09 December 2011

Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes

So, back to my epic about last year's health quest.

After 13 weeks working on a slow-carb diet and seeing very little in the results department, someone recommended Why We Get Fat on the forum I mentioned in an earlier post. This book was crucial in helping me understand my own body chemistry.

WWGF is an updated, shorter, and easier-to-read version of Taubes' previous Good Calories, Bad Calories. I've started GCBC, but haven't taken the time to finish it as life has gotten in the way, but it's patiently waiting in my Kindle for me.

Taubes questions the theory that eating fat makes us fat (the lipid hypothesis). He looks at other cultures and societies that shared our modern American propensity toward largeness and found some interesting elements. He also looked to the past, both past research and past wisdom. And he looks at body chemistry and lays out the role of insulin in fat storage.

As I read this in April of last year, I realized that the reason the slow-carb diet didn't work for me was that it was still too heavy in carbs. I was too insulin-resistant for that many carbs, even slowly-absorbed carbs, to work.

So, in April, I cut way back on my carbohydrates. And the scale began to go down. I also increased my intake of healthy fats - coconut oil, butter, lard, tallow, the fat on meat, palm kernel shortening, cream, eggs, etc. For about a month, I was eating about 3,000 calories per day and still losing weight easily. But that couldn't continue - the budget couldn't take it. When I cut back on how much I was eating, the weight-loss slowed and even reversed a little.

WWGF isn't a diet book. It's a book about biochemistry, history, and anthropology that explains the why (hence the title) behind most weight-gain, insulin resistance (a.k.a. metabolic syndrome). I've always found that, once I understand the philosophy behind something, the why, applying it, becomes more natural and thoughtful. I don't need someone else's plan if I understand what stands behind the ideas I'm wanting to implement (which is why even good diet books have never been very helpful for me).

By mid-May, I had lost a total of 15 lbs. Not great, but at least the scale was moving in the right direction. After reading WWGF, I read an exercise book, which seemed like the next thing to add. However, when I started doing what the book taught, all weight-loss stalled, and that includes no lost inches and no lost body fat percentage or anything else (although I was getting stronger - but soon my hands couldn't handle the weights I needed for my arms, shoulders, back, etc. - quite a predicament).

I also read another diet book and incorporated that into what I was already doing, but after two weeks, there was nothing happening, so I ditched that one (see how helpful record-keeping can be? I didn't waste that much time on something that just didn't work). That brings us to July, and a new post as I review, yet another book.


05 December 2011

The Value of Self-Experimentation and Keeping Copious Records

Almost a year ago, in late December 2010, I finally got to a weight that was my tipping point. I won't say what that weight was, but it was far too high. 2011 was the year I was going to get a hold, not just of my weight, but of my health.

I had struggled with adrenal fatigue for most of my life (not just my adult life - I had symptoms going back to high school, it was only in retrospect that I figured out what they were pointing to). During most of my pregnancies, I'd gained 50 lbs and then lost 50 lbs, but not all of them. The others saw the scale much higher at the end of the pregnancy/nursing cycle, and only one where I lost more weight than I'd gained. In addition to the adrenal fatigue, I was also trying to cope with quite a few other hormonal imbalances.

There had been many times through the years when I'd determine to lose weight. I'd either cut back on the fat, exercise a lot, or both. And each time, I'd simply maintain my weight. It was quite frustrating. As soon as I gave up, the scale started going back up again. And at the end of it, my adrenal glands were in worse shape than when I'd started.

So, back to late December 2010 - I downloaded a newly-released book onto my Kindle that promised me that I'd lose quite a bit in just a few weeks. After I read the pertinent parts of the book, I looked up the author's website. His attitude was less than encouraging, as he said that the promise in his book really didn't apply to women, who had to follow his plan for six to eight weeks before seeing results and even then would only see results for half of each month. He basically said that, if his counsel didn't produce the promised benefits, not to come crying to him.

Well, I tried it his way for six weeks, with absolutely no results. I was motivated to follow his counsel to the letter so that I could claim with all veracity that I hadn't cheated, all so that I could confidently say he was wrong. During weeks seven and eight, I did lose nine pounds. Then, I stalled for the next five weeks. I wasn't the only woman who was so frustrated, as plenty posted in the book's forums about their struggles.

While the slow-carb method of weightloss didn't work for me at all really (I gained back some of the weight I'd lost in weeks seven and eight), I did find the author's approach to self-experimentation to be quite valuable.

I began tracking many different measurements. I weigh myself daily. I measure myself in key areas weekly. I eventually bought a body fat calculator and measure that daily, too (it measures on the low side, so monthly I plug my numbers into a more accurate online body fat calculator and record those results, too). I also began to keep a closer watch on my eating habits (although the food diary didn't last through the whole year, I go back to it occasionally if I get stuck) and the supplements I take, as well as various symptoms (how I slept, headaches, wrist and hip inflammation, fatigue, adrenal soreness, etc.).

All this data helped in so many ways. I began to understand how various things affected me. Some took a few hours to show up, some days, some weeks, and some months, but I had a much better handle on learning what I needed. I learned to understand that daily fluctuations aren't that important. It's longer-term trends that I need to watch.

All this data gave me the ability to evaluate where I was and gave me the tools to figure out where I needed to go.

I haven't started tracking my blood sugar, yet, but hope to get that going soon so I can learn exactly how different foods affect me and can set up an individualized plan (even if it's just knowing what foods will mess me up and which foods might not be such a poor indulgence).

I set up spreadsheets that would take my weight and body fat measurements each day and multiply them out to show me my fat/lean weight. I also began graphing it all.

Whereas before I could find no rhyme or reason for what my weight was doing at any given time, now I could pin it on different things, whether a poor night's sleep or too many cups of sweetened tea or too much high-sugar fruit.

This principle of record-keeping and self-experimentation works for any health issue. The more data points you have, the better. I also found that approaching my health/weight issues as a science experiment was valuable in keeping my emotions out of the equation. I know I can obsess, but I haven't found that to be a problem at all this year.

In upcoming posts, I'll be reviewing several books that I found helpful, as well as sharing how the rest of the year went in my quest for better health (a quest I'm still very much in the midst of!).