The Journey To Blogland

scale

The Beginning

This is my coming out of the diet closet…

The first article. I guess it is only appropriate to explain the reason for this blog (if you will take the time and read it), and how I got here. So instead of bantering, I’ll just get right to it.

My entire childhood I was always kind of chubby. At the time, it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t wildly overweight and I was growing. So nobody thought much about it. No red flag went up with the fact that my mother’s side of the family had always been overweight (so much so that in recent years, my aunt had gastric bypass surgery to help with her weight issues). My problems with weight didn’t get better until I hit puberty and at the same time I took up breakdancing. That was a pretty large part of my life and I did it almost every day. So I would say I was very active during those years. My weight problems seemed to go away. I am not sure if it was my growth spurts or if it was more of that fact that I was very active. Perhaps it was both. A couple years into high school, I was at my leanest. I was 5′ 6″ (the same height I am now) and weighed about 135lbs. This may seem light but that is considered healthy for my height and body type.

Me when I was skinny and did lots of breakdancing

Well, life changed. I became less active as my passion for dancing slowly slipped away in my last couple of years of high school. I wouldn’t say I overate or even ever been guilty of “emotional eating”. But within a year, I managed to gain upwards of 20 pounds. Now, it is important to note that I wasn’t completely sedentary. I just wasn’t spending 1-2 hours a day doing acrobatic and high intensity movements anymore. It was more like 1-2 hours every week or so. I tried eating a bit less and exercising. I tried aerobic exercise, weight training, and high intensity interval training (HIIT). Not much seemed to work. Before I knew it, I was border lining 155lbs with little to no lean muscle mass.

In my pursuit to find out what could be going on and to educate myself on nutrition and training, I spent countless hours online. I was jumping from forum to forum and reading article after article. Everything I came across was something I’ve already tried or just seemed completely dangerous (800 cal diets).

Silly cover for a particularly interesting read. As it turns out this old (and jacked) man is very well respected for his research in this community.

It wasn’t until I happened upon some writings by a man, named Dr. Gregory Ellis. Desperate, I picked up his book “Ultimate Diet Secrets.” The name and shoddily make cover itself made me embarrassed enough to hide it in my bedroom. But what I read in that book peaked my interest quite a bit. I felt so empowered with all of this info that I tried to have an intelligent conversation with my friend who was studying to go to college for nutrition. When I said things like “fat is the primary fuel source for your body”, he looked at me funny and said something like, “That goes against everything I’ve been taught about nutrition. Science says that your body prefers carbohydrates for fuel.” Well I was a little disheartened that I didn’t have a good rebuttal. I jumped the gun. Before talking to my friend, I had felt like I knew everything there is to know based on reading the book. But instead of just hanging my head down low and giving up on the ideas in this book, I knew there was something there. I just didn’t understand all of the science in the book just yet. And yes, in case you were wondering, Gregory referenced plenty of real studies. It wasn’t just a “miracle diet” book. It was surprisingly academic to a degree.

I tried to take a casual approach to the diet guidelines outlined in the book. I didn’t see much progress at all, but I knew it was because I couldn’t really be too picky about what I ate. After all, I was still dependent on my parents and school lunches. So after just a few weeks, I gave up.

At 165lbs. I debated putting this picture up due to embarrassment (people don't like looking at fat people right?), but this picture is too powerful to not post. To those of you who thought I was skinny, this is what my clothing was hiding.

Jump to college, there I was freshman year going into sophomore year. I stood the same height as I was early in high school. But I now weighed over 165lbs. I was weaker. I had lost a lot of muscle mass over the years and gained a lot of fat. Based on what I know now, I was probably 4o pounds of fat overweight. People (and if you know me personally, perhaps you as well) would have never guessed. I wore big clothing and people thought I was skinny. But I assure you, I was not. But to that day, something about Gregory’s book stuck with me. I had still been researching and finding out more about this diet. And more and more I realized how little I knew. I wanted to see if it was healthy, if there were healthier alternatives, what the pros and cons are of this diet vs others. On the surface, the diet seemed to come out on the bottom. High amounts of fat intake, high sodium intake, just all bad news. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized that this isn’t just a diet that would help me lose weight, but would actually improve my health in general across the board. I then started exploring more of the science behind the diet, getting really nerdy and reading as many studies as I could find and get access to. What were the processes and metabolic pathways? What hormones are at play? Very nitty gritty science.

