Friday, June 24, 2011

Insanity of So You Think You Can Dance.

So I have to start with a small confession. I watch So You Think You Can Dance. Yup, I admit it. I enjoy the music (most of the time), and the creativity and the athleticism of the dancers. No necessarily the most macho thing in the world to admit to but there it is.

Anyway, last night on the show I saw something that sums up some of the stupidity and insanity of the conventional wisdom of the world. The segment started with a nutritionist going through the refrigerators of the dancers and criticizing them for the calorie count in the food they eat. Now if you've ever watched the show or even just seen a professional dancer, you know that in general they are EXTREMELY fit, lean and toned. Talking the them about calorie count is crazy. These people can pretty much eat what they want and stay fit. Granted, I would probably suggest that sugar isn't the best thing for them but they would burn that so fast that I wouldn't argue that the damage would be much more than negligible. But to suggest they should watch their calorie intake is just stupid. Why? Because they are fat and lazy? Weird stuff.

The next segment was another example of the insanity. They were pushing the Gatorate Fit drink and explaining why the sodium in the drink would help in their recovery especially in the case of heavy sweaters. Now that is probably the case but one of the reasons we have the obesity problem we have (especially in children and teens) is that drinks like Gatorade are associated with athletes and as a result are seen as super healthy. Well, I think we need to accept that athletes can consume food differently than the average person. They burn huge amounts of calories in their daily lives that most people do not. They can handle the intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates much better than most because they will burn those types of fuel almost faster than they can take them in. The average person does not.

My main objection to the common 'wisdom' about nutrition is that there is a 'one size fits all' diet for everyone. That was beautifully and horribly illustrated by suggesting to dancers who are extremely lean and fit that they should watch the calories. Sure, if they stop dancing for some reason, maybe they would have to look at their diets and adjust appropriately to their activity level, but while they are as active as they are, that's total crap. And to promote drinks like Gatorade as a recovery drink without doing the responsible thing and informing people that walking around the block does not require a recovery drink to re-hydrate and replace electrolytes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mice and Cancer

There has been a lot of buzz in the low carb/paleo community about a new mouse study. A pretty good write-up is here:

Essentially, these mice were genetically predisposed to cancer and were fed in two groups. A low carb-high protein group (55 % carb 23 % protein, 22 % fat) and a 'western' diet group (15% carbs, 25% fat, 60% protein). 

A couple interesting results:

1. By middle age half the mice eating the western diet had tumours, none of the low carb-high protein group did.

2. Only one mouse eating the western diet reached the normal life span. Half the other mice reached or exceeded their expected lifespan.

3. 70 % of the western diet mice developed cancer compared to 30% of those on the low carb diet.

4. And a little blow to calories in calories out, the researchers noticed that while the calories were kept the same, the mice on the western diet gained alot of weight.

Now this is a mouse study and has to be taken with a grain of salt but still interesting. 

Hyperlipid wrote a blog post that calls the researchers out on their flaws:

But regardless of the flaws, I think it does point to some interesting theories about diet consumption and cancer. Especially when you look at the extreme difference between the outcome in the groups. 

I would be interested in a followup that would use a diet that substituted fat for carb (as long as it wasn't trans-fat) and see if the results are similar.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New YouTube Video

Just wanted to share a YouTube video that a friend sent to me. Very interesting stuff. I do think that very very slowly the scientific and medical communities are starting to realize they got a lot wrong in terms of treating obesity and metabolic syndrome.

My N=1 Experiment The next Phase

So I've been thinking a lot lately about how far I've gone with the diet thing and where I should go from here. That last 15-20 pounds had not come off which was frustrating but when I consider that I was almost 300 pounds 8 years ago and I have kept the vast majority of the weight I lost off, I can't beat myself up about it.

So where do I go from here? I think at this stage I need to concentrate on something different health wise and I believe that thing is fitness. One thing I agree with Gary Taubes about (one of many things) is that excercise does not really help in terms of weight loss. I don't necessarily agree that it is only because it makes one hungry but also that the body can react to the slightly increased energy expenditure by both manifesting hunger to replace that energy and also by tiredness slowing the body down to conserve remaining energy.

However, I do believe that there are some basic things a fit, healthy person should be able to do. For example, I think a fit, healthy person should be able to run 5K. I can't do that right now. I don't have the endurance to do so, but I think that being able to do so is a sign of a basic level of fitness. I think being able to do a chin-up (just one) is a basic fitness thing. I've never been able to do one. I have been able to do a pull up (hands facing in) but not a chin-up (hands facing out, at least I hope I have that right).

So my focus over the summer (thank goodness it's summer!) will be to work on these things. One of the reasons I've picked these goals is that I think I have a significant amount of influence over whether or not I can achieve them. The last 15-20 pounds, well apparently my influence is not as great with those.

Obviously, I cannot ignore diet in this quest for fitness but I think for the most part I can go on auto-pilot in terms of that as long as I follow a few basic principles. To that end, I think I need to list the basic principles I will follow over the next few months, both in terms of exercising and diet. So here's a first go:

  1. Eat no grains or sugar. These things just have a bad effect on my body and hunger levels so they are out. 
  2. Tubers only once or twice a week and always leave some behind. I have been eating more tubers (mainly potato) lately and they don't seem to have a strong effect on my hunger. However, I do not want to overdo.
  3. Cheats will be allowed one meal every week and a half but must be minor (an extra tuber in a week or a small desert).
  4. Try to notice how a meal makes me feel immediately afterwards and an hour afterwards. Try to notice the effect that the quantity and type of food I eat has on my body and adjust my diet accordingly.
  5. When I do a resistance training workout, I will not do another resistance training workout until I feel fully recovered. I do have a tendency to go back while still very sore and stiff. I think I need to listen to my body and instincts more in that regard.
  6. When I do a run, same thing. 
  7. Walk as much as possible. My wife and I have been walking after dinner and on weekends. It's great for us to bond as a couple, and not strenuous so even if I am recovering from a workout, it is possible. 
  8. Try something new at least once or twice a month. that may be a new recipe or going kayaking. Something slightly outside of my comfort zone but still fun.
  9. I will not weigh myself until September. I haven't weighed myself in over a month and frankly, I like it. The weight may or may not come off with this. Instead I'll try to notice other, more qualitative changes. Pants fitting better, mood improving, etc.
  10. Get outside in the sun when possible. 
  11. Have fun, enjoy all of this!
So there we go, that's what the next 2-3 months are going to look for me. I think I'm going to like this new phase. Not exactly a maintenance thing but definitely concentrating on enhancing my health rather than trying to recapture it. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Am I Done Yet?

So this has been on my mind for a few weeks now. When do I know if I'm as slim as I can be given the current dietary interventions I have made? I have been plateaued between 210 and 215 pounds for a very long time. I know I can get below that below if I go on a fat fast but I don't know that that is my favorite thing. Not that I don't think it's healthy in the short run but that loss tends to be a bit fleeting.

So is this level of weight the best I can hope for unless I add exercise into the mix in a bigger way than I have been. I suspect the answer is yes. I could go much lower calorie I suppose, but I don't believe that is the healthiest option. No telling that the body won't pull as much energy from protein to make up the deficit than it would from fat.

 I've been trying to get the exercise thing going for a while now but between gout, travel, and general malaise due to the longest fucking winter ever, I haven't been able to get any momentum. I am going to try again this week.

BTW, I have pretty much stopped weighing myself too. I have a love hate (mostly hate) relationship with my scale. I love it when the weight moves lower, hate it otherwise. I don't really need the aggravation any more.

So what does that mean for my n=1 experiment. It's still on. I'll check in on my weight in a few months For now, I'll check in hopefully weekly on the blog to describe what I am doing exercise wise and how I am feeling in general (how my clothes are fitting).

Wish me luck!

Cholesterol Numbers

So I had my first encounter with the mainstream medical establishment in regards to cholesterol today. I got the results of my cholesterol tests and here they are with conversions

Serum Cholesterol: 7.07 mmol/l  = 273.3952 mg/dl
HDL: 1.95 mmol/l  = 75.40603 mg/dl 
LDL: 4.81 mmol/l  = 186.00155 mg/dl
Triglycerides 0.65 mmol/l  = 57.57307 mg/d

Cholesterol/HDL: 3.6
Triglycerides/HDL: 0.33 
LDL/HDL: 2.5

So the doctor looks at this and says my cholesterol is high and my ldl is high and I can either go on drugs or introduce lifestyle changes.

My objections: 

My ratios are great. Total cholesterol/hdl ideally should be 3.5 or less but at least less than 5.0. Check. Triglycerides/HDL should be < 0.437. My ldl/hdl should be less than 3.5:1. My triglycerides/HDL should be 0.24 or greater.

