how I've been losing weight

Throughout my life, I have been overweight and had trouble getting my weight down and maintaining hard-won weight loss. Most people assume, correctly, that I get a fair amount of exercise, but even with lots of cycling, walking, and a little strength training, I was still pudgy. In fact, increasing my exercise usually just made me hungrier, and caused me to eat more and gain weight! I did calorie-counting, which worked, but it was hard to stick to it, and I was often hungry and had wildly fluctuating energy levels.

Over the past four months or so, I have adopted a new way of eating, which I am reluctant to describe as a "diet" as much as a food-lifestyle (cliche I know!). During the first week or two of this new food regime, I effortlessly dropped probably 10 pounds and, more strikingly to me and people around me, my face instantly became thinner and less puffy. Now I am down to a weight I haven't seen since my first year of college fifteen years ago, and I feel great. My energy levels are stable throughout the day, and even on long bike rides, I no longer experience the roller coaster of energy levels that I futilely tried to manage before. By the BMI scale, imperfect as it may be, I have gone from "obese", passed through "overweight", and now I'm on the brink of "normal". I don't really care to share my total weight loss numbers, because people tend to get wrapped up in irrelevant numbers and comparisons and miss the point. I will describe my methods, as they have worked for me. I am not a nutrition expert and I have no idea if similar strategies will work for others. I also have no idea about the long-term health effects of my strategy, though I do have some idea about the long-term health effects of being a lard-ass.

My method is simple: no grains, and no sugars. It's probably impossible to cut these out completely, so I settle for minimizing intake of these items, and even allow the occasional indulgence. Also, some healthy foods contain a small amount of sugar - for example, most fruits contain some sugar, but I believe fruit is worth eating from a health standpoint and the modest natural sugar in most fruit is not enough to offset the positives. Also, I do not drink any calories (milk, pop, juice, sports drinks, even zero-calorie diet pop), and in general I avoid processed foods (if it comes in a box or a bag or other container and contains more than one or two ingredients, I probably don't eat it). The basis for this strategy is rooted in studies of the glycemic response and its quantitative descriptor, the glycemic index.

In a nutshell, the glycemic index (GI) is a scale that quantifies carbohydrates according to how fast they cause blood sugar to rise, followed by the corresponding insulin response. GI applies only to carbohydrates - fats and proteins do not cause a glycemic response, and therefore do not have a GI. The general belief is that foods with a higher GI, while they may or may not contain many calories, tend to trigger the storage of fat. Counter-intuitively, fatty foods that have a low GI (or no GI) do not trigger fat storage.

In addition to fat storage, high GI foods tend to cause the blood sugar to spike, and then the insulin response brings sugar levels back down. This is perceived as a fluctuating energy-level, and appetite, generally, is stimulated. I believe this is why most calorie-counting schemes are so difficult to maintain. The "healthy" breads, cereals, and sugars that we consume within the daily calorie limits tend to stimulate the appetite. By cutting these out, it is much easier to stay within the calorie limits, without making a conscious effort!

A lot of armchair nutrition experts will reflexively label my approach as extreme or unhealthy in some way that will become evident in the future. So I will make a list of what I do eat, in no particular order, and the reader can judge accordingly:
Meat, cheese, nuts, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, eggs, potatoes, plain yogurt, dark minimally-sweetened chocolate, and coffee. I also take a daily multivitamin, just in case.
Some people laugh at this list, since it seems to encompass every type of food. But I don't drink milk (high in lactose sugar) or eat breads, cereal, sweetened items, or anything that has ingredients that I don't recognize as some sort of food.

