TRIGGER WARNING: this is going to be a long, over-sharey post about my recent diet and weight loss shenanigans. If that triggers you, please move along now.
tl;dr – I entered an 8-week diet bootcamp and lost 13 pounds! Ooh. Rah.
long version: In January, I signed up for an 8-week diet bootcamp, something I’ve never done before. It was a fairly spontaneous decision. It wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution. I was actually on the Take Me Home, Country Roadtrip at the time, hunched over my laptop alone in a cheap motel room, shoveling fast food into my facehole, feeling bad about my weight for approximately the 7,394,000,000th time (rounded to the nearest millionth), and watching a video that was basically an incredibly inspiring infomercial. I thought “What have I got to lose?” (answer: oh, 70 pounds or so :-p ). I started the bootcamp on Jan. 21st, and it ended today. In the spirit of Talkin’ Ain’t Doin’ (h/t Zoe Washburne), I decided not to post about it before the fact, or whine about it (and believe you me, there was whining to be had!) during it, but just to post about it after I did it. So, here ya go:
- down 12.8 pounds (I was actually down a solid 14 pounds three days ago, but gained a pound back since then. I have an idea of a few possible causes, but don’t think it’s worth stressing about right now.)
- my body fat percentage is the lowest it has ever been since I purchased The Scale That Is Smarter Than I Am (it’s an Omron, if you’re interested) back in Aug. 2009. It’s actually in the normal range for a woman my age.
- my muscle percentage is the second highest it has been since Aug. 2009 (and I’m barely exercising at the moment). It’s actually in the high range for a woman my age, which frankly, I find a little hard to believe. But I (sporadically) do Mark Sisson’s “primal” bodyweight exercises, so I dunno, maybe pushing, squatting, lifting, and planking my fat tub o’ lard the past few years has had more of an effect than I realized.
- TSTISTIA calculates your “body age” based on a number of factors. Back in Aug. 2009, it said my body age was an appalling 19 years higher than my revolutions-around-the-Earth age. Today, it says my body age is… 1 year higher. And because 9.5 years have passed between then and now, that means I’ve actually become… 20 years younger? I think?! Where’s Doctor Who when you need him? 😮
- visceral fat (fat embedded around your internal organs (can you say “fatty liver”?)) has dropped from the upper limit of the High category to … well, the lower half of the High category. :-\ I’ve still got a belly. But it’s gone from a horrifying Volleyball-Embedded-Beneath-the-Skin appearance to a hopefully(?) endearingly roly-poly Pooh Bear appearance. Seriously, it looks a LOT better.
Also, because METRICS, bitches:
- lost 2.25 inches off bust (to whom it may concern: don’t worry, I’m still top heavy :-p )
- lost 3 inches off waist
- lost 2.5 inches off hips
- lost more than an inch off thigh
- lost quarter inch off calf
So, what is this diet, some of you will surely ask? Lest this come off sounding MLM-y, please know that I don’t get anything for promoting it. I’m just an enthusiastic fan. It’s called Bright Line Eating, founded by Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson (that’s her on the homepage). It’s based on 12-Step programs for food addicts.
I’ve never considered myself to be a “food addict”, and I’ve never participated in any sort of 12-Step program (I have attended a couple of AA meetings with a friend, so I’m familiar with the general format). But this program made me face the fact that I do have a problem with bingeing on junk food, and have since my teens. I rarely tell anyone about this; like many people with eating disorders (anorexics, bulimics, people who pop pills to lose weight, etc.), I do it in secret, because I’m so utterly ashamed of myself. In front of people, I usually show restraint. But when no one is looking, I can inhale entire packages of cookies, pints of ice cream, boxes (not bags, BOXES) of microwave popcorn, bags of potato chips, entire pizzas… it’s not pretty. When I was younger, I was blessed with a high metabolism and, to quote a friend, “worked out like a motherfucker”, so I could manage to be thin while engaging in these extremely unhealthy behaviors. But once I got into my 40s and added bingeing on alcohol to the mix, things spiraled out of control surprisingly quickly. Wow, I really had no intention of sharing all of this when I started this post. But if it helps one or two people know they’re not alone, I guess it’s worth it. You’re not alone. There are lots of people out there who are smart, successful, competent, yet are strangely powerless when it comes to controlling what they put in their mouths. It’s not (entirely) our fault; we live in a time and place where unnatural, manufactured food-like substances are DESIGNED to induce overeating. There are books out there on the subject, if you’re interested. One I’ve read is The Low Carb Myth by Ari Whitten, but I know there are others.
