Monday, July 16, 2012

The 6-week cure for the middle-aged middle

I've always had a tendency to overeat and get overweight.  In 1997 I hit 190 lbs.  I went on a diet consisting of only eating 1 meal a day 6 days a week, plus heavy exercise and in about 3 months managed to get down to 175.

In 2008 my weight reached 195 and I developed high blood pressure.  Over the course of the next 9 months I managed to get down to 165 (mainly cutting out carbs, sugar, fast food) and the blood pressure issues cleared up.

I was pretty happy with that for a year or so, but my weight still kept trying to creep up.  If I got over 170 or so then my blood pressure would start to rise.  I was in a pattern where every week my weight was fluctuating between 165 and 170.  I had still had love handles and a slight paunch.  I came to the 6 week cure with the idea of just a quick, one-time fix to lose 5 or 10 lbs and get a buffer zone between my top weight and where it started to elevate my BP.

This diet is not for the faint of heart.  I almost walked away when I saw the words 'no alcohol whatsoever for the first 2 weeks'.  It may as well say 4 weeks.  Given the tiny amount you are allowed to drink in weeks 3 and 4 I didn't bother.

For the first four days I felt like I was fasting.  The muscles in my legs ached.  I felt weak from hunger.  One day I had cold symptoms.  A couple of times I had migraines, which I never get.  It was difficult to concentrate on tasks at work.  I felt cold.  The book didn't prepare me for any of this, though from the reviews at Amazon I learned others had a similar experience.  My usual jogging routine went out the window.  I absolutely didn't want to do anything that would burn calories and make me feel even hungrier.

On day 5, something clicked and I started to feel better.  On day 8 I felt well enough to go jogging.  After that I more or less resumed my regular jogging routine (3X a week), though I did not fully recover my normal strength and didn't attempt the longer distances I usually run on the weekends.

Throughout the first 4 weeks I felt hungry a lot of the time.

Constipation was a constant problem.  Towards the middle of the second week my bowels started moving somewhat normally again.  When I switched from shakes to meat it took about another week to start getting 'regular' again.

At the end of 4 weeks of almost constant hunger, weakness and the other symptoms mentioned... the grim, sober weekends... the sacrifice and self-denial... my weight was down a disappointing 5 lbs.

In week five I went back to a diet of mostly meat and salads, plus the occasional shake.  I ate a few things I hadn't eaten for a while like (home made) chili and actual condiments (mustard contains sugar) and beef jerky (ditto contains sugar), as well as liquor.  Weirdly, eating a salad almost every day, yet another episode of constipation strikes.  My weight still declined a bit in week 5.

Week 6, pretty much the same as week 5.  The constipation pretty much cleared up.

Here's my weekly weigh-in leading up to, during, and after the cure:

2/11   166.4
2/20   168.6
2/25   166.8
3/3    166.0    (0)
3/11   166.6    (1)
3/18   164.2    (2)
3/25   163.0    (3)
3/31   161.6    (4)
4/7    160.8    (5)
4/14   161.2    (6)
4/21   159.0
4/28   160.6
5/5    159.6

Total weight loss was about 7 lbs.  I'm more or less keeping it off although there's no magic and you can see there are episodes of my weight creeping up again.  The thought of possibly going through this torture again motivates me.

In spite of my complaining I don't really regret doing this.  The benefits weren't as great as expected.  The cost was greater than expected.  Still, I never would have lost even this modest amount of weight just continuing on the way I was doing.  I suspect if I had done this when I was 30 lbs overweight I would have lost 20 lbs instead of 7 or so.  I think I'm just at a point where my body is fighting tooth and nail to hang on to those last few extra pounds.

My current thinking about losing weight and keeping it off follows:

(1) Avoid sugar.  This includes high fructose corn syrup.  Also note that some fruits are loaded with sugar.  Check the ingredients label; this is present in a lot of stuff where you might not expect it.

(2) Avoid carbohydrates, which your body metabolizes into more sugar.

(3) Exercise.  The benefit of this is not as great as you might think because exercise gives you an appetite and you wind up eating more.  But I still think there is a net benefit.

(4) Mostly eat meat, eggs, cheese, fruits and vegetables.  Limit fruit intake because of the sugar they contain. 

(5) It's useless to go on a diet if you can't stick to it.  Occasionally going off your diet for a day for a birthday or a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas won't kill you.  So think about 3 or 4 special days a year when you are going to relax or celebrate something.  But if you are making little exceptions every week, you might as well not bother dieting.  If you screw up, it's important to limit the damage and get back on the diet right away.  Each decision you make about eating sets a precedent for the next decision.  You're not just making isolated, individual decisions, you're cultivating a habit. 

(6) Think in terms of a permanent lifestyle change where eventually your new lifestyle will feel enjoyable and not sacrificial.