Finally I took the plunge and did the diet with stricter guidelines than my first attempt. And the pounds started coming off. I still wasn’t losing as fast as I wanted. So I hit the research even more. And I did the diet almost flawlessly while exercising. Before I knew it, I was down to 135lbs once again and had gained more strength than I’ve ever had. I was even approved for the top tier rate for life insurance based on my health profile (including cholesterol profiles).

At my peak of weight loss and muscle gain in 2010

All the while, not many people at all knew about what I was doing for food. The fact that during that time I had graduated from college and started freelancing and working from home allowed me to hide my eating habits. I always thought people would judge me for what I was eating. But people noticed that I looked great and asked what I was doing. A few times I told the complete truth and was met with a bit of resistance to the idea of eating so much dietary fat. I was told “You should be careful with that. Your body needs carbs. And watch out for that Atkin’s diet. All of that saturated fat is deadly.” So I started telling people a slightly different story. I told them “Oh, I’m just eating less refined sugar and eating more protein” (which is only partially true). Clearly, there were some social aspects at play here.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, except carbohydrate addiction and weight gain

2010, Vegas happened. It was on a contract job with a bunch of people my age. It was 8 days, everything paid for. Even the drinks. I figured, I could use a vacation. This diet is tough. Plus, it would be unfair for me to be that guy who can’t eat anything at the places everyone wants to go. Well, my old eating habits came back. And right after Vegas, I visited my brother in florida with my mother and siblings. So that 8 day vacation turned into something a lot longer. During that span, I didn’t gain too much weight. The issue was that I lost my will power to keep the diet up. Every week I told myself, “OK I’ll start it up again next week.” But life got tough and work got rough. No rest for the weary. The thought of making a lifelong commitment during those days seemed… daunting.

The weight came back on. Slowly but surely. Within a year, I was back up to my high weight. During that time, I knew how I needed to eat. I still spent my free time nerding out on studies and articles on the subject matter. But I couldn’t commit to it at the time for many reasons. Social reasons, monetary reasons, and restrictions with time among other reasons (or shall I say “excuses”). The diet is the furthest thing from convenient these days.

Where I Am Now

Jump to 2012. Here I am 3000 miles from where I grew up. Fresh start. Back on the diet and this time I am more well equipped with knowledge than ever. Three months (not a lot of exercise at all this time) and 25 pounds down. Nerding out on the science more than ever. And this huge Paleo movement (the diet is very similar to Paleo)  going on recently is making me seem less like a crazy asian man. Something in me clicked a few weeks ago, and I decided no more beating around the bush. No more lying about what my actual diet is. I now know enough to have a rebuttal to just about every argument against this diet. I know enough that I am actually confident enough to say that this is the way everyone SHOULD eat. Not just those that are overweight. I know enough to make the crazy bold claim that this way of eating will prevent heart disease along with other horrible diseases while what everyone else says is healthy is actually what is killing you.

If you’ve been keeping up with my Facebook page recently, you will see just how obsessive I am about this stuff. Enough to prick my finger for blood every 30 minutes just to know more about what is going on. So this blog is my attempt to educate and convince at least 2 people that this is how humans should eat. Hands down. Maybe those 2 people will tell two others. And maybe we can save lives here.

This is my coming out of the diet closet. And I’m ready to defend my stance.

 

[Hit the comments below and let me know you are still here with me :) Let's get some conversations going!]

