Friday, February 8, 2008

So, wot's th' plan, eh? Part 1 - Diet

My original plan was to return to the Intuitive Eating (Weigh Down) style of eating. Two years ago, I was very successful combining Intuitive Eating (IE) with lower carb and dropped from 198 lbs to 181 lbs in about 3 months before getting derailed by the holidays. I mostly tried to limit refined carbs but still ate veggies, fruit and even had a bowl of ice cream two times a week.

My plan was to return to that way of eating but I haven't been able to get back in that groove for some reason. So this week I decided I would track my food while aiming at certain macronutrient levels.

The calorie level that I chose was 2000-2200 kcal a day. Most of the formulas that I looked at put my Resting Metabolic Rate at about 2500 kcals a day. This doesn't include any calories from the Physical Activity Layer (PAL). My thought is to slightly reduce my calorie intake for a slow weight loss and then have any exercise be "gravy" when it comes to calorie use. Since the challenge is more about getting into useful real-world shape than losing weight, this gives added incentive to keep the exercise up.

I chose this level in the hopes that it will slow the metabolic adaptation. A smaller calorie deficit should slow the leptin drop that results in a slower metabolism. Last October, I tried the same thing but at 1500 calories. I dropped weight pretty fast but had zero energy. There was no way I could exercise. I hope to avoid that with the higher caloric target.

I'll also operate at this deficit for about four weeks and then return to eating at maintenance for two weeks, before repeating the process. A similar strategy is recommended in Lyle McDonald's book A Guide To Flexible Dieting. The idea is that ending the caloric deficit helps to reset the metabolism back to normal, minus any adjustment for the new, (hopefully) lower weight. Also, as I lose weight, I'll have to lower my caloric target to maintain a deficit as less bulk means lower calories required.

As for macronutrients, the most important is adequate protein intake. It is absolutely critical to get enough protein to reduce the loss of lean tissue. From my reading, it appears that roughly .6 gram of protein per pound of lean tissue is necessary to maintain lean tissue. I am aiming closer to 1 gram as I am trying to put on a little muscle in the process. This gives me a target of roughly 150 grams (800 calories).

As for carbs, I am aiming at roughly 20-25% of my calories coming from carbs (100 - 120 grams a day). It appears that some of the "magic" of low carb - lower inflammation, a large drop in triglycerides (which reduces leptin resistance and lowers heart disease risk), reduced hunger, etc - starts at this level. Most low carbers believe that lowering carbs until the body goes into ketosis is necessary but this isn't so, except maybe for the severely insulin resistant individual. I am purposely staying out of ketosis because, one, I feel terrible when in ketosis and, two, it appears that ketosis may be catabolic, which is exactly opposite of what I want since I would like to add/maintain muscle.

I would like to say that the carbs will all come from pure, whole food sources but that just won't be the case. I have to have something I can stick to and a little enjoyment is necessary for that to happen. I like some rice with my stir-fries or a few corn chips crumbled in my taco salad or something sweet after dinner. I am willing to make some sacrifices to reach my goal but I know from experience that too much deprivation will simply derail me down the road.

Ideally, the rest of the 700-800 calories will come from good fat sources and extra protein.

As for meal timing, I am trying to stick with waiting for hunger and then eating small amounts. I rarely get hungry before noon, so I generally eat two meals a day, lunch and dinner. However, when I actually track and reduce my calories, I sometimes get hungry earlier. I am going to just let that fall where it may.

However, hunger or not, one thing I am doing is having a post-workout (PWO) protein shake. There is just too much evidence showing the benefits. A PWO shake should be basically protein and carbs. The carbs raise insulin, which helps the uptake of amino acids into the muscle. If done after a hard workout, there isn't much danger of fat storage - it just replenishes the glycogen in the muscle. In Anthony Colpo's Fat Loss Bible, there is a complicated explanation of making a mixture of protein powder, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and carb sources like maltodextrin. This is probably fine for bodybuilders but I am not a bodybuilder and want something simple that will still work.

Based on some articles by Lyle McDonald in his newsletter, I think a good compromise is simply skim milk mixed with protein powder. The lactose from the milk provides the carbs and both the milk and powder provide the protein. I am not normally a big fan of skim milk but in this case, I don't want the fat to slow down the absorption.

All in all, I think it is a sound plan and something I can stick with. The proof will be in the pudding, I guess.

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