An ‘Alimentary’ Experiment

crop black woman pouring wax into beaker
Photo by Anna Shvets on

The time has come…

Late last year, I decided to start a little diet experiment. I felt like my plate, so to speak, was fairly empty in many ways and I was ready to take on a project, learn something new. I had motivation! This peace of mind, and intention while starting out was important, as food cravings often arise in the form of emotional compensation. Being in the right head space gave me room to maneuver, to adjust, and hone and reiterate my long term intentions.

According to standard charts for BMI (in itself a topic for discussion) I have always been on the border of healthy and overweight, represented in this chart as the border between the green and yellow zones.

Body Mass Index Chart

Despite CoViD-19 restrictions being in place, I found myself regularly going to the gym, and becoming more and more interested in training. I’ve always enjoyed sports, but haven’t been this consistent since highschool.

To make the most of my new hobby, and inspired by a few patients, family, and friends who’d talked to me about various diets they’d tried, such as low-carb, or paleo, for the first time in my life (I’m mid 40’s) I decided to try a ‘diet’.


I did a little more research to explore the current science and decide what approach to take. After listening to this great lecture, I decided to mix and match some different approaches. Here are the strategies I decided suited my case:

  • CICO calories in, calories out
    • This is the key element of all successful weight loss diets. It allows one to determine fairly accurately whether energy intake and output, i.e. diet, and activity level, will lead to weight-gain, maintenance, or loss.
  • High-protein
    • This element is recommended for muscle repair, and recovery during resistance training.
  • Low-carb
    • While diets such as keto, or paleo restrict carbohydrates of all forms, in some cases to the extreme, I was especially concerned with eliminating fast carbs, by limiting sugary foods.
  • Whole foods
    • To achieve a healthy balance of macronutrients, and ensure adequate dietary fiber.

This meant more protein and fats, plenty of veggies, “some” slow carbs, and eliminating sugary carbs. I don’t drink alcohol, so this didn’t figure in, but it would also be eliminated here.

Recommended App: Garmin Connect

I used a sports watch to calculate my basal metabolic rate based on a few months of data… This gives me a daily baseline for calories out, on average.

The watch is fairly accurate and the total energy consumption can vary fairly significantly dependent on my general activity level for a specific day (say number of steps). If I do a workout that day, the watch adds it to the daily calories out… Say 1 hour of fairly intense resistance training…+200 kCal’s.

Recommended App: Cronometer

Cronometer details macronutrient targets

The Garmin data feeds into an app called Cronometer, where I note what I eat. Cronometer keeps a running total of actual calories in/ calories required. This was the key to me learning where my calories came from. It references an extensive database of foods, and can be configured to calculate the thermal effect of food. In combination with a kitchen scale (another first for me) it ends up being as about as precise as you can get, ensuring that portions can be correctly accounted for.

Precision and persistence are key. I try to maintain a 10% deficit consistently in calories… So some days when I’m more active, I eat more total calories… But I stay in a 10% deficit for the day. That’s about a 200-300 calorie deficit (equivalent to two table spoons of olive oil). The precision of this method allows me to consume a number of calories that is extremely close to my prior daily consumption.

A 10% daily caloric deficit can be represented as 2 tablespoons of olive oil

The three macronutrients each contain a specific number of calories. That is to say, when they are converted by metabolic cellular processes, they release a predictable amount of energy, a certain amount of which is absorbed by the body, taking into account the energetic cost of the digestive processes.


85% bioavailable

~8 kcal per gram


95% bioavailable

4 kcal per gram


70% bioavailable

4 kcal per gram

Therefore, we can also say 1 kilogramme of fat in our body contains approximately 7700kcal. Watch this amazing TED Talk to learn more about how fats are converted into energy and eliminated from the body. This means that a slow and consistent caloric deficit in diet adds up over time to burn 1 kg of fat, about every 30 days, at my pace. This plan (10% daily caloric deficit) lead to losing around 1 kg per month.

250kcal/day x 30 days = 7500kcal

I weighed in every day at the same time, just to have a record with many data points.

