Off Topic

The Obesity Code

I just read this book “The Obesity Code” and enjoyed it. The theory, research and recommendations matched with my own personal experience. There was a time that I was a highly athletic person, competing in bodybuilding contests, wrestling, running and even break dancing. However, over the years, my metabolism slowed down. Things that used to work for me: Diets and Exercise, stopped working. I tried multiple diets and exercise routines and frankly: What used to keep me healthy no longer was effective. 

At my worst, during an extremely high stress period of technical evangelism work – I got up to 285 lbs. Thankfully, I learned about intermittent fasting. 

Thin Me
At 18, I was competing in and winning natural bodybuilding competitions and the state champion in my weight division at wrestling. At the time I was almost pure muscle. 

The Obesity Code is the first book to completely spell out what I was seeing happen to me: Insulin resistance. I am not going to outline the entire book, but the summary goes like this:

  • Insulin is the problem, not calorie intake or exercise
  • 70% of our ability to gain and lose weight is genetic (and 95% of weight loss is diet)
  • Eating ANYTHING except fat raises insulin, causing potential weight gain
  • Exercise has NOT been shown to help people lose weight in many cases (5% effect compared to diet)
  • The body selects a “Set Point” for it’s preferred natural weight and defends it rigorously against changes
  • Over time (as we age and eat more processed food), our body’s “Set Point” (Ideal weight) rises
  • As a result of the body’s natural urge to “Fight Off” weight loss, any calorie restriction diet will fail (including Atkins or Paleo type diets)

In my personal experience, this is absolutely true. I hit 35 and my body’s ability to lose weight became fundamentally broken. I know how to work out and that didn’t help (see picture for evidence). 

So what is the solution? I recommend reading the book (which includes data and studies backing this up). I will summarize:

  • The only way to reduce the Set Point is by fasting (not eating) in a structured way
  • You have to eliminate small snacks altogether because they keep your insulin up all day, for weight loss to happen
  • Insulin must drop into a fasting state and stay there for a period of time for any weight loss to occur
  • Eliminating breakfast is a good approach – Your body produces a “Dawn Phenomenon” which stimulates energy via a burst of Cortisol that gets you up in the morning. 
  • There are multiple fasting patterns: 18, 24, 36 and even 5 day (or more) fasts which can be used to trigger a drop in insulin and also the Set Point in a safe and healthy manner

I have done five-day fasts in the past without much trouble. You don’t actually need to be this extreme, but it works. One meal a day is fine. 

So this is all fine and good but one of the most interesting observations is as follows:

  • Low-Calorie diets are WORSE and HARDER to stay on than simple fasting
  •  Atkins and other diets simply just “remind” your system about how delicious food is, fasting doesn’t have this effect so it’s easier to do
  • Your body has a “fasting energy subsystem” which activates when you go into fasting and increases your overall energy level – It Feels Great

This last bullet an absolutely critical point: Fasting is easier than low calorie. If you eat protein or carbs, your body begins to automatically produce hormones which stimulate appetite. This causes you to constantly crave food and hallucinate about eating.

Turns out these cravings go away if you eliminate the food, altogether. The author includes a number of studies and details around the safety of this type of fasting which I won’t go into. Human beings are adapted to survive for months without eating. There is a documented study of a man who went 384 days without eating anything except an occasional potassium pill, for example.

The key transition for me is to start skipping breakfast. This increases your daily fasting window from 12 to 18 hours. From there you can start experimenting with other types of fasting. Recommend the book, its great.