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What’s Really Important About This Blog

I got an email from a new reader the other day.

…30 years old, MD in anesthesia and critical care in Italy, fed up with being 40 pounds overweight. I’ve always been the big girl, since I was little, and now that I’m a grown up i would really LOVE to shed the pounds at last. Tried it all: low-cal-low-fat; doesn’t seem to work. Went vegetarian and literally BALLOONED UP…

So now I’ve been on evolutionary for 6 days and it looks good. I’ve just subscribed to your freetheanimal site. A few questions; maybe you can help me out a bit:

  • Do calories count when on pure EF?

  • How often should I fast, if at all?

  • Should I work out according to the power law workout max twice a week?

Very nice of this reader to donate a subscription, even having been reading the blog for only a few days. I really appreciate that. Here was my email response.

I actually don’t know if calories count or not if one keeps the carbs low. I tend to think there’s some "metabolic" advantage, but who really knows how it works (more heartbeats, higher respiration, more poop…?) and what the limits are. I have heard anecdotes of people eating upwards of 10,000 kcals per day of 80-90% fat, a little protein, and not gaining weight over weeks of the experiment.

But what’s the point?

The real power of EF is that you don’t need to count anything. Don’t be afraid of natural fats (animal, coconut, olive oil), eat plenty of then (60-70% of energy), moderate protein, low carb and everything seems to take care of itself. Just eat real food. When you do, you should find appetite begin to change. So, you never need to count anything because you’re shedding weight, your hunger is far different than before, and you should feel really good and energetic most of the time.

I’m a big proponent of intermittent fasting and have blogged a lot about it. See the category on the blog. I think that at first it should be regimented and formal, twice a week for losing and once per week for maintenance. Now that I’m about where I want to be, I just fast randomly, sometimes skipping a meal, and sometimes two or three: 18 hour fasts, 24, and sometimes 30 or 36. I usually try to do them in advance of my workouts. However, fasting isn’t essential — though I think skipping a meal or two here and there is important (look up autophagy) — but you can easily progress without it.

I have never worked out more than 1 hr per week, 2 x 30 minutes. The power law aspect is that in such brief time you can get far more intense. Nobody believes I only do 1 hr a week, when many overweight people I know trudge along at low-intensity for hours per week and never make any progress.

There was a follow-up email today with an important question and I thought I’d provide an answer here, along with the opportunity for anyone else to share experiences of insight.

So far I’ve been on EF for 7 days and lost 3 pounds. I do hope it will keep up… the last four days have seen a scale that will not move either way. plus, this might sound like psychological blabber but trust me I’m so scared that this, too, might fail like countless other methods, that I’m afraid of the scale… any suggestion about how to SANELY relate to a scale is greatly appreciated.

Well, first, you should understand that a lot of that initial 3 pounds is water that your body no longer needs to bind glycogen (since you’re depleting it). The goal is to convert your metabolism to that of a fat burner. You’ve got a few hours of glycogen stores if you’re eating a lot of carbs, and your body screams bloody murder when you’re not keeping those levels up with regular sugar intake. Conversely, you’ve got 3-4 months or more of fat stores (and you can make the needed glucose for brain and red blood cells with protein). When you become a fat burner your appetite should change radically.

But it’s a process. For some, it’s rapid, and for others, it just takes a while. But — and it’s a BIG BUT — you don’t need to be hungry all the time and you get to eat luxuriously. Check out the Food Porn category. I eat better than virtually every person on earth eating grains and sugar — and not just in terms of nutrition — but in terms of taste and satisfaction. Last night after eating the curry I blogged, I recall sitting there in such an amazing state of contentment for the longest time, and with none of the bloated or tired feeling one gets in the hours to come — and I ate a lot.

So, you know what? Even if I didn’t lose much weight, express my genes, and reset my body to the way evolution intended, I’d still eat this way for the way I simply feel. Give this at least a few months and don’t ever discount the way you feel. It’s critical.

It’s a feature of the modern, agriculture-backed church and state bedfellows that you are always called upon to sacrifice and to feel guilt when you feel pleasure and contentment by means of your own individual efforts. Conventional, fake "contentment" — the "contentment" of a slave — in a world where parasites run things demands that everyone produce to keep them in blood to suck, and their only viable long-term strategy for that is to instill unearned guilt. They do that by promoting fantasies as real, crating problems where no problems exist, and then provide a "solution" that of course requires allegiance, worship, obedience, sacrifice.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. –H. L. Mencken

And it’s that guilt, alarm, and clamoring for safety and salvation that causes you to torture yourself with low-fat diets of industrially processed garbage — and then try a burn it off in hours of toil on a treadmill or some other penance for your sins.

There’s the theory. For the practical, I would recommend that you don’t look at the scale very often. In an evolutionary context, we are simply not very good at gaining valid knowledge from observations of very complex systems (like metabolism). There was a book written a few years back that I highly recommend: Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. If you’ve read any of Art de Vany’s blog, you may have seen reference.

You don’t want to get yourself stressed, worried — or overly exuberant — by obsessing on the scale. Personally, I look at it twice per week, after each workout on the way to the sauna. In over two years at this, I can tell you that there have been a multitude of inexplicable swings up to 5 pounds in either direction. So, what you want to do is pay attention only to the highs & lows.

You are trying to shed fat and to keep and strengthen lean tissue. So, what you want over time is to observe lower highs and lower lows on the scale, and between those two established trends, never mind what happens, so long as you’re keeping your eating practices at 80-90% good.

Anyone else have anything to add?

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

31 Comments

  1. Irene on October 29, 2009 at 12:33

    Hey THANKS!!! what a great great post

  2. Kat on October 29, 2009 at 13:06

    So true about ‘the way it makes you feel’. I wish I could convince more of my family/friends to try EF just so they could experience the amazing feeling that comes with it.

    As for the scale, I’ve stopped looking at one altogether and just go by the ‘puffiness factor’. If my face is a little rounder or my belly not so tight I know that either I slipped up and ate something bad or it’s time for a quick IF.

    My message to the reader is to hang in there!! It will really be worth it and you’re already over the hardest part- they first few days!

  3. Marc Feel Good Eating on October 29, 2009 at 13:36

    My experience with others trying our way of eating is that they never make it to the “fat-burning stage” . so they give up. That’s why I advocate being really really strict for 3 months. My humble opnion is that if you do that….you’ll never turn back…..because of the way you will FEEL.

    Marc

  4. Mike M on October 29, 2009 at 13:39

    Good stuff Richard. Good advice not to worry about the scale. You (and others!) will notice a difference in how your body composition improves.

  5. Patrik on October 29, 2009 at 14:07

    One of your best posts. Excellent.

  6. Bill on October 29, 2009 at 14:37

    Richard,
    You have your own inimical style that sets you apart.
    Out of all the paleo bloggers out there, you are the one that I would love to have one of your meals, get ratted on Madiran wine and put the world to rights.
    I admire your energy and focus.
    Keep it up, your presence and spiel, is a positive beacon in this fucked up world.

  7. Patrik on October 29, 2009 at 14:41

    I think Bill means “inimitable style”, not “inimical”.

    🙂

    And I agree. Like I have said before, I think you have surpassed Art de Vany in all aspects of EvFit/Paleo blogging.

    • Bill on October 29, 2009 at 15:04

      You are right Patrik.
      I was searching for a word that encapsulated inimicable, and sometimes obnoxious, only in the way of being “correct”, but the sad bastard you are in discussion with just doesn’t see it. This is a recurring situation when you espouse a paleo-like lifestyle. So maybe inimticable sums it up.

  8. Bill on October 29, 2009 at 14:45

    Shit, no edit function……?

