Slow carb: week 1

Last Saturday, I sat down in the morning, and planned out my strategy for eating for the weekend. I knew I’d essentially be by myself, so if I was going to be miserable, I wouldn’t be bothering anyone. Ideally I need to lose about 40lbs; I’m at 230lbs now and 190lbs would put me at about 5lbs more than my high school weight.

My initial goals for the weekend experiment were modest:

  • Eating entirely slow carb, where the biggest change was replacing starches with beans and lentils
  • Seeing how I would feel during my first two days: how bad would the transition be?
  • Putting together some slow carb meals to see if they were palatable

Knowing that I’d be doing at least a full month of it at some point, I figured I would just stick with the diet if:

  • The transition was miserable, but I got through it in the two days (why repeat it?)
  • I was satisfied with the meals I’d created

This is how I approached the experiment:

  • I didn’t treat “Tim’s word” as received wisdom, which is fairly unusual in the slow carb world where explanations are often prefaced with “Well, Tim says…” whenever a newbie asks a question.
    • I haven’t read 4 Hour Body (and probably won’t)
    • I skipped the supplements; “toxins being released” and “flushing the body” and other pseudosciency hand-waving is nothing but woo and appeals to magical thinking
    • When in doubt, I looked at the glycemic index of the food before eating
    • I deferred to Gary Taubes more often than Tim Ferriss, as Gary’s work is incredibly well sourced
    • I followed the diet pretty strictly, though I did add a slice of aged swiss cheese to make breadless cheeseburgers and tuna melts
  • I ate any time I felt hungry
  • I did not count calories
  • I deferred to sustainability if I was particularly unhappy with something (adding in cheese, for example)
  • I didn’t exercise any more than usual

To make it easy, I planned out all of my meals for the next two days, and made enough inputs to more than last for that time. (I batch cooked all of my legumes, because cooking them is time consuming and generally sucky.) I also bought a bunch of vegetables to have as snacks, as most of my normal snack foods aren’t allowed.

Yesterday (Saturday) was my cheat day. Now for the results…

Quantitative

  • Down 7lbs (230 -> 223)
  • Two inches off my waist (42″ -> 40″)
  • I spent about $40 on food this week, way less than normal

Qualitative

  • I got a headache the first day, but 800mg ibuprofen cleared it up
  • I felt a little light headed and dizzy on the first day; this may’ve been psychosomatic.
  • Day 2 was substantially better, and I didn’t need to approach my routine in a “defensive” fashion; I just went about my life as normal
  • It was going so well by the end of day 2, I decided to just roll with it indefinitely
  • I was pissing like a racehorse for the first couple of days (most of the weight loss occurred after this period, oddly enough)
  • I could not wait for my cheat day for the first 3 days. This urge disappeared almost completely by day 5, and when I added in aged swiss cheese and made a breadless cheeseburger, the results were even better
  • I stopped getting hungry after 2-3 days. (Not that I don’t get hungry, but if you were to graph hunger over time, it’d look like a slow wave with no sharp spikes. Except on cheat day(!).
  • I did not get tired in the afternoons the way I normally do. This happened around day 3; I didn’t notice until day 6. Even trying to take a nap was useless; I couldn’t stay asleep for more than 15 minutes.
  • My energy was quite high this whole week, even after playing frisbee. Normally I’m depleted afterwards, but not this week.

Cheat day
My cheat day was not nearly as excellent as I thought it imagined it would be during the first few days. By the end, I was anxious to get back to the slow carb eating. My energy was lower; I had severe hunger spikes.

The strangest thing I noticed?

Unhealthy food is very loud. The tastes are overpowering, and there isn’t much subtlety. It’s like a food version of the loudness war: there’s not a lot of dynamic range in processed foods. Even “boring” foods like honey bunches of oats are incredibly sweet. The foods I ended up enjoying the most were fruits, and apple pie. I ate 1/4 of a 12″ pie for dinner last night, and I have no regrets for having done so.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the small Hawaiian pizza I ordered, and my normal grape fizzies (grape juice + seltzer). On my next cheat day, I will probably eat a buttload of fruit: strawberries, blueberries, pineapples, apples, and apple pie. Maybe another pizza. That’s about it.

How does this compare to counting calories?
I dieted the “normal” way back in 2010, for about 3 months; eating balanced meals, maintaining a calorie deficit of at least 500 under maintenance load every day except one cheat day per week. I lost 3lbs during that time. On the slow carb diet, I never felt hungry or deprived–which is more than I can say for my experience in 2010.

There’s an argument to be made that my weight loss is purely do to with releasing water weight by depleting the glycogen stores in my liver–which theoretically happens whenever you restrict caloric intake. That said, I did not lose any water weight when I was counting calories, and most of my weight loss occurred after the first three days.

Open questions
How sustainable is this? I don’t know. I don’t have an end game right now, and I’m just going with it. I’ve spent a little bit of time thinking about “What comes after”, and I think a longer-term diet plan might look less slow carb and a little more paleo. One thing it won’t be is full of white carbs like it has been; I feel so much better eating this way. My breathing isn’t labored, I don’t get tired during the day, and generally have more energy. As a random aside: I wrote a fair bit of code this week, and it’s the best code I’ve ever written, and my thinking has felt clearer, but it could be placebo.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of going ketogenic, just to see what it’s like (but I probably won’t).

2 thoughts on “Slow carb: week 1

  1. Thanks for the insight. I just started the slow carb eating yesterday. I had a horrible headache all day but suspect it was from going through sugar/white carb withdrawals. I am looking forward to having more energy and seeing the results over the next few weeks

  2. This is not true. I counted calroies from my former way of eating and then when I went on a low-carb for 6 weeks. I lost 22 and hit my goal. During that time period, I ate roughly the same amount of calroies. Granted on days, I was a couple hundred under, but on days, I was a couple hundred over. In my case, I was eating roughly the same amount. I’ve come to believe that calroies are not the deciding factor.

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