I started with 143 days to lose 85 pounds. With 129 days to go, I've got 66 pounds left to lose. Savvy readers may realize that both the schedule and the goal have changed since last week. I changed the number of days from 144 to 143 when I looked again at my calendar and realized I had miscalculated. I changed the amount of weight to lose from 65 pounds to 85 pounds after my wife revealed that her weight-loss target was 20 lbs lower than she had previously stated. Since I had secretly been planing on aiming for 165 lbs anyway, I used that opportunity to go public. In any case, I've now lost 19 lbs in 14 days.
If you are like most people, you think that's too fast, probably unhealthy, certainly unsustainable, and likely to leave me with extra skin. Most people have heard that losing one or two pounds per week is healthiest. That's true, if you're restricting calories, and in fact there's a certain amount of truth to most objections to low-carb dieting. But there's a certain amount of untruth as well. I'm no nutritionist, dietician, or doctor, but I've done some reading, and I think I understand how low-carb dieting works, and also why many people are alarmed by it.
In fact, I was alarmed when my mother first started the Atkins diet, years ago. I'd watch as she piled up plates full of calories, including high numbers of fat calories, and think that a plate of bacon couldn't possible be healthy. I'm still convinced it wasn't, but it turns out it also didn't help my mother lose weight consistently, so she investigated more closely. Eventually she hit upon a diet which did work, to the tune of 85 lbs lost and counting! With those results, and noting that the food on her plate was a lot more healthy than I'd seen before, I took a closer look. And the more I looked, the more I realized that low-carb dieting is genius!
How It Works
As I understand it, the key to low-carb dieting is ketosis. Ketosis was first associated with starvation. "Normally," the body uses glucose from the food you eat for energy. Whatever you bring in and don't expend as energy gets converted to fat and stored on your body. In order to burn that fat, your body must first burn through all the glucose you're taking (via carbohydrates in your diet). Most people don't manage to burn as many calories as they take in via carbohydrates, and even when they do, the body is willing to wait a little while for more glucose, so it doesn't burn much fat. When a body goes for a while without enough carbohydrates, however, it starts to look elsewhere for energy. After roughly 48 hours without many carbohydrates coming in, the body enters ketosis, and starts using ketones for energy. Those ketones come from fat cells, broken down into four pieces. It still uses a little glucose (some of which is synthesized by your liver), but while in ketosis, your body is literally converted into a fat-burning machine!
When a person is starving, this is how a body makes use of stored fat to keep the person alive. When the stored fat is gone, it will turn to muscle, and then, if untreated, lead to death. Scary! But by cutting carbohydrates from your diet, you can make your body burn fat like it's starving, but since you're giving it plenty of protein and a little fat (and even a little carbohydrates), it isn't actually starving, so you can continue to maintain and build muscle, and have healthy brain function, and you'll actually be healthy. That's the genius part — artificially-induced ketosis tricks the one part of your body responsible for burning fat into thinking it's starving, even though it's not!
If you spend some time thinking about this, you'll realize that there's still an issue of calories. If you continue to take in more calories than you expend, they do have to go somewhere. It would be a shame to have your body busily breaking down fat cells for energy on the one hand, and storing excess fat and protein into new fat cells on the other. So the diet I'm using calls for more than just low carbohydrate consumption.
I would summarize the diet plan in three points: 20 grams of carbohydrates or less each day, low fat, plenty of protein. In practical terms, expect to eat a lot of chicken and eggs!
Carbohydrates are cheap, so most of us eat a lot of them. They're in nearly every packaged food and in almost every restaurant food as well. Given a choice between serving expensive protein, cheaper and very tasty fat, and even cheaper carbohydrates, most people preparing food are obviously going to favor some combination heavy on the carbohydrates and fat. In fact, once you being to think about this, you'll start to realize how much this pervades Western culture. We're "meat and potatoes" people — because the potatoes are filling and cheap. We love hamburgers — because the buns fill us up even with only four ounces of beef or less. Our snack foods (chips, pretzels, cookies, and crackers) are almost entirely carbohydrates. They're everywhere! That makes them harder to avoid, and may help to explain why cultures with Western diets are gaining weight. That, and our lack of activity.
On a website describing the diet, I read a note proclaiming that if I didn't cheat, I could expect to lose 5% of my bodyweight in the first ten days on the diet. Even assuming a few pounds of that would be "water weight," that seemed ridiculous to me. 5% of 250 is 12.5 lbs. In my first ten days, I lost 15.5 lbs. At the end of the second week, I've lost 7.6% of my bodyweight.
I lost five pounds this week, but less steadily than before. I expected this, and have only been expecting to lose a few pounds a week, not 14! I also had my first day in which I lost no weight, and another day in which I gained weight. Fortunately, I'm in this for the long haul, and though I record the daily numbers for the sake of curiosity and this journal, I'm only concerned about the final result. I also don't believe that actions taken one day tend to affect my weight the very next day, but rather that changes are more gradual than that. All weights come from an early-morning weigh-in on an analog scale.
2007-06-19: 236, starting point for the week, 14 pounds lost total
2007-06-20: 235, -1 pounds today, 15 pounds lost total
2007-06-21: 234.5, -.5 pounds today, 15.5 pounds lost total
2007-06-22: 234.5, no change today, 15.5 pounds lost total
2007-06-23: 233, -1.5 pounds today, 17 pounds lost total
2007-06-24: 233.5, +.5 pounds today, 16.5 pounds lost total
2007-06-25: 232, -1.5 pound today, 18 pounds lost total
2007-06-26: 231, -1 pound today, 19 pounds lost total
If I keep up my current average, I'll easily hit my target weight by November 2, 2007. I don't expect to keep up my current average, however, so I'll need to restart the diet when I return to from Central Asia.
Losing one pound when one weighs 250 is .4% of one's total weight. That's easy to do. Losing one pound when one weighs 170, as I will, is .6% of one's total weight. That seems like it should be much more difficult.
I've just started walking again, but less than I'd hoped, since it hasn't stopped raining in days. Walking is much easier at 233 then at 250! While the walking will help burn calories, it will also build heavy muscle, and I expect that the net result will be slower weight loss. As it gets hotter here, I'll switch my walking time to early morning or late night, and I plan to sign up for a gym membership for my lunch hour. 231 is still a bit uncomfortable for elliptical and stairclimber machines, but I'm getting close.Powered by Sidelines