018: How I Lost 30 Pounds in Four Months, and How I Knew It Was Time.
Mastering Nutrition Episode 18
Did you know that adding MCT oil to your pasta is more ketogenic than restricting your carbohydrates to ten percent of calories?
Many people think of carbohydrate and insulin as central to ketogenesis, but the direct biochemical event that initiates ketone formation is actually the oversupply of acetyl groups to the TCA cycle during conditions of oxaloacetate depletion.
While largely a biochemistry lesson, in this episode I also teach you the practical implications of this. There is more than one route to ketogenesis, and while they all produce ketones, they are fundamentally different in important ways.
Adding coconut, MCT oil, or exogenous ketones allows you to reap benefits of ketones without necessarily restricting carbohydrates and insulin, and that may be useful if you are also trying to reap some of the benefits of carbohydrate and insulin.
On the other hand, certain conditions that respond to ketogenic diets, for example refractory childhood epilepsy, need stronger degrees of ketogenesis than you can achieve simply by adding MCT oil to pasta.
Understanding the difference allows you to better make practical decisions about your diet that are most consistent with your priorities.
This episode is part personal story, part practical how-to guide, and part insight. The insight I want to emphasize here is one that I think is far too often overlooked: sometimes we shouldn’t be trying to lose weight because the time isn’t right.
But if the time is wrong, how can we know? And once we know, what can we do to prepare our bodies for weight loss and allow the time to become right? The short answer is that if weight gain is due to stress, I strongly believe we should always destress first. For the detailed answer, listen in.
Or if you’re just here for the eye candy (hmm, some of it is more like eye peas and corn…), scroll down to the pics.
In this episode, you will find all the following and more:
0:03.40 Cliff Notes (includes notes on supplements I was taking).
0:06:54 The Twitter question that inspired this podcast.
0:09:38 There is a right time to lose weight and a wrong time.
0:12:20 My stance on weight loss theory.
0:13:30 Calories-in, calories-out (CICO) is like gravity.
0:17:04 There are a wide range of principles that “work,” and the ones that work for you are probably the 2-3 that you can most easily make sustainable; but what you can make sustainable has a lot more to do with your personal, psychological, and behavioral traits than with the general efficacy of the principles.
0:20:45 My skinny teens, bodybuilding/powerlifting 20s, grad school-induced dad bod, and getting my postdoc fatso on.
0:25:00 “How I Hacked My Way out of Academia’s 400-Hour Workweek.”
0:28:15 How I added 6 – 7 inches on my waist in three months and lost most of it in 6 weeks while running 4.5 miles and sleeping 10 hours per day.
0:37:14 The “stress bucket” (cumulative allostatic load) and why destressing has to take priority over weight loss and sometimes even over preventing weight gain.
0:47:37 Starting CrossFit: flirting with the line of overtraining.
0:52:12 Going from de-trained to re-trained and eating some ~4-4500 kcal/d.
0: 59:53 The time became right for 30 pounds of weight loss.
1:00.22 Intuitive approach to eating led to first 5 lbs lost.
1:02.21 Switching to calorie and macro tracking.
1:08:30 Data on weight loss.
1:14:08 Limited data on strength gains during weight loss.
1:16:42 How I knew it was time to stop losing weight.
1:18:55 Three months of weight stability.
1:20:15 Using mindfulness meditation, yoga, and dance (and martial arts, I’d add here) could increase self-awareness and improve intuition about the body’s needs.
1:21:00 Resisting the deafening noise of social pressure and self pressure to achieve a specific body weight or physique.
Supplements I Was Taking
I was supplementing with acetyl-L-carnitine, R-alpha-lipoic acid (w/D-biotin), coenzyme Q10, and Source Naturals Coenzymate B during my weight loss period. I don’t think these cause weight loss, but I do think they help smooth out my energy between meals and thereby cut out a lot of noise that helps me get more in touch with my true hunger for calories. I don’t use them now because I believe I get these benefits from a diversity of organ meats, which I am currently accomplishing by using US Wellness liverwurst.
I used the formula recommended in The Lean Muscle Diet by Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon to calculate my calories.
I also used the formula recommended in Level 2 of the CrossFit South Brooklyn 2016 Look, Feel, and Perform Better Challenge.
These gave me very different values, and I used them is the lower (CFSBK) and upper (Lean Muscle Diet) boundaries of my caloric needs.
Aragon and Schoenfeld recommend 1 gram protein per pound of target body weight. I set my target body weight at 150 on the basis that it seemed achievable within six months and that past experience indicated I could be satisfyingly lean and muscular after 6-12 months of weight training at this weight.
Aragon and Schoenfeld recommend calculating caloric needs with one of two formulas.
In the “standard formula,” which is for people who are sedentary outside the gym and don’t fidget much, you estimate your intensity and give yourself a number between 9 and 11 where 9 is light activity and 11 is very intense activity. You then add this number by your average weekly training hours. Take the remaining number and multiply it by your target body weight. This gives you your daily intake in kcal (Cal, “calories” in common speech). It looks like this:
kcal/d = TBW x (9-11 + average weekly training hours)
where “9-11” is the number you pick between 9 and 11 and is not “9 minus 11.”
The greyhound formula is similar but you use an intensity factor between 11 and 13 instead of between 9 and 11. Aragon and Schoenfeld recommend this for people who are young, lean, have a lot of nervous energy, and struggle to gain weight. It looks like this:
kcal/d = TBW x (11-13 + average weekly training hours)
These formulas are aimed at men. The CFSBK page has similar formulas broken down for males and females. You can find them quickly by using control + F (command + F on Mac) and typing “for males” into the search box.
As described in the podcast, I tracked my calories using MyFitnessPal and a food scale and titrated up from the lower boundary of 1900 kcal/d until I reached the point where I had consistent weight loss with no insomnia, which was 2150 kcal/d.
Tracking Calories with MyFitnessPal
Any food scale will do, but you need a food scale for this to be effective. Calories should be tracked by weight and not volume whenever possible, and if you cook things you must adjust for water weight.
Here is a video I made about how MyFitnessPal makes this super easy (compared to other methods of tracking calories, obviously, not compared to not tracking calories):
Other Relevant Links
The Twitter question that inspired this podcast.
“How I Hacked My Way out of Academia’s 400-Hour Workweek,” the 3rd installment in the welcome series of my newsletter.
Although I didn’t discuss these in the podcast, I recommend two additional links:
Six Guys With Ripped Tell You Why It’s Not Worth It. The point at which I started meddling with the periphery of six-pack land was the point at which my body told me it was time to stop losing weight. This article provides some insight into the amount of stress endured to get into six-pack land, traverse its inner depths, and stay there.
Danny Lennon’s interview with Melissa Davis. Although this is geared primarily toward female weight-class athletes, I think the basic principles are relevant to anyone who is making an intensive effort to lose weight. One of the principles I came away with is that no one should do this for much longer than a few months. Indeed, my fourth month is when my body told me it was time to gain back about three pounds and stay there. The incessant question of “how do I lose the last 15 pounds” probably has the answer of “stop trying to do that, do something else for your health that involves building it up and nourishing your body, then try that next year.”
Question for You
Do you gain weight when you’re stressed? If so, does my story change your perspective at all about how to approach losing the weight you’ve gained?
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