As part of my efforts to improve as an ultrarunner (and advance on my goal of running 100 miles in under 24 hours) I’ve embarked on an ambitious effort to lose weight. Herewith, an in-progress summary of the saga so far.
I’m 5 foot, 8 inches (1.73m) tall.
My weight has been as high as 195 lbs (88.6kg). Occasionally my efforts at losing weight have gotten me down into the vicinity of 175 lbs (79.5kg). At the start of this effort I weighed ~185 lbs (84kg).
At the start our Fitbit Aria scale somberly informed me that I was carrying ~50 lbs (23kg) of fat. By any sensible measurement I was overweight and on the border of obese.
My wife was similarly eager to lose weight/improve body composition. We embarked on this program together, which as I will discuss in the nest installment later, is a huge advantage. Both of us have been actively training for running ultramarathons, running volumes ranging from 20 to 40 miles a week. Our plan was to continue training (in both cases, with races on the schedule for mid-late April) as normal, to the extent possible given the fairly dramatic caloric restriction.
My wife signed up with a local weight loss clinic; I followed the same program but without the benefit of the support from the clinic staff.
The program is stunningly simple. You eat two meals a day, lunch and dinner. The goal is to get all of your eating each day into an 8 hour period (aka intermittent fasting), and a 16 hour period where you’re not eating anything.
Each meal consists of:
Portion size is set by body weight, so at the start each portion for me was 3.5-4 ounces - that is, 3.5-4 ounces of protein, 3.5-4 ounces of veggies, 3.5-4 ounces of fruit. As my weight fell my portion size shrank to 3.0-3.5 ounces.
Approved proteins include:
Approved veggies are:
Corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, carrots, rice, other beans, are all excluded.
The approved fruit are all basically berries: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries.
Anything not explicitly on the ‘approved’ list is excluded, including alcohol.
You will note that, although those meals will not leave you malnourished in the vitamin deficiency sense in the short term, they are going to be around 250-400 calories, and that’s going to result in a huge caloric deficit even if you just sit in a chair all day. Our training has had us running 20-40 miles per week, which means we were running a really huge deficit, as we didn’t adjust what we were eating to accommodate the calorie demand of the training. As a result, we lost weight rapidly. The doctrinaire advice for weight loss is to aim to lose 0.5 to 1 pound a week. We lost 3.5 to 7 lbs per week.
This caloric restriction phase runs for 60 days. At the end of the 60 days, you enter a 30 day maintenance phase, where you sort out what you need to do to keep your weight stable, adding the excluded foods back into your diet, getting a grip on portion size, and so on. As I write this, we are just ending the caloric restriction phase and entering the maintenance phase.
The program folks are very very clear that under no circumstances should you extend the caloric restriction phase beyond 60 days - not even if you are just a few pounds from your goal weight. If you want to lose more weight after the 90 day restriction/maintenance cycle, you can do another (perhaps shortened) cycle, and repeat ad infinitum until you reach your goal.
The range of predicted weight loss is 10-20% of your starting body weight.
We both lost ~18% of our starting weight.
Heading into this, I expected it was going to be 60 days of nonstop hunger and deprivation. Rather to my surprise, it hasn’t been bad. There were a few days of feeling weird at the start, and after that I’ve been feeling good. I’ve not been feeling lethargic, I’ve been feeling really good.
It took us a little while to adjust to a new meal prep arrangement, as we had to arrange for the appropriate protein to be on hand or else cook it, and basically have had to cook veggie portions twice a day or else eat them raw. That’s been a minor hassle, worse at the beginning but then getting easier as we established a routine, and then starting to wear on us a bit.
The exclusion of any form of added fat has been a challenge in cooking, as you can’t really sauté in a pan that has only a quick spray of vegetable oil in the way you can in a pan with a generous dollop of olive oil.
No added fat and no dairy or sugar pretty much precludes making any sort of sauce to put on whatever protein you’re having. My wife and I are both cork dorks and foodies (wine/food lovers) and so the relatively boring nature of meals and the elimination of the social activity of cooking dinner with a glass of wine in hand did start to wear a bit across 60 days.
It took a little while (a week or so) to adjust to the portions of vegetables, which seemed enormous at the start and still seem large at the end.
Workouts were tough at first, especially workouts that had high intensity intervals. For example, I’d be doing speed intervals, I’d get to the start of a fast interval, and I’d increase the level of effort and… nothing would happen. My brain was sending the signal to open the valve on the go fast fuel tank, and nothing would come out of the tank.
But as time has passed, the workouts have gotten easier, especially easy runs.
So, bottom line: the caloric restriction phase has not been much fun. At some points it’s been uncomfortable and unpleasant, and at other times it’s been just fine. It’s rather like running an ultramarathon in that regard, and we found ourselves using the usual ultrarunning tools to cope with unpleasantness: