Lose 20 Pounds on a Keto Diet – But You’re Probably Not Going to Like This Post – Part 2

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Note: for those of you that didn’t read part 1, read part 1 – ‘k?

Sorry for the cliffhanger. I’m nearing 10 weeks in ketosis and have written 84 pages journaling my experience. Dumping that on you would be a bit much – but trying to summarize has been a bear. This is my second shot at it.

I’ve been doing (at least trying) to do a low carb / keto diet since 2003. In this go-round I have done a number of things radically different than in the past.

I made health – not weight loss – my goal. I have spent 15 years reading and researching this diet. I truly believe it to be the best diet for me. As I am focused on the health aspects, the moving of the scale is a nice perk – not the main goal. If the scale doesn’t move it might frustrate me – but it is not a failure. Eating off-plan is the failure.

I immersed myself in everything I could about the ketogenic diet. There are way more books, audiobooks, and podcasts with new information. Keto has become a ‘craze’ again and there’s a lot of new and interesting information and many people in Facebook groups discussing it. I personally don’t completely agree with *any* of the approaches I have seen, but have borrowed things from many of the approaches to forge my own version. I did a lot of experimenting and learning – and while I have been in ketosis for nearly 10 weeks now, how I stayed there has radically changed from the way I did it in 2003 – and the way I did it in April 2018.

I have started taking supplements again. When I looked I back to 2003 and asked myself what was different from when I first lost 80 pounds and now,  one big difference was I didn’t take supplements anymore. Back in the day I had taken a plastic film canister’s worth each day. I became disillusioned with vitamins (read ‘Do You Believe in Magic?‘ like I did to understand why) and had cut back to just a multivitamin – and only a few days a week. I began taking it every day and began to try to figure out what other supplements might improve health and am building up a ‘stack’ of supplements to see what impact it might have. I’m still experimenting here but will discuss this further below.

I fast 16 hours per day. I do what’s called a 16:8 intermittent fast daily. I skip breakfast – only having black coffee. This used to bother my stomach but I’ve apparently healed whatever the reason was for that and now it’s not a problem. I then have my lunch around 1pm and my dinner between 8-9pm. I don’t have hunger issues nor do I have food fantasies. Being in ketosis this long simply removes constant hunger from the equation.

I don’t snack. Here’s a really interesting notion I am experimenting with. While removing carbs reduces blood glucose, it’s not really blood glucose that is at the heart of the problem – it’s insulin resistance. Insulin is an energy storage hormone. When you eat carbs, your pancreas squirts out insulin to get the excess glucose out of your system, driving it into your fat stores mostly. After decades of abusing this system, your cells no longer respond to insulin and your pancreas has to squirt out more and more to get the same effect. So you can check your blood glucose levels and everything looks fine – but your insulin is through the roof.

So you give up carbs and your blood glucose goes down. That’s great, but you still have this insulin floating around. Know why? Because protein also stimulates an insulin response, you are STILL promoting insulin resistance.

So here’s an idea that seems to make sense: what if you were able to give your body an ‘insulin holiday’ – would being able to allow your body to not have insulin constantly in your bloodstream give your cells a rest and allow them to increase their insulin sensitivity?

Some people think it does, so I’ve decided to experiment with this. I’ve read that an insulin response can last up to 8 hours after a meal. This would mean that doing a 16 hour fast – with no calories coming in – gives me at least 8 hours per day where there is no insulin in my system.

The notion of snacking means you NEVER stop producing insulin. So the notion of a ‘snack’ is not part of my life.

There’s a second part to this which I will go into next.

I make sure my meals contain enough protein. What I read was that a particular amino acid – leucene – in adequate amounts – produces ‘Muscle Protein Synthesis’ or MPS. From what I read you need at least 3 grams of leucene in a meal to produce this effect – and leucene is approximately 10% of the amino acids in a piece of meat. From what I’ve read this will prevent muscle loss during weight loss even is you sit on your ass. A 16:8 fasting schedule provides me with 2 doses of this effect per day and maximizes the efficiency of the protein I take in per day. Remember that a properly formulated ketogenic diet is supposed to be an ‘adequate protein’ diet. If I have between 40-50 grams per meal I am well within the ‘adequate range’ but making every ounce of protein count.

I don’t add fat to my food. What kind of screwed up keto diet is it where you don’t add fat? Here the idea is that if you want your body to burn fat, you want it to burn your CURRENT BODY FAT – not the fat you ingest. I calculated my macros (carbs, protein, and fat using one of the many ‘keto calculators’ out there. This one at https://www.ruled.me/keto-calculator is adequate – and instead of aiming for an exact target I came up with my own ranges – these are mine:

Calories:     1200 – 1892
Carbs:        20
Protein:    94-124 (104 is ideal)
Fat:        77-155

This give me a wide latitude to play in and not have to worry about being so damned exact about things. I typically meet my minimums at lunch and have a larger meal in the evening. I tend to be at the low-end on fat – which comes from the meat. I very rarely add fats to my cooking – maybe olive oil to a salad though I don’t eat salad as often as maybe I should. And this leads to another interconnected point.

