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Wait–Eating Lots of Fat Is GOOD for Your Heart?

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Cholesterol molecule

The common knowledge about heart health is that fat is the enemy. In recent years we’ve tweaked that idea with the concept of “good fats” in moderation, but basically “low fat” has been the wisdom we’ve heard from doctors, the media, and the government.

Peter Attia is a surgeon with an extensive background in mathematics and statistics who has been intensively researching heart health, weight loss, and many related physiological processes for the last several years. The problem, Attia, says, is that the actual scientific research points in completely the opposite direction: it fingers carbohydrates, especially sugar, as the heart killer, the clogger of arteries and generator of flab. Fat, according to the research he’s talking about, is not just benign–it’s crucial, because we still need a source of energy in our diet, and if we cut out fats and carbohydrates we have nothing left but protein, which isn’t a great source of energy and is comparatively very expensive to boot.

So the idea is to eat enough fat to feel sated and to keep consumption of carbohydrates, especially sugar (and especially especially high-fructose corn-syrup, a.k.a. HFCS) low.

If you find yourself thinking that Attia is some kind of obsessed weirdo with unscientific ideas about fats, I suspect you may change your mind if you read some of the in-depth, highly analytical posts on the subject he has on his Web site, eatingacademy.com. (It’s just an informational site, by the way: he’s not selling anything.) Though come to think of it, it might make the case a little more clearly and effectively if you just take a look at the guy. Does he not look like he understands something about weight loss, heart health, and physiology?

Dr. Peter Attia

So I encourage you to take a look at his site. If you’re concerned about cholesterol, which was the main thing that got me interested in Attia’s writing, here are a few key points as I understand them:

  • Cholesterol is an important material our body uses to repair cells, and without it we’d die–yet as we know, it can cause heart attacks, strokes, etc.
  • Almost every cell in our body can manufacture cholesterol, and the great majority of cholesterol in our bloodstream is cholesterol our bodies have made.
  • Very little of the cholesterol we eat stays in our body: most of it isn’t absorbed. (Attia explains the how and why of this at length.)
  • Therefore, the amount of cholesterol we eat doesn’t have much to do with heart health at all.
  • By contrast, carbohydrates–especially sugars–tend to cause cholesterol to embed itself in artery walls and build up there, a condition called Atherosclerosis.
  • It’s not the total amount of cholesterol in a person’s bloodstream that indicates danger of Atherosclerosis, but rather the number of cholesterol particles, because the particles can be different sizes and carry different amounts of cholesterol, and it’s the smallest ones that are most dangerous.
  • The usual “cholesterol test” most of us have been given measures only the total amount of cholesterol and are therefore fairly useless in predicting Atherosclerosis and related conditions.
  • Less common tests that measure the number of cholesterol particles in our blood are much better indicators of heart health. (By the way, yes, “good” versus “bad” cholesterol still comes into play.)

Don’t take this from me, because I’m no expert: Attia has a lot more information on it at his site. However, I’m hoping the above conveys the idea well enough for you to decide whether or not you’re interested in hearing more about it on Attia’s site. He’s obsessed with this topic, and for good reason.

I’m not saying, by the way, that I know all this to be true and accurate. However, I’ve found the evidence compelling enough to have shifted from a low-fat diet to a low-carbohydrate (and high-fat) diet over the past couple of months. Since medical tests have revealed I have the beginning of plaque buildup in my arteries, in a way I’m literally betting my life that Attia’s right. If he is, that would explain why greatly limiting my cholesterol intake didn’t seem to help my cholesterol count, and why years of eating just the kind of diet the traditional “wisdom” on the subject dictates led me to the beginnings of Atherosclerosis.


An important, related note: if you do switch to a much lower-carb, higher-fat diet, please, please do so in a way that takes into account your carbon footprint. Red meat, for example, makes a much worse impact on climate change than plant-based foods–unless you’re getting pastured or grass-fed meat, which is close to carbon neutral . It doesn’t matter if you’re as healthy as a horse if ten years from now you and your family are drowned in the latest superstorm, or are starving due to a global famine brought on by changing climate, droughts, floods, and pests. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket here, but it’s important for me to mention it. If you’re interested in becoming part of the solution to climate change rather than the problem, check out the things I’m posting at www.faceclimatechange.com and consider switching to much more local food sources; see www.localsource.me .

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The Case for Not Eating Breakfast

Habits

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist or a health professional of any kind. Don’t take anything in this post as official advice: I’m just documenting an experiment I’ve been trying.

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? For years I assumed it was. When I was a kid, I vividly remember a public service announcement starring Bill Cosby in which he illustrated how, if you don’t start the day with a good breakfast, you “run out of gas.” (Sadly, YouTube has failed me in finding that clip. Maybe my memory has glitched and it wasn’t Bill Cosby. Someone else on the Internet thinks it was O.J. Simpson.) Also, it just seems like common sense: food is fuel, and if you don’t fuel up at the start of the day, you won’t have any energy.

