Category Archives: Shape Up

Week 1 check in

My challenge started on Dec. 1, so my starting weight is from a Thursday. From this point on, however, I will weigh on Saturday morning.

Weight loss this week: 5.2lbs

Since this was a 10-day period, that’s about half a pound per day. I really hope I can maintain that pace for a while!

The Good:

  • I succeeded! (That’s good enough on its own.)
  • I did 225 minutes of cardio on the treadmill.
  • I signed up with, and had my first two sessions with, a strength trainer.
  • I drank 10-14 cups of water every day.
  • No sugar, dairy, fruit, or grains, except on cheat day (required as part of Slow Carb).
  • Planned the menu ahead of time and made sure my husband cooked and kept the fridge full of food I could eat.

The Less Good:

  • Skipped my Crossfit workout on Sunday.
  • Struggled with a desire to stuff my face with food on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday evening. Both times turned to celery and (natural, no sugar added) peanut butter, which are allowed on the plan — but ate way too much.
  • Spent Saturday on my feet and had really sore muscles much of the week as a result. My Achilles tendon in my right foot was acting up too. These things combined to result in less-intense-than-I-wanted cardio sessions, especially Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Need more veggies in the fridge.

I expected the desire to eat. I did Slow Carb back in February and March, and I remember that the first few weeks were really difficult. But I also remember that the longer I did it, the easier it was, which gives me hope for the future. I didn’t have significant cravings for any specific foods — no desperate cravings for brownies or French fries, for example.

Today is my Cheat Day, and yes, I’ve been looking forward to it. When I did Slow Carb back at the beginning of the year, I found that cheat day was super important during the first few weeks, but as I got the bad stuff out of my system, it held less and less importance. I’m hoping that’s true this time too!

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My journey to low carb

For my entire adult life, I have been the voice of Common Wisdom when it comes to nutrition. A healthy diet should be 50-60% carbs, with a foundation of complex carbs from whole grains, should have a moderate amount of low-fat protein, and should be low in fat overall. Carbs were, after all, the body’s primary fuel! Doctors said it, nutritionists said it, government agencies said it, and goodness knows, the media said it. Weight loss was about a healthy diet and calories in/calories out. I was fat because I ate too much crap and didn’t move enough.

I didn’t just believe it, I *knew* it. It was TRUTH. And because that was truth, low carb was WRONG. It was a lie. Temporary weight loss due, I thought, to calorie restriction. High fat levels meant those foolish adopters would die of heart disease. High protein meant they would all have kidney stones. And their brains were starving to death because their bodies were ketogenic.

TRUTH, I tell you! TRUTH!

Back in late January 2011, I heard about a book called 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. Dr. Oz grudgingly admitted that the tips in the book had solid science behind them, and I was intrigued. It didn’t sound like the usual diet book, and it wasn’t. The book is much, much more than a diet book, and I highly recommend it. But the diet portion — just two or three chapters out of the whole thing — was intriguing enough that I was willing to try it. It’s called “Slow Carb” — not low carb, and at no time does he call it a low carb diet (which is good because I’d have immediately shut my mind to it) — and Ferriss claims that by following these insulin-reducing steps, you can lose 20lbs a month. I didn’t lose 20lbs per month, but I shed 30lb in about 8 weeks, and I felt great the whole time.

Slow Carb is a difficult diet to maintain. No grains, no fruit, no dairy, no starchy veggies. It’s not intended as a permanent lifestyle; it’s formulated for quick fat loss. Six days a week are extremely restrictive and not fun at all, and after a business trip broke my streak and focused me on other things, I found it hard to go back to. But it had one extremely important lasting benefit: It turned me on to the importance of insulin in weight loss.

Fast forward a few months. I had gained back a little of the weight (not all by a long shot, not even most), and I really wanted to get back on track. At the beginning of the year, I had begun working out, and I had kept up at least occasional weekly workouts throughout the year. In July I got interested in improving my endurance. I am built for power, not endurance, and cardio workouts have always been pure torture for me. But, I decided that there were some bucket list goals I had that required endurance, so I needed to get past that hurdle.

I found a book by a man named Phil Maffetone published in the mid 90s. Maffetone’s method was used by elite endurance athletes to get *better*. His book wasn’t just about training, though. He also talked quite a bit about diet. One of the problems the people who came to him had was that even though they were winning races, they were completely wiped out afterwards — and they occasionally bonked during long races and lost. He had them completely change their diet — a change away from the carb-heavy diet promoted by endurance coaches and athletes everywhere.

