One Confusing Month: My June 2013 Experiment Wrap-Up

A month ago I posted June 2013 Experiments. Using a few strategies my plan was to reduce headache frequency/intensity and lose 5-7 pounds. Well I succeeded on the first goal and failed on the second and I’m clueless to explain either outcome.

This month has completely stumped me. Maybe you can help me make sense out of it?

Headaches Down, Sleep Quality Up

I’ve been tracking headaches on a spreadsheet since March 2011. I added Sleep Quality later. Along the way I’ve tracked coffee and other variables. Heading into June I was certain that caffeine was a major trigger for headaches. More coffee equals more headaches. Now I am less certain.

My plan was to reduce caffeine levels, but actually they went up. I’ve been playing with my Clever Coffee Dripper too much. My average intake was 2.73, up from 2.13. The other goal was to minimize AM coffee. There I was good. On most days I restricted myself to a single coffee before lunch.

Before I get into the coffee data, I wanted to say the only grains I consumed in June were white rice and corn. No sorghum, millet and definitely not any wheat. This may have helped a little, as it did in September 2012.

Pushing my last coffee back to later in the afternoon seems to be helping. It is counter intuitive as many people would have trouble getting to sleep when they drink coffee in late afternoon, but I never have a problem falling asleep. My challenge is staying asleep. I’m a morning person. If I wake up at 4 AM, it is often tough for me to return to sleep. Interestingly, I did this test in 2011 and came to a similar conclusion.

Average headache intensity was 0.70, which is tied for the second best month ever. Each night I assign a headache score of 0 to 5. Zero meaning no headache and 1-5 measuring intensity should one occur.

  • Oct 2012: 0.58 (no coffee the entire month)
  • Nov 2012: 0.70 (1.13 average coffee per day)
  • Jun 2013: 0.70 (2.73 average coffee per day)

I also only had 2 bad headaches, which was the lowest ever.

Average sleep quality was 4.23 (out of 5). This was the best month ever! And I typically have worse sleep quality during the longer summer days. My sleep quality for June 2012 was 3.57. One factor I need to mention was I did daily sauna and steam room visits the first 8 days of the month. My sleep quality was 4.75 those days and 4.11 the 8 days that followed. Probably not enough data to draw a conclusion, but I thought I’d mention it.

What happened? Is the key to drink coffee later in the afternoon? The only other change is I switched from unfiltered coffee (French press) to filtered coffee (Clever). Maybe it was just a string of good luck and the data isn’t statistically significant?

Less Sugar + More IF = Weight Gain?

As stumped as I am about the headache data, I’m really puzzled about my weight. I thought by returning to Intermittent Fasting and reducing my sugar intake that I’d lose 5 pounds. Nope. I gained 5 more. Interestingly, I actually look 5 pounds leaner in the mirror. Maybe that was from getting a little tanner?


My average IF was a little on the low side (13.9 hour average), but it was still higher than the previous months. Maybe I needed to add an additional hour? Exercise levels were constant. I didn’t introduce any new foods and I would estimate my sugar consumption was 50% less than the prior month.

I’m now all the way back to 210, which is where I was in early 2008 when I began my recent nutritional journey. The difference is I look a lot better now. Then I was puffy and inflamed, not anymore. Although I am happy with the way I look, I’d still like to be leaner as I feel my mobility was better at a slightly lower weight.

Now What?

I’m hoping to have out my July Experiments post later today or early tomorrow. If you have any theories on my June experiment results or tips for July, please leave a comment.

UPDATE: I’ve decided to keep the same experiment and goals for July 2013.


Add yours

  1. Hi MAS

    Did you track calorie intake? After a lot of messing around with diet I’ve come to the conclusion that it really is about calories in vs calories out. IF, sugar intake, meal timing etc don’t really make much difference.

  2. @Chris – No I didn’t. Calorie counting is not sustainable. At least it isn’t for me. IF did work for me twice before.