Secondly, they do not measure which pattern (A or B) the LDL is in. And I believe that if the triglycerides are low (which mine are) that it is more likely that I have LDL pattern A which is relatively benign.

So anyway, I will go on with what I am doing except for one thing. I have been ridiculously inconsistent with exercise. If in 6 months I get a similar result, I'll insist on a VAP test to check the type of LDL before I go on any drug.

My CarbSane experience

So I got into a bit of a 'discussion' on the Weighty Matters site with a woman who calls herself CarbSane. It was essentially a lesson in arguing with a zealot. Now I will admit, I'm low carb biased. But CS, is a strange one to deal with. Argue a different interpretation of a study and she will sidestep, or berate.

My point in commenting in the first place was to say that the initial commenter was wrong in calling Gary Taubes a snake oil salesman. He is not trying to sell anything other than his book and frankly he could have made more money writing a diet book based on some stupid premise (eat a grapefruit and mars bar at every meal and you'll lose weight) and made more money. Instead, he researched a wide-ranging topic for 5 or more years and came up with a very intelligent book.

Argue if you want with his conclusions, that's fine. But the commenter's insistence that he is a con man makes little sense. A con man tells people what they want to hear. Sure the low carb community wanted to hear what Taubes said but it's a far smaller community than the mainstream.

Personally, I think Taubes makes a fairly compelling case that carbohydrates, especially refined grains and sugars are more important to watch if you want to lose weight than calories. And my own experience of losing 30 pounds WITHOUT counting calories convinces me that he is correct. Also, the studies that I have looked at show that not only does the low carb calorie unrestricted diet result in as good or better weight loss than other diets, it also seems to improve a lot of other health markers (hdl cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure) again as well or better than other diets.

Do I think that means someone could eat a 5000 calorie diet a day and not gain weight as long as the carb count is very low? I don't know, but I think there is reason to believe that IF you could get someone to eat that much without raising increasing the absolute amount of carbs, it may be possible. The point that Taubes is making is not that you can eat 5,000 calories a day, it's that you can eat as much as you want (ie. to satiety) and not gain weight and possibly lose weight if you restrict the carbs. My personal experience has shown that to be the case.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My N=1 Experiment Part 7

So first, the numbers:

Avg Calories: 2184
Fat: 157.1 g or 65% of calories
Protein: 108.4g or 20% of calories
Carbs: 104.6g or 15% of calories
Fiber: 26.3 g

Weight: 212.2
Body Fat 24.8%

So the first thing to take note of is that my carbs have gone way up as has my fiber. This is partly due to me adding berries into my diet (berries + cream + stevia + vanilla = AWESOME) and partly because I've pretty much doubled my veggie intake, if not more. This is due to my reaction to the gout diagnosis last week. I also eliminated alcohol for now and added mucho supplementation (fish oil, multi-vitamin, vitamin C, vitamin D and folic acid).

The next thing to notice is that my weight went down, body fat went up a bit and my plateau continues. I did very very little exercise this week because of the gout making me worry about aggravating things. That will change this week so perhaps some things will shift.

For now, I'm becoming convinced that between 210-212 is the weight I'm going to be unless I do consistent smart exercise. I say smart because I know intense Cross Fit type workouts are not for me (not that Cross Fit isn't 'smart' but...) By smart, I mean exercise I can do consistently, that challenges me 2-3 times a week (2 'lift heavy things' workouts and 1 interval workout) without completely exhausting me so I can't enjoy the other aspects of my life. I don't believe lowering the calories will do too much to make things move as I have eaten 1800 calories and seen no movement.

The good news is that by adding fruit (berries only) into my diet and increasing my veggie intake, I did not seem to add weight. Whether that holds up in the next couple weeks will be seen but it is encouraging. On a personal note, my energy seems to be a bit better (although that could be the supplements or the improvement in the weather) and I generally feel better having a bit more variety in my food choices.

So that's the plan this week. Exercise and stay the course in the diet.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My N=1 Experiment Part 6 - Reset Week

So this was a different week. Part good, part not so much. The good part was a weekend trip last weekend to Toronto. The bad part was being diagnosed with gout in my big toe.

So the good part first. My wife and I went to Toronto last week and had a very good time. I really enjoyed the city and could definitely see her and I moving there one day.

The bad part started a couple weeks before we left When I started having pain in my big toe at the middle joint. Now, I couldn't remember injuring myself but I assumed I must have done something to it. However, the pain just stayed. Walking around Toronto was somewhat painful, especially if something bumped my toe. My wife wondered if it was gout but I didn't think so, mostly because I was embarrassed that it might be.

Anyway, on Wednesday I went to the doctor and he thought it probably was gout so I got the pills to help it out and the sheet with the diet recommending I avoid meat and eat white bread (seriously, it recommends white bread with whole wheat as a 'be careful' food). The pills have sort of started to work but my toe still hurts and I'm trying to avoid the worst offenders in the meat department (beef and seafood). I'm also going to try to avoid meats for breakfast and lunch for a while until things calm down and stop drinking anything alcoholic.

My take on what probably happened is:

  1. The fasting was probably the trigger. I have been following a low carb diet and eating lots of meat for almost a year now without a problem but within a week of when I started intermittent fasting the gout set in.
  2.  I also don't really watch my alcohol intake. Not that I drink alot but there are evenings I'll have 2-3 glasses of wine or a glass of wine with a couple ounces of scotch. I don't think this was a major factor but it could be.
  3. Some of the sprinting I've done hasn't helped. Uric acid excretion by the kidney can be slowed down by lactic acid which could be aggravating things.
  4. I've been trying to go pretty low carb (well less than 50 g a day most of the time less than 40) which means that ketones are most likely present in my body and ketones inhibit uric acid excretion. 
  5. I may have been overindulging somewhat in more processed meats like bacon and sausages. I do eat beef a fair bit but that is a moderate purine food compared to bacon.
  6. Seeing as it's winter, I suspect my Vitamin D levels are low because I'm not getting much sun exposure.
Now in looking at some research, the affect of seafood in the diet is the greatest but really looks like it only adds about 1.5 mg/dl to the number (meat adds about 1.3 mg/dl). This is somewhat significant. The normal levels are between 2.4 and 6 mg/dl so a 1.5 mg/dl could push one over the edge. However, if one supplements with 500 g of vitamin C (see here in the last paragraph), that affect can be erased.

So what's my low carb strategy to deal with this (you didn't think I was going to run out and eat bread did you?). Well it's this:

  1. Wait for the pain and swelling to clear up before getting back to an exercise routine.
  2. Eat far less of the worst meats (bacon and processed meats) in the long term and lessen the quantity of moderately purine rich meats in the near term until things clear up.
  3. No more intermittent fasting.
  4. Supplement with 500 mg of Vitamin C per day.
  5. Supplement with Vitamin D (currently trying 4000 iu dosages but I need to research this further).
  6. Add berries into my diet to get my carb count in the 50-100 g a day range to cut down on the ketones in my system. I may try to take it to the higher end of that range and see how things go.
  7. No alcohol until things clear up and then limit to 1-2 glasses of wine a week and 1 scotch a week after that.
So that's the plan. Now for the results of last week...

Because of the trip to Toronto, I decided to do a bit of a reset this week. I didn't keep track of my food intake and had a couple small cheats in Toronto. I did however take my weight with interesting results. My weight went up a pound but my body fat percentage dropped quite a bit. My 2 day average weight was 212.9 and my body fat was 23.9. When I run the numbers, that means a reduction in my fat mass from last week of about 1.2 pounds and an increase in my lean mass of 3 pounds. I suspect the lean mass increase was water. Anyway, interesting results. 

Until next week...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My N=1 Experiment Part 5

Ok, now I'm really frustrated. First the numbers. This week my averages:

Calories: 2280.7
Fat: 172.2 g or 68% of calories
Protein: 116.4 or 20% of calories
Carbs: 28.8 g or 5% of calories
Fiber: 7 g

And my weight? Well the two day average puts me at 211.1 so 1.1 pounds over my 2 day average last week. Body fat 24.7 % so the same as my 2 day average last week. Given the margin for error for my equipment, I would suggest that I have essentially maintained my weight while eating in the range of 1700 to 2300 calories a week. There appears to be little or no difference in eating 1700 calories or 2300 calories (although the highest calorie count was this week) in terms of maintaining my weight.

Now I wasn't as successful in working out as much as I'd hoped. I did one slow burn workout, one set of tabata sprints on the treadmill and 2 - 45 minute walks on the treadmill. Not a lot but more than last week where my weight was less.

