I WASN’T ALWAYS FAT
In fact, I was a skinny active kid in my early years. Yet, I was about to embark on a journey of failure to lose the inevitable pounds. For picture reference, I was born in April of 1988. Here’s my story:
I know most of you reading this probably already know what the issue was. However, I’m sure most people would think, “what happened? Did he stop being active? He wasn’t eating enough vegetables, right?” Wrong. This was baffling and frustrating to me as a child. I was just as active as my friends. I played sports year-round. I played outdoors after school with my friends. Mom made homecooked “healthy” meals low in animal fats (save for some dairy). I was encouraged to, and did, eat my vegetables despite my constant dry heaving. I refused to eat any fatty meat and would always opt for chicken or turkey in favor of beef. Despite this, I continued to gain weight.
Around the age of 8 it was very apparent to me that I was noticeably heavier than the other kids. Boy, did they let me know it. By the age of 10 I was so self-conscious and willing to do anything to be thin. At the advice of several adults, I began to run and eat less dietary fat. I opted for skim milk for my hearty whole grain cereal, and even begged my parents for the low fat SnackWell’s cookies.
Wouldn’t you know, I kept getting fatter. As I moved into my teens, I took up new activities like Taekwondo, Boxing, and regularly going to a Gold’s Gym multiple times a week. A lot of the advice I was being given was to eat more lean protein, eat less fat, and to get in those good “complex carbohydrates”. Despite this advice, I peaked at 225lb by the age of 14.
THOSE TEENAGE HORMONES
This is where things change. In the summer of 2003, the weight disappeared for the first time in my life. I dropped to 185lb. Combined with a growth spurt, I felt “normal” looking for the first time in my youth.
However, I’d spend the next 4 years bouncing between 185lb and 215lb. My body was desperately trying to gain the weight. My young, insecure self was doing everything to fight this. I’d go run a couple miles, jump rope, skip lunch, or eat lots of salad.
I started to develop an eating disorder. I struggled with bouts of anorexia, binge eating, and constant crash dieting; This would persist until much later in life. My high school graduation picture is probably one of the last pictures taken of me before crossing 200lb for the last time (for a long time).
I stuck to my guns. Clearly, I wasn’t trying hard enough. I needed to cut more calories. I needed to eat less meat. I needed to exercise harder; and so, I did! I could spend a while writing on this, but the redundancy of what happens would bore you. What’s the saying? “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.” I would spend 2007 to 2012 cutting calories, especially the unhealthy animal fats. I would run 30 miles a week, do cyclic calisthenics, and lots of different plyometrics programs (*cough* insanity *cough*) .
I spent a portion of this time following a vegetarian diet at the insistence of my then-chiropractor. When that failed me, I had to cut all animal products and follow, what vegans now call, a whole food plant-based diet (WFPB) – they didn’t use this term in ’07. Despite following nutritional guidelines, my doctors, and eating less and moving more, I just kept getting fatter.
I was so discouraged by this that I started to run 5k’s with friends who were skinny and fit. They even convinced me to run a half marathon (left) despite me still being obese. I did manage to lose about 30lb doing this after 4.5 months of running, but I was constantly getting injured due to my weight. It’s also not the weight you want to lose (lean mass).
SPINNING MY WHEELS
The thing about willpower is, it’s only as good as it lasts. By August 2011 I had regained all the weight (back to 255lb) and I was looking to shed the pounds again. I was so determined that “THIS would be it, the final push” that for 157 days I spent every day taking a photo. That’s right, 157 days of indeterminable, determined, weight loss. Despite losing a temporary 20lb, it’s hardly a noticeable difference.
But like all the times that came before it, the weight loss was short-lived. By spring 2012, I had finally peaked at 270lb. I hated seeing myself in photos. I refused to be in them as often as possible. For the rest of 2012, and most of 2013, I would apathetically bounce between 270lb and 220lb – persisting and failing.
My health began to suffer for it. I was losing hair. My skin was worsening. Gastrointestinal issues became worrisome. My depression was becoming unmanageable. After repeated burning out, failure of willpower, and following every bit of advice from people that I considered authorities on the subject, I gave up. I was discouraged. I felt I had tried everything; What was there left to do that I hadn’t done?
