I've Been In This Weight Neighborhood Before

If you've known me for any length of time, you know I've been overweight for most of my life. I've recently made changes in an effort to remedy this and I've experienced some success. It's not the first time I've done it and been successful, at least for a time.

I don't remember exactly when I started being fat, but I was definitely overweight by the time I was a teenager, which coincidentally was around the time the dietary guidelines in the US went "low-fat." The Nutrition Coalition explains the history of these guidelines and the wide impact they have. They've clearly had an impact on me--for the worst.

I alternated between caring and not caring for a couple of decades. In the early 2000s, after one child was born and another was on the way, and I kept gaining more and more weight (I think I was up around 275 pounds or 125 kilograms), I stumbled upon Robert Atkins and the Atkins Diet. There's been a few versions of it over the years, but the basic idea is: limit your carb intake to 20g or less per day, at least at the beginning.

I had a fair bit of success with it. The lowest weight I remember getting to was 215 pounds (about 98kg). However, the Atkins Diet tells you to slowly ad carbs back in. Sure enough, I did. I got lazy, and the weight kept rising.

I do have a picture of myself from 2006 wearing a shirt I still have. It's about the right size, but I was definitely regaining weight I had lost--and then some.

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Then, four years ago, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. That was a wake-up call for sure, but even then, I didn't know exactly what I was going to do.

I did know, even back then, that eating the 45-60 grams of carbs per meal the diabetes educator telling me to eat was not going to be a recipe for success if weight loss was one of the goals. It also seems nonsensical to actually eat sugar and carbs if the goal is to lower your blood glucose.

I had a sense a low carb approach would work, but did not embrace it wholeheartedly. I initially had some modest success both lowering my weight and my blood sugar with a combination of diet and exercise. My A1C even got down to a 6.1%. Unfortunately, as I stopped exercise and not being quite as strict with carbs, my A1C had crept up to a 7.1%.

I'm not quite sure how I stumbled on it, but I was introduced to Jason Fung and his book The Obesity Code about 18 months ago. His more recent book called The Diabetes Code might be a better read if you have Type 2 Diabetes, but they both impart similar information, which I can summarize as follows:

  • Type 2 Diabetes is a disease of insulin resistance, which is caused by the continued presence of elevated levels of insulin in the body/
  • Insulin is also the hormone that causes your body to store consumed energy as fat--it literally causes you to gain weight!
  • The kind of food you eat determines how much insulin your body will produce in response. Lower carbs mean less insulin is required.
  • How often you eat determines largely determines how often insulin is produced.
  • The easiest way to lower your insulin levels is to not eat for an extended period of time. This practice is better known as something humans have been doing for millennia (voluntarily or otherwise): fasting.

I was intrigued. Given fasting costs nothing and everything else I was doing wasn't working to control my diabetes, much less my weight, why not try it? I started this a little over 18 months ago, working my way up to eating only once a day (sometimes less).

I also changed my diet to be mostly low-carb. The simplest approach (for me, anyway) ends up being the approach popularized by Vinnie Tortorich: No Sugar No Grains (or NSNG). It's not dissimilar to the ketogenic diet, but I find NSNG to have less stigma and easier to explain to people.

My dietary changes were done gradually over the course of several weeks. During times I am not eating, I will drink black coffee or tea, which I initially had with heavy cream, but I ultimately dropped it except when I have coffee during mealtimes. Sometimes, I will have chicken broth for the electrolytes. I also take potassium and magnesium supplements

18 months in, I'd say it's been successful. My stats from May 2017:

  • Weight: 311 pounds or 141 kilos, which is about 15 pounds below my high water mark from 2016
  • Blood Glucose (30-day average): 137 mg/dL or 8 mmol/L
  • A1C (based on a blood test): 7.1 (highest was 7.9% from back in 2014)
  • Waist: 54 inches or 137 centimeters (about 2 inches lower than my largest)

As of December 2018, here's where I'm at:

  • Weight: 226 pounds or 103kg
  • Blood Glucose (30-day average): 97 mg/dL or 5.4 mmol/L
  • A1C: 5.6% (lowest was 5.5%)
  • Waist: 38 inches or 96.5 centimeters

While, if you look at my last status post, you may say, I haven’t made a ton of progress, here’s the things you have to consider:

  • Everyone eventually hits a stall point in weight loss, and I clearly hit mine earlier this year. This is something that I wish I had known 15 years ago when I was doing Atkins.
  • I've traveled quite a lot for work this year. I'm often in different timezones and countries and sleep on my share of hotel beds and airplane seats.

In light of that, you might say I've done quite well just to maintain the progress I've made. Further, now that I better understand the mechanisms at play and the consequences of falling off the wagon are a bit clearer, I'm sticking with this.