  3. I think IF will only “work” if it means you reduce your calorie intake. Eating 3000 calories in 8 hours will make you gain weight if you compare it to eating 2800 in 16 hours.

    Something like makes tracking intake pretty straightforward. If you really want to lose fat try it as an experiment? Track intake for a few days, work out your average intake; then knock off 500 or so a day, while keeping protein up. See what happens.

  4. @Chris – I agree. There are 3 ways to reduce calories:

    1- reduce portion size
    2- reduce food choice
    3- reduce eating window

    Finding the one that works best will vary from person to person and may change over time. And yes, all three can be gamed.

  5. Well, you gained weight and look leaner. So you probably gained muscle and lost some fat. That’s a huge success in my book.

    I also sleep less in the summer, the sun comes up so early. So I take advantage of it by cutting down on resistance training and doing long bicycle touring. Leaving on a day trip at 4 AM means there’s almost no traffic for the first couple of hours, while I’m heading out of the city.

  6. MAS,
    1. Further to @garymar above, I know you mention improved mobility at a lighter weight, but do you think maybe you have some lingering attachment to scale weight, even though you “know” that body composition is more important?
    2. Separately, have you tried the Aeropress? I saw a review of it on your coffee site, but it was by another author. I’ve had good results with it. Haven’t tried the Clever Dripper.

  7. @Jim:
    (1) I don’t think so. I clearly didn’t gain 5# of LBM last month, so it was an optical illusion that I was leaner.
    (2) When I had an espresso machine, I never used it and ended up selling it. It is a good brewer, but I prefer the Clever. The Aeropress is awesome for travelling.

  8. When I read “Less Sugar + More IF = Weight Gain?”, it morphs into “More Stress + More Stress = Weight Gain”.
    Which then allows one to remove the question mark.
    Would you agree?
    (Have you ever tried to replace caffein with carbs, trying to eat instead of drinking for energy?)

  9. I wonder how your sugar and eat for heat experiment is going. I found the more I increased sugar, my weight steady increased even if that was sugar from freshly squeezed orange juice. I also wonder if it is related to set point as Seth Roberts recently blogged about. As you change something in your diet/behaviour it changes your set point to that new higher/lower level. Also maybe? insulin and coffee increases set point/appetite. With all my desire to lower my coffee intake I am easily back up to 3 cups a day. But then I have a lot going on at the moment, and coffee is always my go to for extra energy and maybe that drives appetite. Your thoughts?

  10. Here is the link to discussion on fasting, walking and glucose set-point from Seth’s blog:

    The other thing I wonder about is does coffee influence insulin sensitivity negatively? Or is there a tipping point where 1 or 2 cups is ok, but once you have more your body responds by become resistant to that insulin spike?

  11. @Frank – I was pretty high on the sugar, so scaling back was justified. I still eat a lot of carbs. If my body was stressed, I doubt my sleep quality would have been as awesome as it was last month. If anything, my stress levels were lower.

    @Pauline – The only elements of Eat For Heat that I am focusing on now are more sleep, more salt and don’t over hydrate. Because Seattle is warm now, so are my hands and feet. I did test my temp again 2 days ago and I saw no improvement. Still 97.1 upon rising.

    As for coffee, I think I am discovering that timing is probably more important than quantity. In another few months I should know if that is true.

    Sometimes coffee spikes my appetite and sometimes it suppresses it.

  12. @chris, based on your comments, I was going to recommend that you take a look at the excellent Conditioning Research site. But, upon review, it looks like you are already aware of it. 🙂

  13. Yes interesting, for me coffee earlier in the day on its own suppresses appetite Later in the day coffee on its own increases appetite.

  14. How much are you increasing your salt? Increasing salt increases body weight because it increases water retention. Hot weather always makes me retain fluid. I don’t know why. There are a lot of things that can transiently influence scale weight, but greater water retention and greater bowel retention are the two most common. I suggest you do some measurements, i.e. waist, hips, wherever you usually gain weight noticeably, and follow those over time to compare with scale weight. As to the effectiveness of IF, I find my eating window has to be pretty small for much weight loss. When I lost the most weight, my window was 5 hours.

