Within the current context of worldwide obesity and the associated problems with diabetes, I thought a hot topic would be the 3 instances where I tried a new diet experiment and accidentally (!!) lost body fat. I’m assuming the lost pounds were mostly fat, because throughout the period, I maintained or gained strength while my skin fold thicknesses (abs, thigh, chest) dropped to new lows (3, 4, 2.5 mm).
On the first two occasions, although not intending to maintain the weight loss, the pounds never came back; apparently I had established a new set point. On the third occasion (right now), I’m actively pursuing weight gain because I want to get stronger.
Experiment 1 – Take note, low-carbers — replace fat with slow-carbs!!
The first of these was started back in January of 2013 on the 15th. I already wrote about it here, but just to summarize, the experiment was to hold protein constant while replacing fat calories with slow-carb calories. I expected to be sacrificing satiety in favor of more carbs, less fat, hoping that it would lower my “bad” cholesterol. So, to be clear, before this experiment I was actually a Gary Taubes fan and believer. My expectation — Thank you, Gary Taubes (Grrr – not!) — was that the extra carbs would:
- make me hungrier
- jack up my insulin
- jack up my glucose
- make me gain weight
But they did not!! Here’s the proof:
Here’s the corresponding diet summary showing averages for the final 20 days where my weight was maintaining compared with the first 20 days of less fat, more slow-carbs where my weight was dropping (as always, click to enlarge):
As you can see, the carbs replaced animal-based foods that were slightly higher in essential amino acids (but still way more than enough).
Remember, the new diet experiment was not intended to be about weight loss; it was expected to be about putting up with hunger in order to reduce my “bad” cholesterol. I was listening to the low-carb folks that have hot air coming out of both ends of their digestive tracts. Surprise, surprise! There was no hunger. I had more energy. Fat pounds started dropping off.
So how do I rationalize this? Well, first of all, the slow carbs have way more volume than the fat. So they fill the shrunken stomach space better while taking just as long to digest. Secondly, the extra fiber will move things along more quickly in the digestive track, reducing the opportunity for them to be absorbed. And thirdly (although this is more of a longer term rather than immediate effect), recent research is showing that the soluble fiber supports the probiotics that favor lowered bodyfat.
Experiment 2 – Increase carb intake while depending on exercise to control blood glucose.
This experiment was started 14 months later, on March 15, 2014. I already wrote about it here, but to summarize, I had convinced myself that my then current 48% calories from fat was a seriously bad idea for optimal health. The plan was to drop my fat intake to 30%, use exercise to control my blood glucose, and see if my beta cells could upregulate to handle all those additional carbs. Here’s what I wrote about the experiment in conclusion in a previous blog post:
Long story short, the diet was a dismal failure. The good news was, I re-discovered my long lost ability to exercise at my aerobic threshold for 25 min and after I recovered from the experiment, I found my legs to be hella stronger. The bad news was that with all that exercise and only being able to consume a limited amount of carbs at each meal without overwhelming my glucose disposal strategy, I was in an energy deficit situation. My weight plummeted and I couldn’t sleep through the night. My doctor advised that I go back to low carb, and so I terminated the diet experiment on April 1, after only 22 days. In the chart below, you can see my weight dropping from 114 to 111 in 3 weeks:
The red line in the chart above is a 10-day trailing average of my body weight, so it lags a few days behind actual weight changes.
Here (below) is the unpublished calorie, macro and amino acid detail for experiment 2 (click to enlarge):
As you can see, against medical advice, I didn’t completely go back to the amount of fat I was eating before. I only added back half of it. This was enough to keep my blood glucose from rising too high. So my weight stabilized at about 9% less fat than pre-experiment, splitting the lost fat calories between protein and carbs. There was more fiber and little more animal protein – casein from Greek yogurt to be specific. But here’s the interesting part. I could not recover that lost weight even at a net caloric increment of 100 calories per day; my weight stabilized 2 1/2 lbs lower!
It’s hard to pinpoint what was responsible. Thanks to more energy, I was doing more exercise than prior to experiment 2; maybe my calculation of calories consumed by exercise is flawed. I was consuming more protein, maybe protein has a greater dietary thermogenesis effect than currently recognized. Ha! not too likely given all the research on it.
Which brings me back again to slow-carbs and soluble fiber. At least when I attribute this as the cause, I am in line with a huge body of research rather than flying in the face of it. But regardless, the second way to lose weight without really trying is to use exercise as a tool for managing blood sugar.