Have you tried Paleo?some random coworker
Come 2013, I had since moved out of the cold northeast and to sunny northern Florida. At the time, I had shed some pounds because I was broke and looking for work. I was surviving off eggs and popcorn. As soon as I began to make some money and buy food (junk food mostly), back came the pounds. I was getting overwhelmed with the yo-yoing of my weight. I mentioned how terrible this was to a coworker. I didn’t even have the time to exercise or run to shed these pounds! I would never have guessed that such an indifferent remark would have such a positive impact on my life. He simply shrugged and said, “Have you tried Paleo?” I had never heard of this. Funny, he didn’t know much about it either. He just didn’t want to hear me complain. He said, “oh yeah, I just know people lose weight doing that.”
As soon as I got home, off to google I went. After reading several blogs and popular websites of well-known Paleo advocates, I was convinced that this was something I could do. I believe it was a whole-30 post that suggested I start by cutting sugary fruit, other carbohydrate heavy foods, and processed garbage out of my diet. I decided to follow this advice.
Finally, my first elimination diet. What would have guessed? Even without the time to exercise, the pounds just started melting away. I didn’t have to count calories; I just ate when I was hungry. This mainly included: eggs slathered in coconut oil, some meat, lots of raw and cooked greens, and plenty of avocados. I’d make some small allowances for dark chocolate or different foods that were considered paleo like spaghetti squash.
Unlike past attempts of dietary and lifestyle intervention, I solely focused on diet but without restricting my caloric intake. Most of the time my carbohydrate intake was very low, assuredly ketogenic. This would be a big clue for me when I’d start regaining the weight… yes, it happened again. The small, insidious amount of carb-creep on Paleo led to carb cravings. These cravings led to binges. This inevitably led to crash dieting again (mainly extended fasting). Not Even 1 year later, I was back to old habits of trying to control calories and exercise my ass off (literally) while utilizing Paleo.
PROTEIN IS A GOAL – is it though?
I found an evidenced-based ketogenic Reddit/Facebook group in early 2015. This (again) changed my perception of diet. Calories were a heavy emphasis there and I was assured that “keto is not magic” – Protein was king. This is where I began to delve into reading lots of scientific studies on health and nutrition. Nutritional science can get confusing quickly; I’m not the brightest bulb in the box and I certainly don’t have a background in research. There are citations for and against everything, everywhere; Eat more of this, or less of that. This group seemed to get good results. I was sold. Rather than listen to what my body was telling me, I dove in headfirst. I was insensibly determined to subject myself to protein’s tyrannical rule. Once again, I was back to old habits of CICO (calories in calories out). Granted, I didn’t go back to doing tons of cardio. I started to resistance train. This was a big step towards my physique and health goals.
However, with respect to body fat I kept spinning my wheels through calorie restriction. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. CICO is true, right? I had cut the calories – this came from fat since that was the leverage. I was limiting my net carbs. I was meeting my protein goals. What gives? After about a year of getting frustrated, a suggestion started to circulate their forums repeatedly, “Try PSMF.” PSMF, a protein sparing modified fast was one of the worst and best diet decisions I’ve made in my life. If you’re unfamiliar what it entails, it is both low carb and low fat. The idea behind this is that if you eat mostly protein you will then get the rest of your energy from body fat.
I spent 7 months cycling off and on PSMF and following the recommended maintenance breaks to try and lose body fat. What was apparent to those around me, but not me, was how emaciated I was becoming. I had become so body dysmorphic that I was convinced that I still had body fat to lose. I didn’t look how I wanted to look. I was resorting to massive use of caffeine and ephedra just to suppress appetite and sustain energy. During this time, I was extremely active. Yet, my weight loss was at a crawl. PSMF was messing with hormonal cues. Reliance on stimulants is no way to live your life. My body had no sense of satiety. I became ravenous.
As a result, my gut had completely deteriorated and landed me in the hospital (future post). Like I said earlier, willpower is only as good as it lasts. Like all the times before, I crashed and burned. Except, this would be a revelation I wasn’t prepared for; The 30lb loss from PSMF would result in a 60lb regain in under 2 months. Bedridden, sick, asthmatic, depressed, tired, cold (average core temp of 96º), I was ready to resign myself to a life of weight loss failure. This was the breaking point. It’s what I needed because I was finally ready to turn to the only route that made sense anymore. I was going to focus on health gain and not weight loss.
