Archive for the ‘Weight’ Category

Ryan Henn: A Vegan Success Story!

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

If you’ve read my blog for long, you know that I mostly feature articles summarizing published research. But every now and then I like to have some fun that doesn’t involve comparing risk ratios and statistical significance.

I’ve known Ryan Henn since he organized the Vegans in Vegas conference in 2011. As serendipity would have it, he moved to the Sacramento area in 2012, right around the time I also moved back to the area. I actually never thought of Ryan as particularly out of shape but one day I ran into him and he was strikingly buff. I asked how he did it and thought his story was quite interesting, and he graciously agreed to write an article for my blog. I hope you will enjoy it!

How I Transformed my Body in Seven Steps
by Ryan Henn

For most of my life I’ve been fat. Not heavy, not rotund, stout, or any other euphemism you can toss out. No, I was fat. At age 18 I topped out at more than 300 pounds. Now a lot of that was due to chronic health issues, but my love of fatty meats, cheese, and refined food – and lots of it – was the major factor. By incorporating exercise and making small dietary changes, I was able to drop down to the 200-220 range by my early 20s. Even after adopting a plant based diet in 2004, I struggled with my weight, occasionally dropping down a few pounds only to watch them creep right back on.

In late 2013 I had my body fat measured using a dunk tank, also known as hydrostatic testing. I’d been working out pretty consistently through the years and figured I was in the 16 percent range. Turned out I was pretty far off as I was actually 20.1 percent; far from where I wanted to be. That meant I was carrying around about 40 pounds of fat, enough to fuel my body for more than a month and a half without eating a single bite of food. I knew it was time for a change. I renewed my commitment to getting fit and undertook a fitness challenge, vowing to lose the flab by the start of summer. So beginning in mid-December 2013 at 205 pounds, I began to buckle down with a cleaner diet and hit the weight room regularly. When summer arrived I had my body fat retested. I’d dropped down to 175 pounds and 7.1 percent body fat. That meant in six months time I’d lost more than 28 pounds of fat and also gained about four pounds of muscle.

I thought it might be helpful to others if I shared some of the lessons I learned during my weight loss journey. I’m no expert and I’m not pretending to be. In fact, I’m just getting started on my own fitness goals. There are many paths to getting fit and my only intention is to share the road I took in hopes that it will inspire you.

So here are the seven steps I used to transform my body:

#7 – Eat plants – lots of them

I’ve eaten a plant based (vegan) diet for nearly a decade. Despite this, I’ve always struggled with my weight. Let’s face it, just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Oreos are vegan. Enough said. Even though I actually ate pretty clean to begin with, and already limited my enjoyment of overly refined foods, I still couldn’t drop the pounds. I’ve always had a big appetite and get enjoyment from eating, which makes portion control difficult. However, compared with eating the standard American diet, I’ve found being vegan makes it much easier to stay within striking distance of my goal weight. Most natural plant foods tend to be lower in fat and calories while also containing a lot more fiber to fill you up. And of course, in addition to being very healthy, a vegan diet is also much better for the planet and our animal friends. I loaded up daily on green smoothies, peas, broccoli, zucchini, eggplant and squash.

#6 – Cut the cardio

I hate cardio. There I said it. Does that make me a weight loss heretic? Well, so be it. Turned out cardio was completely unnecessary in my success. I experimented with it at times to see if I could boost fat loss or stimulate my metabolism. And what did these efforts get me? Tired legs, poor sleep, and dramatically decreased recovery time. If you love running, keep doing it, but don’t think cardio is the only way to drop weight.

#5 – Eat those carbs!

Working out makes me hungry. That’s good since eating around your exercise session is ideal. Meals consumed pre-exercise help fuel your workout and meals afterwards help repair the damage inflicted. I typically worked out in the evening and always consumed 1/3rd or more of my calories post training. Post workout is also when I’d load up on carbs, although I also ate them throughout the day.

I found limiting my carbs killed my recovery and turned me into a general grump monster. So I aimed to get 40-50% of my daily calories from mostly healthy complex carb sources. The exception was post workout when I’d consume some sugary cereal and usually had a slice or two of whole multigrain bread with my dinner. The rest of the time I stuck to fruit, oatmeal, brown rice and the like. I aimed for a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight or roughly 25-30% of calories which left about 20-25% of calories from fat.

