Thursday, August 02, 2012
A response I frequently see regarding my low-grain diet is, "You might be losing weight, but you're increasing your risk of heart disease."
For the past 30 years, we've heard 'heart-healthy grains' and low-fat diets touted as the defacto diet for good health.
Michael Pollan said it best in "Omnivore's Dilemma". Whether we choose low-fat, low-carb, flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan, we are all gambling with our lives that the choice will be the right one for wellness and longevity.
The reason many people turned to low-carb (or other diets) is because low-fat failed to make them healthier or thinner. In many cases, it harmed their health.
I was not fat in my youth or halfway through my 20s. I gained weight on fast food and chain restaurants in my late 20s. I'm now in my late 30s and finally found what I needed to lose weight and improve health.
During the time when I was on a low-fat diet (approximately 4-5 years), I lost weight and rebounded year after year. Every year it was less on the loss, and little more on the rebound. My blood lipids were in borderline ranges, but they were declining. This was chalked up to normal aging decline. I already eliminated fast food, processed foods and refined sugar products, so this wasn't happening faster.
The 'heart healthy grains' took their place.
My blood pressure and blood glucose levels continued to rise. Despite the 'heart healthy grains', my risk of diabetes increased every year I ate 5-6 servings of them per day.
Salmon and ribeye steak don't cause blood glucose levels to spike.
Avocados don't cause blood glucose levels to spike.
Whole grain bread has the same effect on blood sugar as white bread.
Which is more likely to increase risk of diabetes then? Salmon, avocados, or wheat bread of any kind?
I just finished reading "Wheat Belly". When I changed my diet a year ago, I unwittingly put myself on a wheat belly diet. The single biggest change to my diet was cutting back my grain servings. You know the one where we were supposed to have 11 servings per day for optimal health? I only ate 5-6 servings per day and it kept me fat.
All of the issues Dr. Davis described went away. Bulging belly, inability to lose weight, IBS, and eczema. Cravings and insatiable hunger were things of the past. Blood pressure and lipids also declined to normal range for the first time in 4 years. All the traditional clinical markers of improving health, not declining.
I expected the book to be a lot of information I already knew, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Did you know:
- Lack of exercise isn't why people in the 50s were thinner than today. Women exercising was considered unseemly. The only appropriate exercise for women was gardening.
- Modern wheat is highly modified. It is completely dependent on human intervention for nutrition and reproduction.
- It is not the same wheat Mesopotamians and Egyptians cultivated. The ancient grains einkorn and emmer almost went extinct. These grains are higher in protein with lower glycemic impact than the modern wheat strain.
- It is not the same wheat our grandmothers used in the 50s and 60s. Our parents ate bread rolls with dinner that were significantly genetically different than modern wheat flour.
- Wheat contains a component that is highly addictive and euphoric. It is more like nicotine rather than an opiate. Snacking on crackers and chips is pleasurable and comforting, much like taking a drag is for smokers. Withdrawal symptoms are also similar to nicotine: moodiness, headaches, head fog, and cravings. Sounds like low carb flu, eh?
- Pancreatic beta cells are damaged by high blood sugar. The more beta cell damage, the more insulin resistant you become. Beta cells cannot regenerate - once they're gone, they're gone for good. If all beta cells die, you have irreversible diabetes.
- Whole wheat bread has a glycemic impact of 71. A tablespoon of sugar is 65. Snickers bar is 40. I eliminated Snickers from my diet 6 years ago, and replaced it with whole wheat bread. Two pieces of wheat bread with a slice of ham between it caused more beta cell damage than a Snickers bar.
When I get to goal weight, I was considering allowing a grain or starch servings per day in my diet. After reading this book, I will stick mostly to starches. Starches have a glycemic impact, but they don't have the addictive property of wheat that causes overeating. I prefer rice and potatoes over bread, anyway.
The hardest realization is accepting my beta cell damage is permanent and irreversible. Bad choices a decade ago mean I cannot tolerate carbs and sugar well today. An occasional indulgence like a frozen yogurt, sorbet, or cheesecake might mean less frequently than I hoped. Or rice and potatoes.
Am I worried that my diet today will harm my health in the future? 4 years ago, I believed the low-fat, heart healthy grains would help me avoid diabetes, and yet it hurdled me straight towards it.
As Michael Pollan says, we are all gambling our lives with any diet we choose. After 4 years of declining health on the ADA approved program, that one is not for me. 14 months of low-wheat diet has removed all my clinical risks of diabetes and heart disease, so I'm going to place my odds in favor of this.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
I get a lot of questions about how I track my bodyfat.
In the past year, I learned that bodyfat and lean body mass (muscles, bones, blood, and organs) are far more important measures than weight at my stage of fitness goals.
However, even bodyfat may not be a reliable measure of how your body will look, according to this excellent blog from fitness trainer Leigh Peele: www.leighpeele.com/body-fat-pictures
As the article points out, knowing your bodyfat % isn't important. I started doing it because I wanted to track my lean mass. One of the arguments against low-carb diets when I started it is you lose lean mass. So I tracked it to find out if this was true. I wasn't going to continue if it harmed my health.