    Richard,
    You have your own inimical style that sets you apart.
    Out of all the paleo bloggers out there, you are the one that I would love to have one of your meals, get ratted on Madiran wine together, and see the sunrise with you, still debating, and putting the world to rights.
    I admire your energy and focus, fellow atheist, or as Christopher Hitchens would say anti-theist.
    Keep it up, your presence and spiel, is a positive beacon in this fucked up world.

  9. Skyler Tanner on October 29, 2009 at 15:22

    Great post.

    Of course calories matter but, and you hit the nail on the head, if your appetite is under control and you’re not running around “Type A with your hair on fire” about what you’re eating, things tend to work themselves out.

    It can be overdone, certainly, but since protein and fat go way up (and likely fiber because of fruit and veg), you’re getting 1,2, and 3 on the hunger blunting substance short list. Sounds like a recipe for high nutrient density and nutrient richness eating to me.

    Best,
    Skyler

  10. Don Matesz on October 29, 2009 at 15:57

    Biological systems work in rhythms. Don’t expect linear change…such as a day-by-day drop in weight as measured by the scale. Paleo will increase your lean mass while decreasing fat mass…scale measurement may not change much when both occur simultaneously. Plus, if you come from a high carb diet, you must stick to it for at least 3 weeks to allow a conversion from sugar-based metabolism to fat-based, during that time you may not feel great or lose fat at the rate you wish. But it will change if you stick with it. I agree with Marc, commit to at least 3 months NO MATTER WHAT. Too many people are chronic diet changers, switching gears every four weeks because the diet doesn’t meet their expecations of complete physical transformation in 30 days. You didn’t get where you are in 30 days and you won’t reverse it in 30 days either. You have to commit, stay focused, and take the long haul, just as Richard has done. That’s what works. Don’t look for magic out there, make the magic happen by unswerving focus and determination. You are now on the right path. Stay on it and you will succeed.

  11. Dexter on October 29, 2009 at 16:09

    In addition to Richards blog, I would send the anethesologist to Dr BG’s blog url-removed/.

    She currently has a nice piece about coconut oil being excellent for body fat loss.

    Another blog that talks about our low carb eating is a lifestyle…not a fad.
    http://www.thesteaksarehigh.com/2008/06/its-not-a-fad-w.html

    Good luck with your journey to a new lifestyle.

  12. Greg on October 29, 2009 at 17:08

    The scale can be cruel- you bust your ass, eat amazingly well and yet often find no immediate reward- don’t worry about it at all.

    If you really want to measure, take the daily scale readings and look at moving averages of a few days, a week, two weeks, months etc. Plot some charts in Excel. At the end of the day, you really only care about trending- is it working or not? If you stick with it- this becomes painfully obvious- it works incredibly well and is actually quite easy. {eventually}

    As for the switchover- it sucks. Go cold turkey, don’t cheat at all, it’s easier than trying to wean yourself off carbs.

    Once you do, hunger is like being a little tired or having to go to the bathroom- you may notice it now and again, but it’s easy to ignore and put off. And after a little while longer, it’s almost like it doesn’t even exist- you can be distracted and look up, it’s 3PM and you haven’t eaten yet.

    Good luck!

  13. Michael on October 29, 2009 at 17:51

    I’m not a low carber (although I am a low or no-grainer) as plenty of starchy tubers and dairy can be found in my meal plans, but othewise I would concur with the others on not watching the scale, IF, and giving your body enough time to change and adapt.

    If you do fast, I would highly recommend that you exercise deep into the fast (like 20 hours or so). You will be amazed at how you feel and the overall results.

  14. Ed on October 29, 2009 at 17:55

    Great post Richard! Although I weigh-in about once per week, I feel that the mirror is a more useful tool than the scale. I never count calories, but I occasionally count grams. When I plateau, I count carb grams for a few days (I’m usually cheating too much). If I’m losing muscle, I count protein grams (and they’re usually too low).