#4 – Stop cheating yourself out of results

There are a ton of questionable fitness articles on the web. Many of them proclaim that cheating on your diet with either a cheat meal or entire cheat day can boost your metabolism and help you drop fat faster. Of course they never have any hard science to back this up. I’m here to tell you it didn’t work for me. All it did was delay my progress and make it difficult to figure out if I was losing weight. Now, I’m not saying you should never “cheat” with a high calorie meal or day. I did and I think you should too. But not every three days and not even every week. At first I tried different schedules and carb cycling routines. However, what ultimately worked best for me was to listen to my body. In the beginning, about every two weeks and then about every week towards the end, I’d start getting hungry, like really really hungry. So I’d plan a day to eat at or above my maintenance calorie level and load up on carbs while trimming my fat intake back as far as possible. These excess carbs were used to fill up my depleted glycogen stores while not piling on a lot of excess fat. Chowing down on pizza and fries won’t give you this same effect and will just pack back on some padding (trust me, I learned this one the hard way).

#3 – Calorie counting sucks but you should do it anyway

All the tips and training in the world won’t do you a bit of good if you can’t control the basics – calories in vs. calories out. I struggled in the beginning and while I was losing weight, it was at a pretty slow rate. I was tracking calories consumed but had to make educated guesses about how many calories I was burning daily. Then I learned about the Bodymedia Fit (www.bodymedia.com) and it changed my whole life. Ok, not really. But it made losing weight so much simpler. You wear the Fit around your upper arm and it tracks energy expenditure to within a 5-10 percent margin of error. By showing you how many calories you’re burning, you can adjust your daily food intake accordingly to make sure you’re achieving your desired calorie deficit. If your deficit is too much, you will start to metabolize muscle for energy (see Calculating the Daily Calorie Deficit For Maximum Fat Loss). You can also see for yourself what does and doesn’t boost your metabolism and how many calories you are actually burning doing all that cardio. Turns out it’s probably a lot less than you think. I found it much easier to create a calorie deficit by reducing the amount of food I ate than by trying to pile cardio onto my weight lifting. I also knew that if I was hitting my daily deficit, daily fluctuations on the scale didn’t mean anything. Thus I was able to skip a lot of the second guessing and head games that can accompany dieting.

#2 – I don’t care about your politics so long as you’re a progressive in the weight room

Progressive overload is the concept that you should always be pushing yourself to be a bit better each workout. That means adding a bit of weight or an extra rep. Doing the same thing you did last week or last month just isn’t good enough. And if you’re not adding plates to the bar or pumping out an extra rep here and there, then it’s likely your recovery isn’t optimal. For me that meant I either wasn’t sleeping enough, wasn’t eating enough, or wasn’t resting enough.

For anyone who cares – or is even still reading at this point – I hit the weights 5-6 days a week using a three or four day body part split for about an hour each session. The body parts were split as: chest and triceps; back and biceps; shoulders, traps and abs; legs and calves. Roughly, I typically do 12-16 sets total per large muscle group broken into 3-4 sets per exercise (for legs, I count squats and dead lifts as both quads and hamstring exercises).

I alternate heavy and light workouts. For example, if I worked chest twice in one week I’d have a heavy day where I worked in the 2-8 rep range and a lighter day where I worked in the 8-15 rep range. This worked awesome and I was consistently able to add weight to all my lifts.

This sort of workout system might not be for everyone. The article Muscle and Muscle Fibers explains how to test your muscle fiber type to determine which workouts will be the best for stimulating your muscles.

#1 – Tank tops

Yep, tank tops are the key to everything. They’re light, breezy, sexy, and fun to wear. Plus everyone looks awesome in the gym if they wear a tank top – especially a Team Vegan tank top from Vegan Outreach!

In all seriousness, getting fit should be fun. Pick activities that you love to help ensure you stick to them. For me that meant lifting weights. But if you love running, cycling, hiking, or playing sports, then do that instead. While dropping weight wasn’t always easy and it required sacrifices at times, both from myself and my family, it was a ton of fun. There’s nothing as amazing as watching your body transform before your eyes.

I hope you’ve learned something from these tips and are inspired to embark on your own fitness quest. And remember, getting fit isn’t just about hitting a specific goal, it’s about the journey to get there. Oh, and be sure to pack a tank top or two just in case. You never know where your road to fitness might take you.

