UPDATE #2 for Season 1! (Personal update with a confession)
In this episode I also talk about BMR, BMI, visceral fat, subcutaneous fat, the one thing you absolutely need to fear when it comes to weight-loss, and what’s on the agenda for season 2!
Another year, another body scan.
Two years ago I blogged on happyherbivore.com about how the plant-based diet made me an overeater and that it’s not all-you-can-eat, plants don’t have “magic calories that don’t count and that the one and only simple part to weight-loss is that you have to have a calorie deficit) and I then updated 1 year later with some terrific before & after pics.
You should definitely check out my before and after pictures here!
That’s also when I kicked off this podcast, breaking down the science and research that led to my weight-loss success. Basically, I’m reading all the books and trudging through all the data so you don’t have to.
Thanks to this research I stopped overeating and had a tremendous loss: 19 total pounds of pure body fat.
And what I mean by that is: Muscle mass, body water, and bone density were near identical between my scans. The only difference was a fat loss. (You can see/compare the scans yourself here.)
And my physical appearance? Holy smokes! 13% body fat looks good. Def. check out the B/A pictures.
My first scan was in July 2013 and I had my second last year in March 2016 scan. Between those two scans I had a tremendous loss: 16 pounds of pure body fat.
I knew this year’s scan wouldn’t be as dramatic and I didn’t want it to be. My goal was maintenence—to have the same scan as the previous year—so these results are everything I hoped for and then some.
Since last year I’ve gained 1 pound of muscle and lost 3 additional pounds of fat.
These results indicate that I am in “maintenance mode” and that my total weight-loss was (and is) maintainable.
The change to my visceral fat further echos this.
Visceral fat is the fat around your organs and it is arguably the most dangerous type of fat to have as too much of it can dangerously affect organ function and hormone function.
My visceral fat went from a level 3 (very healthy) to a level 2 (insanely healthy).
I think this decrease in my visceral fat explains the minor changes in my body composition, that is, the change is mostly improved organ health.
A tiny decrease in my subcutaneous fat probably also contributed to the positive change and my body now has has near perfect muscular symmetry (meaning the muscle on the left side of my body matches the muscle on the right side of my body) which is great.
I see all of this as my body slowly working its way to the healthiest body possible.
Sort of like how once you remove all the crap and clutter from your home: you can give it a good, deep cleaning and afterward label and organize things for better efficiency.
Above all, I’m just happy to be FREE OF ALL THE MISINFORMATION.
Plants do not have “magic calories” that do not count. It’s not all-you-can-eat.
I know that for sure now and so do you.
Calories still count and calories still matter.
Not all calories are “equal” as we learned last season.
For example, not every calorie is nutritionally equivalent (carrots vs. carrot cake), satiates the same way (potato vs. potato chips), has the same bioavailability, or is absorbed or stored the same way (oreo vs. apple).
This is why you can’t truly “count calories” or rely on counting calories like religion – it’s not straight math. Even IF you measure and weigh everything perfectly, you still don’t know the true bioavailability, or the cost of digestion (meaning how the calories are absorbed, applied or are used on the backend), or how the food you ate for dinner yesterday might affect how you store and absorb calories at breakfast today.
A few other notes about me and my most recent body scan:
I mentioned earlier that the 3 pound fat loss was mostly like from a reduction visceral fat (the fat around my organs) but that it was also likely from a tiny decrease in my subcutaneous fat which is the fat stored just under the skin.
Over the last year my skin has really “bounced back” from the big loss the previous year.
A year ago I had a lot of hanging skin, particularly in my midsection.
If I sat it bunched up and I had this ruffling around my elbows and knees too. Most of this is gone now. (It’s been a slow process, but that’s okay.)
You’ll also notice between the scans that my BMR (basal metabolic rate) went UP a whole 9 calories. OH boy!
Although this increase does reinforce the science in episode 5, that your metabolism does NOT slow as you age, only as you lose muscle. I’m a year older but my metabolism went up because my muscle mass did.
I also want to talk quickly about BMI.
BMI (body mass index) supposedly measures your body fat based on your height and weight. I say “supposedly” because BMI charts are hideously inaccurate. Bodybuilders, for example, are “obese” by BMI standards because they weigh so much for their height, but that weight isn’t fat, it’s muscle.
This is also why your scale weight is relatively useless. It doesn’t tell you fat-to-muscle ratio (your body fat percentage).
In fact, you can be happy with your scale weight and still not like how you look.
That was me.
I thought all my dreams would come true if I weighed 125 pounds.
Why? I went to a Lakers game and that was the weight of all the hot cheerleaders who were my height.
Yet when I got to that weight, my legs still rubbed together and my stomach hung like a balloon.
I definitely didn’t look like a Laker girl.
Ultimately it didn’t really matter what the scale said if I didn’t like how I looked.
I keep thinking back to the first time I ever had my body fat measured.
“You have a really high percentage of body fat for your weight.” the technician told me.
It didn’t matter that I was at a “healthy” weight, I was at the tippy top end of what was considered “healthy” in terms of body fat.
“Lowering your body fat percentage” is what we really mean to say when we say “we want to lose weight” because you don’t just want to lose weight.
If that is the case, you could cut a leg off and be happy because you’d lose weight instantly.
What you really want is to reduce body fat and/or change your body composition and it’s important to have that perspective.