In my case, it wasn't true. As I've described, my lean mass actually increased last year once I started eating an appropriate level of protein.
The method I use is a handheld Omron bodyfat monitor. It is a bioelectrical impedence analysis (BIA) device.
Quick review of precision versus accuracy. If we were playing darts, high precision means all of your darts would be very close to the bullseye, but not necessarily close to each other. High accuracy means all of your darts land very near each other relatively, but not necessary near the bullseye.
I've found the BIA method to not necessarily be precise, but generally accurate when used under the same circumstances. I weigh and measure my bodyfat at the same time every morning. So my numbers are generally in the same range from day to day.
When I first started using it, I checked it against a gym caliper reading. It was within .5% at that time. So it was at least as close as a gym caliper. Good enough for my purposes.
All of the methods are flawed. The two most precise bodyfat methods are Dexa scan (in which your viseral organ fat is also visible), or an autopsy. Most of us would rather avoid the latter.
But really, I don't care what my real bodyfat number is. I'm not going to go into the full pros/cons of BIA because 4A-HEALTHY-BMI already wrote a great blog about it:
All I need is an *estimate*. A number. I could do it with online calculators, but I think that is even less trustworthy. I could buy calipers. I've chosen BIA knowing its limitations.
The numbers fluctuate from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. It varies most widely due to body water levels - a variable that can throw off all bodyfat measurements. People who freak out because they gained .1lb over yesterday should not buy these.
Me, I weigh with a scale and BIA every day. I bounced between 129, 128.8 and 128.4 all last week before dropping to 127.4 this morning. Daily fluctuations don't alarm me. I grab as many data points as I can so that I can spot trends. If weight keep sliding up, that's bad. Weight sliding down is good.
People who freak out over daily fluctuations should stick to weekly weigh ins. And I wouldn't recommend a bodyfat monitor, either.
This level of detail isn't necessary. I do it because I chose to. I think it has given me great insight into what my body responds to. Particularly because I am a smaller woman, and conventional dietary advice has given me very poor results.
I'm not after the optimal fatloss rate. I'm just keeping an eye on what works, and adjusting variables when necessary.
The main way that I keep an eye on what 'works' is my lean body mass. I can't estimate lean body mass without a bodyfat reading. The 'accuracy' of my measurement is good enough for me to notice changes in LBM, not daily, but over a longer period of time. Weekly is ok, monthly is better, multi-months is best. Weight loss and lean mass loss are signs I need to change course. Weight loss and lean mass maintenance or gain are go aheads to keep doing what I'm doing.
That is how I chose to measure my progress. YMMV.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Sparkfriend NEILITHICMAN asked me a really good question yesterday:
"What's your ultimate goal?"
The question actually took me by surprise.
What IS my ultimate goal?
Before last year, I was on a 4 year plateau. If I lost weight, I couldn't keep it off, and struggled to lose it again. It was a losing battle. Each year my stable weight slowly increased.
At one point, I'm certain that I resigned myself that the best I could do was 33% bodyfat. I never thought I'd see "normal" weight again.
To not only BE normal weight, but also have the possibility to EXCEED it, is something I have not considered in a long, long time.
My somewhat moving goal of 120lbs is what I'll shoot for. I'll evaluate how I like the look of my body then to see what changes I want to make.
My longer range goal is I've decided that I really want to be a MDA, Tom Naughton blog, or Dr. Eades success story. I hope they will find all my collected information interesting!
For now, my August goal is to keep doing what I'm doing. It's working. I see no reason to change it. As an incentive for starting off this month, my body rewarded me with another pound down this morning. So my plan is the same as last month, and I'll keep doing it until my body says I need another adjustment.
90g protein minimum
80g carbs maximum
4-5 servings veg
1-2 servings low glycemic fruit
Omega 3 rich fish 3x per week
Minimal starches and grains (1x per week, if desired)
No fast food/chain restaurants
No diet soda
2 liters water per day
Omega 3 Fish Oil
30-45 minutes 4x weekly elliptical/treadmill on high resistance settings
1-2 per week HIIT session
Daily wall push-ups/planking/squats
Weekend cycling or kayaking ~2hrs Sat/Sun
1 rest day
You might notice a few things missing from my goals.
Fat - The only fat that I avoid are hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Since I don't eat processed foods and fast food, this isn't a problem. I limit red meat not because of the saturated fats, but because of the high omega-6s in factory raised cattle. Other than that, I eat fat in whatever form it naturally comes. Avocados, nuts, nut butters, olive oil, butter, coconut oil, full fat cottage cheese and yogurt, eggs, meats, and a variety of cheeses. English cheddar (very sharp) and French Brie (very creamy) are my favorites.
Weight - I don't know what my weight will be at the end of the month, so I don't add it as a monthly goal. As long as I'm losing from week to week, then the end total doesn't matter. All I want is progress at the end of the week/month. Not a particular number. If I start noticing stalls, then I'll make adjustments.
Bodyfat - Same as weight. Don't know what it will be. I track this because I can't estimate lean mass without it.
