Alternate Day Fast – Week 6

Reading Time: 9 minutes
Photo from June 2017.  Approximately 220 lbs.

Almost at 200 lbs.

Close to breaking the 200-lb. weight barrier.  I haven’t weighed less than 200 lbs. since 2010.  In the sixth week of my alternate day fasting I have lost almost 20 lbs. for an average of 3+ lbs. a week. Since my third week report there have been some ups and downs. Now in the 6th week, progress on weight and BMI have reverted towards the mean. At the three-week point into my alternate day fasting effort, I had lost over 10 lbs. of weight and was feeling good about it. Then for a period of about 12 days, I didn’t lose any weight at all and seemed to have plateaued

I can explain the gap in the daily weighins. I got a miracle ticket to Burningman and spent 5 days in the Nevada desert on that adventure.  This included three days in the desert and two days driving there. I couldn’t weight myself out there because I didn’t have a scale, but I did keep track of what I ate.  I got a lot of exercise, riding my bicycle for four or more hours a day around the playa. I didn’t eat much either.  Just munching on soup, almonds and beans.  I expected to drop a few pounds and be well on track. That’s not what happened.  When I weighted myself when I got back I had gained two pounds and over the next three days added three more. A mystery.

There are two things it could be:

  • Retaining water. Out in the 100-degree heat of desert, I had to drink a lot of water. Over a gallon a day just to stay maintain ordinary hydration.  It’s easy to get dehydrated in the desert, so the generally accepted protocol is to drink enough water so that your urine is colorless. I was scrupulous about drinking my water.  I also drank sodas and protein drinks, so I was getting a lot of electrolytes as well. The combination of an excess of water and electrolytes may have caused my body to retain a bunch of water.
  • Weight Lifting. I started Stronglifts on 8/17 and have continued for the last three weeks.  Even though the weights used in the initial weeks are ridiculously light, lifting could cause my muscles to hold glycogen and consequently bind up a lot of water. My weight jump coincided with initiating the weightlifting.  I also added some HIIT sessions to my workouts and stopped doing long swimming sessions.  So, the absence of two hour long cardio sessions per week might have affected my weight loss.

I am not that concerned.  I trust in the laws of thermodynamics.  If I expend more calories than I take in, the energy must come from somewhere.  That somewhere is hopefully my visceral adipose tissue.

TDEE Calculation

In this week’s chart, I have made some improvements which more precisely reflect my metabolism.  In the past three weeks, I had been using an online TDDE calculator to calculate my basal metabolic rate and TDEE.  I researched the science behind TDEE and had confidence in the number generated by the online calculator.  The two big variables employed in the calculation are one’s activity level and weight.  Activity level has a big influence on the final TDEE number.  Selecting an activity level of “active” vs. “sedentary” can cause a swing of hundreds of calories a day in the calculation.  If I picked too high an activity level, then my calorie budget on feast days might be too high and I might expect more substantial weight loss than I would experience.  The second factor is body weight.  Every seven pounds of weight can change one’s TDEE by 100 calories or more. For example, at 220 lbs. my TDEE is 3,112.  But at my current weight of 201.6, it’s 2,967.  That’s modest, but as I drop my weight, the discrepancy will be become more pronounced.

Adjusting my table

Up until now, I have been using the TDEE value from my initial starting weight. I have updated my data collection to calculate the TDEE each day for my current weight so that I can see the predicted weight at that point in time.  See the chart from Week 3:

In the updated chart, I have simplified by removing the daily caloric intake bars and average and adjusting the calculated predicted weight with the new TDEE number for each day.  You can see that between August 18 and August 25 my predicted weight loss is a pound less than my actual weight loss.  In the previous calculation, they were almost identical.

There is another factor to the TDEE calculation that I am thinking about accounting for.  Body fat percentage.

TDEE and body fat percentage

A body that is composed more of muscle than fat uses a lot more energy than the opposite.  As I lose fat and gain muscle mass with lifting, my body composition should change towards more muscle with my body fat percentage going down.  This change in parameters will have a larger impact on my TDEE than total weight.  My next improvement to my spreadsheet calculator will be to add body fat percentage as factor in calculating TDEE.

I have refrained from doing this so far because I haven’t found a way to get a reliable body fat percentage measurement.  I have an Omron HBF-306c body fat measurer and have been taking readings from it.  I also have a fat caliper and have been taking readings from that as well.  Neither agrees with each other and both give wildly different readings.

Omron HBF-306C

In a single sitting readings can range from 30% to 25% depending on how my arms are oriented, if I flex my muscles or how hard I squeeze the handles. I dutifully noted the number but had no confidence in the reading.  After weeks of frustration with this method, I reread the manual.  I had been holding it all wrong.  The key issue was putting my palms on the sensor plates and my thumbs on top of the device.  When I measured again with my thumbs in the precise position indicated in the manual and my arms relaxed at precisely 90 degrees, I got a measurement of 22.5% body fat.  This 5% less than I had ever gotten off the device before.  I repeated the measurement three times and once the next day.  The exact same reading within .1% body fat.  I don’t know if this is the actual number or not, but just the improvement in consistency gives me more confidence in my ability to measure changes in body fat percentage over time.