  15. @Becky – I’ve been going crazy on the salt. It **may** be helping with my sleep. I looked on line to see what affect it could be having on weight and it might explain half the weight gain.

    I do plan to increase my IF window. For me IF is much easier in the winter when the days are shorter.

  16. I agree calorie counting sucks, but it needs to be done to lose weight (or learn how to maintain it). Good post by Brad pilon on this.

    Brad recommends the goal is to be able to get to your ideal body weight and then be able to eat at maintenance going by “feel”. This is more challenging than most people realize. I counted calories religiously for over a year, then began “ball parking” the last two years or so. I’m now transitioning to “go by feel”. This is pretty difficult. I have an engineering background and crunch a lot of numbers for work on a daily basis, so this is definitely a challenge just to go by feel. I can see you are similar as you like to run experiments/collect data to validate the results.
    Water retention and food volume can swing my weight by up to five pounds if I weigh my self morning versus evening. I assume you weigh yourself at the same time during the day? For consistency, I make sure it is in the morning before I consume any liquids or food, but I have weighed my self occasionally at night to note the difference.

  17. @Jeremy – Actually I only weight myself maybe once or twice a month. Always in the morning and usually on a Monday or Tuesday.

    The truth is I will never count calories. I’ve tried before. Too damn stressful. I have zero interest in neurotically weighing my food and looking up calorie counts. Plus I have little faith that the numbers are accurate, since calories don’t factor in digestion cost for different versions of the same food.

    I’m actually surprised Brad recommends counting calories – since the entire purpose of Eat Stop Eat was to create a caloric deficit via IF. IOW, take the stress out of getting lean.

  18. Hi MAS, I understand your response to Chris that calorie counting is not sustainable for you, it’s not for me either. But it sounds like tracking all manner of other things IS sustainable for you so I wonder why you seem to have tabled the idea, even temporarily, of monitoring calories. If you have a smart phone there are many apps that make it extremely easy. But back when I did some logging, I just did it in a little notebook for foods eaten away from home and mostly just typed stuff in on my computer when I was home (convenient as I eat mostly at home). In any case, I would tally up only once or twice a week.

    If it’s not calories in per se, less sugar + IF may indeed be impacting your NEAT. Do you feel you have the same energy on days you IF? Most tend to eat less with IF, but there’s a tendency to eat more at the end of the eating window because “I’m not going to eat until 5 tomorrow and I don’t want to wake up hungry!”

  19. @Evelyn – I do track some data, but I am always careful not to track too much. I do track a handful of data points each morning. Takes less than 1 minute. Counting calories is too involved. Too many data points.

    I actually liked your eating until 80% post. Directing energy towards that skill seems like a more sustainable path.

    When I first did IF back in 2008, I did overcompensate on calories when I did sit down to eat, but eventually that urge goes away. Maybe that is what is happening again.

  20. There’s two things you can do better than IF. The first is simply do a three day fast at most once a week–this fast limits food intake to a light soup of at most 120 calories per day(actually it should be miso soup). The second and possibly better for more weightloss is the every other day super low calories. Meaning every other day just eat once and only 300-400 calories. The other day you can eat as you want, just avoid sweets and sweetners as they don’t fill you up. Studys show how difficult it is to make up the calories from the lower day equalling a slow weightloss.

  21. @Keith – IF has worked for me in the past just fine. I can’t sleep if I’m hungry, so fasting into the night is not an option for me. Avoiding sweet foods is a more realistic choice.

