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Green Faces (or How to Hack Your Metabolism) (bryanenglish.com)
19 points by bengl on Sept 11, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 55 comments

The initial feeling of being tired, groggy, achy, etc. is called the "low carb flu."[1] Usually it takes a week or three for the symptoms to pass before you get over it. The more you relied on carbs as energy before, the longer it will take. The first time I switched to a paleo diet it took about 2 weeks before I felt normal. After that passed energy levels will skyrocket. I no longer rely on coffee and have high energy throughout the day.

You need to incorporate more good fats into your diet if you are still feeling low energy this far into it. There are two sources of energy for our body, carbs and fat. The low carb flu happens as your body is adjusting from using carbs as energy to using fat. It's likely you have lost so much weight because you haven't eaten any fat so your body is eating itself (literally).

Examples of good fats to eat are: coconut (meat, oil, butter), avocados, olives (oil, whole), and animal fats. You should definitely up your intake of these. That should help with your low energy.

Reading about paleo, primal, eating real food, or whatever you want to call it would be helpful. It is definitely a sustainable way to eat. It is essential to eat fat though. Lots of people have done and researched variations of these. Regardless of whether they are "fads" it is useful educate yourself a bit before jumping into something.

[1] (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/low-carb-flu/#axzz26B70TsmP)

Me and 3 other friends went through the same phase when switching over to the paleo diet; pretty regular thing, you just need to churn through and eat plenty of good fats. Nuts are a helpful snack too.

I would also highly recommend that you work out on a fairly regular basis; eating properly is one side of the equation. I've personally recommended Nerd Fitness (http://nerdfitness.com) to quite a few persons. It's very easy to start with and you can build it up to a fairly serious work out if you're motivated.

I feel stupid asking this, and I ask forgiveness if it's a dumb question, but why are there so many people improvising diets?

What is wrong with dietologists[0] ?

I have been overweight and went to a dietologist, got back in shape (lost about 16kg/35 pounds) in a few months and have stayed stable for years. And I did not have headaches and was allowed some "free" meals, alcohol and sweets, with "moderation" caveats.

I can't think of another health-related area where people think that it's better to form your own expertise than to go to a doctor, at least not in the same scale[2].

It seems strange to me, if you have persisting headaches you see a doctor, if you have a bad posture you get foot support, but if you are overweight you start reading books on nutrition and try to hack yourself.

What am I missing?

[1] medics with a specialization on diets, since chrome says this is not an english word. Possibly "nutritionist".

[2] except possibly body building, where arguably there is not a "problematic precondition"

To answer your first question - I'd posit that (especially for North American readers) the big driver is a lack of credibility in the FDA, and the 'health industry' in general. Look at the evolution of the Food Pyramid (as probably the most well known example) over the years, but also the lack of controls on where HFCS ends up (ie. just about everywhere), alternating between demonising and lionising various food stuffs from one decade to the next.

Any kind of scepticism on this front is probably (pardon the pun) a healthy thing.

Like in everything we do, people always want to find the new cool thing and easier thing to do than the routine every one else does. It's the same reason why every new week a new diet featuring a cool name or acronym becomes popular and then dies off.

Also why there are 10 new JavaScript data binding frameworks released per day.

Dietitian is the word you're looking for.

As to why the skepticism: the most successful sciences have immediate feedback mechanisms to tell you when you're doing something right. Changing diet and food, however, is slow in effect, hard to monitor, and differs a lot from person to person. Some things are obviously bad--drinking a lot of coke, for instance, and not purposely eating after you're full--but beyond that most things appear to have worked decently for someone at one point or another. So the people in the know have stuck with one set of beliefs for awhile (heavily pushed by the government, which in turn has pretty much acted at the dictates of certain agricultural powers) while alternatives work as often as the party line.

because doing it the right way is too hard!

First off: congratulations on the weight loss and actually sticking to a diet, that's a really hard step.

Anyway, I recently started working at Fitocracy, a fitness website, and decided to make a similar decision to yours. In fact, one of the main reasons I took my job offer was because during my initial interview the CEO looked at my workout history on the site and said "Whoa, nothing logged since March? We'll change that", since starting just under 3 months ago I've done down 25lb in weight and have gained a shit ton of strength. It's freaking awesome. Here are some things I've learned along the way:

1. I absolutely hate diets that consist of "eat this, not that", diets like this set mental barriers that difference between "good food" and "bad food" and can have lasting negative effects of "oh god why would you eat that that's terrible for you" which, combined with the fact that most do this to carbs makes you feel bad about yourself because you'll spend a lot of time on your cut thinking about the delicious foods you can't have.