I have a very limited and simple diet. OK – this is where you stop reading. I get it. But if you are interested in how my relationship to food has changed, keep reading.

If you join the keto groups on Facebook, you will frequently be exposed to keto food porn on some of them. The inventiveness in these groups is boundless and you can find bread recipes, pizza, ‘fat bombs’, all sorts of snacks, and could happily avoid most carbs and still have your favorite indulgent foods. The problem is two-fold for me: these recipes take a lot of time to prep, and sometimes the calories are through the roof.

I don’t do this. I’ve stopped frequenting these groups that post the food porn. Instead, I’ve chosen to follow a very simple diet dominated by the following foods:

  • Chicken thighs
  • Chicken breasts
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Hot Italian sausages
  • Grass-fed, nitrate-free hot dogs
  • Nitrate-free bacon
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce
  • Kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage)
  • Avocados
  • Arugula
  • Olive oil
  • Ghee (also called ‘clarified butter’)
  • Less than 4 oz. of cheese per day.
  • Salt
  • Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute

I’ve certainly had other keto-friendly foods (pickles, tomatoes, eggs, cauliflower, a little pasta sauce, salsa, among others), but the above list predominates.

You might be thinking: what a restrictive diet!

that is exactly what I thought as well – until I tried it.

I find it LIBERATING.

Nearly everything I cook is baked. I cook enough meat and veggies for 2-3 days. I measure out my portions into sandwich bags on a scale for lunch, then weigh out my dinner. Since I don’t snack, I have what I would call a natural and normal hunger response when I do eat – and I enjoy my food. I even find my portions to be almost too large at times – though my total calories for the day can sometimes be as low as 1200 calories. While you might think this is a rather bland set of flavors, my response to flavor has changed since I removed what I some call ‘hedonic’ foods with complex layering of flavors. I thought I never could wean myself off of my Orange-Tangerine artificial sweetener, but after a few miserable days, I didn’t miss it anymore. My palate has adjusted, I love my meals, shopping is a breeze, cooking is a breeze, lunch is a breeze – and now I know what it feels like to ‘eat to live’ rather than ‘live to eat’.

“I don’t eat that.” I’ve given up a lot of things – all grains, nuts (portion control problem), sweeteners, a lot of dairy (portion control problem), and so many other things I can’t count. I don’t have willpower nor do I believe in willpower as something that can be sustained over a lifetime against something as primal as hunger – and there is a bit of a mind trick I use to deal with this.

I have a lot of respect for ethical Vegans. They have made a decision that eating animal products is wrong and they do not eat them. They simply say: “I don’t eat that.”

there’s no negotiation here. Ethical Vegans don’t have a ‘cheat day’. It is black and white for them. I’ve decided to do this on my diet. I have foods I eat – and a very long list of foods I don’t. If offered, I say: “I don’t eat that for health reasons – and I can’t even have a taste.” If a further explanation is needed, I am eating this way to avoid getting full-blown diabetes and the best way for me to do that is not having the smallest cheat. As soon as you open the door to a small cheat, a larger one can easily creep in, and BAM! There goes all your hard work. This has happened to me too many times to count.

Like Vegans, people will think you’re odd – even odder than Vegans because their way of eating is better known. My diet is for health reasons first. I have my reasons for eating this particular way that most people won’t care about – and I won’t bore them.

I can easily sit and watch people eat all this stuff in front of me and I don’t care. My older daughter tried tempting me with bread at the steakhouse but my reaction to the bread was like a rabbit reacting to a slab of beef: utter indifference – because I don’t eat that. If I allowed cheats I would exhaust myself with the ‘how much can I have’? then having even a little taste will turn on cravings in the brain I don’t have anymore for 72 hours after the cheat, according to one doctor. So even one bite will at least make me miserable for 3 days – and at the worst, completely derail 10 weeks of hard work.

If I eat the way I do now, I don’t have diabetes. If I eat like a normie – I do.

I watch my salt, magnesium, and potassium. When you start a low carb / keto diet you lose a lot of water weight quickly as the carbs in your system bind to water molecules. No carbs and you lose that extra water – good – but as you lose the extra water you begin to mess with electrical pathways in your body and have the potential for problems if you don’t watch your electrolytes. This is how you get the ‘Atkins Flu’ as it was called years ago, or the ‘keto flu’. You get a headache, you get shaky, you get a head rush. This is your body’s electrolytes going screwy.

With salt, I make sure to salt all my food. Then I will have a glass of salted water if I feel weird – or just because I haven’t eaten in a while. I also take a magnesium supplement daily.

From what I’ve read, I am leery of taking potassium supplements. People on these keto Facebook groups usually use a product called ‘No-Salt’ – a salt substitute, but what these online groups don’t tell you is that some people – like me – are on ‘potassium – sparing’ blood pressure medications where is says on the damn label not to use this stuff. So I don’t. Potassium also seems to be the one that can also fuck you up the most – causing your heart to beat wrong. That’s something that can kill you and I am not going through all this trouble to die! I usually get my potassium through foods – an avocado is a great source.

