On 1 January 2016 -- 1 January being National Start A New Diet and Exercise Program Day here in the US -- I started a new diet and exercise program.
A few months earlier, my arthritis got a lot worse. For years I've had problems with my knees, especially on the right side, but by October of 2015, it had spread to my hands -- again, especially the right, the one I use most. That's scary. It's bad enough to have a hard time walking (I'd been using a cane for almost ten years) but if it got to the point where I couldn't use my hands anymore, I'd probably start thinking about stepping out in front of a bus or something. And I'm not sure I'm kidding. :/
I went to my doctor, and rather than up my pain meds, she suggested I try an anti-inflammatory diet by a woman named Kathy Abascal; it'd been getting some good results among her colleagues. It's not a gimmicky, Hollywood-Champagne-and-Kumquat type diet, recommended by your brother's wife's hairdresser. This is a ridiculously healthy diet, endorsed by the Chief of Medicine at our local hospital, that my doctor urged me to try. As she said during that visit, after describing how it worked, "This is really how we should all be eating," -- so I decided to do it.
If you've ever hung out with anyone in the fitness or lifting community, you might've heard the term "eating clean." This diet is pretty much the ultimate in eating clean. It eliminates all processed foods, all additives, all added sweetners (among other things) and has you eating mostly fruits and veggies, with just a little meat/grain/beans/etc. I'll describe it more fully below, for anyone interested.
So I got Ms. Abascal's book, read it, went "Holy crap, this is restrictive!!" and faced the coming New Year. I honestly didn't think I'd be able to stick with the diet for very long, but my stiff and aching hands urged me to give it a really good shot.
At the same time, Jim and I got each other fitness bands for Christmas. We both could use some more exercise, although I was pretty sure I was doing a decent amount of walking. Not 10K steps a day, but I figured I was probably doing about half that. I used a pedometer for a while, but my last one had broken a few years earlier. I'd heard good things about fitness bands (I have a Garmin Vivofit) so we went that direction.
On 1 January of last year, I ignored the fitness band and just did my usual amount of walking. Umm, wow. I was just a bit over 1000 steps by the end of the day. O_O Yeah, definitely could use some work there. I started getting up to walk during the day, just back and forth at home, rather than going out. I can't walk very far at any one time because of my joint problems, and sometimes something will go "Sproing!" and I'll have a sudden need to sit down, right now. So walking at home felt like my best option. And it actually works very well. If you think, "Hey, 10K steps is like five miles! I can't walk that far!" then walking in shorter chunks is a great way of building up steps. Even miles. Getting up every hour or so and doing even just a few hundred steps adds up by the end of the day. I still can't walk five miles all at once, but after a year of working on it, getting my 10K steps in on any given day -- assuming my knees or feet aren't griping that day -- is now more a matter of time management than physical ability or disability.
Through January, though, I was still working on hitting 3-4K steps per day, and feeling like that was a pretty good triumph when I managed it.
Back to the diet. Since I started this diet hoping it'd help tone down my aching joints, rather than for weight loss, I didn't actually weigh myself on 1 January 2016. Ms. Abascal's book makes it clear that this isn't primarily a weight loss diet. She says that if you need to lose weight, you probably will, and if you need to gain weight, you probably will. That's not the main goal, though. So when I started this, I figured I might lose some weight, but if I did I'd consider it a great bonus; I didn't count on or plan for it, not wanting to be disappointed. I was mainly focused on my joints.
When I saw my doctor in mid-October of '15, my weight was 323. Knowing that I had a ridiculously restrictive diet coming up, I completely pigged out over the holidays. We spent a week at my mom's house around Christmas, and I seriously ate a plate of Christmas cookies for breakfast every day. [hides under keyboard] I felt like a bear getting ready for a long, lean winter. I kept going right up through New Year's Eve, then locked myself into Food Prison on the first.
By mid-January, I thought, Hey, maybe I've lost some weight. So I hopped on the scale and... 316.
Holy crap, 316! That's seven pounds less than I weighed before going crazy over the holidays!
Suddenly I wished I'd gotten on that scale on the first. I'd kill to know exactly how much I weighed then, because in just those two weeks I'd obviously dropped an insane amount of weight. I decided to pick something conservative and measure from there, just to have a number to look at, so I added ten pounds to my October weight, and assumed I weighed 333 at the beginning of the year. I've gained ten pounds before in a week of pigging out, much less six weeks -- I was probably at least 350 -- but I didn't want to overshoot and claim more of a loss than I actually had, so 333 is my official starting weight.