And that shirt I showed a picture of earlier? It's a bit big now.

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88.5 Hours of Fasting

While it's pretty typical for me to go somewhere between 16-24 hours between eating these days (depending on the day), it's been a while since I've gone much longer than that.

This Labor Day weekend, I ended going longer than I've ever gone before.

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It wasn't my intention to go 88.5 hours, but I was feeling pretty good and had no social obligations to eat, so I just kept going.

The only reason I stopped? Because I'm about to hit the road again. If I was going to have any digestive issues that come from reintroducing food after so long, I'd rather be at home--which, it turned out, was a good call.

For those who are concerned that more than three days is too long to fast, there's the story of Angus Barbieri, who fasted for 382 days! That said, I'm aware that there are pros and cons to extended fasting.

I have to say, this has been the easiest fast I've done. It may be because I supplemented with potassium, magnesium, and sodium (via broth). I don't want to give exact amounts of these, as everyone is different, and I'm pretty sure I may want to adjust the amounts given how my system has been eliminating waste, especially after I ate. This is a known side effect of too much magnesium (see Magnesium Citrate). That said, from what I've read, these essential minerals are definitely helpful, especially if you are fasting.

When I felt hungry, which honestly, wasn't often, I drank coffee, tea, or (twice a day) chicken broth with extra salt. Yes, I was craving salt, and I went with it. The second day of my fast, I did have a headache, which seemed to go away after I had a cup of broth.

In general, I had my normal amount of energy during the fast. Mentally, I felt very sharp. My blood glucose gradually reduced during the 3 days as well, from about a 98 mg/dL (or 5.5 mmol) to 69 mg/dL (3.9 mmol), which is the lowest I've ever had!

In terms of weight loss, I lost a little over 5 pounds (or just over 2 kilos) during my fast. Unfortunately, this got me back to just under 230 pounds (or about 104 kilos), a weight I've been hovering around for the last several months.

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Will I do this again? Probably, but I'll do it when I'm home and don't have social obligations.

Slow and Steady

One could look at the weight loss stall I've experienced over the past six months and be frustrated by it. In fact, everyone who actually tries to lose weight eventually hits a stall, sooner or later.

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On the other hand, during this time, I've been traveling like a madman, spending more time in shiny metal tubes and hotels than I have at home. This also means constantly changing timezones, which surely doesn't help my sleep any. And yes, this means I sometimes eat more than once a day due to social obligations.

In that context, maintaining roughly the same weight seems like quite the victory. Further, the thing that I'm really concerned about, my HbA1c, is now down to a 5.5%. That means my average blood glucose is continuing to trend downward. And, as I mentioned previously, I'm no longer using CPAP!

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If you get right down to it, my ultimate goal when I started more than a year ago was reversing Type 2 Diabetes. And while, yes, I am still taking Metformin, my HbA1c has been in the normal range since at least April.

Meanwhile, I found out something interesting about HbA1c tests, which measure the about of red blood cells with glucose bound to them. Turns out, the healthier you are, the longer those red blood cells live. This can lead to inaccurate HbA1c results if you're not factoring in the age of red blood cells (which I'm pretty sure my doctor isn't).

Either way, I'm surely adding years to my life by lowering my HbA1c. I've definitely reduced my risk of cardiovascular disease:

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Look, Ma, No More CPAP!

File this one under non-scale victory that actually does reduce my weight…of my travel bags.

Several weeks ago, I had an appointment with my pulmonologist to follow up on my use of CPAP. It had been two years since I saw him and, well, a lot changed since he saw me last.

He commissioned another sleep study to see how my sleep apnea was progressing. Unlike the last one, I got to do this one at home. The hardest part was picking a week that I was going to be home to actually do it.

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A couple weeks after I did the study, I got a phone call from my pulmonologist. On a weekend no less. He told me that while I still met the diagnostic criteria for apnea, I had fewer events per hour than previously (6 events versus 8), and I could try not using CPAP for a while and see how I did. He suggested also monitoring my blood pressure to ensure my blood pressure did not increase as a result.

So I tried it. While it's difficult to totally judge sleep quality when you're constantly changing timezones, I think I can say: going off CPAP did not make a ton of difference. My sleep quality seems relatively unchanged.

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Further, my blood pressure seems to be trending lower rather than higher.

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I just sent a note to the doctor with the results of my self-experiment. I informed him that, given these results, that I am planning to discontinue CPAP and will continue to monitor and use CPAP again if needed. He agreed with my strategy.

Which means my travels will be that much lighter now that I won't have to carry a CPAP with me everywhere I go. Sure, the airlines treat it as a "free" carryon, but it's still a hassle, especially going through some foreign airports.