He never mentions the term “low carb,” which is good because I still wouldn’t have listened. He starts with a two-week carb intolerance phase. No sugar, no grains, no starches. Preferably no fruit. Only heavy cream and unprocessed, full-fat cheese in the dairy category. No processed food. To be 100% honest, I did this because I thought a nice limited intro like this might be good for my *husband*. I knew from Slow Carb that being grain-free felt great. (My husband did it, and struggled through the first week. But he has been a believer since!)

During the Carb Intolerance test, I began researching different, similar diets. I created a spreadsheet comparing Slow Carb, Maffetone’s Carb Intolerance phase, Maffetone’s general recommendations, Paleo, and Primal Blueprint. I wanted something I could live with. No grains was okay, but I still couldn’t tolerate the words “low carb,” so I didn’t look at South Beach or Atkins. Why, out of all the choices, did I choose Paleo and Primal as possibilities? Because of my Crossfit trainer, Jenny.

Jenny is an amazing woman. Amazing. She’s a Crossfit trainer, a weight lifter, a firefighter, and a triathlete. She’s in her late 40s, but she has roughly 14% body fat — and she doesn’t diet. She eats eggs and avocados and coconut milk. She’s Paleo all the way. Jenny had been telling me about Paleo for a couple of years at least, but I wasn’t interested. Frankly, the whole argument that we should emulate the diet of cavemen seemed ridiculous to me. That was a million years ago, and they died at, like, 24. Besides, Paleo guidelines flew in the face of that TRUTH about nutrition I was sure I knew.

I had a lot to learn.

I started reading Mark’s Daily Apple, the blog of a man named Mark Sisson, the mind behind Primal Blueprint. Although Sisson is steadfastly no grains, Primal is fairly flexible about things like dairy and fruit, so I found it the most attractive of the options. In truth, his blog isn’t the best place to go for basic info on Primal. He’s a bit… wordy and hard to follow sometimes. His professionally edited book is a much better source for that. But his blog is filled with interesting tidbits and fantastic success stories. He frequently goes into the science of weight loss and reviews various scientific studies, picking them apart. I began to realize that the science of nutrition isn’t as cut and dried as Common Wisdom would have us believe.

I think it was Mark who was responsible for another major change in my thinking. Common wisdom says that carbs are our primary and preferred fuel. This makes no sense. Our bodies are capable of unlimited fat storage. In contrast, our muscles can provide about 20 minutes of energy via glucose. To fill our bodies with carbs is to increase insulin, which science has known for decades is the culprit behind the physiology of obesity. Our bodies were *meant* to burn fat as fuel, not carbs. That means we are *supposed* to be in a ketogenic state. Our bodies thrive on it. (There is a long continuum, from producing a tiny bit of ketones to a potentially fatal condition called ketoacidosis. A person can exist as a ketone-producing, fat-burning machine indefinitely without ever suffering from ketoacidosis. To suggest otherwise is simply a scare tactic.)

My husband turned me on to another blog, that of Dr. Michael Eades. Yup, an MD. Dr. Mike and his wife are the minds behind a low carb program called Protein Power that came out in the mid-90s. His blog goes much more into the science behind nutrition and obesity. Fascinating reading. For more fascinating reading, I downloaded (for Kindle) one of his more recent books, The Six-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle. Devoured it in a day. Probably the most interesting part was where he presented case studies from his obesity patients. It wasn’t the weight loss that was fascinating — it was the changes in blood chemistry. When he switched people to his low carb plan, he had them stop taking their blood pressure and cholesterol medication *that day*, and their readings were down to normal within two weeks. (He said the actual major changes occurred within three days, but most people didn’t retest that quickly.)

Then I read a book Dr. Mike highly recommended, Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes. This book doesn’t provide an eating plan, as I’d hoped. (I wanted to compare it to the others.) This book is all about the science of why we get fat and the history of that science. Did you know that prior to the 1960s (70s?), that obesity was considered a physiological issue, not a moral failing? They knew, as early as the 1920s that insulin and issues with how and when it signaled the body to retain/release fat were the problem behind obesity. Now obesity is the problem of lazy people who overeat and don’t move. The cure: eat less and move more! But Taubes explains why that solution fails and will continue to fail.

