Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Losing Fat Without Work?

It seems like there is always another fad or product or program that promises weight loss without working out - usually with the tantalizing claim that you can eat anything you want and still lose weight.  I even remember something about an ad a few years ago that claimed you could drink all the beer you want, sit on the couch, and still the pounds would melt off.  I bet that guy made a few bucks!

Mostly that kind of claim (weight loss without hard work) is nonsense.  But only mostly.

I want to report that I am stunned and amazed at my shrinking belly and how it has almost gone completely away in about a month - without working out and without taking pills.  I ran across a website by a guy named Mark Sisson, a remarkably fit middle-aged former marathon runner who has come to the conclusion that our entire approach to healthy eating and exercise is not just all wrong, but almost opposite of what really works.

He calls his approach The Primal Blueprint.

He starts with a premise based on evolutionary theory to explain why it works, and he introduces a mythical caveman to make the argument.  You can ignore all the evolutionary theory, however.  It makes no difference whether we are acting contrary to our natural bodies as evolved (according to the myth) or as created (and corrupted by original sin). His caveman tale as a foil to present the approach doesn't validate it or invalidate it.

I began to see how far we Americans have let ourselves go when I went to Russia last summer.  I saw almost no fat people anywhere.  A person who was "a bit chunky" there was a rarity.  I saw nobody who was morbidly obese - while this is increasingly common in the U.S.  Here in the states, I have always been considered "thin" - even with my middle aged paunch.  I saw how different my physique was when I was in Russia.  I was embarrassed.

Russians typically walk more than we do (especially in the summer), and that's part of it.  But the diet is really where we differ.  Russians typically do not eat junk food, prepackaged snacks, and sugary drinks.  They eat much simpler and healthier meals, usually consisting of a soup, a salad, and a meat dish.  The serving sizes are much smaller.  Food is not typically industrial and prepackaged.  They do not constantly walk around with Cokes and bags of chips in their hands "grazing" all day the way Americans typically do.  They don't eat a lot of sweets.  Fast foods are not part of the daily regimen.  Many people still grow their own vegetables.  Their meat and milk are not laced with hormones and chemicals.

They drink a lot of water, and a good bit of tea.  I found that they drink a lot less coffee than we do - and of course, far (far!) less by way of carbonated drinks - diet or otherwise.  They do have some of these things, but practice great moderation and self-control - something we Americans are not known for.

Until about a month ago, I was more than 170 pounds (I'm about 5' 10" and 48 years old), mostly with my excess fat distributed in my belly.  I don't drink much beer at all, but I was really getting a "beer gut."  I like candy, sweets, sodas, and snack foods.  I love ice cream, and became fond of a midnight snack of a bowl (or even two) of cereal.  I generally drank diet drinks, but very little water.

I did get in the habit of drinking a lot less coffee and more tea (including antioxidant-rich green teas) when I came back from Russia.

About a month ago, I joined a gym and resolved to get back into shape.  I used to run marathons in my 20s and 30s.  While at seminary, in my late 30s, I did the Bill Phillips Body for Life challenge (along with Grace).  We went like maniacs and were, if I may say so myself, quite buff by the end.  We basically continued the lifestyle, while easing up a bit after the challenge actually ended.  BFL is a 12-week plan of  balance between carbs and protein, lots of supplements (protein shakes), no sweets, and hitting the gym hard three days a week and doing aerobic exercise (running) the other three days.  We had a gymnasium to use free of charge at the seminary, and we pounded a lot of pavement and pumped a lot of iron.  My vicarage year (after leaving the seminary) was basically a continuation of the physical regimen without the supplements and less emphasis on diet.

But over the years since then, middle age crept up, and we (myself more than Grace) put on the pounds.  Grace's cross to bear was recovering from pregnancy (which she did quite well over time).

So, bottom line: just a few weeks ago, we decided to go back to the gym and try out Mark Sisson's philosophy (which is rather like Atkins - basically very low carbs, lots of protein).

