Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back On Track

I've learned a lot so far this time. I found I can easily drop weight by weighing every morsel and counting the calories. It is relatively painless too (wasn't starving or anything like that). The problem is that I have also learned that I can make it about two weeks before I get sick of weighing everything and entering it into a food log. :? It's especially true if we have any meals that are complex when it comes to ingredients, like a stew.

The holy grail has always been to find a way to lose weight and maintain the loss without a bunch of complex rules or total deprivation. A way that can be incorporated into daily life (Duh, right?).

With this in mind, I returned after vacation to the only thing that has ever actually worked for me - eating only when physically hungry. I managed to maintain my (post-vacation) weight through most of the summer without much effort. The problem was that I wasn't losing.

I recently read of a study that got me thinking a little differently. The study was supposedly about binge eating but was actually about intermittent fasting. In the study, they took seven women and had then eat a certain daily amount of calories spread over three meals and a snack for several weeks. Then they had the women eat the same amount of daily calories but all in one meal a day for four days.

It is a very short term study with a small number of participants but it had one result that was worrisome - the women's leptin levels dropped, despite not having a calorie deficit. Leptin levels usually fall in response to either fat loss or calorie deficit (usually happens at the same time). Lower leptin levels will slow the metabolism and ramp up the hunger levels in an attempt to maintain fat stores.

In the paper itself, the authors wrote that it had been proven that leptin levels are higher if one spreads the calories over six small meals than three meals and the new study shows that one large meal a day results in even lower leptin levels, even at the same calorie level.

This got me thinking back to when I first lost weight using an intuitive eating approach (which I am going to call IE, because it's a lot easier to type out than "eating only when my stomach growls" :wink: ). I ate a very small amount each time my stomach growled and I would end up being hungry several times a day. The weight just poured off of me and I maintained the loss for several years.

Over time, though, I started eating more each time I was hungry. It got to where I would only be hungry twice a day. This is when the weight started creeping back on. I think now that this "binge and fast" eating pattern lowered my metabolism (which was already suppressed as I hadn't eaten enough protein and had lost some muscle mass as well) and let the fat come back slowly, even though I wasn't really eating a lot more.

Over the last week, I went back to eating small amounts during IE and the weight has really started coming off again (4.6 pounds the first week). I have been trying to aim for around 300 calories each time I eat, except for dinner. Dinner has still been a struggle not to overeat. I am still working on that part and feel like I will get there.

I really think there is some "magic" there hormonally, when you get the right balance. I don't think I can intuitively eat and get down to sportin' a six pack but I know I can get down to a healthy weight. I don't think that single digit body fat is particularly healthy anyway and there is a reason the body fights it tooth and nail.

A difference between now and what I did before is that I am trying to make my meals protein based, though not necessarily really low carb. This is partly to prevent muscle loss but also in response to something I read a while back.

A scientist (I don't remember his name right now) has theorized that animals have a certain protein level that they will intuitively try to reach. They will continue to eat until they hit that level, eating a lot of low protein foods or a little of high protein food. This has been shown to be true in animal studies but no one has tested it in humans. However, it makes sense to me. There are no essential carbs and it takes a surprisingly small amount of fat to reach the essential fats requirements. However, protein is critical to maintain the structure of our bodies and can not be stored (except in lean tissue). It makes sense that protein would be the primary drive behind our appetites.

Anyway, that is where I am now. I have a test almost right away with a trip to Salem later this week (for about six days). Trips always derail me but I am confident that I can do better this time. When I get back, I intend to keep posting about different studies, thoughts and struggles.

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