He explores WHY the current nutritional wisdom is what it is. Basically, in the 70s, heart disease became a key issue. Someone concluded that because people with heart disease have saturated fat and cholesterol clogging their arteries, then saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet must be bad. Whole grains reduced some of what was determined to be bad. So a whole generation of “heart healthy grains” and “low fat diets” resulted. The problem is, heart disease has increased (yes, really), and we’ve all gotten fatter. And the science that is supposed to show that dietary saturated fat and dietary cholesterol raise fat and cholesterol in the blood don’t show that. They show the opposite.

Taubes also looks at the diets of different peoples around the world, both now and historically. It’s very clear, and rather frightening, that populations that had no history of obesity developed it after the introduction of sugar and white flour. And cavemen? Well, I was wrong about that one too. Humans were hunter-gathers for 99.5% of their total existence. Only .5% of our existence has occurred since the advent of agriculture. From an evolutionary perspective, we were meant to eat a mostly meat diet, high in animal fat, with some plant-based carbs, some seasonal fruit (in some cultures — some, like the Innuits, had NO veggies or fruits [or obesity prior to the introduction of sugar and white flour]), and little (if any) dairy. From an anthropological perspective, the same diet appears in modern hunter-gatherer populations and in the populations with the lowest incidence of obesity. Obesity can be clearly mapped to the introduction of sugar and white flour, especially the flour. (There are some populations that have grain in their diets without obesity, but they prepare the grains through fermentation.)

Basically, I have read enough now to believe that common wisdom is wrong. The science just doesn’t back them up. And frankly, neither do the results. Any system where 95% of dieters gain back the weight they lost is BROKEN.

So based on what I’ve read and learned, I am now firmly in the low carb camp.  I’m losing weight slowly and steadily, and I feel fantastic. I have a ton of energy, and I have no problem finishing a hard, trainer-led workout. We’ll see what the long-term results are. I’m scheduled for my annual physical at the end of October, so we’ll see then how my blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol numbers have faired.

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Unbreakable

(This was written back in March, but didn’t get posted. Sorry!)

Cute story from one of my workouts this week. Made me feel good anyway.

Setup:
I work out with Jenny on Sunday and JR on Tuesday. This week, I told JR that I had benchpressed 120lbs (3 sets of 5) with Jenny. He decided he wanted to do one-arm dumbbell presses on the exercise ball. That means my shoulders are supported by the ball, but I have to support my hips using my core strength.

Okay, so the story:

JR looked at my bench press numbers and scrunched up his face. “35lbs, I think. 12 reps.”

I did the set, fairly easily.

He shook his head. “Going up to 40lbs on this next set.”

“Why do you do 12 reps?” I asked. I prefer sets with heavier weight and fewer reps, but JR usually has me work sets of 12.

“I don’t want 12. I want to give you enough weight that you fail at 8-10. But I ask for 12 in case you’re strong enough to do more.”

Makes sense. I did the next set with 40lbs. 12 reps.

He shook his head again. “Have you seen the movie “Unbreakable”?”

I grinned. “The scene with the benchpress?”

He nodded. “Where they can’t load up the bar enough to stop him?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen it.”

“That’s what this feels like. You’re unbreakable. Next set 45 for 10. Or do you want 50?”

I looked dubious at the thought of pushing 50 while supporting my core.

“45 for 10 or 50 for 8.”

“50 for 8,” I said. (I’ll take more weight for fewer reps any day!) I positioned myself on the ball, and he handed me the 50lb dumbbell.

JR giggled like a little boy with every rep. I pressed it a full 12 times on the right and 7 times on the left — then my core gave out. Not my chest. My core. “If I’d been on a bench, I’d have nailed the 12,” I told him.

“Do you know Bernard? He’s a competitive powerlifter. I can’t wait to tell him about you.”

“You want to tell him about your mutant client?”

“I want to tell him he has a new lifting buddy: Unbreakable.”

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Which weighs more? Fat or muscle?

Forgive me — I must rant a tiny bit.

I have two dogs. Pflouff is a Newfoundland bitch, built like a freakin’ tank. Pax is a male curly coated retriever, tall and slender. Which weighs more?

Neither actually. Put them on the scale, and they weigh pretty much exactly the same, even though they are shaped and sized quite differently.

