Podcast Primer #1: The Good, Bad and Ugly of My Weightloss Journey

I F*cked Up So You Don’t Have To

By Andrew Crickmore

That’s been my mantra for a long time; at the very least since I started posting in Imgurfit.  It’s also the sub-title for our first podcast.  A lot of what I say in this post pertains, in part, to the stories told n there, so please give it a whirl.

At the end of 2011, I went through a bit of a life crisis; I was a fat, miserable and soon-to-be-divorced 25 year old that felt like I had no control over a lot of what was going on in my life.  After a brief grief period of self-loathing, I decided to take a measure of control back.  I pledged to not be fat anymore.

11 months and 109 lbs. later a thin (in hindsight, too thin) me emerged my self-inflicted trial by fire having learned a lot about how incredibly little I understood about weight loss and nutrition and a better appreciation for why people have such a hard time losing weight (and keeping it off).

So, let’s run through the not-chronological order of things I learned from my own stupidity

The Good

As much as I have painted a very awful picture of my weight loss journey, the ultimate good news is I’ve kept the weight off since 2012 and reversed all the nasty, self-inflicted damage I foisted upon myself.  So, there’s that at least.  In addition of course, I did do some good (and critical) things during my fat to fit process that has stuck with me and probably helped lead me to my ultimate success:

  1. Started using MyFitnessPal immediately and tracking calorie intake, along with weighing and measuring food for over a year to reset my base understanding of servings
  2. Went to the gym and tried, in theory, to have a balanced workout plan
  3. Never stopped reading and learning, even when the things I was reading ended up being wrong.

MyFitnessPal was (and still is) an essential tool in my tool box.  Learning how to properly track and measure portions was likely the number one reason I succeeded in my weight loss, even as I started eating some ridiculously low calorie intakes.  I measured and weighed food portion religiously and managed to hit my aggressive calorie targets 90% of the time.  It was so important to my success I still use it; I’m up to a streak of 1350 days straight (and counting).

After I started tracking my calories, I drove over to the community centre gym I knew I had a dormant gym membership at and reactivated it.  At first I just did machine circuits, but that evolved into an upper body/lower body rotational split as I was afraid of not working out all my muscles.  As much as whatever half-assed program I concocted that was, it was born from the first real attempts to learn something substantial about weight lifting and, coincidentally ties well into my third and final takeaway…

Last, but not least, I delved deeply into blogs, articles, books, videos and whatever else I could dig up for answers on pertinent questions about what I should and should not be doing.  Ideally I’d have done this BEFORE doing any substantial weight loss and exercise, but I seriously doubt I’m unique in my endeavour to throw myself into the gauntlet without even a helmet to protect me.

The Bad

It’s hard to imagine a time when I was so utterly clueless about weight loss and fitness that these things happened, but they did.  A lot of what I characterize as “the bad” in this article are the sorts of things that it seems nearly everyone is guilty of:

  1. I was way too aggressive with my weight loss, despite some early and seemingly reasonable goals
  2. I bought into the idea of working myself ‘to death’ was the best way to gain results
  3. the Numbers mattered more than anything else, including, in the end, my health.

Patience.  Patience.  Patience.  It’s all I preach now to people now who ask about weight loss and fitness results.  It’s typically my best quality, but it never was when I started losing weight.  Initially I set what SEEMED like pretty realistic goals; 35 lbs. lost between December 2011 and April 2012 initially.  This was after I’d lost a few pounds just cutting out pop and junk food, so I felt pretty good about how things were going.  Problem was, was that I started to lose weight VERY quickly.  At one point I was losing about 2-3 lbs. every 3-4 days (at least according to the scale).  Seeing that sort of initial loss was addictive.  So, I crushed that first goal by a good 10 lbs., then took it even further.

In my self-inflicted race to the bottom, I started going to the gym longer and longer.  2-3 hours was common, most of it doing half and half cardio and weights, 6 days a week.  I chased calories burned, I chased weight loss, and eventually I even started doing outdoor running in addition to all of that.  Hell, I even worked myself up to a solid 6 mile distance at my peak because the more I could burn, the better. At the same time, I was continuing to maintain a -1000 calorie deficit (or thereabouts, I was solely dependent on MFP’s calorie reduction system and never adjusted it, not even when I felt like hell).

All of this inflicted on myself because I couldn’t wait.  It was a weird experience for someone who typically is patient to a fault.  These points weren’t even the worst things I experienced, however…

The Ugly

What categorizes ‘The Ugly’ for me was the stuff that bordered on sadistic and eating disorder issues.  This is the sort of stuff that probably made me lose the most muscle mass, feel the absolute worst as my weight loss journey stretched into a year, and caused the most issues for me in struggling with my post-dieting existence.

