Until I was fully 61 years old I was “skinny fat”, which is an odd choice of words, but an accurate one. I made it up myself but then discovered that others had thought of it before me – maybe it wasn’t as uncommon as I had thought. When someone is skinny-fat, he is a normal weight but he carries far too much fat and far too little muscle for that weight. I also had a persistent stomach that would simply not go away.
I reversed the situation, and I think that picture proves it.
If all of this seems a little egocentric, well then – damn it, I spent decades believing I could not get rid of the weight, believing that I could not gain muscle mass, and eventually even believing that I probably wouldn’t live much longer. So I think I am entitled to a brief moment of happiness that the situation proved to be something I could actually change and I refuse to feel apologetic about that happiness. Not much on hiding lights under bushels, either.
I don’t like articles that tease and require you to read lengthy passages to get to the meat so I’ll lay out what I did, what worked for me after nearly an entire lifetime of trying things that didn’t work (it’s pretty simple in retrospect), and why I think my situation is applicable to a good deal of overweight people I see around me all the time.
So what is this magic bullet, you’re thinking. Here it is, and it couldn’t be much more simple: I changed what I eat.
That little sentence hides a wealth of implication! After being forced to retire early because of fatigue issues that doctor after doctor just had no clue about, funky skin conditions that they were just as useless at treating, and joint pains so bad that I lost the ability to play my guitar the first big aha moment came when I stumbled across Dr. William Davis’ book Wheat Belly; click! After reading the book I figured I had nothing to lose by dropping wheat to see if it made a difference and all I can say is “Damn right, it did!” and I really mean that exclamation point.
But by that time I was in pretty bad shape; I had Metabolic Syndrome (a collection of symptoms which indicate the onset of Type 1 diabetes) and my blood work was not good. Because dropping the wheat had such a dramatic effect on me I started reading and thinking about this whole issue and I decided to see what would happen if I dropped not only wheat, but all the other grains, too. This, of course, leads you into various places – Paleo territory, LCHF land and a few other foreign lands as well. (LCHF is the abbreviation for Low Carb, High Fat, the type of diet that a lot of people like me are having good luck with despite the American governmental organizations’ exhortations to eat five to seven servings of “healthy whole grains” a day. What an oxymoron that one is.) I will talk more specifically what it means to eat LCHF later in this article, but I told you I’d get to the point.
30 days after I dropped wheat I had my bloodwork done again and my triglycerides had dropped by 170 points; my cholesterol readings were not really useful then because I was losing weight and that throws them off so you really have to wait to test them. But the Metabolic Syndrome was gone. The skin conditions cleared up, and the joint pain stopped, meaning I could play again.
So for me, getting rid of wheat was the biggest step, but it wasn’t everything. I started to lose weight and eventually I dropped 35 pounds in six months, but at the same time (and for the first time in my life) I found that if I worked out with weights I could put on muscle. All my life I have been what is called a “hard gainer”, one of those people who can lift until they are blue in the face and yet see little result; small wonder I had a low opinion of the whole process. But now things were different. I’ll always be a comparatively skinny guy, don’t misunderstand me – but I’m now a skinny guy who has visible muscles, and they seem to be getting bigger. I’ve got very small (ie, narrow) bones, not the ideal setup for a body builder at all.
Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? But it’s a little more complicated than that. I was always jealous of those guys who had flat stomachs and could take their shirts off in public (Me? Uproarious laughter ensues) and I had given up on that particular idea, even after I lost the weight because there was a deposit of fat left around my midsection that WOULD NOT BUDGE no matter what I ate, no matter how much I tried to burn it with cardio or lifting, and I was just stuck at the same weight.
What seems to have helped me go that last extra bit was the addition of probiotics to my diet. Probiotics have been touted for weight loss, but if you are like me and you research the subject you quickly find that everything under the sun is touted for the same thing and none of them worked for me: cortisol resetting, protein/fat ratio tinkering, more exercise, simply eating less (oh, that one really doesn’t work; you just get more tired and stay at the same weight, unable to function properly), getting more vitamin D, sheesh, there is quite a list. Well, you already know that if you’re in my boat.
The funny thing about the probiotics is that (for me, anyway – I want to emphasize that all I can talk about is what works for me; I’m not a scientist and really, I don’t give a damn if nobody believes me – I’m just setting this down in case it helps someone else who might be in that awful place I was in for so long) they seemed to actually work on the fat around my stomach. The result was that I didn’t really lose much more weight after taking them but my stomach got smaller. My waist (when I use that term I refer to the narrowest part of my midsection, not the area where pants tops fall) is now 29 inches and the widest part of my stomach (which is right where my belly button is) is 30.5 inches when it’s totally relaxed. I don’t know if it will shrink any more but I’m pretty pleased with what I have. My jeans are size 29 or 30, depending on…the jeans.
I am so buzzed by the probiotics that I’ve gotten into fermented stuff to eat – I had been making kombucha since I first discovered it, right when I dropped the wheat, and now I know why I always seemed to feel better after a glass, but there are probiotics in fermented vegetables too – lots of them. So now sauerkraut is my new best friend, LOL. Especially since I found out that it’s not hard to make and it’s pretty expensive to buy the good stuff in the stores. The bad stuff (look for the words “vinegar” and “pasteurized” on the label) is cheap, just like a lot of processed food you’ve probably been told is good for you.
