Addictive foods will make you fat

It’s pretty easy to identify the foods that are addictive. They are the ones that people “can’t stop eating.” This is kind of a circular definition. Addictive literally means that you can’t stop doing something, even when you rationally know that you want to stop it, or that it’s harming you.

But what makes addictive foods different from others? Why does a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or a Krispy Kreme hook you in a way that plain steak or steamed broccoli don’t?

Nobody “can’t stop eating” steak. Maybe you can eat a big steak when you’re really hungry. Many people certainly love the taste and enjoy eating steak. But once you feel full, you’re full. When you’re full you don’t feel a powerful urge to eat more and more steak. A lot of foods are like this – especially whole, natural foods. When was the last time you binged uncontrollably on plain, unsalted boiled potatoes or steamed whitefish?

On the other hands, look at the foods that people can’t resist: chips, pizza, donuts, candy bars, ice cream, pastry, cake, etc. What are the common features of these foods?

  • They are energy dense. They are relatively high in calories per gram or ounce.
  • They combine carbohydrates and fat in a single food. The carbs may be sugar or starch or both.
  • They are low in protein and fiber.
  • They usually contain highly processed ingredients: refined sugar, flour, and/or concentrated oils and fats.
  • They are sweet and/or salty. They often have strong natural or artificial flavors that make them extra pleasurable to eat.

These traits make food addictive. The more of them a food has, the more habit-forming it is.

Food scientists and engineers understand this. They scientifically taste test foods to see which ones people like more. Look at a typical appetizer at a chain restaurant. For example, take the legendary “Bloomin’ Onion” from Outback Steakhouse. It’s breaded (carbs) and deep fried (fat). The onion on the inside and the creamy (fat) dipping sauce are mildly sweet (sugar). The dish is salty and mildly spicy, and the dipping sauce has a smoky flavor with spice as well. It’s a perfect storm of all of the addictive factors listed above. And it’s hardly unique – many, even most, restaurant appetizers combine the above factors in various ways. And why shouldn’t they? The restaurant is a business that wants to give customers pleasure so they feel happy with their meal and return to spend more money.

High energy density makes foods desirable to the brain at an unconscious level. The starch and sugar digests rapidly and provides a quick dopamine hit to the brain. The fat is pleasurable to eat and also signals to the brain that this is a “good” food. These traits make you want to keep eating the food to keep the pleasure flowing.

Low protein and fiber trick the digestive system and brain. They make the natural “stop eating, I’m full” signal take a long time to activate. That means that you can keep eating and never feel satisfied or full. As the potato chip ad says: “betcha can’t eat just one.”

Let’s look at the opposite case: foods that are satisfying but not addictive. Imagine a bodybuilder’s meal of plain grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli. If you’re very hungry, this meal will taste good and fill you up. The protein in the chicken and the fiber in the broccoli guarantee that. However, once you’ve eaten enough, you don’t feel an insatiable urge for more chicken and broccoli.

What are the common features of non-addictive foods? These features are essentially the opposite to their counterparts above.

  • They are low-energy per gram or ounce.
  • They are relatively high in protein or fiber.
  • They are relatively low in fat and non-fiber carbohydrates.
  • They are in or close to their natural state.

When you eat these foods, you gradually feel full in a natural way. You don’t crave another bowl of low-fat cottage cheese or steamed broccoli after you eat a reasonable-sized portion. Even when you do overeat a bit, you notice it quickly and stop.

For most of us, the path to a healthy weight and body composition is through whole, natural foods and away from addictive foods. Some people are able to moderate their consumption of addictive foods. These are the “naturally thin” folks who can take one taste of a dessert or a single square of dark chocolate and be satisfied.

For everyone else, the solution to addiction is simple: to quit.

A boring and uneventful covid memoir

Visualization of SARS-Cov-2 virus.

The whole story

After some minor cold symptoms and feeling run down, my wife Erika tested positive for covid on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. I am writing this three weeks later, on Tuesday, May 31, 2022. The main goal of writing all this down is to remember some of the small details that would otherwise be lost in time.

She was extremely tired and stayed in bed for the entire following day and night (Wednesday, May 11). She felt better and was able to resume normal household activities after about 24 hours in bed. However, she was still tired and feeling sick.

The “covid-negative” members of our family went to Chick-fil-A on Thursday evening for dinner. We intended to give Erika some space and peace and quiet as she continued to recover. That didn’t go as planned. Our youngest child threw up on me right when we got in the line to order food. I cleaned us both up as well as I could using the sink in the men’s room. After that, we got our food from the drive-thru instead. All the children tested positive that same evening (Thursday, May 12). I tested negative.

