It's official - I have a slow metabolism paleo primal diet weight loss metabolic testing BMR accurate methods Australia Sydney-min

It’s official – I have a slow metabolism

I've been talking about my own weight loss struggle, and the journey I'm on to find out exactly what’s going on (and what I can do about it). You can catch up on the first three posts here, here and here. This week, it's all about metabolism.

Last week I told you about my body scan, and how it calculated my resting (basal) metabolic rate. Your resting metabolic rate is basically how much energy your body needs just to keep ticking over, with no physical activity (for brain activity, breathing, digestion etc).

Unscientific BMR

You can work out your resting metabolic rate yourself, using a very crude formula along the lines of:

Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )

Here is the metric version:
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 9.6 x weight in kilos ) + ( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 13.7 x weight in kilos ) + ( 5 x height in cm ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )

Using this formula, I get a BMR of 1608 calories a day. Of course, this formula uses your total body mass, so if you had identical twins of the same height, age and weight, they would get the exact same result for their BMR – even if one had 8% body fat and the other 40% (and this just happened to work out to the same overall weight).

It's official - I have a slow metabolism paleo primal diet weight loss metabolic testing BMR accurate methods Australia Sydney-min

Slightly more scientific BMR

The body scan I had calculated my resting metabolic rate as 1639 kcal a day. This would have used a similar calculation, but it would have taken into account my exact lean muscle mass and my exact fat mass (as they require different amounts of energy to maintain).

As soon as I saw this figure it caught my attention. During my months of experimenting with different ways to lose weight, I’d spent a significant period eating far less calories than this – whilst sprinting and swimming. How can I have been expending so many more calories than I was in taking – and not burning off any fat to make up the deficit? It just doesn’t make sense?

What if my metabolism is lower than the average used in these calculations? What if my body uses far less energy than an average person each day? Perhaps my metabolism is a lot lower than the calculated 1639 a day?

I had to find a way to calculate my exact resting metabolic rate, to understand how much of an impact this was having on my difficulty to burn off fat.

Scientific BMR

I found out about the most accurate way to have your basal metabolic rate tested. Apparently there are special chambers which are completely sealed. You are weighed and all of your biometrics are taken before you enter the chamber, which is then sealed. Everything that goes into and out of the chamber is weighed and measured. You effectively live in this chamber for 24 hours and go about a normal(ish) day, resting, sleeping, eating etc, By calculating your weight, the amount of gas inhaled and exhaled, what you eat (and what leaves your body), they are able to calculate exactly how much energy your body uses in a day, at rest (whilst you’re asleep) and when awake and going about a typical day.

I had to spend 24 hours in one of these chambers.

Unfortunately my extensive googling revealed there doesn’t seem to be a single one of these chambers in the whole of Australia. The chambers that I thought I may be able to convince to let me test my BMR all seem to be in North America – which unfortunately isn’t realistic at the moment. So I had to find the next best alternative…

Scientific-enough BMR

I found out about a metabolic testing option called VO2 (as in volume of oxygen) testing, that is something I can realistically have tested – in my own city. VO2 testing seems to be geared around athletes wanting to find out how efficiently their oxygen use is (and ultimately make this process more efficient and improve their athlete performance).

The VO2 test measures both your resting (basal) metabolic test and you exercise metabolic rate. In my quest to find out more about my metabolism, it was the resting metabolic rate that I was particularly interested in, but in the interest of comparison had the exercise rate tested too.

For the resting test, you need to be as un-awake as possible, so they like to run this test early in the morning. I usually have a long commute, so I stayed locally the night before to avoid any extra stress from the commute. They told me not to listen to music or check emails before, so I did as I was told and got to the studio at 6am as un-awake as I could manage.

As soon as I arrived I was given my mask which was hooked up with some tubes, connected to the machine that was to analyse my breath. I also put on a heart monitor that was connected to the machine and laptop. They lowered the lights and I laid down for about 15 minutes, while the test got underway. Trying to breath normally – when you know it is being analysed – was surprisingly hard, but once all the data had been collected the machine beeped to indicate the test had concluded. By measuring my oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production during this period of rest, an accurate daily caloric expenditure is calculated. Exactly the information I was looking for!

The exercise assessment happened straight after. For this I wore the same mask (not a good look!) and moved into the gym, where I chose to do the assessment on the treadmill (the other option was the bike). The laptop was hooked up to the machine and told the trainer when to increase the intensity of the treadmill (he increased the speed and gradient), depending on my heart rate. By the end of the assessment it got really difficult, but this is how it has to be to ensure the test captures all of the required data. This test is supposed to measure VO2 utilization (amount of oxygen you're able to use during exercise), heart rate response, the precise number of calories your body burns during exercise, and whether fats or carbohydrates (sugars) are being used as the primary energy source. The assessment also maps your appropriate heart rate training zones. Interesting stuff!