For my personal data, I'm changing over my food tracking to "DailyBurn", but I'll try and keep my food tracker on Spark up to date, also. I've also altered the method that I estimate BMR in my spreadsheet, and added moving averages per the excellent suggestion of 4A-Healthy-BMI.
August goals, here we go!
Edit: Oh yeah! About my pullup goal. I haven't forgotten it. Dropping the bodyfat is part of that plan.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
More stats, for those who are interested. :) Only reporting on days where bodyfat was measured (or significant event marker).
April 20, 2011: (Low-fat diet)
May 12, 2011:
Bodyfat: 35% | 48lbs
Lean Mass: 86lbs
May 20, 2011: (Start date low-carb diet - minimal grains/starches)
June 2, 2011:
Bodyfat: 34% | 45lbs
Lean Mass: 87lbs
July 7, 2011:
Bodyfat: 28% | 35lbs
Lean Mass: 91lbs
(Break between August 2011-June2012)
July 12, 2012: (Post honeymoon + 1 month low activity and french fries)
Bodyfat: 30.5% | 40 lbs =(
Lean Mass: 91lbs
July 31, 2012: (Pretty close to back where I was a year ago)
Bodyfat: 29.1% | 37 lbs
Lean Mass: 91lbs
Net change (14 months):
Bodyfat: -5.9% | -11lbs
Lean Mass: +5lbs
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
I can't believe the end of month is already here!
My stats for these 30 days are as follows:
Weight change: -3.6lbs
Bodyfat: -1.1% | -3lbs
Lean Mass: -0.17lbs
Avg Exercise Minutes: 30
Avg Calories Burned during exercise: 217
Avg Carbs/Fat/Protein (g): 72/70/96
Avg Carbs/Fat/Protein (%): 22/48/30
Avg Calories Eaten: 1320
Avg Calorie Differential: -505
Skip the rest if you aren't interested in the analysis. :)
At the beginning of the month, I rebooted my weight loss goal after coming back from honeymoon.
In the past, restarting weight loss has been an exercise in frustration. Things just don't seem to work as well as they did before. It can be demotivating.
In the past year, I took a far deeper look at my weight loss journey than I ever have before. I made myself my own n=1 case study.
In "My n=1 Weight Loss Analysis" part 1 and 2, I described my methodology. I tracked a wide number of variable in an excel spreadsheet.
Now I have pretty good picture of how my body behaves on low-fat versus low-carb diet. I also know that it is possible to slip and lose gains, just like on any diet.
So how has rebooting my diet worked this time?
In February 2011, I restarted my low-fat diet and I barely lost anything. That was one of the events that lead me to research low-carb around April-May.
Having repeated this frustrating cycle too many times, I admit I was nervous rebooting low-carb.
Would history repeat itself?
According to the overlay of my weight last May versus this July, it is almost exactly the same.
Any perceptions I had about it being 'slower' than last time were just my impatience. I went back to the same way I ate last year, and my body is responding similarly.
I changed the method in which I track my bodyfat, so I recorded it more frequently than last year. The fluctuations are very confusing, and I don't know how to interpret them yet. I think more data collected next month might be more conclusive. Despite how much the bodyfat is varying, the important thing is my lean mass calculations consistently show I am maintaining lean mass. My weight loss is due to bodyfat.
When I started low-carb last year, I lost 6lbs and gained 1.6lbs lean mass in the first 30 days. I lost 3.6lbs this time and no lean mass gains, negligible loss. However, last year I was starting out with higher bodyfat, higher weight, and less lean mass. I probably lost more water weight last year, accounting for the bigger weight drop. I was also undereating protein on my low-fat diet, so the lean mass gains was due to eating an appropriate amount. My lack of lean mass gains this time tells me that my exercise level and protein consumption has reached homeostasis. If I want more gains, I will have to increase my resistance training/protein. I'm not ready for that yet. I want to maintain my LBM at this stage.
The main puzzle is the weight change is inconsistent with BF and LBM totals. I'm not sure what this means. Hoping August's data will help me figure it out. [Update: Fixed error in bodyfat reporting. Weight difference is within expected +/- margin.]
The calorie differential is interesting. According to calorie in-calorie out math, a differential of -500 calories per day should equate to a one pound loss in a week. I did lose almost 1lb per week this month. It didn't work that way last year, but that may have been because I was more biochemically imbalanced. Perhaps my metabolism is functioning in a way that the thermodynamics is applicable. It's too early to say, as this could be coincidental. We'll see if there's a pattern at the end of August.
In any case, I still believe the calorie composition matters for me. Eating more than 150(g)+ carbs would cause me to gain weight. You'll have to take my word for it, because I don't have any intention of experimenting with this further!
So what does this mean for August? If my historical pattern holds true, then my best gains in body shape will happen next month. I will be right where I left off in January before my schedule changed and the slight backslide.
Then looking farther ahead, my next challenge will be maintaining gains into the fall and holiday season.
Edit: Error in my bodyfat calculation. I reported it as 1.1lb change when it was supposed to be 1.1% change. 1.1% change in my bodyfat IS a 3lb loss, thus net weight change is consistent with what I expected. Correction made above.
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