Yes, I am indeed the asian with the cheese bowl. I am also a huge nerd and love science. My real job as the co-founder and technical director for Inphantry keeps my nerdiness factor at a record high. In my spare time, I am obsessive about diet and nutrition. Maybe even too obsessive... Keep reading and I'm sure you will pick up little bits of who I am along the way!

24 Comments on "The Journey To Blogland"

  1. Adam Fehnel says:

    Good job man. I’ll be following in your tiny footsteps soon.

    • Derek Tran says:

      Why, thank you Adam. That is what this blog is for! If you ever want me to test something or look into something (or just have a simple question) of course, feel free to ask. I may just do a full article about it!

  2. Looking great, dude. Keep it up!

  3. Dan Tran says:

    I always felt the same way about those crazy diets… I had read arrivals about how to eat right, and how the fad diets are actually doing more harm than good. If I can find it, I’ll forward it to you. A part of the article points out that high fat is not bad for you and uses examples such as Eskimos eating high fat fish and still skinny, or even Native American (some skinny as hell) would eat buffalo, fat and all. It actually made sense to me, but I didn’t know where to look to find more. Your blog will be my gateway, considering the fact that I’ve heard about this before. Like you said, the Paleo diet within the past couple years is making it easier to research while making this viewpoint more widely accepted. Great work brother!

    • Derek Tran says:

      Yeah, there are plenty of resources out there. I think you’ll find this short study on the Pima Indian tribe really interesting. My next post which I’m hoping to crank out today gives a little background on the history of the long running low fat fad. If it makes sense I’ll throw in a bit about the Pima tribe. If not I’ll do a separate post on it.

      I will definitely hit on the part about saturated fats actually being healthy as opposed to detrimental however. So stay tuned. Thanks for reading Dan! Now go get a Gravitar for your email address :) Or just sign in with FB for your next comment. Or both. :)

  4. 'Dan' Tran says:

    Pima Tribe sounds vaguely familiar! I believe one if the examples in the article was the Pima Tribe!
    FYI, I didn’t see it say login with blah blah n blah… I thought it was the links for sharing/reposting… Lol

    • Derek Tran says:

      Sorry didn’t mention the Pima tribe yet haha. But I will. Soon. Just so much to say and I want to keep these short enough to hold peoples attentions. I’m finding it difficult to decide what extra info to cut out without leaving too much out. Fine balance.

  5. Kyle Jones says:

    So hot right now. Hansel so hot…

  6. Katie Shanahan says:

    A few things:
    First, totally shocked by the 165 picture.
    Second, amused by the fact that I am in that grilling picture considering it was the only time I visited you there!
    Third, and most importantly, I want to know WHAT you eat. As in, meals and quantities.
    Also, when you say not a lot of exercise this time, what does that mean? What are you doing for exercise and how often?

    Since I’ve recently been working on an eating/exercise life improvement (certainly not to be labeled a “diet”) following your posts has been useful in assisting with decisions. Within the last two weeks I had considered starting a blog about my own eating and exercising adventures so I’m glad you’ve done it!

    • Derek Tran says:

      I know the 165 pic is shocking isn’t it? I hid it well. Not proud of it haha.

      Yeah, at least we can say we had a picture together within the last couple years :)

      And third, I am very very glad you are reevaluating. I usually cringe when I type the word “diet” as well. Especially the term “going on a diet” which implies that you will eventually “go off” of the diet. I bit my lip and just typed diet in this article (and will continue to do so in future articles) but always will try and remind people that when I say diet, I mean a complete lifestyle change. Flip flopping won’t do anyone any good.