  22. I think the hunger you feel is sugar hunger. It can cause you to over eat since it can be a very painful hunger. I only knew sugar hunger myself until about a year ago, and it only took a 36 hour fast to fix myself. This 36 hours was without all food, and i was without the effect of caffeine before that, i only drank water–lots and lots of water. I started it in the evening by eating a very low calorie meal that was full of fiber, mainly non-root veggies. That made the first sleep simple. Then i had all day to fill my stomach with water. I eventually even got a headache, which i knew i couldn’t sleep though. And since I never take any type of aspirin, two 65 mg aspirin was all it took to clear things up to sleep once again. The headache was most likely due to my brain so unused to burning keytones(broken down fat). So i awoke again feeling like i could go all day, but i started feeling the low and gentle urge to eat of real hunger. So i submitted back to food after almost 39 hours after I prepared some food, and again it was a highly nutritious meal to not have a sugar high.

    I have never got hunger pains since that and if i did, i would reset my body in just the same way. But now im a primarily fat burner, so nothing to really worry about.

  23. @Keith – Before my ice cream experiment last year, I never had a sweet tooth. It was the combination of the sweet tooth and going without caffeine that messed up my appetite signals, so what you are saying makes sense to me.

    I don’t know if I can go completely without ice cream yet, but once summer is over…

  24. You might feel better if you add the sugar back and delete all PUFAs— sugar isn’t the problem, it’s the polyunsaturated fats. Limit egg yolks to 3 or less per week; get rid of all nuts and salmon, etc. If you don’t drink any milk try goat’s milk (cow’s milk contains beta casomorphin-7 which is an opiate); you need the calcium to help balance the phosphate in meat. To be safe, add a calcium supplement, at least 1,000 mg a day divided in to 2 doses. I’ve greatly reduced meat this past year to one serving or less per month and feel a lot better; meat shuts the thyroid down due to having an incomplete amino acid profile. I’m sure you use coconut oil and you might add 1-2 aspirin a day to block the PUFAs.
    These ideas are from a biologist named Ray Peat. I never thought I’d lean out again but I’m back at my 2002 weight and down a few body fat %s than what I should be as a perimenopausal female….

    I hope you feel better.

  25. @clc – Well aware of Ray Peat. Adding more sugar – per his advice – messed up my appetite signals and led to my weight gain.

    I still agree with and follow a lot of his advice.

  26. Hey MAS,

    You mentioned in a post about buying an ODB device and using an app on your Android phone to get the codes and stuff. Given that you have an Android phone, wouldn’t it be easy to just download My Fitness Pal to give you a rough, fast estimate of your calorie intake?

    Maybe at this point of your life (fat loss) you can argue that it isn’t sustainable, but what about an young ectomorph trying to put on some mass with access to apps that facilitates counting calories? If you have to do it all over again, would you count it?

    One of the many reasons ectomorphs can’t put on any weight is thinking that they eat a lot, when in reality they’re super estimating their calorie intake. I did this. So I went to a online calculator, noted how many calories I needed to build muscle and made a (sketch of a) diet based on that, and I did pack some pounds. I don’t take any supplements, so realizing that I wasn’t eating enough was a turning point in my fitness journey. But now I reached another plateau, and thought it might be a good idea to start looking at calories more carefully. It is worth noting that I’m an skinny ectomorph, who can have feasts 4 times per week and not gain that much fat (if any at all).

    Still, I don’t want to go down this road if I end up stressing more than I am right now (because I can’t put any weight). And since, as you, I have a mathematical background, it it easy for me to starting liking the idea numberfy everything. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. What you did to pack that initial 30 pounds without stressing over it?

  27. @John – The beauty of the OBD2 device is that the data collection is passive. Counting calories isn’t. To me it is a neurotic behavior that only seems to make sense if one is totally clueless where calories reside.

    For a young ectomorph, my advice would be to consume either ice cream or dairy kefir to gain muscle. At the point their abs were no longer flat, scale back until they are. That is a much simpler and sustainable way to approach the problem than counting calories.

    You are on target when you mentioning stressing out about the calories, which is another reason not to count them. Eat a highly palatable food that doesn’t reduce appetite, like ice cream or dairy kefir.

    If you still keep eating and nothing, then rest more. Longer deeper sleep. Longer time between workouts.

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