Phat and Fat: Down For The Count

July 14th, 2012 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

After some healing, I’m still limited athletically but got the OK yesterday from a physical therapist to go back to elliptical machines…provided I do not use the arms. Apparently my broken ribs are merely painful and my multi-fractured clavicle is half fused. Towering, grinning Jeff in Beantown physio agreed with the surgeons that I needed to be very careful about weight bearing and muscle straining for another six weeks.

And this is prime bicycling season. It grieves me.

I’d done the boring stationary bike, while being specifically forbidden from real cycling. Yet, I’ve had passionate, sweaty, prolonged encounters with the West Roxbury Y’s Cybex Arc Trainers and was pleased to do some real exercise after a month and a half walking and that stationary bike-like object.

I was intellectually but not emotionally prepared for the predictable side effect of having lost a substantial amount of weight. The machine measures energy expended and reports the calories. It starts with you setting the type of program, the time, the exertion level and your poundage.

This time, I weighed about 14% less than the last I used an Arc Trainer. Sure enough, despite soaking my shirt and shorts, I saw about 250 fewer calories used in the hour.

I was mildly disappointed, but this is what is supposed to happen. By the diet cliché, when you lose weight, you use fewer calories when you exercise. You simply aren’t lifting and moving the same amount around.

Of course there are numerous wild cards here. For one, despite the medical/nutrition chant of calories-in/calories-out, the basal metabolism rate for a given rate is ONLY AN ESTIMATE…yours almost certainly will vary. Research on this that looks good to me (Volek and Phinney) finds that at least three-quarters of us don’t fit that highly oversimplified formula.

For another, metabolic rates do change. Age, illness, activity change, and dozens of other factors can up or depress rates. Then there’s also the somatotype, with extremes of ectomorphic and endomorphic bodies not at all following the formula.

Then as I dutifully recorded today’s machine report on my sweaty hour, I briefly mused, why do I bother? I have carefully recorded caloric intake and expenditure for years. I have found poor correlation for the amount of aerobic exercise I do (a typical day would have me losing between 0.39 and .75 pounds — absurd and it doesn’t happen). My niece and my mother before us similarly kept records. We measured and weight, as well as used the package nutrition figures and the diet software’s figures. Despite the fantasies of doctors and nutritionists that if the calories-in/calories-out calculations don’t work, the answer is not that the patient is delusional, dishonest or inaccurate. Alas, I have good software, keep damned accurate counts and measures, and have to conclude that my metabolism is too efficient.

I do have factors that slow metabolism. I’ve lost more than 10% of my body weight…several times. I am older. Those with a few other factors account for some of the difference. I believe after years of records and a frightening amount of reading and experimentation, that I have to accept that my metabolism does not follow the basal estimate.

As a side note, I think programmers would have a hit with an heuristic nutrition program. Imagine a program that takes several months of calorie input and exercise output, links them to weight and body fat measurements (I do those two once a week), and then adjusts your calculated basal metabolic rate to reality. It would regularly fine-tune the rate, learning as you report your poundage and fat. Then when you saw 0.15 loss for a given day, you’d have some faith in its accuracy. There’s money to be made from us many million dieters!

Back to my question, this is like the other measurements I take. I do keep records. I do learn from them. They confirm or contradict my hypotheses. I personally adapt to the fantasies and failures of doctors and nutritionists. To do that, I need a baseline and data to reference.

After finally accepting that the food pyramid was junk science for me and ending up after my nutrition research with lower carb/higher protein and fat, the daily recording and weekly measurements are more important that ever. I can’t trust my doctor or nutritionist to customize my diet for fat loss and weight maintenance. I have to do that.

Following my bike crash, I feared backsliding and gaining weight/fat. I haven’t, even with dramatically less aerobics. Apparently part of the body healing broken bones is increased metabolism for the healing period. Ah.

Before the wreck, I had begun slowly adding grams of carbs to the diet weekly. The idea in the carb-based diet books is to see what your set point is for carbohydrates. The theory is that the FDA’s estimate of 300 grams per day is wacky and way too high, but there’s some level above the initial low-carb standard of 25 grams per day that will work, and some level that will make you start regaining weight and fat.

So, you are your own scientist and you are the universe of one in the lab. Slowly add carbs and see the effect. Ease off if you have to and if things go real sour, drop back down to that initial 25 grams for a week or two to reset.

I’ll note that I am aware that a scale weight may vary from 1 to 4 pounds naturally and temporarily. You may have a water-weight gain, perhaps from alcohol use. You may be constipated and loaded up. The causes go on and on, but the lesson is not to flip out from a single divergence.

I also believe in weighing weekly. Many people, my wife included, are daily sorts. That strikes me as a bit obsessive and likely meaningless. If I need to adjust, I think a week is a good touchstone.

So, there we (or I) have it. I record daily and measure weekly, knowing that the software reports on the results are inaccurate. Having the reference is important to me. Seeing the graphs of weight and body fat measures are key. In fact, as a mesomorphic sort, I think the body fat number is much more important than pounds. When I lift free weights, I actually get a little heavier, my metabolic rate seems to increase, and my body fat percentage goes down. Weight up and fat down; that’s OK.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie

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