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...