I am just about ready to leave for the Middle East and I have put my posting on a short hiatus while I packed. I will still be posting on my trip, albeit shorter posts and more on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Be sure to go there to see the latest pictures. In the meantime, I am writing a few posts to pass the time. I have been meaning to write about my diet which has been going on seriously for about three months. Since I am a travel and food writer, I would sometimes eat more than one lunch and/or dinner. In addition, I would often have a glass of wine with these meals. The result was that my weight ballooned from an average of 180-190 pounds to a high of 265 pounds. As a New Years resolution I decided to go on a diet of my own design, with a decrease in both calories and volume, which I believe are equally important. As of today I weigh 200 pounds and this post will tell you how I did it.
Are You Really Fat?
Your doctor decides if your weight is normal, overweight or obese based on the “Body Mass Index” or BMI. By the most common definition people with a BMI over 25 are overweight and those with a BMI over 30 are considered obese. How is it possible that people with the same BMI can look so different? The simple explanation is that muscle and bone are denser than fat and some people carry more or less weight in their torso or legs. As BMI factors in only height and weight, it sidesteps these differences. This is a crucial shortcoming as some research now suggests that body fat percentage and body composition are more important indicators of health than weight alone. That puts the emphasis on exercises that don’t just burn calories, but also build muscle. This also means that, to get a summer “beach body,” a strict weight loss goal might not be the right path. In my case, at 260 pounds in a body six feet tall, I had a BMI of 36 which by both appearance, restrictions in bending, pain in my knees and medical signs of the onset of hyperlipemia and diabetes clearly indicated obesity.
My Diet During the Day
Ok, so if you have followed me so far, it is time to reveal the diet. What I did during the day was to skip breakfast and lunch with no snacks, drink as much Bai 5 as I wanted (I average about 5 bottles a day) and eat what I wanted for dinner and evening snacks. Before you object to every part of this diet let me explain. Bai 5 is an antioxidant drink that is very sweet and has only 5 calories per serving. You could substitute water, or any diet drink, I just like the taste of Bai 5 and it seems to cut my appetite in a way other drinks do not. Of course no one is perfect, so if I really needed something crunchy to eat during the day, I would eat celery or two “34 Degrees Crisps” crackers. They’re the thinnest, crispiest cracker around, and they’re baked with no added oil (oil is bad for dieting). One “serving” of “34 Degrees Crisps” gives you 9 crackers, all for less than 1 gram of fat and 50 calories. I am personally fond of the pepper flavor. So if you eat two crackers at a time, you “spend” about 11 calories. There are 6 calories in one 7″ stalk of celery, I usually have two for 12 calories, I like mine with a little salt. Notice how during the day that number “10 calories” keeps coming up? I never “cheat” more than once once an hour, so calories from crackers and celery can only add up to 90 or 100 calories at worst. Add my 5 bottles of Bai 5 to that and by dinner time you are at worst up to 200 calories.
“Coffee fruit is hand-picked on coffee farms, as it has been done for over 1,000 years, and it is known by the farmers that the fruit is rejuvenating…and those who pick it have younger looking hands.” This is because the fruit is high in polyphenol compounds: proanthocyanidins, chlorogenic acid, quinic acid, ferulic acid and caffeic acid. The fruit has been found to be higher in antioxidants than tea, vitamin C and E, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and pomegranate.” Dr. Debbie Palmer who uses coffee fruit in her Replere Skincare line, says the fruit of the Coffea arabica plant is one of the world’s most powerful antioxidants. Coffee fruit has 625% the antioxidizing power of blueberries. Because coffee cherry skins ruin the taste of coffee, farmers have always thrown them away, putting them back into the ground to fertilize the soil.