Where was I? I watched three videos by Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson (SPT), and was really impressed by a number of things. She’s a formerly obese person who managed to lose all her excess weight, down to a size 4, and KEEP the weight off for over 10 years. Statistically, this is… basically impossible. The percentage of people who both lose all of their excess weight, and keep it off long-term, is a fraction of one percent.
She’s also a former crackhead and raging (RAGING… my God but this woman has stories…) food addict, who follows this program to this day to keep HERSELF in check, as well as help other people. She went from being a high school dropout/cokehead to commencement speaker at U.C. Berkeley, got a PhD in neuroscience, and has taught nutrition and brain science at the university level. She’s also preternaturally perky, bubbly, warm, and encouraging, but in a cool sort of way… I kind of love her. Really, I think if she decides to form a cult, I’ll sign up. Maybe she already did, and I already did, but if so, who fucking cares? Not only have I lost a ton of weight, I’ve been eating more healthfully, more consistently, than I ever have in my entire life. Most of the time, I feel pretty good. So, yeah, call me a Bright Line Eating believer.
How does BLE work? It can actually be summarized fairly easily. First and foremost, it is STRICT. There are no “cheat meals” (certainly no “cheat DAYS”). It’s designed for people who eat compulsively, so it’s probably not for everyone. But, for people who follow it, it is highly effective. SPT has anecdotal evidence of numerous people losing all their excess weight (and what I mean by that is, not a 350-lb person losing 100 lbs and then celebrating their weight loss “success”… dude, you still weigh 250 lbs…. I mean, people becoming slender, like what they weighed in high school, or what they’ve never weighed before). Of course, anecdotal evidence only goes so far. I’m voluntarily participating in a research study to assist in BLE gathering enough data, on enough people, over a long enough period of time, that a real case can be made that this program is far more effective than anything else out there, long-term, not just for losing weight, but for keeping it off.
To summarize BLE:
1) No sugar. This includes all forms of sweeteners, including honey (sorry, Pooh Bear). This also includes artificial sweeteners. This post is already insanely long, but the gist of the reasoning behind this is, dopamine receptors can’t tell the difference between caloric vs noncaloric sweeteners. I HAVE ONLY HAD ONE DIET COKE IN 8 WEEKS OMFG
Oh, this also includes alcohol. Sorry.
2) No flour. This isn’t about gluten, it’s about processing natural foods into unnatural, highly concentrated, druglike forms that trigger the brain into overeating. And it doesn’t just refer to wheat, it means ALL flour: corn, almond, coconut…
These two rules alone rule out almost all processed foods. So you could look at this as a form of Whole Food eating, only dairy is allowed.
3) Three meals a day. That’s it. NO SNACKS. EVER. It seems so radical, but seriously, no one ever died from having to wait 5 – 6 hours to eat more food. Also, hunger doesn’t kill you. This program has actually been really nostalgic for me in a way, because it has reminded me that when I was a kid, I was hungry a LOT. I’d be ravenous long before lunchtime rolled around, and hungry again before dinner. It’s not that big a deal to be hungry. I like to think of it as a signal that my body is in good working order (because, when you’re sick, you’re probably not hungry).
4) This one is the kicker, I believe: Strict portion control. This means weighing and measuring your food. I bought a food scale (from amazon, not from SPT) in order to do the bootcamp. I mentally rebelled against this rule the most. I find it obnoxious and vaguely offensive to have to weigh my food. I find it annoying to have to pick blueberries or grapes out of a bowl, or (more challenging) scrape bits of meat or vegetable off a plate in order to get the weight exactly right. But I believe this is the rule that has made the most difference. The key to weight loss is… eating less food. Who knew?!?!?! :-p
There’s one more rule that, while not a “bright line”, is a recommended procedure that I followed and think is important:
5) Plan what you’re going to eat the night before. This one is such a radical departure from anything I’ve ever done before, and I’m still a bit shocked that I’ve done it for 8 weeks. It essentially removes emotional eating from your life, because it removes spontaneity. Each evening, you write down what you’re going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the next day. And the next day… you eat it. I know many people will find this offensive. But I found a certain peace in it. No more wondering “what am I in the mood for now?” (the answer to which is rarely something healthful and low calorie). Now I eat what cold, rational, well-fed (always plan the next day’s meals after you’ve had dinner) me told lazy, impulsive, chubby me yesterday to eat. And I like it. Cuz I’m HUNGRY.
