My goal in this series on My Health Journey has been to share what Lisa and I have learned in the last four years as we’ve each lost more than 50 pounds.
We’ve gone from being doubtful we could lose weight (and not even knowing how) to where we can confidently say we have a sustainable lifestyle that will help us maintain a healthy weight.
In blogging about this, I’ve wanted to explain how our thinking has evolved, while pointing readers to the original sources of our information…and inspiration.
But then a friend commented in a recent post, “Lee – I want to know your plan!” So I decided it would be helpful now to summarize what has been most important and helpful to us.
Here is my top 20 list:
- Stop the Sugar. Avoid fructose, sucrose, lactose or pretty much anything else that ends in -ose. Sugar causes blood glucose spikes, which raises your levels of insulin, the main fat-storage hormone. Especially avoid high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
- Limit net carbohydrates to 50g or less daily. Lower is even better, shooting for 15g per meal. Calculate net carbs by subtracting grams of fiber from total carbs. As I say in #13 below, don’t count calories, but do count your carbs.
- Avoid processed carbohydrates, which convert rapidly to sugar as you digest them, quickly raising your blood glucose and insulin levels.
- Avoid starchy vegetables. This was a hard one for me because I really enjoy potatoes in all their forms. But just as processed carbs convert quickly to sugar, so do these starches.
- Avoid grains. Get your carbs from something other than the seeds of grasses. This guidance came from Dr. Bill Davis, author of Wheat Belly and Undoctored. This was a relatively easy change for me because I had been diagnosed with celiac disease several years earlier, which meant I needed to be gluten-free. Going grain-free meant avoiding rice and corn, too. That was tougher, but it helped me to accomplish #2.
- Supplement smartly. As Dr. Davis recommends, instead of taking a scattershot multivitamin that gives a little bit of everything but doesn’t contain enough of what’s missing in the modern diet, focus on a few key difference-makers. Supplements we take daily include fish oil (3,000 mg of EPA and DHA), Kelp (for Iodine), Magnesium, Turmeric, Zinc, and vitamins C, D3 (5,000 IU) and K2. Interestingly, lots of research on COVID-19 has pointed to Zinc and Vitamin D as factors in fighting the coronavirus.
- Boost NAD+. I learned this from David Sinclair, Ph.D., who I first encountered in Dr. Peter Attia’s podcast. This is the most expensive change Lisa and I have made, at about $45 per month for each of us. I’ll do a future post about Dr. Sinclair’s research and NAD+, but for now I’m just putting it on my list as a preview.
- Optimize your gut microbiome. As Dr. Davis suggests, a one-month course of probiotics and prebiotic fiber lays a good foundation for gut health.
- When you consume dairy products, make them full-fat. Skim milk is the worst because it has all of the sugar (lactose) and none of the fat. Fat is satisfying. So have heavy whipping cream (or butter) in your coffee instead of half-and-half, when you’re not drinking it black. We hardly ever drink milk, but if we did it would be whole (4%) milk. Eat full-fat cheeses, too.
- Enjoy creamy homemade yogurt. As I previously described, L. reuteri yogurt, which I make with roughly equal portions of heavy whipping cream and half-and-half, is delicious, filling and has significant health benefits. Another recommendation from Dr. Davis.
- Drink water instead of milk or sweetened beverages. Don’t drink your calories. Fruit juice can have nearly as much sugar as soda. And even though drinks with artificial sweeteners don’t have calories, their taste can trigger release of insulin.
- Eat like your grandparents did. That means eating real food instead of something that came out of a box. Have eggs for breakfast instead of cereal. Don’t eat between meals, and eliminate after-dinner snacks.
- Don’t count calories. Eat until you feel satisfied. Beef, chicken, fish, eggs, bacon, ham, butter and other foods that contain both fat and protein “stick to your ribs,” as grandma used to say. Vegetables are fine too, because they tend to contain complex carbohydrates and fiber that blunt the rise in blood sugar.
- Eat fruit in moderation. Our ancestors didn’t have fresh fruit year-round. Fruit has fructose (see #1), so I eat it mostly in season, or mixed in my homemade yogurt (see #10).
- Eat dark chocolate. I have a 25g Moser Roth® Dark 85% bar as a healthy, delicious treat after my last meal most days, sometimes with a glass of cabernet or merlot. Having broken the sugar habit, even dark chocolate seems sweet.
- Weigh daily. I bought a bluetooth scale in Feb. 2018, which automatically syncs to an app in my iPhone and also to Apple Health, and in the first five months I lost 22 lbs. Then we went on vacation, and when I came back the bluetooth sync was somehow disrupted. Because I felt like I had essentially reached my goal, and wasn’t getting daily feedback, I lost focus and regained about 20 lbs. But since Feb. 2019 I have weighed almost every morning, including the last 259 in a row since my travels have been curtailed due to COVID-19. I’m down 38 lbs. since then, to 199. I weigh first thing every morning, and this constant feedback will alert me if I ever creep over 205.
- When you eat matters as much as what you eat. By confining your eating to a 6-8 hour window each day, you ensure that you will have an extended period of lower insulin levels, which is essential to getting into fat-burning mode. Dr. Jason Fung is the leading medical champion of fasting, and has helped thousands of patients reverse their type II diabetes. Lisa and I became big believers with 10 weeks of alternate daily fasting. The Zero app is a helpful tool to manage fasting and time-restricted feeding.
- Lift weights. Building muscle is good for your overall health and vitality, and it also increases your metabolism. Free weights are best because they involve the whole body in natural movements. My go-to exercises using a barbell are the bench press, squat and deadlift on alternate days.
- Do some cardiovascular exercise. I’ve been doing 20 minutes of cardio most days lately using a Water Rower. In my tubby days I was doing 30 minutes of cardio on an elliptical machine six days a week, without making appreciable weight loss progress. As many have noted, you can’t outrun a bad diet. I think my combination of resistance training with free weights strikes a good balance for overall health and fitness, and Lisa’s going to start working on these now too as we head into winter.
- Avoidance isn’t always. I still occasionally have a baked potato, pizza, pasta or my favorite ice cream dessert with fudge and an oreo-cookie base (gluten-free because of my celiac disease) that I typically enjoy for one or two weeks per year. As Dr. Fung says, “Eat that birthday cake!” When you get your metabolic health in order, you can enjoy those treats without guilt, and knowing that you’re not committing to avoiding them forever makes it easier to stick with the general plan. In fact, we’ve had pizza three times in the last two weeks, and we’re still right at our target weights.
Which of these practices have you found helpful?
What other tips do you have?