If you’d like more information or have any questions, always feel free to contact me at ryandhenn@gmail.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ryan.henn.

Useful Links:

Body Media – for monitoring energy expenditure
New Grip – non-leather workout gloves
Vegan Weightlifting: What Does the Science Say?

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Low Carb, Eco-Atkins Diet after 6 Months

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Summary

Eco-Atkins is a vegan, low-carbohydrate diet. After 6 months on the diet, people lost 15 lbs and LDL cholesterol levels went from 174 to 157 mg/dl. Compliance was not high.

In 2009, a 4-week clinical trial putting overweight people on a low-carbohydrate vegan diet, known as the Eco-Atkins, was released. I mentioned it in my article Of Oil and Ethics.

It was promising because after 2 weeks, LDL cholesterol levels went from 174 to 134 mg/dl. After 4 weeks, LDL cholesterol levels appeared to be stuck, at an average of 136 mg/dl. Participants also lost weight and had some other improvements, and they reported feeling more satisfied than did the participants in the control diet (a lacto-ovo, semi-low-fat vegetarian diet).

It took the researchers awhile to publish it, but they just released a report on what happened to the participants after 6 months (1). Unfortunately…not much. Their LDL cholesterol levels were back up to 157 mg/dl at the end of 6 months. They had still lost some body weight (15 lbs) and their risk for heart disease had improved over baseline.

The analysis was done on an intention-to-treat basis which means that people who didn’t stick with the diet were included in the final results (or their numbers were estimated). Overall diet compliance was fairly low at only about 34% of the recommended foods.

For those on Eco-Atkins, percentage of fat went up from their normal diet, but only from 34.4 to 36.0% of calories. And when you consider that their calories went down, from 1,840 to 1,388, their total fat intake actually went down, from 70 to 56 g.

The authors suggested that increases in monounsaturated fat (MUFA) could account for some of the improvements in heart disease risk factors, but their MUFA fat intake, while increasing slightly on a percentage basis, actually went down in total, from 27 to 23 g.

When you add in the fact that fiber increased from 12 to 21 g, it seems that all of the improvements could simply be attributed to a lower intake of calories and an increase in fiber.

Still, the Eco-Atkins did better than the 28% fat, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. However, at baseline, the participants in the lacto-ovo group had an average daily caloric intake of 1,598, which was 242 calories less than the Eco-Atkins dieters. During the study, the lacto-ovo vegetarian dieters ate a very similar amount of calories to the Eco-Atkins dieters (1,347 and 1,388 respectively). As such, the Eco-Atkins dieters had a lot more room for improvement which could possibly explain why they did somewhat better.

In conclusion, this trial provides evidence that fiber is good and calories are bad for lowering cholesterol and losing weight.

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References

1. Jenkins DJ, Wong JM, Kendall CW, Esfahani A, Ng VW, Leong TC, Faulkner DA, Vidgen E, Paul G, Mukherjea R, Krul ES, Singer W. Effect of a 6-month vegan low-carbohydrate (‘Eco-Atkins’) diet on cardiovascular risk factors and body weight in hyperlipidaemic adults: a randomised controlled trial. BMJ Open. 2014 Feb 5;4(2):e003505. | link

More on BMI Study

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

I thought this Wall Street Journal article about the JAMA study on Body Mass Index (BMI), Is Being Overweight Healthy?, was interesting though it didn’t address the reasons why higher BMI might be protective (as discussed in my original post).

A Good Way to Measure Obesity? Fat Chance

Excerpt:

“For instance, according to his BMI, one numbers-savvy researcher is overweight—a finding he rejects. “As a 6’3″ swimmer, I find myself falling in the lower part of the overweight category even though my body-fat percentage is very low and no one would say I was overweight,” said David Dunson, a biostatistician at Duke University. He said he knows athletes who lose muscle, not fat, when they fall off their exercise regimen, and then are counterintuitively reclassified from overweight to normal weight.

“It is hard to say how many people are misclassified by BMI. Steven Heymsfield, executive director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, an NIH-funded institution in Baton Rouge, La., who co-wrote a commentary accompanying the JAMA study, estimated about 5% to 10% of the U.S. population may be ill-served by BMI.”