There are numerous other recommended procedures, some of which I did, some of which I didn’t. They include the following:
- writing gratitude lists
- attending group coaching calls where extremely warm, nurturing ladies answer questions in the most warm, nurturing way imaginable (calls take place during business hours, but are recorded for later listening)
- a “Mastermind” group where you meet with a few other dieters regularly by phone, keep each other honest, and give each other moral support
- a formal diet buddy with whom you commit to being there for each other when you need someone to talk to
- a private Facebook group where you can ask questions, brag about your success, whine about your failures, and get loads of emotional support
- inspirational reading
- commit to 7-8 hours of sleep a night
- maintain a nightly checklist
- *don’t* exercise, unless you’re already very much in the habit of doing so. The reasoning behind this is that everyone has a limited supply of willpower, and you don’t want to use any of it up on making yourself exercise if that’s then going to make you fail to follow this program. Also, to avoid those silly conversations we all have with ourselves along the lines of “I worked out today! I deserve a cookie now. I know I’m on a diet, but cookie is ok cuz I EXERCISED.” To be clear, SPT is not anti-exercise. Exercise is great for many things, but if weight loss is your top priority, you should focus on your eating first, and add exercise in later.
I definitely did the checklist one, and found it extremely helpful. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I was about to crawl into bed, saw the checklist on the nightstand, and thought “Oh GODDAMMIT I haven’t written down tomorrow’s meals yet”. Then I would have to go back downstairs in the cold and the dark and spend a few minutes assessing what fruits, vegetables, and meat I had on hand and what meals I’d be eating the next day. I kind of love the nightly checklist, and think it could be harnessed as a tool for achieving other goals.
Other things I’ve been doing (since long before starting this bootcamp), but it’s hard to judge their efficacy: since I carry almost all of my excess weight around my middle, which is a sign of excess cortisol secretion, and I tend to be a…. how shall we say… highly strung individual (ha. ha. ha.)… I’ve taken various steps to minimize my stress levels. This includes walking away from a very lucrative, but very stressful, job, for a not-so-lucrative but far lower stress one. It’s a trade-off I did, and still do, think was worth it overall. This also includes saying no to people when no is the correct response.
I also am pretty strict about sending myself to bed on time, so that I get at least 8 hours of sleep most nights (preferably more). I occasionally get teased for this. :shrug: I know what my body needs, and I know my mental state is much, much better, when I get lots of sleep. Also, I drink lots of water. That one dates back to age 11 or 12 when Adrien Arpel told me to drink lots of water for beautiful skin and for some reason I believed her and have been drinking a metric fuck-ton of water ever since.
I’ve also been working on my “self-love”. The part of me that’s like a Marine platoon sergeant wants to bitch-slap me SO HARD for saying that. But I’ve come to the realization (rather late in life) that my internal monologue is a FUCKING BITCH. I say things to myself I would never say to another person. I’m such a mean girl to myself. And frankly, I don’t deserve that. So part of me is finally starting to stand up to another part of me and say STFU. But it’s very much a work in progress.
Oh, I haven’t actually said what you eat on this program, have I? You eat healthy, balanced meals, with items from all four food groups. Here’s a summary:
6 oz vegetables
6 oz vegetables
8 oz salad
I should mention that I have consistently eaten *less* food than this. I have never once eaten both 6 oz veg and an 8 oz salad at dinner; that is a CRAZY quantity of vegetables!! Also, this is the food plan for women; men get to eat more.
On days where I have bothered to calculate how many calories I’m eating, it has come in pretty close at 1200 calories every time.
I would just like to take a moment to give myself mad props for the fact that, not only did I follow this rather radical (to me, anyway) but healthful eating plan for 8 weeks solid, I did it…
- during Liberty Forum
- with a disrupted sleep schedule, that included eating my carefully packed, BLE-friendly breakfast at 5AM at Logan Airport, just outside the TSA checkpoint so those fuckers couldn’t take it away from me
- on airplanes (no free peanuts for YOU)
- on a business trip where I was BOMBARDED by temptation, including
— an ice cream sundae bar in the middle of a conference (!?)
— having waiters offer me free cocktails, free wine, free cheesecake (!?!?!?!?!?)
— being taken out to lunch at…. The Cheesecake Factory (I ate salad. No, really, I swear to God, I had salad and a cappucino and nothing else.)
— having a coworker literally dump handfuls of chocolate on the table in front of me
— continental breakfast consisting of nothing but sweet pastries and fruit. That was kind of a sparse breakfast that day…
— dinner in a bowling alley, where I did not touch the free pizza (I don’t even know who I AM anymore?!)
