Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Diet History

Since my mid-20's, I've used several different diets to control my weight. The most I've had to lose is 20 pounds. Usually it's been about 15 pounds.

I've proved empirically that any of the mainstream diets work. For the short term. Long-term is a different story.

The net result is that I've lost that same 15-20 pounds repeatedly over the years. I lose it, then I gain it back. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes faster than I lost it.

In the Netflix series Explained, the episode "Why Diets Fail" discusses this. In one study it covered, the Stanford Dietfits study comparing the response of subjects to either a low-fat or a low-carb diet, Dr. Chistopher Gardner concluded that they both worked.

But it wasn't because of the specific makeup of the diet. It was because in both cases, once researchers tabulated the numbers, it turned out that people on each diet were cutting their intake by roughly 500 calories a day. The diet provided them a structure for doing that, without explicitly doing it.

So for the purpose of weight control, it appears that any reasonable diet will work, as long as you cut the actual intake relative to your activity level. That doesn't address the other positive or negative effects a particular diet may have on your body or your health.

One conclusion I came to some time ago is that dieting for weight control is much more of a psychological game than a physiological one. Physiologically, many methods seem to be effective, but are limited long-term by behavioral ability to stay with them.

The other diet-related health concern I have is diabetes. Both my grandmothers were diabetic, and other members of my family have it. That light I see ahead isn't the end of the tunnel. It's the genetic freight train barreling down the tracks straight for me. One of my diet goals is to avoid getting run over by it. So far I've been successful.

For reference, I weighed 145 lbs. when I graduated from high school. A year later, after regularly swimming 4000 yards a night 3 nights a week, I weighed 155 lbs. and was in the best shape of my life. Though I had put on 10 lbs., it was all muscle; I wasn't bulky muscular, I was lean muscular.

I use that as my benchmark and target ideal weight. The most I've ever weighed is 175 lbs. I currently weigh 165 lbs.

When I was younger, the activities I listed on my Physical Fitness History were largely sufficient to control my weight independent of diet. As I got older, that became less effective, particular after about age 40. The amount of exercise that was sufficient to lose weight exceeded the amount sufficient to cause injury. Basically, I couldn't lose weight by exercise alone without hurting myself.

Diet Principles

Reflecting my experience with various diets and my goal of living into my 100's, the principles are:
  • Eat for whole body health.
  • Eat for long-term sustainability, for both myself and the world.
  • Follow the Oldways Vegetarian/Vegan Diet Pyramid.
  • Minimize or avoid highly processed or refined foods, particularly added sugar and refined grains. Use intact whole grains and whole grain flours instead.
  • Minimize or avoid meats and other animal-based foods.

Chronology Of Diets

Most of these dates are approximate.
  • 1983: Atkins Diet. At the time, the version in Atkins' book was a quite restrictive low-carb, high-protein ketogenic diet. Only a few vegetables were on it. After 2 weeks, even though it was working, my wife and I stopped, because we were ready to kill for a piece of bread or a bowl of pasta. Additionally, I was concerned that it reflected a poor nutritional balance. In its current form, the Atkins Diet has evolved to allow more complex carbohydrate foods.
  • 1995: We bought the first edition of The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health, by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, a founding director of Oldways. We tried briefly to follow it, but found it too big a change at the time (ironically, considering how pasta cravings had affected our Atkins Diet).
  • 2002: Weight Watchers-At-Work. This was the standard Weight Watchers program, but done on-site at my job with a group of co-workers for 12 weeks. This was very effective. I lost 22 pounds (down to 148) and learned a lot about managing what I ate. I used this method repeatedly over the years when my weight crept back up. The biggest advantage was that it allowed any food of any type, as long as it was in controlled amounts. Eventually I stopped because I disliked the point tracking methodology, but it took nearly 3 years to gain the weight back, so had good long-term results.
  • 2005: South Beach Diet, based on the results former President Bill Clinton reportedly had with it. Another low-carb, high-protein diet that was less restrictive than Atkins, but still restricted refined carbohydrates. We found it effective, but couldn't keep it up.
  • 2011: Dukan Diet. Another low-carb, high-protein diet. Like Atkins and South Beach, we found it effective, but again couldn't keep it up.
  • 2015: Ideal Protein. Yet another low-carb, high-protein diet, but based on program food. We bought the food from a diet coach and ate it in combination with recommended grocery food. This was very effective, and I lost about 15 lbs., but cost and carb cravings led us to stop. I regained the weight over the next year.
  • 2017: Low-carb, high-protein diet. Since I had found this method effective but expensive, I applied it with the guideline of no program food. I wanted to be able to do it just with what I could get at the grocery store. Since my carb cravings had been what had always ended such diets in the past, I added more non-starchy fruits and vegetables. I lost 15 lbs. again in about 10 weeks, but then we went on vacation and threw it all to the wind on sweets and other refined carbohydrates. I regained the 15 lbs. in less than a month.
  • 2018: Modified keto diet. This was largely following typical keto guidelines, since I found the high-protein diets that restricted refined carbs effective, but I further expanded my fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and included some intact whole grains. I only lost 7 lbs., but found it much more sustainable. The fruits, nuts, and limited grains prevented the carb cravings.
  • 2019: I watched the Netflix documentary The Game Changers. Combined with information I had from other sources, this completely changed my approach to diet. Where before I had been focused primarily on weight control, now my focus is on long-term health, with weight being just one aspect.

The New Diet

Until very recently, I had expected the modified keto diet, which was primarily animal-based but with a significant plant-based component, to be my long-term diet. But I've replaced that with a primarily plant-based diet.

This is the subject of an upcoming post, which also discusses the transition.

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