In 1998 Mary Ann and I moved to a new city. After getting settled into the new house, I took steps to find a doctor.
I called to make the appointment. The voice on the telephone told me that they were going to draw blood and she instructed me on how to fast. I was to eat no food after 6:30 pm, but I could drink water until midnight.
My normal eating pattern is a late night snack and breakfast right after I get up.
No food after 6:30 pm and my blood draw appointment not until 8:30 am meant that I would be hungry when I woke up. It seemed that the logical way to minimize the hunger would be to have a huge dinner prior to 6:30 pm.
My dinner that night was a big steak, a package of lima beans, and a generous helping of French fries. At 5:45 I was working on my second Foster’s lager. At 6:10 I finished eating and I poured myself a half glass of wine. At 6:23 I finished it. I poured another half glass. At precisely 6:30 I drained the glass.
In hindsight, and with my present knowledge, I know that this was a terrible strategy to prepare for a blood test. The results were predictable.
A week later, I got the results back. I was in great shape in every respect except one—the fat content of my blood was too high. My total cholesterol was 261.
I got this news via a call from the doctor’s office. “Your cholesterol’s 261. Come in and we’ll start you on the drugs.” I was amazed by this since I knew that drugs have some potentially bad side effects (for example, liver damage) and there are nondrug ways to achieve the same end. I have since learned that a “drugs first” approach is common with doctors. Some doctors simply don’t know that a lifestyle change can be effective in reducing cholesterol. Others, who are aware of its efficacy, think that it’s a waste of time suggesting lifestyle change since almost all patients won’t stick to it.
I decided to do some research. I read books and searched on the Internet. My research yielded a wealth of information but one fact stood out: get the fat out of my diet and my cholesterol will go down.
On this regimen, the amount of fat I allowed myself was only 20 grams a day. It is difficult to get down to this level. I changed my eating habits by substitutions, like skim milk instead of 2% milk, and by eliminating foods, like cheese, that are high in fat. I also cut out beef and pork and cut back on chicken and turkey. I substituted shrimp, clams, and fish. I researched vegetarian recipes and added several to my diet.
My goal in adopting this diet was to get my cholesterol down. You can read more about this in the “Cholesterol” section below. However, there was a completely unexpected side effect.
I have always been somewhat careful of the portions that I eat. I keep the quantities within reason so that I don’t get too fat. I didn’t change this when I went on the new regimen. I kept it down to my normal four meals a day. Cocoa and banana nut bread for breakfast. A banana sandwich and a cup of tea (no cream) for lunch. A large dinner. And for my midnight snack some non-fat yogurt, or maybe a pint of low-fat ice-cream or frozen yogurt. Plus, of course, the normal complement of beer and wine.
What came as a complete surprise was that I started to lose weight. It was gradual, about a pound a month. Over a whole year I lost eleven pounds and I was never hungry. I went down from 162 lb. to 151 lb. and then my weight stabilized. In the years since I made that lifestyle change, my highest recorded weight has been 153.75 lb.
In retrospect I understand what happened. I had drastically cut down the fat content of what I ate. Fat is the highest calorie macronutrient. By reducing it, the energy density of my food was less. Thus, I ate the same amount of food as before, but without the fat my total calorie intake was less and so I lost weight.
Losing the weight was wonderful, but even better was that I kept it off. In the past, after I dieted, I always regained some or all of the weight. This time I lost weight not with a diet, but with a lifestyle change. Unlike a diet, a lifestyle change is permanent. You don’t come off it after the weight is lost, so the weight loss is permanent too.