When you are 47 years of age, overweight at around 200 pounds (90 kgs) with a waist size of 36+ and a body fat % of 33+? When you have high blood sugar levels and hypertension? Can you get your body fat % to 15% and achieve six pack abs in the process while building muscles?
Yes, it is doable. This is my journey, which I started in November of 2018 when I was at 200+ pounds with 33%+ body fat with medication for hypertension and diagnosed with high sugar levels.
Currently I am at 15.4% body fat level and 145.3 pounds with a waist size of 28-29 inches.
At my young age, I was very lean and friends used to tease me for that. After my college, I started eating rich unhealthy foods + drinking alcohol and started gaining weight and felt good about it. I kept moving from 27 inch waist size to 32 to 36 inches and never acknowledged I was overweight. I attributed the paunch to the water retention in my abdomen due to stress (work + life related) related hormone, cortisol. This is due to the reason I would lose weight and 2 inches when I go on a vacation for a week.
My good doctor warned me about my blood sugar levels and asked me to control the weight in my mid 30s. I tried 2 quick weight loss methods – cutting down carbohydrates entirely, doing weight training + cardio for 1-1 ½ hours everyday and 25 laps of swimming in the gym swimming pool. I lost weight but felt miserable with insomnia and anxiety. I quit after 3 months the first time. The 2nd time, I did follow heavy weight training regime trying to eat healthy with complex carbohydrates but my social life on the weekends with friends – drinking + high calorie foods did not allow me to lose weight. Also there was that wrong notion in me that I will lose weight and get healthy with exercise as I did not want my metabolism to slow down due to reducing calories drastically. Then my career took priority and the stress associated with a management position in the financial sector took its toll.
At 45 years, in Oct 2017, I adopted my daughter at 3 ½ years of her age. That is when I realized that I did not have the energy to keep up with her but I attributed it to my age. My first vacation with my daughter to Portugal in June 2018 was a disaster as I fell sick for the first few days and I was struggling to climb up the cobblestone stairs of Alfama in Lisbon. In November of 2018, my physical checkup was the wake up call when my doctor wanted to put me on high dose sugar pill as my blood sugar levels were consistently high. I knew I had to take the bull by the horns.
I had to workout a plan to lose weight while not feeling miserable like I felt 10 years back. And I wanted it to be a lifestyle change – not something which I wanted to do in the short term. Youtube was my guru while my previous knowledge about weight training came in handy. I worked out a meal plan + workout plan catered towards 40s people. There are some limitations when it comes to 40s people losing weight and that too diabetic.
So I worked out a plan involving both diet and exercise as per my body requirements (will address in detail in a separate article). Around that time, a group of childhood friends from school started a Whatsapp group to discuss health related topics. As we were boys and girls who grew up together and now at the same age group, it made it easier for us to discuss about various topics. Intermittent fasting, weight loss plateau, skin wrinkles are some of the topics we discuss freely. The input from various friends I gained helped me immensely as I got to learn about intermittent fasting.
It was not just a lifestyle change for me involving physical changes, it was also a spiritual discovery journey for me as I was able to see lots of good things my mom had taught me about the Dharmic faiths (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism) when I was young. A twitter friend of mine (@maidros78) was very kind to translate article to English about fasting in our Dharmic culture, which helped me provide further insight.
These were some of the examples
- Intermittent fasting – Dharmic spiritual practices involve fasting and the elders would attribute to physical/spiritual cleansing. Intermittent fasting is when you abstain from food for more than 13+ hours in a 24 hour day. My mom would fast for morning till evening for various Hindu Gods at a minimum, two times in a week. I realized that our ancestors had baked in these good things and served it through religious guidelines as people would follow diligently as they were very religious in those days. Over the period, the knowledge was lost and it became a superstition to be mocked by atheists and those with vested interests
- One of the Jain practices involve eating dinner before sunset. This would mean people tend to eat before 6 pm in the evening which would give them more than 13-14 hours of fasting before they have breakfast the next day around 7-8 am.
- Meditation and Yoga – Stress busters as they relieve you of the day to day stress which reduces the cortisol in your body.