So what to do... Well, I'm off to Toronto for the weekend so there will be alot of walking for 3 days. When I get back I should be able to fit in a couple slow burn workouts but probably not a tabata day. Probably will be able to fit in a couple walking workouts though.

In terms of eating, well lowering my carbs down below 30 (close to Atkins induction in terms of net carbs) did nothing for me last week. I will still try to keep them at that level but I'm going to try for a week or two keeping my calories at around 1500 on average. With 1 24 hour fast next week (no breakfast or lunch), that'll probably mean the non fast days I can eat around 1600 calories and 800 on the day I break my fast. We'll see.

Does this mean I believe in Calories-In Calorie-Out? Well, I think that as a general rule for ALOT of weight loss, that belief is really useless. But for the last 15 pounds (which is what I want to lose) there may be something to be said for being conscious of a habit of eating a certain quantity of food when satiation can be reached with fewer calories allowing for the body to make up the deficit from the fat stores.

I suspect that for maintenance, calories-in calories-out becomes much less important. As the numbers for myself show (and yes I know this is one person's experience) you can maintain your weight with a range of calories so eating until satisfied is enough as long as you are keeping the carb count down. Once the carb count creeps up, you cannot trust your hunger/satiation response...

So let's see how this works. I'm not saying that 1500 calories a day will be easy and I am a bit worried about my metabolism slowing down but in theory, my body should be able to make up whatever deficit there is from my stubborn fat stores....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What else is wrong with Low Carb Diets?

I had a couple other things to add to my list of common (and wrong) objections to a low carb diet.

1. Low carb high protein diets are dangerous because they can cause osteoporosis.

First off, low carb diets are normally high fat not high protein. So that's silly. Secondly, this is based on some hypothetical reasoning not the clinical data. The logic goes like this (taken from here)

"a diet high in animal protein creates an acidic environment within the body. "When that happens, calcium in bone tissue is used to buffer the acidity. What you get is a lot of bone loss from bones when you're on a high protein diet,"

However, as we know from years of crappy advice, you can think through the hypothetical results of a dietary change and come up with a theory as to what will happen but that is very different from testing. I mean, let's remember that a hypothesis is the first step in the scientific process, not the last.

Here's an actual study of that hypothesis:

This is why I am skeptical of a lot of nutritional advice. Much of it is untested hypothesis, and much of the rest is based on badly designed studies. Thus I have my n=1 experiement.

2. Low carb diets are hard to stick too.

Has anyone out there tried the Ornish 10% calories from fat diet? Diets can be hard to stick to no matter what the composition. Being controversial makes it even harder to stick too. I can say from my own experience, I find low carb eating much easier than the rest because I can eat when I'm hungry and I don't have to count calories. I know, I know, I am counting calories right now but believe me, were I just maintaining my weight, I would not be. I see the calorie counting right now as a way of measuring what is going on so that I can see the results of changes...

3. Carbs are the body's preferred fuel source so limiting them is silly.

The reason people believe carbs are the body's preferred fuel source is because they are burned first, before fat. By the same logic, alcohol is even more preferred because it is burned before carbs. The reason blood sugar is burned first is because it is toxic at high levels so the body tries to get rid of it by burning or storing it. The body ensures it is burned first by choking off the supply from our fat stores so that we cannot burn fat. If the body had evolved to prefer carbs as a fuel source, wouldn't it make sense to evolve stores of carbs for burning? I know, that is just a hypothesis but it does make some sense. Aside from a small bit of sugar stored in muscles and the liver, the body does not keep sugar around. Doesn't that say something?

Biggest Loser is a bad example to follow

I awoke this morning to a blog post by the great Tom Naughton over at fat head. Here's the link:

The bit that caught my attention was the short description of a study that followed up with Biggest Loser participants. It found that after 30 weeks of participation in the program, their metabolism slowed down by 504 calories more than could be explained by the weight loss.

To me this is slightly shocking and really appalling. I eat roughly 2000 calories a day. That means, had I followed the model of weight loss provided by this show, I would probably be gaining weight at this level of calories rather than being somewhat plateaued at this level. How crazy is that?

And let's not fool ourselves. The model the Biggest Loser provides is simply the extreme of Conventional Wisdom. Eat less food, stick to low fat. Do cardio exercise (some resistance training) to exhaustion. Create a calorie deficit.

Now I just wish that there would be follow-up as to why the metabolism slowed down more than the weight loss can explain. I suspect that the consistent calorie deficit in the presence of carbohydrates causing an insulin response meant that the body was not able to release enough fatty acids from the fat cells to compensate for the deficit and the body had to adjust by slowing down metabolism.

But that's just speculation.... I'd love to see a study testing this...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grok tries to lose weight by following Conventional Wisdom

So when we left Grok, he was fat. Now, he is getting tired of not being able to shop at normal sized people clothing stores. He's tired of being looked at like a fat person and being judged as a glutton and a sloth that has no self discipline. He's ready to make a change in his life and looks to the conventional wisdom (CW) as to how to best make a change, lose weight and get healthy.

And what does conventional wisdom tell him? Well, there is a fair bit of variance in the mainstream advice that Grok can get but the following are the basic commonalities:

1. You must eat less and exercise more to put yourself into a calorie deficit. I mean, duh, eat less and exercise stupid, why do we have to tell you that? So count your calories and eat 500 less calories a day than you burn to lose a pound a week and 1000 less calories a day to lose 2 pounds a week.

2. Eat less fat. I mean you are what you eat after all and if you don't want to be fat, you should eat less fat. Besides, fat contains 9 calories per gram whereas protein and carbs contain only 4 so if you want to cut down calories, it makes sense to reduce the amount of fat you eat. Do this by reducing the amount of animal products you eat and choosing lean versions of meat and non-fat or low fat versions of dairy products.

3. Replace sugar and refined carbs like white bread and white rice with the whole grain versions. This will reduce the blood sugar spikes because they are absorbed more slowly (they have a lower glycemic load) and therefore not cause the hunger pangs so soon after eating.

4. Eat lots of veggies and fruits to get your fiber in.

5. Replace pop with fruit juices or just water.

So Grok follows this advice. He goes online to a calories burned calculator and calculates that at his height and weight with a sedentary lifestyle (he works in an office now) he burns 2450 calories a day. If he averages burning an extra 200 calories a day in exercise (6 days a week he will do a heavy dudy workout) and wants to lose a pound a week for the next year (he figures he's 52 pounds overweight after all) he will have to only take in 2150 calories a day to accomplish his goal.

So he adjusts his diet. He only eats lean meats, lots of whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables. He keeps his intake at around 2150 a day and exercises 6 days a week doing lots of cardio and throwing in a couple resistance training sessions a week.

How does his body react? Well, the diet is better in that it is low in sugar so that it doesn't significantly worsen his insulin resistance, but each intake of carbs (at 60% calories from carbs say, he'll be taking in 322 grams of carbs a day) increases his blood sugar and insulin must be released to deal with it. Sure his eating of whole grains means his blood sugar rises more slowly because the carbs are aborbed more slowly, but that also means the blood sugar is elevated (and therefore insulin is required to be excreted for longer) to deal with it. Besides, the glycemic load of whole wheat bread is 7-9 compared to 10 for white bread. Not a big savings in terms of blood sugar changes. The difference in glycemic load between white pasta and whole wheat is from 18 to 16.

He eats lots of fruit but that adds fructose into his system. Sure the fructose is absorbed more slowly but certain fruits are very high in sugar (mostly fructose) like bananas. The fructose is processed in Grok's already compromised liver so can exacerbate his insulin resistance.

So all this to say, his bodies insulin levels are still high. High at a fasting rate and high while eating. The insulin is slowing or stopping the fat from coming out of Grok's fat cells and accelerating the process of loading up the fat cells with fatty acids.

But CW says, he is eating less than he is burning so he should lose weight but two things are happening. His body reacts to the calorie deficit not by freeing up his fat stores, it cannot, insulin is preventing this. Instead his body slows down Grok's metabolic rate as much as it can and makes Grok hungry. It may be that the body cannot slow down the metabolic rate enough to make up the deficit and some fat does get burned but Grok is fighting hunger all the way.

Now, a quick word about the VERY overweight. Because in these cases, the fat stores are overloaded with fatty acids, insulin may not be able to prevent the release of fatty acids. Imagine a balloon made out of very strong material. Put enough water in this balloon and the pressure could become too much to overwhelm a clamp on the spigot enough to release some of the water. This is why on almost any diet, the very overweight will lose weight. It is also why plateaus can happen once a lot of weight is gone. The pressure within the fat cells to release the fatty acids from being full isn't enough to overcome insulin's action to release the fat.

