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Fast Metabolism Diet- Where Normal People Go To Develop A Food Complex

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My month of September was spent obsessing over food, as well as hating it.  Both are things I’ve never experienced.  I spent the month following the Fast Metabolism Diet (FMD), a diet developed by Haylie Pomroy, a Hollywood nutritionist with a background in animal science and holistic health.

The Gist of FMD
The purpose of FMD is to “reset your metabolism.” Pomroy explains that many people who have tried and failed countless times at diets and weight loss may be stuck in a rut because their metabolism is out of whack.  Additionally, she believes that counting calories, carbs, and fat grams are the wrong approach to dieting.  These are ideas I generally support. As you’ll see, I don’t believe her approach is the answer either.
Pomroy’s theory is that you can coax your body into metabolizing nutrients more efficiently if you keep it guessing as to what it will be metabolizing next.  This, in theory, makes it run more efficiently.  The idea is to follow this very specific plan for 4 weeks, each week split into three phases.  Doing this will supposedly teach your body how to digest, absorb, and utilize nutrients more efficiently and effectively so that you don’t have to be afraid of ice cream sundaes and so forth.  She recommends doing the full four weeks and then repeating a week at a time here and there if you feel the need.  So before we get started, make sure it’s clear in your mind that this is NOT a long term diet.  It’s the only “phase” diet that I’ve tried thus far.

The Three Phases
I was sort of on board when I had read about as much as you just have (though, being the forever skeptic that I am, I needed more information).  I do believe that we all process nutrients differently, so while a calorie from bread may be burned quickly and effectively in one person, that same calorie may be processed differently for someone else.  Pomroy also does a pretty thorough job of describing the organs involved in metabolism (liver, adrenals, thyroid, pituitary), how they become dysregulated, many of the myths about metabolism and weight loss, etc.  I think this is how people become interested in the diet – I’ve heard some say that they tried it because it was the only diet they had ever heard of that described the physiology of weight loss.
Next, I read about the three phases and they sounded great!

How You Get Roped In
Phase 1 – Days 1 & 2: Lots of carbs and fruits
Purpose: Flood the body with nutrients, calm the adrenals with natural sugars so that it reduces its cortisol production, a stress hormone that is linked to weight gain. Pair these foods with some kind of cardio exercise.  What I didn’t realize until later is that this phase really means NO fat. No cooking with fat, no nuts, no fatty veggies, only very lean meat, etc.

Phase 2 – Days 3 & 4: Lots of protein and veggies
Purpose: These foods push your body to lay down muscle and scavenge fat. Do some kind of heavy weight lifting on these days to ramp up the protein production in muscles.  What I soon realized was that this literally only means meat and vegetables, and nothing starchy.  No fruit, no cooking with fat, no eating nuts, no eating anything fun.

Phase 3– Days 5-7: All of the above plus healthy fats and oils
Purpose: After eating low fat for four days, your digestive enzymes are firing, your muscles are pumped up, and your body has been thriving on nutrient dense foods, so now it’s ready to start using fuel for fat! (These are obviously not my words.  And this phase is where I started to really question things. I don’t know how the previous days have made your digestive enzymes “fire.” They “fire” when you eat anything. Why would your body be suddenly ready to burn fat for fuel? The plot thickens…)

The Reality

Pomroy lays it out all very simply and beautifully in the beginning.  “You’ll eat delicious food, and you’ll be eating more than you ever thought possible on a diet!” she touts.  You GET to eat so much food.  It’s so different from any other diet you’ve ever tried! Just follow these rules:

  1. You must eat 5 times per day, 35 times per week (Not hard for me. I eat throughout the day, every day).
  2. You must eat every three to four hours, except when you’re sleeping. (I’m still on board. I eat more often than that.)
  3. You must eat within 30 minutes of waking. Every day. (Mine’s more like 45-60 minutes, but still not a huge issue).
  4. You must stay on the plan for the full 28 days. (Fine.)
  5. You must stick to the foods allowed in your phase. (OK.)
  6. You must follow the phases in order. (I get it.)
  7. You must drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. (Not a bad plan. For me, this means ~60 ounces per day).
  8. Eat organic whenever possible. (Get real. I just spent a fortune on organic for a month. Not going to happen.)
  9. Meats must be nitrate free.  (These meats are more expensive, but the rationale here is that if your liver is processing all kinds of other chemicals, it can’t work on burning fat. This is the rationale for the organic thing, and many of the other items in the list below.)

But there are these few “minor” details written in fine print that really change the whole game. Here are all the things you CAN’T eat.