That’s how I, personally, figure out which is heavier — I compare the things in question on a scale. I have Thing A and Thing B. Which is heavier? I put them on the scale to find out.

Unfortunately, if Thing A is a chunk of fat and Thing B is a chunk of muscle, the scale is suddenly not valid. “Muscle weighs more than fat.” No. I can assure you that a 1lb chunk of fat weighs EXACTLY the same as a 1lb chunk of muscle, and 2lb chunk of fat weighs MORE than a 1lb chunk of muscle.

Nooooo, people argue. The muscle is denser and smaller. It weighs more by VOLUME.

I bet Pflouff weighs more by volume too, but who the heck weighs by volume? Is there ANYONE who does their weekly weigh-ins by volume? Does anyone’s doctor ask for a weight by volume?

The statement “muscle weighs more than fat” is meaningless. Here’s the important information concerning fat, muscle, and weight:

* Muscle has weight. Period. If you gain 1lb of muscle, you will weigh 1lb heavier on the scale. If you lose 1lb of muscle you will weigh 1lb less on the scale.

* Fat has weight too. Same principles apply.

* 1lb of muscle takes up less SPACE than 1lb of fat. It looks and functions very differently in your body.

* Muscle gives your body form and pleasing definition. The difference between these two men is muscle. Which do you find more attractive? The more muscular guy also weighs more.

* Muscle gives your body FUNCTION and prevents injury.

* Muscle, even at rest, is active. That means it burns calories even when you’re not doing anything. More muscle means a higher basal metabolism. More muscle means you get to EAT MORE just to maintain weight.

* Fat is never active. It doesn’t burn calories.

* Fat cannot be converted to muscle, nor muscle to fat.

* You have to have fat. You have to have muscle. You have to have bones. You have to have organs. All of these things have weight. On a scale.

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A day of many small successes

I haven’t talked much about my weight or my weight loss efforts. Usually there isn’t much in the way of weight loss efforts honestly. But a couple of weeks ago I read a book called 4 HOUR BODY by Tim Ferriss. I loved it, and I’m following the Slow Carb diet he describes. On that diet, there’s a cheat day once per week, and Yesterday was my cheat day, but I still had a bunch of small successes I’m proud of.

Success number 1: Even though I had a workout scheduled in the afternoon with my Crossfit trainer, Jenny, I still hit the treadmill for about 20 minutes around lunch. And I started the day with 30 squats, 30 wall presses, and 30 chest pulls with an exercise band.

In the afternoon was Crossfit. I love these workouts. I’m not fit enough yet to do the dynamic Crossfit moves (like burpees), and I sometimes have to baby my knee, but I can row, and I can lift weights. Heavy weights. Yesterday, my workout (after warm up and stretching) was four rounds of the following circuit:

  • 250 meter row
  • 105lb bench press to failure
  • 10 ring rows

Just three exercises, but I assure you, I worked hard. I felt I had a small success in each exercise:

  • My rowing was consistent. There’s a graph you can display that helps me see when I’m doing the stroke correctly and getting most of the power from my legs. I was able to do the stroke correctly (and smoothly) throughout each round and through all four rounds.
  • 105 was the highest bench press I’d done, and I was able to do 13 reps. Again, I was consistent. In the fourth circuit, I did 12 and failed at 13.
  • My ring rows have gotten a lot stronger, and my form is solid. I really work my lats.

Lots of compliments from Jenny. 🙂

On the way home, I was hungry. It was 3:30, and our dinner reservations were at 5:30. I needed a snack. I ran through the options in my mind: celery with hummus, celery with natural peanut butter, almonds, edamame, protein shake.

Then suddenly it occurred to me: This was my cheat day. I could have anything I wanted. Chips! Chocolate! Cheese! Bread!

And you know what I WANTED? Healthy stuff. I had a protein shake, a few almonds, and a handful of edamame. I think that was a huge success!

Ended the day by going out to dinner with my husband for Valentine’s Day. We decided at the beginning of the year to go out to one high-end restaurant a month — preferably one we haven’t been to before. Last night we went to Bis on Main in Bellevue. It was most definitely a cheat meal, but we split an appetizer, split a salad, and I ate only half of my entree. I don’t feel guilty about a bite of it!

And today I was right back on track. 🙂

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