This is why I stepped off the scale and started measuring my health by my body fat percentage with these scans.
So what else about me has changed in the last year?
This year I ate “less perfect.”
... but yet I still managed to perfect my health.
At the start of Season 1, I mentioned that this attitude exists, especially in the plant-based or healthy lifestyle communities, that anything that’s wrong with you is your fault for not being “perfect.”
If you aren’t losing weight, for example, it’s because you aren’t being perfect. You are eating oil or sugar, or too many nuts, or not enough greens, or cheating in some way.
I hate this attitude. I want to live in a way that doesn’t require perfection.
That if I don’t go to yoga, or if I eat a vegan cookie, I will still be healthy.
I wanted to embody my “progress not perfection” mantra so I stopped worrying if something had a little bit of oil in it (I compared calories instead).
I also bought more prepared foods like marinara sauce, hummus, enchilada salsa, and frozen rice rather than making it all myself. (It was the year of shortcuts.)
I also didn’t care about organics, GMOs, or sodium.
I tried to make the best consumer choices, and pick my very best options, but my #1 focus was doing whatever I needed to eat at home and follow my meal plan.
After that it was about calories, and after that…
Well, I was too tired to do any more analysis.
Now, I absolutely agree that some “foods” (like high fructose corn syrup) are not health foods and should be avoided, but occasionally consuming them isn’t worth the finger point (because three other fingers will still point right back at you).
Here’s what Season 1 taught us and what I learned first-hand experimenting on myself all last year:
If you want to fear anything, it’s an overabundance of calories, no matter the source.
Excess is still excess. You don’t get an award for eating too much healthy stuff.
That’s no different than overfilling your car’s gas tank. You can put the right gas in all you want, but eventually, it’ll start spraying back at you and create a fire hazard.
But I get it: It’s a lot easier (and much more comfortable) to focus on diet, to focus on some element of a food, and ignore our thoughts and behaviors.
Whatever it takes to lose weight is what it takes to keep it off.
This is absolutely true and why behavior modification is most effective weight-loss strategy.
Now for the ballsy confession!!
A few weeks ago I read an editorial piece where the author said she lost 30 pounds but she didn’t want applause.
The author admitted that yes, she was afraid of dying, diabetes, heart disease, and the cancer that haunted her family reunions, but what she was most afraid of was being fat. She was afraid of workplace discrimination and social erasure.
Her candidness gave me the courage to say this: it IS easier to be skinny in our society.
I offer my experiences as testament.
As soon as I walk into a clothing store now, salesgirls rush over to help me and they bring over clothes I don’t ask for, commenting on how perfect my body is for this or that, often touching me the entire time which makes me super uncomfortable.
In the past it was difficult to get anyone to help me find the right size or bring me another size.
People hold doors for me.
I’ve had so many awkward instances of lunging forward to grab a handle that was now out from my reach because I didn’t expect they were going to open or hold the door for me…
I remember telling a friend “I’m smaller in size, but people see me more now.”
Perhaps most notably is that friends and family pay attention and actively listen when I talk about health, nutrition, or the weather.
In fact, no one challenges me anymore, at least not about being vegan. Perhaps some of that is wear and tear after 10 years, but I don’t think that’s all of it because 7 years in, people still tried to tell me all the ways in which vegan was unhealthy (and I think that’s because I was still chubby at the time).
Strangers will also stop me and ask me what my diet or exercise regimen is and it’s an odd thing because they never like my answer.
Men honk at me like they used to do when I was 16.
OH, I had to get my wedding ring resized and the day I took it in, that day I got asked out. In Trader Joe’s.
No one has asked me out on a date in 12 years.
I got married when I was 24. I don’t think it was just the wedding ring.
I feel guilty about all this, sad about this, shameful sometimes.
For years I was embarrassed to tell anyone I went vegan for vanity; I wanted to be skinnier. I didn’t want embarrassing acne anymore either. I loved animals too, but really it was all about me.
Of course the reasons I stayed vegan multiplied like rabbits in the Spring, and I hold all of those reasons very dear to me still.
I also had a health scare (pre-vegan) that did make me seek a healthier diet but even then as I was reading about how plants might protect me from cancer, there was still that thought circling in the back of my head that “maybe this will make me skinny too.”
And sometimes (I can’t believe I’m going to admit this) I worry I’ll gain it all back.
In fact, that’s part of why I started researching behavior modification.
I was tired of spending all my time fussing, fretting, worrying, struggling, or praying for willpower.
And if you’re tired of getting into heated debates with yourself over what I’m eating and if it’s a healthy choice or if I deserve it or if it “counts” or asking yourself “why why why do I keep doing this?” you’re going to love season 2!
Get ready to learn all about neuroscience, your brain, environmental triggers, and the incredible psychology behind why we eat, overeat, binge, plateau, and sabotage ourselves.
Making good food and dietary choices certainly makes losing weight and maintaining easier, just like it’s a lot easier to run a marathon if you quit smoking first, but a good diet works best when it’s paired with behavior modification and appropriate environmental changes like portion control.
Behavior modification (including meal planning) has been my solution.
This was Episode 12 of Season 1.
Leave the guesswork and science to me :)
- The (embarrassing) real reason I wanted to lose weight (+ How the Plant-Based Diet Made Me an Overeater Part 3)
- Body Scans
- The Student Body documentary