Ginny Messina also wrote about it:

Weight, Health and Vegans…plus the Fabulous Our Hen House Magazine

Excerpt:

“The perspective that is gaining support is one that points away from the scale, and toward healthy habits that are sustainable—that is, habits that not only support health, but that also don’t leave you feeling hungry and deprived.”

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Is Being Overweight Healthy?

Friday, January 11th, 2013

You might have heard about the meta-analysis released January 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Association of All-Cause Mortality with Overweight and Obesity (1), which found that “overweight” people, based on body mass index (BMI) had a lower risk of mortality than what is considered a healthy BMI.

Before I had a chance to read the study myself, I came across a USA Today article, Experts weigh in on the dangers of extra pounds, quoting the well-respected nutritionist, Dr. Walter Willett from Harvard School of Public Health, about the JAMA study:

“The most serious problem in the paper is that the normal-weight group included a mix of lean and active people, heavy smokers, patients with cancer (and) other conditions that cause weight loss, and frail elderly people who had lost weight due to rapidly declining health. Because the overweight and obese groups were compared to this mix of healthy and ill persons who have a very high risk of death, this led to the false conclusions that being overweight is beneficial and that grade 1 (moderate) obesity carries no extra risk. The new statistics are completely misleading for anyone interested in knowing about their optimal weight. … The paper is a pile of rubbish.”

Yikes! That’s quite a rip on the JAMA study’s authors. Not only that, but why would a research group put so much effort into a meta-analysis but fail to adjust for some of these obvious confounders, and why would JAMA publish it?! But Willett’s criticisms would explain how they could have reached such a counter-intuitive finding and all would still be good in the nutrition universe.

I read the study fully intending to find the criticisms by Dr. Willett to be valid. Alas, I did not. From my reading of the paper, they did adjust for smoking and age, and analyzed the study for any bias due to “frail elderly people.” They did some testing to make sure previous heart disease and cancer were not affecting the results.

The control groups for the studies in the meta-analyses were typically people with a BMI of from 18.5 to < 25 or from 20 to < 25. The study found that people with a BMI of 25 to < 30 had a statistically significant 8% reduced risk of mortality (.92, .88-.96). People with a BMI of 30 to < 35 had essentially the same risk of mortality. It wasn’t until you got to the group of people with a BMI of 35 or greater that risk of mortality significantly increased.

So, what could be going on here? Well, a BMI of 18.5 to 20 has often been considered to be unhealthfully thin, but from what I gleaned from the paper’s discussion, excluding such people did not appreciably affect the results.

BMI doesn’t account for muscle mass, as Willett alludes to above, but it is hard to believe that there were enough muscle-bound people in the meta-analysis to confound the results to any significant degree.

Willett went on to say in the interview:

“In the last several years, two other major analyses, involving the collaborative efforts of more than 150 scientists, have been conducted on the relation of body weight to mortality…these studies showed clearly that both overweight and all grades of obesity are associated with increased mortality.”

In contrast, the JAMA authors mention that their results are consistent with two previous meta-analyses. And they give some reasons why being overweight might be associated with lower risk of mortality:

“Possible explanations have included earlier presentation of heavier patients, greater likelihood of receiving optimal medical treatment, cardioprotective metabolic effects of increased body fat, and benefits of higher metabolic reserves.”

Occam’s razor would dictate that the best explanation is simply that it’s healthier to be “overweight,” and I don’t like doing backwards somersaults to wish away findings that, had they gone the intuitive way, would be unquestioned as solid. That said, given the prevalence of type 2 diabetes and the fact that vegans have been shown to have a much lower rate of type 2 diabetes and much lower average BMIs, I’m not going to try to gain weight. But it’s a little demoralizing to have one of the most basic ideas in nutrition ̵ that being overweight is not better than being a normal weight ̵ significantly questioned.

In conclusion: Rubbish? Not from what I can tell. Food for thought? Yes. As is often the case, this isn’t the last word.

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Reference

Flegal KM, Kit BK, Orpana H, Graubard BI. Association of all-cause mortality
with overweight and obesity using standard body mass index categories: a
systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2013 Jan 2;309(1):71-82. |
link

Energy Density & Fiber

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

I read two studies from the May issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for continuing education credit. I normally don’t post about such studies, but these two were rather interesting.