So Grok sees some initial loss of weight due to the diet and that motivation keeps him fighting through the hunger and tiredness his body is using to compensate for not having enough energy. Now Grok might lose all 52 pounds or he may plateau at a 30 pound weight loss. If he plateaus, he tries to eat even less and exercise even more, blaming himself for not doing enough. Either way, there will come a time when Grok gets tired of fighting his body and starts increasing his intake and starts taking days off the gym.

What does Conventional Wisdom also say? Diets don't work. People lose the weight but cannot keep it off and eventually cave in and often gain back all the weight and then some. I can say from personal experience this is correct. Been there done it.

So what is the final message to Conventional Wisdom to Grok... Grok has two choices, live with being fat or constantly fight hunger, tiredness, temptation to cave to maintain his weight.

Now Grok has an advantage. Remember, he is paleolithic man who experienced what a natural lifestyle is for humans. The lifestyle that humans evolved to thrive while living... He knows that the idea that we should be fighting our bodies hormonal responses is NOT a natural state. He knows that throughout evolution, humans and animals did not count calories to maintain their weight. He knows that our bodies regulate hunger and available energy through hormones that we should not have to fight to maintain a healthy weight. Animals in the wild do not do this. They follow their hunger drives. They follow their urges to move and to rest. What can we learn from this....

Next post... Grok goes back to his evolutionary roots....

Friday, February 25, 2011

My N=1 Experiment Part 5

So this week was a bit of an odd week. I didn't get to the gym at all due to travel to visit the in-laws and other circumstances. My eating was still pretty solid though. I have great in-laws who are very supportive and cook meals while we are there that fit my needs. My carb count was a bit higher this week than it would normally be but not by much and mostly due to nuts and veggies, still no bread, pasta, etc.

So here are the average intake numbers for the week.:

Calories: 2044.1
Fat: 124.6 g (or 54.9% of calories)
Carbs: 44. 4 g (or 8.7% of calories)
Protein: 118.8 g (or 23.3% of calories)

The rest of the calories would have been from alcohol (wine and scotch).

I should also mention I did another 24 hour intermittent fast this week. The night I broke that fast, I ate a significant amount of calories (about 1700 calories) so the fasting day didn't significantly affect the average calories

So, what happened to the weigh? Well, my 2 day average weight was 210 which is the same as last week and my 2 day average body fat percentage was 24.7%, basically the same as last week.

So, how do I interpret these results? Well, it's funny, my calorie count average goes down, my activity goes down as well and no change in weight. Does that mean anything? Well, it's hard to say. Last week I only weight myself once on my regular scale so perhaps I was a bit heavier than 210 on average last week. The exercise last week may have resulted in some weight loss. I don't know. Maybe the larger number of carbs this week affected things.

At this point, I think I am VERY slowly losing weight. I am going to try a couple things this week to speed things up. First, I'll try to do some more activity every day (or at least most days) this week. I'll do a couple slow weight workouts, one tabata workout and a few 45 minute sessions walking at a comfortable pace on the treadmill. I'll also try to keep the carb count below 30 for the week. I think I can do that by avoiding nuts and eating veggies only at dinner time. I'll try to keep the average calories between 2100 and 2300 and when I do my intermittent fast, I'll try not to overcompensate in the evening.

Let's see what that does...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My N=1 Experiment Part 4

Quick update as I'm off to visit the inlaws for the weekend tonight. First my average calorie intake for the week:

Calories: 2161.1
Fat: 149 g or 62% of calories
Protein: 140.5 or 26% of calories
Carb: 48.8 g or 9% of calories

The higher carb intake was due to a 'cheat' night at Valentines dinner. Very worth it.

I weighed in this morning at 210 even with 24.8% body fat. I'll weigh myself tomorrow at the in laws but since it's not the same scale, the basis for comparison won't be as good.

So all this to say, I ate 400 more calories this week and lost 0.8 pounds. Still within the margin of error but over the last 3 weeks, the trend has been downward (11.2, 10.8, 10). Slow decrease but that's fine as long as it's real. I suppose next week will show. I would like to see the BF change but as long as something is.

So this week I added a slow weight workout and a tabata workout. I also did 2 or 3 45 minute walks on the treadmill at a comfortable pace. I also did a 24-hour fast between Monday dinner and Tuesday dinner. I'll probably do one of these every week for a while to see if it helps out with the weight loss.

That't it for now. I'll have more complete analysis after next week's results. For now I'm off to visit my mother and father in law. Always a good time. They are both fabulous cooks and I very much enjoy their company, conversation and cooking!

BTW, I'm not really doing primal, well sort of but not really. Therefore, I have changed the name of my experiment. My intention is to use the next few months to try different things and see what the effect is on my body. If something works, I'll keep it. If not, I'll try something else.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tabata and Intermittent Fast

Just a quick update. Last night I did my first Tabata workout. I chose to do thrusters, mostly because I wanted to do something resistance based rather than running or something more cardio. I was able to complete 5 and a half 20 second intervals with a 10 second break in between for a total of 2 minutes 40 seconds of workout. I warmed up with 5 minutes on the treadmill walking and finished off my workout with another 42 minutes or so (the length of an episode of V).

A couple interesting things:

  1. It's amazing how a 2 minute 40 second tabata workout can really work you. 
  2. I walked very slowly on the treadmill because my heart rate stayed high for a while.
Also wanted to mention that I'm doing a 24 hour fast today. I finished eating dinner a little after 7 last night and will not eat again until dinner tonight. I'm slightly hungry but not bad. I am finding the desire to eat is mostly coming from boredom and routine. It's 11:46 and normally I would have had my lunch by now. 

I'm hoping that adding IF to my routine will help me break through my plateau. Just another thing to look at in my experiment. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Damaging Beliefs about Weight Loss

I got to thinking about what are some of the common beliefs that sabotage your weight loss efforts. So I thought I'd discuss a few:

1. You must balance calories in and calories out. This is a biggie and is the hardest one to debate but let me try. First off, and easiest, this belief makes people think they just need to eat less than they expend to lose weight but there is a problem. How do you know how much you expend? Sure, there are calculators out there on the web that will tell you but those are based on statistical models and generalizations. You are how old, how tall, how active... boom you burn this much. But how do you know with any level of certainty. Also, if you eat less, ie. take in less calories, your body can react with slowing down metabolism. So that at one rate of intake, say 2800 calories a day, your body may be burning 2200 calories a day. BUT, if you drop your intake down to 2200 calories, your body may respond by slowing down to 1700 calories a day. You can chase this number all you want.

Anecdotally, I once went on a diet where I was eating 1000 calories a day and exercising. I ended up plateauing for a few weeks and broke it by INCREASING my intake by 500 calories a day. So you don't really know what you are expending so it really is quite pointless to say you are trying to balance this.

Now, I'm a low carber, so my views on calories in - calories out is a bit different from 'normal' people. I do believe there is some value in knowing what you are taking in (both in terms of calories as well as macro nutrient amounts) but mostly from the standpoint of seeing how your body reacts to that. If your body loses weight at 2000 calories a day with 20 g of carbs but stays weight stable at 2800 calories a day and 100 g of carbs, that's a good thing to know. It's also important to note your energy levels as low energy levels could be the result of your body overcompensating for a lack of available energy.

2. Exercise will help you lose weight - I started some blog posts as a result of this question. Exercise will not significantly affect weight loss. Why? Because you expend incrementally not much energy and it will result in your body wanting more energy intake. For example, if I run on the treadmill for a half hour, I burn about 250 calories. But if I just sat down for that half hour, I'd probably burn about 75 or so calories. So my net result is about 175 extra calories burned. However, if as a result of that I feel hungry, I will most likely eat up that 175 calories (it's not hard).

I am not saying don't exercise, I'm just saying that don't expect it to result in weight loss. There are benefits. Resistance training can help with muscle insulin sensitivity (at least I've heard it can). It can help with mood. it can change your body composition. It can have other health benefits. But killing yourself in the gym will not make you lose significant amounts of weight.

To those who say 'I know a guy who went to the gym 6 days a week an hour and a half a day and got slim', I'd ask, what else did he do? Did he change his diet? Did he quit smoking? Most likely, he did so we really don't know what caused weight loss.

3. Becoming fat is a result of lack of will power - To this I say, read my 'Let's make Grok Fat' post. Grok 'overate', not because he couldn't resist that donut, but because his body was telling him he needed more energy and he listened. I've been obese. I was close to 300 pounds. The drive to eat appears to be emotional and psychological and yes there is some of that element, but the hormonal aspect is much stronger and contributes much more to the equation. Hormones will affect behavior. If you've been around a pregnant lady who is going through cravings or hormonal changes, you probably have noticed this. I may get comments about that last sentence calling me a chauvinist but I've known women who have gone through pregnancy and they talk about it too.