HEALTH GAIN, NOT WEIGHT LOSS
Back to 230lb and struggling to breathe, eating food was a daily spin at the wheel of misfortune. What symptom would I get today? I was desperate, desperate enough to believe that plants weren’t necessary for optimal health. I didn’t go in believing it to be true, but I needed it to be true! Lucky me. I had immediate remission from most issues (there were future setbacks). I could breathe again, I had energy, and my mood was improving. What I found as I started to eat more red meat and animal fat (more than I had ever eaten in my life) was that my health started to rapidly improve. So here we are, full circle. I spent 29 years eschewing animal fats for one reason or another; They were “unhealthy”, or going to “kill me”, or they had too many “calories” and so I’d opt for the lean, high protein chicken breast. The oft-demonized red meat was giving me a life finally worth living.
However certain ideas had not been killed… yet. I still wanted to lose weight. I had gotten a taste of low body fat percentage vanity. I still thought protein was king. The healthier I felt, the more these ideas burrowed into my brain. Health just wasn’t enough. Foolish, foolish me. The one smart thing I had done was, I resolved that when I started carnivore, I would not, ever, cut calories again. I was going to eat my heart out. So, what was next? Protein is king, right? So, I decided to follow that advice. I began to opt for leaner, higher P:E (protein to energy ratio) foods like bottom round and top round and the occasional chuck (it’s not as fatty as you guys think) or whatever I brought home from butchering.
What I miss-attributed to a need for “healing” led me to start consuming upwards of 38lb (>17kg) of beef a week for 8 weeks. Despite this, I wasn’t gaining much body fat. I was active and busy, and this seemed to help mitigate some of the fat gain. I was, however, growing more and more insatiable, depressed, and worn-out with each passing meal. I even consumed over 7lb in a single sitting and almost 8lb of beef another day. The lesson had yet to be learned and so inevitably my body crashed, my mood plummeted, my health worsened, and I felt awful.
During this time my appetite decreased. Even while eating less than 2lb of beef a day, my body fat piled on. This was worrying. I was willing to try everything: I reached out to experts on twitter, I tried exercising more (d’oh), I tried troubleshooting everything I thought could be the issue (or so I thought). I was approaching the heaviest I had been since before carnivore. I had gained about 4″ to my waist and over 20lb. I was dumbstruck. How is this happening again?
THE BODY KNOWS MORE THAN YOU GIVE IT CREDIT FOR
Two key moments happen in spring 2018:
- I decided to start listening to my body. Every workout had become a tedious chore that left me feeling trashed. Intuitively, this resulted in me cutting out exercise for a year.
- I accidentally stumbled upon Mike Davis‘ channel, now named CarnOMAD – Mike would soon start a challenge called #WOBO (week of burgers only).
Mike had just read Blake Donaldson’s strong medicine and thought it was interesting. It was something he wanted to try and decided to challenge his audience to try it with him. I was game! I started buying boxes of 78/22 ground beef burgers to participate. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much I’d be upping my fat and lowering my protein. Almost instantly, my satiety, mood, and energy improved. The pounds were melting off. WOBO worked so well I stuck with just burgers from the beginning of June ’18 to the end of September ’18 which is when I moved out to California.
As I’ve stated elsewhere, my girlfriend wanted more variety than just burgers – we eat most of our meals together. Determined not to give up on fatty burgers I kept them as a staple, and they continued to constitute 50% of my food intake. By chance, we started buying some of the fattiest cuts of meat like untrimmed brisket and untrimmed ribeye and I ate them to my heart’s desire. Once again, the pounds fell off taking me to a new carnivore low (right). Oblivious me did not attribute this to upping my fat.
Sometimes ideas sound good and sometimes they are ideas worth experimenting with. Other times, they are not. However, I decided to see if I could tolerate dairy again. Being in California the allure of raw dairy was potent. I had heard from various sources that raw dairy might address my lingering gut issues.
This was as good as any excuse for me to start a much-too-long dairy trial. I began to slowly regain weight. However, I was very confident in my new WOBO baseline that I persisted with the dairy inclusion. Spurts of WOBO during the dairy trial helped mitigate what could’ve been significant fat gain. The biggest issue that became apparent during this trial was the huge disturbance in satiety. What started off as 1/2L of kefir quickly mutated into 2L daily. The more Kefir I drank the more I wanted it and carbier animal foods like liver. This was eaten on top of my regular beef consumption.
After a couple months of dairy, I decided that it was hurting more than it was helping. I had to cut it out (for now). After one long stint of #WOBOMAD (yes, WOBO + One Meal A Day), I decided it was time to give a higher protein, lower fat, P:E approach one last shot to see if things had changed.
REGICIDE – PROTEIN IS NOT KING. LONG LIVE ANIMAL FAT!