BTW, as an aside, in the 40 days following that post-experiment period, I experimented with very gradually removing dietary fat to get down to 30%. By giving my body a chance to accommodate the extra carb load, I succeeded in this without causing excessive blood glucose elevation. I was right, less fat did reduce my “bad” cholesterol; my latest labs, July 11, 2014, came back best in decades:
- Fasting BG: low 80s
- HbA1c: 5.4
- Total Cholesterol: 180
- HDL cholesterol: 78
- LDL cholesterol (calc): 92
- Triglyerides: 49
Remember this is with no diabetic or cholesterol lowering medication whatsoever, at 69 years old with a family history of heart disease and diabetes.
Experiment 3 – Eliminate casein and gluten
I haven’t written about this experiment yet. What happened was sometime in the second week of July 2014, right around when those nice labs came back, I became aware that I have a somewhat rare genetic condition (prevalence at 1% of those with European ancestry) where I cannot make a fully functional version of the only enzyme (DPP-4) that can fully digest gluten and casein. These protein fragments are thought to cause autoimmune problems (such as the diabetes, hypothyroidism, osteoporosis, arthritis, that I experience). In addition, a somewhat recent genetic development among US cows (“A1” cows) has left the majority producing milk containing beta-casein that can’t be fully digested – by anyone. Thus a fragment called BCM-7 remains during digestion that operates in the GI tract as an opioid and may have other undesirable consequences. Here‘s a collection of the relevant research.
As soon as I learned about my lack of DPP-4, I went back and re-analyzed my diet spreadsheet data to determine my pattern of casein intake since I started eating yogurt back in August of 2010. Hmm … Houston, we may have a problem!
So, going back in time, sometime around in early 2012, I started having digestive, shoulder impingement and muscle pain problems. By January of 2013, right after upping my casein intake to over 15 grams/day, I was diagnosed with hypothyroisism. I came to think that the digestive issues were due to the Frankenfood additive, polyD fiber, that manufacturers were liberally adding to foods and that I had been consuming liberally (since fiber is good for you, right?). Well, I quit eating anything with the Frankenfiber, but I didn’t recover. And I thought that the other problems were just about getting older.
So, now noticing the ever increasing amounts of casein in my diet, although I loved my Greek yogurt, I thought it would be worth a shot to try eliminating all casein and gluten from my diet. July 14 was the first day of the new experiment. Here’s what my weight log looked like:
This experiment was challenging. I began it suddenly in the midst of the unnumbered experiment between #2 and this, #3, where I was gradually reducing fat and increasing soluble fiber in my diet. Just briefly, I think this experiment was giving me more energy, such that I really, really felt like doing cardio, ie, running and cycling. But, because it seemed more important to see what effect that casein was having, if any, I cut it out before being able to see where the increased fiber alone would take me. But notice in the chart above that even though I was feeling more energy, the additional exercise wasn’t impacting my ability to hold my weight constant.
The start of the green section is the first day without casein and everything changed. Although my digestive problems gradually disappeared during the course of the casein withdrawal, and even more quickly, my pain and joint stiffness resolved, it will forever be for me a period marked by a struggle against rapid weight loss. Honestly, I felt like I was battling anorexia. You would think I would be ravenous in a negative energy balance situation like this, but I wasn’t. I felt really wired and speedy all the time.
In the middle of the period, I decided I had to put a stop to the weight loss. I cut back my exercise to previous levels, raised my calorie intake, forcing myself to eat more and added more fat. It halted the weight loss briefly, but that plateau couldn’t be maintained. I convinced my doctor that my thyroid medication had to be lowered. The new thyroid med level marks the end of the green period.
So, removing casein (I was already avoiding gluten) had the result of ruining my appetite, speeding me up, oh yeah, forgot to mention ruining my sleep, driving my wife crazy because I was so wired, and fixing my digestion, joint and muscle pain problems. On Aug 20, the last day of the old thyroid meds, I had my doctor order a full thyroid panel, and yes, the meds that I had been totally adjusted to were now too strong. Does that mean I may be experiencing improved thyroid function without the casein? We’ll have to see if it continues to improve.
The table below shows the experiment 3 details for intervention, calorie in v calorie out, macros and AAs, as well as the 104 days prior to casein removal and the 13 days after the thyroid med reduction.
So there you have it, the third way to go on a weight loss spree without ever intending to: cut out dairy. This strategy may be of relevance to more than just those who are genetically DPP-4 deficient. I have read that milk contains factors that help the calf put on weight rapidly. Additionally, the BCM-7 as an opioid increases bowel transit time – probably counterproductive if your main concern is weight reduction. Cutting out dairy might be an experiment worth trying for anyone interested in losing weight.