Being this deep in ketosis also means heavy exercise or being out in high heat can mess you up way faster than normies walking around with excess water weight and electrolytes. I’ve heard people say they steal salt packets from restaurants and make sure they have a couple on hand – and some water – in case they feel weird during activities like these. This electrolyte issue also calls into question the bogus medical advice of drinking 8 glasses of water a day. For regular folk – so what – it gives them something to do other than eat, makes them feel full, and makes them feel good about themselves. Folk in heavy keto lose extra electrolytes like this. I will frequently drink a liter of seltzer on ice in the evening, or water during the day – but I really don’t count and do it because I’m thirsty.

I take ‘weight loss’ naps. Sleep is real important. I know a lot of people struggle with sleep – I don’t usually have a problem. One less thing for me to worry about as poor sleep can prevent weight loss – and is certainly not good for your health.

But here’s something I noticed in me by accident. Occasionally, on a weekend, I find the opportunity to take a nap. Lazy shit that I am – I take it. What I have found more often than not is if I weigh myself after the nap, I’ve lost a pound or two. It’s the damnedest thing. I’ve seen no one else mention this, but it does happen to me.

I measure my meals using Cronometer. None of the diet tracking apps are just right. Some can’t count net carbs. Some have nutrient values that are not based in reality. Some are just not designed very well. I’ve recently started using Cronometer and while the free version has annoying advertisements that can make you wait a few seconds before entering your values on certain screens, it is my current fave. I particularly like how you can set your own macros, clearly show net carbs, and view your micronutrient counts. There’s some things I don’t like – and some things that don’t work as expected, but here’s the thing: because I eat pretty simple, it’s pretty simple to enter my macros in a minute or two. Another app called Carb Manager is also good – I just prefer Cronometer.

I mess up at pretty much all of the above. Think of all of the above as the bullseye on a target for me. I aim for that center. Sometimes I don’t hit it – but that’s what I keep aiming for. Example: after a very good meal where I had two martinis (which I should not have had!), when putting away the food I ended up having some of my kid’s leftover mashed potatoes. While this didn’t cause me to go out of ketosis, it *did* cause my blood glucose to spike – my morning fasted glucose the next morning was 138. the day after it was 40 points lower.

Lesson learned: The way I eat determines if I am a diabetic. This one cheat helps reinforce the reason I have a ‘no cheat’ rule. I still drink from time to time. Usually red wine. It does not knock me out of ketosis and doesn’t raise my blood glucose – but it does increase insulin resistance and does slow weight loss – and does make me feel crappier the next day. I’m still working to minimize, if not eliminate this.

I feel better, but think I could feel better still. I still have a lot to learn not only about a long-term ketogenic diet as so much new research and thinking has been done in the past few years, but I have to learn about Me – my personal physical and emotional makeup at the present time in the context of a ketogenic diet.

Let’s face it: I’m 55. I’m probably late to the game of optimizing health – and there is certainly no shortage of people who want to tell me the right way to do this. Dr. Jason Fung, in the book ‘The Obesity Code‘ wants me to go on extended fasts lasting days.

I don’t know about that. I’ve read that there can be positive benefits – autophagy is one example – which is a recycling and cleaning of your body’s cells when you fast. (Here’s a link to some online doc I just found that discusses why it’s good for you.) Sounds good, but I’m not sure that I can’t get some of that same benefit with my 16 hour fasts – or occasionally eating once a day (which I can pull off with little effort). Or Dr. William Davis’ book and website ‘Undoctored‘ where he suggests you add raw potato as a prebiotic to a smoothie. Not too sure about *that* one, Doc – though I *did* take his advice to NEVER take calcium supplements with vitamin D because adding calcium to the diet has never been shown to help reduce bone loss – but there’s some evidence that this calcium ends up on you artery walls. I’ve got more to learn here, though to fully understand what he is saying.

I recommend both books. Dr. Fung’s makes a strong case that the focus on health for most of us fat folk leads to minimizing insulin resistance. Dr. Davis has a grander goal and proposes an entirely new medical model where patients educate themselves to treat the underlying causes of disease, be smart enough to know when to involve a doctor, and to establish a doctor-patient relationship where they are partners in decisions because the patient might just know more about their disease state – and physicians stop acting like they know it all when the hours they work and the volume of information makes that impossible.

Right now my goal is to have my next blood work 6 months (October, 2018) from the start of my diet. It can take that long for numbers that can go out-of-whack as you begin the diet to normalize. During that time I will hopefully be able to lose more weight – which should help those numbers. I’d like to further explore supplements. Some I’m taking now I could not give you a clear explanation as to why I am taking them. For example: I’m taking 6000IU of vitamin D3 per day. Why? Because my Retinologist – a ketogenic nutrition nerd like myself except way smarter – told me that’s what he takes since he read the book ‘The Vitamin D Solution‘. I have the book, but haven’t read it yet. I am going to supplement with a small amount of iodine – 300mcg – because from what I’ve been reading from multiple sources, I have some symptoms of a sluggish thyroid – and most clinicians do not run the proper tests to determine this – and even the test they do run they misinterpret. But too much can also be bad and actually *cause* hypothyroidism. I have a lot of researching to do here. I want to study this area more closely and understand why I need a TSH test, a Free T3 test, a Free T4 test, a Reverse T3 test, a TPO antibodies test, and a TgAb test. *I* also need to understand the current thinking on how to interpret the results because docs won’t order test they can’t interpret.

