Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eat more to lose weight. What?

For as long as I can remember I've struggled with my weight. I was far from a skinny kid, and after slimming down as a teen, its been harder and harder to stay in shape as I get older. A job that involves sitting down for most of the day, and involves lengthy research that's also best performed sitting down doesn't exactly help. "Sedentary" barely describes it. There aren't many things you really have to get up off your arse for when writing about video games, or working with teams that write about video games. If you want to get active, it's got to be a conscious effort, and you've got to really make the time for it. Not drinking beer helps, too.

Things got particularly bad after the kids were born - the incentive to just bounce between work and home with nothing in between (and even the commute is sedentary, just 40 minutes sat in a car instead of at my desk or on the couch) became even more pronounced, and as I crept ever closer to 40, my metabolism slowed to what seemed like a complete halt.

For the past three years I've been making a concerted effort to be far more active with the goal of melting some of that wobbly flab away. It can't be sexy, right? Mrs. D says nice things, but this stuff can't be attractive. After topping out at a number far further north of 200 pounds than I can ever feel comfortable admitting, I finally shamed myself into putting some concerted effort into it. I've dabbled with gym memberships for years, but somehow there has always been something more important to do than bang out 20 reps of something painful. Not any more.

The first big push was getting on the bike. After a friend questioned how I could possibly live in Marin and not spend as much time as possible riding up and down mountains, Mrs. D indulged me for Christmas and it didn't take me long to get hooked. There's an excellent feedback loop that comes with cycling, because pretty much every time you go out you get a little bit better.

After a year of creeping up to 20, 30, 40 miles at a time, I eventually signed up for the Marin Century - a 100k (62 mile) ride that snakes its way from San Rafael to Petaluma, up murderous hills and through some beautiful scenery, as a key fitness goal; partly to prove to myself that I could do it, but also to affirm to Mrs. D and the kids that when I say I'm going to do something, I really mean it. Along with this, I started tracking my exercise and calorie intake so I knew exactly what I was doing to my body, with the hope of being able to fine tune things and drop some more weight.

Then came the weird part. After successfully dropping a little flab, I started to plateau. This is completely normal, I'm told - but as my fitness increased, and I was hitting the gym four times a week and riding 40 miles or more at the weekend nothing would budge. The belly was still there, and the scales weren't moving. At all. I do have thighs that appear to be made out of rock though. Cycling has a way of making your legs solidify.

I went to the doctor, and he just sort of shrugged at me before reminding me that effective weight loss comes from eliminating about 500 calories a day from your daily routine. "If you're usually eating 2,000 calories, drop it to 1,500," so that's what I did. I went to a fitness instructor who just said that working out really, really fucking hard would make a difference. Fearing that he was confused or overenthusiastic or something, I went to another fitness instructor who basically said the same thing. So I followed their advice; "work as hard as you can until you think you're going to puke," said fitness guy #2, so that's what I did. I never actually barfed from exertion, but there were times when I came close.

Result? Nothing. I trained for my second Century, and again nothing.

In fact, on occasion my weight was going up rather than down. Back to the doctor, who did the shrug thing again before suggesting that maybe I should talk to a nutritionist, because perhaps there was something weird about my metabolism or something. Or something? Like what?

I put it off and put it off, because...y'know, isn't that a bit much? But after the plateau entered month seven, I decided that enough was enough. Working out like mad and eating carefully for that long with zero results is demoralizing, to say the least.

One hour with a nutritionist later, and I have a whole new understand of how my innards work, and came away with what felt like extremely counter-intuitive advice. My "tenacious plateau" (as it's called) is, in fact, a problem with my metabolism. Turns out I've not been eating enough, and that coupled with all the exercise has resulted in my body dramatically slowing my metabolism down as a kind of survival mechanism thing. "Your brain thinks you're in a semi-starvation state, so it's clinging on to all the fuel it can," she said. "You need to eat considerably more, and make sure you get plenty of good carbs to reset your system."

She went on to explain how the results seen in low-carb diets like South Beach and Atkins are a result of something not entirely natural happening inside your body (the 10-12 pounds that you lose so fast aren't fat, they're the result of burning through your natural carbohydrate reserves, which along with the water they're suspended in weigh about 12 pounds) before explaining how the body processes food, and how it will react once I get my shit together.

So here we are. I've gotten so used to eating 1,500 to 1,700 calories a day that eating more than that is actually proving to be much more difficult than I expected, particularly when factoring in the fact that no more than 20 per cent of my calorie intake can be from fat. She suggested I shoot for 3,000 calories - which just struck me as batshit insane, and would surely result in me piling on pounds, but she assured me it wouldn't. "Start with about 2,200 to 2,500 and then tune it from there," she suggested - so that's what I'm doing, and it's tough. I'm three days into the craziness now, and within the next two or three days I'm assured that my whole system will reboot and we'll start to see some results.

Fingers crossed.



SnakeLinkSonic said...

Mus' be the weight weekend for all of us then...

It's fascinating how our bodies all individually work in conjunction with their intake, and we all have to figure out exactly what that is first. It's never going to be as simple as just 'exercising your way out of it'. My metabolism for example, is insanely high, so I'll never be able to gain weight quite that easily, even with age (I can put a layer or two of muscle on myself when I want, but that's about it). I'm not even in the same league as you though (i.e. I'm assuming I'm closer to half your age and have never been very health-conscious to begin with either). Our bodies can do a lot of cool & crazy crap when it wants to.

I'm intrigued in the outcome of your nutritionist's regimen though (the statements you quoted from her inspire trust from me anyway). I do hope you'll post the results.

Scott said...

If you're in good enough shape to ride a century class training schedule, then you are in very good shape. I wouldn't worry as much about calorie intake, within reason. Give your body fuel when it wants fuel. Just eat healthy food.

It sounds like you had a nasty wreck this summer. I'm glad you're still riding.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in this. Please keep us posted.

Adam Beckett said...

Haha, I cannot believe, I just read through this (and starred uncomfortably at another man's belly). Watching people for as long as I did and reading my fare share of NPG Nature & AAAS Science for years on a weekly basis, all I learned about people & their weight so far has a lot to do with the difficulty to assess their genetic predisposition and the 'lifestyle' part; their irrational ideas and the social pressure game (photoshopped magazine covers anyone?).

Here's where 'culture' kicks in, and medicine has to give up?

People envision themselves to look like your Californian centerfold magazine cover-girl/boy when actually being healthy is the only thing that should matter? Psychology and social pressure makes us "feel wrong". And then, there's the midlife-crisis pattern kicking in? "How come I am as old as actor xyz but have no abs like him?" kind of questions?

Eating healthy (fresh, quality food), regular exercise, family activity, outdoor sports, regular health checkups, good sex, avoiding stress (I know), not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, if any ... what more can you really ask for? The male fantasy of having a Gerard Butler in 300 body after 8-12 weeks isn't really working for everyone. Living a happy fulfilled life should count the most?

All these words, only to say: if in doubt, always trust your wife. Not necessarily what she says, but rather how she looks at you.

Fun fact btw: the main reason why men die earlier than women, has nothing to do with living a less healthier life. They die earlier, because they do not go as often to the doctor for check ups - so, a later diagnosis leaves less options.