I also enjoy my meals, despite the lack of pancakes, pasta, bread, potatoes, muffins, cake, candy (sugar is a carb, and it’s a singularly nasty one), soda (never drank that stuff anyway so I don’t miss it at all), crêpes… oh, the list is long. What do I eat?
Meat, vegetables, fat, the occasional nut – that about sums it up. And I love it. My wife had mastered all sorts of domestic and international cuisines already and she saw this as a challenge; actually, when she saw how much difference it made to me she adopted a similar eating plan and that made it a lot easier. So a typical dinner around here would be some sort of meat dish (we buy grass fed lamb and beef from a farmer friend; we see the animals all the time and we know what they have been eating) which may or may not have other ingredients in the entrée, plus two to three other vegetable dishes, usually containing multiple vegetables. Oriental cuisine (Thai or Indian, anyone?) has a lot of good inspirations for meals and of course there are now legions of recipes online. All of this cooked with lots of coconut oil, olive oil, butter, lard (I render my own so I know what’s in it) or beef fat. If you have never roasted vegetables (red bell peppers, for instance) with coconut oil in your oven you are in for a shock – they are delicious. From time to time we relent and include one of the less harmful carbs like some sweet potato (by “less harmful” I mean that they will not spike your blood sugar – I am still mindful of the issues presented by the Metabolic Syndrome) or squash.
I normally have leftovers from earlier dinners for lunch, which simplifies things. Breakfast? Ah, here’s my secret, and read it all before scoffing: soup.
I make a hell of a soup from stock (there are lots of sites that will tell you how to make stock and why you should do this with your leftover bones), fresh kale, onion, a small sweet potato and if you want, some additional seasoning such as Tabasco sauce or whatever you like. If the stock was low in fat content for some reason I will add some coconut oil to it when I heat it in the morning, but usually the stock adds enough since I never throw the fat away when making it. Here’s the recipe, for those interested:
20 ounces of kale (Trader Joes has 10 ounce bags of organic kale and TJ’s is close so I use that)
1 quart of broth
12-16 oz chopped tomatoes (aseptic box kind works fine, or use fresh – this recipe uses exactly half a box of Pomi tomatoes)
1 medium to large purple onion
1 small sweet potato (adds just a touch of sweetness without much carb per serving at all)
1 tsp. salt
Coconut oil, lard, whatever
1. Slice the onion and fry it in some oil in your stock pot.
2. When the onion’s soft and golden, add the broth, tomatoes and slice the sweet potato, dump it in with the salt, and let the whole thing simmer until the sweet potato is soft. (Add any other flavorings like Tabasco now.)
3. Add the kale, and let it simmer until it is soft.
4. Let it cool or not, but the next step is to blend it. I use a blender stick (also referred to an an immersion blender); it’s fast, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to clean up than a conventional blender or food processor. Another big plus is that they aren’t very expensive.
I also have a last-minute magic ingredient that I add just before eating: a small handful of unsalted pistachios (shelled, of course; TJ’s sells these, too). These make a huge difference and they add a crunchy touch which just completes the whole dish.
This recipe will yield about two to two and a half quarts of finished soup, depending on the size of your onion and sweet potato. The soup is incredibly rich (thanks to the broth) and it’s quite filling; one batch gives me ten to twelve breakfasts. I have breakfast and then usually around four or five hours later I fry a couple of eggs for a snack – and that’s it until lunch. (My schedule is decidedly unnatural – I usually get up at 3 or 4 in the morning, have some tea and my soup, then do stuff like write, work out, walk the dogs three miles a day, whatever until I have a snack at from 8 to 10, then I have lunch at noon and dinner at a time most other Americans are eating theirs. Do you notice something here? I’m not really getting hungry between these meals. If I do I will make some green tea and add some broth to it or maybe just coconut oil, but many people besides me have noticed this absence of hunger between meals when they drop the carbs, especially the wheat. And don’t be weirded out by the idea of tea with broth or fat in it – the Tibetans do it all the time. Or I’ll have some other small snack, but never anything like I would have eaten two years ago.
I should have said this earlier, but so be it: There is nothing in grains that you can’t get from vegetables, but you will be healthier if you get it from vegetables. I know there are people who disagree with that but I really don’t give a shit; many of them seem to be directly employed by the Grain Foods Foundation (which recently removed its negative review of Wheat Belly… after an overwhelming avalanche of pissed off belly-losers wrote in to criticize the review…with corrections of the review’s bad science), or at the best are followers of the so-called lipid hypothesis, the idea that eating fat makes you fat and will give you a heart attack. Pretty thoroughly debunked by now, as far as I am concerned.
Still, I am not so pollyannaish as to believe that just because something worked for me it will work for everybody; but it did work for me. Maybe it might work for you, too.
For more information, you can try these links:
Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter
Wheat Belly, Dr. William Davis
Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes
The Vegetarian Myth, Lierre Keith