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Recent updates on diet and body composition


Body weight measurements from Feb 2019 to April 2019. 5 day moving average with +/- 1 sigma channels to estimate measurement error.

I had a “goal weight” of 190 lbs, and I crossed that milestone recently, as the plot above shows.

My revised goal is to reach 12% body fat. The challenge with a body fat goal is that it’s a much harder measurement to perform at home. Of course, the real goal of most people who want to “lose weight” is to preferentially burn body fat and build (or maintain) muscle.

Body weight is what we can measure, at least cheaply and easily, but body fat is what we want to measure. Yes, technically, we can measure body fat as well, but not as cheaply or easily.

With all that said, I no longer care about the number on the scale. The main goals are to:

  • get stronger;
  • feel stronger, and
  • look stronger in the mirror.

I place the most emphasis on the first point: getting physically stronger as measured objectively in the size of the weights I can lift and move around. If this increases body weight by adding muscle, that’s great.

One of the great things for a person eating a low-carb / high-fat (LCHF) diet is that there’s no subjective experience of deprivation or hunger. Within certain specific constraints, you eat what you want, when you want, without counting calories.

It really feels like eating this way works in alignment with what we know about science and biochemistry, rather than against it. The “traditional” weight-loss diet – at least “traditional” since the 1970s – consists of minimal fat, lots of carbohydrates, and calorie restriction. This kind of weight-loss diet always seems to have people counting “points” or calories permanently, and always feeling hungry. It also seems to keep people coming back for more when the first attempt stops working – first Weight Watchers, then Jenny Craig, then NutriSystem. I have no idea whether these are all still a thing, but I remember that they were popular when I was a kid – TV advertising, etc [1].

Some subjective anecdotes:

  • Still paleo, still low-carb: everything I’ve written before continues to apply.
  • Protein-fat shakes: I’ve observed that a protein shake consisting of two scoops of whey protein (60g) and one liquid ounce of heavy whipping cream is extremely filling. As in, “not thinking about eating for five hours” level of filling. This is surprising for a small “meal” of 350 calories or so.
    • Protein leverage: I’ve been doing some reading about the protein leverage hypothesis of satiety, and it seems to work for me (N=1, anecdotes). Briefly, the protein leverage hypothesis suggests that the subjective feeling of satiety or fullness is driven by protein as a macronutrient [2]. Therefore, by this hypothesis, if you eat high-protein foods early in the day, you will eat fewer calories than if you eat low-protein foods. Why? The hypothesis suggests that people experience hunger until they meet their body’s protein needs. If they never meet those needs, then they may just continue snacking (on high-carb and/or high-fat foods) and never really feel full.
    • Reduced insulin response: Blogger and economist Miles Spencer Kimball argues persuasively that dieting is most effective when it minimizes the insulin response of the foods you eat. This is the rationale behind adding the heavy whipping cream – by adding 10g / 150 cal or so of fat, you further slow down the body’s insulin response to the protein [3]. Mixing with fat probably also converts the protein bolus into a “timed release” dose, further improving satiety and tapering the insulin response over time. That’s a fancy way of saying that the fat slows down the digestion of the protein and makes the insulin response even more gradual.
    • The above representation a lot of hand-waving but ultimately the proof is in the observed and experienced results. I find a couple of things very surprising:
      • (1) The flavor of the shakes is so good with the cream (think, high-end chocolate ice cream) that I worry I will make another, and then another, and then another. This is what Whole 30 people call the “sugar dragon” – the urge to engage in compulsive behavior around sweet junk food. But I never feel like I “have to” eat more after finishing one of these protein shakes.
      • (2) This recipe switches off hunger in a way that I’ve never experienced before – for the better part of a day. This makes the practice of intermittent fasting even easier.

[1] Update: apparently they still exist. At a client site the other day, they have TVs in the cafeteria. I saw both a Jenny Craig and NutriSystem ad during lunch.

[2] Some sources suggest that a relatively small reduction in the protein fraction of the American diet, from 14% to 12%, may have created the obesity epidemic. Hence, protein leverage. References: Obesity: the protein leverage hypothesis; Testing the Protein Leverage Hypothesis in a free-living human population.

[3] Roughly speaking, metabolism of pure dietary fat causes no insulin response, pure protein causes a moderate insulin response, and pure carbohydrate causes a high insulin response. All natural foods are a blend of fat, protein, and carb, and this makes things more complex.

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