By the end of January I'd lost 32 pounds.
I started keeping much closer track after mid-month, and for the last week or so I was "only" losing about half a pound a day. Which means for that first week or so, I must've been losing more like two pounds per day. (And it was probably even more than that, but again, I'm assuming a start of 333.)
I checked with my doctor and she assured me that a huge weight loss is normal when you make a major change, especially with diet and exercise both. There was nothing to worry about unless it continued that fast. I was thinking I'd be okay with it continuing that fast for a while -- if I could get down to my goal, which is 180 (I'm 5'11" and naturally muscular), then we could fix whatever other problems rapid weight loss might've caused. [wry smile] But I did keep slowing down, drat. :)
By mid-February, I was down about 40 pounds, and looking at going to the Anthology Workshop in Oregon. Since I'd be eating three meals a day at restaurants, which aren't friendly to this diet -- even vegetarian meals tend to have way too much pasta/rice/beans bulking them out -- I figured I'd just bag the diet for the ten days or so I'd be gone, knowing that I'd regain some weight, but that I'd go back to dieting and losing when I got home. Ms. Abascal says that once you're firmly into the diet, you can have one or two cheat days a month, where you eat whatever you want, to satisfy cravings and such; I'd just have one big long cheat week-and-a-bit. But my stomach is kind of touchy (I have gastroparesis, which means my stomach doesn't empty as fast as yours, and sometimes it decides to run backwards for a while) so I figured I should find out how my stomach would react to going back to a normal processed/chemical-laden/protein-high diet while I was still in Seattle, 20 minutes from my local hospital and its long chart on me and my needs, rather than out on the Oregon coast, in a hotel that's not staffed after like seven or eight in the evening, in a town with only one taxi and a local ER I've never been to. So I picked a weekend and went back to eating normally, just to see what'd happen.
I'll admit I'd been dying for bread. I thought I'd miss sweets first, but actually, I don't eat many sweets on an everyday (i.e., non-Christmas [cough]) basis. And on this diet I eat a LOT of fruit. Once you've stopped eating foods with added sweeteners, it's like leaving a loud rock concert and slowly recovering your hearing -- after a little while without added sugar, your tastebuds sort of come out of hiding, and fruit tastes really sweet. What I miss most is breadish things -- sandwiches, bagels, big hunks of bread. I miss pasta too, although chewy bread is really my main craving here. Also cheese. And bacon. Mmm, bacon. But mostly bread. So I dove into bagel sandwiches, and mac-n-cheese, and we had pizza that night. My stomach was okay with it, yay.
The next morning, I woke up feeling like someone had dropped a piano on my head.
It's funny, before this test, I hadn't thought the diet was doing much for my arthritis. Which was the whole point of trying it. By mid-February, the weight loss was enough of a reason to keep going, but I was sort of disappointed that my hands still got stiff a lot. But after just one day of eating normal again, I was reminded of what stiff-and-aching really felt like. Oh, yeah, it could be a lot worse. I was also tired, even after a full night's sleep, and dragged around all day with no energy. These are all symptoms of inflammation.
I kept eating normal for that second day, and had actually planned to go for three or four days to see what would happen, but by the end of the second day I gave up. I felt so horrible, I had to go back on the diet.
It's funny, all that stuff we think is just age -- getting tired easily, lack of energy, minor aches and pains? Funny how much of that is inflammation caused by diet. I'd forgotten what it was like to actually have some energy. I thought it was just because I was fat and middle-aged. And I'm sure those were/are major contributors. But there's the food component too, and that's controllable.
I went to my workshop, and did my best to stay on the diet. I stocked up at the grocery store and had like 20 pounds of fruit in my room. I ate fruit for breakfast, plus a scrambled egg the hotel kitchen made for me every day, for protein. Then for lunch and dinner I went to restaurants but tried my best to stick to my diet. It didn't actually work very well; as I said above, even vegetarian entrees aren't really designed for this fruit/veggie heavy diet. I ate a lot of stripped down chicken caesars -- a chicken caesar salad with no bacon, no cheese, no dressing, no croutons. It's basically a pile of Romaine lettuce with a few strips of chicken. Technically within the bounds of my diet, but not at all within the spirit. The point is to be eating a wide variety of fruits and veggies, for the fiber and micronutrients. A big pile of lettuce doesn't really fill that bill. :/ I did my best, but ended up eating some white rice, and noodles, and whatever, here and there.