If I think of more I'll do a part two to this post. That's all I have for now.

Let's make Grok Fat

So a while ago, my buddy D2 Primal posed to me a challenge. If exercise does not make you lose weight, how do you explain to someone looking at the before after pictures at our gym (we go to a gym that is a part of a large chain I'll call Silver's to hide the real identity) that it was not the exercise that made them lose weight (and specifically fat).

So I got to thinking about this and decided to write a series of posts to explain, first how we get fat, then how conventional wisdom fails us in the advice it gives us on how we get rid of the fat, and finally how the low carb/primal lifestyle can help us to get rid of the fat and get back to being healthy.

I will say now that I will not be as eloquent as Gary Taubes or as technical as Hyperlipid. These guys are very deep thinkers who have a lot of knowledge and experience behind what they say. This will be more of my attempt to organize what I believe is happening within our bodies.

I have decided to use Mark Sisson's character Grok to illustrate the process of getting fat and getting back to health. For those of you who don't know about Grok, I'll give a small introduction but I highly recommend Mr. Sisson's excellent book Primal Blueprint as a more complete picture.

Grok is the personification of what humans evolved into during the majority of our existence on Earth up to about 10,000 years ago when agriculture was introduced into the equation. He eats what we evolved to eat, which is largely animal products with some fruits and vegetables. He does not avoid grains and sugars because, they didn't exist. He didn't go to the gym for the same reason. The exercise he did get was from walking a lot, doing intense work for brief periods of time to bring down prey or escape becoming prey (not the equivalent of an hour of cardio but more like wind sprints or tabatas), and from play. His species (and therefore us) evolved through natural selection to thrive off of this type of lifestyle.

Now, I'm a computer guy so I tend to like numbers and equations. So let's say that Grok eats about 2000 calories a day (I don't know if that is realistic but it's round) and expends about 2000 calories a day. We know he expends this much because he is weight stable and therefore is burning and excreting what he brings in.

So how do we make Grok fat? Well, let's transport him from his life 10,000 years ago to the present day. This will give him access to grains, sugars and foods he never imagined eating. So Grok starts eating sugar and refined carbs (rice, white bread, etc). He replaces some of the animal products he used to eat (bison liver, etc) with this new tasty food. What happens in his body? Well, as a result of the sugar, two things happen since sugar is made up of two things: fructose and glucose. The fructose goes to his liver and is turned into fatty acids, the glucose goes into the blood stream and raises blood sugar levels. The pancreas responds to the higher levels of blood sugars by producing insulin. The insulin does a few things, first it chokes off the supply of fatty acids into the blood stream from the fat cells. It does this to get the body to burn off the blood sugar since high levels of blood sugar can be toxic. It also causes cells in the liver, muscles and fat tissue to take up the sugar in the blood to lower the blood sugar levels.

Now if the fructose dose Grok gets is high enough, the fructose puts such a load on the liver that it causes the liver to become insulin resistant which means the pancreas will have to produce even more insulin to get the blood sugars out of the system. As insulin levels consistently go up in reaction to the intake of sugar and refined carbohydrate , eventually muscle cells become insulin resistant. This leaves fat cells to take in the blood sugar. Fat cells can become insulin resistant too but they are usually the last ones that do. Eventually Grok's body has consistently high levels of insulin in his system which means the calories that he does takes in (plus the carbs that he takes in) gets partitioned more to fat storage than to burning. Why is this? Because the insulin enhances the process of fat storage and simultaneously chokes off the release of fatty acids from fat storage to be used as energy.

So what does this do to Grok at a macro level? Well, he is eating 2000 calories a day and his body still wants to burn 2000 calories a day but let's say, the result of the elevated insulin levels is that 500 calories of his intake is put into fat storage and blocked from being released (imagine putting a kink in a garden hose and slowing down the release of the fatty acids). So his body has only 1500 calories to burn. Two things can happen at this stage. His body can react by slowing down his metabolism (keeping him tired and listless, cooling his body temperature, etc) to match the 500 calorie deficit, or (and maybe as a result) his body will make him hungry to eat more. So Grok eats another 500 calories. And 100 calories go into storage and 400 more calories are available to burn. Still a deficit of 100 calories between what his body wants to burn and what he has available.

Keep in mind, at this stage Grok is not aware of his body changing, he is just reacting to hormonal signals that are telling him to eat or slow down his activity.

Let's say it now takes 2600 calories a day to allow Grok to keep his lifestyle going. 2000 calories must be available to burn, but because what he is eating is forcing more fat into storage and (maybe more correctly) slowing down or blocking the release of the fatty acids from storage, he is storing 600 calories a day. This would result (if nutritionists are to be believed) in about a pound of weight gain a week. Let's say that continues for a year and he gains 52 pounds. Eventually, the fat cells are going to get so full, insulin cannot choke off the supply completely and some fatty acids will overcome the effect and get into the blood stream to be used for energy. I'm sure this is overly simplistic, but what I'm getting to is that the body will eventually reach an equilibrium where the energy coming in equals the energy being expended and excreted and weight will become stable. This maybe at 52 pounds of extra weight, it could be at 200 or 300. It all depends on genetics, environment and other factors.

So this is how Grok got fat. Now one thing to notice here, it's not because he was eating that well marbled rib steak. It was because he ate that steak with a white potato and followed it up with that piece of cake. Yes, fat played a factor but only because it was accompanied by food that caused insulin resistance and blood sugar spikes and both resulted in elevated levels of insulin which signaled to Grok's fat stores that fatty acids should not be released because the body needed to get rid of blood sugar. Even after the blood sugar dropped down to a reasonable level, the level of insulin in Grok's system remained high (due to the insulin resistance) and since the fat stores would not release their fat, Grok felt hungry and tired. He, as a result, slowed down his activity and probably had a snack.

This is very simplistic and ignores a whole lot of other interactions that go on, but as far as I can tell, this is the primary reason we get fat. If I have made any errors, PLEASE comment with a correction. If you have a reference that will help my understanding, I'd like that too!

The next part will be what happens when Grok looks in a mirror and starts wondering how he let himself go.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bad Science

Ok, I was listening to one of my Paleo podcasts (Latest in Paleo) and heard Dr. Oz (shiver) saying that fat and sugar may be as addictive as cocaine. Ok, sugar I can see but what evidence is there that fat is? Well, I googled and found several articles like this:

They all referenced this study of rats. Three groups, one fed a normal diet, one fed a 'high fat high sugar' diet for one hour a day (sausages, cake, frosting, etc) for just one hour a day, and one fed the 'high fat high sugar' diet for 23 hours a day.

"Remarkably" the rats fed the high fat high sugar diet reacted like addicts. Hmmm... must be both the sugar and t fat right? No need to test each individually right? I mean that would be silly, it must be most because fat is bad right? Everyone knows that...

Geez, this stuff pisses me off. Don't bother to find out what specifically causes the problem. So if I run around in the middle of a busy highway with a black leather jacket on, it must be the combination of both that causes me to get hit by a car, right? No need to try it without the jacket, or with some other attire, the black leather jacket must be bad for me and have contributed a bit to me getting hit, right?

Anyway, Tom Naughton of Fat Head fame had a very good blog post on this too..

My Primal Blueprint Experiment - Week 3

So week 3 is done and before I report the numbers I should mention that I was feeling under the weather all week so I only went to the gym on Thursday night (I am writing this Friday morning). Whether or not a week of the gym can skew the results is a bit debatable but there it is. Of course that means I was also less active in general because lying down felt a lot better than moving about.

First the weight. Yesterday I weighed in at 211 with 25.1% body fat, today 210.6 with 24.4% BF. So essentially, no change given the margin of error for my scale and BF device. The average 2 day weight dropped from 211.2 to 210.8 and BF went up from 24.4% to 24.8%.

Now the diet. I did not eat berries at all this week. No particular reason, just didn't feel like it. I also skipped lunch both Tuesday and Wednesday. These were particularly low calorie days (1014 and 1208 respectively). My highest calorie day was yesterday at 2258.

Here are the averages for the week:

Calories 1756.3
Fat 127 g or 65.1% of calories
Protein 107.8 g or 24.54% of calories
Carbs 32.9 g (8.3 fiber) or 7.49 % of calories

So, if calories in - calories out and a calorie is a calorie is to be believed, if what the nutritionists keep telling us is true, then my body needs roughly 1800 calories to remain weight stable. Does that seem low to you? It does to me. Why did my weight remain stable at this number of calories? I have a few possible explanations:

1. Too few calories - So my body decided to slow down it's metabolism to compensate.
2. Too little exercise - So my body was able to conserve energy more.
3. Too many carbs - It may be that 24.6 net carbs is more than I can handle and lose weight.

I am aware that this is just one week worth of data but if the 'you must eat less than you expend' crowd is to be believed, it shouldn't be possible to eat less and still maintain weight. You HAVE to admit that either my body does need only 1800 calories to maintain it's weight but I think that's hard to argue that a 211 pound man needs only this number of calories. A quick calculation of BMR from a web site puts my BMR (the rate where I am just sleeping) at 1718.55. If I use's calculator with the lowest setting (sedentary), I get a value of 2280 calories a day. So given that, I should have burned roughly 500 calories a day more than I took in on average. That should result in a pound of weight lost. Nope.

Ok, so maybe I'm being too hard on the 'eat less than you expend' crowd. Let's see. This week I'm going to try to get the average calorie count up without changing the absolute number of carbs (still aiming for an average of 30ish grams of carbs). Let's say I'll aim for an average of 2000 calories a day. That might be challenging as I'm also planning an intermittent fast on Tuesday (skipping breakfast and lunch for a 24 hour fast) but I'll give it a try. I am going to exercise, but primally so I probably won't burn enough calories to make up a difference with exercise.

Let's see what happens...

Until next week!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bad Advice

Wanted to share with you all this interesting example of the twisting and spinning that goes on with nutritionists giving advise. The above article is talking about the small dense LDL which appears to be the issue with cholesterol. She lists the things that cause small dense LDL as:

  • High Carb intake
  • Trans fat intake
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • High Triglycerides, low HDL
  • Metabolic syndrome

So what's the advice to reduce? Two of the items on

  • 'Lower your carbohydrate intake in addition to your saturated fat and trans fat intake' Why saturated fat? It's been showed to increase HDL and lower triglycerides and raise the level of large fluffy LDL so that should reduce the small dense LDL according to her own list of causes.
  • 'Lose weight... by following a diet low in fat and carbohydrates'? Why low fat? The causes would indicate yes, low trans fat, so avoiding vegetable based oils and hydrogenated oils, sure, but do you really need to avoid the other fats?

We are SO intrenched in this idea that fats are bad that even when the science shows that saturated fat is actually beneficial, we continue to advise low fat diets.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

My Primal Blueprint Experiment - Week 2

Quick update today as I caught a cold and don't feel like writing too much. So I lost some weight. Weight is between 210.6 and 211.4. Body Fat between 24 and 24.7. I did stick to putting all of the food I ate into Daily Burn and while I did not go hungry at all, I'm sure I didn't eat as much this week as the week before. This is a psychological thing in that if I have to record it, I have that slightest bit of hesitation to eat anything. My average numbers for the week were:

Calories: 1885
Fat (g): 136.7 (65%)
Protein (g): 113.1 (24%)
Carbs (g): 37.07 (6%)

I'll keep track for another week and have more analysis then.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Micro Vs Macro

Last blog post of the day and I'm hoping to keep this one short...

So I've been reading some objections to Gary Taubes' books from someone calling herself CarbSane and at first I was curious, wondering if somewhere in what she was saying in between the ad hominem attacks. She spells his name Taube$ to try to highlight that he is saying what he is saying for the money because God forbid someone who puts in the amount of effort he has for the last decade or so should get some remuneration for the effort. Anyway, there's a lot of complicated bio-chemistry on her site that looks impressive and makes it seem like she knows what she is talking about, although I have no background in the material so I cannot judge.

Gary Taubes appeared on the Living La Vida Low Carb podcast yesterday and answered some of her criticisms and, while I won't go into what he said, after hearing CarbSane on the same podcast going off on a rant that was very hard to follow and seemed quite emotional at times, I tend to buy into what Taubes is saying. I think his great advantage in a debate (this one as well as the La, rry King show he was on years ago with Dr. Oz and Jillian Michaels) is that he seems to be very good and remaining unemotional and is very good at conveying his thoughts in an organized and clear manner. That doesn't make his arguments correct and CarbSane wrong, but it does make it very hard to judge the opposition if they can't make you understand what they are saying.

Anyway, that's not what this 'short' blog was supposed to be about. I wanted to talk about the fact that CarbSane's objections, while science based, seem to cover the micro aspects of things. Does this hormone or that enzyme control fat storage and release? While this is probably important in understanding the 'how' of the fact that low carb diets work, does it really matter? Study after study comparing weight loss approaches show the safety and efficacy of low carb dieting and even the effectiveness as compared to the more traditional approaches. The mechanism behind that, whether it is ASP or insulin that controls fat storage and to what degree is less important to someone who want to lose weight, lower blood pressure, blah blah blah. The 'how' the diet works may be interesting to give someone clues as to how to tweak things but with that clue, you would have to study the macro. In other words, if understanding the biochemical reactions clue you in that a tweak 'may' work to get better results, it has to be actually tested to make sure there isn't a compensating mechanism that would override the benefit of the tweak.

A good example of this is the low fat diet. It seemed to make sense that lowering fat intake would cause weight loss. Either from the logic that 'fat makes you fat' or that fat contains more calories so removing fat should lower calories more than lowering the other macronutrients. However, the conventional wisdom never really tested that theory and as a result, people at low fat cheeses in moderation, lots of whole grains, lots of 'low fat' products and did not see the results. What happened? Well, eating few calories can cause compensating mechanisms in the body to slow down metabolism to maintain body weight and keep the body at the same weight. So we blame the dieter for eating too much and the cycle continues.

Anyway, because the debate has been bugging me for a while I wanted to get that out. I could go on for longer but I think I'll stop here.

What is wrong with Low Carb diets?

So this has been in my head for a while and I thought I'd get it down. I hear the same objections over and over again to low carb and no matter how often you swat down the objections with facts and studies, the same things come up over and over again. So I thought I'd get a blog post out so maybe next time someone uses one of these, I can just point them in this direction. This post may get edited from time to time to add new information I glean during my readings and such:

1. Low carb diets, you only lose water weight - This objection has a basis in truth, you do lose water weight initially as your body depletes it's glycogen stores. However, who wants to be carrying around excess water weight? One of the things that is thought to cause high blood pressure is excess water in the system that puts pressure on blood vessels.

2. Low carb diets are bad for your kidneys - This comes from the idea that excess protein in a diet can put stress on kidneys causing damage. May be true but traditionally low carb diets are not high in protein but high in fat. Yes they may be slightly higher in protein than a low fat diet but the amount of protein in the diet is still in the safe range.

3. Low carbs are high in saturated fat and that'll increase your risk of heart disease - Well, in 2010 Ron Kraus released a meta-study of saturated fat and concluded there was no real evidence of the link of saturated fat to heart disease. In fact, saturated fat has been shown to, in the absence of excess carbohydrates, lower blood triglyceride levels, raise HDL (good cholesterol) and improve the LDL profile (large fluffy LDL increases, small dense decreases).

4. Low carb diets only work by restricting calories the same as other diets - Pretty much every study I've seen that honestly is testing a low carb calorie unrestricted diet against a low fat calorie restricted diet shows the low carb produces better results in terms of weight loss and blood lipid profile. Now it MAY be that the subjects on a low carb diet ate fewer calories than the low fat group but the important part of this is that the low carb group are told not to restrict calories whereas the low fat group are told to restrict calories. So that tells us that IF the low carb group is eating less calories, they are doing so voluntarily. IF the low carb group are eating as many or more calories than the low fat group, well that means there is a metabolic advantage to eating low carbohydrate, otherwise why would they lose more weight?

5. Atkins has been around since the 70's so if it worked, why do we have an obesity epidemic - I LOVE this one which I've read recently in a couple places. It makes no sense whatsoever. The prevailing wisdom has been to cut calories and fat from your diet since the 70's. The Atkins diet was derided as unsafe and ineffective by the media and medical community. This is probably the dumbest thing I've read to try to show that a low carb high fat calorie unrestricted diet doesn't work.

6. Low carb leads to Ketosis which is dangerous - This is easy. Ketosis is fine, Ketoacidosis isn't. I have read one study (don't have it at my finger tips) that showed low carb with Ketosis isn't as effective as a low carb diet without ketosis. I think there may be something there. However, I should also note that it is ketogenic diets that are being studied as a possible treatment for cancer and Alzheimer's disease and are currently being used to treat epilepsy. I don't know of low fat diets being looked at for any of these...

7. Low carb diets don't have enough fibre - Well, that's almost up to the person following the diet but in low carb we are encouraged to get our fibre from vegetable sources rather than grains and in the absense of sugar and grains in the diet, it is possible that the fibre needs aren't as great as they are when those things are in the diet.

8. Sure you lose weight on a low carb diet, but you gain it back afterwards - Really? If I lose weight on a low carb diet, after I go off the diet and return to 'normal' eating I will gain the weight back? Phew, thank god that's not the case with calorie counting and/or low fat diets. I mean we've had such great success with people counting calories, losing weight and NOT gaining back weight when they stop watching what they eat and go back to their old habits. This is another of the dumbest reasons for thinking low carb diets don't work.

That's it for now but I'm sure I'll think of something and add to this blog later or have a part 2.

My Primal Blueprint Experiment - Week 1

So week 1 of my primal experiment has gone by and the results are less than spectacular but not terribly unexpected.

First, what did I do differently this week. Well, I ate berries 3 or 4 times. With some home made whipped cream sweetened with a drop or two of Stevia. I'd argue that stevia could be considered primal because it is an extract of a natural plant that has been used for a long time in South America to sweeten things. I also tried to do primal workouts. I was more successful getting in the low intensity cardio and I did do one 'lift heavy things' workout that felt great but as the week progressed, I wasn't feeling so good. I had some headaches and my face felt very hot. Either I am getting a bit of the induction flu or am fighting a real one. Anyway as per the primal blueprint, I listened to my body and rested more than getting in the activity. Oh and one other thing, I made an effort to get more sunlight, although with the winter weather, it means my face is the only part of my body exposed, but at least it's something.

And the results? Well, according to the scale and body fat measures, not much changed. I weight in between 212.4 and 213.2 and my body fat was between 24.4 and 24.9%. So pretty much within the margin of error for the measuring equipment I have. with the small increase in weight and the small decrease in body fat, it may be that things have shifted a titch but who knows.

So this week I'm adding a small change. I am going to diligently enter my intake into (I use this instead of fit day because of the iPhone app that you can use as well as the website. I originally thought to try to eat the same as I have this week but I know myself and if I'm entering the food, my consumption will change. Anyway, I'm going to see what I eat in a normal week and see where the carbs and calories are, not to mention the protein. That may give me some clues as to why things are not moving. I'm also going to try and exercise as I intended to this week and see what happens.

Anyway, that's week 1. I have a couple other blog posts in my head and while I'm here at Starbucks with my coffee and laptop (shit, I'm now one of 'those' guys) I might as well get those down too...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The New Paradigm of Obesity

So I've been thinking about what Gary Taubes is saying about obesity and what it means. What I have come to is that there is an alternative paradigm to how we traditionally view obesity. The current paradigm is obesity is caused by eating too much and not exercising enough (calories in, calories out). Now I've beat the dead horse on that on a previous blog but I wanted to talk about what could be a new paradigm.

As Gary Taubes is trying to say, obesity isn't a disorder of energy imbalance, or eating too much and exercising too little. Obesity can be thought of (and at it's root is) a disorder of fat accumulation. The body accumulates more fat than it needs. Period. So the question is, why? Is it simply because we are lazy gluttons? Or is the mode of the body to shuffle more calories to fat storage than required a driver of eating more and moving less?

He uses the metaphor of a child growing. The calories taken in by the child are not the cause of the growth but are driven by the growth. Indeed, we can stunt a child's growth by starving them. Could we not think of calorie restriction (conscious calorie restriction) as 'stunting' the body's drive to gain weight? So that as soon as calories are added back into the diet, the body's drive to gain weight continues to add fat back on?

Now most people I know who have had success restricting carbohydrates (but not calories) report that they are not as hungry. They are eating enough to satisfy themselves. And yet they lose weight.  As well, the studies that have honestly tested Atkins show a couple things. People lose more weight either by voluntarily eating less calories (they are not told to restrict them but they do so naturally) or they lose more weight eating more calories than someone losing the same amount of weight on traditional calorie restricted diets. Could we not potentially explain this phenomenon that whatever (insulin and insulin resistance) is driving the body to grow and therefore driving the behavior of eating more and exercising less has been removed from the equation and therefore the body is able to get more energy from the food ingested and is able to make up the rest of the required energy from the body? I don't know of another explanation. I'd like to hear what other people say.

So a lot of the criticism I've read of Taubes' books has said, well it's just calories in calories out. Then they go on to quote studies that had people supposedly following a low carb diet but really aren't when you look at the tables outlining the macronutrients that they ate. But what about those studies that show people eating low carb voluntarily eat less. Is that not showing that the drive to eat more and more calories is not there in people eating low carb?

It seems reasonable at least to look at the evidence that is there that people eat less when they don't have significant carbohydrate in their diet. Instead, the mainstream says it's all eat less and exercise. They ignore that there may be a biological reason that people eat too much and don't want to move. Why must it be weakness of character? My personal experience is that of someone who, when he restricts carbohydrates, loses weight without hunger and, when he does not, he is only able to lose weight through shear will power, fighting hunger and the drive to eat, and usually giving into tempation very quickly.

In a future post I'll go through the objections to a low carb diet. The ones that just turn my stomach with their stupidity.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Primal Blueprint Experiment - Week 0

So I started reading the Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson.. So far, it is a very easy read and makes some logical arguments for eating and living the way that homo sapiens evolved to eat and live (at least as much as possible in the modern context). Now I do take issue with logical arguments being anything other than the start of a argument for how one should eat or live. The reason for this is is that just because it seems logical, those theories should be tested before we have any level of certainty that that logic holds up to reality. After all, when it seemed logical that 'fat makes you fat', the entire world went nuts for this and we ended up where we are, fatter than ever, unhealthier then ever and even more confused about what is the 'right' thing to do to get healthy.

Where I think the Paleo movement (which the Primal Blueprint seems to be a part of) has some merit is the fact that it agrees in large part with the low carb movement. The low carb movement has had years of experiementation that seems to back up it's philosophy of weight loss (especially for those obese and insulin-resistant people). Where Paleo and Low Carb seem not to agree is largely in the area of fruit. This is a bit of a questionmark for me as well. I don't know how much fruit one should eat while losing weight and I would assume that it would be dependent on how insulin resistant and carbohydrate sensitive one is.

They also emphasize trying to get the freshest, most naturally grown and harvested food available. So organic and local when possible. I haven't read any studies that say organic is significantly healthier than conventional food, but I don't believe it can be less healthy, right?

The thing I do like about the Paleo movement is it adds some lifestyle advice along with the dietary advice. Sleep and sunlight are discussed as being very important to health and from what I've read they have a strong point on this. Their ideas about exercise is very different from the 'exercise until you puke' mentality that seems to be out there right now. So far I've just read the summary of the advice but in general it is, exercise at a very low intensity frequently (walking, playing, etc), occasionally lift heavy weights (still have to read what occasionally means but I'm told it's at most 2 or 3 days a week), and once in a while sprint. When they say sprint it seems to be a very short all out sprint (5-10 seconds) rather than the HIIT sprints of up to a minute.

So here's my plan for my Primal Blueprint Experiment:
1. I plan to slowly introduce low carb high fibre fruits into my diet. Mostly berries. I'll still avoid the more sugary stuff, like bananas.

2. I plan on trying to get my food from organic sources where practical. It's inconvenient as the organic grocery store near my place doesn't sell meat and the one that does is a ways away but I'll try.

3. Once I've read the advice on exercise to see some specifics on the resistance training, I plan on doing that as well. Since it's so freaking cold here, I'll do the low intensity at the gym for now on the treadmill but once it's possible to walk outside, I'll go outside for a walk (my wife will enjoy that as I tend to beg off walking outside).  I'm hoping that since I'll be doing less intense exercise, it'll be easier to make it more consistent.

4. I'll try to get a bit more sunshine, when there is a sun out there. I don't know exactly how I'll do that. Possibly go for a walk around the block for a break at work when the sun is out. I'll see if there is another way to do that.

What do I hope to accomplish? Well, I'm hoping that a bit more weight will come off but that is secondary and I'm relatively happy where I'm at now. I'm also hoping my energy level will increase, my body composition will improve and that I will feel healthier. Not that I'm not feeling relatively healthy now but I'd like to have more energy.
It really isn't that much different from the lifestyle I'm currently leading except for the fruit and the consistent exercise. I started this morning by adding a small amount of blueberries (1/3 cup non-organic frozen ones heated in the microwave so not terribly paleo) to my almond flour/coconut milk pancake. It tasted good but I was surprised at how little sweetness there was in the berries. Probably because of them not being organic. It's about 2 hours afterwards and I do not have any cravings so that's a plus.