Energy density is a way to measure food in calories per weight. Generally, this means that foods high in fiber and water are going to have lower energy density. A meta-analysis of 17 studies in adults and six studies in children found that low energy density foods were associated with lower fat mass and lead to improved weight loss and weight maintenance among both adults and children (1).

But when it comes to fiber intake, Americans barely increased their fiber intake from 1999 to 2008; it changed from 15.6 to 15.9 grams per day. The recommended amount of fiber for adults is 25 to 38 grams per day (or 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed).

References

1. Pérez-Escamilla R, Obbagy JE, Altman JM, Essery EV, McGrane MM, Wong YP, Spahn JM, Williams CL. Dietary energy density and body weight in adults and children: a systematic review. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 May;112(5):671-84. | link

2. King DE, Mainous AG 3rd, Lambourne CA. Trends in dietary fiber intake in the United States, 1999-2008. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 May;112(5):642-8. Epub 2012 Apr 25. | link

Ginny on Body Shaming

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Ginny Messina: Body Shaming Fails Vegans and Vegan Advocacy

I couldn’t agree with Ginny more on this recent trend to promote veganism, if that’s what it actually does, by insulting people who are heavy.

Obese children and low-carb diets

Monday, March 19th, 2012

I thought this story was interesting enough to share, Obese kids have hard time sticking to low-carb diet:

“For the new study, researchers randomly assigned 100 obese 7- to 12-year-olds to one of three eating plans: one that followed the conventional wisdom of portion control; a low-carb diet; or a reduced glycemic load plan that cut down on certain carbs that typically cause surges in blood sugar…

“Over one year, all three plans worked equally well in controlling kids’ weight gain. The difference, researchers found, was that the low-carb plan was tough to stick with.

“…kids in all three diet groups ended up with healthier cholesterol levels.”

Thanks, Chris!

Ginny Messina: Should You Go Vegan to Get Skinny?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Ginny Messina: Should You Go Vegan to Get Skinny?

Vegetable Protein Associated with Lower Body Weight

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

A study was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association’s August issue doing an analysis of protein and weight gain. The odd thing about it was that they used data from a cohort of male employees of the Chicago Western Electric Company — from the 1950s!

In any case, they found that, after 7 years of follow-up, animal protein intake was associated with being overweight and obese, but vegetable protein was the opposite — inversely associated with being overweight. This would be a no-brainer except that they found this independent of calories, fat, and carbohydrate. The findings were highly significant.

The researchers theorized that the different amino acid composition of the animal vs. vegetable protein could account for the difference.

It would have been interesting to see a cohort study done like this in which fat-free mass was included as a variable. In other words, did the people eating more animal protein have a higher muscle mass leading to a higher body mass index (the measure of overweight and obesity)? But even if it did, I’d be surprised if it could make up for the high level of statistical significance. Further research is needed!

Citation

Bujnowski D, Xun P, Daviglus ML, Van Horn L, He K, Stamler J. Longitudinal Association between Animal and Vegetable Protein Intake and Obesity among Men in the United States: The Chicago Western Electric Study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Aug;111(8):1150-1155. (Abstract)

Losing Weight on Potatoes and Junk Food

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Potato Diet

As someone who loves hearing good news about my bad habits, I was excited to read about Chris Voigt, the Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission, who is eating nothing but 20 potatoes per day for 60 days (link). Potatoes have been linked to diabetes and the theory is that it’s because of their high glycemic index (see here).

After 30 days Voigt’s health markers changed drastically:

Weight – 197 to 189 lbs
Total cholesterol – 214 to 162 mg/dl
HDL (good) – 45 to 46 mg/dl
Triglycerides – 135 to 100 mg/dl
Blood Glucose – 104 to 92 mg/dl

It only takes 11 potatoes to meet the RDA for all amino acids, and 13 to meet the RDA for protein (calculated using a white, baked potato and with a 10% buffer for vegetable protein).

It appears that he isn’t eating sweet potatoes or yams (especially since his vitamin A intake is very low), but I wasn’t able to verify that.

To be clear, I’m not recommending this diet.

Junk Food Diet

And here is another article, Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds, about Professor Mark Haub from Kansas State University. Professor Haub lost 27 lbs in two months of eating nothing but junk food. He says that this shows you can lose weight eating anything, as long as you eat less calories than you use.

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