As you’ve probably already guessed by the name of this website or from my story, I think protein is a bit over-rated. I consider this to be truer for those of us already eating a meat-based diet. If you’re not eating animals as your main food source, you’re at a huge disadvantage. The bioavailability of animal protein exceeds that of plants when consumed by humans. The fewer plants you eat the less you impair protein absorption. These effects compound. Yet, we base our protein needs on studies observed on a SAD population (Standard American Diet). I think most of us agree, replacing processed junk with real food is the goal. Protein is necessary and useful, yes, but making lean(er) meat the cornerstone of your diet isn’t ideal.
What needs to end is the demonizing of animal fats. I often see animal fats conflated with processed fats – even from respected members of the low-carb community. These processed fats are not remotely the same (yes, even dairy – don’t kill me) ; Not for satiety, and certainly not for health (dairy might be the exception here). Biologically, humans are fat seekers. We shouldn’t be avoiding the thing that made us what we are. We should be looking for the optimal way to regulate our appetite. Individually there might be some variance. Some people report they do better at a higher protein (upwards of 40% of calories). But, if you’re struggling to sate your hunger with higher protein, DON’T FEAR THE ANIMAL FAT! You don’t need to trim your porterhouse steak. The supermarket has already done that for you (sadly). Don’t succumb to the calorie restriction hacks. Filling up on fiber or water isn’t going to do anything for your health or energy needs. I digress, animal fat is more than just energy; It is nutrition. It is important for hormonal health and regulation. However, you still need energy. What better than the thing you can easily store and readily use? I hope my story is an indication of why fat may be important. But just in case it isn’t, let’s get to where I am now.
After my last failed attempt with P:E, the rapid weight gain (despite fewer calories) and acute changes in negative health issues (mood, skin, gut) prompted me to action; For the first time since embarking on this nutritional journey, I dramatically reduced my protein intake (<90g/d) and ate the most animal fat I’d ever eaten (>180g/d). In all honesty, I was hoping to resolve my gut issues by decreasing food volume. It is significantly helping, but it is going to be a long road to full recovery. However, several unexpected things did happen! My mood went from good and stable to a calm bliss. This is an emotion that’s been lost on me. Words cannot describe what this means or how this feels, but I did talk about it in my interview with Tristan @ PrimalEdgeHealth here.
Okay, okay… I know what gets the attention and why you probably came here. Yes! I lost a crap-ton of weight. I’ve never experienced such dramatic and quick body recomposition. I lost over 17lb and 3″ to my waist in 40 days (right) – while eating to satiety (~2.1k cal/day). This ended up being more calories (20-100% more) than any of my past starvation, slightly masochistic diets which also required vigorous or tedious exercise and yet, the results were even better! I am finally happy and healthy looking. Eating has become as simple as listening to my body. Gee, who could’ve thought that humans could get by doing something as simple as that? Check out my interview with Mike Davis @ CarnOMAD for more info
Hunger is not a virtue, it’s a signal that your body isn’t successfully using the resources you want it to useAmber O’Hearn
The important thing to note is that I wasn’t hungry. It wasn’t hard. I didn’t need some online calculator or weight loss program. I just gave my body what it needed. I didn’t have to do any crazy exercise routines or running.
For the first time in a year, I finally had the energy and desire to exercise again! I’ve done 15 light, calisthenic workouts since March 12th. Surprisingly, my body continues to gain muscle despite my protein reduction.
This isn’t to say that people need to fear protein, and you should rush off to dump a stick of butter into your coffee. This is to encourage you to not be afraid of animal fats, and to realize that it doesn’t have to be hard. Listen to your body. You want sustainable health gain, not temporary weight loss. Weight normalization is a byproduct of health. So, find what works best for you, even if that means failing for a little (or long) while; The pursuit of health is rewarding.
IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY NOT THE DESTINATION
May 12, 2019 (yesterday if you’re reading this live) was my 2 year “carniversary” – It has been a lifelong battle to figure out my health and weight. Every dietary change has had some learning experience. Despite my repeated failure, I’ve finally found success. I would not trade my path for an easier one. There was invaluable insight that I gained through this repeated failure. Learning to listen to my body has allowed me to conquer and overcome this challenge.
The journey isn’t over yet; Really, it’s just beginning. Things may change in the future – life is funny and cruel like that. As mentioned, I’m still troubleshooting life and have issues yet to mend; I keep exercise to a minimum as a result. In the spirit of full transparency and to celebrate my life’s journey, here’s where I am today and here’s to more good things ahead – thank you for reading: