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An Outrageous Experiment, Part 3

(Continued from yesterday’s entry; the series began on 1/25/2009.)

Recapping: After losing five pounds by not eating Cheerios every morning for breakfast, I tried replacing the calories with protein and fat calories to see if those five pounds would return. I deliberately ate more to see if I could accelerate the process, but what I ate more of was limited to eggs, meat, and cheese. It backfired, and I lost two more pounds in ten days.

When I told Carol on the phone that I was down to 148, she told me to knock it off and go back to my Cheerios. So on the 11th day I called a halt to the experiment. Most of the meat and cheese was gone by then, and I’d had to get another dozen eggs and more yogurt. But I started cooking carbs again: primarily rice, and some conventional pasta. Since I was still batching it, I did weird things like having a bowl of Cheerios as my carb course at supper, next to a yummy plate full of formerly frozen shrimp and a side of creamy cole slaw.

That was only about a week ago, and as of this morning, stark naked and dripping wet, I weighed 151. It only took a week of slamming carbs again to gain three pounds. Carol got home last night. I’m a much happier guy, and will be returning to eating like a real human being. The only long-term change is that I’m having an egg for breakfast instead of Cheerios. Keeping my edge all morning has been delicious.

This experience didn’t surprise me too much. I’ve run into the effect before, although I never had the opportunity to do anything quite this gonzo to test it. Back when I was in college, I weighed about 125 pounds and was mostly skin and bones. Over the years I gradually put on weight, as people do. By the time I was 45 I weighed 170, and Carol told me that I was starting to look several months’ pregnant. Then something interesting happened: I threw a bad kidney stone, which forced me to stop drinking three or four Snapple bottled sweetened iced teas every day. I stopped drinking anything but water while the stone was being analyzed, and I lost several pounds almost immediately. This intrigued me, and when I started drinking sodas again, I drank only diet. The weight stayed off, and started drifting slowly downward. (None of this is news to my long-time readers.)

The next event happened a year or so later when I stopped eating rice bowls down at the corner for lunch every day. I switched to sandwiches or pizza (and no longer ate a softball-sized wad of white rice on a daily basis) and lost another slug of weight very quickly. My weight since then has wandered between 155 and 160. Once I started weight training in 2004, it drifted down to 155 and has been remarkably consistent since then…until last summer, when I stopped eating Cheerios for breakfast.

And now the experiment is over. So…what did I learn? Mostly, this: The conventional wisdom that Fat Bad, Carbs Good, is not unassailable, and the whole business is hugely more complex than most people think. It’s not an issue of thermodynamics, as far too many people believe. We do not “burn” calories in the same sense that we burn leaves out in the alley. Metabolism is an enormously complex biological mechanism, one that we still don’t understand as well as we should–or even as well as we think we do.

I was certainly struck by this: Changes happened a lot more quickly than our conventional understanding of calories and weight gain/loss would explain. If it were simply a matter of wadding on weight when we eat more than we burn, or losing weight when we burn more than we eat, it should take a lot longer. A pound, after all, represents 3,500 calories, and my intake deltas were nowhere near large enough to account for the changes I saw as quickly as I saw them, both on the downswing and on the upswing. I’m aware from my reading of the tendency to shed water on low-carb diets. I took care to drink more water than I generally do, and did not notice myself losing any more than usual. Something else must be going on, and while I’m still researching it, I think the answers may lie in a book I read almost by accident a month ago, a book that triggered this whole crazy idea.

(To be continued as soon as I can manage it.)


  1. Vince A says:

    If it were convenient, it would be nice to know if the high-protein diet had altered Jeff’s cholesterol levels. I sure would love to have bacon & eggs for breakfast rather than cereals.

    1. My next physical will be due in April, and when my results come back I’ll post them here. Total cholesterol is not the issue; we have a fair amount of science on that. The bad guys are triglycerides and VLDL, and at least on the triglyceride side (tests for VLDL are not mainstream yet) I’ve always done extremely well. I’d say worry less and have bacon and eggs more. Your real enemy is sugar and refined flour.

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