      As for what I eat, I was building up to that in my intro blog posts haha. But since you asked, I will give you a very simple answer. This week I’ll probably take pics and just chronicle a day of my meals (and probably show the blood glucose charts along with it). I’ll probably do that every now and then. But the lifestyle change is simply: Don’t avoid fats. I encourage them. Moderate protein, don’t go too overboard. If you have protein, make sure to include fats. So chicken breasts are OK as long as you add some fat some how. Butter maybe? Butter up your veggies? I tend to not eat chicken breasts though. I prefer tastier more naturally fat things like a good cut of ribeye. And last and the most important thing of all, restrict your carbohydrate intake. Not a popular thing to do because people think your body is completely dependent on them. But my last post (along with some future posts linedup) will dispell that myth. And it is difficult (it gets easier as you go on). I keep my intake under 25 grams of carbohydrate a day (most people don’t need to/want to go that low but I thrive this way), and try to make all 25 of that fairly spread out during the day and try to avoid any of those grams being pure refined sugar. The goal is to regulate your blood glucose spikes (which in turn keeps insulin in check). You want to really stay below 60 grams if you aren’t trying to lose weight. But you have to find what is right for you. The goal is to stay in a Ketogenic state (ketosis) which I’ll explain in another blog post. But basically start with that. Increase fat intake and stop being afraid of it. It can save your life actually. Even saturated fat. Restrict carbohydrates. Protein will level out at the right amount if you do the other two things.

      Here is a sample dinner for me. Super simple. Grill up a steak, steam some broccoli and melt some butter over it. If I wanted to cook something, I would do something like a chicken peanut butter stir fry (no added sugar) with some bell peppers and onions. I skip the rice :D But if I want some extra texture, I grate/process some cauliflower and nuke it. That stir fry is one of my favorites. I can post up the recipe soon.

      There are little tricks to add variety. Like using spaghetti squash in place of pasta. Or making your own bakes chips out of celery root (instead of starchy potato).

      This style of eating is very close to Paleo, but I’m not so strict on the processed foods bit. I probably should be, but I (as well as many others) find it is working out quite well the way I am doing it.

      Answer your question?

    • Derek Tran says:

      Oh and my exercise this time around includes mostly chores and playing with the dog haha. The first real exercise I got was last week. Just busted out P90X for 3 days and worked to my fullest potential. And what was funny was as “unconditioned” as I should have been since I hadn’t really done a single workout in over 3 months, I powered through those exercises like a champ. Another blog post I’ll do (or series of posts) focuses on this guy named Dr Stephen Phinney who’s an expert on a low carbohydrate/ketogenic diets and athletic performance. Pretty interesting stuff. Fair warning, the first couple weeks on the diet will likely cause a reduction in athletic performance. But once your body adapts the the new fuel sources, your athletic performance should actually increase (and likely surpass your previous performance levels pre diet change).

    • Derek Tran says:

      One last note, although I did lose a lot of weight on the diet change without working out, I want to note that their are still obvious benefits in working out beyond weight loss. So, I would still like to find time to increase my workout frequency.

  7. Kyle Kellogg says:

    Awesome post, Derek.
    Making the switch over to eating how one should be eating is the most daunting aspect of it all because it is such a commitment, so hearing success stories and how to transition over are going to benefit loads of people.

    Keep up the awesome posts and thank you!

    • Derek Tran says:

      It is extremely daunting. Sometimes even I have a quick moment of doubt where I think, “Can I really avoid XYZ food for the rest of my life?” But it passes quickly when I think about how this isn’t just for weight loss, but rather for health and longevity.

      I am thinking of gathering people up who have done this diet and having them be guest writers to tell about their successes. I am waiting a big longer before I do mine because as you may know by now, I am very into “quantifying myself” and getting numbers for everything. I like self testing, so you’ll see accurate body fat changes (via the most accurate standard, hydrostatic body fat testing), cholesterol tests, CRP tests, even more accurate/more expensive cholesterol tests that show the whole picture, etc. Stay tuned for that one!

      • Kyle Kellogg says:

        Definitely will!
        Guest writers would be interesting. Getting other perspectives on the switch and how it’s affected them would definitely be good to hear.

    • Derek Tran says:

      And of course, thanks for reading and complimenting the blog! I hope I can spread the word and change some minds. That will only happen if people help me spread the word, so go ahead and hit that like button, my friend :D . Mucho appreciato!

  8. Hi…just received this article on my fb newsfeed and happy to get it. I weight 400+ and have been obese from my first memory at three yrs young…I’m now 52 yrs young …and hv battled my entire adult life. Just putting that out there because alot of people my age are obese. I don’t know about everyone else but it angers me that valuable info about the roles of carbs vs fat has been concealed for nothing more then money. …just sayin …

    • Derek Tran says:

      Donna, I’m happy that you found my blog!

      It stirs up quite a bit of anger and annoyance in me as well. My goal is to create some change, even if just a tiny bit, in how we all think about health in general. If you haven’t noticed, my site doesn’t sell anything. It’s not promoting any product. It doesn’t advertise anything. (The only thing asking for money on my site is my little fund raising effort in the side panel there for a test I want to do for the sake of having more good info on this blog). My point is, you’ll find nothing but me trying to be honest and HELP people here just for the sake of helping. Heck, I even have to pay to host this blog, and spent a bit more to try to get this out to more readers.

      I’m willing to do this because it IS very angering and sad to see how the money people are taking in is affecting their judgment on what to tell people (in the media, studies led by some pharma companies, etc). And in the end it’s real human beings that are being hurt by this. Of course they aren’t all out just for the money, but it’s difficult to go against the status quo without getting snuffed out. It’s too easy to conform to what all of your peers are telling you.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s the little changes from people like us that will ultimately be what evokes change on a larger scale and change what’s acceptable to say in the health community. The only way we will all be able to do that is to empower ourselves with knowledge and spread the word in whatever way we can. For me, as a web developer, that’s via this blog :)

      Thanks for taking interest in this and as you can tell I’m always happy to just have a conversation about these things. So always feel free to leave comments! And spread the word!

  9. Cyd says:

    Okay, I am reading your blog and have been thinking about one thing that you briefly hit upon already. I am a nutritionist and we were taught that the TCA cycle was set up for carbs, which on the face of it seems true, however, I also understand that after being on a Paleo diet your body gets better and better at processing fats in the cycle. what I am wondering and this may seem crazy…I wonder if maybe thousands of years ago, I don’t know from lets say 10,000 to 40.000 years ago maybe the TCA cycle was set up differently? Like it was set up for fats instead of carbs, There does seem to be a controversy about agriculture, i.e; grains and meat eating in the distant past. Jared Diamond thinks we weren’t really eating that much meat until we became Cro-Magnum and were able to perfect tools and weapons more and even in terms of communication which he believes didn’t develop till we became Cro Magnum. This is what I understand from Mr. Diamond. But if the TCA cycle is set up for carbs as it seems to be how do we put this in perspective in terms of such high fat intakes in the Paleo diet and the cycel
    Thanks Derek. I would really appreciate your input on this because I had a debate with someone who was so adamant about carbs and the TCA cycle. I seemed there was nothing I could say that could even put a dent in his perspective.

    • Derek Tran says:

      Hey Cyd, that’s a great question! There are a few things to consider here. The first thing that we have to remember is that the TCA cycle’s main purpose is to provide the body with it’s currency for energy – ATP. The various steps in the precursory processes leading up to and as part of the TCA cycle result in some ATP to feed our cells. So I think it’s incorrect to say that the TCA cycle was “set up for carbs” or “set up for fat” metabolism. Really, one should say the TCA cycle is “set up to help produce ATP.”

      The second and very important thing that we have to remember is that glucose is hands down necessary in our bodies. But our bodies have the incredible ability to create glucose de novo (gluconeogenesis). What we CANNOT do is create amino acids de novo, so dietary protein is necessary while dietary carbohydrate is not. So the fact that the TCA cycle heavily involves glucose as a precursor for pyruvate and then acetyl-CoA to enter the TCA cycle does not necessarily mean that our bodies are innately carb-centric. It simply means that glucose is at least a little bit necessary. And I hate to belabor this point but glucose can be created “on demand” by the body during a ketogenic diet, without the need for oral carbohydrate load. So although the body needs glucose… it shouldn’t be the basis for the argument that humans need to eat carbs.

