Friday, October 9, 2009

I Am Not a Thermodynamic Black Box, part 76

Over the past 3 years, I lost 75 pounds by using the time-tested strategy of Counting Calories.

It's worked. Mostly. There are a number of other factors that seem to play into weight regulation, though, and it's been interesting learning about them. I seem to be sensitive to carbohydrates, for example, and I can only lose weight and feel good when my calorie intake is in a very narrow range.

Over the summer, my weight loss reversed. To be more accurate, my weight jumped up 3 pounds four times after a weekend where I ate a bit more than normal (but far less than the surplus 10,500 calories that would supposedly be necessary to accomplish this weight gain). To compensate for this gain, I cut my daily calorie intake down to 1400. I was able to re-lose some ground that way, but not much.

By the end of the summer, I was gaining weight if I consumed 1800 calories in a day. Theoretically, a person of my weight and activity level needs 2100-2200 calories a day to maintain her weight. I should not be gaining weight on 1800 calories a day, and I should not be holding steady at 1400.

But I was.

I mentioned this to a friend who is a nutritionist, and she told me I was in starvation mode, that I should up my calories to 2000 a day for a week to break this cycle. I immediately raised my calories to about 1600 for a couple of days, then decided to listen to my body and let it decide how much to eat for the next few weeks.

I dropped a pound over the next week.

Those sudden 3-pound gains still puzzled me. In each case, they happened after I ate one or more restaurant meals over a period of 1-3 days. They happened even though I was conscious of my calorie consumption in each case. In the last case, I had a 3-pound gain from a single slice of chocolate cake consumed at a local restaurant, even though I compensated for the calories in the cake by cutting other meal portions.

In general, I eat a very regular diet. A piece of toast with tahini and apple butter for breakfast, then dance, then a helping of fresh fruit followed by a meal of chicken, turkey, or fish, vegetables, and a small helping of grains. My next meal is another helping of lean protein and vegetables with either a little fruit or a little grain. Afternoon snack might be fruit and nuts or another light mini-meal with protein and a vegetable. Supper is again a lean protein, vegetables, and perhaps another small helping of grains. I eat very little processed food, and very little sugar. I don't add much fat (mostly olive oil and coconut milk), but I don't worry about avoiding nuts or the skin on chicken or other natural sources of fat in my diet.

Last night, I watched this Sugar: The Bitter Truth video put out by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology.

Okay, I get it. I'm still not a thermodynamic black box, but a finely balanced biochemical instrument where what and how I eat matters as much as how much. And maybe it's not how much simple carbohydrate I eat that matters so much as which carbohydrates.

Maybe, maybe more than maybe, I have a body with a very low tolerance for fructose. Maybe when I eat sugar, my body converts all of it to fat, no matter how high a calorie deficit I'm running.

So, another couple weeks of calorie freewheeling (but no processed sugar) to convince my metabolism that there's food available, and then a return to the sensible 1600 calorie per day allowance that has worked so well for me in the past. And a look at my family's diet to see if we can reduce their consumption of processed sugar as well as mine.

And, today, I'm making chicken soup stock for two soups and pot pie, an apple pie with pippin apples, and london broil and potatoes and broccoli and delicious dry farm tomatoes with pesto for supper tonight.

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