Thursday, June 17, 2010

Low Carb Weight Control

This is my fourth post in a series on my nearly lifelong struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. In past posts (part 1, part 2, part 3), I have described my teenage, young adult, and early middle age weight control efforts. Each approach produced acceptable results at first. But each time, I eventually started to gain weight again.

As my early middle age years went by, I became relatively comfortable with my own mixture of the BFL and BFFM programs. But I was also getting older. I noticed that it was getting harder to maintain my same weight and waist size. What concerned me more was a new pattern I was seeing. I’d maintain well for months. And then I’d suddenly experience a jump in weight and waist size.

Without any significant change in my routine, I’d suddenly put on two pounds and increase my girth by half an inch. Sometimes I could take measures that would somewhat reverse the gain. Other times, nothing I did seemed to help. I would be at a new plateau. This happened several times. Again, I wasn’t sure if it was simply due to advancing age or something else.

A few months ago, a brother introduced me to the 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle. I was very wary of low carbohydrate diets. Besides having heard a number of horror stories, I figured that eating piles of fat and protein seemed unbalanced. But I figured that trying the diet for six weeks couldn’t kill me. So I gave it a shot.

The book explains why the equation of simply eating less and exercising more works on paper, but not so much in real life. This section struck me squarely, because it described my precise experience.  More exercise and a stricter diet no longer seemed to help.

Middle-age fat is harder to reduce, the book claims, because it consists of visceral fat that entwines itself around your abdominal organs. This stuff increases blood pressure and causes any number of physical problems. Carbohydrates, it is asserted, can lend to inflammation that helps hold this visceral fat in place. It’s not the saturated fat that’s the problem. It’s the mixture of carbs and saturated fats that causes harm.

The first two weeks of the plan is designed to cleanse your liver. This reduces the body’s ability to hold onto visceral fat. They have you downing three protein shakes each day. You also get one solid low-carb meal. Surprisingly, this wasn’t as difficult as I had expected. Oh, you also have to give up most medications (especially ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and other NSAIDs), all alcohol, and all caffeine. Since I don’t use these products anyway, this was not a problem for me.

During these first two weeks, I dropped about seven pounds and reduced my waist girth by 1½”. They have a method for measuring visceral fat. Almost all of the fat I lost was visceral fat. I felt pretty good about that.

Weeks 3-4 are known as “meat weeks.” You get as much protein and fat as you need to satisfy yourself. But you get minimal levels of carbs. And you get no dairy at all. After so many liquid meals, solid meals were great. I got to eat and enjoy many foods that I had long avoided. During these weeks I lost another couple of pounds. My waist shrunk by another inch.

If you are not yet satisfied with your results at this point of the plan, the authors suggest that you alternate between a “shake” week and a “meat” week until you get to where you want to be. I did this for two weeks. I lost a little bit more weight and girth.

Finally, the last two weeks of the diet are designed to be “maintenance.” That is, they are supposed to be examples of how to eat for the rest of your life. They are a lot like meat weeks, but you can use dairy products. You also get more carbs, but they’re still very restricted.

By the end of three maintenance weeks, I had lost a total of 13 lbs and almost three inches around my waist. I feel as well as I felt under my previous diet plan. I am still doing my same strength training/cardio interval workouts. I have lost a couple of pounds of lean body mass, but I have also lost 11 lbs of fat.

I am as lean as I was nearly a decade ago. Clothes fit well that have been tight (or unwearable) for two to three years. Despite my previous unease with low carbohydrate diets, I am quite pleased with my current results. I was pushing the limits of normal BMI when I started the 6-Week Cure program. (Yes, BMI is a marginal tool for measuring healthy weight, but it is unfortunately widely used nowadays.) Now I am comfortably within normal BMI. By my calculation, I am about 13% body fat.

As has been my pattern for years, I suspect that I will follow this dietary plan until it doesn’t seem to work well for me anymore. Then I will look for something else. My goal in maintaining a healthy weight is to enhance overall health. I’m much less concerned about vanity.

Next time: What I have learned about weight control

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