Some time back I had decided I was going to write about something else, but since then it has been on my heart and in my mind, instead, to write about the last year and what I did to lose weight.
Everyone seems to want (or need) to lose weight these days. Many people have been published on the best method. Some actually have written from the perspective of having had to do it (lose weight) themselves, and these seem to me to be more credible.
However, every now and again one comes across material written by ‘experts’ who either have tried what they write about or, because they do the proper kind of research and have the right kind of credentials, they just seem to stand out as being the types of people you would read and think “They seem to know what they are talking about; what they are writing sounds reasonable.”
While this blog entry could become a commercial for the book, it isn’t intended as such but some association with that idea is inevitable. If I had a financial interest in the book I’d really be vocal about this but since not, I will just be vocal about it anyway BECAUSE IT WORKED FOR ME.
A short background. In 1999 while I was working at Alcon Laboratories (you can Google them to find out more), I went to the company-sponsored health fair and had my cholesterol checked. At the time I was in my mid-40s and, oddly enough, had not had such checks done previously for reasons I really can’t think of, except that my physicians never bothered to ask if they could check? Who knows…
Anyway, the NEXT DAY after the blood work was drawn I got a call from the health fair people and they said “David, your cholesterol is dangerously high. You need to go see your physician immediately.”
How high was my total cholesterol? The answer: About 315. Anyone who knows about this number knows that figure is up in the stratosphere. I called my father and asked him if he had any information on family history of high cholesterol. He said “Yes, my cholesterol has always been high” and so I said “Thanks for telling me, Dad…” Then I called my brother and he, too, acknowledged having high cholesterol and, him being a physician, I asked him whether he had ever thought that this fact – and he knew Dad’s was high also – was important enough to alert me to get checked. Apparently not.
So there’s the first lesson to learn: Don’t wait for your family or a company health fair to find out your own numbers. If you have health insurance of any kind, it is usually fairly inexpensive to ask your physician to order a lipid panel and have your numbers checked.
You check your bank balance, don’t you? Why wouldn’t you also check your circulating blood fat numbers? It just makes sense.
So, I went to an Internist and he ran a stress test on me plus more extensive blood work and sure enough, my numbers were completely out of whack. He immediately put me on cholesterol medication.
Now, fast forward to 2011. By now I weighed 215, had a size 44 waist, and my BP – while medicated – was still high. So too were my cholesterol numbers, though the medication helped somewhat. My Internist over the last 10 years told me everything you all have heard about what makes you fat and why, besides heredity, your numbers would be bad and you’d be overweight.
“You eat too much fat” was the message and he wanted me to have the ‘perfect’ diet and be a Vegan – a total vegetarian. I told him “Forget it – there’s no way I’m giving up meat.”
So he tried all other kinds of expensive meds to interfere with fat absorbtion in the intestines, tinkered with the cholersterol med dosage, continued to badger me about my diet, and so on. Heck, in one 3 month period just to appease him I actually logged everything I ate, did a calorie, fat and sodium count of it, and impacted my numbers SOMEWHAT, but never enough to satisfy him.
All the while, my level of exercise was…shall I say…dismal. I had tried daily walking during this whole decade. Hit or miss. I tried walking with my wife because we both needed to lose weight. Hit or miss, plus I never lost any weight!
I tried every low fat kind of eating I could think of and lost…nothing. In fact, over the decade of the 2000s I gained weight no matter what I did and got bigger around still.
Then last year I came across the book. From Men’s Health, it is called TNT Diet. If you go to Amazon.com and put in TNT Diet you’ll see it.
I bought the book and when it arrived started reading it. The more I read, the wider my eyes got. The more I read, the more I realized that everything we have been taught about getting fat is just….WRONG. The science behind the supposed connection to fat/cholesterol intake and heart disease is…flawed…and was widely disproven 2 or 3 years after it was first published – back in the 1950s.
1950s, you ask? Yes, the first study associating fat intake with heart disease, based on a flawed statistical sample done at the time, was published in the 50s. The vast majority of medical schools and, therefore physicians, who picked up on that study put its findings as a core part of their medical classroom curriculum and to this day, even worse now that the government got involved (see The Food Pyramid) to try and convince us about our improper meat-laden diet, most doctors will tell you that if you eat too much fat, you will get fat and your circulating blood fat will be too high.
There’s only one problem. They’re simply wrong. Fat doesn’t make you fat!
Want to know the details? Read TNT Diet. You can even get the Kindle version for cheaper than the printed/bound book. Here is a summary, and then I will tell you what has happened to me over the last year.
