27 November 2008

Diet Update - Getting Past a Plateau

It has been a year since I got gout (right before Thanksgiving, 2007). The gout prompted me to start studying my diet in depth and for the first time in my life learn about what I put into my body. I went on a generally lower carbohydrate diet and wrote about my successes and findings in the following posts:

In all of those posts I have advocated a lower carbohydrate approach.

It has been a year now and I wanted to report on where I am now and what additional learnings I have.

This graphic shows my progress since early 2007. You can see the change in slope when I got gout, learned about diet and went onto a lower carb/paleo diet track. I hit a plateau in May of 2008 at 206 pounds and so I went on Lyle McDonald's Rapid Fat Loss Protocol, a "Protein Sparing Modified Fast" or PSMF method. On that I lost about 6 pounds in three weeks, then carried that momentum down to 196 pounds. My initial goal was to get to 200 pounds.

You can also see that since my low point in about August, I have rebounded a bit, but fluctuated around 200 lbs. Unfortunately, 200 is no longer my goal. I hope to continue on down to maybe 180, then drift up a little to 185 or so for maintenance. So what's going on? Why did the weight loss stop?
First, some rebound (5 pounds or so) is very common as people go off a low carb diet. On low carb, the body depletes glycogen and water in the muscles and liver causing a rapid 5 - 10 pound loss. Coming off low carb simply reverses that. This comes off fast when you go back onto low carb, so is of little concern. That's what happened to me in October of 2008 when I went from 205 to about 197.

However, I am having trouble now progressing to my new goal. Here are some of the issues I think I have.

1. Goal Clarity - Once I hit 200 I started thinking about putting on some more muscle. I ramped up my workouts and started to eat more. My weightlifting increased pretty quickly, but so did my weight. It might have been some muscle, but there was also some fat. I hated giving up the loss and felt a bit conflicted about it. So I went back onto the PSMF--for about a week. The weight came off fast, but then life stepped in and I exercised less, ate more and put the weight right back on. This brings us to the next issue.

2. Motivation - Once you state a goal, you have to maintain focus on it and keep at it. Losing weight really is harder than maintaining it. As you approach your goal it gets even harder for a number of reasons including the fact that you are losing fat, which changes your hormonal environment.

This blog has a good write up about motivation. As you get to a place that is adequate, you may feel tempted to slack off. That is part of my problem right now. I'm pretty happy about losing 35 lbs., blood markers and health are much better, etc. Sometimes artificial motivation can help (like an artificial deadline at the office). Stickk.com provides a place to build that artificail motivation. You can place a bet or a challenge with friends and have referees to check. you can set goals with penalties for missing checkpoints. Perhaps you could set it up to send a check to a cause with which you do not agree.

3. Stick with what got you there - Moving from diet to maintenance will stop your weight loss. If you want to lose weight again, you have to make changes. Going with what got you there (whether Atkins, Paleo, Weight Watchers) in the first place is a good place to start. The ladies who write this blog also have a book about maintaining weight loss called Refuse to Regain (link below).

4. Don't stick with what got you there - As you get to lower levels of body fat (less than 12% for men or 18% for women) Lyle McDonald has written a really good series (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) about the impact of leptin on weight loss. Leptin is a hormone that is created in your fat and can help you lose weight. As your fat decreases you secrete less leptin. It's one of several reasons you may have to make changes. He also has a book called The Stubborn Fat Solution, which covers a program to cut that last bit of fat. It's not for everyone, but if you are at that lower level of fat, you might consider it.

I am continuing on. I have ramped up my exercise to maintain strength and assist with fat loss, and I am going back to a stricter diet. My goal is still to get down to a maintenance range of 180-185 or so.

I still believe that a lower carb approach is better for me, and probably healthier for most people. If you haven't tried eating lower carb, I encourage you to try. I think that Protein Power, Atkins, or Paleo diet approaches (links below) are all potentially good programs.

However, there are a number of variables that can affect how people respond. Some people simply can't get past the "brain fog" that temporarily occurs during adaptation to low carb. Specific goals, activity levels, age, sex, and biochemical makeup all affect what you should be doing to eat right.

Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving.

The following link is to a tool that can help you measure your progress on the road to better health.

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