Way back in one of my first posts (The Sleep Experiment), I let you guys know that I’m a fan of self experimentation when it comes to my health and fitness. From time to time, I’ll challenge myself to see what the effects are of doing something. Whether it’s proper sleep for a month, or a pushup challenge, It’s interesting to experience firsthand the effects that these challenges have on my body, mood and physicality. I’ll be the first to say I’m not strictly following the scientific method here, but it’s interesting to note the changes that I perceive and then see if there’s any science to back it up.
This past month, the experiment has been diet modification. I’d love to tell you that I’m an ultra-fit guy because I write a blog on fitness, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t always adhere 100% to the things that I know are good for me. Because of this fact, over the past few months, my weight has crept up a bit, so I decided that it was time to do something about it. I set a goal for myself to drop 8 pounds over the course of a month – I’m happy to report that I was successful. Because not that long ago I wrote a post on the effects of sugar (Sweet Deception: The Uncomfortable Truth About Sugar) I decided that I’d follow some of the advice I so happily dispensed in that article.
I cut my calorie intake by around 20% – from my normal ~2000 calories per day to ~1,600 calories per day while maintaining my workout schedule. I also changed the source of those calories to predominantly fiber dense complex carbs (veggies and fruits) instead of simple carbs (breads). I still included plenty of protein in my diet, but I cut out significant sources of processed sugars. I also supplemented my diet with my usual, daily multivitamin.
The results were pretty cool:
- Weight loss (predicted/expected)
- More sustained energy throughout the day and during workouts
- Better sleep
- Less feeling of hunger during the diet
- Less cravings for foods that I know are “bad” for me
- Less “thirsty” feeling throughout the day
OK, so those are my PERCEIVED results – but as I said, this is an experiment, so let’s see if there’s any science to back up what I think I’ve seen.
One pound of fat is equal to around 3,500 calories, so in order to lose 2 pounds a week (my goal), I’d need to modify my calorie intake by around 1,000 calories per day. That seems like a lot. My food modifications took care of ~400 calories of that, leaving my exercise responsible for the remaining 60%. When I hit the gym, I try to hit it pretty hard, and my preferred method – cardio boxing has proven to consistently burn between 800 and 1,200 calories per class. I do that 3 times a week, and fill in the remaining 2-3 days with resistance training. I don’t think I’m burning nearly that many calories through resistance work, but if I factor in a modest 400 calories for easy math, then we have something to work with:
Weekly Calories To Burn To Loose 2 pounds:
3,500 x 2 = 7,000 calories DEFICIT Needed
400 Calories per day from diet modification x 7 = 2,800 Calories
~900 Calories per day of cardio boxing x 3 = 2,700 Calories
~400 calories per day of resistance training x 3 = 1,200 Calories
TOTAL CALORIE DEFICIT PER WEEK = 6,700 Calories (2,800+2,700+1,200)
I’d call that close enough. If I burn an extra 300 calories a week from pushing a workout harder, or something basic like mowing the lawn, or other mundane task, I think it’s safe to say that the expected goal of weight loss was (surprise surprise!) successful!
More sustained energy throughout the day and during workouts.
I attribute this sustained energy to the dietary changes I made. As we learned in All You Wanted To Know About Macronutrients, there are two types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. Carbohydrates turn into sugar / energy when processed by the body. Complex carbohydrates are processed and digested more slowly by your body, and as such provide less blood sugar level spiking, and a more sustained supply of energy as they are digested – unlike their simple carb cousins which are digested quickly and provide quick energy, but also are quickly processed and leave you with that post digestive sleepiness. Can you guess a great source of complex carbs? Yup. Fruits and veggies.
One of my greatest weapons in this weight loss challenge was a lightly dressed salad for lunch. It included grilled chicken, and a lot of lettuce varieties mixed with veggies and fruits (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries – whatever the salad bar had available with the name “berry” in it) and NO simple carbs or dairy – no eggs, no cheese, no croutons. I stuck with a balsamic dressing and didn’t go too heavy – which was hard for me – salad is an excuse to eat dressing in my opinion (sorry if that grosses you out – I’m a sauce guy!). I’d toss an apple into the mix for “dessert” and call it done.