  1. No wheat, unless it is sprouted (Sprouted is supposedly easier for your intestines to absorb.  I’ve never seen the evidence, but sure. Whatever.)
  2. No corn. (Too many GMO’s, apparently.  See my previous post for my take on GMO’s.)
  3. No dairy. (Most cheeses and the like are high fat. Nonfat or lowfat? Pomroy says no because they’re too processed. I don’t agree.)
  4. No soy.  (GMO story again.)
  5. No refined sugar. (This includes all white sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar. Pretty much everything.  You can use stevia if you need to sweeten something.)
  6. No caffeine. (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  7. No alcohol. (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  8. No dried fruit (Dumb) or fruit juices (Meh – whatever).
  9. No artificial sweeteners
  10. No fat free diet foods
  11. Miscellaneous: no peanuts or peanut butter, no rice wine vinegar (I have no idea why not).

I suddenly realized I would spend the next month hating my life.  And so the story goes….

Week One – I HATE EVERYTHING
Below is an excerpt from my journal.
“Huge struggle, feeling deprived, hungry ALL THE TIME.  Joy has been completely sucked out of eating.  Sneaking little cheats everyday.  Phase II is the hardest – I’ve never been so hungry.  Similar to how I felt on Paleo, but so much worse because I can’t eat ANY fruit, starches, nuts, etc.  Brain function is slow on Phase II – exhausted, my head hurts constantly, I used to look forward to eating. Not anymore.”
The caffeine thing was hard in the beginning, but honestly, it only took 3 days to get off it and then I was fine.  The problem that I saw during week one that remained for the rest of the month was that I realized how much I legitimately enjoy drinking coffee – it’s warm and creamy and tastes good and makes me happy.  “How about some decaf,” you propose.  Nope. Decaf still has some caffeine in it (about 15-35% of caffeinated coffee).

Week two – SUCK IT UP. DON’T BE A QUITTER.
These week involved a little bit of soul searching and digging in deep.  I felt so discouraged and unhappy after week one.  Everyone thought I was weird/crazy for continuing on when it 1) appeared to be a stupid diet and 2) I felt so crappy. I thought about it – there was no longer joy in cooking or eating.  It literally felt like a chore to do either.  I didn’t feel any different in that I hadn’t lost any weight and my body seemed to be functioning the same, or worse, than it always had.
Then I realized I needed an attitude adjustment.  I saw a quote that said “Explore what you avoid – it’s important to challenge yourself and take yourself out of your comfort zone.” So I decided that I need to do just that and push myself.  I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t believe that the diet would lead to weight loss and repair a person’s metabolic issues.  But I decided that I would make this a test of my will power, and if I experienced any of the purported benefits, so be it.  After all, one of the main reasons I embarked on this “experiment” was to test my will power.
I did make some adjustments, though, to prevent myself from completely cracking.  For example, I didn’t eat the serving sizes outlined, and I allowed myself to eat some starchy veggies (i.e. carrots, tomatoes, and zucchini) on Phase II days. I also ate greek yogurt with some blueberries on Phase II days a couple of times.  It is amazing how hard it is to eat JUST meat and veggies. That’s all. Nothing else.

Week 3 – Acceptance and Comfort (And how happy hour ruins diets)

I had started to feel better and get a hang of the diet at this point.  I wasn’t STARVING during Phase II, and while I still didn’t really enjoy cooking or eating, I had come to accept that fact.  So, as comfortable as I was, I was equally bored. I still wasn’t seeing any benefit, so I kind of had a “screw this” moment.  I went to happy hour with some friends. I drank a margarita. Sweet, delicious nectar of the gods. I ate pork green chile nachos! I ate guacamole with chips! And it felt great. I didn’t feel guilty or mad or hungry.  I just felt happy.

Week 4 – Who Gives a S**t?
At this point, I was pretty much in the same place, mentally, as week 3, but I no longer felt any kind of investment or loyalty in FMD.  It wasn’t even about will power anymore, I just didn’t care.  I didn’t feel different physically, with the exception of my lack of dependence on caffeine and being extremely hydrated, which were good things.  I didn’t have high energy levels, such as were promised, and I definitely didn’t lose weight.

