Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My transformation: I cannot remember the last time I had a fever

The two photos below (click to enlarge) were taken 4 years apart. The one on the left was taken in 2006, when I weighed 210 lbs (95 kg). Since my height is 5 ft 8 in, at that weight I was an obese person, with over 30 percent body fat. The one on the right was taken in 2010, at a weight of 150 lbs (68 kg) and about 13 percent body fat. I think I am a bit closer to the camera on the right, so the photos are not exactly on the same scale. For a more recent transformation update, see this post.

My lipids improved from borderline bad to fairly good numbers, as one would expect, but the two main changes that I noticed were in terms of illnesses and energy levels. I have not had a fever in a long time. I simply cannot remember when it was the last time that I had to stay in bed because of an illness. I only remember that I was fat then. Also, I used to feel a lot more tired when I was fat. Now I seem to have a lot of energy, almost all the time.

In my estimation, I was obese or overweight for about 10 years, and was rather careless about it. A lot of that time I weighed in the 190s; with a peak weight of 210 lbs. Given that, I consider myself lucky not to have had major health problems by now, like diabetes or cancer. A friend of mine who is a doctor told me that I probably had some protection due to the fact that, when I was fat, I was fat everywhere. My legs, for example, were fat. So were my arms and face. In other words, I lot of the fat was subcutaneous, and reasonably distributed. In fact, most people do not believe me when I say that I weighed 210 lbs when that photo was taken in 2006; but maybe they are just trying to be nice.

If you are not obese, you should do everything you can to avoid reaching that point. Among other things, your chances of having cancer will skyrocket.

So, I lost a whopping 60 lbs (27 kg) over about 2-3 years. That is not so radical; about 1.6-2.5 lbs per month. There were plateaus with no weight loss, and even a few periods with weight gain. Perhaps because of that and the slow weight loss, I had none of the problems usually associated with body responses to severe calorie restriction, such as hypothyroidism. I remember a short period when I felt a little weak and miserable; I was doing exercise after long fasts (20 h or so), and not eating enough afterwards. I did that for a couple of weeks and decided against the idea.

There are no shortcuts with body fat loss, it seems. Push it too hard and the body will react; compensatory adaptation at work.

My weight has been stable, at around 150 lbs, for a little less than 2 years now.

What did I do to lose 60 lbs? I did a number of things at different points in time. I measured various variables (e.g., intake of macronutrients, weight, body fat, HDL cholesterol etc.) and calculated associations, using a prototype version of HealthCorrelator for Excel (HCE). Based on all that, I am pretty much convinced that the main factors were the following:

- Complete removal of foods rich in refined carbohydrates and sugars from my diet, plus almost complete removal of plant foods that I cannot eat raw. (I do cook some plant foods, but avoid the ones I cannot eat raw; with a few exceptions like sweet potato.) That excluded most seeds and grains from my diet, since they can only be eaten after cooking.

- Complete removal of vegetable oils rich in omega-6 fats from my diet. I cook primarily with butter and organic coconut oil. I occasionally use olive oil, often with water, for steam cooking.

- Consumption of plenty of animal products, with emphasis on eating the animal whole. All cooked. This includes small fish (sardines and smelts) eaten whole about twice a week, and offal (usually beef liver) about once or twice a week. I also eat eggs, about 3-5 per day.

- Practice of moderate exercise (2-3 sessions a week) with a focus on resistance training and high-intensity interval training (e.g., sprints). Also becoming more active, which does not necessarily mean exercising but  doing things that involve physical motion of some kind (e.g., walking, climbing stairs, moving things around), to the tune of 1 hour or more every day.

- Adoption of more natural eating patterns; by eating more when I am hungry, usually on days I exercise, and less (including fasting) when I am not hungry. I estimate that this leads to a caloric surplus on days that I exercise, and a caloric deficit on days that I do not (without actually controlling caloric intake).

- A few minutes (15-20 min) of direct skin exposure to sunlight almost every day, when the sun is high, to get enough of the all-important vitamin D. This is pre-sunburn exposure, usually in my backyard. When traveling I try to find a place where people jog, and walk shirtless for 15-20 min.

- Stress management, including some meditation and power napping.

- Face-to-face social interaction, in addition to online interaction. Humans are social animals, and face-to-face social interaction contributes to promoting the right hormonal balance.

When I was fat, my appetite was a bit off. I was hungry at the wrong times, it seemed. Then slowly, after a few months eating essentially whole foods, my hunger seemed to start “acting normally”. That is, my hunger slowly fell into a pattern of increasing after physical exertion, and decreasing with rest. Protein and fat are satiating, but so seem to be fruits and vegetables. Never satiating for me were foods rich in refined carbohydrates and sugars – white bread, bagels, doughnuts, pasta etc.

Looking back, it almost seems too easy. Whole foods taste very good, especially if you are hungry.

But I will never want to each a peach after I have a doughnut. The peach will be tasteless!