This provided me with a lot of fiber dense food that also had the “slow release” energy that I noticed, so Again, I think it’s safe to say that noticing this wasn’t just my imagination.
Honestly, regardless of where my weight goes, I may stick with this habit, as a side benefit to it was I didn’t ever feel post lunch sleepiness either. Not ONCE since beginning the experiment. Even if that’s just a placebo effect, I’ll take it!
Everything I found online referenced how obesity can cause heavy snoring and sleep apnea, and noted that losing weight can decrease both of these symptoms. I’m not a heavy guy, so I don’t think either of these were the case for my perceived “better sleep quality”. With that said, if you’re heavier set, then you may indeed note a positive difference in your sleep resulting from weight loss due to these two factors.
Additionally, my sleep score app didn’t really note any out of the ordinary differences it sees from night to night either. It’s possible that I’ve been unconsciously “hitting it harder” in the gym, and this increased exercise level has led to better sleep (there is a positive link between exercise and sleep), but if I’m being honest, I can’t say with any certainty that this is the case. I’ll have to chalk this one up to coincidence to be fair. I’d be interested to hear you’re thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Less feeling of hunger during the diet
Have we covered the giant salad I was consuming for lunch most days of the week? Yeah. I’m attributing a lot of the fullness I experienced to that and additional veggie intake as well. Why? Remember when I mentioned it provided me with a lot of fiber dense food? Well, in addition to being a great low calories food, fiber dense foods like fruits and vegetables also take longer for your body to digest than other types of food. This means they stay in your stomach longer, which in turn helps you to feel “full” for longer. So by making sure that the majority of my diet was coming from these sources, I was also ensuring that I didn’t feel constantly hungry (something I’ve battled in the past when playing with diet).
Less cravings for foods that I know are “bad” for me
I know that sounds like a pitch on a bad diet commercial trying to get you to buy “fat blocker” pills, but honestly, I haven’t found myself craving anything unhealthy. I feel weird even writing that, because in the past, I’ve had really bad cravings for burgers, or sugary treats, but from a little online research, it seems there may be a link.
Again, it’s vegetables to the rescue. I know I sound like a broken record, but from what I’ve read, the hydration, fiber and more stable blood sugar levels that fruits and veggies offer may be the cause for lack of cravings. I’m not sure if that’s something I’d take to the bank as hard fact, but I can only report on what I’ve experienced, and pretty amazingly, I’ve had a lot easier time with cravings this time around.
Less “thirsty” feeling throughout the day
I’ll chalk this one up to two facts about my modified diet:
1) I’m eating foods that are more natural vs. processed foods. Because of this, my sodium consumption levels have been a lot lower than if my diet included these foods. I’m also not eating at restaurants as much, so the foods I’m eating are less “salted” and hence lower sodium as well. High sodium levels in the bloodstream can cause an electrolyte problem called Hypernatremia – a fancy word for high blood sodium. Too much sodium in your blood isn’t good for you, and to correct this fluid to sodium imbalance, the body dilutes it with water. The net result is you feel thirst to encourage you to give your body the water it needs to do this. By cleaning up my diet, I avoided this feeling.
2) As mentioned in the last point, many vegetables are high in water content. Because of this, I was likely also getting more water from my food sources than in the past.
I think it’s probably safe to chalk this one up to a real side effect to my dietary changes as well!
So What’s The Take Away?
So often, when people think about going on a “diet” they’re only focusing on weight loss. However, there’s a much bigger picture than simply shedding a few pounds or clothing sizes. By paying attention to not only a decrease in calories, but also what sources the calories we do consume actually come from, there’s so much more that we can achieve than just a smaller number on the scale. I thnik that it’s important to keep that in mind if you’re trying to drop some weight – don’t get hung up on the numbers, but instead look at the whole picture, you never know what you’re going to see!
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