Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Boring Post

Warning: if you're not interested in losing weight, this will probably be quite boring.

About a year ago I started seriously experimenting with my diet. After reading around a while, I'd learned, to my surprise and dismay, that there was actually very little disinterested, empirical data about weight loss. Everybody and their uncle had opinions about it -- and asserted them vigorously -- but the only people who had actually collected data in any quantity were people such as Pritkin or Atkins or Weight Watchers -- people with a vested interest in one kind of diet or another being effective. If you go looking for large, long-term impartial studies comparing methods of weight loss -- you just won't find anything. Weirdly enough, nobody's done it.

So I decided I'd just have to experiment. I started trying different things, tracking what & how much I ate and what happened to me when I ate it. Did I lose weight? Did I become hungry? Did I get cravings?

Along the way I took up -- more from curiosity than because I found him particularly plausible -- the Atkins diet. The results were astonishing. I ate as much as I wanted, I was never hungry, and I dropped weight at a rate that was downright alarming. In a few months I'd lost thirty pounds.

By that time I was pretty sick of the diet -- not to mention worried about what it might be doing to me, consuming all that saturated fat -- and I went off it. I gained back twenty of those thirty pounds pretty rapidly. (This is a serious drawback of the Atkins diet. Once you go off it, and you're back with the sugar-driven appetite, you've got no portion-control discipline to help you, and you're habituated to rich foods. My guess is that most people gain weight back very rapidly if they go off Atkins.) I had thought I might just use Atkins to lose weight, and then take up a healthy diet when I had lost my extra weight, but when I tried going back onto Atkins, I found I was simply revolted by the diet. My body really didn't want it. So no more of the Atkins diet.

But I'd learned something critical from that diet, which was that I had been overeating, not because my will was defective, but because some foods I ate were making me preternaturally hungry. And whatever they were, they weren't meat, nuts, oils, or salad greens.

So I've been experimenting again, within the framework of Weight Watchers. I started off doing a sort of Atkins-y Weight Watchers, eating lots of fish and chicken and veggies, but not much else in the way of carbs. Once again my hunger and craving levels dropped off dramatically, to a quite manageable level. Gradually I've been adding in various foods and seeing what happens. I suspect that insulin levels are what I'm dealing with, but whatever it is, when I'm in this stable state it's quite easy to tell if a new food is going to be bad news or not. If I'm ravenously hungry a couple hours after eating a sizable meal, the new food goes on the bad list. If I'm not particularly hungry three hours later, it's fine.

I already knew that refined sugar and its evil cousin, high-fructose corn syrup, were on the bad list. Likewise potatos and pasta, which kick me straight into craving-land. But some of my other discoveries were surprising. I can eat rye toast, but not white toast. Grapefruit and oranges, but not apples. Cantaloupe but not bananas. Brown rice but not white rice. Most whole-grains are just fine -- steel-cut oats, rye crisp, barley, brown rice, quinoa, are all fine. But not the standard "whole wheat" bread that you get in a restaurant -- I suspect that they've taken to milling that flour so finely (to make a bread as like white bread as possible) that it metabolizes almost as fast as white bread, now.

So I've dropped twelve pounds, since I started this round, and I'm feeling very well and vigorous. The experimentation lends an interest to the process -- I'm not just enduring a diet that someone made up; I'm conducting a personal investigation. As a matter of fact, I'm having a lot of fun. When dieting doesn't mean white-knuckling your way through gnawing hunger and cravings, it's actually a pretty painless and intriguing undertaking.

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