Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Strange Diet

During my halcyon college days I weighed an average of around 160 pounds; since I was also 6 feet tall, that made me—in the immortal words of one of my sister’s friends—“buff skinny.” Shortly after I graduated and was cast adrift in the real world, a book in my father's library by Dr. Roy Walford, called Maximum Lifespan, caught my eye. The book detailed Dr. Walford’s quest to find any genuine, scientifically based method(s) for not simply increasing our average life spans, but, more radically, extending the human lifespan beyond our current, roughly 120 year, limit. His researches led him to conclude that the only viable possibility at present would be a calorically restricted diet.

Walford's argument was seductive. Soon I was counting calories, building meal plans, and feeling very hungry. All the time. The tragic irony with the diet was that it required me to think about food constantly. I just couldn't eat it. When I wasn’t worried about balancing my daily intake of macro and micronutrients I was involved in some aspect of food preparation. Over time I began to wonder about the value of an extra 50 years of life—all of it spent thinking in excruciating detail about food. I quit after 10 weeks, deciding it wasn’t worth it.

A welcome side-effect, though, was a general tolerance for not eating much. I remained very slim for several years, until, in my late 20s, I began dating a woman who loved to cook. Three years later I hit my peak weight - just over 190 lbs. After that relationship ended I drifted back down to just under 180.

Sometime around my 35th birthday I noticed a subtle change in my appetite, as well as the way my body seemed to deal with what I ate. If I satisfied my hunger at every meal the pounds would just pile on. Furthermore, this weight wouldn’t come off easily, even with lots of extended bouts of agonizing rowing sessions! I began somewhat obsessively weighing myself every morning. If I weighed “too much” I’d try to eat light that day. Strangely, this seemed a losing battle. I found that this “going hungry” business was happening far too often, and was punctuated by bouts of wild cravings for sweets—cravings that I’d succumb to, usually with either a pint (or two) of Ben & Jerry’s, or an entire package of Pecan Pralines from Trader Joe’s. Not surprisingly, my average weight continued to creep up, despite my efforts to the contrary.

Then, just over a year ago, I was reminded that one aspect of Walford’s research included a study of rats forced to fast on alternate days. On the non-fasting days the rats could eat as much as they liked. Interestingly, these rats saw health benefits that, while not as pronounced as those seen with the more strict version of calorie restriction, were nonetheless significant. My father (who, by the way, is president of Kronos Laboratory), showed me the results of some human studies of alternate day caloric restriction and its beneficial effects on inflammatory response and insulin resistance. Given the apparent role of belly fat in the promotion of various diseases, he didn’t have to tell me twice. I decided immediately to embrace a (modified) caloric restriction diet once again.

Here's how it works:

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I eat some combination of nutritionally rich foods with a total calorie value equal to only 20% of a "normal" day. For men, that's roughly 380 calories. For women, 340ish.

Since I'm lazy and cheap when it comes to food, my typical lo-cal days' meals consist of a couple off-brand slim-fast clones (be careful to avoid the ones with partially hydrogenated oils, though). My father likes to shake things up by substituting a V8 and a hard-boiled egg for one of the Slim Fasts. My friend Lisette prefers eating copious amounts of spinach and mushrooms.

On the remaining days I eat... as much as I want of whatever I want. Strangely, though, I rarely find myself craving pralines or ice cream any more.

It's that simple.

November 20th was my ADCR year anniversary. Today I weighed in at 167. Now, if it were only possible to once again look like I was a college kid...


Lisette said...

I am a big fan of the modified calorie restriction diet. It got easier and easier over time... especially with copious amounts of spinach and mushrooms! ;)

I'm 5'10" and weighed 145 pounds for most of my healthy adult life. Not a bad weight, but it didn't FEEL optimal to me. After doing the MCRD for several months, I now weigh 135 pounds. It's strange how much healthier I feel all around... there's a "lightness" that I really enjoy.

Einzige's slim, well-defined body was certainly a motivating factor in trying this whole thing out. :)

Jim Lippard said...

I've been doing this as well for about the last five months, and have been very happy with it--I've not lost much weight (maybe 10-15 pounds), but I didn't really need to lose much. I'm back to my 34-inch-waist pants, though. I also like the side benefit of spending less money on food.

steve said...

Geez, I'm about three inches shorter than you and weigh three pounds more. I've been thinking of this kind of thing a lot lately, since I gain primarily in the gut, which, as you mentioned, does indeed make one increasingly prone to such diseases as Diabetes, etc. And yes, it seems no matter how much you exercise, the calories tend to stay. I think my biggest issue is carbs--something I need to drastically cut back on. Anyhow, hope you're well--miss hanging out with you!

Einzige said...

Steve, thanks!

I've got designs on coming out there for a visit soon, since my current job allows for that.

You mention carbohydrates as your dietary issue, which may be the case (after all, in the human diet there are "essential" amino and fatty acids, but there's no such thing as an essential carbohydrate), but keep in mind that it all really boils down to calories, regardless of whether they come from carbs, fat, or protein.

Your comment also reminds me about a point that I failed to properly emphasize in the post...

One of the foremost concerns people express when I describe this diet to them is hunger. They imagine the feeling they had the last time they postponed a meal for a couple of hours. Next, they imagine going a day without eating. Multiply those two thoughts together, then go through that 3 times a week... Yikes! It sounds like a recipe for unending torment!

Well, to put it simply, it's not like that. I remember the ravenous cravings for sweets that I used to have. The thought that I'd have to endure 36 hours of that sort of obsessive yearning would definitely dissuade me. I'm not exactly sure what goes on in the body, but it's clear that it quickly acclimates to the new eating schedule. You just end up being less hungry.

Now, I'm not going to lie to you! On the low calorie days I often find myself fantasizing about the next day's breakfast and how it's going to be 6 blueberry waffles smothered in whipped cream or something (funny how it always ends up being something much more mundane). So, there is some hunger to deal with. Mondays are usually the most difficult, since Saturday and Sunday were both high calorie days. Fridays, though, are a breeze. I went grocery shopping last night and didn't even think about it. In the past if I'd gone shopping while hungry I'd have filled the cart with impulse purchases.

I look at it this way: I'd rather have to deal with hunger 3 days a week than 7. Wouldn't you?

Einzige said...

Tim Ferriss brings up the issue of human "adaptive thermogenesis" and sounds a potential death-knell for intermittent fasting as a long-term strategy for either weight loss or longevity.


Things are never simple or easy, are they?

Einzige said...

I am an apparent data point against Tim Ferris' claims, by the way.

I take issue with the idea that his method of fasting for 24 hours is really "fasting" in any meaningful way. My intervals are 36 hours long and perhaps prevent the onset of any adaptive thermogenesis, if there is such a thing.

Solan said...

Interesting eating pattern.

I read of an even shorter-cycle version of your method that has been tried and has given beneficial results: Fasting each day until the evening. That was on a high-fat diet, though, but seemingly muslims get this kind of benefit every Ramadan (when they are not allowed to eat while the sun is out), so it seems to carry over to any kind of diet.

As for your chef girlfriend, I have found that when single, I lose weight, and when in a long-term relationship I gain.