At work, I noticed some symptoms on Friday, May 13. I felt very tired and noticed minor muscle aches. I started to suspect that I might have covid. Or maybe it was just bad luck.

Is that two lines or just one? It’s kind of hard to tell.

The following day – Saturday, May 14 – I took a covid test and it was decisively positive. It had a very dark “T” (test) line that appeared almost immediately. It looked like somebody had written on the test window with a Sharpie. I didn’t need anything close to the full fifteen minutes to know it was a positive test. My own early symptoms were similar to those that our children also had. The symptoms were generally minor and limited to muscle ache and fatigue.

On the night of Sunday, May 15, I went to bed in our guest bedroom. I was under my usual 20 pound weighted blanket. I woke in the middle of the night feeling extremely cold. That is very strange for me. If I ever feel uncomfortable when I’m sleeping, it’s almost always because I feel too hot. After I added an extra blanket on top, I slept well. I woke up later than usual on Monday, May 16, and felt well-rested and comfortable in bed. The muscle aches felt like I had done a good but difficult workout a couple of days prior.

My main symptoms, minor as they were, persisted for about 3-4 days.

After that, I had a persistent cough for several days. My symptoms in the middle or lower respiratory system did not really start until around day 4 or 5. I continued coughing up a lot of mucus for about a week after the cessation of initial symptoms. My feelings of fatigue and low energy persisted for around the same length of time.

Medications and at-home treatment

Since early on in the pandemic, I had augmented my daily vitamins and dietary supplements to include several supplements that had good anecdotal results for covid prevention and/or treatment. Prior to covid entering our house I was already taking the following:

  • Multivitamin
  • Vitamin D3/K2 (10000 IU D3, 180 micrograms K2)
  • Zinc (30 mg blended – acetate, orotate, picolinate)
  • NAC (N-acetyl-L-cysteine)
  • Quercetin

I had been taking the multivitamin, D3/K2, and zinc for many years prior to covid. After the start of the pandemic, I added in the NAC and quercetin based on a few things I had read.

After Erika tested positive on May 10, I started these additional treatments for prophylaxis:

  • Ivermectin (30 mg / day, taken with a high-fat meal to increase absorption)
  • L-Arginine (2000 mg / day, taken on an empty stomach in the morning and evening)

After I tested positive for covid four days later, I increased my ivermectin dosage from 30 mg/day to 45 mg/day, with no change to the method of administration (15 instead of 10 standard 3 mg tablets, still taken with lunch, my main high-fat meal of the day). I left the L-arginine dosage unchanged, although I was not very consistent about this supplement.

I also tried the so-called “vitamin D hammer” a couple of times. This simple DIY treatment is a single large dose of vitamin D3. I used 100000 IU which is ten times greater than my usual daily dose and over 150 times greater than the (dangerously low) RDA. Some reports suggest that this treatment is effective against common respiratory infections like colds and flu. Because of this, people also speculate that it might be effective against covid as well. In any case, a substantial and growing body of research points out the strength of the correlation between vitamin D deficiency and adverse covid outcomes.

That said, it’s hard to know on the scale of an individual patient (me) whether a given intervention actually made a difference. You can’t rerun the experiment with a different timeline to see if would have unfolded differently. The vast majority of patients have minor cases and make a full recovery. Because of this, you need very large sample sizes to give studies enough power to resolve the effectiveness of interventions. Because most people get better with little or no intervention, you need a big population group to demonstrate tangible benefit against severe disease and death.

Summary

So what did I learn from the past two weeks? Well, if I hadn’t known that covid existed, or if we had gone through this situation in 2019, I would have assumed we had all contracted some sort of strange, late-spring cold or flu. The symptoms were minor for all of us.

We showed no issues with blood oxygenation that might have indicated serious risk to the cardiopulmonary system. None of us had any difficulty breathing or other serious symptoms. It wasn’t very much fun (so it’s not like we want to repeat the experience) but it was certainly very different from what most of us were imagining in the middle of 2020.

We are grateful that we had age and general good health on our side. Being in very low risk groups, the chance of a bad outcome was also low. As everybody knows, this was not true for all, and many people have suffered badly and even died from their covid experience.


Date and timeDosage
2022-05-10 163030 mg ivermectin
2022-05-10 203010 mg melatonin, 1500 mg L-arginine
2022-05-11 08001500 mg L-arginine
2022-05-11 130030 mg ivermectin
2022-05-11 213010 mg melatonin, 1500 mg L-arginine
2022-05-12 08001500 mg L-arginine
2022-05-12 130030 mg ivermectin
2022-05-12 210010 mg melatonin, 1500 mg L-arginine
2022-05-13 07201500 mg L-arginine
2022-05-13 1240 30 mg ivermectin
2022-05-13 15001000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-13 210010 mg melatonin, 1500 mg L-arginine, 1000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-14 10303000 mg L-arginine, 1000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-14 1200POSITIVE TEST
2022-05-14 1230 45 mg ivermectin
2022-05-14 14301000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-14 210010 mg melatonin, 3000 mg L-arginine, 1000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-15 07302000 mg L-arginine
2022-05-15 0830sinus med (650 mg acetaminophen, 400 mg guaifenesin, 10 mg phenylephrine)
2022-05-15 113045 mg ivermectin
2022-05-15 203010 mg melatonin, 2000 mg L-arginine, 1000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-16 07302000 mg L-arginine
2022-05-16 124545 mg ivermectin, 1000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-16 213010 mg melatonin, 2000 mg L-arginine, 1000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-17 05002000 mg L-arginine
2022-05-17 124545 mg ivermectin, 100000 IU vitamin D
2022-05-17 213010 mg melatonin, 2000 mg L-arginine, 1000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-18 07002000 mg L-arginine, 1000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-18 133045 mg ivermectin
2022-05-18 210010 mg melatonin, 2000 mg L-arginine, 1000 mg acetaminophen
2022-05-19 06002000 mg L-arginine
2022-05-19 143045 mg ivermectin, 100000 IU vitamin D
Table 1. Medicine and supplement log

What should people eat for health and weight loss?

The most important diet advice is extremely simple:

  • no sugar
  • no grains
  • no seed oils

It matters more what you get rid of than what you add. “Superfoods” are more about marketing than health. As long as you stop eating the foods and “food-like-substances” that destroy health, you’re moving in the right direction.

Sugar (principally fructose) is linked to a range of significant health problems for people: fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease. If you do literally nothing but eliminate the consumption of added sugar, you’re taking a major step toward better health. And likely toward weight loss as well.

Grains are highly problematic for human health because they are full of anti-nutrients and deliver a massive dose of unnecessary carbohydrates. As predators and carnivores, we should eat meat, not grass. Remember, the total requirement for carbohydrates in the human diet is zero. Our liver manufactures all the glucose that the body needs (gluconeogenesis). Highly-processed grains (aka “white flour”) are especially bad because they have their few nutrients stripped out in processing. Flour is finely ground so that it digests rapidly and spikes blood sugar faster. The fiber that might help slow down the blood sugar spike was removed in processing. However, this doesn’t mean that whole grains are much better. They are just “less bad”. Better to avoid grains entirely. People eat grain-based products out of habit. They are convenient, cheap, and versatile; they aren’t the best foods to eat for optimal health.

Seed oils are implicated in a number of major health problems like heart disease and metabolic syndrome. They are also completely unnecessary because better fats are available. They only exist as products because they are very cheap and profitable for the industries that manufacture them. The industry has branded them “vegetable oils” because everybody knows that vegetables are good for you. However, they are all highly-processed seed oils. The irony is that they were originally promoted as the “heart-healthy” alternative to saturated fats like beef tallow or coconut oil. That experiment has not worked out very well.

These ingredients – refined sugar, processed grains, and seed oils – tend to come together in the form of highly-processed, convenience foods. These products are a perfect storm of toxic, food-like substances. They provide a quick spike of energy and almost nothing else.

We should avoid these foods as much as we can. But what should we actually eat instead?

  • Meat. Eat mostly ruminants (beef, goat, bison, etc). You can add fish, poultry, pork, and other meats for variety, but most of your meat should come from ruminants. Preferably grass-fed and pastured in all cases. Eat “nose-to-tail” if you can.
  • Eggs. Get your eggs from free-roaming chickens if possible.
  • Non-starchy vegetables. Make sure you cook them with plenty of natural fat and salt to make them taste good. Generally, if a vegetable grows above ground, it may be a good idea to eat it; if it grows below ground, avoid it.
  • Fermented dairy products. Natural cheese, yogurt, and butter are good. Full-fat yogurt is especially healthy because of its beneficial bacteria. However, avoid plain milk because of the high natural sugar (lactose) content
  • Lower-carbohydrate fruits. Examples include avocado, berries, tomato, olive, etc.

A canonical healthy meal is “steak and eggs”. If you like it, add some beef liver – it is perhaps the most nutrient-dense food in existence. In general, eat as much as you need to stop feeling hungry (i.e. to the point of satiety).

If you did nothing else other than follow these steps, you would likely avoid most of the “diseases of civilization” that plague the wealthiest countries of the world.

One year keto-versary

As of February 15, 2020, I’ve been following a ketogenic diet for a full year. The results to date have been good.

Body weight versus time.

The data reveals that I’ve reduced body weight by approximately 40 pounds, year-over-year. Both the mirror and the fit of my clothing suggest that the majority of this body weight reduction has been fat rather than muscle. (I may have dropped up to 50 pounds. Unfortunately, I do not have an exact measurement of my peak weight because I wasn’t weighing myself at the time.)

An important driver of this change has been protein leverage. While I’ve been eating a mostly ketogenic diet (low carb and high fat), I suspect that my average protein intake per day is higher than most “orthodox” keto practitioners. Even so, I’m probably still getting above 50% of my daily calories as fat.

Most recently, I’ve been inspired by the P:E diet methodology promoted by Dr. Ted Naiman. The theory behind this approach uses protein leverage as a foundation, and it can explain both the successes and failures of many different diets.

The goal of the P:E diet is to optimize for a high ratio of protein calories to energy (carb or fat) calories. Protein leverage theory suggests that a person will experience hunger until he reaches the needed intake of (1) protein and (2) minerals and vitamins. Empirically, experimentally, and clinically, protein appears to be the macronutrient that delivers the greatest level of satiety, offering support to the protein leverage theory. P:E theory suggests that body fat loss is greatest when protein needs are prioritized over energy needs.

To avoid overeating and maintain insulin sensitivity and metabolic health, the P:E diet recommends targeting protein, mineral, and vitamin needs, with a minimum of unnecessary energy intake. In this sense, it’s the exact opposite of the “Standard American Diet”  or SAD. The SAD is very weak in protein and nutrients, and people eating this way tend to give themselves a massive excess of food energy (fat or carbohydrate) as they eat to satisfy their need for protein.

People don’t consciously think “I need more protein, I should eat more”. Instead, they experience greater appetite and naturally increase their food intake until the body receives enough protein. This overconsumption of energy has to go somewhere, and it usually ends up stored in the form of body fat. Alternatively, if they are “on a diet”, then they use their willpower to endure hunger and avoid eating, even though their body is sending out signals calling for more food. This is why calorie restriction diets have a high failure rate – appetite is involuntary, and your body will apply mental pressure and push against your willpower until you get enough protein in a day. This creates the familiar yo-yo dieter cycle of “being good” – undereating on low-satiety foods and ignoring the natural urge to eat – and then “being bad” – giving in and eating junk food to excess. Using protein leverage makes the body into an ally rather than an adversary.

Prioritizing protein can be done in either a high fat (ketogenic) approach or a low fat (high carbohydrate) approach. The latter is represented by various famous “heart healthy” diet doctors like Ornish, Fuhrman, Esselstyn, and McDougall. Regardless of the exact approach, the P:E theory explains the successes of both ketogenic diets and ultra-low-fat diets.

The main things to avoid are foods and food combinations high in both fat and carbohydrate, because this matches the “fattening up for winter” dietary pattern. It’s not surprising that the most addictive junk foods and comfort foods fit this pattern: approximately half carb, half fat, and a little protein (typically somewhere in the range of 5-10%). Foods like this include pizza, french fries, potato chips, ice cream, donuts, packaged baked goods, and so forth. If there’s a food that you “can’t stop”, the odds are good that it’s one of these: half-fat, half-carb, a little protein.

