Lessons Learned After 52 Years of Overweight / Obesity
CLICK TO READ: Dave Wegener's Weight Loss / Health Gain Story
(A version of the above story was featured in the winter 2020 issue of Forks Over Knives magazine. You can read the online version of it HERE.)
(A December 2021 interview featuring Dave's story and hosted by Alexandra Paul and Dotsie Bausch of the Switch4Good podcast is available HERE.)
"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is victory over self." - Aristotle (384-322 BC)
The solution to losing and maintaining a healthy weight is simple, but it is not easy.
I am responsible for everything I put into my mouth.
Controlling my environment is essential because...
- If it's in my house, it's in my mouth.
- If it's in my space, it's in my face.
- If it's in my office, it's in my orifice.
(Chef AJ, Jeff Novick, Dr. McDougall, Dr. Diehl, Dr. Greger, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Barnard, Nathan Pritikin, Dr. Campbell, and many others...)
Being overweight and obese is not my fault, but it is my responsibility.
Humans are born with a natural propensity for calorically dense foods.
I was born into, grew up in, worked in and lived in "toxic" (calorically dense) food environments.
In my culture, food addiction, overweight and obesity are physical and social norms.
Even foods I once thought of as healthy alternatives, are usually stripped of nutrients, refined, salted, sweetened and/or oiled.
Toxic food is cheap, convenient, and "everyone" eats it -- for every meal, between meals, after meals, and on the go.
I WAS A FOOD ADDICT. (And I am still recovering.) For most of my life I consumed more energy and fuel (calories) than my body used, and the excess got stored. Luckily, at age 54, fear of becoming diabetic helped me break free.
CALORIE (energy/fuel) DENSITY
Calorie counting and portion control are not needed when I eat minimally processed, calorically dilute, nutritionally dense foods - vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.
I cannot gain weight eating foods (ad libitum) with a caloric density of 567 calories per pound (or less).
The solution is not shrinking the stomach, but enlarging the food.
The side effects of eating calorically dilute foods are all good ones:
- Weight loss and weight maintenance are easy.
- There's no need for portion control.
- There's no need for calorie counting.
- The food is simultaneously the most nutrient dense and the least caloric.
- Overall health improves, and illnesses can reverse or disappear.
- It's not only kind to my body, it's kind to animals and to the planet.
(Dr. Barbara Rolls, Dr. John McDougall, Jeff Novick, and Chef AJ...)
The fat I ate was the fat I wore. (Dr. John McDougall)
My body's preferred fuel source is carbohydrates.
Even when I just sit, think or sleep, those carbohydrates get used up quickly.
Carbohydrates contain just 4 calories per gram, and any excess are easily converted into glycogen and stored in my muscle tissues.
Carbohydrates in the form of starch (aka "complex carbohydrates"), like rice, corn, beans and potatoes, are difficult for my body to convert into stored fat, as those starches require extra energy (calories) just to break them down into usable fuel.
However, my body is capable of converting and storing excess carbohydrates - particularly those that are easier to convert because they're already processed or refined. However, my body will only do this as a last resort, if and when I have such a large surplus of "fuel" that it isn't getting used. (This is why nutritionists of many persuasions say, "Don't drink your calories.")
Likewise, when I consume oily, fatty foods, it's all too easy for my body to effortlessly store those fats instead of burn them.
ALL fats and oils - from both animals and plants - contain 9 calories per gram... 125% more calories than carbohydrates!
When I cut the fats way out of my diet, and the carbohydrates and glycogen stores in my body get used up, my body has no choice but to use its years of stored fats as a source of fuel.
The chemical and mathematical reality is that "low fat" foods and diets, promoted as such, are often not low enough in total fat.
To maintain my weight, my daily fat intake must be no more than 20% of my total daily caloric intake.
To lose weight, my daily fat intake must be no more than 15% of my total daily caloric intake. (Less than 10% is even better.)