Caliper method

The caliper method has given me consistent reading over time.  Measuring the thickness of the skinfold one inch above the iliac crest on my right side, I get the same value of 20-21 millimeters every time.  The problem with calipers is that they don’t have a high resolution. For example, the difference between a measurement of 20 mm and 19 mm, or 1 mm in the calipers is the difference between 25.3% and 23.9% body fat.  1.4% body fat is a large difference.  However, the difference between 21 mm and 18 mm or 3 mm is also 1.4% body fat per the table included with the device.   That’s a pretty wide range both skinfold measurement and the resulting body fat estimate. I’m going to continue to use both measurements and track them.  Perhaps I can use the caliper method to more accurately zero in the actual value and use the precision of the Omron to more precisely track changes as I go along.

CICO vs. actual weight

As you can see from the chart, my actual weight tracks the weight predicted by CICO closely.  The weight of undigested food, water and variations in energy expenditure may cause my weight to vary from a strict linear progress but over time the trendlines are clear. Actual weight has tended to be a bit below the predicted weight.

CICO and Exercise Calories vs. Actual Weight

When I account for the calories expended in physical activity, the weight predicted by CICO and actual weight converge even more closely. I log most activities directly using my Tomtom Cardio Multisport or Strava. I log some activities using  Each app uses different calculations for energy expended on activities and I don’t pay note which app I got the estimate from in my data table.  If you look at the chart below, however, the amalgamation of those numbers tends to make the weight predicted by CICO spot on to my actual results.  In the graph, there are two lines and trendlines.  The first is for the expected weight based strictly on the caloric deficit.  The second line also takes into account energy expended in exercise. The lines are very close to each other on the graph.  At this point in my tracking, they differ by about a pound.

The first two weeks where my actual weight was a few pounds below predicted can be explained by a loss of water weight from carbohydrate restriction. In week three, predicted weight and my actual weight converge.  This point coincides with the start of weight lifting with the Stronglifts program.  Intense lifting probably added back some of that water weight. In weeks four and five where my actual weight was several pounds higher than predicted by CICO, I probably took on a lot more water.  Another factor may be lack of sleep at Burningman. Burningman is intense and I don’t sleep all that much for three days.  We also drove all night for 8 hours to get there and get back. This could have influenced results.  In the last week or so, my weight has dropped significantly and has once again converged on the predicted value.

Weight training

I selected the Stronglifts program to guide my weight training because it was simple, time efficient and used compound movements that would strengthen my back and the muscles around my knees.  I also wanted a program that I could perform with my early teenage son.  He is just 14 years old and new to lifting.  I wanted a program that was intelligible to him and that I could feel confident wouldn’t over stress his developing body.  All the movements are well known and used ubiquitously in strength training.  Any trainer he worked with in the future would understand the training protocol.  The third important aspect is that the weights start light.  Any weight training involves some risk, even bodyweight training.  By starting at very low weights and progressing very slowly, we could focus on form and perfect our techniques before getting into serious weights where the risk goes up sharply.  That goes for me as well.  I mentioned in previous posts how one of the motivations for my wanting to lose weight and strengthen my body was to restore function to my knees.  Last year in December I ran a marathon relay trail race where I pounded my knees on the downhill.  Since then, running has been acutely painful.  I may have run no more than once a month since December 2016 and each time there has been significant pain. My hope is that my losing 40 pounds I can reduce the amount of strain on my knees and make running comfortable again.    The weight training also ties into this goal. By focusing on muscles around the knee: the quads, hamstrings, hips, calves and their connecting tissue, I hope to stabilize the knee joint and take off pressure. In addition to my knees my back is also prone to injury.  The Stronglift programs focus on legs and back.  This seemed to be a good prescription for taking strain off the problem joints.  At 50, I am more at risk of injury than my son. Improper form in executing the movements in the Stronglifts program could cause injuries which would take a long time to heal.  The light starting weights and gradual progression offer the opportunity to lock in the proper technique, avoid injury and maximize gains.  So far so good.

Strength vs. Cardio

Having committed to strength training, that doesn’t leave much time for any cardio work, if I had wanted to do any.  I don’t.  Running was my jam and riding bikes and swimming don’t compare. When I have made some progress on my weight and strengthened my knees and back I’ll start running again.  I’m looking forward to it.  In the meantime, I commute and run errands on my bike and that gives me some exercise.  I have also added a few 20 minute sessions of HIIT using the Wingate protocol of intense 30 second intervals on the stationary bike alternating with three and half minutes easy pedaling.  Mainly I eased off the cardio because I wanted to make sure that I am giving my muscles enough time to recover between weightlifting sessions.  Any more cardio threatens to limit that recovery.  The strength training is becoming more strenuous and I am curious as to what point the calorie restriction of alternate day fasting is going to prevent me from gaining strength and progressing in weight.  I think it may be soon and I can look at the option of lowering the amount of fasting.  Currently I fast with a 600 calorie limit every other day.  The next level up in terms of loosening restriction would be fasting for only three days a week.  I would choose Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  This would mean that all my lifting days happened on feasting days.  This would also help to regularize my schedule with the rest of my family and give me some liberty on the weekends.  The schedule has some attraction to me.

So far, so good.  I am looking forward to hitting my goal weight and realizing the benefits of my work.