Friends have suggested to me that bread is healthy, and I don't dispute that there may be some components of bread that are beneficial. But, on balance, I have determined that bread for me is not a good thing to eat (I feel shitty afterward, and get fat). Also, unless I make it myself, even the breads that are marketed as "healthy" tend to be junked up with all sorts of frightening ingredients. Nonetheless, the ferocity with which pro-bread people cling to this healthy-bread belief is amazing. Part of it is that breads and grains have been enshrined in the USDA food pyramid for a couple generations, and part of it, I believe, is something resembling addiction. The glycemic response of high-GI foods is a sort of "high", complete with withdrawal cycles, and just as smokers, alcoholics, potheads, and car-centric types tend to focus ridiculously on the positives of their vices, folks in the throes of a sugar-addiction are reluctant to acknowledge any criticism. In describing my "diet" to various people, saying "no bread" either makes them walk away or causes them to launch into some unfounded explanation that cutting back on bread will cause long-term damage to some of my organs (they desperately want to hear that I lost weight by riding my bike, while eating without restraint). My stance is that grain is, relative to the human species and its predecessors, a new thing. We evolved for millions of years without agriculture, subsisting on meat, fruit/vegetables, nuts, and eggs. For many of us, 5000 or even 10000 years of wheat cultivation has not been sufficient time to adjust our metabolism to this radically different food type. Your mileage may vary.

If you are overweight and have trouble losing that weight, I suggest trying my method for a week or two. What's the worst that could happen?


Erik said...

"Meat, cheese, nuts, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, eggs, potatoes, plain yogurt, dark minimally-sweetened chocolate, and coffee".

I think that this is the basis of a perfect diet, and one that is sustainable for life. It is almost verbatim a "paleo" style diet, 'cept for the dairy, which I believe is pretty well right on track with what us critters are designed to eat.

You might also want to focus on gluten as a specific sensitivity. Many people (probably most people) have undiagnosed low to moderate gluten intolerance. It's a gut irritant, a pro-inflammatory agent that you can assuredly do without.

Probably worth trying dairy free for a spell, see if you get a response to that. Most Northern European derived folks never turn off their lactase production after weaning, so its not a biggie, but it's another variable you can tweak.

I think you're also on track with just trying it for 30-60 days to see what happens. Everyone is their own N=1 experiment, you just have to be willing to fiddle with the dials periodically to see what works for you.

Snakebite said...

Your thoughts on food are exactly correct, at least as far as my own research goes. Highly processed grains are what are fed to cattle to make them fat. Discussing the GI index is hitting the food nail on the lettuce head.

A word on fats. Some are necessary and can usually be found in the nuts you've described as eating. Fats also act as a control for higher GI foods by slowing down how fast they are absorbed into the blood.

cindy said...

As an RN in our very sick medical system, I DAILY/HOURLY see the fall out from disease related to obesity and the 'good life.' It's rampant and a horrible sight to behold.

Many people are refined carb sensitive (hyperinsulin response) and this causes the urge to eat more (ie appetite stimulation) and a kind of round robin of weight gain.

While the low glycemic index diet is good, it can still lead to a 'tip' in the carb balance and cause a very sutle appetite stimulation that leads the stimulated to eat just a little more.

That said, it's still very workable and does not mean that a person may as well just eat everything again...

There's some literature about AGE's, which means Advanced Glycation End Products. It's sort of complicated, but basically describes the fallout from eating a hyperglycemic diet.

It's proven over and over that eating a lower calorie, high nutrient dense diet it the best way to ensure better health and more years.

It's my belief that this country is going to collapse because of obesity and medical care. UNLESS we wake up in the here and now. There isn't much time to mess around, especially as we baby boomers are rumbling into the Medicare roles starting in 2011.

Tim McGuire said...

great post. great results.

I've been moderately successful in sticking to a similar diet. Meat and eggs (sometimes lox) for breakfast. Big-ass salads for lunch. rich soups and stews for dinner.

A good first step for getting rid of grains is to go gluten free. (a lot of gluten free stuff has tons of sugar, though)

Two blogs that help inspire:
heart scan blog

Mark's daily apple:

Jim Thill said...

Tim, you gave me the idea. I should've said so.

Loren said...

Jim -

Six or seven years back, my mother was diagnosed with several autoimmune diseases, including Crohn's. She did some research on her own, preferring a mix of natural methods in combination with modern Western medicine.