Carbs make you fat. Excess calories can make you fat, but if the bulk of the excess calories are in the form of carbs, you WILL gain weight and it isn’t just because of the excess calories. It’s because of what carbs to do stimulate your body to produce high cholesterol-laden circulating and stored fat.
Case in point: You eat carbs. The sugar (all digestible carbs ultimately break down into sugar, the basic energy source your body needs) in the carbs stimulates your pancreas to produce insulin, the hormone needed to burn sugar in your cells. If you eat too many carbs, your pancreas cannot produce enough insulin (there’s a limit to what it can produce) and thus your blood sugar goes up. Sometimes it goes way up and you become insulin-starved and thus, diabetic.
Think about the epidemic of overweight, diabetic people in this country. Did they get that way from eating too much fatty food? The answer is a resounding NO! but everyone would have you believe it because of the flawed studies they took as valid. You know how it is – if 100 people hear something presented as fact the first time it’s ever announced, later how many people will realize, when the ‘experts’ declare the original ‘fact’ was invalid, will also rethink and decide that they no longer believe that ‘fact’.
Of people who believed Obama was not born in Hawaii, once he produced a certified copy of his birth certificate, how many of those same people now believe he was born in the U.S.? I rest my case….
Anyway, you eat carbs. The carbs make your pancreas get busy and produce insulin. The insulin stimulates your liver to produce triglycerides – the bad kind – and they circulate in your blood and are not excreted, but are stored as FAT.
“Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Eating CARBS makes you fat.”
The biochemistry of this chain reaction, it turns out, has not been widely advertised, but the authors of TNT Diet did their homework, one of them being a university professor of nutrition.
So, after reading, and re-reading, and re-reading the first 60 or so pages of the book last February – over a 3 week period that’s all I did was read, not acting on anything the book recommended because I was so amazed to read something that so totally contradicted everything my physician had been telling me for the last decade – I finally decided to take the plunge and do what the book said to do.
At that point I felt I had nothing to lose, because I wasn’t losing weight, my numbers were still not well-controlled – cholesterol level plus blood pressure – and therefore I finally decided to give The Fat Burning Zone a try.
I cut out all – 100% – of the carbs I was eating. Yes, I stopped eating them COLD TURKEY one day, just like that! Sounds a bit like the Atkins diet and there are indeed elements of that idea in this one, but this also incorporated specific, simplistic weight lifting (you’ll have to read the book for those details).
People say “Oh, but we’ve heard that eating like Atkins proposed is dangerous.” Yes, we’ve all heard that, mostly from people and companies who promote low-cost, cheaply-produced, carb-laden food for the masses, it turns out.
5 days after I stopped eating carbs, I had lost 5 pounds. First time in over a decade I actually lost weight. I stopped eating potatoes (in any form), rice, pasta, bread (in any form), corn (in any form, including my favorite, popcorn), carrots (some indecision about the type of carb in carrot so I didn’t chance it) and anything with sugar of any kind. Then I started realizing that food labels are grossly misleading in what they hide in our processed food which is carb-laden.
Heck, they even put (unnecessary) carbs in canned chili! You’d think chili would be carb-free, but the producers of the canned variety use rolled oats to thicken the stuff and those oats run up the carb count in the chili.
5 pounds in 5 days. I was on to something. Like the book says, I did feel a little weird. Felt like I was getting over the flu or a bad hangover (!) – kind of fuzzy, woozy a bit, but I had also just cut out a major source of caloric intake so, as the book confirmed, my body had to make some adjustments…it started BURNING STORED FAT – especially the deep internal ‘brown’ fat underneath the other layers of fat, which stores up toxins along with fat – and I immediately started losing weight. It’s the burning of this fat and the release of toxins as a result of that fat loss which makes one feel ‘weird’ during this early phase, but you just have to choose to ignore it when you see the weight loss result.
I went the entire month of mid-February to mid-March 2011 eating ZERO carbs. I dropped TWENTY POUNDS in that 30-day period! I also dropped 2 pant sizes, going from a 44 to a 40. In the middle of that I got my 6-month blood work done and oh, I had decided to switch physicians – not because of all this but because my family was going to another doctor and I decided it would be expedient for us all to join his practice. Plus, we had been friends with the man and his family for many years prior and it must made sense.
Then I got my numbers back. They improved! I was eating protein and fat (fat satiates the appetite ounce for ounce much more efficiently than carbs), so I likely was also eating less calories and, while some will say THAT is the ONLY reason you lose weight on a low carb diet – that cutting calories is the only thing that causes you to lose weight – my personal experience seems to support what the book says about this whole issue.
It’s the TYPE of calories you eat that matter, because when your appetite isn’t going crazy you eat until you are satisfied and no more. I always – always – had a big appetite. Ask anyone who really knows me up close and personal and they’ll tell you I could eat with the best of them. My wife eats less than I do but is much more overweight than I ever was…and I believe it’s because of the TYPE of calories she consumes – higher carb intake – and her borderline diabetes and high blood sugar confirm this to be the case. My appetite at this point is ‘regular’ – I am no longer famished by the time the next meal comes and rarely ever feel really hungry because what I ate at the last meal lasted and helped suppress that carb-driven appetite ‘crazy gotta eat now’ feeling. It’s simply GONE.
Now, mind you, I do not disparage my wife with that statement about her being more overweight than I ever was. I simply make an observation. For her height she is significantly overweight for her age and stature. In fact recently I finally – after months of asking – convinced her to try cutting carbs in total to see if she would have similar results.
She cut carbs completely, and promptly dropped 13 pounds! However, she also fell off the no-carb bandwagon and gained back some weight and became discouraged. That’s ok – temporary setbacks are not the end of the world, as the book says.
In that vein, the book also mentions not to weigh yourself too much so you don’t become discouraged and such. I decided early on when I lost weight so quickly, to ignore that one piece of advice – because I consider getting discouraged when you weigh and don’t see results to be too much of a silly head game – and so I weighed myself up to twice daily just to see what my weight was doing.
What I observed was amazing. I wish I had been better to record the actual numbers so I could share them with you, but I will tell you that what I discovered is that when I weighed myself, with the same placement of the digital electronic scale on a solid floor, wearing exactly the same thing every time, is that my weight can vary up to 3 or 4 pounds, plus or minus in any given day. For example in the morning I might have weighed 203 and by nightfall I would weigh 201 and the next morning I would weigh 204, and so on. Over time, the slight variations of weight became less important than seeing that the overall trend was a steady, if a bit wavy, downward line.
So, in the end (there is no end, this is a continuous process) where did I wind up, from where I started? I’m glad you asked me that question. Here is a recap of where I was and where I am.
February 2011 when I first started: Weighed 215 pounds. Blood pressure even with meds was 130 to 140 over 80 or 90. Waist size had mushroomed to 44. And my blood work – well, that I *do* have a good history of for nearly a decade. Below I present a chart of my numbers. Not all of these numbers trend the same way, but by November 2011 when I had my last workup, and after 10 months of eating less carbs overall my triglycerides – with a reduced dose of statin cholesterol medication – reached their lowest # since I started tracking my number – 109 – and my total cholesterol, which started before medication at 315 – was at nearly its lowest # ever at 165. Most importantly, the Triglycerides to HDL ratio – which TNT Diet explains is all-important in showing what ‘size’ particles are floating around in the blood (small particle, high ratio is bad; large fluffy particle, low ratio is good) reached its all-time low, indicating that eating a ‘high protein high fat’ diet has done what no amount of low-fat carb-laden dieting and higher dose medication could do: It brought the numbers down to near-normal levels.
My blood pressure recently I measured at 115 over 60 – low enough that the doctor decided to cut in half my BP med, and recently I went off it completely (due to a chronic dry cough the med can sometimes cause), and my BP has stayed in the ‘normal’ range of about 125 over 75.
And my waist size? 38! It was 44! I have a whole “new” (old) wardrobe again! Plus, I no longer have those afternoon sleepy periods (sugar crashes), my overall energy stays level for 18 hours a day, I sleep like a baby (still snore a bit but hey, can’t be perfect), and I feel fantastic compared to what I was feeling a year or more ago. Odd little pains inside my chest are gone…just gone (warning signs, I believe, which have disappeared as the trends in my arteries apparently have reversed).
When you look at the chart below, it helps if you have a context of what the book teaches but you can see that even with cholesterol medication over the years, I have struggled to reduce the bad numbers and increase the good (HDL) numbers until I changed my habits and eliminated carbs in general. You’ll see periods where some of the numbers look really good, but it wasn’t until I did what the book said that ALL of the numbers moved the right direction AT THE SAME TIME. My HDL # in particular has been a point of great concern for both my Internists, because it is an indication of the good kind of cholesterol floating around (higher is better); LDL, also a point of concern (lower is better), and simply cutting carbs as I did made the difference to make all the numbers move toward their individual “nominal” or mid-range normal values. The chart doesn’t show my vitamin D level, which only recently my new internist checked for the first time and found it to be “shockingly low” – a true deficiency – but that was addressed with a calcium and a vitamin D supplement, even though I not cut out milk until after this was discovered, during my no-carb period of eating. D and calcium absorption are related and also are influenced by how much you drink milk and are out in the sun. I am not a sun worshipper but that doesn’t mean I cannot have normal levels, which I now do thanks t0 the D supplement and multi-vitamin (without iron – very important when you eat low carb, NOT to take a vitamin with iron in it as meat is high in iron already).
Click on the chart to enlarge it so you can read it easier. Then come back here to continue reading after you examine my actual, as-tested-by-the-lab, numbers. I have nothing to hide, and nothing to be ashamed of! They are what they are.
Does this mean I *never* eat carbs? No way! (Read the book!). What it means is that I now can finally CONTROL the type and quantity of carbs I eat! I love chocolate. Every now and again a piece of chocolate is a real treat. But, I can no longer tolerate (because I’ve lost the insatiable craving) eating a whole candy bar. Yuk! But a piece of dark chocolate every now and again is wonderful.
Did I find this difficult to do, you wonder? Could you do it, you wonder? Aren’t there other ways to lose weight, you wonder, that don’t involve such radical things as giving up cereal, fruit (yes, fruit – can’t eat fruit during the no-carb mode because it has way too much natural sugar), bread, pasta (“but I love Italian food” – sorry, can’t eat it in this mode)…
No, it wasn’t difficult ONCE I read and understood what the authors were trying to say. Yes, you CAN do it. It’s a little odd to think about just not eating ANY carbs, and also NOT CHEATING, but you CAN do it – because you can, in the end, be true to yourself. That is all it takes – a choice to be true to yourself and your health and your future life with your loved ones.
Yes, there are other ways to lose weight probably but how many of those methods have you tried, and failed – either gone back to your old ways and gained all of it back and more, or simply could not sustain it, like I found when I tried to count calories and fat and drove my whole family crazy?
I have been able to sustain this lower-carb way of life for nearly a year, and this morning when I weighed in I was at 183. I’ve been on a plateau between 182 and 185 for a couple months – the all-critical Christmas holiday season included and I didn’t gain because I just watched the quantity of carbs I ate; enjoyed a small serving of mashed potatoes, a small helping of fruit salad & whipped cream, but a generous helping of ham and turkey, green bean casserole, and absolutely no sugar-laden soft drinks!
The carb craving that went away was the biggest surprise, followed by the elimination of the afternoon “energy crash” that simply no longer happens. The plummet in my blood pressure was and has been a Godsend, the normalization of my blood numbers a blessing, and the reduction in my waist size, a point of continued jealousy for my dear wife but one of delight for me as I can again wear clothing I had filed away years ago that is now back in fashion!
Unlike other things one might blog about, one’s diet/eating habits, weight, blood pressure and numbers, and general health are all one big continuum. So, look for future updates. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, be sure to drop me a note and I will gladly offer other information, encouragement, or debate about the particular method used. If you really are serious and want to try something different because nothing else you’ve tried has worked, let me encourage you to invest a few dollars in yourself and get a copy of that book and just read it for a few weeks, repeatedly, until you (a) completely understand what it is saying (ask me if you have questions), and (b) you screw up the courage to REALLY do what it says and TOTALLY eliminate carbs for 4 weeks to start, even if you don’t lift weights!
On that point, I have become lax about my weight lifting BUT because my eating is disciplined – it’s easy to avoid the bad carbs now, once I understand where to look – I don’t have a problem maintaining this weight and I know I will eventually take it to the next level and not only lose a few more pounds of flab, but I’ll tone up and probably gain back a little bit of weight in the form of muscle exchanged for fat.
Meanwhile I’m told I’m healthier overall – the numbers prove it, much less how I know I feel (and look!) today compared to a year ago – and my stamina is just awesome compared to what it once was.
You can do it. I did, so anybody can! Best wishes as you try (no good luck here – this is science, not luck). If you get the book, read it and try this, write me and let me know how you are doing! I’ll be your accountability partner, if that will help you keep up your courage, and you don’t even have to tell anybody else if you don’t want to! It’s not about that, it’s about getting healthy, so don’t let those outside pressures and other people convince you this is bad. Losing weight and maintaining overall a lower weight is GOOD and nobody can disparage a person for succeeding! Cheers!