The Progress Belt

While I have gotten rid of most of the clothing from when I weighed 300+ pounds, there is one item I am keeping: a 54 inch belt.

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At my biggest, I needed to use the very outer hole in that belt. That hole is 56 inches (or 142 centimeters) out! Yes, I measured. I guess the elastic in the pants I had stretches a bit more than I thought.

As I started losing weight and inches, I punched holes in my belt. After the smaller pants I had kept from years ago started getting too big, I bought new pants…and a belt of the proper size.

That said, I am still using this 54 inch belt as a way to track my progress and remind me just how far I've come. It's been critical since the scale has been relatively stable the last few months, yet my waist continues to shrink (slowly but surely).

The shorts and pants I bought with the 40 inch (about 100 centimeters) waist are now a little loose. And those XXL shirts I have kept for years and started wearing again are…a little big, now.

For most of my adult life, the only places I've been able to buy clothes that properly fit is ordering from the King Size catalog and/or going to Big and Tall sections/stores. You don't realize just how much this limits your wardrobe choices or how expensive this is until you're suddenly able to buy clothing in...a normal store.

In fact, I remember the first time I had done this. I had went to go get pants at Fred Meyer, which is one of the only local stores that has a Big and Tall section. While I did buy stuff from their Big and Tall section, I also bought stuff from the "normal" section as well, including a coat off the clearance rack from the "normal" section!

And then I discovered I could buy clothing from Costco, which was a game changer. Not necessarily for the selection, but the prices. And the fact it's even an option now.

Meanwhile, I may (crossing fingers) have broken through my weight loss stall. I'm about a pound off my lowest weight this year, which I hit about two months ago, but my weight crept back up a little.

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And yes, this weight loss happened just after I got back from Switzerland. I guess all that cheese didn't hurt me. :)

Intermittent Fasting, 1 Year Later

It's been roughly a year since I took charge of my health by making two major changes to my eating habits:

  • When I eat, which is typically only once a day. Some days, I will not eat at all. Other days, I may eat twice a day. It depends on where I am in the world, what's going on, and so on.
  • What I eat, which is mostly low in carbohydrates, high in fat. You might call it a ketogenic diet, or even the induction phase of Atkins (the 1970s version). I had previously done Atkins in the early 2000s with some success, so this part of the change was somewhat familiar.

This was done gradually over the course of several weeks. During fasting times, I will drink black coffee or tea, which I initially had with heavy cream, but I cut that out except during mealtimes. I will also occasionally have chicken broth for the electrolytes.

The main reasons for doing this are summarized in Dr. Jason Fung's recent book called The Diabetes Code. His previous book, The Obesity Code, was what got me to try it at least. Given fasting costs nothing and everything else I was doing wasn't working to control my diabetes, much less my weight, why not?

A year in, I'd say it's been successful. My stats from May 2017:

  • Weight: 311 pounds or 141 kilos, which is about 15 pounds below my high water mark from 2016
  • Blood Glucose (30-day average): 137 mg/dL or 8 mmol/L
  • A1C (based on a blood test): 7.1 (highest was 7.9%)
  • Waist: 54 inches or 137 centimeters (about 2 inches lower than my largest)

As of May 2018, here's where I'm at:

  • Weight: 230 pounds or 104kg
  • Blood Glucose (30-day average): 105 mg/dL or 5.8 mmol/L
  • A1C: 5.6%
  • Waist: 39 inches or 99 centimeters

The more important bit of this: My A1C is in the normal range. Granted, I am still taking Metformin, but that means I no longer fit the diagnostic criteria for even pre-diabetes! However, there has been no change in my medications. My doctor wants me to continue taking Metformin until my A1C drops to at least 5.0%. My blood pressure, while definitely a lot better than it was a few years ago, is still mildly elevated.

When I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, I was also diagnosed with onset sleep apnea. The good news is, from the sleep study I did a few weeks ago, it looks like my apnea has improved: from 8 events an hour to 6. I do, however, still meet the diagnostic criteria. That said, given all the other changes that have taken place, and the relative mildness of my condition, my pulmonologist and I agreed that I should try sleeping without my CPAP for a few weeks, monitoring my blood pressure and symptoms along the way to ensure I don't develop any issues. That's progress!

The one frustrating bit is my weight has been more or less the same for the last few months, plus or minus a few pounds. That said, given the amount of travel I've been doing lately, keeping my weight fairly steady is a positive achievement in and of itself.

Despite the stall, I am slowly but surely shrinking around my middle and other parts of my body. Even if the scale isn't moving, progress is still being made.

Waist Progress While Weight Progress...Waits

I thought I was making progress on the weight loss front...until I wasn't.

