Lose My(fat)self

This is the first of a series of posts on my fat loss journey. My intention is to share with you the struggles I went (and still go) through, the successes, stumbling blocks etc. I weave into this chronicle a mixture of exploration of the science, social perceptions, mindset, history and evolution of the phenomenon while happily exploding the myths, lies and obfuscations so prevalent in the weight loss industry.

“How fast Do You Want It?”

“So, how fast do you want it?”

It’s December 13th 2012. I can’t forget the date, for it is when I started one of the most meaningful journeys in my life; the road to integral health.

Integral health means caring for everything I am surrounded by and supports me, from the cells of my body to this planet, the only home making life as we know it possible.

My first order of business is to restore balance within self. Because I sure am out of balance in a big way. (the pun is totally intended!)

The previous morning, I clocked a totally unhealthy, disrespectful 302 pounds. I felt dejected. Dejected, sick and tired of feeling worthless, sluggish, and foggy.

The footprints show how fast I stepped out of the scale that morning!

“Enough already!” After years of steady, relentless fat gain, I’ve had it. Hitting the 300 mark crystallized the decision to acquire and KEEP healthy habits. It’s a decision I had postponed with a constant stream of excuses, rationalizations and what have you for way too long.

I am sitting opposite Ben, personal trainer who’s about to graduate in Exercise Physiology. The guy eats fitness, breathe fitness, and talk fitness. He’ll be perfect! My time to release all this fat is NOW! I feel pretty gung-ho, in a “When am I starting dammit?” mood.

Yet, Ben’s question is important. I reply: “How fast should I do it?”

Ben smiles, with a twinkle in his eyes: “Fast enough to see encouraging results soon without compromising your health Doctor.”
I feigned annoyance: “Cut the BS…Doctor! You’re the specialist; gimme the plan, the program, numbers the whole shebang.”

The amicable banter hides a very important consideration. When people are truly ready to release fat, they want and need fast initial results. The data is pretty clear: those who witness visible initial results during their first month have a much better chance of achieving their long-term goals. So, I am ready to blast off, right?

Yes…as long as it is done safely and sustainably. Deep down, I dread releasing fat only to regain it all (and then some) later. I want to succeed, but wonder about a desirable pace of fat loss. The figure of 2 pounds per week is most oft cited when it comes to safe weight loss. Sticking to this formula means I’m staring at 50 weeks of hard work.

Can’t I go faster? Or is it too risky? Temper expectations and “play it safe” or “Full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes!”? I am acutely aware that starting strong correlates with lower dropout rates and better chances of finishing strong. Going for the first few weeks with no results correlates highly with dropout. I don’t want to dropout.

Fair enough but…what is safe? Let’s see if some health science can help us.
I say: “Come on Ben, talk to me! I have the motivation; what I need is the rationale for this road map you suggested.”

Ben on “What Science Sez”

Fat loss is essentially a phenomenon of energy transfer from our reserves (fat and glycogen) toward maintenance of life. When it comes to safe maximum fat loss per day let’s start with the obvious: the more reserves you got to burn, the more you can burn. Conversely, the last pounds are always the toughest to let go. Our bodies are geared for survival, not fashion aesthetics: Any attempt to deplete dwindling energy stores will be fiercely resisted by our body. Hundreds of thousands of years of food insecurity will do that to a specie.

Any method used to estimate a safe maximum daily fat loss, will have to take into account these facts. Luckily for us, a researcher named Alpert and his team was up to geek this problem.

Translated in plain English the take home lesson of Alpert’s team was:

We restricted food intake of volunteers maintaining moderate activity and found that they can’t lose more than 31 cal/lb of body fat/day without compromising their muscle and vital organ mass. In other words, if the volunteers were to LOSE MORE THAN 31 calories per pound of body fat per day, then, their rate of daily fat loss should be considered unhealthy/unsafe.

What it Meant for Your Truly

I am MOST decided to get this right, as in long-term right. How far I could push myself in a sustainable way is therefore paramount in my mind.

But before being able to do this intuitively, I need to acquire some sensory awareness, to get into my body in a more intuitive manner. Running the numbers is a first step, a rough guide to be sure, but essential at this time. Intuition may be a talent, but no talent evolve and develop without feedback and training. Numbers will give me this initial feedback until I become better.

38% body fat of 302 pounds of total body weight = 114.8 pounds of fat.

Taking Alpert’s upper limit of 31 cals/pound of body fat/day, we get:

31 cals/pound of body fat/day X 114.8 pounds = 3558 cals/day.

Since a pound of fat yields about 3,500 calories, I could safely go for 1 pound of pure fat loss per day with moderate to intense exercise and calorie restriction.

“WOW! I can start full speed ahead!” I exclaim.

It is amusing and somewhat reassuring to note this little math exercise validates what we observe in TV programs like “Extreme Weight Loss”. The amount of daily fat loss of the participants, most especially at the beginning, can seem quite extraordinary…but in the absence of any medical condition, it should be plenty safe to proceed as they do.

However, Ben is quick to bring me back to Planet Earth:

–“As you lose more fat, the maximum allowable will drop too.”

He continues:

–“Say when you get down to 250 pounds, with 29% body fat. In this situation you could safely lose a daily maximum of:

250 X 29% = 72.5 pounds of total fat
72.5 pounds X 31 cals/pound of body fat/day = 2247 calories/day

So, your safe maximum daily fat loss would be a bit more than half a pound per day.”

Which is still a VERY respectable fat loss thank you very much! I must remind myself, this is DAILY fat loss.

–“Of course, this will get more difficult as you get nearer your target weight.”

I wish I had paid more attention to this warning. But this is a topic for another post.

Right now, on this date of November 16th 2015, I clock 208 pounds in the morning before any meal.

So far so good!