I also need to understand a great deal more about why a standard lipid panel is not adequate for someone living a keto lifestyle. I know the short answer: the LDL-C. The ‘C’ in the name means ‘calculated’. It’s not an actual count but a calculation that isn’t particularly accurate for people on a keto diet. The NMR test actually counts the different LDL subfractions and provides a lot more precision as there are only a few of the LDL subfrations that are dangerous. I have to be able to convince my doctor so when *he* gets second-guessed by the health plan as to why he is ordering a more expensive test, he doesn’t have to hear them bitch about it.  Or I have to convince him to write me a prescription for it and then pay for it out-of-pocket – and it doesn’t even appear that I am legally allowed to order my own blood test in New Jersey – I’ll have to drive to PA to be allowed to get a blood work I will pay for myself as New Jersey thinks it is too dangerous to allow me to make these decisions for myself?

There’s also potential dangers to the diet – depending on who you listen to. Of course, a normal diet will most assuredly give me a case of Diabetes with complications of kidney disease, blindness, dementia, and amputations being some of the wonderful complications I can expect from that. But still – if not done right – keto can potentially cause pancreatitis, gallstones, kidney stones, and dangerous heart rhythms. All this leads to the my last point.

Don’t follow me – I’m lost. Ever see the bumper sticker that says that? It’s probably the best advice – the wisest advice I can give you. Don’t go on a ketogenic diet. Don’t do this. Don’t try this at home. Most people just want to be told what to do – they don’t want to do all this ‘thinking’. Ketogenic diets are poorly understood – or even considered dangerous (often for the wrong reasons) by most doctors.

There are people who learned about the keto diet 2 years ago, lost weight, set themselves up as an expert, and run blogs and Facebook groups signing people up for expensive courses on how to lose weight. They sure *act* like they got it all figured out…but I’m not sure.

I see one group contradict another. how do you calculate your protein intake? One group says calculate it using your current body weight – the other say by your *ideal* body weight. Some say saturated fat is great – others say it’s OK, but any added oil should be monounsaturated olive oil. Some think seed oils like corn oil and soybean oil are OK – I avoid them like the plague. I don’t see much discussion about the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio. This is important. I see some people recommend taking a ton of fish oil – but don’t mention that it is a natural blood thinner and could be dangerous to people already on blood thinners.

I could go on…is your head spinning yet? My wife just asked me “What do you do all the time on the computer?” I explain that I spend most of my waking hours reading and researching nutrition and ketogenic diets. I don’t think she believes me – or if she does she thinks I am crazy.

I spend all this time – it’s my hobby/obsession – but the more I learn the more I know I don’t know squat. That is why a long time ago I got out of the advice business. Please read my disclaimer if you even remotely even consider applying anything here to your own life.

I could go on but I’m sure you’ve had enough.

 

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I have a crush on the Cronometer food tracking app

While I hate tracking, I find it necessary as I fine-tune my routine and get to a place where it might not be necessary. I have tried a lot of nutrition calculators and most of them ranged from passible to useless. I spent a lot of time with LoseIt! but it was always a one-sided relationship where I had to accommodate the app instead of it accommodating me.

I deleted it.

MyFitnessPal. Apparently beloved by millions – but not by me. Deleted.

KetoDiet was another. Minimalistic. Simple – but perhap too simple. Also, their units were quirky and to put in some foods I had to do tortured math in my head to come up with equivalents – and relationships that require me to do math in my head are doomed to fail.

There were others. One-night-stands that got deleted within a day. Frankly, most diet apps that even take keto into account only seem to pay it lip service.

Net carbs, for example, can be a nightmare. Scans of the barcode can be so off as to be laughable – or most of the foods I eat aren’t on the list.

Then came along Cronometer.

We’re early on in or relationship, but adding food is easy with many options for measuring – one will typically work without pulling out a calculator. Recipes are a breeze to manage, and the scanning works well and seems pretty accurate so far.

The secret sauce – what make it stand out to me? It elegantly shows me my micronutrients. This quickly showed me I was deficient in calcium and magnesium – I would have never know in other apps – or maybe it was just hidden. This allowed me to alter my supplements to make sure I wasn’t deficient. You can also put in your own target ranges as opposed to the app calculating the macros for you.

Now with any relationship, there is always a downside. With Cronometer, it is ads. Not only banner ads, but full-screen overlays that prompt me to play a mini golf game while all I wanted to do was enter that I ate an avocado.

There’s also some features I don’t have but I don’t miss them because I don’t have them. Can’t miss what you never had.

While I might consider paying for the ad-free experience, I have not been crippled by the interruptions.

While tracking sucks, I find Cronometer sucks less than all the others I’ve used.

Give it a whirl and see what you think. A month from now I might write another post explaining why I hate it, but right now it’s my new BFF.

Recipe: 5-Minute Pork Belly with Egg

While I am still trying to navigate what my new approach to low carb will look like (see previous post), my diet still centers around the notion of very high fat and few carbs as possible. This recipe fits the bill in spades.