Bai gets their coffeefruit from the green fields and blue skies of Aceh, a province on the far west end of Indonesia. The “Bai 5” drinks are all infused with coffeefruit antioxidants and natural sweeteners. Coffee fruit is high in antioxidants, but it is not high in caffeine, so this will not give you a coffee buzz. Coffee fruit juice supplement contains less than 1% caffeine because caffeine is concentrated in the coffee bean, not in the fruit. Bai Is sweetened with a combination of all-natural “smart sweeteners”, erythritol and organic stevia, used in each flavor of Bai5. The taste is augmented with 4% natural fruit flavors. The result is a fairly sweet drink with enough caffeine to notice, but not nearly as much as a cup of coffee, with only 10 calories per bottle or 5 calories “per serving”. They should have just called it Bai 10 in my opinion. By incorporating it into my diet, I found it decreased my hunger pains and my craving for sweets. As full disclosure, I get no money from “Bai 5”, I just have found it useful to lose the weight. In fact I am not really sure if it is responsible for decreasing hunger cravings, it is just something I did.
Shrinking Your Stomach
Several factors make this diet work for me. All day, I sip from a bottle of “Bai 5” which seems to stem my hunger while allowing me to focus on my work. The sweetness of the drink, the small amount of caffeine, and perhaps the antioxidants work even first thing in the morning. The first week or two will be the hardest, your stomach will be contracting and your body will need to get used to to the new routine. This is different from other diet methods that let you eat all the grapefruit, salad or carrots you want, sort of like a free pass for vegetables which are lower in calories than oil, bread and meat. There are several problems with these “old style” diets. First and foremost, the old style diets are a short term solution that fill the stomach you have, distended from years of overeating. By eating bulky foods, your stomach continues along in it’s current state until you get tired of salads, grapefruit or whatever and revert to a normal diet. My method actually shrinks the stomach size, much like a weight loss gastric band surgery but occurring naturally. This diet is about really getting your body to adjust to a new way of eating without the need for surgery.
When I do eat dinner, I eat nutrition rich foods with as little bulk as possible. That means I stay away from low calorie but bulky foods like salads, and when I do have a small salad, it is seasoned with salt, pepper and a little vinegar but no oil, cheese or croutons, all of which add more calories than the salad. Bread, fast food and pasta fall pretty much in the same category. As noted in the above graphic from Precision Nutrition you should get a palmful of protein (meat), a fist sized amount of vegetables, a palm sized potion of carbohydrates (most often rice) and the oil part is what is used to cook it all. A couple of things about the graphic. For men they suggest doubling the portion size, which may make sense for a young construction worker or weightlifter but is too much for an older relatively sedentary person like me. Also, note the enormous plate which makes the food seem insignificant, I always use smaller plates and bowls (a small point but so much of weight loss is psychological). The French are particularly attuned to smaller portions with smaller table china.
To put it all together, I eat between 350-450 calories for dinner, contained in a volume of about 10 ounces. The photo above is the actual dinner I ate tonight, served in a 10 ounce Dixie Paper Bowl. I usually get dinners from the supermarket in the calorie calorie range noted above, cook them and then put them into into this particular Dixie bowl to judge the volume. I use a lot of these bowls since anything I eat is placed in this bowl to help judge the volume which is a little over a cup. The portions Americans eat have increased over the years, and as our meals have become larger, so have our belt sizes (and stomachs). The burgers are bigger, the bagels are bigger, the pizza is larger, and there are more fries in a serving. If I eat out, they almost routinely serve too much food. As a psychological device, I will usually ask for a takeout box at the beginning of the meal, divide the food in half and place it in the box for the next day’s meal. I almost never order salad or bread since they are both bulky and bread is full of calories. Similarly, unless it is a special occasion, I don’t eat fried food since the oil adds so many calories and I don’t really crave it anyway.
My Evening Snack
Sometime, several hours after dinner, I will have my snack of the evening, usually a Granny Smith apple (60-80 calories) or half an avacado (130 calories) filled with lemon, sprinkled with salt and eaten with a spoon. Apples have negligible nutritional value but I like the sour taste and the crunch. Avocados are packed with nutrients like fiber and vitamin K, but they’re also much higher in calories than most other fruits. Nutrient dense foods are those that provide substantial amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients with relatively few calories and are the kind of foods I like to eat. An avacado contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals making it a nutrient dense choice plus it contributes monosaturated fatty acids (Omega-3) and a small amount of polysaturated fatty acids (Omega-6). These fatty acids are extremely important for proper body functionality. Some of the benefits include: proper cellular and brain development, stopping blood clotting and heart problems, prevention of disease, and regulation of blood pressure, immune response, and liver function. Without proper amounts of these polyunsaturated fats the body will face an increased risk of mood swings, memory loss, hair and skin problems, heart disease, dementia, and learning and behavioral problems. As an aside, I know a physician who went on a strenuous vegan diet with no fatty acids at all. He stopped the diet due to rapid thinning of his hair.