My top 5 tips for healthy weight loss (body fat loss)

  1. No matter what else you do, eliminate sugar, grains, and seed oils. Many people are able to drop unwanted body fat through this tip alone. This tip wipes out most processed foods, junk foods, fast foods and other artificial, addictive, food-like substances that create myriad health problems.
  2. Eat low-carb, high-protein, and high-fat. Favor protein for satiety (long-term fullness), and fat for energy and its low effect on glycemia (blood sugar).
  3. Practice time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting. For example, stop eating at 20:00 (8:00 PM) and do not eat until 12:00 (noon). This keeps blood sugar in a healthy range. (Tips 1 and 2 come first because they make practicing tip 3 a lot easier.)
  4. Supplement with whey protein. Aim to add supplemental whey protein at least a couple of times a day in order to reach your protein intake targets and improve satiety. Take advantage of protein leverage.
  5. Favor whole foods in their natural state. Processing tends to concentrate energy (fat and/or carb) and eliminate fiber. On average, processed foods digest and convert to stored body fat a lot faster than natural, whole foods. It’s good when the list of ingredients is short. It’s best when the list of ingredients has just one item: e.g. “beef”, or “macadamia nuts” or “eggs”.

We knew how to reverse type II diabetes in the 50s

Before the low-fat-diet insanity of the 1970s onward, sanity about diet and obesity was fairly common among the medical associations of the world.

Shown below is the abstract of an article published by George Thorpe, MD in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) in 1957 [1]. This article predates the better-known work of Atkins by sixteen years!

The abstract is as simple as it is clear: to lose body fat, eat meat, have some vegetables, avoid sugar and grains. This was the standard procedure for weight loss, or “slimming”, until the 1960s. It was the standard procedure for a good reason: it worked. Given this, it’s not clear why Atkins took so much heat for repeating what was previously conventional wisdom.

Actually, maybe it is clear. Through the 1980s, low-fat eating became common. Cholesterol and saturated fat were the enemy. People felt like they had no choice but to stop eating fat, otherwise they would surely get heart disease. The choice was clear: either suffer with tasteless and dry food for your whole life, or suffer with chest pains and shortened life in the cardiac ward. In this world, Atkins was a heretic.

The good news is that it wasn’t true. Atkins was right. If we had only held to what we already understood to be true about nutrition in the 1950s, we would have been just fine. Probably better.

Sharp reduction in average daily energy intake while maintaining high carbohydrate consumption leads to hunger and loss of lean tissue (muscle mass). This creates the “yo-yo diet” or “rebound” phenomenon. When energy supply is chronically inadequate on a low-calorie diet, the body uses up muscle and other bodily tissues (protein) for energy. Due to reduced muscle mass,, the metabolism slows down and it’s harder to burn fat. The dieter either doubles down on the calorie restriction misery, for weaker results, or else gives up and returns to his normal diet. Of course, going back to his old way of eating will replace the lost fat and muscle mass with new fat mass. Losing fat and muscle, then regaining only fat, is a dangerous and unhealthy result from yo-yo dieting.

The indigenous Eskimos knew how to do it right. The above paragraph describes a textbook ketogenic diet, with the vast majority (80%) of the calories coming from fat, the rest from protein, and almost no carbohydrate. A healthy, non-restricted energy intake of 2000-3000 kcal facilitates burning body fat when the components of the diet (fat and protein) do not cause hyperinsulinemia. In other words, consistently low blood levels of insulin enable the body to regulate fat storage and consumption in a healthy manner.  

A simple and clear recipe for weight loss without hunger, discomfort, or muscle loss.

I received the reference to this article from P. D. Mangan.

The original PDF article, from which I clipped the excerpts above, may be found here.

By the way, the 50s I refer to in the title are actually the 1850s, not the 1950s. Dr. Thorpe was scooped by around one hundred years! Banting’s famous Letter on Corpulence was written at that time. This information has been known both empirically and clinically for a very long time.

[1] George L. Thorpe, M.D., Treating Overweight Patients, JAMA. 1957;165(11):1361-1365.

 

Taking the red (meat) pill

As so many others have said about low-carb eating, I can’t unsee what I have seen or un-experience what I have experienced.

I can’t pretend that I didn’t drop 40 pounds with minimal effort, discomfort, or hunger.

And I certainly can’t pretend that I didn’t do this while eating foods that the medical and nutritional mainstream deems “unhealthy”, and avoiding foods that they deem “healthy”.

The medical and nutritional establishment has claimed (on extremely weak and speculative evidence) that red meat, dairy, and eggs will make you obese and unhealthy.

They claim that grains are “heart healthy” and that we should replace animal fats with “vegetable” oils. The name “vegetable” suggests healthy foods like broccoli or cabbage, but in reality, so-called vegetable oils are not pressed from fresh green leaves. Instead, these oils come from seeds that must be heat-treated and solvent-extracted to yield their oils, and chemically processed to remove toxic compounds.

The establishment doesn’t really say too much about sugar except that it’s “empty calories” and try not to eat too much of it. (Unless it’s a “healthy” juice or smoothie or fruit and then you should probably have a lot, they say.) Curiously, Coca-Cola, Nabisco, Kraft, and other packaged food companies donate millions to fund nutritional studies to support the hypothesis that eating 10-20% of your diet as sugar is benign. I wonder why they do that (note: sarcasm).

It is clear the the “food pyramid”, MyPlate, or whatever other guidelines the various national governments create are far more about selling agricultural product and sustaining the packaged food industry than they are about human health and wellness.

More and more people are discovering that this dogma is the exact opposite of the clinical and experimental truth. People are taking their health into their own hands, experimenting with low-carb or ketogenic eating, and seeing massive improvement in many different symptoms simultaneously. Thousands of people (perhaps even millions) are:

  • reversing their type II diabetes,
  • returning from obesity and even morbid obesity to normal, healthy weight
  • recovering from metabolic syndrome,
  • reducing their cancer risk factors, and
  • reducing their heart disease risk factors.

People are achieving these results without medication, and in many cases they are even able to reduce or discontinue use of their prescription drugs. 

Does this torrent of good results mean that the “food pyramid” is a lie, and that the guidelines and “official” dietary advice of the past 50+ years has been actively harmful to people’s health? Quite possibly, yes. When breaking most of the conventional “rules” achieves better results than following them, then perhaps it’s time to rewrite the rules according to the clinical, scientific, and anecdotal observations.

Many medical doctors have themselves experienced a similar red pill moment where they made the choice to test out low-carb eating on themselves. Perhaps they entered middle age and put on a few too many pounds above their college athlete weight. So they tried keto, or Atkins, or LCHF, or Whole30. And it worked for them. Then they tried it out on some of their adventurous patients and it worked for those patients too. At that point, they got the lightning bolt and realized that the eternal “eat less and move more” or “calories in equals calories out” advice was misguided. Or, at the very least, profoundly oversimplified.

If someone’s a skeptic, the answer is simple: “try it for yourself, seriously, for a month or two, and see what happens”. More and more former skeptics are doing this, and getting good results. And yet for now the guidelines remain unchanged, and the medical and nutritional mainstream seems immovable.

What does this mean? It’s becoming increasingly clear that true change only comes from individual exploration and community activity. Following average advice from average doctors gets average results, and the average result is pretty terrible: metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, statin drugs and their side effects, and apparently unstoppable disease progression. A quarter of Americans already have Type II diabetes, and this fraction is increasing. Many more are prediabetic and don’t know it, because a formal diagnosis of Type II diabetes arrived at very late stage in the disease progression.

In contrast, people get good results quickly from going against the conventional wisdom – i.e. right after “taking the red pill”. After they save themselves, they feel good and have high energy, and they want to help unplug others from the nutritional Matrix.

Change has not come from the top-down. The medical and nutritional community has been too invested in the status quo of the past 50+ years. And too many long careers have been invested in supporting the orthodoxy of the failed diet-heart hypothesis, in opposition to the science, clinical results, and thousands of individual success stories.

No one in the prestigious medical associations will ever awkwardly apologize and say “we made a ‘little’ mistake in the 1960s, and 50 million people died of diabetes and heart disease who might have been saved … uh, sorry, I guess?”

But maybe they should.

Updates after 8 months of LCHF

As shown in the plot above, I’ve been doing this practice and lifestyle for about eight months. During the past few days, I’ve attempted to update and enhance my representation and visualization of body weight data.

In the plot, the red vertical bars represent individual daily measurements. The solid black line is a 15-day centered moving average (15d-CMA), and the dashed black lines show the 15d-CMA +/- 1 standard deviation (SD). The SD is computed over the same 15 day window of the moving average itself, and provides an estimate of measurement error.

During the four month period from Mar 1 – Jun 30, we can see a net reduction in weight of approximately 30 lbs, corresponding to a sustained average decrease of about 2 lbs per week. After this point we reach a fairly stable and sustainable plateau around 182 lbs, which is right where I want to be.

The average uncertainty in the dependent variable (measured weight) over the interval is +/- 1.5 lbs. This describes the average channel width between the dashed lines in the plot. This provides an estimate of how accurate a given daily measurement is expected to be. In other words, a short term trend of +/- a couple of pounds is just as likely to be “noise” as “signal”. Therefore, there’s minimal value in taking short term fluctuations seriously.

Lessons learned:

  • Protein leverage appears to work well in appetite suppression and making daily fasting easier. This means aiming for 25+% of daily calories from protein. Supplementation (whey protein) has helped me in reaching this target.
  • OMAD works well for me as long as I eat enough food at that one meal (e.g. at least 2000+ calories, 100+ g protein).
  • The starting point suggests that my stable weight when I eat an ad-libitum standard American diet is around 215-220 lbs. Sustainable and stable weight for me following a LCHF diet, including intermittent fasting,  looks to be in the range of 180 lbs.

I’ll keep observing the data and seeing what changes in the weeks and months ahead, but I’m pleased with the current status of things.

Lipid measurements after eight months on LCHF

Lipid measurements after 8 months (242 days) on low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) eating.

  • Total Cholesterol: 242 (mg/dL)
  • Direct LDL: 191 (mg/dL)
  • TC:HDL Ratio: 4.75
  • HDL: 51 (mg/dL)
  • Triglycerides: 93 (mg/dL)
  • TG:HDL Ratio: 1.82

These numbers have come in largely where I expected them to. The main surprise was a lower-than-expected (but still good) HDL.

My guess for total cholesterol count was 230, and so the actual measurement landed within about 5% of my guess. This is a relatively useless metric for heart disease risk, but it’s still popular, and so a lot of medical guidance continues to be based on this biomarker.

My HDL was lower than I expected it to be, but I attribute that to a lack of exercise during the past month due to a persistent cough and cold. I plan to retest in several months after resuming regular high-intensity exercise to see if that raises HDL (which would incidentally improve the TC:HDL and TG:HDL ratios as well).

The most important measurements for heart health and/or disease risk are triglycerides and TG:HDL ratio, and both of these are in the optimal (low) range.

A relatively high LDL combined with a low triglyceride measurement suggests (indirectly) the occurrence of LDL Pattern A, which is large, buoyant, non-oxidized LDL. This is more desirable than Pattern B, which refers to a preponderance of small, dense, oxidized LDL.

The relatively high LDL-P number suggests that I am a hyper-responder on a keto/LCHF diet. This result calls for further research and reading on my part.

The goal going forward is to:

  • increase HDL (mainly via exercise)
  • maintain low triglycerides
  • keep an eye on any movements LDL
  • retest in a few months

Subtraction > addition

Several months before my recent weight loss (starting in February of 2019) I began the habit of eating a healthy low-carbohydrate breakfast: an omelet with egg whites, ground sausage, and spinach.

However, this new habit did not cause weight loss. Why? The answer is simple: I didn’t change my foods outside of breakfast. I was still eating high carb food and junk food, and eating it too often. Adding a “healthy breakfast” couldn’t fix things when I was still eating unhealthy lunch, dinner, and snacks.

This further reinforced for me the lesson that you can’t “add” your way to weight loss and body fat reduction. Despite the fondest wishes of dieters and supplement manufacturers everywhere, there exists no dietary supplement that you can take that will burn body fat. Instead, you need to “remove” those influences that cause accumulation of body fat.

Removing two key factors stands far above the rest in terms of their impact:

    • Fasting (not eating) during a significant fraction of the day allows blood insulin levels to fall naturally. When this happens, the body accesses stored fat and metabolizes it for energy.
    • Avoiding carbohydrates during the time you do eat, to reduce the insulin spiking activity associated with eating and metabolizing food.

To summarize, to reduce body fat accumulation (aka “lose weight”):

  1. Spike insulin less often (through fasting).
  2. Spike insulin less strongly (through carbohydrate reduction).

In the words of Professor Miles Spencer Kimball quoting Dr Jason Fung

“obesity is always and everywhere an insulin phenomenon”

When you lower your body’s insulin response, you reduce your storage of body fat and enable use of your existing body fat as energy. Carbohydrates elicit the strongest insulin response, and thus they are the macronutrient that is most responsible for obesity. (Protein causes a weaker insulin response, and fat does not cause any insulin response at all.)

Weight loss through simple data science

I presented a technical talk at the PyOhio conference this year, describing applications of elementary data science techniques to weight loss. (As I described here, I generally prefer the term “body fat reduction”, because it’s more specific, but most people are more familiar with the term “weight loss”. So it goes.)

You can watch the video here:

My presentation slideshow and the script used to generate the data set are available on github.

The so-called “Hawthorne Effect” describes the result of an experiment in industrial engineering and management at the Hawthorne Works factory in Illinois in 1925. The result suggested that observing workers tended to alter their performance and productivity, in a positive direction.

Wikipedia describes the Hawthorne Effect as:

a type of reactivity in which individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed

Suggested explanations varied widely: hypotheses include excitement that management was taking an uncommon interest in their work, and anxiety that the reason for the increased interest was planning for layoffs.

A similar effect seems to operate in the simpler case of “personal observations”, which is what I described in my talk. In this case, the “manager” and the “worker” are the same person, and the “observations” were simple, daily measurements of body weight using a smart scale for easy data logging. The “why” doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the effect seems to work, and you can use it to reach your goals.

Studies suggest that test subjects who log their meals and snacks in a food diary (“observation”) tend to experience greater weight loss (“effect”). This apparently happens even when the doctors running the study do not ask the subjects to change or limit their eating habits. Similarly, measuring weight on a daily tempo seems to generate a similar self-awareness, whether on a conscious or unconscious level. Something about the awareness that you are being observed tends to foster habit change in a desired direction.

Over time, this observation can lead a person to adopt new habits and modify old habits – both consciously and unconsciously – that cause the long-term trend line on the graph to move in the desired direction.

Weight over time (raw data and seven-day moving average)

This is definitely the case in my personal data set that I starting recording on Feb 14, 2019.

Computing the daily weight change values, or “deltas”, delivers some interesting and actionable insights. The “delta” or weight change at day i (today) is defined as delta[i] = w[i] – w[i-1]. That is, today’s weight minus yesterday’s weight. It is the answer to the question “how much did my weight change between yesterday and today?” (For best results, I measure my body weight at approximately the same time every day.)

One of the surprising things I observed is this: approximately half the time, I was gaining weight.

Even though I reduced my body weight by over 30 lbs over the interval, nearly half of the measured daily delta values are greater than zero, indicating weight gain.

As of now (2019-09-04), for N=202 observations, the breakdown is:

  • 95 days increasing weight
  • 95 days decreasing weight
  • 12 days with no change

Daily deltas over time

The graph of delta versus time shows this clearly. With an apparently random mix of increases and decreases, it’s very hard to tell from this plot alone whether it adds up to a net gain or loss. If you add it up, the numbers are clear: the total gain is about 60 lbs and the total reduction is about 90 lbs, adding up to a net reduction of around 30 lbs.

Similarly, the histogram showing the distribution of deltas shows no obvious skew or asymmetry toward weight gain (right side) or or weight loss (left side).

Histogram of daily deltas

What we can learn from this is that:

  • very short-term (daily) weight changes bear little or no relation to the long term trend (monthly)
  • a long-term decrease in body weight contains many days during which a weight gain occurs (and vice versa)

In other words, nobody becomes obese overnight, and nobody drops 50 lbs of body fat overnight either. These changes take place over the long term, in response to changes in food composition and quantity, hormone levels, activity levels, and other inputs.

The practical lesson seems to be that there’s no point in feeling joy over a 2 lb drop in the number on the scale, or misery over a 2 lb rise. As hard as it may be to believe in the moment, a one-day increase or decrease appears to be absolutely meaningless in its implications for long-term weight change.

It’s a real challenge for many people to disconnect their emotions from the random daily fluctuations of the number on the scale. However, seeing today’s “number” in the context of historical numbers is a great way of keeping a broad perspective: does it matter if the body weight went from 181 to 183 lbs today if the starting point was 211 lbs?

Another advantage of collecting long-term data like this is that it enables you to run experiments and to catch and observe trends before they become a problem. Without the data recorded and plotted, it’s unlikely that you would make the connection between (e.g.) experimentally adding a new food, and a slow rise in body weight over three weeks.

Perhaps you think that adding food X or removing habit Y might give good results. By running an experiment, perhaps for two weeks or thirty days, and making a change (“input”), you can observe the result (“output”). Of course, to make this work, you need to keep other input variables as constant as possible. If you change three inputs at the same time, it’s very hard to isolate which one had an influence on the output.

The conclusion is that long-term change in body weight, in one direction, is made up of lots of small daily changes, in both directions. The data is very noisy. Therefore, the weight change on a random day has very little to do with either the long-term trend, or the endpoint. Accumulating a body of data over time is a great way to create an objective and impersonal reference about a body metric like weight. Human memory is ineffective and subject to revision and distortion, whereas recorded data is far less likely to lie. Tracking your body measurements is a powerful way for you to observe change and to drive it.