Show and steady, stepping down

I experienced occasional ‘hallucinatory’ sugar cravings at the beginning of the process. In order to reach my new macros, I needed to basically eliminate all sugary carbs. My subconscious responded…so while logically I could be satisfied by a mandarine before a swim, my imagination conjured up huge bowls of ice cream with hot fudge and whipped cream, with a side of chocolate cake.

“Eating for the stomach or eating for the tongue” – Chinese Medicine

Once my blood sugar balanced out, after a few days, I had good consistent energy, good recovery time, and real progress scale wise.


I am a huge fan of Richard Feynman, and his ability to clearly explain physics concepts, as in this video called Fun to Imagine. He goes into, among other things, how the sun’s energy in the form of light, is converted by plants into wood, in the presence of CO2.

A similar story can be told about the plants’ energy stores, in the form of complex carbohydrates called starches. Humans seek out this concentrated sun light in the form of plant starches, and sugars, and upon ingestion, convert them into blood sugars and glycogen stores preserved in muscle cells, and in the liver.

Interesting note, concerning glycogen: Each molecule of glycogen requires 3 molecules of water(( to be conserved. When reducing carbohydrate consumption, there is significant ‘water loss’ in the first days, as glycogen stores adjust.

Resistance Training

Recommended App: Fit Notes, Muscles in Motion

I try to do 1 hour, 3-4x per week, of training at my progression level. I used 3 week cycles getting progressively more intense, then 1 week deloading. Regular training creates a baseline level of all those hormones and neurotransmitters that underlie our sense of well being.

Basically, I trained as usual during a 4 month caloric deficit and felt great… Went from 0-1 cheating pull-ups to 2-3 strict pull-ups, and lost almost 10kg.

I also learned to listen to my body’s cravings and hunger signals more closely and sort the real signals from the ‘bad habit’ cravings. I learned new ingredients, recipes, and said goodbye to a lot of ultra processed foods, and fast carbs.

Recommended App and Site:, All Recipes


There were a few keys that opened this path to me, and a few helpful factors. The first key was headspace, having nothing pressing on my metaphorical plate. This gave me time to reflect and plan (grocery shopping, meal plans).

Precision was the second key. To feel good, and have sufficient reserves for working out regulary, the caloric deficit can’t be too extreme. Trying to survive on under 1000 calories per day for example, would leave you feeling drained and is unsustainable long term.

Positive reinforcement, in the form of the bathroom scale, showed me that those little, seemingly meaningless choices to use less olive oil in a day really add up.

Another key was compassion, which in the inevitable moment of weakness, was there to smooth things over, and reduce overcompensation. There late at night, half asleep, when vigilence in low…and those couple hundred of calories that tip the balance from a deficit to a surplus are consumed…there is no reason to get upset.

The final key was tuning in, as in, identifying the sensations of hunger, satiety, and sugar cravings. This is in principle aided by practices such as meditation, qi gong, or even acupuncture treatment. Tuning in allowed me the freedom to only use apps such as Cronometer as long as they were helpful. It’s nice to have a meter on the screen saying how your caloric balance is doing, but it’s even nicer when your mind keeps track of that accurately.

Factors which certainly contributed to helping my efforts include having the time and energy to focus on what I ate. A reasonable work load, seldom eating out (where calories are incalculable), and living alone are luxuries in this case.

By eliminating fast carbs, and replacing those with fats and proteins, insulin spikes and glycemic levels stabilised. After learning a few new recipes, I ate a good quantity, and just skipped the equivalent of those two tablespoons of olive oil each day! Certainly easier said than done, but also certainly doable. The bathroom scale became a guide, letting me know how my diet was the prior day. After about a month and a half, I stopped using the apps and scales, as I’d tuned into my appetite and caloric needs. Compassion, or being kind to oneself, allows for some cravings, “cheating”, and exceptions without creating an emotional stumbling block.

By MEpps

Offering acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine at the L'Etoile, espace thérapeutique since 2004.