The Results

So the whole purpose for this was to find out my actual resting metabolic rate. Was the formula calculated value of 1639 right? Well it turns out it wasn’t even close… The VO2 tests calculate my resting metabolic rate as 1316 calories a day. That’s over 300 calories less than where the formula put me! Given that it wasn’t a true resting assessment as I was well and truely awake, perhaps that means the calculate rate was still too high? Either way, 300 calories is a huge variance – that’s a meal!


On the exercise side (which I'm less interested in, but will be a useful comparison point) it looks like my primary energy source is fat, not carbohydrates (which given my paleo diet isn't really a surprise). But if my exercise is efficient at burning fat – then why is regular HIIT not burning my fat stores?

A long way from average

Seeing the concrete proof that I do in fact have a low metabolism raises so many more questions than it answers. Why is my BMR so much lower than average? Has it always been this way? What came first, the slow metabolism or the weight gain? Do all of my slim friends have higher than average metabolisms? Do all overweight people have slow metabolisms? And of course the big question – (how) can I change my metabolism?

What I really don’t understand is how I sustained daily exercise on top of eating quite a bit below this number of calories each day. Where did the surplus come from, as it clearly didn’t come from burning fat stores?

There has to be more to it…

Next week I’ll be sharing more of what I’ve found out on this journey into weight loss

Paleo Portion Sizes weight loss lose weight how to-min

Paleo Portion Sizes

What are the correct portion sizes on the Paleo Diet?

Portion sizes seem to create a lot of confusion when people transition from a SAD diet to a Paleo diet. Conventional wisdom diet plans (Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Tony Ferguson, Lite & Easy, Lighter Life, Slimming World, Slimfast… in fact, pretty much all of them) have at their very core defined portion sizes. These portion sizes are defined in many different ways; calorie counting to strict daily limits, staying within strict macro nutrient ranges or eating a set number of points each day – but they are all essentially strictly controlling the portion sizes the dieter is allowed to eat.

This means the conventional wisdom dieter knows exactly how much they should eat everyday – which takes the thought out of meal planning, as the exact portion sizes are prescribed. On a conventional diet plan, because the focus is on low calorie and often low-fat food, the dieter simply doesn't get the nutrition they need, which often results in a near constant state of hunger. Clearly if you eat the right foods, Paleo foods, there is no need to feel hungry – even if you are losing weight.

On a Paleo Diet, the types of food are emphasised – not the number of calories,or specific macro nutrient ratios. This can lead to confusion – surely you can’t eat unlimited serving sizes, especially not if you’re trying to lose weight?


So, you can eat as much as you like on a Paleo diet?

This seems to be a common trap people fall into. The belief that on a Paleo diet you can eat as much as you like – and provided it’s good wholesome Paleo food, the weight will fall off. There even seems to be the mindset in some cases that as the food is so nutritious – the more you eat – the better!

This just is not the case. No matter how nutritious the food, calories do still matter. If you eat more than your body needs – even if it is grass-fed, organic beef – it has to go somewhere.

Paleo Portion Sizes weight loss lose weight how to-min

So what is proper portion control on a Paleo diet?

There’s not a one size fits all answer here. The best approach is to transition into a Paleo diet – and once you are used to your new way of eating, experiment with your portion sizes. You should eat enough so you are no longer hungry – but should know when to stop eating!

Of course depending on your lifestyle and body type, your calorie and macro nutrient needs are likely to be as unique as you.

Increasing the amount of fat and protein at meal times is a lot more satiating and should help to reduce portion sizes.

If weight loss is the aim, portion sizes should not be too generous; but also cutting out nuts, and heavily limiting fruit consumption is a good idea.

Often women automatically take the same portion sizes as men, when generally they should have a smaller serving size.

How do you manage your portion sizes? Have you changed your serving sizes since you started following a Paleo Diet?

The Unspoken Truth about the Paleo Diet & Weight Loss-min

The Unspoken Truth about the Paleo Diet & Weight Loss

The widely reported Paleo message is that if you follow a strict Paleo diet, you will effortlessly lose weight.  I'm reading more and more comments on Paleo forums from disappointed people, reporting that they have not lost weight – and in some cases have even put on weight.  This was my experience too, until I finally understood the missing piece to the Paleo weight loss puzzle.

When I initially changed my diet, at that time to more of a Primal diet, I very quickly lost a lot of weight and several dress sizes, effortlessly.  Looking back, I think a large part of this was due to replacing high calorie, refined foods, with more satiating whole (Paleo) foods.  However, without apparent reason the weight loss reached a plateau after a few months.  I remained strictly Paleo, I reduced my fruit intake and stopped eating nuts.  I continued to work-out.  Yet my weight would not budge; very frustrating.

Over Christmas I began to think more and more about portion sizes – the one variable I had overlooked before.  Most of the key Paleo bloggers and experts did not come to Paleo overweight.  They were often unhealthy and unwell, but rarely overweight.  Whilst not expressly stated, the “Paleo message” that could be construed is that provided you eat the right things (i.e. Paleo foods), you can eat as much as you like (perhaps even “the more you eat, the more beneficial the effects become”).  From what I've read, it appears that when you are overweight the hormones and signalling in your body become distorted – meaning that what works for someone of a “normal” weight, will not work in the same way for someone who is overweight.  At least, not until they restore the balance and signalling.  I've been particularly interested in reading Dr Jack Kruses Leptin Reset ideas in this regard.

The Unspoken Truth about the Paleo Diet & Weight Loss-min

For the last six weeks I've been challenging and significantly reducing my portions.  I've not been weighing and counting calories, nor have I changed what I eat.  I've simply been eating a lot less.  For example, where I’d have had three serving spoons of soup or bean'-less chilli, I now have two – and I don’t have seconds.  Where I’d have had three rashers of bacon and two eggs, I now have two rashers of bacon and one egg.  When I Intermittently Fast, I’m careful not to expand the size of my first post-fast meal to compensate.

I've lost 7kg in the last six weeks (15 pounds) and finally smashed through that plateau.  I think this is proof enough that a Paleo diet – with reduced portion sizes, is the essential combination for weight loss.

I don’t know what happens at the right body weight, but I am expecting to find (when I get there) that I will be able to eat as much Paleo food as I like, with no adverse effect on my weight or body composition.  In the meantime, it’s clear that reducing portion sizes is the right approach.

Essentially, I think the Paleo diet needs are very different for an athletic individual, compared to an overweight individual.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – have you had similar experiences?  Do you agree that portion control is essential for weight loss, on a Paleo diet?

LighterLife anti paleo diet

Lighter Life, The Anti Paleo Diet?

There's been a lot in the UK press recently, about British actress Pauline Quirke.  Quirke has lost about 47kg (105 pounds) in just eight months.  This extreme very low calorie diet seems really popular in the UK, but thankfully it doesn't appear to have taken off in Australia and New Zealand.

She has done this by following the LighterLife program, which fascinates me.  The program is for people with high BMI's – and a lot of weight to lose.  It is a very low calorie diet, where about 500 calories is eaten a day.  You eat this in the form of shakes, soups or bars  which come in “food packs” provided by the company.  The idea is that by having under 50g of carbohydrates a day you'll go into Ketosis forcing the body to use bodily fat for fuel.  I'm completely on board with ketosis, but the idea of this diet sounds completely miserable to me.  You can easily become fat adjusted (and go into ketosis) on more calories than this, whilst eating normal Paleo foods and plenty of fat.  It seems dangerous to go from obese to such few calories overnight.  I also hate the idea of existing only on processed “nutritionally balanced” foods.

I've found the ingredients for lighter life  and am horrified, but not shocked by what they show.

Chicken Flavour Soup: Ingredients:  Skimmed milk powder, Maltodextrin, Soya protein isolate, Soya flour, Milk protein, Soya lecithin, Inulin, Flavouring, Hydrolysed wheat and maize protein, Potassium chloride, Calcium phosphate, Stabiliser (Xanthan gum), Magnesium oxide, Onion powder, Calcium carbonate, Parsley, Ascorbic acid, Pepper, Ferrous fumarate, Nicotinamide, Copper gluconate, Zinc oxide, Vitamin E acetate, Manganese sulphate, Calcium d pantothenate, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Thiamin hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin A acetate, Sodium molybdate, Chromic chloride, Folic acid, Sodium selenite, Potassium iodate, d-biotin, Vitamin K, Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12

Fruit Flavour Meal bars: Ingredients:  Maltitol syrup, White coating (sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, skimmed milk powder, whey powder, emulsifier: soya lecithin, stabiliser: E492, flavouring), Milk protein, Soya protein isolate, Whey protein concentrate, Polydextrose, Whey powder, Potassium phosphate, Sunflower oil, Calcium carbonate, Magnesium oxide, Maltodextrin, Ascorbic acid, flavouring, Ferrous fumarate, Nicotinamide, Copper gluconate, Zinc oxide, Vitamin E acetate, Manganese sulphate, Calcium d pantothenate, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Thiamin hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin A acetate, Chromic chloride, Sodium molybdate, Folic acid, Sodium selenite, Potassium iodate, d-biotin, Vitamin K, Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12

So no meat in the chicken soup (obviously, meat is bad, right?), skimmed milk powder (we don't do fat), lots of soy, sunflower oils, sugars, trans fats and grains-a-plenty.  I think the only thing I'd consider eating would be the parsley…  For these “foods” to be the only fuel you consume for several months is quite a scary thought.  I'd love to find out more what these ingredients do to the body, I'd imagine they are very inflammatory.

Obviously consuming such few calories, weight loss is inevitable.  But then what?  Once you get to a healthier weight, you still have no knowledge about eating healthy, so presumably you go back to your former eating habits – and back to square one.

I'd love to see some studies about extreme diets like this.

What do you think about diets like these?  Do you think the ends justify the means?  Would you willingly consume those ingredients?