  1. I had absolutely no idea what TDEE and BMR were, and paid for it
  2. When I got down to sub-200 lbs., my calorie deficit was so bad I felt like I had a black hole in my gut, yet I ignored it.
  3. I tried all sorts of stupid things, which included cutting out nearly all my protein intake at one point.
  4. At my lowest, I’d binge on frozen yogurt and low-fat peanut butter and feel miserably guilty about it after

TDEE and BMR used to be foreign concepts to me.  I understood calories in vs. calories out, and I understood calorie deficits, but I never really understood anything about TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) and BMR (Base Metabolic Rate) until I’d already fucked myself over.  All I knew was what MFP told me to eat, and as much as I enjoy using MyFitnessPal, they really need to change their algorithm.  At my lowest I was trying to subsist on only 1470 calories.  Keep in mind my BMR is around 1900 calories, so I was eating a brisk -500 calorie deficit on my bare minimum required calories.

This ridiculous calorie deficit really started to be a problem when I hit the sub-200 calorie mark.  For people who don’t know, if you lose 10 lbs. MFP will ask you if you want to adjust your calorie intake down by 100 calories per day.  That SEEMS reasonable, except it caps at 1200 calories, which is ridiculously low calories for ANYBODY.  As a result, I started to feel physically and mentally shittier.  Physically, I’d be weak, have difficulty sleeping, and even got jitters at some point.  Mentally was worse.  Food dogged me constantly.  I was making bargains with myself over the food I was eating and calculating how much cardio I needed to do to counter it.

I distinctly remember nights where I would stare into a jar of peanut butter and bargain with myself as to whether I would eat any more of it.   These staring contests would last anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour.  Usually I caved and would start shoveling spoonfuls of peanut butter into my mouth in some involuntary attempt to make up for the massive amount of lost calories I’d subjected myself to.  The most I’d ever eaten during one of these binge stages was an entire kilo of peanut butter, ending the destruction by scraping the bottom with my finger.  It’s amazing that I can still eat peanut butter at all honestly.  Peanut butter was the main trigger food for this, but I did it for other foods too.  Mostly sugary things mocking me from my freezer or workplace break room table.

Other stupid shit I did?  For one, I went vegetarian for a week.  Problem with that was I basically just cut out all my protein intake.  I cannot describe to you what soreness without protein intake is like when you insist on working out anyways.  I did similarly miserable things with carbs and fats, all with equally dismal results.  I beat salads to death, weird curry dishes to death, cheat days to death, spicy foods to death…really, I tried every coping mechanism I could to trick myself into eating less calories or feeling “full” on less calories.  The slop I’d eat just to minimize my calorie intake was as ridiculous as it was intense.

What the Hell Should I Learn From All This?

First and foremost, Despite my fuckups I’ve managed to keep the weight off going on 4 years (as of October 2015).  This in itself is a huge accomplishment.  That doesn’t mean any sane person should try what I did, yet my experience isn’t exactly an outlier.  plenty of people on imgurfit and elsewhere continue to subject themselves to well-meaning but extremely poor choices.

So, if you skipped all the way down to the bottom of this post for some reason, here’s what you should do;

  1. Develop or practice patience.  Slow and steady is better than aggressive and fast when it comes to weight loss
  2. Don’t try stupid shit.  Calculate your calories, eat enough food and at the right macronutrient ratios.
  3. Eat for your level of activity.  If you run and lift and do all sorts of other things, eat lots of food.  You’ll still probably lose weight.
  4. Develop a healthy relationship with food. even when trying to cut calories.  Don’t degrade your mental and physical health to the point where you’re binge-eating regularly to compensate for your poor health.
  5. Keep reading, keep learning, and become nutritionally and physically literate.
  6. Track your god damn calories and macros.

Thanks for Reading, and Keep an eye out for future Podcast Primer Posts pertaining to the things we’ve discussed.

-Andrew

Advertisements

Keto: A Science Based Review

By: Conrad

What is the ketogenic diet? It is an extraordinarily low carb, high fat diet that, in theory, forces the body to burn fat because of the absence of carbs. Another line of reasoning that is often spouted is in a normal diet with plenty of carbs, the fats are stored because the carbs are burned.

I’ll attack the fallacies as they come up instead of letting them pile up until the end.

