Wow, after being stuck for so long, I feel like I finally got this plateau thing figured out. All it took was one simple change: I cut back on my grain/cereal/starch consumption.
For too long, I was trying to follow the dietary guidelines saying you need a starch or grain with every meal. Little did I know this was derailing my goals. I now believe that grains/cereal/starches should be enjoyed in moderation, but are not essential in the quantities the USDA food pyramid specifies.
I was following the guidelines and was getting nowhere. My weight held stable. I tried more exercise, but on days when I did more exercise, I ate more food, but calorie total should have still been a deficit. I was trying to keep my deficits at an average of -300 per day. If I exercised more, I ate more, but still roughly -300 than I burned. But I kept my macronutrient ratios the same because I thought that was important. Whether I ate 1200 calories or 1800, I tried very hard to keep my macronutrients at 50% carbs/30% fats/20% protein.
This was my problem. Too many grain carbs. Too little protein.
I had been doing this for years, and was standing still. It was obvious to me that whatever I was doing, it was keeping me in stasis. I was never going to get anywhere if I didn't figure this out.
Well, I figured 2+ years of doing it the ADA way was giving it enough time. There is something more. More exercise wasn't changing things (because I was holding my macronutrient ratios the same). I'm a small person, so the only way I can restrict my calories further was to go below 1200 calories. It is so hard to get my vitamin requirements as is, being a petite person, this isn't a good idea. The only thing left to do is to shift my ratios.
I started digging. I dug up my old copy of "Enter The Zone" and brushed up on insulin response, how it affects fat storage and loss. I was convinced this was my problem. I was eating enough carbohydrates that my body never needed to dip into my fat stores.
While I am not currently diabetic, I pretty sure that my insulin receptors are damaged to some degree because I am not able to lose weight on a calorie restricted diet alone anymore.
As much as I love "Enter the Zone", it is several years old (where is the revised and updated edition, Barry?). I decided to check up on a few new books. "The Paleo Diet" and "Protein Power" (2009 revised edition) were on my list.
"The Paleo Diet" first suggested the idea of eliminating grains and starches, which I balked at. It also suggested eliminating dairy. I do not drink milk, but I eat yogurt and cheese. The premise is that our paleo ancestors did not eat these things, and our bodies are not designed to process them. These were concepts I was not ready to digest (no pun intended!).
Then I read "Protein Power", and I changed my mind. The authors gave very detailed explanation for the metabolic process for insulin/glucagon that comes from every first year medical school textbooks. It seemed to answer what was going on with me perfectly. My carbohydrate intake is exactly the level to maintain my current bodyfat. My body will not let go of my bodyfat because it has no need to. No amount of exercise will change that, as long as I hold my ratios the same.
If I was maintaining bodyfat at 140g carbs, then I figured I should see a response if I cut back to 70g carbs. This is higher than the recommended levels in "Protein Power". I figured the recommendation for 30 and 55g carbs were designed for severely obese patients, and those with who were very badly insulin resistant. I was neither of those.
I only cut back on my grain/cereal/starches. I also increased my protein consumption. Before I was eating about 50-60g protein per day. I increased this to 100g per day. I did not eliminate dairy - I still eat yogurt and cheese. I'm neolithic, not paleolithic.
Cutting back my grain/cereal/starches were pretty easy changes to make. All I did was stopped adding cereal to my morning yogurt and blueberry breakfast. Skipped the bread at lunch. Replaced the potatoes at dinner with more veggies.
I had the benefit of years of good habits eating fruits and vegetables, so this was not a radical change. The mistake people make with low carb diets is eating all meat/fat, and adding little vegetables and fruit. I distress whenever I read the message boards and people say, "I hate vegetables and fruit. How can I lose weight?"
We are omnivores, and we are meant to eat protein and vegetable matter. We have sharp canines and incisor teeth for tearing meat, and flat molars for grinding vegetables. Fruits are biologically adapted to entice us to eat them.
I increased my protein very simply by making sure I ate a protein with every meal, which I was not doing before. Protein doesn't have to mean meat, but we have to eat some kind of protein every day.
Well, cutting back on grains/starches and raising protein was the right combination I needed.
In 4 weeks since I've been doing this, here are my stats:
Weight Change: -4lbs (about 1lb per week)
Body Fat: -1.86% (~3.5 lbs fat)
Lean Mass: +0.5lb (!!! I have actually gained muscle!)
Waist: -1 inch
Hips: 0 inches (Sigh. My booty is stubborn.)
Thigh: -0.5 inch (Yay - at least my thighs are shrinking, if my butt is not)
Calf: 0 inch
Arms: -0.5 inch (Michelle Obama arms - here I come!)
I'm a fat burner! My weight change is burned fat, gained muscle, and a little water loss! My body composition is changing in the way I want! I have also managed to do the all important thing to preserve muscle, and even added a little to it!
If 1.86% bodyfat loss doesn't sound like a lot, look at what the net effect is. I've lost a total of 3 inches off my waist, thighs and arms!
Also, if you're wondering about my heart health. I don't know my lipid status, but my resting heart rate has dropped from 76bpm to 60bpm. I'm feeling confident that I'm clearing out inflammation.
So now that I've been doing this about 4 weeks (even while on vacation!) I am very slowly adding small amounts of my favorite grains. I have decided to eat them in moderation. I am not going to try to eat a grain/starch with every meal like I did before (that was a disaster for me). I am reserving my grain/starch portion for my evening meal, or once per day. Instead of being a "meat and potatoes" girl, I am changing over to a "meat and vegetables" girl.
With the higher protein, I am almost never hungry. It has curbed my appetite like a dream. I used to obsess about my next meal. "When is lunch? What am I going to eat? Is it lunch time yet?" Now I'm like, "Oh, is it time for lunch already?".
My diet is mostly Zone ratios, so it is moderate carb, in between the ADA recommendations and a low carb. I eat a protein with a vegetable serving with every meal. Starch/grain only once per day, and a very small serving.
I have not had any problems meeting my vitamin/minerals, though I did have a slight potassium drop. While The Zone says bananas should be avoided, I think the potassium is too important. I noticed if I eat the banana by itself, a short while later I am ravenously hungry and start obsessing about food. I now eat half a banana with a piece of cheese for a snack, and this doesn't happen. Protein + veg/fruit = win.
Here is an example of my evening dinner. This is an authentic Korean dinner, with authentic Korean proportions. 4oz Korean kalbi, 4 slices of romaine lettuce, Korean sesame cucumber salad, kimchee, and 1/4 cup rice. Here's how Koreans eat it. Slice the meat into bite sized strips. Take a lettuce leaf and put the rice and meat in it. Put a little hot sauce or a slice of kimchee in it, if you want. Roll into a wrap and enjoy!
4 weeks ago, my rice serving might have been twice that size. After dinner, I felt satisfied, but not overstuffed. The protein from the meat, and fiber from the vegetables blunted the glycemic load of the rice, so I never had an insulin spike. (It's amazing how I can recognize when my insulin surges now). I wasn't hungry at all after dinner and went to bed without a snack.