Trader Joe’s, the eccentric grocery chain in the US, sells pre-cooked pork belly. It’s slow-cooked before packaging which makes preparing it quick and convenient. I warmed it up earlier in the week for the family but there were other things at the meal and it went mostly uneaten, so now I had a half-pound of pork belly to use up.

This morning I was hungry so I whipped up the following:

  • 2 ounces cooked pork belly, diced
  • 1 egg
  • 4 shots Tabasco sauce

Prep was simple: as the pork belly is so fatty there is no need for butter or other oils. Placed in a hot frying pan, the belly releases enough oil to cook the egg. After throwing the egg in, I scrambled them together. Total time cooking was less than 5 minutes and the time from coming up with the thought to sitting down to eat was less than 10 minutes.

(I still have to clean up, but I don’t want to think about that right now.)

The verdict? This was WAY better than I imagined. I thought I was going to get an OK meal and use up some leftovers before they went bad; instead, I got this really tasty dish that I really enjoyed – enough so that I took the time to add it as a recipe to my Lose It! diet web app and post it here.

I also have some nutrition information, if you track that sort of stuff:

Calories: 367
Fat: 35 grams (87% of calories)
Carbs: 0 grams (0% of calories, of course)
Protein: 11 grams (13% of calories)

It was so good that after eating I wanted to make another serving, but I restrained myself for that 15-minute window we supposedly have for satiety signals to reach the brain and by then I felt full enough that I didn’t need a second helping.

This is a perfect meal for people trying to get into induction or ketosis or whatever you like to call it, and at 87% of the calories coming from fat, a great meal if you are attempting a ‘fat fast’.

Day 4: Friday, April 4, 2014 – 223.0 – The Flub

Day 4: Friday, April 4, 2014 – 223.0

Things were going well. Cheese, a burger, low carb ketchup, a Fage yogurt. All to plan.

And then they weren’t.

As a two-income household, teo long commutes, two kids, no maids nor nannies, having th breathing room for a sit-down meal is an infrequent occurrence. As both kids were asleep, tired from the day’s activities, that meant my wife and I could dine alone – an even more unusual occurrence.

She wanted me to open a bottle of wine for her. She’s a light drinker. I thought the rareness of the occasion might allow me to bend my rule and have a glass of wine with her.

Bad move.

The meal itself was fine: some hot Italian sausage stir-fried with broccoli rabe along with a small lobster tail that was on sale. She had a side of Quinoa with corn – I steered clear of it.

It was all very nice. Due to homework issues I pulled the plug on the TV and the house was quiet. We drank our wine and ate our meals and talked and I was quite satisfied.

Relaxed.

She didn’t finish her glass so I finished it for her as she went up to bed, leaving me alone in the kitchen.

Relaxed after a long week, defenses down and putting away the remaining food began the fall from low carb grace. A few dumplings from the other day were had, and then some of the Quinoa – that being followed up by not one but two ice cream sandwiches.

Wilson – what I had named the bunny-shaped sugar cookie that haunted my bedstand – got it next. Only his head remained, his countenance one of blank complacency – much like a real rabbit.

He was gone – and so was my low carb streak.

As cheats go it wasn’t a big one. It should slow things down – certainly – but it’s not the end of the world.

Let’s see if I can keep this an isolated incident.

The April Fool

Day 1 – Tuesday, March 1, 2014 – 225.4

OK – maybe the last month was a ‘test’ – a baseline to see where my problem points were.

It was also a month that saw a decade’s worth of work end for me as it was turned off, and a new system turned on. I sweated the details of this cutover and all the work seems to have paid off so far. Still some kinks to fix, but on the whole I think we’ll come out fine.

I’m going to lay my abysmal performance last month on the diet to that.

There. As if by magic, I am blameless.

Unburdened now from any guilt in my flubbing it for the past 21 days, I can review my spreadsheet and come away with a few observations:

1. I keep trying to prove I can drink and lose weight but I can’t drink and lose weight. Sucks but true. Alcohol is it’s own ‘nutrient’ with 7 calories per gram. Its high in calories and those calories have to be dealt with ASAP by the body. When you are burning those calories, you ain’t burning fat. Alcohol can also trigger hunger for me. If I have a martini out at dinner here and there, that’s fine – but the number of times I have it per month should be less than the fingers on one hand.

2. My chart for last month that showed how many days I ate a given food revealed that I ate about 70 different foods – only half of them I consider to be good for my diet. It also showed I ate way too few different ‘good’ foods, as can be evidenced by my having roast beef 13 times. No wonder I am *sick to death* of roast beef. The chart I made for this month lists over 40 foods that aren’t a problem on a low carb diet. I am going to make a conscious effort to increase variety as I believe this was part of the problem. I am going to try to not eat the same foods more two days in a row – with the exception of cheese and dairy, which I could eat every damn day in all it’s varieties.

3. I am still going to try to steer clear of nightshades – peppers and tomatoes – for the month and see if I notice a difference.

4. I’ve added more veggies to the list. There was a paucity of veggie variety last month – I’m going to try to add more.

5. I have a deep-seated disinclination to throw food away. I am going to have to work on this one because, while noble from a ‘people are starving’ standpoint, it does me no good in the weight department. I am going to make a conscious effort to not eat to clean the plate of empty the container, but consciously leave a little food for the trash. Ugggh – just *writing* that makes me cringe.

6. In my blog I’ve detailed over 150 recipes – most of them relatively fast and simple to make. I’m going to go back and resurrect some and maybe try to make them faster and easier.

7. I’m going to allow myself a few processed crutch foods to help me out. I’ve got the EZ_Sweetz – a true zero-calorie sucralose as a sweetener. Low carb ketchup as a low-brow favorite. Almond milk – a processed food and I am somewhat suspect of ALL processed foods, even those that claim to be healthy – but I love the stuff and it works as a great low carb alternative to milk, which has always been a comfort food for me. And my old friend mayonnaise – high in Omega-6 fats which I avoid, but if it’s the only component of my diet high in Omega-6 I should be OK.

8. I’m not going to measure quantities – at least yet – but just become more aware of them. My food tracking system only counts the eating of a given food as ‘I ate it’ – it doesn’t care if I had a bite or a case. I don’t want to pull out my electronic scale and start weighing stuff, nor do I want to fire up my calorie-counting app just yet.

9. Lastly, I’m going to revive an old habit of keeping a tiny little paper booklet where I kept long-term and short-term goals, my to do list, a shopping list, and things I was waiting for. Despite all the iPhone apps I’ve tried and being surrounded with computers that will happily track this stuff six ways to Sunday, there was something empowering in this little booklet.

Let’s see how THIS goes.

 

I Don’t Run

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I don’t run.

Let me elaborate. I don’t mean this as a sports activity as much as a core belief that I have held for probably 40 years.

I don’t run in the rain – I figure that you run into just as much rain as falls on you if you don’t run. This was apparently proved false in an experiment where researchers ran in suits that absorbed the rainwater hitting the suits then weighed both – but I don’t believe it.

I also don’t run in emergencies – the best you’ll get out of me is a ‘fast walk’.I consider myself lucky that no emergencies have befallen me in the past 40 years where a good fast walk didn’t suffice.

I hated gym in school and devoted much time to avoiding it at all costs. I would ‘forget my gym shorts’, which was grounds for non-participation and supposedly a means to motivate the boys to wear them.

They hadn’t seen the likes of me, apparently, and this worked out well in getting me out of participating, though it drove my gym teacher – a decent guy who just couldn’t understand that a boy might consider gym to be the last thing on earth he’d want to participate in – half insane, though there were ongoing hassles with parent-teacher conferences and an ongoing ‘cold-war’ of sorts with my long-suffering, at-wit’s-end gym teacher.

I had wizened up by high school and in a conspiracy with my friendly doctor, had gotten a note excusing me from gym for the entire 4 years.

I have, on occasion, cycled and played with weights here and there in those 40 years. I also got a stair stepper that messed up my knees for a while and now the infernal machine slowly rusts in an attic. I have also walked a lot – mostly out of necessity – I have to get to the fridge somehow – and they don’t carry me into work from my car – and have also walked as a form of exercise on occasion – usually leisurely strolls though on occasion on a treadmill at a fast walk pace – but no running.

Yesterday, I ran for the first time in 40 years.

It wasn’t far – only a little more than a quarter mile, but it was technically ‘running’ – not fast walking, but actual running.

Why this occurred was because I had tried to come up with a lie for my diet. Let me explain.

Last fall, in one of the many versions of the book I want to write that haunts my every day, I wrote this:

Hell is other people – avoiding smiling saboteurs

If I were to go to a party and turn down some food, which would get me off the hook easier: ‘I’m on a diet’ or ‘I’m training for a marathon’?

I’ll bet you the marathon – although in reality it is a pointless, bone-crunching endeavor imbued with some nobility of spirit – would resonate better than saying ‘I’m on a diet.’

Why is that? Perhaps running 26-miles is to more people a realistic goal because we can watch marathons on the news and see masses of people actually doing it, whereas dieting almost always fails, and almost everyone is on a diet – it just isn’t that ‘special’.

Actually, it gives me the idea to test this out the next time I encounter a food pusher. I will tell them that ‘I can’t have any – sorry – I am in training.’ If they pursue this I might let it go like this:

“What are you training for?”

‘A marathon.”

“When?”

“Well, that depends. My goal is to get to a weight where I won’t do unnecessary damage to my knees while conditioning myself for a run. I don’t know how long that will take but this explains why my regimen is so strict.”

What kind of jerk would insist you eat a piece of pie after that explanation?

At the moment I write this it is a complete and utter lie, of course, but I can always turn it into the truth should I feel so inclined.

So the entire notion of ‘running’ when I wrote this last fall was as a cover story. A lie. I was going to tell people I was going to run a marathon with no intention of ever doing so!

It was an interesting approach that I thought might get me through the holidays that I never put into practice – probably because I made little attempt to follow a low carb diet during the holiday season and ate what I wanted.