— numerous group meals with friends, sitting at a table surrounded by people eating and drinking different things than I was
— physical exhaustion and three days (and counting) of muscle soreness after spending over an hour shoveling snow after a blizzard, which triggered some pretty massive cravings, not to mention an inordinate amount of internal whining and self-pity
I did not follow the program perfectly. Supposedly some people do; clearly, I am not those people. My biggest failing is that I repeatedly went to Starbucks for a tall (the smallest size) cafe mocha. They’re an emotional crutch, I admit it. I usually get one when I’m feeling really down, or feeling (more) sorry for myself (than usual). Most of the time, I’d skip a meal to make up for having the mocha; two or three times, I had one in addition to the three meals. I blame Dr. Evil.
Also, I’m impatient as fuck. I don’t want to spend a year losing all my excess weight; I want it gone NOW. Several times, when my weight wasn’t dropping as fast as I wanted it to, I just skipped dinner and went to bed very, very hungry. Part of me thinks that’s not the most healthy way to do it, but then part of me remembers that human beings have been going to bed hungry, all over the world, for tens of thousands of years. We can handle it. Our bodies weren’t designed for this modern American lifestyle; they were designed for much harsher conditions. I sometimes draw on my experience of fasting for four days while solo camping in the wilderness in my mid-twenties. Not only did I consume nothing but water for four days, I packed all my camping gear out afterwards, uphill, no trails. Seriously, we’re tougher than we look (well, I am, anyway…).
Also also, I didn’t always get my food portions exactly, to the tenth of an ounce, right, because seriously, ain’t nobody got time for that. And occasionally I’d include the tiny bit of honey or maple syrup that a recipe called for, because in the grand scheme of things, a little bit of sweetener in the sauce on your meat isn’t going to turn you into Jabba the Hutt. SPT says as much in one of the videos that come with the bootcamp. She eats out in Asian restaurants, where you know darned well they put sugar and cornstarch in the sauce, and she doesn’t stress about it.
SPT has her first book, about Bright Line Eating, coming out on Tuesday, available on amazon. You can also sign up for the same 8-week bootcamp I did, if you’re interested. It’s rolling enrollment, you can sign up at any time. The bootcamp gets you access to very interesting and motivational weekly videos; the weekly coaching calls; the private Facebook group where you can interact with other BLE-ers; and support for any questions you might have. There’s also a 14-day challenge you can sign up for that’s only $29, if you just want to get your feet wet. Of course, you can also just use the info in this post and try it out for yourself without spending a dime (but you will need a food scale).
I never thought I’d lose so much weight so fast (by the way, the average weight loss for a woman in this bootcamp is 12 pounds, so I’m doing a bit better than average.) I’m super happy with the improvement in my appearance (part of me wishes I had the balls to post swimsuit selfies). I’m a harsh critic, and I honestly think I look pretty good, not just for my age, but just plain pretty good. If I had to stay at this weight permanently, I think I could live with that. I believe I’m a size 12 now. But who really knows, women’s clothing sizes are complete bullshit these days.
What am I going to do now? Part of me is THRILLED that the 8 weeks is over. I spent a LOT of time looking forward to this day, thinking about all the unhealthy things I was going to gorge on in celebration. Yesterday morning, after some serious thinking, I realized that maybe fantasizing about bingeing on junk food is kind of missing the point….. This shit WORKS. It’s helping me to accomplish something that is very important to me, and that I’ve wanted for a very long time. Why fix what ain’t broken? I’m just going to keep doing this. At my current rate of weight loss, I’ll be back in a healthy weight range in May. And if I keep going beyond that, and SPT is to be believed that it’s entirely possible to get back to the weight you were at in your prime, I could be slender before the year is out. On the other hand, you are supposed to stick with this permanently to keep the weight off permanently (of course, you get to eat more food once you’re no longer trying to lose weight. But only healthy food.) And I’m not at all sure I want to live in a world with no cookies. Or pizza. Or cheesecake. Or, my ultimate weakest link, popcorn. My current plan is to keep going until I’m not overweight, then reassess.
Right now, I’m enjoying my first bulletproof coffee in 8 weeks, and it. is. glorious.
If you actually read all that… well, I don’t even know what whether to thank you, or be worried for you. Thanksruok?
*Obligatory disclaimer: I am neither a medical doctor nor a healthcare professional. I don’t know anything about anything. I am completely clueless. Also, I’m in rude good health; I haven’t had so much as a cold in over two years. I take no prescription medications. Your mileage on this program may vary. Don’t sue me bro.