      And finally, a ketogenic diet very well has a place in the TCA cycle. The TCA cycle requires a constant stream of acetyl-CoA to be fed into it. Again, as mentioned before this can come from pyruvate from glycolysis, so essentially from carbs. But the same acetyl-CoA requirement can be met from beta-hydroxybuterate (one of the ketone bodies) to acetoacetate (another ketone body) conversion to acetoacetyl-CoA to finally Acetyl-CoA which will then enter the TCA cycle normally. The energy requirement vs energy production (net ATP) is much slower in this process, but it works. As long as you have a pool of amino acids to draw from and fat to draw from, the TCA cycle can continue in an unfed state and keep everything going steady.

      The fact that glucose can more easily and quickly provide the acetyl-CoA doesn’t mean the TCA cycle was set up for carbs. In fact, both carbohydrate and fat metabolism for the cycle have its place in the ideal world and non-defective metabolism. Fat provides the slow consistent energy throughout the day, sparing the need for very much glucose metabolism (so glucose can sit and wait mostly as glycogen in the muscles and liver until it’s truly needed). And then when it’s time to make the kill during a hunt to feed yourself, catecholamines (stress hormones/adrenaline/noradrenaline – fight or flight) surge, which causes a huge release of glucose into your blood stream – glycogen stops being dormant and glucose provides a lot of energy quickly. That way you can sprint and charge at full intensity in a burst of fast energy. And then after you make the kill, your body will go back to using fat as the main substrate for energy again as gluconeogenesis helps restore your just used up glycogen once again. At the point where you were sprinting, the TCA cycle would have switched over and started accepting most of its acetyl-CoA from glucose instead of from the beta-hydroxybuterate from fat breakdown. So there is definitely a time for both glucose vs fat as substrates for the necessary chemicals in the TCA cycle.

      I hope that helps! I truly believe that almost every process we know of needs to be reevaluated and considered from a different stand point. “What if carbs aren’t the ‘primary’ fuel source.” Almost everything we know about health, nutrition, and metabolism in general we know from studying organisms with the assumption that carbs are the absolute norm. But what happens now if we repeat every study or even theoretical science without that preconceived idea that carbs are just part of a normal picture?

      • Derek Tran says:

        To further elaborate on the cycle, take a look at this image of the TCA cycle that I grabbed from wikipedia.

        Acetyl-CoA enters into the Krebs/citric acid cycle via pyruvate from glycolysis or from conversion of acetoacetate
        Click the image to zoom in

        I went ahead and highlighted a specific area in green in yellow. This is the entry point for acetyl-CoA. As mentioned, pyruvate comes from glycolysis but ultimately we just need the Acetyl-CoA. This diagram doesn’t show the alternative source for the acetyl-CoA, however. So here is another image I grabbed online. I highlighted the beta-hydroxybuterate and the ending 2 acetyl-CoA.

        Beta-hydroxybuterate to Acetyl-CoA conversion as substrate for TCA cycle
        (original image source here)

        It depicts the conversion that I was talking about with a starting point of the beta-hydroxybuterate produced from a ketogenic/high fat low carb diet.

        Note: Oxaloacetate is also required, but with each cycle, oxaloacetate is regenerated so we don’t need to constantly feed it into the loop. It has been fed into the cycle in the past from pyruvate from glycolysis but once that happens, glycolysis and pyruvate is no longer necessary to keep the cycle going.

    • Dontarrious says:

      BS low – rataonility high! Really good answer!

Got something to say? Go for it!

Login to comment with:

Or just go ahead and comment without logging in: