Book Review: The Obesity Code

I finished reading The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung on Monday. First things first – it is extremely readable, while still bringing the science. I blasted through it in record time, because I just didn’t want to put it down. Page after page of “a-ha” moments for me kept me glued to the book.

The thesis he lays out makes so much sense that I found myself wondering if it made too much sense. Like, I’ve been through the weight loss roller coaster before so many times, that I found myself trying to remember if I’d felt this same sense of “OMG EVERYTHING MAKES SENSE NOW” when reading other weight loss books. Because who hasn’t felt they’d found the answer before? Didn’t the Zone, South Beach, Atkins, Grapefruit Diet, Low-Fat Diet, VLCDs, pH Balance, Low Carb, and Grain-Free Diets all make so much sense before eventually being debunked or just not working?

Dr. Fung lines ’em up and shoots ’em down. He lays out in the first half of the book why all the methods people have been using to control their weight since the middle of the 20th century have not worked – particularly that classic we all know and love: Eat Less, Move More. He reviews the science and studies that prove they don’t work over the years. He shows that the USDA Food Pyramid has been an unmitigated disaster from the first year it was introduced – the whole country is in an obesity crisis and all the usual advice we’ve been getting is doing nothing to stem that tide. So if we know what doesn’t work, what will?

The premise of The Obesity Code is that the body’s control mechanism for set weight is hormonal, not caloric, and the main hormones that control your weight are insulin and cortisol. In order to allow them to do their job, you have to be aware of how they work and what they do.

The biggest Eureka! moment for me was when I put it down and realized that even though I thought I’d tried everything, there was one thing I hadn’t actually tried: JUST NOT FUCKING EATING. Total revelation right there. His guidelines are that in order for the insulin cycle to work, you have to not be stuffing your face every 2-3 hours (and thereby demanding a constant insulin response), which is the program I’ve been following for years and years (while watching my weight climb and climb). I particularly love where he shows a list of diet industry advice that is basically admonitions to eat this, eat that, eat those, eat, eat, eat…and then points out, hey, you don’t lose weight by eating. Try not eating constantly, FFS.

The other part of the equation is to cut out refined carbs and sweets. I don’t eat a lot of those, but there are a few changes I can certainly make. On the flip side: eat all the fat you want, it doesn’t provoke an insulin response. That’s a trade I’m willing to make. Avocados, sour cream, olive oil – here I come!

The other big revelation: He puts forth the first believable argument I’ve ever seen for cutting out artificial sweeteners. See, all the other arguments around are based upon nothing but conjecture and faulty science without rigorous studies to back them up. His argument is based upon actual, testable, verifiable facts. That’s something I can work with.

Also his system requires no calorie counting whatsoever. Wow! I haven’t been this excited about experimenting on my body in years. The only weak point I found is that he doesn’t really say anything about what you do once you’ve readjusted your system by following his advice and, presumably, losing some weight. The book lays out a pretty clear guide for how to lose weight, but doesn’t say much about what’s after that. I’m guessing it’s just a matter of tweaking things until you find the right balance, but it’s not really covered.

Bottom line: I’m willing to give it a try. I finished the book Monday mid-morning. That very day I started by cutting out snacks between meals, artificial sweeteners, and processed food. Tuesday I did a 24-hour fast with absolutely no ill effects – as promised, I had plenty of energy for my workout and daily routine. This morning I’ve started my day with a modified version of my usual breakfast, cutting out sugar from my oatmeal (replacing it with a cut up banana instead) and Splenda from my coffee. I plan on having no snacks between meals today, and upping the fat content in the meals I do eat.

I’m going to do this for a week and see how it goes. Will report back. If you’re intrigued by what I’ve written, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. For me, it explains a lot of the questions and issues that have come up over the years about my body and obesity. Even if you’re not looking to lose weight, I think this book is a really fascinating read and introduces concepts that are worth entertaining.