I am also anti-exercise. I have long been a collector of stories over the years of people who harmed themselves through exercise. James Fixx – the guy who started the running fad in America – dropped dead of a heart attack while running. A friend of mine, very physically active, needed a hip replacement in his 50s. Another fellow I know began exercising in his 50s and was enjoying it – then he started getting clumsy, dropping pens and bumping into things. It turns out he had injured his spinal cord in some freakish way, required surgery, went through 6 months of therapy to learn to walk again, and now – 2 years later – still walks with a cane.

I also think that exercise as a means of losing weight is absurd. Our basal metabolic rate – the calories burned in lying still in bed all day – is how the vast majority of calories are burned unless you are an intense athlete. An hour on a treadmill once burned 220 calories – that’s a single Atkins bar.

Given all of the above, it seems odd but I began to consider my lie in a new light. Why DON’T I run a marathon? The answer is that it requires far more conditioning that I have time for given my long work hours and chores at home.

Phew! Dodged THAT bullet – but the thought assumed a different form. What might be a more realistic goal?

For someone like me, the gateway drug into running is the ‘5K’. 3.2 miles. I began researching this. There are plenty of running sites that talk about ‘couch to 5k’. This was a realistic goal – though still a distant one. I even told other people this goal to cement a level of commitment.

I experimented with myself by getting on the treadmill and seeing if I could fast-walk 3.2 miles. It took me nearly an hour but I was able to do it without dropping dead.

OK – I had the duration down. The next question is – after a 40-year ban on running if I could actually do it.

But before I continue with my story I think a question still remains: why am I doing this again?

I think it lies in new research about brain health and the notion of what is called a ‘keystone habit’.

First, I am not happy with the current state of events. My diet has been derailed by what I think can be described as ‘ego depletion’ – mostly have to do with work.

‘Ego depletion’ is a psychobabble term that describes our ability to exert the energy to form a new habit or break an old habit is finite. There’s only so much juice in the battery from day-to-day and that energy runs down as we battle our personal demons as well as the demons that haunt our work days.

I have had a tendency in my work career to somehow stumble into situations where I end up becoming critical to the success of some big project. This doesn’t occur because of some ambition as much as because I like to actually build things that work. I usually try to keep a low profile but sometimes find myself in situations where I don’t see the right questions being asked and – to avoid what I perceive as doom, I open my mouth – and people listen to me.

This time I seem to have stumbled into a situation where I’ve become a key person in a project that has to do with an undertaking where mistakes could be very costly. The dollar figures involved could be far more money than I will ever see in my lifetime – or perhaps many lifetimes.

Without going into detail other than to say that my field is computers and technology, what I’m working on can be described like a sort of brain transplant – the only difference is that any doctor doing a brain transplant would be given as much time as needed to do the task – we have a deadline.

Things are going well so far but I’m the type that sweats every little detail – and it is taking its toll. The diet was the first thing to go. After a good start for the new year I was tormented by the desire for a cigarette and wine.

I gave in. Ego depletion.

I have to be honest: I felt so much better – but this was not a workable solution. Both of these substances have wonderful mood-regulating powers but the downsides of weight gain and the potential for cancer, stroke, emphysema and heart attack don’t jibe well with my desire to be able to maintain my health until both my kids are grown.

Back to exercise.

Exercise is not a great way to lose weight – but it IS a wonderful means of mood regulation. Recent research has also shown that it can contribute to neurogenensis – the growth of new brain cells. It was once thought that we couldn’t generate new brain cells after our teens but current research seems to indicate that you can – and aerobic exercise is a means to do so.

I don’t consider myself afraid of death. When I had my emergency appendectomy in the fall, right before they put me under I briefly considered the fact that any surgery might mean death. Perhaps it was the dilaudid that they had dosed me up with prior, but I considered the fact that I could die on that table – and was OK with it. Of all the ways to die, going to sleep and never waking up ranks pretty high on the list of good ways to go.

I AM afraid of dementia and decrepitude. My Dad has advanced Alzheimer’s and my Mom died after an prolonged and miserable decline in her health from emphysema.

I have passed my half-century mark feeling my age and wanting to stave off the inevitable along with the ability to remember my pants when I leave the house – and being able to leave the house without the need for an oxygen tank, wheelchair or walker.

As much as I find the thought distasteful, I do believe that moderate exercise might help here.

I also see it as a ‘keystone habit’.

A keystone habit is yet another psychobabble term for a single habit that has a ripple effect on other habits and can have a transformative effect on a number of things.

One example of this is running. I took my first run after finishing my second (and hopefully last) pack of cigarettes the night before. Smoking and running are incompatible because the smoking makes me winded just walking up a flight of stairs – there’s no way I can continue to smoke and run. Running might also help me stick to my diet. Pretty hard to get fit while eating crap and drinking wine – at least at my age, so the act of running can have the ripple effect of helping me stick to my diet as well as stop the smoking – with the additional side effect which is the point of this blog: losing weight and keeping it off.

Now back to hurting myself – or NOT hurting myself. You don’t just start running after 4 decades of a couch-butt love affair without risk, so the trick is doing this without doing this stupid.