2. You'll get much better results if you combine diet and exercise, you'll get faster results, and you won't have to be on such a strict diet because the exercise will make up for it.

I'm currently combining Leangains with a strength based workout program and have lost around 2-3lb a week consistently for the last 2-3 months, and I feel fucking awesome every day. I get to eat whatever I want as long as it fits in my macros, and my macros have specific guides set up to include being able to go out and get drunk semi-regularly.

> 2. You'll get much better results if you combine diet and exercise, you'll get faster results, and you won't have to be on such a strict diet because the exercise will make up for it.

For many people, this is not true. Exercise uses up surprisingly few calories, and people justify all kinds of crappy foods for themselves based on this reasoning.

The classic example is "oh, I've jogged for a half hour, so now I can have this grande mocha frappa doppa lattechino". The sugary drink crushes the effects of the run.

So! Know yourself. Stick to your diet. And if you work out, you can eat a very little bit more. But crappy sugary stuff is always crappy sugary stuff.

Also, track what you exercise and eat so you know how you're doing.

You'll note that I did not mention cardio at all but instead mentioned strength training, but yes what you're saying is very correct for someone on a low-cardio only exercise plan. It's very important for someone starting out to always be keeping track of what they're doing so that they can re-evaluate their diet and exercise plans at the end of every week or other time period.

Strength training is a more difficult case because it really depends on goals. If you're trying to bulk and build muscle, yeah, you can eat a whole bunch more.

But other people strength train to look better while trying to lose weight; those people can do a leangains-type program, or just generally eat at a caloric deficit to cut weight. Thus, they have to watch what they eat too, strength training or no.

While I agree with what you say, it had the opposite effect with me. "Drinking this grande mocha frappa doppa lattechino will make that hour-long run for nothing, and I didn't endure being bored out of my wits for an hour for a lousy coffee".

This lead to quite the weight loss.

I don't think I would consider this hacking your metabolism. In fact, as the author mentions, his metabolism actually seems to have "slowed down" since he feels fatigued more often than before. For a completely no-carb diet, this should be expected. Cutting out carbohydrates forces your body to primarily convert stored fat for its fuel instead, which is a slower and less efficient source of energy.

IMHO, practice moderation in all things, including moderation. Do I need to cut out ALL carbs? Should I really consume NO fruit? I can NEVER enjoy a good beer? Those rules would simply never be sustainable for me.

I generally stick to what I would call a healthy diet: mostly fruits and vegetables, eggs, whole wheat bread/pasta, small portions of meat (usually fish) with most dinners and some lunches. At the same time, I don't feel at all guilty about grabbing a couple beers or ordering the wings if I'm out to dinner or happy hour with friends. This system has been working for me because I also exercise regularly: alternating between jogging and hitting the gym most days of the week. Yes, it clearly took a bit of discipline to get into these habits. But now it's just become a lifestyle I find easy and enjoyable to maintain. What hacker doesn't appreciate a good challenge with such immediate and important results as your good health?

You might be interested in the "No S" diet. [1]

  No Snacks
  No Sweets
  No Seconds
  Save, Sometimes, On S-Days

  (S-Days are Saturday, Sunday, or other days that are
  special to you for family/cultural/religious reasons)

[1] http://nosdiet.com/

Your practices sound very similar to LeanGains, minus the Intermittent Fasting. LeanGains worked for me, and I love it, because it's really just science (free!) applied to your lifestyle, rather than a cool trend or product designed to sell.

In addition to moderation, balance is important. Having a healthy balance between fat/proteins/carbs/nutrients as well as balance between life/work/exercise. Being off-balance is usually unsustainable in the long term.

For example: Going no-carb will lose weight up front, but the body requires sugars in some form -- much of the weight will come right back once returning to a balanced diet with carbs. However, the body can be trained to crave less carbs, and weightloss with a low-carb diet is sustainable for a lifetime.

Fats are a slower source of energy, but not less efficient. At 9 calories per gram vs 4 for carbs, it's no wonder that our bodies choose to store fat as a fuel reserve. Yes, carbs are also stored, but only a very small amount that can be diminished quickly.

Also, there is a difference between your goals and the goals of the OP. He clearly wants to lose weight while you sound content with maintaining. He could certainly transition to a less strict diet once his goals are met.

Not having any fruits is quite puzzling indeed.