More Numeric Ruminations

Last week Trystan commented here that despite the number on the scale, I still do a healthy lifestyle better than almost anyone. I am hugely proud to hear that, but also it reminded me that people don’t just come here because I’m specifically keeping off 200 pounds (because I’m not), but for other reasons and living a healthy lifestyle may very well be one of them.

So, today I’m going to ramble about last week’s numbers. Last week I burned 3,780 calories in exercise. That’s well above the 2000/week recommended by a lot of programs – almost double, in fact. All that, and I even took Saturday as a rest day! How did I get there? Well, I could break it down and tell you that represents 305 minutes of activity (a little over 5 hours) that week. That’s an average of 12 calories burned per minute, but I don’t exercise in averages. A majority of my exercise was at a high intensity (running, kickboxing), which using my ballpark calculations I estimate at 14 calories/minute. The rest of it was at moderate or medium intensity (walking, yoga, weightlifting), which I ballpark at 8 calories a minute. These numbers are based on my weight and change when my weight does – when I weigh less I burn less per minute, when I weigh more I burn more. Most days I do 40-60 minutes of exercise.

I also did a great job last week at journaling my food intake (except Saturday which was unusual). I saw a steady downward motion on the scale – started at 224.5 on Monday morning and by Sunday morning I was at 221.5, excellent progress.

Yesterday I went for a long, hard run. I didn’t have anywhere to be, and the usual symphony of bodily complaints was at a mere whisper, so I decided to go for it. Not my longest route, but a portion of it which was 5.5 miles and included a serious hill in the middle. It is a steep, high hill and I don’t attempt it very often because it is HARD. But when I do attempt it I have only a single goal – to not drop into a walk on the way up it. That’s it. That’s the only thing I want to accomplish on that run. On Sunday I powered through and made it up the hill, then back down again. By the end my legs were burning pretty hard – not only a longer run than I have done all year, but a seriously strenuous section in the middle. That run took me about 90 minutes, and burned ~1260 calories. I took a long nap after that run. Yesterday I consumed approximately 1600 calories all day. Pretty good in/out ratio there!

So naturally, as you can imagine, I woke up this morning to the highest weight I have seen in years – 225. That’s right, running  shoots my weight up. Always. Running harder than usual will spike it higher than usual. That’s just how it goes. Maybe not for everyone, but always and without fail for me. At this point I’m just looking at the numbers out of objective, scientific curiosity. “Oh, huh, that’s a surprising number to see after yesterday. Wow. Body, you never fail to confound me.”

I started reading a new book I bought on Rianh’s recommendation last week, The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. I’m about halfway through, so nobody spoil the ending for me (the butler did it, right? It’s always the butler!), but so far it makes a lot of sense and I am hoping there will be a “how to do this” section in the back, because I will probably want to give his ideas a try. What do I have to lose, other than all this fabulous and exciting fat?! I’ll keep you posted as I go.

No Secret Solution

I talked to my primary care doctor last night, I wanted to check and make sure there wasn’t some super secret doctor trick she knew for when you’ve wrecked your metabolism like I have. Here are the things she knows about which we discussed:

  • Weight loss pills. We both agreed they would be totally pointless. You take those pills, you maybe lose a few pounds, then you stop taking them and it comes right back. I’m not looking for a short term fix, I’m looking for a long-term way to live in my body.
  • Surgery. I’m not looking for a short-term fix, and most people who have the surgery lose weight then gain it back after some time (just like most people who use any other method). The surgery won’t fix anything you don’t change in your lifestyle, so in the end it’s simply an aid (for some) to kickstart a healthier lifestyle. I’m already kicking ass on a healthier lifestyle. Pointless.
  • Classes. Going to a “healthier lifestyle” class is pointless for me. I could teach the class. I should be teaching the class. Some 24-year old recent nutrition program graduate who lost 20 pounds and discovered the gospel of eating right and exercising last year isn’t going to have anything to teach me and might make me homicidal.
  • Life coaching. Ha. I’m already doing the things they’d coach me to do.

My doctor is great, but there’s really not much out there for people in my position. And there aren’t many of us, so it’s not like there are a lot of studies or literature on cracking this nut. I have exhausted the available science on the matter.

What to do? I don’t know. I guess I have to just keep moving forward and see where I land when my body stops adjusting up. Journaling, exercising, eating healthy. Yesterday I did 40 minutes of yoga/pilates. The day before I ran 3 miles. The day before that I did 35 minutes of kickboxing. The day before that I ran 3 miles. Whoopee. Go me. Today I’m thinking I’ll go for a walk in the sunshine later, we’re having very nice weather here right now.

Wednesday my husband and I tried out a new restaurant in our neighborhood – Mongolian Hot Pot. A++would healthily eat again. A pot of boiling broth, and meat and veggies you cook in it. It’s almost impossible to NOT eat healthy there. Lean meat (you can get scallops, shrimps, chicken…or red meat too) plus piles of veggies sounds pretty damned healthy to me. And tasty too. They have locations all over California, and a few other states. If it sounds good to you I’d totally recommend it for a healthy restaurant meal.

The Blog Is a Lie

It used to be true – I used to be keeping those 200 pounds I lost off. I am not anymore. At this point I’m maybe keeping 150 pounds off. That’s not success, that’s failure.

So I’ve been failing. This last year has been a catastrophe. I put all my brutal effort and motivation into losing weight last spring and I got about 10 pounds down to around 207, and they came immediately back after I stopped being constantly on a diet and tried to live a normal life with occasional indulgences such as having dinner with friends once a week. Then I was at I what I considered to be the highest possible weight I could tolerate. That was 217.5. I seemed to hang out there most of last fall, but this year things have resumed their ever-upward drive. This morning I weighed myself after my 3 mile run, when I should have been at my lowest for the day – 224.5. I am a failure and I’ve been debating what to do about that for several weeks now.

My first instinct was to shut down the blog because I’m failing and I cannot tolerate pretending to you all that I am successfully maintaining a weight loss. I am not.

My second instinct was to come clean and let you all know that I am not doing the thing promised on the label here. I am so, so tired of dieting and restricting and denying myself. I’m just bloody sick of it. And even while doing it anyway, I’m still gaining weight.

I exercise more than anybody I know, I restrict my diet more than anybody I know, and still I gain. Since I turned 40 I’ve steadily gained (except for those measly, hard-fought 10 pounds last spring) despite doing all the things I talk about here. So my suggestions and advice are clearly no good. Or not applicable to people over 40 years of age.

So I guess what I’m saying is, this is really hard, I’m not successfully doing it and haven’t been for a couple of years now, and I don’t know how to do it anymore. I emailed my primary care doctor this morning and asked if she had any suggestions, but I doubt anything much will come of that. The usual recommendations are not working so unless she has some super-secret special doctor solution for hard cases that they don’t publicize, I don’t expect much from that corner.

Rest assured that if you’ve been following me but quietly resentful about my prior success, your day has come. I am absolutely as miserable and despondent as I can be about carrying this much weight again.

I’ll let you all know if I come up with any kind of a solution, but in the meantime, I don’t really see any point to posting much here, since the premise of this blog is now a lie.

Math is Hard!

Ha! Just kidding, math isn’t hard. It’s logical and follows basic rules of operation. What is apparently hard is tracking days. I weighed myself Wednesday thinking it had been a week because 5 days back at work feels like a week on vacation I guess! And I found I’d only lost a pound and I railed and moaned because I was hoping for more. But reading back, I didn’t start out by weighing in last Wednesday (how could I? I woke up in an airplane over Cuba), I started weighing in on Friday.

So fine. I weighed in this morning. Down a pound and a half. That’s much better. I credit it to two things: 1) yesterday I finally felt up to my usual 3-mile run again after shaking that cold I had, and 2) Thursday night is my usual “cheat” meal, because I have dinner with some friends on Thursdays and relax my rules a little bit and also have wine. Actually the second one probably has more to do with why I didn’t drop more, but it’s a good mental health activity so I’ve refused to give it up.

