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.

DogFoodCon 2019 CFP is open!

DogFoodCon (DFC) is a popular conference that draws speakers and attendees from the Great Lakes region and across the nation. DFC has experienced sustained growth and popularity since the inaugural conference back in 2008.

Taking place in Columbus, Ohio on the weekend of October 3-4, 2019, DFC is a two-day event that covers a broad range of topics of interest to programmers, technology managers, business analysts, and other technology workers. Presentation topics include: personal and career development, Ruby, Python, Adobe Creative Suite, C#, UX, Office 365, System Administration for Linux and Windows, JavaScript/HTML/CSS, R, Azure, Java, MS Teams, PostrgeSQL, JavaScript, PowerBI, SQL, Security, Blockchain and GitHub.

No matter where you are on or off the tech stack, we know that you’ll meet some great people and learn something new!

I’m delighted to be involved with DFC this year, as the track owner for dynamic languages (Ruby and Python).

If the above sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to submit a talk (or several): DFC Call for Presentations (Sessionize link)

Some thoughts on body weight and body composition

For the first time in quite a while – since April, 2018 – my body weight has dropped below 200 lbs. I’m pleased with this milestone and wanted to make a note about what techniques appear to be working:

  • Intermittent fasting. A minimum of 16:8 but usually closer to 18:6. That’s 16 hours “fasting” and 8 hours “eating”. In practice, during a typical day this corresponds to eating lunch after 1100 and eating dinner between 1700 and 1800 before stopping eating in the evening (no snacking).
  • Don’t drink calories. Beverages include black coffee, water, tea (herbal or caffeinated). In practice, most of what I drink is coffee and water.
  • “Paleo” slash “keto” slash “low carb” focus.
    • Eat a lot of meat (including poultry and fish), eggs, and non-starchy vegetables like spinach, kale, cabbage, and so forth.
    • Use natural fats like butter, coconut oil, avocado oil. Avoid industrial seed oils like canola, soybean, cottonseed, and so forth (too high in Omega-6).
    • Eat some starchy vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, and so forth, but not too much.
    • A little bit of fun snack food like fresh fruit, nuts, and dates seems to work for me but I aim to avoid going overboard with these kind of foods. They are so calorie-dense, non-filling (“low satiety”), and habit-forming. I also aim to avoid adding excess Omega-6 fats through too many nuts.
  • Whey protein.
    • For the first time ever, I’ve supplemented with whey protein powder.
    • Technically, this violates the “don’t drink calories” recommendation, but this is a dietary supplement rather than a beverage, so I’m making a specific exception. (Same exception applies to cod liver oil – yes, you’re “drinking calories” but let’s not be crazy here.)
    • One rationale is that if a 200 calorie protein shake crowds out 500 calories of snacking, then I’m still ahead. Some science suggests that satiety (subjective feeling of fullness) is guided by protein intake.
    • Research also suggests that whey protein helps preferentially spare muscle mass during body weight reduction. Subjectively, this practice does seem to reduce feelings of hunger and increase feelings of fullness during the day. I’m running a 30 day experiment for this and will review my observations at the end of the trial period.
    • This experiment is largely based on new (for me) learnings about whey protein presented in Best Supplements for Men, by P. D. Mangan. I highly recommend the book for its other insights and teachings as well. Mr. Mangan wrote it very well and very clearly.

When I talk and write about this subject, I get pedantic and specific about terminology. In particular, I avoid using the term “weight loss” for two main reasons:

  • First, the real goal is to reduce body fat or fat mass, not just weight. It’s important to be specific about this. Nobody wants to reduce bone mass or muscle mass or water mass. If you reduce your body mass by 20 pounds, and 19 of those 20 pounds are muscle, you may have seriously damaged your health.
  • Second, the word loss tends to be universally associated with negative things in people’s minds – “I lost money” or “I’m so sorry for your loss”. Most things that people “lose”, they don’t feel good about. It’s just not a very good word to use in association with a health-oriented goal. Body fat reduction is a win, not a loss.

Therefore, instead of the common, but misguided, term weight loss, I use the preferred and more specific term body fat reduction.

A healthy morning routine

In the morning, right after waking up drink this:

  • 24oz water
  • 2g sodium ascorbate (non-acidic Vitamin C)
  • 2g ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)

Drink it before coffee or anything else.

What is the optimal diet for humans?

I’ve accumulated a lot of body fat over the past 15-20 months. I am aiming to get back to a healthier body shape (lower body fat percentage, more muscle).

I’m thinking about what the optimal diet, or range of diets, would be:

  • Emphasis on foods in their natural state.
  • Emphasis on meeting the body’s needs for known and unknown nutrients (macros, vitamins, phytonutrients, probiotics, etc).
  • Macro breakdown ranges are 50-80% fat, 10-20% protein, 5-30% carbohydrate (approximately).
  • Focus on meat, including fat and organ meats; green, leafy vegetables; pastured eggs; safe starches like white rice, taro, or sweet potatoes; good fats like coconut, butter, tallow, olive, etc.
  • Eat fermented foods to provide probiotic bacteria.
  • Remove all industrially-processed seed oils (falsely named “vegetable oils”) from the diet. Examples of these undesirable oils include soybean, canola, corn, cottonseed, etc.
  • Reduce or eliminate processed or manufactured foods.
  • Minimize or eliminate grains except for safe starches like white rice.
  • Minimize or eliminate sugar and sugar alternatives (syrup, honey, etc).
  • Drink only healthy beverages like water, coffee, tea. The simple rule is “don’t drink calories”.
  • Eliminate artificial sweeteners, whether in foods or beverages, because these train the palate to expect a high level of sweetness. It’s easier to adapt to less sugar or no sugar in your diet when you remove artificial sweeteners.

This list is inspired by various other approaches, many of which have significant overlap with each other: the Paleo diet, the ketogenic diet, the Perfect Health Diet, and Whole30.