There is nothing I like more than to relax with a glass of wine (100 calories per four ounces) at the end of a long day. We all know to drink alcohol in moderation for safety purposes, but the same rule applies for caloric reasons as well. Just like anything else you love to eat or drink, wine has calories and those calories can add up quickly when you’re not paying attention to them. Liquid calories tend to be easier to ignore than food calories because they don’t necessarily feel the same way going down, but if you aren’t careful you can consume as many calories drinking wine as you would eating a giant slice of chocolate cake! I personally stopped drinking entirely during my diet, you will have to make your own choice.
Just before bedtime I take two gummie vitamins (30 calories). I know that I could take tablets with fewer calories but I find the little sweet treat comforting before I go to sleep. Americans seem to love vitamin supplements and accordingly have the highest priced urine in the world since most of these supplements pass right through them. The best way to avoid consuming too many vitamins is to get your vitamins from foods rather than supplements. Checking the recommended dietary allowances and tolerable upper-intake levels for the vitamins you are concerned about can help you determine the safe amounts of vitamins to consume. Consuming too much of a vitamin is dangerous and may cause toxicity symptoms. I feel that my two gummie vitamins are more than enough for me.
Cardiovascular exercise is probably something your doctor recommends but is it really good for you? Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a real issue with cardio exercise. First of all, there’s the sweat. In TCM, one of the functions of the Heart-Organ network is to control body fluids. Sweat or perspiration is considered the “fluid” of the Heart, and so if you sweat a lot you are actually unbalancing the Qi, or energy, of your heart. On a more practical basis, they believe you are endowed with a certain number of heartbeats for your life and question the need to waste them on exercise (I wholeheartedly agree). I personally do not believe in exercise of any kind, I have outlived five personal physicians and cardiologists “hell-bent” on destroying their bodies with vigorous exercise who ultimately died. I believe in leisurely walking and maybe stretching disciplines such as Tai Chi or Qi Gong (although I really don’t practice them) based on ancient Daoist ideas of health preservation and longevity. Meditation, for instance, has been shown to create positive changes in the areas of the brain linked with emotion. It also increases immune function and blood flow, decreases blood pressure, and generally lowers heart rate, all without sweating. Most diets like exercise to burn off excessive food that you have eaten. My suggestion is just to eat less food and forego exercise.
A common number of calories for women on a diet is 1300 calories and for men 1500 calories. I disagree. For my sedentary lifestyle and because slow weight loss often means abandoning the diet altogether, I eat less than 1000 calories a day. If you eat concentrated food at this level of calories you will lose weight, regardless of exercise, and you will be encouraged to continue. As I have said before, the first weeks are the most uncomfortable as your stomach shrinks naturally, then your body becomes accustomed to the new meal reality. I have not discussed the problems people with hypoglycemia endure, you may want to try small meals throughout the day.
I have assembled the basic elements of my diet in the summary seen above. Again, this is what worked for me, everyone is different. The Bai 5 drinks are not inexpensive, they average about $2 dollars per bottle, I get them delivered from Amazon. They may or may not be essential to this diet, they are just what I used. There are so many diets these days it is really hard to tell which ones work and and which are just a passing fad. I think common sense can often help you to differentiate them. You can lose weight in many ways, this is just what I did to reduce my weight, feel better and become more healthy. I plan future posts on the important issue of eating well and the specific strategies people use to get more healthy. Please leave a comment about your own weight issues and how you have addressed them. I will keep you updated on my own success and failures.
Bai 5: http://www.drinkbai.com/
Savory Crisp Crackers: http://www.34-degrees.com
Precision Nutrition: http://www.precisionnutrition.com