- Yoga – Surya Namaskar will address skin wrinkle issues in the stomach which can creep up when you go for a quick weight loss and your belly size reduces.
- Indian Medicinal practices such as Ayurvedic/Siddha helps – for example, Ashwaganda is recommended to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, levels
Limitations of 40s males
- 40s males have less testosterone both due to aging and living a life due to stress. Cortisol, the detrimental hormone which stores fat (visceral mostly) is more.
- Any overdoing of cardio will only add to an increase in the stress hormone, Cortisol which will prevent a weightloss.
The plan for 40s males which I diligently followed?
Weight loss and muscle gain is a process of calorie management, macro management and hormone management.
- The focus should be to boost good hormones in the body – testosterone and Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
- Diet makes up 80% of the weight loss plan
- Calorie intake should be lesser than the Calorie expended
I had worked out an approximate 1700 calorie diet as I had a body composition monitor from Tanita which shows resting metabolism. Mine was showing 1700 calories as resting . My deficit would be from Non-Exercise related activities (daily activities like cooking, cleaning, gardening) and exercise related activities. (weight training etc)
4. Avoid any insulin spiking food – it goes for any food groups – carbs, protein, fat – so the focus should be low glycemic index/low insulin index foods. To give examples – complex carbs, naturally occuring full fat foods (not the fried foods)
a. Glycemic index – focus on blood sugar levels attributed mainly to carbohydrates. I.e. High glycemic carbs will spike the blood sugar levels quickly. Low Glycemic carbs will be slow digesting and would not spike the blood sugar levels quickly. E.g. – Wheat, Multi-grain, Sourdough breads, Basmati rice, many fruits, vegetables etc.
b. Insulin index – to keep it simple, a food can belong to any food group but can spike the insulin hormone in the body. For the same Glycemic index, 2 foods can trigger different insulin levels. Low Insulin index foods are full fat yoghurt, whole eggs, whole milk etc. High Insulin index foods are potatoes, fat free milk, yoghurt etc
5. Count the Macros – i.e. how much calories and grams from different food groups – carbs, fats and proteins. Keep carbohydrates to 200 grams or less. Have proteins around .5 gms per pound of your weight to build muscles. If you are 200 pounds, aim for 100 grams of protein.
6. Weight training makes up 15% of the weight loss plan – Weight training preserves muscles and also contributes to muscle building. Muscle tissues are active tissues in that it needs calories to maintain them. In short, if your resting metabolism is 1700 calories per day, if you build muscles, then the resting metabolism would go up – for example, to 1900 calories which would mean you can eat 1900 calories worth of food per day without gaining fat.
7. Cardio contributes to remaining 5% of the weight loss but too much of cardio can spike up cortisol. So the focus should be on HIIT for short duration of 20 minutes or less.
8. Good sleep keeps stress under control. Take a melatonin or some harmless sleep supplements if you do not get enough sleep
9. Manage your stress. Take Ashwaganda capsule, an ayurvedic herb, which will reduce the cortisol levels. Yoga and meditation will help.
10. Intermittent fasting with an effective fasting of 15+ hours per day
11. Good hydration – Drink enough fluids – not soft drinks or beer but pure water, coconut water etc
12. And listen to your body. If you feel terrible on the day, stay away from exercising.
Do Nots – which I learnt to avoid in my journey
- Avoid sports supplements if you can. They are not regulated by the FDA and so the formula can contain anything which you are unaware. Whey protein shakes can spike insulin quickly too as it is easily digestible protein
- Avoid intense Cardio as it can add to the stress and also burn muscles along with fat. Muscles are active tissues which need calories for their maintenance. In short, the focus should be on building muscles while burning fat to boost the resting metabolism. A walk for at least 20 mins would help
- Alcohol is a big no no but I couldn’t avoid it completely and would consume 2-4 drinks in a month
- Avoid fat free anything – fat free yoghurt, milk etc
So how did I progress?
I used Tanita body composition monitor (BC-554 model), Based on the readings, I tracked my weight loss, muscle loss/gain, hydration levels and fat loss %. That provided me a guidance in the weight loss journey. Here is a sample of readings I tracked using Google Sheet.