I have a friend who runs who I’ve asked for recommendations and advice. I also announced my intention to run a 5K in work. Last week, in the midst of diet-derailing inactivity, smoking and imbibing my boss asked me: “How’s the training for the 5K going?”

I cringed.

I thanked him later for guilting me.

I resolved the next morning to run. Of course I couldn’t find my sneakers – and the whole notion of going out in the cold and running seemed way less interesting now that I had to actually do it. I had downloaded a running app for my phone and eventually found my old sneakers – but now I had to do it.

I ran a quarter-mile but had to stop twice to catch my breath. It was pathetic, but you have to start somewhere. I once heard someone say: everybody who is the best at something had to start at it being the worst at it – and I was pretty bad.

Now: I had proven that I could do 5k (walking on a treadmill) and I proved that I could still ‘run’ (a quarter mile with 2 pauses and a total run time of 5 minutes – I just had to put the two together.

I had used an ancient pair of sneakers – my current pair still MIA. I told myself that I would wait until I had done the two tests before I bought honest-to-goodness running shoes.

Feet are important – and not wanting to hurt myself a priority I thought it best that I don’t mess around with whatever shoes I had lying around but instead went to an actual running store where all the people run and that’s all they sell – not to some giant sporting good store where some kid would sell me whatever so he could go and help the next sucker.

I went to the local running fanatic store and told them the unvarnished truth: I haven’t run in 40 years and I want to start running and not hurt myself so I wanted to get good shoes. These folks WERE fanatics – eager to help and obviously deep in a world I knew nothing about. They measured my feet then had me try on a pair of shoes that fit me, then had me run on a treadmill that took a video of my feet as I ran so that they could see whether my feet turned inward or outward as I ran – you apparently need special shoes for each of these conditions. They also looked at my arches and recommended a firmer support. Lots of new words to not in my vocabulary as well as the names of muscles I am unfamiliar with. I have a lot to learn about this strange world.

The attention I got was extensive to the point of being obsessive. I tried on at least 8 shoes, ran on the treadmill in most of them, and even ran with one shoe on one foot with another shoe type on the other foot for a side-by-side comparison. Nearly an hour later I walked out with a pair.

I had settled on shoes that were somewhat muted in appearance compared to most of the others, but I would have bought the most ridiculous-looking ones I tried on if they had felt good. The ones I got. When you enter a specialized world like this the brand names are unheard of by outsiders. The shoe I got is the Mizumo Wave Inspire 10. They were phenomenally light and the most comfortable of the 8 I tried. I walked in them during the day to see if they continued to be comfortable – they were.

My wife was interested in this sudden change. “Why are you doing this?” She asked.

I explained some of what I wrote above.

“How far did you run this morning?”

“A quarter mile.”

She got a big laugh out of that.

“Well…you’ve got to start somewhere.” I said.

“Are you going to run tomorrow?”

“Well, I don’t want to hurt myself so I was going to run every other day.”

“You only ran for 5 minutes!”

She had a point.

I was really tired and went to bed early. She was in bed studying.

“You’re going to bed now?”

“Yeah – probably tired from the running.”

That made us both laugh.

The next morning I put on my new shoes and ran again. I still had to stop twice to catch my breath. I ran a little faster and a little farther. The shoes were much better to run in than the ones I ran in the day before – a big difference.

When I got home my wife asked me: “how far did you run today?”

“Well, I went a third of a mile and ran faster so total time was around 4 minutes.”

Apparently this endeavor is going to provide no small amount of pleasure to my wife as she laughed again.

A bit later she made the comment: “Your hair looks good today.”

I replied: “Actually, it’s probably the glow I have from exercising.”

This got a BIG laugh. “The five-minute miracle!” She said.

It appears that I will endure this sort of humiliation for a while – even more if I don’t continue.

At least I can still make my wife laugh.

Scenes From a Low Carb Life: Counting Calories at the Chinese Buffet

A random Chinese buffet - they all look the same...
A random Chinese buffet – they all look the same…

Friday, February 01, 2013 – 199.8

On January 01 I was 209.4. In 1 month I lost 9+ pounds and just came in a hair’s breadth under 200. That’s the short story. All the in-between stuff reminds me of a Will Rogers quote: ‘People who like sausage or respect the law should not watch either being made.’ The month was not a steady progression downward as much as a roller-coaster.

Upon reflection, perhaps January is the worst possible month for doing anything except persevering through – at least for me. Snow holds no magic except that power to make my car slide uncontrollably into oncoming traffic or get stuck on the side of the road. Skiing – a sport that necessitates falling in the snow, I find as alluring as wrestling in a hog pen.

Perhaps I should avoid my inclination to overthink things, take my winnings for January, and be happy with what I got. Onto February – a month designed to be especially short because you’re just too fed up with winter to endure a long month.

I noticed myself in the mirror as I got ready for work and I just looked so fat. Compared to what? I asked myself. I am within 5 pounds of the lowest weight I’m been in 5 years and the reflection in the mirror seems distorted and bloated. Strange how this works: one day I might feel fine about my weight and the next day, the same weight, I feel like a sumo wrestler who’s let himself go.

Continue reading “Scenes From a Low Carb Life: Counting Calories at the Chinese Buffet”