Doug’s Diet Q&A – everything you didn’t want to hear about diets

As some of you may know I lost a great deal of weight since 2012 – some 90 lb. But after losing all that weight I plateaued for about a year. Then over the past year my weight has been slowly creeping up again. In other words – yet another rebound.

This has happened multiple times in my life. I can go on a diet and stay on it without temptation, lose a lot of weight and then around the 700 day mark I start regaining.

I’m trying everything I can think of right now to prevent a total rebound, but I haven’t been very successful for more than a week or two at a time so far.

I’m not giving up though. In fact, today I recommitted myself (yet again) to a strict diet, and managed to finish the day, feeling full, and yet eating only 1277 calories. I can’t say I’m feeling extremely confident at the moment, but I want to pass on my honest, rather cynical, and sort of depressing personal observations about all the diets out there I’ve tried, and what I think the problems are as far as getting to a normal weight and staying there are.

I emphasize that these are my personal observations. In other words, just one data point. But I feel justified in doing that because so many other diets report from either personal experience or from a handful of participants and try to generalize to the entire population of overweight people.

Now it’s my turn.

But at least I’ll be honest up front and say “your results may vary.” Everybody is different. The causes of obesity differ from person to person.

That’s one of my major points – your solution is not necessarily my solution. Many people find this basic fact difficult to grasp. I’ll repeat it because it is important – what works for one person may not work for another.

This is one of my main gripes with people who promote diets (and who try to be helpful and give diet advice) – they tend to assume that what works for themselves must work for everybody else. Further, they will say if their solution doesn’t work for you then you must be failing to follow their “tried and true” rules.

Anyway, here is my Q&A, answering the most relevant and interesting questions which come to mind. My answers, I’m afraid, are not designed to be a morale booster, instill confidence, be motivational or any of that. They are just my 100% honest view of diet reality.

So here goes.

Q. OK. So wow. How did you lose your initial 90 lb?

A. I had a heart attack in May of 2012. It basically scared me into seriously dieting. I was extremely obese. The doctor found an artery blockage and I had one stent put in and was in the hospital for a week. My blood sugar was through the roof. My cholesterol was extremely high.

The doctor left me with just the instructions to try to lose weight by limiting calories to 1800 per day and doing daily exercise.

I decided by myself to be more pro-active and checked around and decided to go on the Ornish Spectrum “heart disease reversal program” – which is basically the same as the Esselstyn program. It’s what Bill Clinton went on after his heart problems. The basic diet can be summed up like this: It’s mostly vegan (with a couple of tiny exceptions), no oils, no nuts and no seeds. So that’s what I did. I went vegan, and gave up oils and nuts and seeds. And I also got rid of my moped and bought a bicycle and did at least 30-45 minutes of cycling every day and more walking.

Q. Did it work?

A. It did at first. My weight came off quickly. Weight loss did slow down though. But I eventually got under 90 kg for a brief time. But my weight loss had trickled to a standstill by then even though I was still borderline overweight and obese. And after two years of this I started having cravings, and eventually my weight started creeping up again (with some dips along the way). So far I’ve regained more than 20 lb of what I’ve lost.

Q. Why did it work at first so easily and then get harder?

A. The reason it worked so easily at first is because I weighed so much! I could probably have followed any diet and lost a lot of weight initially. It got harder after I dropped to a certain weight because my net caloric intake (the calories I ate minus the calories I burned from exercise) was too high. I think mainly from the rice I had made a staple part of my diet.

Q. Couldn’t you just reduce the calories you ate even more?

A. Easier said than done is all I can say. When you start out obese, your body has an excess amount of fat cells. When you lose weight, the fat cells don’t go away. Most people don’t understand this point. The fat cells remain – they just shrink. They remain a permanent part of your body. But fat cells are not “dead clumps of fat” in your body. They are living cells. If you starve them beyond a certain point they send signals to your brain that you are starving, which makes it hard to stay on your calorie restriction, and even harder to reduce calories even more. I think that’s the main physical reason for rebounding. After a while your body thinks it is starving.

Q. What about increasing exercise then?

A. A person can increase exercise to a certain point. But most of it is still what you eat. I felt I was really trying to exercise by doing 30-45 minutes of cycling each day and increasing walking. And maybe I need to do more. One of the dumbest magazine headlines I ever read was, “People who exercise 3-4 hours every day tend not to be overweight.” Well, yes, I’m sure that is true. But it’s not a very practical observation. I would say that even if I tripled my exercise every day it would not be the solution to my problem. The main thing is still controlling my caloric intake. My doctor says I should try to do 900 calories worth of exercise per day and that would solve all my problems.  It’s rather difficult to accomplish though. For example, to burn 900 calories would require more than 2 hours of brisk walking per day. And even if I did that it still would not be nearly enough to counteract overeating. I strongly feel the eating part is still the main thing.