1) Carbs, fats, and proteins are all burned at the same time by the body for energy. The ratios are always in flux depending on what you eat, and the energy demands that you are placing on your body. So the “forcing your body to burn fats” notion is true. However, the fats being stored because of carbs being present is only about 50% true. The body is an extraordinary mechanism and is capable of awesome things. Like turning any one macro into any other given enough time/steps. (http://biochemical-pathways.com/#/map/1) If someone ate a diet of 100% carbs, they would still store fat because the body can turn carbs into fats/(most) proteins, fats into carbs/(most) proteins and proteins into carbs/fats. The creation and storage of fat rises from excessive intake rather than which macros were ingested (as discussed in my previous post on intermittent fasting http://goo.gl/UeSeOb ).

So far, the keto diet isn’t terribly dishonest. That’s great! Lets keep going, shall we?

So this diet more or less calls for a consumption of only fats and protein. This is a very interesting implication for people in a fitness forum such as this one. The brain runs on carbs (it literally cannot utilize fats for energyhttp://goo.gl/VyE4co), and us being people who train avidly, quite often run low on carbs. So the body has to make up this deficit from somewhere and the body tends to turn to proteins and synthesizes the needed carbs through a process known as gluconeogenesis (http://goo.gl/cI49Pz ). Under normal circumstances, this is usually unnecessary and the metabolism of proteins typically only happens under starvation conditions. So right away, we can see that this diet is far from optimal from anyone who trains as it is almost by definition catabolic (extremely negative nitrogen balance is often caused by keto http://goo.gl/SW7Dhh) , and the body is only capable of recovering from so much training without the body literally digesting itself.

As I just mentioned, metabolizing protein in any significant amount in a healthy diet does not happen very often. This is a very good thing because the byproducts of this process are nasty. The worst of which is ammonia. That’s right. The same thing your mom used to clean the tub with is produced when your body is forced to use proteins for energy. Of course, the ammonia is sucked out of the blood in the kidneys and turned into urea and we pee it out. But for anyone with one kidney, or any kidney problems, i could not in good conscience suggest a ketogenic diet.

Enough about proteins, let us move on to fats now.

As I mentioned earlier, the metabolism of fats, carbs, and proteins is always happening at the same time, the ratio of which is always changing. So if we restrict carbohydrate availability to only what the body can produce and keep the energy demands constant, it is obvious that the metabolism of fats and proteins will have to increase to accommodate.

Once again, the body only uses fats in significant amounts when it is starved, or restricted of carbohydrates. So the same argument applies. It is literally tricking the body into thinking it is dying so that it will burn fats. That doesn’t sound too safe to me.

So what happens in this starvation mode when the body is burning through fats as quickly as it can? Ketone bodies are produced. What is a ketone? Well two of them are acidic and the other one is acetone. Again, another cleaning product that your body is dumping into itself. Probably not the healthiest of things. This acetone can be changed into other, less hazardous materials, through a couple of pathways, but the acetone is still present in the body in larger quantities than necessary for however short a period before they are converted. The buildup of acetone can be so severe in the blood that it becomes a part of the gas exchange in the lungs and a persons breath can literally smell like acetone. All three of them are removed via the urine so once again, for anyone with one kidney, or any kidney problems, i could not in good conscience suggest a ketogenic diet.

On top of all of that, we have a ton of side effects (http://goo.gl/EwmCEV):
-frequent urination (which makes sense given the extra substances I just outlined that have to be urinated out)
-fatigue and dizziness
-low blood sugar
-headaches (again, this one makes sense given the reduced availability of energy to the brain)
and a whole host of other things. Of course, all of these things will happen to everyone at one point or another regardless of their diet, but why would you intentionally put yourself in harms way.

I really have yet to find an upside to keto so I’ll try and make this seem as positive as possible.

Are all of these terrible side effects manageable? Absolutely. If you’re willing to put in the work. We’re talking blood work, daily urine acidity tests, medical supervision, ect. There have been numerous success stories with keto. I know several people who have seen it. But they had to work at their diet and their vitals. It is a lot of extra work when compared to a normal diet, but it can work wonders. Can you get away without doing all of this? Possibly. But it’s dangerous and excessive protein and fat metabolism can actually kill you. I don’t know anyone who has died from eating a balanced diet.

Takeaway points
-two k’s away from being racist
-keto is fake starvation mode
-keto has nasty byproducts
-barring medical conditions, keto provides no benefits I can find over a regular balanced diet
-keto is completely manageable with extreme attention to detail

I am by no means an expert and it is possible that some of this information is incorrect but I doubt that it is. I actually spent a decent amount of time researching for this post and I just realized I completely forgot to source the second half of this god dammit

Flexible Dieting

By: Chris Huber

This is a quick(ish) rundown on the basics of figuring out your caloric intakes. This is what is known as Flexible Dieting.