So here is what I did:

  • Cut out the starchy carbohydrates entirely: rice, potatoes, bread, cereal - all gone.  That means no more of my favorite food: pizza.  No more French bread.  No more bowls of cereal.  All gone.  No "cheat day."  Gone in toto.  I figured this was a short-term experiment, and I needed to see results.
  • Cut out the desserts.  No more ice cream, cake, pie, etc.  We do allow ourselves little squares of dark chocolate (which is an antioxidant and good for the heart if consumed in small quantities) eaten sparingly as a treat.
  • I upped the protein considerably.  Nuts, seeds, meat.  Almost limitless quantities of beef, chicken, boiled eggs, beef jerky - even bacon.  Yum!
  • I enjoy fruits in moderation (they are carbs and laden with sugar, but are also healthy).
  • I eat lots of vegetables!
That's pretty much it on the diet.  No calorie counting, no extensive planning.  We have continued a basic vitamin regimen that has served us very well over the past few couple years - we are almost never sick.  We take a One-a-Day, a B-vitamin, some D, and Glucosamine-Chondroitin for joint health (which we actually have stopped recently).  We also drink a powdered Vitamin C and immune system boost to ward off colds.  I have them all ready to go in the morning. (If I feel a cold coming on, I hit the Zinc and "Airborne" tablets hard and fast.  I find them very effective).

For breakfast, I continue to have my cappuccino (double espresso with whole foamed milk, but I have abolished the sugar).  For a morning snack, I eat some nuts (not peanuts though, as they are carbs), a few grapes, and a boiled egg.  At lunch, I eat a can of chicken and microwave juicy frozen vegetables (Bird's Eye Stir Fry, no sauce!) with olive oil (a tablespoon and a half) and seeds (a full tablespoon) on them.  Yum!  I try to drink tea here and there during the day - especially green tea - no sugar (except once in a while).

Dinner is typically chicken (or beef) and vegetables.  We enjoy ethnic vegetable and meat dishes.  Sometimes we go out to eat.  It's really pretty easy to go primal even at fast food joints and other restaurants.  For example, at McDonald's, I usually get two Angus bacon and cheese snack wraps - and get rid of the wrap.  I eat the meat, cheese, onions, bacon, and pickles with a fork.  No fries!  Absolutely no fries!  I may get a diet soda as a treat, since I don't really drink them at home.

You can basically do the same at Wendy's.  Taco Bell, no.  Fried chicken and fish is not the best, but if we go to Chick Fil-A or eat fried catfish (our church had fish fry Fridays during Lent), that's not so bad - so long as there are no potatoes or goodies involved.

Chinese buffet is really easy - no rice, just meat.  Lots of it!  Yum!  And Texas Road House is also easy: just avoid the bread and fries.  Order the steak with two sides, and make the sides veggies and green beans.  That's it!  And drinking water saves money.

I have found it surprisingly easy to give up the goodies.  It's just about starting a new habit.  We can have as much as we want for snacks - so long as we're talking meat, eggs (boiled eggs are really convenient - make them ahead of time and load up the fridge), beef jerky, etc.

Working out became almost impossible though, as I work full-time in the parish ministry and have a part-time job as well.  I went to the gym almost every day for a week - and then we had things that needed attending to, and Grace and I both fell out of the habit of going to the gym.  But something interesting happened...

I lost weight quicker and easier than I did doing BFL even without the working out six days a week!  The pounds seemed to melt away.  I was losing about a half-pound a day.  My posture improved.  My mind became sharper.  My aching joints became healthier.  Grace and I noticed that our skin really improved (thanks to the oil).  I was not starving.  I also had (and have) far more energy.

On Good Friday, I wore a dressy cincture (belt) with my cassock that I had not been able to get into in about seven years.  A couple days later, just for kicks, I wore my 1986 Aerosmith concert t-shirt without my belly protruding.  I bought that shirt when I was 22 years old.  I can wear it after a month of basically cutting out carbs - without even having to work out.  I went from the 170s (I don't even remember my beginning weight, as I was not taking it very seriously at first), and now I have broken the 160 barrier.  My last weigh in brought me to 158 pounds.  My 32  inch pants are hanging off of me.  I have to hike my belt tight to keep my trousers from falling off!

So now, I am indeed ready to take things to the next level.  Some of our issues have ironed out.  We are actually going to cancel our gym membership.  We live near a path for biking and running, so we can do that.  We have a pull-up bar and are considering making a small area in the shed to do free weights (which we already have).  A former teacher of mine - who was very fit well into middle age and actually bore a striking resemblance to Mark Sisson - once explained to me that you don't need to go to the gym - just do push-ups and crunches.  It worked very well for him.

So there you have it.  I think anyone can do this.  It is so worth it!  And it is not an inflexible program.  I actually had a piece of carrot cake for Easter.  But just one - not two or six.

