healthy fats

My Weight Loss Story – Part 2

My Weight Loss Story – Part 2

by Michael

 

I listen to a lot of podcasts at work and some of them had some health and fitness related guests on that were discussing the benefits of the ketosis diet. The basis of this diet is that consume about 50% of your calories from fats and forego the carbs. In doing so, you will optimize your body to burn fats as a fuel source instead of carbohydrates. This was a new concept to me but I was very curious to learn more about it. Then I found some podcasts that were either specifically about health and fitness or had regular guests on to discuss those topics. Before I continue, I want to state that I am not on a ketosis diet because I feel like it’s a little too difficult for me to strictly adhere to. There are however, a lot of things that I have taken from it that I do really like.

I remember a time in the 80s where buzz phrases like “low in fat” started to appear on the packages of products in the grocery stores. Years later, this has evolved into phrases like “an excellent source of whole grains” and “zero trans fats” which would lead you to believe that products like this are in fact, ideal for your health when in reality, a low-fat chip for example would 1 – taste terrible and 2 – is likely loaded with salt and sugar so it will actually taste like something that you would enjoy. In other words, it’s probably not good for you.

One of the shows I listened to had a guest on that was discussing the benefits of a high fat diet and specifically mentioned that cavemen were not out harvesting grains so they’d have enough energy to hunt in order to survive. They were eating animals and produce and the fats they consumed became their source of fuel.

I dug deeper into the topic and discovered that then ketosis diet was popular among the ultra-endurance athletes that were doing things like running 100-mile races. Athletic accomplishments like this, while impressive, are not something that I’m interested in yet the benefits of the diet are still compelling to me.

The guest would go on to give examples of what you should be eating via multiple choice questions. Time after time, he would suggest the highest item in fat or the item in the list that you’d consider to be the most sinful of the group. One example really stuck out to me and that was when he recommended eating a Snickers bar over some other items because of the items mentioned, it was the highest in fat content and therefore would be most likely to satisfy you for the longest period of time. He was clear to recommend this was only something that he’d recommend in a bind and this was not something that you should normally do. The thing that I took away from this was that if you were going to cheat on your diet, go for it. Don’t eat the fat-free frozen yogurt because a facsimile of the thing you’re craving won’t actually satisfy your desires. Instead, just get the ice cream that has all of the fat and sugar in it that you’re craving. Don’t eat it often and you should be fine.

Another guest on another show had uttered a few phrases that really resonated with me. Don’t count calories, make calories count. The other thing he said was something about earning or working hard enough so that you deserve to eat your carbohydrates. These phrases weren’t new to me but they really struck a nerve this time.

On to the diet. There are a few principles that I follow.

1 – Whenever possible, eat the fattiest version available. Gone are the days of tasteless boring skinless chicken breasts. Hello chicken thighs pan fried in coconut oil and kale sautéed with bacon!

2 – Snack on the fattiest snack items. My go to items are salami, cheeses, nuts, avocados, and veggies with Greek yogurt based dips.

3 – The carbs I eat most often are those that have a low-glycemic index value. This means that legumes and beans are the preferred carbohydrate.

4 – It’s OK to cheat on when I ride my bike a little because I will burn a ton of calories on those days. This is when I’ll have a slice of pizza, a bag of chips, or glass of wine.

A typical day of eating looks like this for me:

Breakfast – 2 pieces of bacon, 2 scrambled eggs cooked in the bacon grease, topped with avocado and jalapeños. Sometimes I’ll throw a fistful of sweet potatoes in if I feel sluggish. When I go running before work, I’ll eat Greek yogurt with blueberries afterward because I won’t have time to cook.

Lunch – Black beans topped with cheese and jalapeños, a spinach salad with olive oil and vinegar, a chicken thigh or two, and some avocado.

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Dinner – A steak, Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon, and a side salad.

In addition, I’ll eat one or two snacks from the list I mentioned earlier.

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So what’s missing? Low-fat foods and grains – the very things that we’ve been told to consume a lot of because they’re good for us. I’m convinced now that it’s all a lie. I also don’t eat much sugar. I’ll eat some in a natural form, like what comes with fruits and veggies, but I’m fortunate that I don’t tend to have a sweet tooth. I primarily eat these foods after I exercise to help stave off an energy crash and it tends to prevent me from committing larger infractions.

I’ve been eating like this for now for a few months. The results were:

  • I have dropped 25 pounds and a pant size.
  • All of the fat I’m eating has kept me happy and I feel like this diet is very sustainable over the long haul. I don’t feel like I’m starving myself or seriously depriving myself of the foods that I love.
  • I’ve also had blood work done and all of my stats have improved – my weight is down, my cholesterol is down, and my resting heart rate is down.
  • My BMI has lowered by 3%.

I don’t necessarily have an end game for what I want to weigh. While losing weight is necessary for me to achieve my fitness goals, it’s not my primary focus which in a way, makes all of this a bit easier since I’m not constantly focusing on losing weight. Instead, I’m focused on biking, running, pull-ups, and push-ups. Anything that makes this stuff easier is good in my book.