Final Thoughts
This was the first time that I think I got a glimpse into what it feels like to really be on a diet.  I’d say that I have a whole new respect for people who diet, but I don’t.  No one should ever make themselves feel that sad over food.  Pomroy writes that people need to lose the demons that they have created with food, but her diet does exactly the opposite.  I’ve never had issues with food, but I developed real ones with this.  The feeling of cheating on the diet was exhilarating and made me happy initially, but I would end up feeling like a failure later on.  And this happened literally every day for a month.  10 days into October, and I still feel like I have an unhealthy relationship with food.  While doing FMD, I would cheat on the diet, but practically gorge myself on my cheat foods. I didn’t really savor the food – I felt more of a sense of panic.  And this is never what food should be for anyone.  Portion control is important.  Making healthy choices is important.  But developing a longing that is never truly satiated because of the guilt that you feel for eating “unhealthy” foods is never okay.  Overall, I hated this month, but at least it gave me an idea of what people put themselves through.  And I can now tell from experience, there are so many better ways.

In other news, the first time I drank coffee was pretty much the happiest moment of my recent life.  Happier than when I got my job in CO or got my PhD or even got my dog.  I had reached the point where I was fine without caffeine.  I was functioning just great. But then I drank coffee, and the world came alive! I couldn’t believe I’d tricked myself into thinking I was okay! I could get so many things done! I was nicer! I was funnier! My brain and body worked better! Colors were brighter! The birds sang prettier! … and I think this is what drug addicts say about their respective vices…

Anyways, take a gander at the table below to see what days on FMD looked like for me.  These were really the best of the best days, where I didn’t cheat (much).  In particular, make note of the calorie counts.  Yeah, you’ll be eating “so much delicious food.” What a crock!
You’ll also see that I did not lose weight, my blood pressure looks pretty good (I think we can thank the lack of caffeine for that), and I spent way too much money. Thanks for nothin’, FMD!

Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3
Recommended What I ate Recommended What I ate Recommended What I ate
Breakfast Oatmeal fruit smoothie 1 c Oatmeal w/strawberries, sweetened with stevia; herbal tea Spanish egg white scramble Egg white scramble w/green chiles, bell peppers, red onions, Sriracha; herbal tea Toast, egg, tomato, red onion, 1/2 avocado Sprouted grain toast + 1 T almond butter + cinnamon; jicama spears; herbal tea
Snack Asian Pear Apple Smoked salmon w/cucumbers 1 C celery, 1 C carrots; 3 pieces nitrate free turkey meat 1/3 cup hummus and cucumbers Peach + raspberries
Lunch Open faced turkey sandwich (1 slice bread) Nitrate free turkey sandwich on sprouted wheat bread (2 slices) w/mustard, cucumbers, spinach; 2 small plums Tuna and cucumber salad 1 can tuna, red onion, cucumber, hard boiled egg white, cilantro, lime juice Endive tuna salad 2 C coconut curry chicken
Snack 2 kiwi 2 rice cakes, 1 c carrots, pear 1-2 oz buffalo jerky Turkey jerky, 1 C cucumber spears Celery + 2 T raw almond butter 2 T hummus, 1/2 c carrots, 1/2 c celery
Dinner 2 cups chicken and barley soup 2 cups baby kale + 1/2 c quinoa + 1/2 c black beans + carrots + cucumbers, lime juice Steak and asparagus lettuce wrap Broiled salmon, 1 c steamed broccoli w/garlic and lemon juice, baby kale salad w/cucumber & balsamic vinegar Coconut curry chicken Black bean + avocado + sauteed veggie burrito (sprouted wheat tortilla)
Snack None Rice crackers None Greek yogurt, dozen blueberries, stevia; herbal tea None Handful of mixed nuts
Total Calories 845 1,150 750 925 1,210 1,690
 

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data Vegan Paleo WW Gluten Free Smoothies DASH Low Fat Sustain-
ability
FMD
Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

123

123

125.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

?

26.5

27

27

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

36.5

37

37.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

BP

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

89

44-141

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

22

19

15-61

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

60

52

28-77

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

23

25

30-52

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

18

29

10-46

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

7

8

3-7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

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Pale-ish

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I started this month by following Paleo as Cordain has spelled it out.  That lasted all of two days.  Everything I ate was bland, I was hungry, and I wasn’t being a very nice person.  Then, I decided to modify it in the ways that other people have or in ways that made it tolerable for me.