I wanted to pass this along to anyone wanting to give it a shot.  I know that the Rev. William Weedon is a primal guy.  I know there are several others in the Lutheran blogosphere who have tried it and praise its effectiveness.  You can't argue with success!

Here are a few links: This is a young Asian guy who stopped eating rice and got amazing results.  Here is a similar story from a lady of Italian extraction who finally gave up pasta, and saw tremendous results.  Finally, here is a 71-year old man whose life has been changed by going primal.

Mark Sisson isn't selling anything. He's not trying to hawk supplements or exercise gadgets. He has authored a book (which he is quick to tell you that you don't really need - all the information is actually on his free website) and he gives away an e-book specifically about Primal Fitness.  Dr. Joseph Mercola has some similar thoughts on exercise (see here).  There are a lot of other "testimonials" on Mark Sisson's site here.  It is especially encouraging to read about people getting off of prescription drugs for things like high blood pressure and acid reflux.  Our diet in America is not commensurate with what our bodies need.  Sisson's website includes a lot of free articles and video, such as today's offering about using a pull-up bar.

His approach does run against the grain (pun intended) of some "conventional wisdom" - especially when it comes to FDA recommendations.  Keep in mind, the government is run by lobbyists, and government's conclusions are not necessarily the healthiest, but rather the wealthiest (for them, anyway).  If their guidelines were as good as they claim, we would not see so much childhood obesity, diabetes, and all the other health problems associated by being too fat.  Mark Sisson advocates for more nature and less industrial processing. This fits in well with what I saw in Russia.

So take responsibility for your own health, and leave the government bureaucrats to what they do best: making money for those industries who bribe them.  I have no financial dog in this hunt.  I'm not invested in anything I've mentioned.  I'm not selling anything.  I'm just stunned at how well this works.  It's like magic - mainly because it is rooted in truth instead of what is convenient for Big Pharma and Big Agribusiness.

I'm skeptical about claims of weight loss and "easy" programs.  But I can't argue against my own success.


Christopher Gillespie said...

I'm with you. Best diet change I've ever made.

chaplain7904 said...

Greeting Fr. Hollywood. What you are describing is essentially the Dr. Atkins diet with some fruit thrown in. My wife and I started it about 10 weeks ago in earnest and have shed pounds and inches. The other big advantages, though, are these. We don't walk around unsatisfied all day long, wondering what we can eat next. And my allergies, which I've had all my life, virtually disappeared in 48 hours. I thought they were dust and mold etc. related, it turns out that they are food related. The bugger is gluten and similar substances (says my wife who is an avid student of natural health). Her borderline diabetes is under control with no meds. She has a number of low carb recipes for the crock pot and the oven. We too take an array of vitamins. I don't drink much, but I do enjoy it from time to time. I can drink Scotch, Chardonnay and Miller Light (@ 3.5 carbs per 12 oz.) We snack on almonds, and we drink coffee, tea and just a bit of diet pop. Here's a secret recipe of mine. Take some diet cola (or root beer), and mix in a goodly amount of heavy cream. It tastes like a Float. Delicious.

Steve said...

Fr. Beane,
You've sold me, and I'm going to give this a try. I recently had one of my bosses at work tell me I was getting a bit too chunky for my own good as the Army likes its First Sergeants skinny. I've got 18 months left so we're going to give this the old Airborne try. I'll let you know how it goes. Bonnie has already really upped the natural ingredients in what she cooks for us so this should be an easy transition.

Thanks so much!!!
Bro Steve

Joe Greene said...

I've had similar results - down about 20 pounds in 9 weeks. I recently pulled my 32" waist jeans down from the top of the closet and am wearing them. They haven't fit for at least 10 years.

I've also discovered, along with the Chaplain, that I apparently had food-related allergies that I blamed on the environment.

chaplain7904 said...

Joe, you're a rock star!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

When going primal, why not hit the way back button and eat closer to the original diet we were created with, which seems to be more in line with vegan, though i also cut out all refined sugars, wheat and rice products. I did it for lent, with the garden folk, and Daniel as my inspiration, and I noticed a big difference.

chaplain7904 said...

Vegan is too cruel, it needlessly kills too many plants.

William Weedon said...

Amazing, isn't it? I'm fighting now to keep to 140! And love that it's a lot broader than diet - if you haven't tried the "wake up light" you really need to give that a whirl. I trust that once things settle down with the move et al., and the cortisol level drops, I'll go back to full night sleep again and that helps enormously as well.