I’ve tried lots of diets in my decade as an only-slightly-overweight test subject. By far the most effective have been induction-phase low-carbohydrate diets. Yes, I tried them before they were a national fad (by about two years, depending on your definition of “fad”). Yes, I’ve researched them. The reasons they work for me better than other diets:
1) They force me to abandon comfort foods — especially sugared beverages (Nesquik being the worst) and cold cereals.
2) When my metabolism is burning protein, body-fat, and a few complex carbs, I have much more energy — both mental and physical.
3) The exercise I like most (weight training) is a powerful force multiplier — I burn fuel, AND I tell my body that the proteins I’ve been eating are NOT fuel. We need them to repair the muscles I’ve just torn up.
4) My cholesterol drops by almost 100 points when I’m dieting this way, and the HDL/LDL ratio is in the 4.0 range (which is good). Last January I demonstrated this during the “guess Howard’s HDL/LDL levels for free artwork” game. I’ve been as high as 250 when not dieting, and as low as 100 (HDL was 25) when on the diet.
The reasons I’m still slightly overweight:
1) When I drop out of the induction phase, the temptation to return to comfort foods is one I yield to.
2) My work schedule and travel schedule at Novell was such that I couldn’t establish long-term healthy habits easily. Diet and exercise often fell by the wayside for a year or more at a time.
3) Bad genes, or at least fat-o-philic genes. My male progenitors, with perhaps one exception, have been overweight.
4) Mostly sedentary lifestyle. I’m a cartoonist, not a carpenter. And when I worked at Novell, I was a manager, not a mason.
Yesterday I began the induction phase of the low-carb diet again. Typically this phase runs for two weeks as you “teach” your body to burn body fat to replenish the glycogen stores, rather than depending on digestion of simple sugars. It can be HELL for several days. Each day you test your urine for ketones, which are (in very lay terms) the “smoke” put off when body fat burns. The first time I tried this (eight years ago) I spent six days being miserable, with no energy, and no measurable ketones. The SECOND time I tried it I made it to day seven, when suddenly the switch had been thrown, and I felt GREAT. In recent years I’ve been able to jump-start the fat-burning engine in as little as two days, which is unusual because the body has something like three days’ worth of glycogen stored up in the blood.
Well, yesterday I jump-started that engine in just 18 hours. My day went like this.
8am: 16oz of water, two “fat-burner” pills providing chromium picolinate and about 25mg of caffeine. Breakfast was a spanish omelette — ham, garlic, and 3 eggs fried in olive oil. I didn’t like it, so I didn’t finish it.
9am-Noon: Scripting. Ah, the benefits of a clear head! These are funny, but you don’t get to read them yet.
12 noon: Force multiplication time… I went to the gym, and did chest-and-triceps with Kent Carter (Kent modeled a Schlock Mercenary T-shirt back in 2002). I got as much exercise racking and un-racking the weights as I did actually pressing them. See, Kent’s a bit bigger than I am.
1pm: Anyway, after that workout I did 25 minutes of running and steep-uphill walking on the treadmill, keeping my pulse over 140 the whole way. I followed that up with four laps in the pool, and a rewarding soak-and-steam in the spa. (Ah, the life of a well-to-do cartoonist!)
2pm: Lunch time. Two more fat-burner pills (completing the daily dose), and another 16oz of water down the hatch. I was hungry enough to eat a horse. I settled for a bowl of tuna salad (canned tuna, 2 tbsp miracle whip, 2 tbsp canned corn, 1 tbsp dried onion) which disappeared into my mighty maw with mythological speed. I was still hungry…
3pm: Went birthday shopping for Sandra. (Incidentally, if you want to do something nice for the woman who makes Schlock Mercenary possible, her Amazon Wish List is here, and she shares a birthday with Lewis Carroll. Email me if you’ve got questions.) On the trip out I hit Carl’s Jr. and had a jalapeno cheeseburger in a lettuce wrap. It was $1.06, because it’s their special this month, and it hit the spot in spite of being kind of a stupid flavor combination.
5pm: Famished. Depressed. Grouchy. This is the low point in the induction phase, and the fact that I’d hit it so soon had me worried. The grumpy dieter is the one who bails on the diet, choosing instead to be fat and happy, despite the understanding that “fat” has serious drawbacks and that the “happy” associated with binging is going to last all of 20 minutes. I tried some cottage cheese, and it was AWFUL. This batch from Viva was a clumpy cheese-pudding instead of the usual, tasty chunklets of proto-cheese in a slurry of whey. Sandra told me it was fine for cooking but yeah, it was horrid straight. I thought “Ooooh…. LASAGNA.” And then I realized that if you omit a couple of ingredients (most notably the pasta), you can make a good low-carb lasagna. But I was too tired and grumpy to do it myself. Sandra to the rescue! She made a low-carb lasagna for me, and I liked it a lot.
6pm: Feeling much better. Absurdly better. Almost giddy-goofy. Decided to do a ketone check, even though it’s always depressing to see no ketones (and there never ARE ketones on Day One).
And then a miracle… I was almost at the top of the ketone scale, at 80 units per something-or-other, the urinalysis strip having turned a dark purple. Two hours of exercise, coupled with the metabolic accelerants in those little pills had worked better than I had any reason to expect.
This morning I was at 40 UPS (Units Per Something-or-other), which is high for an AM check. Apparently my body wants rid of this bellyfat almost as badly as my brain does. The bathroom scale said I’d dropped a pound and a half since the same time yesterday.
So I’m happy. And if you post some anti-low-carb, rain-on-my-parade junk in here, I’ll rip off your head and pee ketone-rich urine straight down your neck.
Later today, I’m going to have a chupaqueso!