Here are the things I eat that don’t qualify as Paleo:

Potatoes – I don’t see any legitimate reason not to eat them, though I’ve only eaten them twice in the last two weeks.
Quinoa- This is frowned upon in the Paleo Diet community, but I need carbohydrates, and eating yams and yucca are just not going to cut it. If you didn’t see Matt the Archaeologist’s comment on my last post, here’s what he has to say about quinoa and amaranth:

“Ok so addmitedly this subject gets me a bit riled up, but when I read that this diet does not allow amaranth or quinoa I think I may have burst a few blood vessels. Here’s the reason: in the southwestern united states the remains of cheno-ams are found in many preagricultural archaeological sites, in fact they are one of the few types of plants that nearly all theses sites across an area covering almost a half of the united states share in common. Amaranth and quinoa are both members of this family and while now days we generally eat larger domesticated varieties they are essentially the same as their smaller wild relatives. Also why forbid honey which Is known to be eaten (albeit sparingly) in modern nonagricultural societies and at the same time allow any kind of processed oils which most nonagricultural societies both past and present had/have no acces to? I would like to propose a revision to the paleo diet that reflects what I beleive to be the views of the archaeological and ethnobotanical communities concerning nonagricultural subsistence, and it goes something like this: eat everything in your environment that is in any way edible except those things which are forbidden by your cultural or spiritual beliefs.
If you want to know LOTS more about what people have been eating throughout history in the wester half of north America (spoiler: it’s lots of things the paleo diet doesn’t allow) check out ‘People and Plants in Ancient Western North America’ edited by Paul Minnis, or for a bit of lighter reading check out ‘gathering the desert’ by Gary Paul Nabhan.”

Honey- I read a paper about pre-agricultural diets (Eaton SB. The ancestral human diet: what was it and should it be used as a paradigm for contemporary nutrition? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2006. Let me know if you’d like to read this, and I’ll email you a PDF version), and Eaton says that honey was likely consumed in small quantities (evidence based claim), much like Matt the Archaeologist said, so I add just a smidge to my coffee every day.
Coffee and alcohol- Can’t stop, won’t stop.  I actually don’t see anyone on Paleo cutting these out, but coffee is a bean, which means it shouldn’t be included in Paleo.  Either no one seems to care or there’s some reason I don’t know about that allows coffee consumption. I am a coffee addict, and I used to drink it in the morning (always) and in the afternoon (~3-4x/week).  I’ve switched the afternoon habit to green tea, which is probably for the best. And I still love the occasional glass of wine or a pint of beer.
Salt- I don’t use much salt, but food is BORING without it.  Plus, every nerve impulse and muscular contraction in your body requires sodium, so I’m eating it…in very small quantities.
Dried fruit- This isn’t completely restricted on Paleo, but recommended in small quantities.  I eat a lot of it.

The Paleo rules I follow:

Grass fed beef; free range, organic poultry; fresh caught fish. This is not cheap.
Organic eggs from free range chickens. Also not cheap.
No dairy
No legumes (you have no idea how hard this is for me)
No soy, soy products, etc.  This includes most chocolate, as most of it contains soy lecithin
Lots of fresh fruits and veggies
No grains
No processed foods

A Paleo Caitlin is a Crappy Caitlin
It’s sort of difficult to describe how following the Paleo Diet makes me feel.  The best way to say it, in short, is that I hate it. Yes, I mean I hate it.  Most days, I’d like to trade lives with this little girl, though that would be extremely unfair to her:

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The first week was the hardest.  I felt depleted and like I was running on fumes.  My stomach hurt, I couldn’t become and/or remain full, and everything I ate felt boring and like a chore.  Everything I eat, with the exception of fruit and nuts, has to be prepared in some way.  No more hummus and crackers.  No freshly made tortillas with peanut butter and a banana. No Greek yogurt.  No Babybel cheese. But, instead, so so so so much cooking…and for a result that I don’t really even like that much. I always thought that I didn’t like meat that much for a few reasons.

1) Meat requires planning. It’s usually frozen because I don’t eat it often enough to keep it fresh, so I have to remember to take it out in the morning and thaw it.

2) Cross-contamination.  You have to pay attention more when you prepare meat. Don’t touch stuff after you’ve touched meat without washing your hands, cut your vegetables first or you’ll have to wash the knife/cutting board or use two knives/cutting boards, and then you have to wash both of them.

3) Cooking to the appropriate level of done-ness. Undercook –> food poisoning. Overcook –> jerky. I haven’t mastered this not so fine line that other people don’t seem to struggle with.  I understand vegetables and beans much better in this way.

These may seem like silly reasons to not cook meat, but they have always been very real barriers for me.  Now that I cook meat ALL THE TIME, I have been reminded that these things still bug me, but more importantly, I just really don’t like to eat meat that much. I’m also not very good at cooking animals, with the exception of chicken and salmon.

Breakfast and the Carbohydrate Conundrum
I realized my main problem is not enough carbs (go figure).  Before this month, my breakfast every morning was toasted cinnamon swirl bread (Trader Joe’s. Check it out. It’s awesome.) with a nut butter of sorts and a piece of fruit: carb heavy.  When I switched to Paleo, I sautéed a bunch of veggies (shaved sweet potato, kale, broccoli, bell pepper) and baked it with some eggs.  Every morning I would just cut out a piece of that egg bake for breakfast.  I think part of the reason my stomach hurt so much was all the eggs, not meat. It’s recommended to eat no more than 7 eggs/wk, and I ate over a dozen in week one.  I’ve cooled it on the eggs, and my stomach feels better…maybe I have a minor digestive allergy to eggs. Maybe I’m just not supposed to eat that many.

This week I made a week’s worth of quinoa “oatmeal” on Sunday.  I cooked it with almond milk instead of water, added pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin puree, a little maple syrup, and a diced apple to the mix.  I eat some of that every morning, and it’s incredible how much better I feel… because your body needs carbs to function.

Exercising and the Carbohydrate Conundrum
I decided to go for a run last Saturday. I haven’t been going much, and I want to get back into it because it’s a good way for me to clear my mind.  I felt fine during my run, but about an hour later, I crashed, and I crashed hard.  I felt exhausted, like I hadn’t slept in about 40 hours.   All of my muscles ached.  I would eat something (like fruit, because I was too tired to cook anything) and feel better for about an hour until I crashed again.  I wrote in my journal “Feeling tired, frustrated, irritable, confused, can’t focus…” My roommate told me I was “off,” which is probably a nice way of saying that I was acting crazy.  It’s clear that my glycogen stores were completely depleted, and running was a bad idea.  How do people follow Paleo and exercise? What are the secrets? Because I honestly have no idea how anyone could do it.

My Mood and the Carbohydrate Conundrum
This is a pretty personal thing to write about – to expose the inner workings of my now crazy brain is a sensitive subject, but maybe other people have experienced it too.  If there are people who see me regularly and think that I haven’t been myself lately, maybe this will explain some of it.  So, let’s talk about it.

Like I said, I feel exhausted, irritable, and frustrated a lot of the time.  My thinking isn’t as methodical as usual, and I find that I speak/text/write without considering what I’m actually saying.  I’m more reactionary than I usually am, and I have a very short fuse.  I also feel like I don’t have much control over my emotions.  On Saturday, the hellish day, I started crying for no reason.  Maybe some reason – I was trying to work on my dissertation and I kept writing sentences that didn’t make sense.  Then I’d lose track of what I was doing.  Then I’d stare at my computer screen for 5 minutes without forming complete thoughts, and I just started crying.  Crying is not the right response to that situation.  Eating a snack is. Tried it, didn’t work.  Exercising is a solution. Oh wait. That caused the problem.  Doing something else is a solution, but I was too tired to think of anything to do and the TV was boring me.  Then I just gave up and took a nap…like a child.

Granted, my life is stressful right now (developing a scientific manuscript, writing a dissertation, preparing for an out-of-state move for the first time in my life, amongst the normal day-to-day responsibilities), so maybe it’s not fair to blame it all on the diet.  But all of that stuff was going on in January too, and there hasn’t been a point in my life for the last 4 years that would be considered less stressful than what I’m doing now.  I have just always been pretty good at dealing with it.  Now, it seems that my ability to cope with stress is significantly diminished.  I blame this on my lack of carbohydrate intake (remember: the brain’s metabolic substrate of choice is glucose).  The days that I focus on eating more carbs (usually quinoa “oatmeal” for breakfast, 3-4 servings of fruit for snacks, starchy vegetables like squash at dinner), I feel a lot better and I’m focused and productive throughout the day.  But seriously, I hate having to plan my food intake so much to just feel OK.

In Summary

I get headaches ~5x/week.  I used to get them maybe once a month.  I’m tired. I’m tired of having to cook everything I eat. I don’t like eating meat this much. I haven’t cooked one meal yet that, afterwards, I thought to myself, “mmm mmmm, that was delicious.” I had that with almost every single meal I ate as a vegan. I really only look forward to the 3 non-Paleo meals/week that I can eat. But I’m not going to give up on Paleo yet.  As long as I focus on carbs (particularly on the days I work out), I’m fine and not nearly as crazy as the days that I don’t.

I genuinely have so much respect for anyone who can successfully and happily follow this diet.  Are we built differently in that I inherently need more carbohydrates to function? Are you just better at this than me? Are you less of a cry baby than me? It’s all very difficult to tease out.