Looking at the nutrition facts of any food, if I move the decimal of the "Total Fat" number (in grams) just one digit to the right, I can easily estimate what percentage of the calories are from fat.
A 3.5 oz. portion of select beef has 201 calories with 8.09 grams of fat. That means, after moving that decimal point one digit to the right, about 80 calories (or 40%) of those 201 calories are from fat.
The same portion of pork, 212 calories with 9.66 grams of fat means about 96 calories (or 45%) are fat calories.
The same portion of skinless chicken, 190 calories with 7.41 grams of fat converts to 74 calories (or 38%) being fat calories.
The same portion of salmon (Atlantic, Coho, Chinook or Sockeye) is even fattier - 216 calories with 10.97 grams (or 109 calories) means nearly 50% of it's calories are from fat!
By the way, each one of these (very small) servings of animal products has 85 - 90 milligrams of cholesterol. The human body already makes all the cholesterol it ever needs. Additional cholesterol is toxic. It gets stored as plaque (or "pimples") in my blood vessels' endothelial walls that can rupture or cause clots, heart attacks and strokes. I cannot exercise or "burn" it away. All I can do to get rid of it is severely reduce or eliminate cholesterol from my diet. (Plants do not make, store or contain any cholesterol.)
The problem was not carbohydrates when I followed the low-carb, ketogenic lifestyles like Paleo, Sugar-Busters® and Atkins®.
The problem was all the fatty and refined stuff I (or someone else) added to starchy, complex carbohydrate foods.
A russet potato with skin is 440 calories per pound with less than one gram (0.6) of fat. That means only 1.2% of the calories are from fat naturally found in the potato. All potatoes (including sweet potatoes) are a complete food that cultures have not only survived on, but thrived on, for centuries before the age of industrially produced French Fries.
However, adding just 1 tablespoon of butter (or any oil) makes that potato 542 calories per pound with at least 12 grams of fat (and suddenly at least 20.0% of the calories are from fat).
Adding to that just 1 tbsp. of sour cream makes it 568 calories per pound with 13.6 grams of fat (and 21.5% of the calories are from fat).
Adding to that just 1 tbsp. of real bacon bits makes it 593 calories per pound with 15.1 grams of fat (and 22.9% of the calories are from fat).
Adding to that just 1 tbsp. of ranch dressing makes it 666 calories per pound with 22.8 grams of fat (and 30.8% of the calories are from fat).
Adding to that just 1 tbsp. of cheddar cheese makes it 779 calories per pound with 32.1 grams of fat (and 37.1% of the calories are from fat).
Keep in mind, those are just tablespoon amounts of condiments. And who adds just that? I certainly didn't. And what about the gravy?
And that's just the potato without the greasy main entrée, without the salad loaded with oily dressing and toppings, without the dinner roll and the side of vegetables bathed in butter, without the sweet (and/or creamy) beverage, and without the rich dessert.
Once I broke it down like this, it was easy to see how my previous diet/lifestyle made me gain weight. I was easily consuming more that 20% of my daily calories as fat. It was probably more than 50% fat.
Regarding calorically dense foods (e.g. animal products, highly processed/refined foods, foods with added fats/oils, etc.) as addictive drugs or poison, helps me avoid consuming them. (Rich Roll and Dr. John McDougall)
Restaurant, buffet, and fast food, no matter how "healthy" the options may be, are typically not my friends when trying to lose or maintain a healthy weight. To hook customers and to prolong the life of their prepared foods, restaurants cannot help but load their food with salt, sugar and fat. If I want to eat healthily, it is crucial that I prepare my own meals. That way, I'm in control, and I know what's in the food.
The "healthiness" of a particular food is not absolute, but relative.
Its healthiness (or harmfulness) depends on what I compare it to.
There's always a healthier option or a healthier way to prepare it.
A tall stack of pancakes could be a healthier option than eating several donuts.
Using whole grain flour would make them even healthier.
So would using a batter without eggs, milk and oil...
So would cooking them on a good non-stick surface with no oil or grease...
So would leaving out the butter and using just syrup...
So would adding fruit or berries...
So would having a big bowl of cooked wheat berries with fruit and maple syrup instead of the pancakes... (Same basic ingredients and flavors, but less processed, less refined, with a different texture, and much kinder to my body.)
I cannot exercise away a bad diet. But with exercise, I can supercharge a good diet. (Chef AJ)
It takes me over 90 minutes of running to burn off 1,000 calories.
It takes me under 30 minutes to swallow more than 2,000 calories (when eating calorie-dense foods).
Do the math. Three meals a day. Plus snacks. Plus drinks. That's a lot of fuel/energy that has to go somewhere.
If I'm not hungry enough to eat vegetables, I'm not really hungry. (Chef AJ)
Protein is an over-emphasized non-issue. (Dr. Garth Davis and many more...)
Every grown food has protein.
No one dies from a lack of protein. (Who even knows what that disease is called? Answer: kwashiorkor)
People do become ill and die (too slowly and/or too soon) from excess protein obtained from secondary (i.e. animal) sources.
Plants are the primary and the cleanest source of all the protein one needs. (Where do animals get their protein?)
What should be a concern is getting enough fiber - at least 40 grams per day. (Animal products contain no fiber.)
It's not the diseases that are hereditary. It's the recipes. (Dr. Baxter Montgomery)
Genes are not destiny. They're more like committees. I may be genetically predisposed to easily gain weight or develop metabolic disease, but that doesn't mean it has to happen. Genetics may have loaded the gun, but it's the food that pulls the trigger. (Dr. Neal Barnard)
If I want the food I eat to be free of added salt, sugar, fat, or excess processing and refinement, I must prepare it myself.
Every time I choose to eat a junk food meal, I squander the opportunity to nourish my body. (Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN)
Now that I know what inflammatory foods do to my body, the essential question regarding their consumption is this: "How often do I want to injure myself?" Every meal? Every day? Every week? Every month? Every year? Nevermore? (Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD)
Poison, even at a great price (or free), is still poisonous.
THE SOLUTION: Don't shrink my stomach. Enlarge my food. That is, eat more food as grown, food that's rich in fiber, bulk and water, so it's more calorically dilute while it makes me feel full.
It's the food! It's been the food all along. (Dr. Michael Klaper)
Only one way of eating has ever been proven to reverse heart disease in the majority of patients: a diet centered around whole plant foods. If that’s all a whole-food, plant-based diet could do — reverse America's number-one killer — shouldn’t that be the default diet until proven otherwise? (Dr. Michael Greger)
Regarding self-motivation and willpower: I make the time to do the things I really want to do.
I make a choice every time I put something into my body.
I am at my best when I eat like a peasant and keep things simple. Variety may be "nice" occasionally, but it isn't necessary. Humans often eat "the same old things" anyway. So there's nothing wrong with eating the same go-to foods day after day, meal after meal, especially when I really like those foods and they like me back.
7 HABITS of SUCCESSFUL LOSERS (Chef AJ & Company)
- Eat simply. Variety leads to overeating and/or noncompliance.
- Get my calories from minimally processed starches, veggies and fruit.
- Avoid restaurants and prepared/processed foods.
- Practice some form of abstinence. Abstinence = FREEDOM
- Move daily. Even if it's just a 30-minute walk.
- Always be prepared. Plan ahead.
- Maintain a clean environment. "If it's in your house, it's in your mouth."
CLICK TO READ: Don't You Miss Eating Meat?
Some of Dave's favorite and/or go-to recipes:
CLICK TO READ: Dave's Read It Watched It Tried It List of Books, Films, Diets, Etc.
Compilation of Dave's projects and assignments
Resources from the Cornell College of Human Ecology (Nutrition & Health)