Except that I’ve been skipping breakfast most days for weeks now, and if anything I’m more energized–and freakishly, less hungry!–in the mornings. What gives?

Tempting ourselves because we’re not hungry?
About six weeks ago, I tweeted about  an article called “The Breakfast Myth” in which J. Stanton makes some thought-provoking points about breakfast. One that particularly struck me is how much breakfast often resembles dessert or snacks: it features sugary, starchy, and fatty foods like sweet cereals, pastries, sweetened yogurt, pancakes or waffles or french toast with syrup, toast with butter, bagels, granola, or even sweetened “protein bars.” True, there’s always the traditional fat-and-protein breakfast of eggs and bacon or the like, but at least here in the U.S., the snack/dessert breakfast seems to predominate.

There are a lot of different conclusions we could try to make from this information, but Stanton’s struck a chord with me: the reason we’re eating these treat-like foods for breakfast could be that we’re not really hungry in the morning, and so especially tempting foods are the only thing that can get us interested in eating. Sure, we’re used to having a meal at that time, and out of habit (both mental and physical) we expect to munch on something soon after we get up, but are our bodies really clamoring for food?

I can’t speak for anyone else’s body, but it appears that my body isn’t. In the past six weeks, I decided I would only eat breakfast in the morning if I were actually hungry. As a result, I find I eat breakfast, on average, maybe twice a week. I seem to be more likely to be hungry in the morning if I’ve had an intense workout the night before or (interestingly) if I’ve had a lot of sugar the night before–something I try to avoid.

I do sometimes feel mildly queasy for short periods during the morning, but this hasn’t felt like much of a problem. I’ve also found that sometimes when I feel as though I might be hungry, I’m actually thirsty, and some water hits the spot wonderfully.

The history of breakfast
Ever wonder where that saying “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” came from? Stanton answers that question (I was also able to find some evidence to support his conclusion), and the answer isn’t some nutritional authority or medical association. Did you ever read Franz Kafka’s short story “The Metamorphosis” (“Die Verwandlung“), in which a young man named Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover he’s turned into a giant cockroach? It appears to come from that story. The earliest appearance of that statement appears to be this passage:

The washing up from breakfast lay on the table; there was so much of it because, for Gregor’s father, breakfast was the most important meal of the day and he would stretch it out for several hours as he sat reading a number of different newspapers.

Gregor’s father is not especially demonstrating good nutrition or productive habits. He’s not making a general statement about human physiology. He’s not even an actual person! So let’s throw that one away right along with “It takes 21 days to form a habit” (it doesn’t: see “How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?“).

Stanton suggests that humans didn’t evolve to eat breakfast because early humans wouldn’t have had anything lying around to eat when they woke up. That seems like a bit of a stretch to me: why not have a few berries or a root or some smoked antelope haunch sitting by, as long as you have a fire to keep the predators away? Whether I have an evolutionary explanation or not, though, I’ll go with my gut–literally. Generally speaking, it says it doesn’t want breakfast.

Other problems that didn’t come up
Some problems you might expect to see with leaving out breakfast haven’t materialized for me. As I mentioned, I have at least as much energy as when I ate breakfast, and possibly more. This may have to do with how we metabolize sugars (and starches, which break down into sugars): they can cause insulin spikes in our bodies that clean out all the sugars and can lead to a sugar crash, not to mention the mid-morning munchies (which I also haven’t had when skipping breakfast). I haven’t been eating more later in the day, either: so far, I have yet to find any ill effects at all. There have been studies, too, to try to determine whether people who miss breakfast make up the calories by eating more later in the day. As a rule, it turns out, they really don’t.

I should mention that by hungry I don’t necessarily mean I want something to eat–I mean that my body is actually asking me for nutrition. If some morning I start hankering after, say, toasted maple bread with marmalade, I just ask myself “Would you still want something to eat if it were some beans, or baked chicken breast?” Usually, the answer is no. Apparently, in those situations, my mouth just wants something entertaining to munch on. I generally don’t oblige it. Taste bud boredom is not the same thing as hunger.

But what if I like breakfast?
Of course, there’s no reason to give up on breakfast if it’s working out perfectly well in your life. If you’re happy with your nutrition and your morning routine, especially if breakfast gives you a little quality time with the family or something like that, then I say hey, bring on the English muffins.

On the other hand, maybe you’d like to lose some weight, or your mornings are very hectic and tied up in large part with making, eating, and cleaning up after breakfast. Alternatively, maybe you just want to see how you feel if you don’t eat breakfast. In that case, you might consider giving a no-breakfast-unless-you’re-actually-hungry approach a try.

Better breakfasts
Another alternative to consider is healthier breakfasts, especially ones that don’t have much in the way of sugars and starches and instead emphasize protein and fiber, perhaps with a modest amount of healthy fat. This rules out most of the traditional breakfasts and instead suggests things we’d be more likely to think of as dinners: meat, fish, poultry, other kinds of protein (like soy and seitan), some dairy, beans, and vegetables. Eggs are still in, and nuts work to some extent, although they have a lot more fat for the amount of protein they offer than some other protein sources and therefore are something that’s best eaten in moderation.

I started eating these kinds of “dinner” breakfasts when I tried Tim Ferriss’ “slow carb” approach to eating (which gave me some new nutritional tricks, but which overall I can’t really recommend), and I’ve certainly found I’ve been more satisfied by them and more energetic throughout the day than with sugar-and-starch-heavy breakfasts. Beans especially are great to have at multiple meals (though don’t eat the liquid they’re cook in, so as not to have to experience the traditional complications) because they offer vitamins, minerals, and plenty of protein and fiber to help keep hunger away for a good long while.

I have to admit, I rarely felt hungry in advance for a breakfast of, say, fish, kale, and lentils–but I almost always found once I started to dig in that I really enjoyed the food. On reflection, it doesn’t surprise me that I wasn’t hungry for them, since it appears I’m not especially hungry at all in the mornings; I had been used to the “treats for breakfast” mentality. Perhaps if I’d been raised in Japan, my stomach might think differently.

A Japanese breakfast

I’ve said already that I don’t have any credentials as a nutritionist or physician, and I’ll repeat that now just for emphasis. Who knows? Skipping breakfast may be the quickest route to some terrible disease. However, I’m betting the opposite, that listening to my body and not eating in the morning if I’m not hungry is going to be the most healthful approach I can take. For you, I wouldn’t even want to venture a guess, but here’s to whatever your healthiest breakfast turns out to be, whether that’s a traditional one, protein and vegetables, or nothing at all.

UPDATE: After a couple of months of experimentation, it seems that for me, at least, skipping breakfast results in plenty of energy and low hunger, but overall to conflict with even minor weight loss. It might be due to other factors, but when I tried to lose five pounds while skipping breakfast, I found the scale just didn’t budge. Please don’t take that as some kind of final determination in either direction, but it’s a bit of extra grist for the mill. These days I skip or eat breakfast as it suits me, and I don’t have the anxiety about skipping it that I used to when I do skip.

Top photo by lesleychoa
Japanese breakfast photo by herrolm 

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Getting More Fit Without Hard Work

Habits

Between late 2005 and early 2010, I lost more than 60 pounds as I gradually got the hang of exercising regularly and eating well. From a starting weight of 238, I dropped in fits and starts to 175 while adding a substantial amount of muscle. For the first time in my life, people were calling me “thin” and worrying I wasn’t eating enough (though they don’t need to worry: I’m nowhere near starvation). Since then, I’ve remained fit and active, even while my weight goes modestly up and down within a healthy range.

It’s not just about diet
Eating habits are an important part of getting fit, but in many ways they’re both the harder part and the less important part. The other key piece, of course, is exercise. Does the word “exercise” bring to mind images of people sweating on treadmills while being slowly bored to death, or running beside the road at 5:00 in the morning? Because while it can take that form, exercise can also be easy and appealing. After all, it’s not automatically true that when we use our bodies, we’re uncomfortable or unhappy–in fact, the reverse is closer to the truth. If jumping into hard-core, sweaty, “no pain no gain” exercise doesn’t appeal to you, there are many more tempting ways to get started. The wonderful thing about this is that regular exercise, especially in certain forms, becomes a “keystone habit”: that is, a positive change in behavior that encourages other positive changes.

Walking
I’ve heard it said that walking burns about as many calories per mile as running, but this turns out not to be true. In fact, if you look at net calories burned (that is, how many extra calories we’re burning while exercising compared to the amount we burn to maintain basic bodily functions even if we’re just sitting on the couch), running burns about twice as many calories per mile. Since a typical running speed is in the neighborhood of twice the typical walking speed, this means running burns about four times as many extra calories per hour as walking. (If you’ve heard that walking and running burn about the same number of calories or are just interested in the topic, see this article for some details and the study on which the statement is based.)

However, so what? The time advantage may mean a lot to someone who has no time to walk, but it’s often much easier to make time for walking than for running. There’s little need for special clothing or for showering afterward, so walking is actually a bit more efficient than it might seem in the time department. Walks are also a good way to spend time with friends or family members and a free activity that’s good for everyone involved. Walking lifts moods and provides a good opportunity for conversation. Walks can provide quality time with a romantic partner, children, or adult family members. They can make it possible to meet and interact with neighbors, and they are often an excellent way to improve mood (see “The Benefits of Quick, Easy, Pleasant Exercise“). Walking isn’t just exercise: it can be a mood booster, social time, family time, time to yourself, or a way to get from Point A to Point B (and not be dripping with sweat when you arrive).

Other easy ways in
Other easy kinds of exercise can be more strenuous but more entertaining. Dancing, for example, can often keep a person interested and happy for hours while providing anything from a mild to an intense workout. Speaking from personal experience, you don’t even have to be very good at it to both enjoy it and get the exercise benefits.

In the same way, any safe activity that keeps us in motion and keeps us engaged provides an avenue for exercise as entertainment. At our house, for example, both kids and adults play the outdated “dancing” video game Dance Dance Revolution. Taekwondo is nearly always engrossing for me, in the same way that kickboxing or rock climbing might be engrossing for someone else. Other options include team sports, group walks and bicycle rides, hiking, swimming, and paddling.

Limitations
It’s true that going for a walk twice a week or going out dancing every once in a while alone isn’t likely to make a dramatic difference in health–but it will make some difference, and even if it just means a few pounds lost over a month or two, that’s progress in the right direction. What’s important is that when any kind of exercise–whether it’s easy and entertaining or energetic and effortful–becomes a habit, that habit provides both a sense of competence and a metabolic boost that can set the stage for more improvements, with the end result of a dramatic change for the better.

Photo by Natodd

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Finding the Perfect Attitude for Willpower, Part II

States of mind

In the first post in this series, I brought up the question of a perfect approach to willpower, some kind of zone we could get into that would make us automatically able to make the good choices we want for ourselves–exercising more, dealing better with people, eating healthier, working harder, stopping dangerous behaviors, or anything else. Lately I’ve gotten a glimpse of a frame of mind that is something like that zone, a frame of mind that has been making willpower much, much easier for me. Unfortunately, it’s not a single, simple change–but the pieces of it are ones we can master. Here are the ones I’ve been able to puzzle them out so far, and though I’m talking mainly about weight loss, the principles are the same for any other willpower challenge.

1. Resignation
This might seem like an odd thing to emphasize, but it’s become clear to me recently just how essential resignation is. Resignation is saying “OK, so this will be painful or inconvenient or unpleasant sometimes. I can deal with that.” Resignation is saying “I’ll embrace hunger, or loneliness, or whatever the challenge is for me, and find out what there is in it I can enjoy.”

Ineffective fad diets often claim they can help you lose weight without going hungry, or while still eating foods you love. It’s not impossible to lose weight without going hungry very much, or while eating foods you love, but it’s much easier if you’re willing to eat food you find boring, dull, and insufficient. If that sounds joyless, consider: what’s the best source of joy anyway? Yes, it can occasionally be delightful to eat a doughnut, but more often it’s just vaguely pleasant and we don’t pay that much attention anyway. Feeling successful, healthy, strong, and capable, however, pays off in joy consistently.

2. Going toward, not running away from
To eat well, it’s much easier to focus on getting healthy food than on avoiding unhealthy food. To quit smoking, it’s much more motivating to focus on how many non-smoking days one has had so far than on missing smoke breaks.  The more we think about things, the more our brains automatically configure themselves to be ready to do those things. If we spend a lot of time thinking about activities we’re trying to stop or do less of, it will make it harder to avoid them. Instead, we can focus on things that carry us forward.

3. Consistency and commitment
I don’t know how much this is my particular personality and how much this is true for most people, but it’s far easier for me to stop doing something I’m used to than to do just a little of it. For example, in 1985, concerned about environmental impact and mistreatment of livestock, I stopped eating meat, seafood, and poultry. I continued as an ovo-lacto vegetarian for more than 20 years, at which point I found that there were health issues for with my diet as it was (notably, it turns out that I’m allergic to soy and needed to reduce cholesterol consumption), and I added seafood and poultry back in. Vegetarianism was sometimes inconvenient, but it was never difficult. Similarly, I go years at a time without having any caffeine–coffee, chocolate, most sodas, etc.–because my body doesn’t handle caffeine well. That hasn’t been hard either.

By contrast, it can be very hard for us when we try to ration unhealthy foods or TV watching or Internet usage. Rationing seems to encourage us to think more about the things we’re trying to minimize, which as I’ve mentioned causes trouble. So the most successful attitude toward healthy eating for me has turned out to be “I’ll try to make healthy food choices every time.” Yes, there will be situations where I don’t have many good choices, and there may even be situations where I choose something less healthy because that’s the choice that makes sense to me at the time, but my practice now is to stop myself before any “recreational” eating choice and see if I can’t find a perspective that makes me happy to skip it. Not that this is always easy: more on that below.

4. Awareness
In order for me to make good choices, I have to realize it when one of those choices is in front of me. If I have four pieces of pizza in my belly before I remember to think about what I’m eating, then it’s already too late. Accordingly, the first thing I practice is being aware of making a choice. The second thing I practice is being willing to think about my motivations for making good choices. It shocks me how often I’ll realize I’m in a situation where I need to make a good choice and my first inclination is to not think about it. When I get past that and focus my attention on what I’m trying to achieve in my life, it becomes much easier to make the good choices. It’s when I don’t notice the opportunity or do notice but don’t allow myself to think about it that I run into problems.

5. Knowledge
I should say that any positive change needs to be founded on real knowledge. Meaningful facts–whether it’s calorie counts for eating well, knowing that people who have tried to quit smoking before are more likely to succeed when they try again, knowing what markets are available for the novel you’re working on, or really understanding the question of cardio versus strength training–facilitate reaching our goals, while lack of information gets in our way. For instance, if I try to lose weight but don’t realize that some of my “diet foods” are high in calories, I’m very likely to give up, because I’ll see I’m not making any progress.