First step is estimating your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). There are more scientific ways that do this, but for our purposes the easiest way to do it is use an online calculator. Google BMR calculator and input your height/weight/age/etc and it will spit an average number out at you. This is the number of calories that you burn in a day without doing a bit of exercise.

Next, you need to keep track of your actual exercise throughout the day. You can estimate this with more online tools, phone apps, activity trackers like the FitBit bands, or use a heart rate monitor when you workout.

With these two pieces of info you can figure out your maintenance caloric intake (also called TDEE for Total Daily Energy Expenditure). (BMR + Daily Activity)

So we know our maintenance level. From here it’s based on your goals. Want to drop weight, eat 500 calories less than maintenance every day. Trying to bulk, eat 500 more calories every day. Trying to maintain, well (duh) eat at maintenance then.

Now that I explained the long way, this website (http://scoobysworkshop.com/calorie-calculator/) actually does a great job estimating your starting point, but I wanted you to understand HOW it estimates for you. The box labeled “Daily calories based on goal in step 6” is what you want to use.

As far as what you should be eating, you can eat what you want (Please have some common sense here though. Lean meats, veggies, etc are always preferred) as long as your are at your caloric goals and you want to aim for a breakdown of your calories as 25% Fat/25% Protein/50% Carbs. You can shift these depending on your goals, for example someone looking to build muscle mass might raise their protein to 30% and lower the others to compensate.  In addition to these macros, make sure to get at least 35g of fiber a day as well. A regular colon is a happy colon!

I’m sure this is a tad overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. I HIGHLY suggest downloading and religiously using the phone/web app called MyFitnessPal. You can change the numbers the app gives you as goals in the settings, since it has a tendency to undershoot proper levels. This app has a huge database to quickly track your food intakes. Be honest with yourself when you use it. If you have a cupcake, then write it down and make it fit your goals. It’s ok to have “bad” food now and then. Trying to stay 100% with lean meats, veggies, and grains will drive most people mad. Enjoy your food, but be aware of portions and stay within your goals and you will do great!

One last bit to mention. We did a fair bit of estimating here and your body most likely has its differences. So if you still aren’t dropping weight, then shift your maintenance down a couple hundred calories and see how that goes from there. You will find that sweet spot with time and make progress.

Here’s a little video taking you through the steps of using the Scooby Calculator and inputting the results into My Fitness Pal.

Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Protein

By: Gavin Hemmerlein

I’ve decided to do a series on little nuances of a diet. There is a large difference between the terms dieting and diet. One is often represented by a caloric deficit and the other is what you consume. We’re going to focus on the latter and how the intake affects our performance.

“A calorie is a calorie.” We hear this all the time. While it is true (a calorie is a unit of measure for energy), it is still only half of the story. Let’s look at the other half for a protein.

What is a protein? Well, it is a macronutrient that is built from differing amino acid (AA) chains. These AAs are connected through peptide bonds. When a protein is synthesized, water is released and a bond has formed connecting the aminos. This is another reason why water is so important.

So why does this matter? Well there are twenty amino acids that matter to human biology. We have continued to split them into three groups; Non-Essential (NEAA), Conditionally Non-Essential (CNEAA), and Essential (EAA). The names are pretty self-explanatory, but basically the level of “essentialness” is derived from whether or not the body can come up with these AAs on its own without a direct consumption of it. The nine essential are the ones most commonly needed to be concerned about, because these are what your body cannot convert:

Of the nine EAAs, we are left with a very special subgroup; Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These three account for 35% of the EAAs in muscle proteins and 40% of the preformed amino acids required by mammals. [1]

A protein is only a complete protein if it holds all twenty of these amino acids. That is to say, it holds a “complete profile of amino acids”. Incomplete proteins lack at least one amino acid. That is neither good nor bad because we have to just consume varying profiles to fill in the gaps.

This leads us to why we need protein. It is for muscle and ultimately body repair. I can dive further into what each amino will do (and I certainly plan on doing that with leucine), but this is a very general overview. You, all of you, need this macronutrient in your diet. Training is very stressful on the body.

This leads to a necessitated consumption to repair. Don’t neglect your intake. We can get into a discussion about absorption, synthesis, acidosis, renal issues (My personal concerns are not much, pretty discerned, very little, and next to none respectively), but it is undeniable that any  individual that desires to perform at a high level needs to not neglect this valuable macronutrient.

Reference

1. Shimomura Y, Murakami T, Naoya Nakai N, Nagasaki M, Harris RA (2004). “Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise”. J. Nutr. 134 (6): 1583S–1587S. Retrieved 22 March 2011