There are no fruits which dont have a nutritional equivalent vegetable, minus the sugar and taste.

For e.g. 3/4 th cup of orange juice and half a cup of red peppers have the same amount of vitamin c

Aren't peppers still fruits?

I'm not sure, but the difference in sugar is the main thing (sugar raises insulin which signals cells to store fat, very roughly speaking)

I know there is a separate culinary definition of what a fruit is that I don't really understand. Like under some definitions a tomato is a vegetable. Maybe he is working off that but botanically a pepper is a fruit. His point would probably stood better if he used spinach as an example of a vitamin C rich green.

Either way, these fad diets always scare me. I wouldn't touch anything that draws simple, arbitrary, counter-intuitive lines on what foods you can and can't have. The body is good at knowing what it needs and what it doesn't. Support it with a little bit of knowledge and self-discipline and it will serve you well. I guess a well balanced diet is old fashioned and people just want to try and cheat the system somehow.

Well, i was going more for the "kitchen" definition of fruits which in general is sweet and juicy.

Basically the difference is sugar - you dont need bananas and oranges and mangoes for your vitamins.

In the context of the OP, I think that was meant by "green"

Fruits have sugar. Sugar turns into carbs.

... what?

Sugars are a type of carbohydrate.

I've been trying to get into shape myself and I've found that any kind of novelty diet like this may get rid of some pounds but doesn't ultimately stick. Because you can lose 19 pounds in 3 weeks and then gain it all right back in the same amount of time.

You have to make a change that you can live with for the rest of your life, as depressing as that sounds. But what has been working for me is:

1) not eating late night (this is the hardest for me but also the thing that makes the biggest difference)

2) eating smaller portions. once you get into the habit this actually becomes rather easy. just eat 1/2 or 2/3 of the portion size you'd normally eat. eating until I was totally stuffed was just a habit I didn't even realize I was doing

one easy way to eat a little less is to skip the sides. like if i'm eating a hamburger - skip the fries. Or skip the bag of chips to go with the sandwich.

3) kinda watch the snacks and desserts. i don't cut them out but just keep in mind if i ate a bowl of ice cream yesterday, then skip dessert today.

Aside from that I pretty much eat exactly what I have always ate. I have lost about 22 pounds. I'm currently stuck at that weight because I keep cheating on my own system! But I think it's important not to be too hard on yourself otherwise you tend to just give up.

I lost 40-50 pounds (and have kept it off for ~4 years) by:

1. Cutting pop out of my diet. I used to drink it every day for lunch, and now I drink it ~once a month max.

2. Eating smaller portions of snacks - I used to sit down in front of the TV or computer with a bag of snacks that I would devour. Now I either take a handful from the bag, or I put some in a bowl for me to eat.

And overall I just try to eat until I am full, which I used to have trouble with.

nice work! i agree, it's more about small changes that make a difference in the long haul rather than trying to drop weight fast.

[No way of commenting on the blog post] I've been doing more or less the same thing for the past five months - I lost 15 pounds so far, and I'm down to between 11-14% bodyfat.

I do find paleo to be sustainable - I would make it a point to include nuts and multivitamins into your diet - that will make a lot of the negative things go away.

I would also recommend the book "Why we get fat" by Gary Taubes, he goes into the science of all of this.

My pet theory is that most diets aren't really that effective, but what _is_ effective is thinking about what you eat. It's not about how many carbs you consume or whether this food item would have a face or not. What's important is that you're consciously thinking about what you're eating. "Do I really need to eat this snack, or can I wait another hour til meal time? Is this junk food or is it healthy?"

I've found that simply tracking my calories (not with any specific goals in mind) has helped me drop weight like nothing else. I don't think "Oh, I have to get under 2000 calories today", but I think "Man... this little 2.5oz bag of cheezits is 200 calories! Maybe I'll eat an apple instead." And you know what? It works.

Bottom line is that what you eat matters less than what you think about what you're eating. That's my two cents.

You are absolutely right. That's what worked in my case: I started, about a year ago, to count calories using the Lose It! app (I can't recommend it enough, it's a free service and works for most food you can get in the US.)

Soon enough I could distinguish between a 600cal lunch and a 1000+ one. Or between a 500cal snack and a ~200cal one. Just the realization that I could cut about half my caloric intake by choosing A over B and not feel hunger made a huge psychological difference: all of a sudden those huge Five Guys burgers weren't as tempting as they used to, and I started using 'calorie free' stuff (like tomatoes, celery, and even some cheese spreads) because it could fill me up. I used to ignore veggies because 'why would I put them in my sandwich if I have a tastier option like bacon/mayo'.