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Basically, I've bounced around the same 10 pounds / 4.5 kilos for the last few months. That's what the blue line shows, whereas the green and red curves show where the "floating average weight" is (as calculated by HappyScale).

I suppose I can blame the fact that I haven't done a fast longer than 24 hours in a while. Also, I've been in many different timezones over the last few months, meaning my sleep is all over the map. With that as context, keeping my weight more or less stable is an achievement.

What is definitely an achievement is another notch being punched in my belt. That puts my waist loss at 15 inches (or 38 centimeters). That is definitely an achievement.

Meanwhile, the doctor tells me to keep making progress. The A1C is at a 5.6% and my blood pressure is still mildly elevated, but way better than it was when I started. Hopefully, those will all trend downward along with my weight and I can get off the meds. That would be serious progress.

CPAP and Meds No More?

A few years ago, I was prescribed a CPAP machine to treat sleep apnea. For sure, it practically eliminated my snoring and it definitely helped me sleep better almost immediately. And while I don't mind sleeping with the machine--I've gotten quite used to it, actually---I have to carry the machine with me when I travel.

Considering I am traveling pretty regularly now, it's a real consideration. Thankfully the airlines treat it as a "free" carryon, but I still have to carry it. I've also been in more than one hotel room where there isn't an outlet conveniently located near the bed. Not having to travel with it would be a benefit.

Meanwhile, it had been a couple years since I saw my pulmonologist and my appointment was this past Friday. Needless to say, the weight loss was pretty apparent and dramatic as it has been for my co-workers.

Given the significant weight loss and the fact my sleep apnea was pretty mild to begin with, he suggested I might not need a CPAP anymore. To confirm, I will need to do a home sleep study.

Of course, the problem with that is that I actually need to be home to schedule the appointment with the folks that will show me how to strap on the equipment. And, of course, to do the actual study. So it will be a few weeks.

Something else that came from that appointment: my blood pressure. It was...normal. Sure enough, as I'm testing at home, I'm starting to see normal numbers. That has to be fairly recent since even as recently as two weeks ago, I was still seeing slightly elevated blood pressure numbers.

Maybe I can stop carrying the medications as well? Certainly with my A1C at a 5.6%, I can make the argument that I don't need them anymore. We'll see when I talk to my primary care doctor in a week or so.

The Non-Scale Victory I'm Really After

While I've had plenty of scale victories, as it were, there have plenty of victories that cannot be measured on the bathroom scale. Oh sure, the non-scale victories are happening as a direct result of the ones I am achieving on the scale, the progress is not exactly linear.

Before and after

The above photo was surfaced by Google Photos a few days ago. It's one of those "Then and Now" photos. Then was four years and about a hundred pounds (or 45 kilos) ago. It was also before the real reason I am going down this road: a Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis which came in October 2014.

Back then, I definitely had some health issues. These included migraines, swelling in my feet, which got really bad on long flights, and sleep apnea. When Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension were officially added to the mix, these items started making sense.

One of the diagnostic criteria for Type 2 Diabetes is your HbA1c number, otherwise known as just A1C, which is a measurement of your glycated hemoglobin, or a measure of how much sugar has been in your blood over the past 3 months.

The generally accepted ranges for A1C are as follows:

  • Below 5.7%: Normal
  • 5.7% - 6.4%: Pre-diabetes
  • 6.5% or more: Diabetes

My A1C was a 7.9% at first diagnosis, definitely in Type 2 Diabetes territory. During 2015, I had managed to get it down to a 6.1%, but then I fell off the wagon and before too long, it was back to a 7.1%.

Clearly what I was doing wasn't working. More specifically, the changes I had initially made were not ones I could stick with. As a result, I regressed.

Then, 10 months ago, I started down my current path of eating once a day and limiting sugars and carbs. These choices were made in order to reduce the frequency and the amplitude of insulin spikes impacting my system.

Sure enough, my average blood glucose came down. Here's my 30 day average from about a year ago.

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And my current average:

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My weight clearly went down.

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Also, my A1C came down. My previous blood test in December had my A1C at a 5.9%. The one I took earlier this week shows my A1C at 5.6%. That puts me in the normal range but I am still taking Metformin.

The next obvious step would be to stop taking Metformin, and hopefully the blood pressure and statin meds as well. When I last discussed this with my doctor, he told me my A1C would probably go up about a half a point once I quit Metformin. As such, he would only agree to let me go off the meds once my A1C was a 5.0% or less. We'll see what he says when I see him in a couple weeks.

In any case, this is really the victory I am after: kicking diabeetus to the curb. I'm not going to say it's cured, but it's definitely down for the count. I plan to keep it that way.

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