So those are the pieces–at least, the ones I recognize so far. In the third post in this series, I’ll talk about how these pieces fit together and what it feels like to be fully engaged in changing a habit for the better.

Photo by sean dreilinger

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Experimenting With a $100 Bet

Self-motivation examples

My son, who’s 14, has been wanting to get in better shape for quite some time. We’ve talked about good methods and about how to change diet and exercise to lose weight and build muscle, but he’s found it difficult to get moving. Often he’d begin to do something–say go walking every day or track everything he eats–but give up soon afterward. I suspect that part of the problem was not being sure that what he was doing would even work.

Motivating other people
My study and writing hasn’t generally been about motivating other people: it’s been about motivating ourselves. The big difference between those two tasks, if you ask me, is that when we’re motivating ourselves, we have direct access to the brain in question, and when motivating others, we don’t. Since the means I talk about have to do with our own thinking and attitudes, they’re not as useful to try to use on other people.

Still, I had been supporting my son as much as I could, offering information when he asked for it, volunteering techniques for making better progress, and talking through obstacles. But I wasn’t going to try to make him get more fit through imposing rules. If he was going to learn a healthy lifestyle, he’d have to decide to adopt healthy habits on his own. While I buy healthy food and make sure he has access to exercise activities, I’m pretty sure going beyond that and trying to force him to get fit would backfire in the long run (and maybe in the short run, too).

The bet
So what did I do? I decided to try an experiment, and I bet him a hundred dollars he couldn’t lose 10 pounds in 8 weeks.

10 pounds in 8 weeks isn’t a record-breaking goal, but it’s pretty solid weight loss, enough to know for sure that better fitness is possible and to see visible improvement. As to the hundred dollars, I reasoned that if he wanted to participate in some kind of exercise program for 8 weeks that cost $100, I’d scrape that money together in that situation. I’d be willing to do the same in this special case if he were going to exercise on his own.

He took the bet. He didn’t have anything like $100, so we established in the beginning that if he lost, he’d be paying it off in trade: I have plenty of little things he can do to help me with my own projects.

Yet I made it clear from the beginning that I wasn’t rooting for him to lose: instead, I’d do anything I could think of to help him win. I didn’t know what the long-term effects of winning the bet might be, but I figured if he won (I was pretty sure that was possible), he’d at least gain confidence that he could lose weight whenever he really made up his mind to, and there’s good research to support the idea that belief in one’s ability to accomplish something is a crucial building block for motivation.

How he did
The first two or three weeks were not promising. He lost a pound or two early on, but he stopped there. He didn’t seem strongly motivated, even though mentally he had already spent the $100.

Somewhere around the fourth week, though, his attitude changed. We had been talking about how his chances of winning the bet were weakening every day. At the rate he was going, he’d lose the bet.

Spurred on by thoughts of not getting the things he wanted to buy with the money and by worry about how long it would take to work off his debt if he lost, he got in gear. Instead of generally intending to exercise every once in a while, he exercised every day that he could, mostly cardio with some strength training. He stopped asking for and eating junk food and fast food: where they had been uncommon treats before, now he cut them entirely out of his diet. He chose salads without dressing for lunches at school and stuck with lean, healthy options at home. When he didn’t know whether or not a food was good for weight loss, he asked me, and I did my best to give him good guidelines. He avoided most carbs and focused on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and a few whole grains. He stopped drinking juice and lemonade and stuck with spring water. And he started losing weight.

In fact, he lost weight very quickly: several pounds a week. He still had two weeks to spare when his weight loss hit ten pounds. He repeated the winning weigh-in with me as a witness, and was ceremoniously awarded his prize. It was spent on the wished-for items within hours.

The aftermath
I was hoping that he might develop some good habits in the course of his weight loss experiment, but that was based on the idea that he would adopt a healthy regimen over the whole eight weeks, not on the idea that he would lose almost all the weight in a self-disciplined rush in the middle. He had gotten down three weeks of good habits, but for complex behaviors, three weeks is rarely long enough for a habit to form (see “How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?“).

So it wasn’t surprising, though it was disappointing, to see my son go back pretty much to his old habits of eating (although he’s a little more restrained about things like juice and desserts these days). It’s encouraging, though, that he is still doing fairly regular exercise. It appears that his short flirtation with weight loss may have gotten him over some reservations about exercise, which matches my experience: once you start doing it regularly, especially if you can find a mode that’s pleasurable for you, you no longer work so hard to avoid it.

So, was it a good idea?
In the end, I’m going to call this one a limited success. It certainly isn’t an ideal approach, since it didn’t do much of anything to change his internal attitudes or supply him with a long-burning passion for fitness (something that’s very difficult to even do for ourselves, let alone other people). It also didn’t turn out to get him doing healthy things long enough for them to become habits.

However, there’s no denying that the bet enabled him to lose 10 pounds on his own, and it certainly taught him some things about his ability to motivate himself when there are stakes that matter to him, about exercise, and about healthy living. If sooner or later he comes to feel that he really wants to commit to a healthier lifestyle, he’ll know how, and he’ll have confidence he can do it again on his own.

Photo by Todd Kravos

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Andrew’s Results: One Month of the Slow Carb Diet

Self-motivation examples

Here’s Andrew’s final update for his 31 day attempt to lose 20 pounds:

Well team,

Start weight on Feb 28th was 200.8 lbs.  Today’s weight: 193 flat.

I aimed for a 20 lb loss in 31 days.  Was the book even 50% correct?  No.  Was the book even 40% correct?  Just about right. I lost 7.8 lbs out of the desired 20 lbs.

Did I adhere to the regimen perfectly?  Yes.
Did I employ a cheat day each week per the book?  Yes.
Did I use the recommended dosage of vitamins and supplements?  Yes.
Did I employ ice baths and ice packs?  I used ice packs occasionally and only used one hellish ice bath as the book only called for those techniques to lose that grueling last 10 lbs
Did I do exercises before and after meals i.e. air squats and push-ups?  98% of the time.

What went wrong?  I suppose my body needed some time during the 1st week to even get into the swing of things.  I did experience a lot of weight swing throughout the process.  However, and despite the rather large jerks up and down, the end result was very good.

I feel great.  I added a bunch of muscle.  My energy is through the roof.  My heart rate is better than when I started.  I sleep better.  Allergy season barely affected me.  I do not tank during the day or yawn after meals.  When I do eat, the food is piled high, I leave the table stuffed and I am hungry by the next meal.

7.8 lbs in a month is successful if you ask me.

April’s goal is to lose 12 and then May’s goal is to lose an additional 5 so I end up at 175, down from the original 200.8.

Total inches lost (used a neck, waist at naval, waist at widest part, both upper arms, both forearms, both calves, both thighs and my shoulder width):

Total inches: 249, 248.5, 248.5 ,246.25 ,246.25 ,247.75

Why the fluctuation in inches?  1) measuring yourself with a tailor’s tape is a pain in the ass. 2) I dropped fat but I added muscle in my thighs, gluts, calves and biceps.

Good luck everyone and I will post my results at the end of April.

Congratulations to Andrew! His effort has been amazing, and his results, while not a miracle, seem very strong to me. Even the most concerted weight loss efforts normally can’t (and shouldn’t!) cause a loss of more than two pounds of fat per week, although The Four Hour Body asserts that it can accelerate healthy weight loss well beyond that mark.

Andrew’s success rate so far is about 1.76 pounds net body weight per week, and it seems likely that he gained more than enough muscle to put him over 2 pounds of fat loss per week. Especially sustained over a month, these are great results, despite the limitations of scales for measuring fitness (see “Why Weighing In Is a Poor Way to Measure Progress“. After all, the other available options aren’t much better in most respects, unless you can manage and afford professional bodyfat measurements on a regular basis).

What I don’t think we saw over this past month was a validation of any mind-blowing results of the Slow Carb Diet as laid out in Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Body. This isn’t to say I think it’s a bad plan: on the contrary, I’m following it myself at the moment (though in more limited ways than Andrew), and generally speaking, the people I know on it have experienced increased energy and strength, though only sometimes actual weight loss. Better yet, people using the diet seem (in my limited experience so far) to be largely free from hunger and to enjoy their “off-day” or “cheat day” enormously.

The biggest drawback I know of so far is the “carb hangover” that can last for up to two days after cheat day (so three days in all–nearly half the week), resulting in low energy and less buoyant mood. Also, people I know who are following this plan, as I mentioned, are not all losing weight. However, if one follows it as carefully and energetically as Andrew, speedy weight loss (speaking in relative, healthy terms) does seem to be possible. How much of it is simply limiting calories through eating very healthy meals of protein, vegetables and legumes, and how much is exploiting human body chemistry through Ferriss’ many special tactics? I don’t know, and I’ll be interested to eventually find out.

And especially of interest here, how did Andrew manage to adhere so effectively to his diet plan? That’s a subject I hope to discuss with him soon, but his clear goal, his comfort with the idea that the goal was an ideal and not a restriction, and his constant sharing of his progress probably helped. I hope to talk to him more about the subject; stay tuned.

Photo by Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway

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Andrew, Week 3: Adjusting for a Moving Target

Self-motivation examples

Here are some recent updates from Andrew, who we’ve been following for several weeks as he tries Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Body approach in an attempt to lose 20 pounds in 31 days (see “Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days“). By last week, it seemed clear that while he was making good progress, 20 pounds was going to be too high a target; he’s now estimating 8.5 pounds lost by the end of his month of effort, which even when we don’t take into account any muscle he may have gained is an impressive amount.

Day 21 of 31: Weigh in: 195.6.  That’s 5.2 lost since Day 1 of 31.  I predicted a loss of 8.5 lbs last week using some very sketchy math …

That was surprisingly low for a post cheat day weigh in, especially considering I ate like a pig. [For anyone not familiar with Ferriss’s approach, it requires a weekly “off day” or “cheat day” of high calorie consumption, with the intention of keeping metabolism high. Because we’re checking in with Andrew soon after his weekly cheat day, the effects of that day, which last up to about 48 hours, are skewing his weight a little higher than it would be if we checked in with him, say, mid-week. — Luc]

Tomorrow begins the last full week for my self-experiment. I will continue beyond day 31 of course but the goal remains: How close can I get to my 20 lb goal?

Next post will be my measurement for TI [total inches].

End of 3rd week measurement for TI:

246.25 total inches.  This is down from the start measurement of 249.  Not thrilling results of course but here are the main changes in measurement, despite overall loss of inches:

Waist around navel: smaller
Waist around largest part (a**): smaller
Both thighs: larger
Calves: same or slightly smaller
Upper arms: exact same
Shoulders: potentially .5 inch smaller or the exact same
Forearms: smaller
Neck: smaller

The revised goal or expectation (20 pounds down to 8.5 pounds) seems perfectly fine to me from a self-motivation point of view. True, 20 pounds is more inspiring than 8.5 pounds, but the 5.2 pounds Andrew has actually lost is likely to be better motivation than any merely hoped-for results, as long as it’s thought of as an improvement over the start weight instead of as falling short of the desired weight at this stage in the game. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with setting a high goal as long as it keeps you on the right track and you aren’t discouraged if you fall short of it.

One of the advantages of Ferriss’s approach is that it involves four substantial meals each day (breakfast, lunch, a smaller second lunch, and dinner). The meals are not necessarily exciting or varied, but they’re fairly tasty, very healthy, and they’re filling, so that after an initial adjustment period, physical hunger isn’t a serious issue. In this respect, at the least, Ferriss’s system has a major advantage.

Keep on keeping on, Andrew, and thanks for the updates!

Photo by Arthur van Dam

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Andrew, Week 2: Movement in the Right Direction

Self-motivation examples

Here’s Andrew’s week 2 check-in (see “Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days“).

My total inches is the same as last week but the measurements are changing a bit for each body part.

As of 3 days ago [before his weekly “cheat day” on which people who use this system need to eat a lot of high-calorie foods that temporarily make weight spike–LR], I had lost 3 lbs, 2.5 of which came off that 2nd week.  I only lost .5 the first week.

I am expecting great results this week and I am going to step up running and hit the pool (cool water draw heat out which burns cals!).

I am very far from 20 lbs my man but the pursuit is still hot!

Andrew isn’t currently on target to reach his goal of losing 20 pounds in 31 days, but having lost 2.5 pounds this past week, he’s much closer now than he was, and 2.5 pounds lost healthily is a big weight loss success by practically any measure.

His first week may have been affected by some eating habits he changed for week two, specifically cutting out significant amounts of of corn (which is often thought of as a vegetable, but which is actually a sweet grain) and drinking grapefruit juice on cheat days only. Tim Ferriss, the author of the Slow Carb Diet that Andrew’s following, recommends grapefruit juice on cheat days to help process carbohydrates more effectively–but on non-cheat days it’s not an allowed food, as it contains a lot of fructose, which interferes with the physiological processes the 6 days a week of proteins (including legumes at each meal) and vegetables are supposed to create.

In terms of motivation, Andrew’s clearly still pushing for a major success, and the results of his second week  suggest that he was right to persist but look for things he could improve after a disappointing first week.

Here’s a further update from Andrew, the following day:

Day 15 of 31:  Weigh in??  198.8.  That’s 1 lb less than yesterday and seems normal that it is still 1 lb elevated above my low weight recorded.  When I checked the weight on the day of my last cheat day, the day after cheat day and two days after, I had an elevated weight and then it tumbled off again quickly starting day 2 of the new week i.e. Tuesday.  Let’s see what week 3 brings now.

I swam 500 meters today and I’ll run a few miles tonight before dinner or before bed.  I will swim 1000 on Wednesday and 1500 on Friday.  I will keep my running miles at 3 miles or less and work some sprints into the routine on Saturday morning before my cheat day begins anew.

I notice that my stomach does not tell me I am hungry until almost 2 full days after cheat day has ended.  I think it takes my body that long to work out the garbage food and to coordinate itself again with the vitamins on day 1 of the new week and after the vitamin rest day after binge day.

For those who have chimed in to help me, I should begin to see a good amount of weight loss for the rest of this week 3 and then for week 4.

Cheers.

Photo by maxintosh

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Andrew, Week 1: Damn the Torpedoes; Full Speed Ahead

Self-motivation examples


Last week I got a chance to talk to Andrew (“Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days“) about his determination to use Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet approach to weight loss to try to lose 20 pounds in 31 days. Ferriss’ approach has been very promising among people I know who have tried it, and the beginning of a new fitness process is often a honeymoon period, when the unaccustomed extra energy from more exercise, loss of water weight, etc. can much of the time provide a lot of encouragement.

Unfortunately, it appears Andrew isn’t going to be given a honeymoon period. He reports:

Well, the 1st week is over.  The results are far from impressive but maybe this week is the “basing” process for things to come in weeks 2-4.

I have lost .5 inches from my total inches (TI) measurements and I included the neck, shoulders, waist at navel, waist at largest area south of navel (butt), and the biceps, forearms, thighs and calves of both sides of the body.  The .5 inch drop in neck could be a mis-measurement so we’ll see next week.

The weight loss has not been anything special yet.  I began at 200.8 and I am now at 200.6.  Listen, this pales in comparison to what is written in his book!

My adherence to the food staples has been perfect, including the binge day regimen.  Sometimes I am hungry at the next meal and sometimes I do not care to eat.  I like the food I am eating so there is zero challenge to avoid other foods.

I can only assume my portion size is too large, but that, according to Ferriss’s book, should not be the case.

What changes am I going to make for week 2?

Here are the things to change:

  • Add cold showers each morning, icing at night while watching tv with my wife and boy and using ice baths on the weekend
  • As we are talking about calories, I may taper them back just slightly so I am at least hungry at the next meal
  • Exercise 3-4 times each week as I simply did it a couple of times this past week
  • Introduce cardio 3-4 times each week to enhance my metabolism

Final thoughts: I do feel great and I do not know if this is because of the vitamin regimen, the lack of “whites” to which Ferriss refers in his book, or a combination of both.

I’d like to imagine that there’s either a solution to this mystery or that Andrew will find his results drastically improve themselves over the coming week. For example, it could be that he’s getting a lot more salt in his diet and that therefore he’s retaining water and seeming heavier than he is–but who’s to know? Stay tuned, and next week we’ll find out whether this is a fluke or a trend.

Photo by MATEUS_27:24&25

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Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days

Self-motivation examples

A runner (not Andrew, obviously) in a lava field

Andrew, a reader of this site, is setting out on a daring project: he wants to lose 20 pounds of body fat, healthily, in 31 days.

If someone had described this plan to me a couple of months ago, I would have said it couldn’t be done. However, there’s a crazy but possibly brilliant guy named Tim Ferriss who’s written a book called The Four Hour Body, and in it he outlines his findings over the course of years and years of energetic research and extreme self-experimentation. Ferriss presents evidence that, assuming it’s accurate (and I have no reason to think it isn’t) would mean that Andrew’s project is entirely doable. I won’t go into Ferriss’s ideas in detail right now because I’m testing some of them out myself and want to speak from personal experience (and in addition I have concerns about some of Ferriss’ basic philosophies), but Andrew is going all-out. He’s going to do everything in his power to lose 20 pounds of bodyfat in 31 days, and he wants everyone to know about it. Accordingly, I asked him if I could post about it here. Andrew said “Let’s do it.”

I’ll be checking in with Andrew each week and posting his responses here. If he succeeds with even a large fraction of his goal, I’d call that a roaring success.

Andrew, what’s your motivation for such a radical change? And what do you think your biggest obstacles will be?

Andrew replied:

Complex: I want to feel my physical best so that I can fully participate in the outdoor and athletic life like I used to 10 years ago (I am 34 right now).  Carrying the extra weight around is probably killing my heart, knees, back and other organs, not to mentioned my mental and psychological states each day.  I suppose some of this is pure vanity as well as most people want to look good.  I could give a rip about looking like this person or that person, but humans have a healthy look to them and an unhealthy look to them and let’s be honest, I must fall into the latter category.  Although I must say I “carry the extra pounds pretty well”, I am not a picture of health right now and that really disturbs me.  I am also married and have a 3 year old boy so I honestly believe married couples owe it to each other to look good for as long as they can and my wife is hot so I need to bring more to the proverbial table!  When she and I met, I was in the midst of running up and down volcanoes, playing in monster ocean waves, eating well and living a very active lifestyle in her country of El Salvador.  As for my son, it’s critical to me that he pay testimony to a healthy life and not just lip service that we pay him at the dinner table each night.  Clearly, my goal is to personally push him in the athletic realm of the world as well as the intellectual dimension and me doing this while 20 lbs is hypocritical as I have no reason to be out of shape (just excuses).  I do have some personal fitness goals that revolved around distance running (I used to be a runner), cycling (I think I rode out of my mother), swimming (I am a newcomer to the sport) and to being a body weight exercise animal.  Lean and mean is the goal.

Simple: I want to feel amazing each day.

Obstacles: I suppose I am the obstacle.  If any laziness or regimen violations occur it will be because of me, plain and simple.  Barring injury, sickness or some other kind of life emergency, nothing should get in my way, period.

I have purchased the supplies needed i.e. vitamins and food and I have taken the body measurements outlined in his book, except for that I added my neck as well.

In the spirit of Ferriss’s Princeton student challenge i.e. reaching someone you think is unreachable and seeking advice etc., I am going after the man himself, Tim Ferriss and I will provide him my daily regimen and ask him if it’s spot on or if he has added anything since the revision of the most recent book.  I will tell him I am being watch by at least 1500 eyes each week, along with my own social sphere, so the test is on!

Photo by dneberto

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