At the end of the day, paraphrasing Timothy Ferriss said in one of his TED talks, I had to learn to "eat like an adult", instead of giving in to every childish want.

I agree. Most fad diets seem to be an elaborate trick to get you counting calories. They typically start out by dismissing calorie counting as difficult/boring/depressing (it is), then forbidding/strictly limiting/making less exciting extremely calorie-dense foods, then using some other metric (typically, portion size + preparation) to effectively limit calories.

It works up until a large enough mass of people subscribe to the fad, then someone finds a way to pack more enjoyment (also, calories) into the fad's rules. From there the fad stops "working" and another one rises to the top.

I'm wondering if it's just because those foods happen to also be foods with low glycemic index [0].

Based on an NPR story I heard yesterday [1] (if correct), I'd guess that you'd get similar results eating any of those types of foods [2].

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycemic_index

[1] http://www.wbur.org/npr/160757730/low-and-slow-may-be-the-wa...

[2] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/1/5/T1.expansion.html

Some other reading on the factuality of the importance some people/diets are putting on the glycemic index: http://alanaragon.com/glycemic-index

The conclusions part is pretty great.

I don't understand why people diet without exercise. The two go hand and hand. Don't have time? Make time. It's really a small commitment with an enormous upside. It's like trying to become a billionaire without investing any of your money. You need to invest your healthy diet into a good exercise program and the rewards will be substantial. Then you can do carb loading (eating carbs on days you exercise and avoiding carbs when you are not exercising) and avoid all those no-carb side effects.

Slow Carb argues that you need some legumes to sustain a diet like this. Add some lentils or refried beans once in a while.

This is not true. Slow Carb includes legumes to ensure you are eating enough and maintaining satiety throughout the day (so you don't snack). Coming from the Standard American Diet (SAD) most people are used to eating high and fast carb diets. Legumes are Slow Carb which helps the dieter adjust easier than the diet the poster is doing.

Many many people sustain a diet of meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds without the need for legumes. The key is to get enough fat and protein. You do not need to eat carbs.

The headaches are (probably) withdrawal symptoms from sugar. Also, make sure you crank up that water intake.

Yep - I've been following a similar diet (GAPS) to improve some health issues and found that the first few weeks were tough because of sugar/carb withdrawal symptoms but it improved a lot after that. I'd recommend the book Nourishing Traditions for anyone wanting to keep eating some carbs. It's based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which it's my aim to transition to eventually as it's a bit more relaxed about grains/pulses/dairy when prepared correctly.

Hi Bryan: good job experimenting to improve your own health and happiness, and thanks for posting so others can learn from your experiments. My wife and I have started a blog about this sort of diet, which is sometimeas called a "ketogenic diet": http://www.ketotic.org/

Our first blog entry was about the tiredness and headaches you've experienced and some suggestions for how to get past them: http://www.ketotic.org/2012/05/keto-adaptation-what-it-is-an...

For what it is worth, I think a keto diet is probably a very healthy way to live long-term. I wouldn't want you to just take my word for it, though. Eventually I hope to write enough on our blog to explain why I think that.



While it would make me a nice person to congratulate you on your weight loss, as a fitness enthusiast I feel compelled to point out that short term fluctuations in weight - even if they are in the magnitude of 19lbs in 3 weeks - are meaningless. What matters is whether that weight loss is sustainable in the long run.

Becoming fit is actually similar to becoming rich. Both are about having good habits that govern one's lifestyle. People who try to "hack" their way into weight loss end up gaining back that weight relatively quickly. Similarly, people who "hack" their way into richness end up either poor, or in jail, or both.

Bottom line is that in order to undo the effects of eating badly for years, you need to eat well and exercise for years. There are no shortcuts.

His "side effects" sound like symptoms of low caloric intake, not "removing dietary carbs". With more attention to his diet (yes, I mean counting calories) he could keep up this plan without the headaches/irritability/fatigue.

Also, without knowing other stats (height, age, etc), it's hard to judge if 19 pounds in three weeks is healthy. In general, no, but if he started at 5'5" and 280lb the weight was likely more of a risk than the diet.

These cutesy "rule diets" are a very poor way to manage your health. They're relatively easy to live by, but that's about the only good thing that can be said. There's nothing wrong with eating a low/no-carb diet, but you should educate yourself so you know you're being safe and how/when you'll see the results you want.

I’ve dropped 19 lbs in just under three weeks! This is a ridiculous loss of weight. It might even be unhealthy, I’m not really sure.

Oh, it's very unhealthy. That 19 lbs was probably mostly muscle you burned because you essentially went into starvation mode, Christopher McCandless style. There aren't enough calories in meat and (most) vegetables to survive on.

Safe weight loss is pretty simple and there's no other way around it. Cut out 500 calories per day, either by diet or exercise and you'll lose 1-2 pounds per week. Any more and you aren't burning the fat you have you are burning through your muscle.

6lb a week can easily be a large loss of water weight for someone who's overweight, it's not maintainable but if it happens for more than a few weeks in a row is the time to be worried, not now. Also, cutting 500 calories per day is a weight loss of 1 pound per week (a pound is 3500 calories) :)

Oh, and it's very possible for someone who's untrained to lose more than a pound or two a week (by being on a bigger than 1000 calorie daily deficit) and still not lose muscle but instead make new muscle and strength increases, it's just harder.

Even if this is 1/2 to 3/4 water weight loss, that still likely isn't healthy.

You're right though, without more information to supply context it's hard to judge what is "too much".

I would not be so quick to jump to conclusions. You can see his target weight is 250lbs, and the more weight you have the faster you can lose lbs.

the more weight you have the faster you can lose lbs.

This may be true at extreme weights but unless he's 5 foot nothing, 250 is not an extreme weight. To safely lose weight you have to cut calories but you can't starve yourself otherwise you aren't losing fat.

Strange as it may sound - try to eat more fat? It's an extremely efficient source of fuel. Try eating some nuts (almonds, brazils, hazels) to keep energy up. Really helps!

Nice work. Keep it up. As long as you're eating enough nutrients, your body will adjust to a healthy weight. Like others have said, try adding more healthy fats to your diet. They will help provide energy as well as satiety. What you're doing is sustainable. Visit marksdailyapple.com to see how thousands of others live like this.

Congratulations - you've (re)invented another low carb diet. You're in good company - Tim Ferris did much the same, a few years ago, in the Four Hour Body. Doubtless others will follow.

This is also called Keto is you were maintaining a threshold of less than 20grams of carbs a day.

Yet another "I dismissed the Atkins diet until I tried it" article.

Poor old Atkins. Even the so-chic Paleo diet is pretty much what he recommended back in 1965.

Paleo is different from Atkins in the area of food quality. Paleo stresses the importance of quality foods where Atkins originally ignored it.

Diets that ignore lifestyle are greedy. How about a new term? "Ethnodiet," or "technediet" rather than "logodiet" or "science-based diet." Regardless of the authority of scientists, or nutritionists, you are probably not one. Whereas appealing to the authority of astronomists may be an epistemtically defensible practice, appealing to the authority of nutritionists may not be. The discoveries of astrophysics arguably have direct influence on your life, but if they do, we'd be hard-pressed to integrate those findings in our everyday lives; the discoveries of nutrition, oddly researchers and laypeople alike, seem to carry an inherent imperative as to what-comes-next after said discovery is made. Whatever the content of the discovery, the "what-comes-next" is a matter of decision, but at the same point, it is a decision of whether the discovery is amenable to all of food science or not. In astrophysics, for instance, we have a long-standing set of metarules for the integration and change of the overall conceptual system. Where is this in food science? And what is more, Does a scientist's finding in and of themselves say anything about normative structure? (This idea is from Alain Badiou: "Situations are nothing more in their being than pure multiplicity. Nothing normative can be drawn from the simple realist's observation of the becoming of things.")

1. Eat Food (that could be readily identified by most traditional cultures; no Food Disputes; don't eat foodlike substances)

2. Mostly Plants (-- they have the most mature survival systems; eat them)

3. Not Too Much (learn how to eat little; that is, learn austerity, not asceticism; apply more traditional diets as this doubly expresses a political note and expresses Occam's Razor which does not aim to lose weight, but return one's body to an earlier state of humans within "civilization")

Try it. "Science-based diets" tend to lack consciousness of the ethnological structures we must persist within. A diet that says {nothing} about the contextualized features of Eating is blind. -- Something like what Einstein said.

I was trying to comprehend your post, but it was a little too conceptual for me! Though point #3 I agree with - I think a lot of us need to re-adjust what is a normal sized portion. Many of us are eating as if we burned 6,000 calories working in the fields all day. But most of us are not doing that type of manual labor so we need to eat less.

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