After the last day of the workshop, we all went out to dinner at a nice restaurant. I figured, "Screw this," and decided to eat whatever I wanted. The next day would just be the writers' lunch, then the drive back to Portland; if I was achey and had no energy, I could nap in the car, no big deal. And it turns out I felt fine the next day. So apparently I could have a cheat meal, but not a whole cheat day. Okay, I made note of that and kept going.
Home, and back to the diet. I actually plateaued for a while at -40 pounds, doing the gain-a-bit-lose-a-bit thing for weeks. I tried upping my walking to 10K steps a day (I'd been around 6-7K at that point) and it worked for a while, but after about a week of that, my knees and feet started griping at me, hard. Okay, can't do that yet. I backed down to 6-7K steps per day, but added intensity with 5lb hand weights. I can't walk with the weights for very long, but one or two short walking sessions per day with the weights adds enough intensity that I eventually started losing again. A few months later, I plateaued again at -70. More walking, more weights, I kept hovering around -70. I just stuck it out, and eventually I started losing again, slowly. But by then I was facing the holidays again.
What to do this time? I'd delayed starting my diet because I knew doing a new diet over the holidays would be kind of stupid, and a set-up for failure. What to do this time?
It was mid-October and I was down to -80, about 253lbs. I felt a lot better -- going up and down the stairs at home wasn't the huge, daunting chore it'd been before, and I can walk a lot farther all at once, and faster, than before. I was feeling great and looking forward to continuing my progress. But still, the holidays. Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas... pretty much all of December. Could I stick to it?
I decided that, again, trying to stick to the diet through the holidays would just set myself up for failure. At this point, the diet felt normal, as did the walking. It wasn't a "special" diet anymore, it was just the way I normally ate. I was confident that I could let myself eat holiday good stuff here and there, and still get completely back to my diet afterward with no problems. I didn't spend 2.5 solid months pigging out :) but I let myself eat good stuff when it was around, when I felt like it. I ate some Halloween candy, then back on the diet till Thanksgiving. I had bread and stuffing and gravy with Thanksgiving dinner, then after for as long as the leftovers lasted, then went back on the diet. December I pretty much let myself eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And yeah, I ate cookies for breakfast at Mom's again. But I also ate lots of fruit and veggies, and kept doing a lot of walking.
When I decided to ease up for the holidays, back in mid-October, I was down about 80 pounds from my official start weight. I figured if I regained 10-15lbs by 1 January, that'd be cool. Even 20lbs would be... not completely sucky. I knew whatever I gained, I could lose again, and then keep progressing in the new year.
So I've been "stocking up" again, watching 1 January approach. Jim and I got pizza the evening of the 30th, figuring it'd last me a couple of days. And I drank a few mugs of hot chocolate. And I ate a lot of fruit, and walked a lot. This morning I got on the scale.
I'd gained about 11 pounds. Woot!
So I'm back on my diet, and I'll get back down to -80 soon, and keep going. I'm hoping to hit -100 by the time we go to BayCon in May -- we skipped it last year because I got sick, so there are friends there who won't have seen me in two years. That should be fun. :) But even being eleven pounds up, I feel so much better than I did this time last year, I can't even describe it. When I'm on the diet, I have energy. I can move. I can walk for more than a few minutes at a time, and I haven't used my cane since April. With the arthritis, standing in one place is actually harder than walking; I couldn't stand for more than about five minutes before my joints started to ache. Hanging out with friends at conventions and workshops, which often means standing around talking, was really hard; I usually had to go find a seat somewhere while everyone else was still chatting. Which sucked. I was at a workshop in October and actually stood for over an hour one evening. I hurt, but just being physically able to stand for that length of time, even if it hurts, is pretty amazing.
And since you don't have to count anything on this diet -- no counting calories, cups, grams, nothing -- it's easy to follow. No math to do, nothing to add or track. And so long as you eat proportionally, and avoid the things you're just not supposed to have, you can eat as much as you want. I'm never hungry, and that's a huge part of why this works for me. The occasional cheat meal -- once or twice a month, during most of the year -- gives me something to look forward to, and makes it easier to do without things like bread and cheese and bacon. My favorite cheat meal, when Jim and I go out, is a bacon-cheeseburger; except for an occasional lettuce leaf, there is literally nothing in that sandwich that I'm usually allowed to have, so it's a great cheat. :D
I haven't blogged about this before because 1) I wasn't sure what the results would be when I first started, and 2) most people don't want to hear about other people's diets. :) But I've had some pretty awesome results, and figured posting once after a year wasn't too bad. Maybe I'll post again a year from now and do an update.
I hope everyone else is having a great New Year. :D
Kathy Abascal's book -- The Abascal Way To Quiet Inflammation is available on Amazon. To summarize:
No chemical additives of any kind.
No processed foods of any kind.
No added sweeteners of any kind -- sugar, honey, molasses, Sweet-n-Low, Splenda, Truvia, nothing whether real or plastic.
No dairy of any kind.
No wheat or any derivatives -- also no oats or barley because they're related to wheat.
No dried corn or any derivatives, including corn oil.
No farmed fish -- only wild-caught, with a couple of exceptions for things like mussels, which are farmed in a way that results in their having their full nutritional value.
No peanuts, peanut oil, etc.
No canola oil.
No white rice, although brown and wild rice are fine. (White rice is processed.)
No dried fruit -- concentrated calories.
No fruit juice -- concentrated calories.
Eat Proportionally: (I'll explain what that means down below.)
Chicken and eggs -- preferred organic free-range, but if you can only afford regular then fine.
Turkey -- again, organic free-range preferred.
Fish and shellfish -- preferred wild-caught.
Lamb -- grass-fed.
It really does make a difference in the meat (or eggs) what an animal eats, BTW. With salmon, for example, wild-caught salmon has much darker orange flesh than farmed salmon. And eggs from true free-range (pastured) chickens have much darker orange yolks than eggs from factory-farmed chickens. The nutritional stats are very different between the two kinds of animal products.
Nuts and Seeds -- pretty much anything but peanuts.
Legumes -- beans that aren't green beans (eaten in the pod), plus lentils, whole quinoa, and soy products.
Whole Grains -- brown, black, red and wild rice, millet, amaranth, and white potatoes count as a grain.
Oils -- pretty much any plant-based oil that isn't peanut or canola oil.
Lots of fruits and veggies:
More veggie-ish veggies you can eat as much as you want -- spinach and lettuce and other leafy stuff, radishes, squash, cucumbers, celery, mushrooms, sprouts, broccoli, green beans, chili peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, etc.
High-glycemic veggies: carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, turnips, peas, pumpkins, beets -- you can have as much of these as you want, but always eat them with some "regular" veggies and/or fruits.
Fruit -- whatever you want.
Chicken broth -- remember, no chemical additives, and no added sweeteners. Most chicken broth from the grocery store has sugar in it :P so I just make my own.
Chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs -- unsweetened
Chutney -- unsweetened
Soy Sauce -- wheat-free
Salt and Pepper and other herbs and seasonings
Now, putting it all together:
Whenever you eat something, a meal or a snack or whatever, you want at least 2/3 of what you eat (by volume, just eyeball it) to be from the "Eat Freely" list, mostly fruits/veggies. The other 1/3 can be whatever you want from the "Eat Proportionally" list. So for breakfast pretty much every morning, I have a hard boiled egg (for protein) and a huge plate of fruit. The egg is a lot less than 1/3 of what I'm eating -- the 1/3 is a maximum. I eat a lot of chicken, so I might have a bowl of veggies with some chicken for dinner, or a bowl of root veggie mash (sweet potatoes, carrots, sometimes turnips or parsnips), with added chopped spinach, plus chicken or cooked pinto beans or brown rice or lentils. If I'm still hungry after dinner, or just want a snack, I'll usually grab some fruit. I eat LOTS of fruit.
If you get a chocolate craving, a couple of bananas mashed up with a heaping tablespoon or two of unsweetened baking cocoa turns into a sort of chocolate banana pudding. It looks a bit iffy -- you could probably smooth it out in a blender or something if you wanted to go to the trouble -- but it's very yummy, and calorie-wise it's just like eating the two bananas.
That's basically it. The book has complete lists of stuff you can have, stuff you can have with other stuff, and stuff you can't have, but if you want a cut down version, I'll bet just following the proportional eating -- at least 2/3 of fruits veggies to balance out other stuff whenever you eat anything -- will take your weight down, if you don't care about the inflammatory stuff. Although it's amazing how much better I feel -- fewer aches, not as much stiffness, more energy. Sometimes when I have a cheat meal, I'll feel awful the next day, all achey and tired. Obviously something's knocking me on my ass, in the foods I don't usually eat.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. :)