This morning’s exercise was Jillian’s HardBody DVD, which is one of the harder workouts I do. I still have the occasional tickle in my throat and coughing fit, but I consider myself well enough to push hard. It’s better for me to work hard, it will clear out the dregs of the sickness better than anything else I know.

Speaking of Biggest Loser trainers (was I?  I guess I was), I’m sure you  heard about Bob Harper having a heart attack while working out. He’s ok, but in general it’s kind of a reminder that all the exercise in the world can’t really overcome genetics. Although, being in top physical shape probably had a lot to do with him actually surviving that rather than just dying on the spot (I am not a doctor so I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about and just made that up with zero evidence or knowledge to support it, just thought it sounded good but seriously this freaks me out that you can do everything right and still almost die if your heart just decides it can’t even).

Have a good weekend everyone. Remember to track your food choices, keep your portions reasonable, and work your body a bit every day.

Grudgingly

I got on the scale today to see how I’m doing getting those 5 vacation pounds off. First it flashed the same exact weight as last week, then it grudgingly flashed its final answer: Down a pound.

Damn. I expected two or three, because that’s what a normal result would be. I drastically changed my eating and cleaned it up – no cheats or treats this week. I drastically increased my exercise (from zero to daily, but not all they way back up to pre-vacation levels due to the cold I also got on vacation). All that for a measly, grudging pound.

I guess my previous goal of losing those vacation pounds in two weeks needs to be revised. It looks like I’ll be lucky to lose them in 5 weeks.

In case you were wondering, this is what a broken metabolism looks like. I have no doubt that my lifetime of dieting, then gaining, then dropping again have completely fucked my metabolism and now dropping anything at all is going to be a grand struggle. But, as always, what other choice do I have but to keep shoving that boulder up this mountain? I guess simultaneously work on loving and accepting my body as it is now. As it has become through all these years of trying to figure out how to keep and maintain it.

I know less now than I ever have. Don’t ask me for weight loss advice, it’s clear I don’t know shit, and what I’ve done not only hasn’t worked long-term, but has screwed things up beyond repair.

Vacation Detox: Phantom Hunger

Continuing to re-acquaint my body with healthy habits. What I mean by “vacation detox” is that my body grew accustomed to certain things – too much food, too little activity – and now I’m having to readjust.

The first thing I noticed is that I’ve had several “hungry days” in a row now. Hungry days are those days where no matter what you eat, or how much, your body won’t stop sending you the hungry signals – phantom hunger. I know they’re false, but they’re still there. I think they happen because my body gets used to me eating much more than I need, more often than I need, and when I revert back to my regular, healthy patterns it takes some time to convince my body I mean it and I’m not going to feed it cookies or pastries (or cocktails, if I’m being honest) just because it claims hunger. I have a couple of tried-and-true methods for dealing with those signals.

-The best one is a hot beverage. Hot tea, usually, will make my stomach settle down and stop sending the hungry pangs for a while. The weird thing about the pangs is I can get them right after I’ve eaten on a really bad day. The messaging gets completely screwed up by too many days of overeating and I know it, so I have to find ways to distract myself or short-circuit the network.

-Another strategy is to eat, but eat something supportive. A piece of fruit, or a hard-boiled egg usually fit the bill, if it’s been a reasonable amount of time since I last ate.

-Exercise can sometimes do it, a hard workout will often suppress my appetite. This one’s tricky, though, as it can also sometimes backfire and leave me MORE hungry. Also hard to do when I’ve been getting through a cold.

-Worst strategy, but often used: Just gut it out. Accept that my body is telling me it’s starving but I know it’s not, and read a book or do something distracting, and drink a lot of water.

Today’s workout was 30 minutes of quiet cardio. A hard workout despite the name, and my weakened state made it seem that much harder. (Bane of my existence: Chair pose. Why, yoga? It looks so simple but it kills me!) My cold has been receding nicely, much less hacking today. I’m optimistic that I will be able to go for a run tomorrow morning. A short one, of course, I don’t want to push it too much but I need to get back in the swing of it.

I’d definitely be open to hearing your tricks for dealing with phantom hunger. Does anybody else have this issue, and how do you suppress it?

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