Q. Were there other positive side effects from the Ornish program?

A. The main benefit was as I lost weight my blood sugar returned to normal, without any special blood sugar medication. My cholesterol also dropped to very healthy levels – like 120 total cholesterol and an LDL (bad cholesterol) of just 70. My blood pressure is about 116/60. All great. But not all due to the Ornish program. My cholesterol was not dropping just by dieting – I had to start taking one statin each day. My doctors say that diet alone doesn’t always reduce cholesterol, and so I don’t attribute my low cholesterol just to the Ornish program. But I think it probably helped. After all, cholesterol in diet only comes from animal products, so if you don’t eat animal products you are eating a cholesterol free diet. And my blood sugar going down was strictly because I lost weight, and would happen on any diet.

Q. What about heart health on the Ornish program?

A. It’s unclear. A heart catheter checkup one year after my hospital stay starting showed no progression of disease. That is a good thing. On the other hand it didn’t show “reversal” either. But I would say avoiding the further buildup of arterial plaque was beneficial – thus stopping heart disease in its tracks. So yes, that was helpful.

Q. So what’s wrong with the Ornish program?

A. The problem is with weight loss. There are no guidelines for losing weight with Ornish. And, like I said, I’ve been rebounding.

Q. You said your blood sugar returned to normal, without medications. But a vegan diet is high carb. Don’t carbs hurt your blood sugar?

A. Carbs have no effect on my blood sugar. If I lose weight my HbA1c goes down no matter what diet I follow.

Q. What are the problems with the Ornish program and weight loss?

A. As mentioned above, there are no weight loss guidelines. If you cut out animal products, dairy, nuts, seeds and oils you are still left with very high caloric foods. In particular, grains like rice, wheat and pasta. And fruits.

Q. But if you eat whole grains doesn’t that help? Aren’t they “healthy”?

A. No. Whole grains are just as fattening as processed grains. For weight loss they have no benefit whatsoever.

Q. But don’t whole grains help keep you feeling full and more satisfied, thus helping you control your appetite?

A. No. Whole grains are no more filling or more satisfying than processed grains. In fact, since they taste better than processed grains I just feel the urge to eat even more or them. They are all really high calories and just trigger hunger.

Q. Is brown rice really that fattening?

A. Rice – brown or white – is enormously fattening because it has tons of calories. In fact, that’s about all it has is calories. It’s very low in protein. It’s almost all carbs – sugars.

Q. But isn’t it harder to turn carb calories into body fat than fat itself? Isn’t there a metabolic advantage to eating carbs?

A. No.

Q. But I heard that there were rat studies which fed different groups low fat, high carb and high fat, low carb and the rats which ate low fat, high carb lost more weight with the same number of calories.

A. Low carb, high fat advocates can point you to just as many studies showing the opposite result.

Q. So you think a calorie is a calorie as far as weight loss goes?

A. Yes.

Q. Is sugar bad for you?

A. I think so. I think sugar triggers food urges which just make you want to eat more sugary things, or more carbs.

Q. What about “healthy” sugars, like sugars in fruits?

A. They trigger the same food urges. If you eat a banana (pretty high calorie) when you are done you want to eat another banana. And it’s the same with other fruits in my experience. At least all the fruits I like: watermelon, pineapple, pears, apples, oranges and mango to name some.

Q. What about oats? I hear they are really healthy.

A. What do you mean by “healthy?” As far as weight loss goes, oats have loads and loads of calories. They are not helpful for a diet.

Q. What about Weight Watchers and their zero point fruits?

A. It is nonsense. If you eat too many fruits you will eat too many calories and gain weight.

Q. Are you saying that Weight Watchers is using “bait and switch” to get people to join their diet by suggesting people can eat as much fruit as they want?

A. Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. It is bait and switch.

Q. What about Atkins and ketogenic diets with very low carbs. Can you lose weight on those?

A. No. There is no magic with low carb diets. For some people it can help with sugar urges and reduce appetite. But if you eat too many calories, such as butter and oil, or meats, then you will eat too many calories and not lose weight.

Q. But Atkins claims there is a “metabolic advantage” because the low carbs prevent insulin spikes and therefore block the processing storage of fat.

A. It is not true. A calorie is a calorie.

Q. But what about Gary Taubes’s research promoting low carb eating and “Why we get fat”?

A. It’s not true. See my extensive notes on that here.

Q. There is a diet promoting a vegan diet like Ornish and Essylstyn, but with no additives or sugars. Is that that answer?

A. No. That diet, also known as the “protective diet” doesn’t restrict fruits or whole grains. All of those foods have too many calories to keep weight down. You can’t ignore calories.