One thing she came upon is something called the "Specific Carbohydrate Diet" and she's been eating that way ever since, to good effect. SCD is largely the paleo-type diet you describe, except that she cuts out sugars, grains, AND all starches of any type. Which means potatoes are verboten as well.

She lost weight, largely keeps the Crohn's under control, and -- as an unanticipated benefit of the diet -- also has significantly lowered my father's historically (and improbably) high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

I've adopted significant aspects of the SCD method as well (in full disclosure, I have my father's high cholesterol but no weight problem), in hopes that I can avoid the cornucopia of cholesterol-lowering drugs my father takes.

Good luck with your continued use of the diet. I think it sounds like the proper path, and can potentially cure much more than just obesity.


cindy said...

Be mindful of the high triglyceride component of cholesterol. Seems it's a harbinger of stroke, from what I've observed and is often seen with diabetes.

We are a very SICK nation who needs to WAKE UP! People come willy nilly into the hospital and are often later shocked at how bad it all went, ultimately. One thing, then another and on and on. Don't put yourselves in that position, like sheep lead to the slaughter. And this is from the INSIDE, and not someone with an unfounded fear of medical situations. I live them daily through my poor patients who didn't know what they didn't know... ah the good life. If you die suddenly from such a lifestyle, then it's all good, but it's the surviving the lifestyle, long enough to be a patient, for sometimes years on going.

Anonymous said...

Jim -

Fascinating post about your battle to keep pounds at bay. This has been a lifelong struggle for me as well since I love fresh bread and bakery goods. I'm going to give your spartan diet a try and see how it works for me. My goal is to lose fifty pounds next year. More to come...


Dustin said...

I've been trying to combine Paleo dietary principles and cycling for a couple of years now, and I think it makes a heck of a lot of sense. Shows good results for most people too!

Even started a blog about it too, inspired by the likes of Mark Sisson and others: paleovelo.com.



Joe said...

Paleo lifestyle for the win!! Grok on!! I was doing this last Spring and lost 20 pounds easily. I've since went back to my SAD (standard american diet) ways and gained back weight. Been trying to get back with it. Thanks for the motivation!!!

winkie said...

yer diet is basicly atkins right?
some before and after pics would show yer progress without sharing numbers.
i dont think u were ever obese. obese means super fat where u can bearly walk right?

Chris said...

I think I'm going to try it. I had to double check and make sure I had been sleep-posting at the beginning. I was a skinny kid, but have struggled with being 20-30 pounds overweight as an adult.

During a college health fair an attractive young co-ed labeled me as "fatter than average." No kidding!

I ride 10 miles one way to work EVERY day and I can only maintain my weight, not lose.

Congrats on your success!

Anonymous said...

I've also been able to keep weight off with a low-GI diet. This is knowledge worth sharing, thank you.

chiggins said...

Also, I do not drink any calories

So what you're saying is that if I were to freeze the white russians before I drink them, I'll lose weight?

Cool, I can totally do that.

Jim Thill said...

Also, freezing prevents you from spilling your Caucasian when goons try to rough you up.

chiggins said...

That rug really tied the room together, man!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim!

All told, how many pounds have you lost and what is your goal weight?

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I started a similar diet after seeing the movie 'Fat Head'.

I'm Forty and got up to 225lbs at one point, I'm 6'2".

I used to ride a lot but a baby slowed that down to a crawl; now that she's 4 I can steal away for a few hours a few times a month.

This recent increase in activity can in no way account for the fact that in the last 60 days I have lost 22 lbs while getting stronger.

All I did was cut out sugar and starch.

Like the writer I have the occasional exception (read: Beer) but for the most part I eat roast beef, cheese, eggs, butter, olives, strawberries, celery, peas, ham, stuff like that.

My doctor told me to lay off the red meat but I think she's wrong. It's the Carbohydrates that were fattening me up. I have put on muscle and I still tip the scale 20lbs lighter than when I started keeping track - and cut out the carbs (including potatoes).

FatHead is on Netflix watch it.