly proselytize about "the keto lifestyle." Love it or hate it, though, keto is the path I'm striving toward.

But to get to John's queries: I don't think I'm in a position to answer a "what's your secret?" question because I'm an overweight, diabetic, over-50 dude who has only just begun this particular self-improvement project. I'm not sure I have any right to dispense advice (not that John was asking for advice), especially given how frequently I stumble and backslide. I can say that it's been getting easier to fast on the hardcore-fasting days, but I still end my days hungry. Hunger is less of an issue while I'm walking; I think the physical activity keeps the blood away from my stomach and in my extremities, thus blunting the hunger. John offers a possible explanation for how I'm cutting back: it's "just a matter of dedication to losing weight overcoming the craving for food." Yes, I'd say that a lot of what's happening in my head amounts to that. With an eventual goal in mind, I give my life purpose, if you will, and the goal helps orient me along my chosen path. There's also a certain prideful, admittedly self-righteous satisfaction that comes from getting through a day's fasting without any mishaps. That, coupled with relentless walking (15-17K steps during the week; 25-30K steps on Saturdays), has allowed me to maintain my caloric deficit and stay on a downward weight trend. So on the egoic level, it helps for me to think of myself as the hero of my own personal narrative, like a knight on a noble quest or a soldier on a crucial mission.

It also doesn't hurt to use distractions as a diversion from one's hunger pangs. Spending time watching YouTube or watching a movie means that that's time spent not eating. Same goes for walking. Sometimes, the knowledge that I plan to weigh myself in the morning is enough to guilt me into not eating late at night. "It's only a few hours more," I tell myself before going to bed. And that's how it goes: I keep myself from eating by using a variety of small, short-term psychological tactics whose only aim is to delay any eating just a little bit longer. It's not always a happy or comfortable existence, and the need for distractions, self-reassurances, and extra motivation is constant. That's one of the major problems with being on this path: once you've chosen to follow it, you can't afford to stray—at least, not too far. Backsliding is always a potential pitfall, waiting for you like a crouching demon in the dark woods. At the same time, it's helpful to be willing to forgive yourself when you do make a mistake or deliberately go overboard. I know myself well enough, at this point, to realize that I'm not one of those ruthlessly self-disciplined people who can march in a straight line to victory. Luckily, I know that a day of bingeing will be followed by a day of fasting; the good karma will reassert itself after an onslaught of bad karma.

So, to sum up: overcoming the desire to eat has a lot to do with how I frame the issue in my mind. I use various psychological tricks and tactics, and I'm guided by a sense of (1) how my diet is supposed to work, and (2) what my ultimate goal is. Having a sense of purpose, as well as a sense of shame, can get me through the tougher periods. Getting used to fasting also makes the fasting easier: I know that, as hungry as I am, I need only wait until just past midnight to get a bite to eat. In the meantime, I use MyFitnessPal to count calories and to guilt me in such a way that I don't overindulge myself. At the same time, given how often I falter, I don't think I'm in a position to offer anyone weight-loss advice. I can and do, however, offer encouragement and support to everyone making the effort to live better lives.

*Samsung Health tells me that, according to the data it's been collecting from thousands of pedometer users, the average man only walks 4976 steps (49 minutes) per day.

1 comment:

John Mac said...

So, it's mostly a matter of self-discipline then. Not really my strong suit.

When I did the big weight loss (70 pounds in about a year) I followed the Taubes method. He didn't call it Keto as I recall and it DID NOT involve fasting. In fact, I think that diet worked for me because I did not have to ever feel really hungry. When I'd get a pang I'd have a slice of cheese or some nuts (instead of a candy bar). I do have a sweet tooth and giving up ice cream was especially difficult.

So, the 24 fasting thing sounds really hard to me but I might attempt the intermittent version. My goal is to stay under 200 pounds and I'm not denying myself the foods I enjoy, carbs be damned. Since I don't work I can spend three hours a day walking. But that's not enough to overcome the beers and a big bowl of ice cream to end my day.

I'll follow your progress with interest and try to emulate your motivation and discipline. I'd like to lose another ten pounds or so and stay there.

The struggle continues. Good luck and fight on!