Q. Are you saying that any diet which doesn’t include calorie limits is incorrect.

A. Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. It’s basic conservation of energy. You can’t escape conservation of energy.

Q. What about diets which say they aren’t “diets” but “lifestyles.”

A. It’s nonsense. What you eat is a diet. If there are rules about what you can eat, or how much you can eat it’s a diet. It’s just verbal trickery to say otherwise.

Q. So what is the solution to losing weight and keeping it off?

A. Reducing calories enough so that you lose weight – for the rest of your life.

Q. Is there any way of doing that so you don’t feel deprived and hungry after a while?

A. I don’t think so.

Q. So what’s the solution?

A. There may not be one other than just facing the fact that you are not going to eat to satisfaction ever again and maybe trying to get emotional satisfaction from feeling deprived-but-healthy instead.

Q. You said you managed to stick to just 1277 calories today and aren’t hungry. What are you trying now?

A. I have been feeling uncomfortable with my recent experiments in eating animal products, so I’m back to vegan for one thing. And I’m counting calories.

To help avoid high calorie foods I’m eliminating more food categories from my diet in hopes of finding a combination that works for me.

So what I’m trying now is (1) vegan; (2) no added fats or oils; (3) no nuts; (4) no seeds; (5) no added sugars; (6) no grains (i.e. no rice, wheat, oats, pasta, etc.). Number (6) is the major difference from Ornish or Esselstyn. And (7) I’m also going to avoid fruits for now since they also seem to trigger hunger urges. And I’m also avoiding so-called “zero calorie” artificially sweetened jellos because I think they somehow trigger a feeling of wanting sugary things.

In short, I’m trying to see if by vastly increasing my restricted categories of food I can eliminate foods which trigger hunger urges and just eat foods which are filling.

Q. What about protein?

A. I don’t think people need that much protein. Anyway, I can get it from edamame or small amounts of legumes, like kidney beans or garbanzo beans added to salads, or some tofu. Almost all vegetables have some protein in them.

Q. Shouldn’t you eat even more legumes then for even more protein?

A. No. They can be too high in calories. Plus too many legumes causes digestive problems for me and are uncomfortable.

Q. Dedicated vegans say those digestive problems go away in a few months.

A. It’s not true. The problems don’t even go away after a couple of years. It’s best to just limit legumes to very small amounts.

Q. Don’t digestive enzymes help with problems like that?

A. No.

Q. So you are limiting the amounts of legumes you eat too?

A. Yes, to just small amounts, like 2 ounces added to salads. And just some edamame. And maybe one small package of tofu each day.

Q. What about something starchy to just give you a feeling of eating something satisfying and filling?

A. I find that a sweet potato for lunch helps with that, and is satisfying. Also slices of pumpkin are relatively low calorie and filling and can be easily made for a side dish.

Q. So what did you have for dinner tonight?

A. A 250 g package of frozen green beans. After boiling I added a 400 g can of crushed tomatoes and spices to make a pasta sauce with no oils. It was 193 calories for the entire, large plate. And it was filling. But afterwards I did get hungry again so had some pumpkin slices. And finally I had a small tub of tofu.

Q. Do you feel confident you can stick with this latest, new plan?

A. No.

Q. But you are not giving up?

A. I’m not giving up.

Q. What about dealing with the psychological causes of overeating?

A. That probably a part of it, but I don’t know how to deal with that aspect of it.

Q. Will you try to exercise more?

A. I’m thinking about it. But I just can’t see myself spending 2-3 hours a day at the gym. But I will try to increase exercise if I can. But I want to get eating under control first. That’s my major objective. I want to avoid a complete rebound, which has always happened in the past.

Q. What percent of people are successful dieters who manage to go from obesity to normal weight and keep it off for years without rebounding?

A. I hear that only 5% to 10% or less of dieters have been able to do that.

Q. So you think it is probably hopeless?

A. Probably. At least the odds are greatly against success.

Q. But you are not giving up anyway?

A. No, I’m not giving up. I’ll keep trying to find a combination of foods and exercise and psychological tricks which work for me.

Q. But you are not confident.

A. I am not confident. But I’m living with it.





Doug’s Diet Q&A – everything you didn’t want to hear about diets — 10 Comments

  1. Unfortunately weight loss does indeed seem to be a constant struggle for most of us, although your battle certainly seems tougher than mine.

    I’m with you on the activity thing – I don’t think it has a major impact on weight loss unless you pretty much live at the gym and I’ve long ago stopped tracking my WW “activity points”. My running and workouts are for my overall health, not for weight loss. I average nearly an hour a day of workout time and I’m still struggling to lose weight. It’s not the answer.