  15. Stan (Heretic) on October 29, 2009 at 22:17

    I love the paragraph beginning with “It’s a feature of the modern, agriculture-backed church and state bedfellows …”.
    Good stuff and I have an idea where it is comming from…. Please keep it up and do not shy away from other subject. There is more to life than just low carb nutrition. For example, I believe that very soon the “slaves” you mentioned will not probably have much choice in what to eat, carbs or no carbs, and to work for, courtesy – we know whom…

    Stan (Heretic)

  16. Grok on October 30, 2009 at 00:00

    Loved the rant near the end Richard!

    Advice 1:
    Throw the SCALE IN THE nearest DUMPSTER and use a friends every once in a while.

    Advice 2:
    Don’t eat a lot of fruit while eating a lot of fat. Fruit = sugar. Fruit should be considered a SNACK or dessert not a meal. Use in moderation!

    Advice 3: Natural sweeteners – Honey, Agave, Xylitol, Stevia or any other sweetener…. The faster you COMPLETELY eliminate them the less time your transition will take.

    Advice 4: Use spices for flavor. Hot pepper (cayenne) brings things to life, Cinnamon & Cacao powder are good ones for deserts. Sprinkle on apple slices etc..

    Advice 5: Herbal teas, Apple cider vinegar, PURE lemon or lime juice (or combos of all is these) mixed with water make great zero calorie drinks. get a few BPA free water bottles or old glass ACV bottles and take them to work.

    Advice 6: If it came in any kind of package DO NOT EAT IT!

    Advice 7: Donate all your old non-paleo food to the hungry. It’s that time of year again. Just do it! Too much temptation having it around for a while. You wont want to eat it later anyway.

    1 more kudos for sticking to AT LEAST 3 months. They’ll be tough but VERY worth it.

    If you stick it out to 6 months you will never even consider eating a differently again. You will feel like a well oiled machine and all your old ailments will probably be complete history.

    Look at it this way… you spent DECADES messing up your body! You can handle a few months bringing it back. If you can’t… well, you deserve to feel like crap and I guess you just aren’t bad enough yet.

    It won’t take long to heal yourself and you can get to living life like you should have been all this time.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 1, 2009 at 12:31

      Really great list of tips. Thanks.

  17. Peter on October 30, 2009 at 00:40

    My advise would be: ditch the scale and measure your waist instead. It is a far better indicator of your progress than your weight. And it’s not as volatile.

  18. Felix on October 30, 2009 at 01:14

    That’s just about what we do with the scale. Measuring daily but watching just the trend. Other than that, what we measure first and foremost is “Feel good, perform good, look good” – no scale can measure that.

  19. Alex Thorn on October 30, 2009 at 04:15

    Obviously calories count internally but not in the sense of counting how many you put in your mouth and balancing that against your physical activity expenditure. The Laws of Thermodynamics are often quoted when trying to justify the legitimacy of the ‘calories in versus calories out’ model of weight control but they only apply to equilibrium thermodynamics such as would be evident in steam engines (which is how the Laws came about during the mid 1800s). Natural biological systems, like the human body, are examples of non-equilibrium thermodynamic systems and the laws don’t quite apply in the same way.

    I think there is a modest metabolic advantage in a low carbohydrate diet for various reasons:

    1. If your diet is low carbohydrate (and high fat) enough to go into dietary ketosis then some of these ketones can be lost in both urine and breath and ketones (being the by-product of partially oxidised fatty acids) retain a calorific value which is likewise lost.

    2. A low carbohydrate diet – or Paleo-type diet – is often considered a high protein diet. I tend to think they should always be high fat diets, as a percentage of total calories consumed, but even so they will most likely be higher in good quality animal proteins than most average diets. Protein is very satisfying, has a high TEF (thermal effect of food) and requires an amount of energy to be expended in its digestion and assimilation that is the equivalent of anywhere between 10-30% of the energy value of the protein consumed.

    3. If you are keeping postprandial insulin secretion low by eating a low carbohydrate diet and therefore keeping blood sugar levels much more stable, hunger is reduced. Less insulin (and more insulin sensitivity) means the energy released from the foods we eat are partitioned and oxidised in such a way that minimises fat storage and maximises fat oxidation.

    4. Finally, when the hormonal responses to our diet are in tune with evolutionary adaptations we automatically increase basal metabolism (BMR) and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) to compensate for momentary increases in calorie intake and, likewise, when we have less to eat our BMR and NEAT reduce.

    I certainly do not count calories or weigh and portion control what I eat but my weight remains relatively stable within a narrow margin as does my body composition. All this by eating to natural hunger and satiety signals.

  20. Julie on October 30, 2009 at 08:11

    As someone with a lot of weight to lose, I understand the “fear” aspect of yet another failed attempt. I weigh maybe once every few weeks because I still am someone who can have a bad day based on the number I see on the scale. It is different this time, however, because I am only eating whole foods and have ditched the processed crap from my diet. In a moment of letting my defeatist thinking take over last week, I found myself saying, “If THIS doesn’t work, then what will I do?” In the next moment I came to my senses and said, “There is nothing else to do. I am doing it all right this time, and it will work.” I am doing what is right for my body, and I am having success. It’s not a struggle to eat this way and is rather effortless when I really think about it. It’s just taking my brain a bit to catch up. 🙂

  21. Valda Redfern on October 30, 2009 at 10:01

    “Once you do [make the switch to high fat-low carb], hunger is like being a little tired or having to go to the bathroom- you may notice it now and again, but it’s easy to ignore and put off. ” That’s my experience too. Nine months into a very low carb diet, I’ve taken to skipping lunch most days for the sake of convenience; I do sometimes feel hungry at lunch time, but not in a bothersome way. My weight has been very stable, within a five-pound range (I confess that I do check it daily). The proportion of fat in my diet has increased over these nine months, partly from policy, but also because my preferences have shifted. I’m no longer tempted by any of the foods I’ve cut from my diet. One thing though: just a few days of high carbs (by my standards) is enough to take me from the bottom to the top of my five pound range. This happened on my recent holiday in Greece – no cream! Had to eat rice instead! But since I lost the weight as easily as I gained it, just by reverting to my natural diet, the scale is no longer a thing to be feared.

  22. Marnee on October 30, 2009 at 10:35

    Very good advice Richard! I really love that you approached it philosophically!

    On intermittent fasting: I would not recommended it outright to beginners. Hunger can take control too much and lead to binging and the resurgence of past bad habits. I recommend simply following one’s hunger. With a high fat and very low carb diet this will naturally lead to eating 1-2 times a day, even for beginners. Forcing fasting will only lead to binges. I have been there myself and it is demoralizing. If you are hungry, eat fatty meat or something equally fatty and low carb. This keeps the body satiated and full of fuel (more energy) and that will make the mind calm.

    Only try formal fasting if you are very comfortable with your hunger rhythms and fuel needs. For me it has taken almost of year of zero carbing before I became comfortable with hunger to the point where cravings did not creep into my mind, significantly.

  23. Eegah! on October 30, 2009 at 11:48

    Great post Richard,

    I’ve just finished a 48 hour fast, I usually only go 20-24 hours, previous longest as 36 hours. As usual I had a few VERY mild hunger pangs for 30 imnutes or so around about the 14 hour mark (maybe where I begin the fat burning process?!), but the last 12 hours were actually a blast: I felt physically very powerful, mentally alert and very content. Fasting for me is more about allowing my liver to do what it needs to do, and generally allowing my body to concentrate on duties other than digesting food, rather than fat loss. I probably only really eat once a day anyway, and I doubt if I hit the recommended daily calorific intake very often, but I’m not wasting away! The right food means the right nutrients, and that seems to matter far more than counting calories. I look at the scale from time to time, more for the bodyfat % than overall weight, and I’ve always found that looking in the mirror is a far better gauge. Now if only my hamstring will hurry up and repair itself I can get back to sprinting again…

  24. Anand Srivastava on October 31, 2009 at 01:34

    Great article. I have learnt a lot here. I am down to 73 from 95+. I am still losing weight at a decent clip about a Kg a month. I guess I am very near to my ideal weight. I shouldn’t lose more than 5Kgs. 68Kgs would be the minimum weight, and I should maintain within 68-72. So I am very near the ideal.

    Remember I had asked once about my dizzyness, whenever I went low carb. I found out it was due to Low thyroid functioning driving my blood pressure low, resulting in Dizzyness. Still searching for a cure. Not easy in India.

    Well I learnt that low carb is not the complete picture. I eat very wildly. From zero carb sometimes, to high carb sometimes. I would like to get rid of gluten but sometimes have to eat it. I also sometimes take an IF. I have learnt that fixing your diet is the worst thing you can do. Its not the way of our ancestors, they ate a lot of varied diet because of food availability problems.

    I also learnt that starchy tubers are very much a part of our diet. You may want to read the Potato series at Primal Wisdom. So starch is not the problem, except when insulin resistance is low. So my diet is patterned on a very varying food.

    My breakfast and lunch are lower carb. Most dinners are higher carb. Once in a while dinner will be zero carb. Sometimes I will skip some meals. So I traverse the whole spectrum. My blood glucose has become perfect.

    The only two problems remaining are low cholesterol and low T3 T4. I guess the low lipids are related to the low thyroid function.

    Unfortunately I am not doing much exercises, except for some heavy lifting once a week. I just do some walking and climbing stairs, and sometimes lifting my son around. The funny thing is that I am losing weight inspite of the lack of exercise.

    • Eegah! on October 31, 2009 at 07:52

      Anand,

      Have you considered iodine from kelp tablets to help with your thyroid, I remember Dr. Davis at ‘The Heart Scan Blog’ wrote several posts about this. Do a search of his blog for either ‘iodine’ or ‘kelp’ and hopefully you might find something that will help you.

  25. Anand Srivastava on October 31, 2009 at 01:37

    I mistake
    So starch is not the problem, except when insulin resistance is low
    should read
    So starch is not the problem, except when insulin resistance is high.

  26. anand srivastava on October 31, 2009 at 10:32

    I am taking lugol’s. A drop a day.

    Today I got another test. This time it was perfect. TSH 1.0, T3 at the highest border, and T4 also in the higher range.

    I am not sure what to make of this. Could be that this was due to getting tested at a different hospital.
    Could be last time I was not sleeping well. This time I had been sleeping well. I also have been on a month of iodine. I am not sure if the results could improve so fast.

    Well then I don’t have a clue as to why my HDL is so low, just 31. Last year it was 26. Some improvement but not much. Could be due to my high carb :-(.

  27. Paul on October 31, 2009 at 11:08

    The scale issue is a personal choice. It is neither good nor bad. I choose to weigh myself not only every AM first thing when my body is at a repeatable point, but often during the day. It’s been very educational; how we gain weight during the day to prepare for sleep (fast) time, then wakeup 2-5 pounds lighter.

    One needs a very consistently repeatable scale more than accuracy. Balance scales fit this parameter well. I finally got a really good digital, reads to the 2/10ths of a pound and will do so stepping off and on a few times.

    The downside of weighing in rarely when one wants to lose weight, is the lack of data points to identify a trend. That includes plateaus. One could start a diet and get a weight, but you don’t know that your are at a low point for some reason. A month goes by, and now you get on the scale again, and dang! I didn’t lose any weight! Well, perhaps you did but your lack of data points gave you the wrong info. The same can happen in reverse. Both are false, of course.

    Yes, a tape measure is important, and use one of those online LBM calculators to make sure you aren’t losing muscle. But this information has its weak points, too. Tautness of the tape measure, exact routing around the belly, etc. And it is great for long term knowledge but fails for frequent checking.

    To scale or not to scale is not the question.

  28. gallier2 on January 19, 2010 at 09:55

    This is obviously spam!

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