Sunday, October 2, 2011

Struggling with Weight Control 2002-2011

I outlined in the previous blog how I got into running to lose weight and how I fell in love with running in the process. But now my priorities had changed. Now I wanted to lose weight so I can run better. And here is the problem: My company closed in 2002 and I started working at home where I had access to the kitchen and eating any time I felt hungry, but also bored, anxious or just procrastinating. This caused some weight gain. My weight fluctuated between 175-180 lbs for a few years. Here I am, at the 2006 River Run half marathon and the 2007 Towpath marathon, around170 lbs:

I gradually fell into this pattern: I would gain weight during Fall/Winter. I have noticed that the cold weather makes me hungry, as if my body wants to pack fat for the cold days of the winter. I would then try to drop the weight in the Spring. I tried a variety of ways to lose weight:

Fasting. Even as a teenager, I would occasionally fast (after eating a lot during the weekend, I would not eat on Monday). I had no problem with that. I know that traditional medical science does not look at fasting favorably, but I see nothing wrong with it, if done occasionally (and some people think it is actually good for you, even for a long period of time). It is a good way to stop weight gain and jump-start a diet of more restrained eating. I only fasted more than one day once: On March 2010 I fasted for 2 ½ days. I started at 170 lbs and exited at 163 lbs. The reason I stopped (on Friday) is that I had a race coming up on Saturday (St. Malachi 5 miles).

Detox Diet: This was my wife’s idea. It is a 10 day diet. You start by “preparing” for 6 days by eating a diet that is similar to a low-carb diet. No bread. Eggs for breakfast. A salad with a piece of meat or fish (4 oz) for lunch and dinner. Some things we were allowed to eat (yogurt, fruits) some things were not allowed to eat (sugar/sweets, bread, cheese) and some things we had to eat. What I liked about this diet is that, except for breakfast, my wife would prepare all the meals so I did not have to think about anything, just ate what my wife served me. Between meals, I cheated a bit, eating some cheese and nuts. I never felt hungry, yet the weight was dropping fast. The 7th day we went on a one-day fast. This was followed by 3 more days of diet, to “seal the deal”. I entered the diet at 175 lbs and exited at 168. There was a weekend with a long run in the middle, where I could not run too fast or too far, but right after the diet was over, I ran the Hermes 10 miler with a very good time (1:11, 7:07 pace) and felt very strong. After my first Detox diet, I dropped at least 5 lbs and kept it off.

While my wife was a true believer in the Detox diet, I was never convinced that there was anything magic behind it. I thought I lost weight because I ate less than nromal and did not eat any sugar. At this point, I believed that food was food. You eat less (of food, not particular foods), you lose weight, you eat more, you gain weight.

After the original success, we tried the diet several times at different times. I cheated even more, eating many “forbidden” foods. Even though we lost a bit of weight, we got all the weight back. After a couple of tries, the weight would come as quickly as the weekend after the diet ended. I remember asking my wife towards the end of the diet “why can’t we continue eating like this every day?” In other words, why don’t we make this a way of eating for life, instead of going back to our previous ways of eating? But, this did not happen. We were back to eating lots of carbs, and the weight came back.

3 pm Diet: I wrote about this diet earlier in my blog. The concept is simple: Stop eating after 3 pm. I would normally eat 3-4 meals until 3 pm and then stop. Somehow I managed not to have an appetite after 3 pm, even on days where I ran to the fitness center, exercised, and then ran back again. This worked great for me. I reached my lowest weight ever, 158-160 lbs in the summer of 2009, when I followed this diet. I also had a PR in all major distances in this period:
  • 5K: 19:19 – still stands
  • Half Marathon: 1:30:07 (stills stands)
  • Marathon: 3:22 (I was not at my lowest weight, and I improved to 3:19 next year)
  • Buckeye 50K: 5:04 (I was in pace to break 5 hours and then hit the wall, 2 miles before the finish, but the record still stands).
I developed the theory that if you go to bed relatively hungry, you will never gain weight. Somehow, during the night, fat is being burned. It is eating late at night and going to bed with a full stomach that will make you fat. During the night, fat will be deposited.

I tried to repeat the 3pm diet next year, but it was impossible. I was unable not to eat after exercise in the evening.

In July 2011 I was up to 170 lbs, a worrisome sign because we were in the middle of the summer and I should have been 160-165 lbs. Something interesting happened then: We went to Colorado for a conference and vacation. We had free breakfast and happy hour at the hotel. Since the food was free, I ate a lot. I started my morning with a run from 3 to 5 miles. Then I had a large breakfast with eggs and sausage/bacon, a yogurt and orange juice. I would then skip lunch, being stuffed from breakfast. During the day I moved a lot going to tours and attending the conference.

At 4pm, I went to the happy hour. I ate a lot of cheese. I mean, a lot! Some crackers, nuts, and drank a beer or two. Overall, I did not eat much sugar. I also ran less than normal, but walked a lot in tours, etc. Given the amount of fat that I ate, I was expecting to have gained weight, so I was surprised to see that I lost 5 lbs (165). I attributed this weight drop to the fact that I was moving a lot. It did not occur to me that my diet (high fat, low carb) had anything to do with it, on the contrary, I thought that this diet was terrible.

Two weeks later, after returning to my previous eating habits, I hit an all time high of 172 lbs. This was a bit of a shock. “It is August and I am 172 lbs. What is going to happen in the Fall or Winter?”

In addition to the extra weight, I was struggling with my running. My long runs were a drag. I was constantly hungry. I needed a nap every day, despite getting plenty of sleep at night. I remember one day I was running from home to the rec center and at around mile 2 I called my wife and asked her to bring some food because I was feeling weak! It is interesting that my racing was good (I ran the Perfect 10 Miler on August 14, 2011, with the excellent time of 1:08:64, 6:53 mile/pace). It was my overall training that did not feel good.

And then came the “Epiphany”….

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