    Here’s the official WW position on zero point fruit:

    “Fresh fruits are free because we want to encourage you to eat them. They’re filling and nutritious Power Foods and we’ve factored the caloric impact of even the highest-calorie fruits into our calculations of your daily PointsPlus Target. So go for it! Just make sure to eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed.”

    Many folks – me for example – are unlikely to overeat fruits so it’s just not a big issue for us. When watermelons are so great in the summer I may overdo occasionally but that’s about my only risk. I’m sure some folks do sabotage themselves with too much fruit, but it’s not actually something I’ve heard anyone complain about at a meeting and the leaders do regularly remind us that zero points fruit doesn’t mean unlimited fruit.

    One question you didn’t answer was how you came up with 1277 as your calorie target. That seems really low to me from my memory (admittedly several years old) of your size. Are you perhaps trying to be too aggressive?

  2. Oh, Doug, you sound so depressed and desperate. I’m so sorry. I do have to quibble with you about one thing, though. You keep saying eating some foods triggers hunger – not physiologically possible. Unless you have some bizarre brain disease, that hunger cannot be physical, must be psychological, and you’re going to have to find a way to deal with it. I think you’re confusing cravings with hunger, and cravings can be eliminated. I’m sad to see you having such a struggle and seeming so unhappy and hopeless. I wish you’d give yourself at least 30 days (some say 30-60 days) to conquer your cravings. If you’re unsure what to do, google it, there must be books or blogs, or something helpful. I’m lucky that my occasional cravings are fixable with program meals (spaghetti is one of my obsessions, ice cream is another). Anyway, glad you posted this, have been wondering how you’re doing, wish it had been better news. Hang in. Aloha, Linden

  3. 1740 is my current net calorie target. It’s just that today it ended up being 1277. There’s no real significance of that number. It’s just the amount of calories I ended up eating today.

  4. Hi Linden. Thanks for your note. But I have to say I disagree with your comment about foods not being physiologically capable of triggering hunger. It is a well known phenomenon. See for example

    “It seems as though certain high glycaemic foods (high GI), which trigger rapid increases in blood sugar levels, act in a similar way to addictive substances in the way they impact the brain. The Boston Children’s Hospital research team found that ” Consuming highly processed carbohydrates can cause excess hunger and stimulate brain regions involved in reward and cravings” (1). The team suggest that limiting or staying away from these kinds of processed, high GI foods, could really help individuals who overeat. These foods tend to stimulate the pleasure centres in the brain, the dopamine centres – the same part of the brain which is linked to substance abuse and dependence.”

    I believe that is factually true, and a physiological response to certain foods.

  5. You’re right, it is a physiological response, but it is not hunger. The article says, as you quoted, some foods “act in a similar way to addictive substances in the way they impact the brain.” That’s not true hunger. Also, highly processed carbohydrates are given as the culprit, and I was under the impression you had been eating only unprocessed foods such as brown rice. But, I’m not going to fight with you about it. You’re no dummy, you know what you should eat and how much you should eat, and whether you do or not is between you and yourself, and not my business. I would be a lot happier if everyone would just live their lives to suit me, but ain’t gonna happen. I have to keep telling myself, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Think I’ll go fix myself some zucchini spaghetti for breakfast (happen to have a can of garlic diced tomatoes on hand). You’re up very late, aren’t you? Aloha!

  6. “Consuming highly processed carbohydrates can cause excess hunger and stimulate brain regions involved in reward and cravings”

    That’s certainly my experience. I was a real chocoholic before I began this weight loss journey, probably eating chocolate candy about daily. After avoiding chocolate for several years now I simply don’t have the desire to eat it and I don’t even notice the candy section in the store any more.

  7. Michael:
    I am a chocoholic. Pastries. Danishes, And anything chocolate.

    I have dealt with that by having ONE Fiber One Chocolate brownie a day. It’s enough to get me over my cravings.

  8. I just wrote you a VERY LONG reply to your problem and I guess it’s lost. There’s noway I can remember all that I wrote. Sorry!

  9. Linden, I wasn’t up that late. Just until about 1 am. But maybe later than usual.

    That article mentions high highly processed carbs, and in my experience I have the same physiological reaction to things like brown rice, soba, fruits and non-processed carbs as well. While they are not highly processed, they are all high glycemic.

    The signals that make me feel hunger are real. I was hoping to make the point that not everybody is the same. This is, in fact, what happens to me. It’s an actual hunger that is triggered by certain kinds of foods – typically high glycemic carbs. And that does include non-processed carbs of some kinds. Rice is particularly bad, including brown rice.

    Michael, I’m not a chocoholic. But I have noticed that if I do eat something sweet, like a cookie, it creates the same cravings that rice and fruits do.

    Nancy, I will imagine your long reply. Thanks for taking the time! 🙂

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