Monday, September 12, 2016

Inches Not Pounds

August 2016
Looking at this recent photo (August, 2016) taken of me, it appears that I am definitely getting closer to my destination of being lean and fit.  Recently, I decided to increase the length of time between my last meal in the evening and my first meal of the day.  Gradually, over the course of the last year, I had gone from a fasted state of 12 hours to one of 16 hours.  The thinking behind such a change is to increase the time in which my insulin levels are low and my body switches into fat burning mode.

Looking at another photo below taken last year (September 2015) with my friend Richard, who looks very good, maintaining an ideal weight that allows him to eat what he wants, when he wants, because his hormones are in balance, you can see that my strategy of extending my fasted state has made a big difference.  In fact, last year's photo was taken when I was stuck on a weight loss plateau that I could not get off no matter how much exercise I packed into my daily routine.  For instance, in 2014 I hiked and biked more than 5000 kilometers, and in 2015 I completed the equivalent of a walk across Canada by walking on average 13 kilometers a day.  Moreover, when last year's photo was taken, I had just finished two months of eating clean and I still was stuck on a plateau.

September 2015
Before going on the 16 hour intermittent fasts, I did drop about 25 pounds between September 2015 and May 2016 while having a 12 to 14 hour break between meals over night.  However, when this year's photo was taken, I had moved to another plateau and I thought that increasing the length of my fasted state would get me off the new plateau.  That did not happen.  However, this time around I decided to measure my waist before and after two months of 16 hour fasts.  To my surprise, although I did not lose any appreciable weight, I did manage to take 10 centimeters or 4 inches of my waist, which tells me that my body definitely started to burn more of my visceral fat.

It shows in the two photos. In the lower photo, I am wearing an extra large shirt and my belly is protruding.  In the photo above, I am wearing a large shirt, one size smaller, and my belly appears to be flatter.  Moreover, my torso is smaller.

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My take away message is once again we should not become overly focused on scale weight.  It measures the total weight of lean muscle mass, bone, organs, visceral and subcutaneous fat and water, which means that scale weight will not capture any significant changes of body composition when the body weight remains relatively stable.  For example, you may lose 10 pounds of body fat while gaining 10 pounds of lean muscle.  Over all, this would be a very positive change for your health that would not at all be reflected by your scale weight.

The moral of my story is focus on fat loss, in particular, the fat around your waist.  Indeed, waist size is a much better health indicator than body weight or body mass.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

It's Not All About The Scale Weight

While I have been working on my eBook, Climbing Out of the Fat Trap One Step at a Time, I have noticed that over time, I too have become too focused on my scale weight.  After having lost 56 lbs over two years, approximately 20% of my body mass, I feel frustration that my weight loss has slowed.

I began the year at 234 lbs. and weighed in this morning at 227 lbs.  At about the half way point of the year, I think I stand to lose between 10 and 15 lbs this year if all goes well.  In my head, I set a body weight of 220 lbs for the year and I have my doubts if I can make it.  Not to worry.  One of the biggest challenges of weight loss is keeping it off and, so far with regard to that goal, the year is turning out very well.

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Unfortunately, I have hit a second weight plateau (228-232 lbs.).  To try to get off it, I tried to cycle between eating clean and doing a carb refeed of 3-4 days after a period of 10 days eating clean.  Not much in the way of results, simply moving a bit up or down within a narrow weight range.  Chalk it up to experience.  This is not the first time a new strategy has not panned out.

Lately, for the last 20 days, I have changed my intermittent fasting schedule moving from a 13-14 hour daily fast to a 16-18 hour fast, more or less the 16/8 hour schedule that some people find to be very effective.  I really don't know if this is going to result in any further sustainable weight loss, but I need to get off the page of focusing narrowly on my weight.

All in all my efforts have really improved my other health indicators.  When I began this journey, my Body Mass Index (BMI) was 38.3, which placed me in the morbidly obese category.  As of today, I calculated my BMI to find out that I am no longer obese: since at 29.9 BMI, I am now officially in the overweight category.  Yahoo!  Just keep in mind that those in the overweight category of 25-30 BMI actually live longer than those in the so-called normal weight category of 18-25 BMI.

In a similar vein, I have lost 9 inches of my waist, moving from 49 to 40 inches and my body fat percentage has dropped from 34% to 23%, which for a man of my age puts me in the ideal category according to the charts I consulted on the Internet.  More importantly, my resting blood pressure has dropped from 136/92 to 100/72 which significantly reduces my risk of heart attack or stroke.

At the end of the year, I am going to get my blood tested for cholesterol, fasting glucose and insulin, triglycerides, and C-reactive protein.  Afterwards, I will have a very clear picture of my health profile and will compare it to my blood test results of three years earlier.

Enjoy the summer.

Hasta luego.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Taking It Up A Notch

Three months into the New Year and I can see that there will be new challenges as time moves on.  Happy to have broken through a previous weight loss plateau that lasted about 18 moths and ended in September 2015, I can see that the momentum gained by going on a feed and fast cycle has slowed down.

In short, fasting for 12 to 14 hours after my last meal of the day enabled me to lose another 25 pounds in about 6 months, but now I seemed to be stuck on another plateau, tipping the scale at 229 lbs.  That's a long way from the 290 lbs that I used to weigh, but still a way off from what I think would be my natural healthy weight.

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What that is I don't really know.  Eventually, a new body set weight gets established after substantial weight loss and further weight loss becomes extraordinarily difficult, but to know beforehand where the new set point will settle is anybody's guess.  So far this year, I have dropped five pounds, which isn't so bad because I was on vacation for two weeks and missed almost a month in the gym while trying to get over a bout of the flu.  Nevertheless, I am thinking that I am going to have to change things up if I want to reach the 25 pound weight loss for 2016.

That doesn't mean that I will alter any of the previous changes I have made.  I will continue the three workouts per week at the gym, four or more hours of salsa classes and social dancing, using my stand up desk at work, taking walks and the stairs whenever I can, eating clean 95% of the time, limiting my alcohol consumption, and sticking with my feed and fast cycle.  But, I am running out of new habits to adopt.  The low hanging fruit has already been picked.

In fact, I think I'm going to give cycling to work one last try, but this time something different.  Seeing that I am breaking new ground, I thought that I would give cycling to work in a fasted state a try.  In the morning, I'll hop on my bike after waking up and ride one hour to work before breaking my fast.  That way, my body, having already exhausted its access to my glycogen stores in my liver and muscles, will be forced to burn my body fat as a fuel during my morning commute.  Will that change result in a lowering of my basal metabolic rate throughout the rest of the day in order to compensate for the fat loss?  I really don't know.  Only one way to find out.

At the moment, I am chomping at the bit to give this new strategy a try.  My bike is ready to go and the only thing holding me back is the weather.  Last night, we had about 10 centimeters of snow dumped on us, and the temperature at 6:00 a.m. this morning was -9 degrees Celsius, a little out of my comfort zone.  Hopefully, things will warm up next week and I can begin with my latest experiment in trying to become lean and fit.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

This Year Will Be My Breakout Year

I'm back from an excellent two week vacation in Ecuador that really recharged my batteries.  I spent most of my waking hours outside in the sun and fresh air.  The quality of the food there is spectacular: fruit, vegetables, meat, and seafood are all as fresh as fresh can be.  Talking about free range chickens, a couple of them wandered into the restaurant where I was having breakfast.  No GMOs here.

As well, even though I went off the food regime that I follow, (I ate a lot of rice, potatoes, some dessert, and drank more than a few beers) I didn't gain a single pound, probably because I stuck to my feed/fast cycle, nothing to eat until twelve hours after the evening meal.

After my return, I dropped another five pounds in the first two weeks of getting back to my normal food, activity, and exercise routine.  This is great news because I now know that if I hit another weight loss plateau, a carb reefed of two weeks can do the trick of getting me off the new plateau.

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Moreover, as the year rolls out, I am interested in experimenting with regular carb feeds of varying lengths.  But for now, I seem to be in the fat burning zone.  Since I went on a feed and fast cycle last September, I have dropped 27 pounds.  Not too shabby, especially since I had been stuck on a plateau where my weight hovered up and down around a body set weight for 19 months despite the vast amount of aerobic activity I was putting in, the equivalent of walking across Canada in less than a calendar year.

The other thing of note is that I have now lost 61 pounds since I set out on my journey to transform my body from one that was very big and strong to one that is lean and fit.  I'm on a roll.  I have momentum on my side.

The other thing to note is that I am following through on my promise to myself that I would complete an eBook, Climbing Out of the Fat Trap, One Step at a Time, before the end of the calendar year.  So far, using the tricks I learned about forming and keeping good habits, I am working on the project each and every day.

As far as this year's SMART goals, I only have two: lose 25 pounds and drop another pant size.  At the moment, I am feeling very confident about reaching both.  Writing the book is giving me extra motivation.

Looking forward to sharing the before and after photos.

Hasta luego.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

All in All 2015 Was a Stellar Year

Well, I pretty much accomplished what I set out to do.  With my Fitbit in hand, over the year I completed the Cross Canada Challenge, which is the equivalent of walking from Halifax to Vancouver, a distance of 4435 kilometers.  I was able to do this in 48 weeks, logging in, on average, more than the distance of two marathons a week.

As well with my jeans, I dropped another size, going from a 38-inch waist down to a 36.  Considering that at the end of 2013 I was wearing a jumbo size 44-inch size of jeans, I have made considerable progress in my journey to become lean and fit.  Put another way, during 2015 I dropped 27 lbs: moving from 260 lbs to 233 lbs this morning.  In total, since beginning this journey in November of 2013, I have lost 57 lbs.  In doing so, I probably added six or seven years to my life span.

On the exercise front, I have been able to maintain the twice a week regime throughout the year.  I refined my workouts so now I do one strength workout, an Olympic lift complex with heavy weights (clean, front squat, and push press overhead) and alternate between a barbell or kettlebell complex from week to week as my second workout.  Importantly, the weight workouts enable me to retain my muscle mass while I get rid of body fat.

With regard to my level of daily activity, I continue to walk when I can and to work at an upright desk that allows me to compose this blog while standing.  However, my biggest and most pleasurable surprize came from taking up salsa at the Azucar Latin Dance Club.  Now, I take classes twice a week and go social dancing once or twice as well.  It's a lot of fun and I have met some great people.  I think I'm hooked and am looking forward to a year full of social dance ahead.

It's all very good, yet by far my biggest milestone is that during 2015 I finally learned the secret to sustainable weight loss.  I know have been somewhat evasive about my discovery because I have only been following my new way of eating for only four months.  Nevertheless, I have lost 22 lbs during this time that follows a nineteen-month weight loss plateau.  It's too early to draw conclusions, but I think I have hit on something that I would like to share with others, especially considering that 95% of the people who try to loose weight fail to sustain their weight loss.

So, 2016 is shaping up to be even a better year.  Tomorrow, I'm off on a 17 day vacation to Ecuador to celebrate what was truly a great year for me with regard to health and fitness.  When I get back, I'll get back into my routines with one exception.  I have made it my goal to complete an ebook entitled, Climbing Out of the Fat Trap One Step at a Time.  Wish me luck.

To all of you who read this blog, I wish you health and happiness for you and your loved ones throughout the entire New Year.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Two Years Later And Fifty Pounds Lighter

On the weekend, I had my official weigh in and I came in under 240 lbs for the first time in longer than I can remember.  So far this year, I have dropped 20 lbs, and since I began on this journey in October 2013, I have now lost 50 lbs. Not too shabby, especially for someone in their fifties!

Certainly, determination and perseverance have paid off, but without having the necessary information at the right time, I would have probably abandoned this project some time ago and joined the ranks of the 95% of the people who set out to lose weight but fail.

It is extremely interesting to note that during the last 24 months, 90% of my weight loss occurred during the first two and the last two months.  In other words, for an excruciatingly long time, 20 months to be exact, I experienced very meager results, losing only about five pounds.  Keep in mind that I biked and hiked more than 5000 km in 2014 and set out to walk across Canada in 2015.

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I understand why people get discouraged and throw in the towel.  In my opinion, the loss of the first 10% of body mass is relatively easy: reduce calorie intake and increase calorie expenditure and you'll get there fairly quickly.  In my case, it took me about two months.  Afterwards, metabolic adaptation sets in and what worked previous no longer brings in the same results.  In short, the thyroid turns down the thermostat so we burn less calories throughout the day and the hypothalamus increases production of the hunger hormone ghrelin so that we eat more.  Moreover, the reward of seeing the pounds drop off is lost, replaced by the sense of futility of seeing no progress for months on end.  In the vast majority of cases, the hormones win and the person returns to their previous weight, most often with a few extra pounds of fat tacked on for good measure.

In my case, I had read enough to know that the hormone leptin is responsible for energy intake and expenditure and that the problem of trying to use the calorie in, calorie out approach is doomed to fail in most cases.  Unless a person addresses what is the most likely gain of excessive weight in the first place, a combination of insulin and leptin resistance, the existing hormonal imbalance will thwart attempts of further weight loss.

Having lost only one pound after two months of eating clean, being very active, and working out two to three times a week, I knew I was fighting a losing battle.  So, I decided that if I wanted to continue with my weight loss, I needed to change my strategy.  Rather than focusing on energy expenditure and the right ratio of macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates), I focused on trying to regain my leptin sensitivity.

So far so good: I have escaped my previous weight loss plateau and am getting slimmer each week.  To date, in 8 weeks, I have lost 16 lbs!

Needless to say, I will forge on for the last two months of the calendar year and will give you a summary of my results and lessons learned to ring in the New Year.



Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Passing Through Calgary, Thinking That I Might Have Made A Big Breakthrough

Well, the Cross Canada Challenge continues.  This week I've made it to Calgary, which is the equivalent of the straight line distance from Halifax of 3754 kilometers. That's a lot of walking, more than 90 kilometers per week.  In short, I've already surpassed the number of kilometers that I walked all of last year.  I anticipate to finish the Challenge, barring injury or sickness, by the first week in December.  Yahoo!

Now, the big question: has all this effort made a significant difference in my quest to become lean and fit?  To be honest, not really.

If I look at my weight loss through 2014 and through the first eight months of 2015, it appears that my results have been meagre.  At the end of 2013, I weighed 263 lbs.  At the end of 2014, I weighed 260, and this was after walking and cycling a little more than 5000 kilometers during the year.  Talk about being stuck on a plateau.

At the beginning of 2015, I decided to take it up a notch, limiting my alcohol consumption to about a glass of wine per week, and increasing my non-exercise physical activity: working from a standing desk and increasing the number of kilometers I walked each week.  Again, not much in the way of results.  During the first six months of the year, I lost a grand total of three pounds to get to 257 lbs.

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Realizing that I was not getting the results I wanted, I decided to concentrate on my diet.  I went clean, meaning I cut out completely all fast carbs, no bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, pastry, and processed food with the exception of one cheat meal per week, while maintaining the same exercise regime and level of non-exercise physical activity.  After two months of having gone clean, I lost a grand total of one pound to get down to 256, a grand total of four pounds for the first eight months of the year.

Maybe, there is something to be said about the theory of body set weight, meaning that your body will accept some initial weight loss, but then go through a phase of metabolic adaptation to maintain a new weight, hanging onto the existing fat stores by lowering the basal metabolic rate, which is responsible for about 70% of our daily caloric output, while increasing production of the hunger hormone ghrelin.  

Not to be out done, I decided to tackle the phenomenon of metabolic adaptation head on.  To do so, it is no longer a simple question of calories in and calories out.  In fact, some would argue that calorie ingest and expenditure are the dependent variables that depend on the state of your endocrine system. From this point of view, the focus becomes on the manner in which you eat and move and how this affects the master hormone with regard to regulating metabolism, leptin.

After reading up on the subject, I deduced that my hormones were out of balance and that in addition to being insulin resistant, I was also leptin resistant, meaning that I had lost the ability to have my endocrine system effectively regulate my weight.  In other words, I have more than enough adipose tissue to produce enough leptin that should tell my brain that there is enough body fat stored away and, as a result, turn up the thermostat to burn off the extra fat that is accumulating.

But, if you are leptin resistant, your brain does not receive the message, and, instead of turning up the thermostat, mistakenly turns it down, believing that the body is in starvation mode, and thus bringing about metabolic hibernation.  Keeping in mind that the basal metabolic rate is responsible for 70% of daily calorie expenditure, the turning down of the thermostat effectively cancels the benefits of the calories burned from physical activity, which represent only 20% of daily calorie expenditure.  That explains why I couldn't get off the weight loss plateau simply by increasing my physical activity.

At this point, the key to further weight loss became increasing my leptin sensitivity, in other words, a hormonal reset.  Fortunately, I had just finished two months of eating clean, so it wasn't a big reach to go that one step further to bring my leptin levels back to normal.  All I had to do was to stop snacking between meals (even my healthy snacks of fruit or nuts) and not to eat after my evening meal.  No more grazing, just three healthy, well-balanced meals.

The results speak for themselves.  After one month of following this regime, I dropped 11 pounds, almost triple the weight loss I had experienced over the first eight months of the year.

 I think I might be onto something.  What remains to be seen is whether or not the weight loss is sustainable over then long-term.  Perhaps, I have just moved down from one plateau to another and my metabolism will simply adapt to my new lifestyle.  Nevertheless, I am very much encouraged to continue the experiment and you know that I will let you know how this all turns out before the end of the year.