Always Hungry? Here’s Why

My brother recently sent me this New York Times article, Always Hungry? Here’s Why. While the article in itself wasn’t new information, I really liked the way they broke down the science and explained it for the readers.

“Since fewer calories are available to fuel metabolism, the brain tells the body to increase calorie intake (we feel hungry) and save energy (our metabolism slows down). Eating more solves this problem temporarily but also accelerates weight gain. Cutting calories reverses the weight gain for a short while, making us think we have control over our body weight, but predictably increases hunger and slows metabolism even more.”

Yes! This makes so much sense to me. I’ve always wondered why I could be SO GOOD with my calories and yet I don’t see a change on the scale and I feel hungrier than normal. I chalked it up to hormones but really it’s probably WHAT I am eating, when I’m eating it as well as genetics. This became most evident recently when I realized that I have crashes on my rest days.

While this isn’t a new thing for me, I just started making the connection in relation to my rest days. I wondered why some days I felt hungrier–like an insane hunger I couldn’t satisfy–and why some days I had crashes in blood sugar and energy and ended up eating junk. I do not eat enough calories on my rest days. Historically I’ve used exercise as a way to eat more. This makes sense; I burn 500 calories in the gym, that means I’m going to be hungrier and will need to eat more calories to fuel my body. Weight loss/maintenance means I need to create a calorie deficit (at least a few hundred calories a day). So when the rest day comes around and I’m not “earning” those extra calories, I do not eat more.

It sounds logical and correct. But the reality is, I’m eating around 1600-1700 calories on rest days and that isn’t enough for the body to REPAIR itself from my hard workout the day before. So I’m not eating enough and then mid-afternoon I get the blood sugar crash and feel hungry and cranky and I end up eating candy. For some reason when I get that crash it’s sugar I reach for. Then I regret eating the sugar and while it makes me feel a little better, it certainly doesn’t solve the hunger issue.

“The more calories we lock away in fat tissue, the fewer there are circulating in the bloodstream to satisfy the body’s requirements. If we look at it this way, it’s a distribution problem: We have an abundance of calories, but they’re in the wrong place. As a result, the body needs to increase its intake. We get hungrier because we’re getting fatter.”

The solution to this is to eat more calories on my rest days to avoid that crash. But it needs to be the right kind of calories. A few summers ago I realized that eating avocado satisfied that hunger in a way no other foods have really done for me. I’m guess it’s because of the healthy fats:

“One reason we consume so many refined carbohydrates today is because they have been added to processed foods in place of fats — which have been the main target of calorie reduction efforts since the 1970s. Fat has about twice the calories of carbohydrates, but low-fat diets are the least effective of comparable interventions…”

This makes so much sense! The “non-fat” and “low-fat” diet fads may seem healthy on the surface but they really aren’t because the low-fat foods were just pumped with sugar as a substitute. Which probably triggers the blood sugar issues. When I started having a snack of avocado and gluten free toast or avocado and crackers, I saw a huge change. I didn’t need to eat very much–just 1/4 of an avocado would do it for me–and I’d feel full and satisfied for so much longer than any other foods I eat. It’s the fat! It satisfies the body. (This was a great article: 6 Signs You Need to Eat More Fat.)
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There’s hidden sugars in so much of the food we eat. It’s no wonder we’re always hungry. That trigger is sabotaging us. So I eat avocado and eggs and salmon on a fairly regular basis. I feel healthier, I feel fuller longer. It’s good stuff. I can’t remember the last time I ate a white potato. If we do eat potatoes, it’s sweet potatoes and even that isn’t very often. I can’t remember the last time I ate pasta, and even that is gluten-free these days. Finding what works for your body is so crucial.

Now I know that I need to eat more on rest days, and I need to be smarter about what I eat, I need to figure out what that number looks like. The fact is, people who were obese and lost the weight will always have to be more mindful of the food they eat. Check out this article:  Why is it so Hard to Maintain a Reduced Body Weight? for an interesting perspective.

“A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost.

After you’ve lost weight, your brain has a greater emotional response to food,” Rosenbaum says. “You want it more, but the areas of the brain involved in restraint are less active.” Combine that with a body that is now burning fewer calories than expected, he says, “and you’ve created the perfect storm for weight regain. (source)”

I recently got an email from a reader asking me: “Hi! Saw your blog for the first time – WOW! Very inspiring! I need to lose 110 lbs too! Question: How did you break your sugar addiction? That stuff is killing me!” I wasn’t sure how to answer her question honestly. I don’t know that I HAVE overcome my sugar addiction. I find ways to manage it (by not completely denying myself things, but eating it in moderation) but I still struggle. It’s a hard habit to break.

It’s not all bad news, though. I think with trial and error (and perhaps assistance from a registered dietitian) we can figure out what that happy medium is for weight maintenance when your body is fighting against you. What worked before may not work now. I might need to re-evaluate my own diet.