It was the end of June, and I had just returned from vacation with the family. We’d gone to Hawaii, so I spent a lot of time with no shirt. I’ve always thought of myself as a very fit person. I have run regularly since I was 16, I work out, I have done P90X, I do yoga regularly. But in Hawaii I just felt . . . well, tubby. Looking at photos of me in those tight rashguard shirts you wear for surfing, I can see it was not an idle sentiment. When I returned home, I weighed myself: 198.2.
The number floored me. I am six feet tall. In college I thought of myself as 175 pounds. That has crept up over the years, and around 2000 it seemed to settle at 185. I was comfortable enough thinking of myself as 185 pounds. But the scale did not lie, over the past decade, my weight had crept up and I was now 200 pounds. No offense to anyone — but I do not see myself as a 200 pound man.
With my birthday coming up at the end of July, I set myself a goal. I would get back to 185 by my birthday, July 29.
I have never, ever watched what I eat. I have always relied on the idea that I have a high metabolism and lead an active lifestyle to keep me in shape. This worked when I was younger but now, in my mid-40’s, evidence suggests that it does not.
For my diet, I chose the “slow carb diet” found in Tim Ferris’ book The 4-Hour Body. (Affiliate link.)
I can’t say why this approach rather than another. I picked up Ferris’ book and was curious. It seemed very well-researched and no-nonsense. It did not lay a bunch of guilt on, and it has a number of chapters each designed to help you achieve a certain goal (fat loss, muscle gain, endurance, etc.). I think that I liked the book because in the back of my mind, I would like to get my weight down and then add muscle.
[UPDATE] One of the key concepts that the book drove home to me is the inability to use exercise to manage my weight. I had been fooling myself that it was possible to just “work off” excess calories all my life. But the vast imbalance between intake and what exercise really burns makes this a pipe dream. As one of my trainer friends puts it, “You can’t outrun a donut.” (Knowing this, I get angry when I think about today’s “anti-obesity” campaigns that make the claim that being more active can control weight. Being active is good, but it is not going to give us fewer overweight kids. Only nutrition will do that.)
The Slow Carb Diet
There are two core ideas in Ferris’ book. First, experiment and track results to see what works (he has done this religiously for many years). Second, the main diet that seems to work is what he calls the “Slow Carb Diet.”
The basic idea behind this is to eat protein, vegetables, and legumes (beans) in as high a quantity as you want . . . and nothing else. No grains, no rice, no dairy, no fruit. And, one day per week, all rules are gone and you can eat what you want.
I am not going to go into the science behind the diet, but rest assured it is researched and he makes a good case for it in the book.
For those who are familiar with it, this is very much like the Paleolithic diet, only you get legumes.
[UPDATE] A friend asked me what a typical breakfast is. I thought it would be good to recap my basic meals.
- Breakfast: I actually have “two breakfasts.” My first is upon awakening, when I have a shake that I detail below. It is important to get at least 30 grams of protein within half an hour of waking up. This shake is about all I can handle at that hour. But I get hungry about 90 minutes to two hours later, so I go for “second breakfast.” That is egg whites (from a carton), spinach or broccoli (frozen, microwaved), and some black beans, all with a bunch of salsa.
- Lunch: I am usually not hugely hungry at lunch, so I have something light. Usually I take a bunch of romaine lettuce leaves, and wrap deli meats like ham or roast beef inside. I give a quick swipe of mayonnaise on each. Oh, and some black beans.
- Dinner: I usually focus on a big protein here, and then round out with steamed vegetables (from frozen) and black beans. I find two or three Bubba Burger patties are awesome. I will also grill a whole bunch of chicken breasts on Sunday and eat them at dinners throughout the week. I also will go to Chipotle, which is now my go-to fast food. You can eat this diet without ever going anywhere else. I get: Fajita bowl with no rice, with black beans, steak (sometimes double steak or mix with chicken), pico de gallo, medium salsa, guacamole, lettuce.
Not an amazingly varied diet, but it works.
Here is a list of OK and not-OK foods that may help.
After one month of eating this diet very strictly . . . I have never felt better physically. More energy, more vitality, general sense of well being. I used to get a lot of tension headaches. I have taken no pain relievers for the past 30 days. I also used to need a certain amount of caffeine to get going in the day. Ditto: I have had no coffee for the past 30 days.
In terms of fat loss, my progress was quite rapid at the start, but that rate was harder to maintain. I weighed myself every morning, wearing just shorts, before ingesting anything. It ended up to be about .75 pounds per day that I was able to lose. Yesterday was my birthday and my weigh-in was 185.8. Close, and my wife congratulated me, but no cigar. I was a bit disappointed.
But today, the day after my birthday, I hit 184.9. Success.
My plan is to taper the pace a bit moving forward, and hopefully lose another 5 pounds by the end of August.
You can see this all graphed out below. I created a spreadhseet where I track my daily weight. I also include my daily target weight, with a +/- of 2%. So long as I was in those lines, I was happy with my progress.
(Click to enlarge the graph.)
You can see a few gaps in my tracking. Those were times that I was traveling for business and could not weigh myself. It was initially a challenge to maintain the diet when traveling, and especially when eating “banquet” type meals in business settings. I take along a protein powder supplement to make sure I get enough protein in those cases. But it takes planning ahead.
Also, there are supplements that I take along with my meals that Ferris has used and recommends. I do not know if they are critical, but in case you want to duplicate my results you should know about them. Here is my supplement regimen:
- On awakening: shake of Athletic Greens (green-sourced vitamin/probitoic compound) and Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard whey protein. Supplements: Alpha-Lipoic Acid; Green Tea Extract (decaffeinated); Garlic extract; Fish Oil capsule.
- With lunch: Alpha-Lipoic Acid; Green Tea Extract (decaffeinated); Garlic extract; Fish Oil capsule.
- With dinner: Alpha-Lipoic Acid; Green Tea Extract (decaffeinated); Garlic extract; Fish Oil capsule.
- Before bed: Policosanol; Alpha-Lipoic Acid; Garlic extract; Fish Oil capsule.
Like I said, I do not know if these are critical, but that is what I do.
By the way, I totally swear by the Athletic Greens.
So far, this seems to be working well and, like I said, I feel great. I plan to continue to use this eating plan moving forward, not just to attain a certain weight goal but as a way of life. The benefits, for me, are worth it. Sure, I miss pizza and cheeseburgers, but I get those on Cheat Day!
If you have questions, post them in the comments and I would be happy to answer them.