I weighed in at 212.2 and 25% BF. I'll weigh in again on Thursday and Friday next week and see what happens. I weigh in two days in a row each week because the daily fluctuations can change by a pound so I think doing it two days in a row gives a better picture of where I am.

I'll try to check in on my blog for a while, more for my own benefit but who knows someone might find it worth reading.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Is it all just Calories In Calories Out?

So I had a debate the other week with some friends about whether or not Calories In - Calories Out works to explain weight gain/loss. I, in general, agree with Gary Taubes in that saying that you eat more and excercise less when you gain weight is stating the obvious but also does not necessarily show a cause-effect relationship (ie. do you eat more and therefore gain weight or is your body in weight gain mode and therefore you are compelled to eat more?).

Lately we hear every day about the twinkie guy who lost weight on a diet of twinkies. Now, for now I will ignore the possibility that his diet was a moderate carb diet and just say, so what? This proves that one guy can lose weight at a calories intake of 1800 calories. It says nothing about an advantage to different macronutrients ratios, it says nothing other than that this one guy did something and got a result.

So anyway, I had the brilliant (?) idea this morning to tackle the calories in calories out debate in a blog this morning because I'm getting so tired of the sanctimonious slim people telling the fat people 'just eat less and exercise you stupid slothful glutton'. To me this is like someone born to a wealthy family telling a poor person to just make more money and spend less. As a much slimmer person who used to be a fat person (300 pounds down to 210 and planning on losing some more), let me tell you, if fat people could get slim and more importantly stay slim simply by concentrating only on eating less and exercising more, they would do it. The ridicule and scorn overweight people face on a daily basis can be intense. The source of that scorn and ridicule is both internal and external. Going into a clothing shop and having staff come up to you with the 'Can I help you' but the look in their face saying 'there's nothing that'll fit you here' is enough to make anyone want to eat less and exercise if that were all it took.

So here's what I'd like to do. I'd like to look at Calories In/Calories Out and show some of the complexity of the equation. To start, the idea of CICO comes from the first law of thermodynamics which states:

Energy in a system = Energy put into the system - Energy removed from the system.

Pretty basic. Energy cannot be destroyed.

How does this apply to a human body? Well it means:

Calories stored  = Calories Eaten - Calories Burned - Calories Excreted.

That last bit I added because frankly you can't tell me our waste products are devoid of energy. Otherwise, insects and bacteria that feed off of them would not be able to otherwise. We can debate about the effect of excretion but it should be included. I'd also like to expand the Calories Burned to make the equation:

Calories Stored (CS) = Calories Eaten (CE) - Calories Burned through Conscious Movement (CBCM)  - Calories Burned through normal base metabolic processes(CBMP) - Calories Excreted (CX)

I think this is a relatively complete formula.  It seems simple but when you look at it a little deeper you see how each component is not independent of the other, and how other external factors besides just weakness of character can play into things.

Psychology - Is it possible that people eat too much and exercise too little because they are lazy gluttons? Yes, I suppose it is. But what other psychological factors can contribute?
  • Depression can be a powerful motivator that paralyzes people. I can say from experience, when depressed, getting myself to exercise takes a herculean effort that is successful sometimes but unless the depression alleviates is difficult to maintain with a level of consistency.
  • Sugar (and probably refined carbohydrates, rice, potatos, etc.) affects the reward centers of the brain in a similar way as some recreational drugs. This can create a bona fide addiction. Given that CW tells us that these things are healthy because they are low fat, the addiction is reinforced by the message we receive from the mainstream.
  • Any emotion can be a trigger for people to eat. We eat because we are happy and celebrating, we eat because we are sad and commisserating, we eat because we are bored or stressed. I don't know for a fact but I suspect some but not all of this emotional eating may be precipitated from the addiction mechanism I mentioned above, and also by the blood sugar fluctuations resulting from a high carb diet.

Calories Stored - How can the calories stored affect the other components of the equation?
  • Well, we know that leptin is the hormone sent out by our fat stores to receptors in the brain to signal when to stop eating. So, that is one way in which the calories stored can affect the calories eaten.
  • Also, if leptin levels are chronically high as they are in obese people, these receptors can get resistant to the signal so the cutoff signal can get lost and an obese person can remain hungry long past when they have eaten enough.
  • Calories Stored (either as fat or muscle) also affect the calories burned through normal metabolic processes. The body has to burn more calories to maintain body mass. the difference between fat and muscle burning is small (five pounds of muscle burns 24 calories a day more than five pounds of fat) so it's not much of a difference in the form of mass. This is also important as we lose weight.
Quality of the calories eaten - While CW says a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, the effect of those calories on the body can be significantly different.
  • Protein when ingested is first used to rebuild cells, then it is converted to glucose and can be burned or stored as fat. This process of conversion takes calories making it inefficient.
  • Carbs (especially refined carbs and sugar) when ingested cause blood sugar to rise first. They are then burned first (before stored fat) and if the body cannot burn it off fast enough, it stores it as fat. More on this in the next section on insulin.
  • Fat, this is converted to fatty acids in the system and either burned if there isn't enough glucose in the system to supply the bodies needs, or stored, if there is enough insulin to store it all.
  • It is possible that the quality of what we eat affects the number of calories that are wasted through excretion. When fat is converted to glucose for the body to use, there is a by product created called ketones which can also be used for fuel. If there are more ketones in the system then are needed, these get excreted. It is also possible that increasing fibre intake may cause more calories to be wasted through excretion. I've seen some discussion about the idea that why a low carb diet works as well or better than a calorie restricted diet even when more calories are eaten is a result of a greater proportion of calories being excreted.
Insulin - Insulin affects a few parts of the equation.
  • Calories Stored - Insulin is the storage mechanism for blood sugar to fat (amongst other things). Chronically high insulin levels (caused by insulin resistance) can cause a disproportionate amount of calories to be stored as fat than normal leaving less calories available to burn. It also prevents the fatty acids from leaving the fat cells since higher insulin levels are a signal to the body that there is excess glucose in the system that must be burned first before fat.
  • Calories Eaten - Since high insulin levels cause a disproportionate number of calories to be stored and prevents the release of energy, it is possible that the body will feel a deficit in the number of calories available to burn and the number of calories needed by the body to support it's energy needs. As a result, the person will feel the discomfort of hunger driving them to eat more, even if they have enough fuel in their fat stores to service their needs.
  • Calories Burned through Conscious Movement - If the person does not eat more as a result of insulin preventing energy from being available to burn, the body may respond by feeling lethargic.
  • Calories Burned through Metabolic Processes - If the calories available to burn drops too low, the body can respond by slowing down it's metabolic processes. One study I read a review of (in Gary Taubes book) showed the body of obese rats pumped full of insulin shut down organs before giving up any significant amount of it's fat stores.
  • Calories Eaten - I am mentioning this again because there is another way insulin affects the calories eaten, and that is by suppressing leptin receptors. Chronically high insulin can make a body leptin resistant as well as insulin resistant. This means the receptors are unable to read the signal from the fat stores that enough calories have been stored and eating should stop.
Calories burned through conscious movement - The exercise we do can also affect other components of the equation:
  • Calories Stored - If the body is functioning well, exercise can cause pull fat out of storage to be used to burn in exercise. Of course if insulin levels or high, this release of fat stores is suppressed.
  • Calories Eaten - Exercise can also make us hungry, this increasing the drive to eat more.
  • Calories burned through normal metabolic process - Exercising (especially resistance training) causes muscles to break down and be rebuilt. This causes the background metabolism to increase the number of calories burnt to make these repairs.
  • Overtraining can also cause the body to shut down, cause a person to become depressed, and cause a person to want to give up and have a milk shake.
What am I missing here? Well I know there is probably alot. I didn't mention the media with it's re-inforcing of the low fat, calories in calories out, exercise until you drop mentality coupled with the constant displays of processed packaged convenience food and the myriad of real fad diets (lemon juice and cayenne detox, the grapefruit diet, etc). There are probably a billion metabolic processes that I missed as well.

All this to say, telling people to eat less and exercise and calling them lazy gluttons is doing us no good. While the first law of thermodynamics holds, it tells us nothing about the interplay of the different components of the real equation within the body. If all we had to do was eat less and exercise to lose weight, we probably wouldn't have an obesity epidemic. However if we realize what affects the behaviors of eating more or less, of having the energy to burn and wanting to burn it, of optimizing how we eat (not just how much) so the body is more predisposed to burning calories than storing them, we would be on a far more successful path on getting past the obesity epidemic.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Why am I blogging Pt 2

Why am I blogging? Well, if you noticed the rather sporadic nature of my blogging you'd wonder if I was at all. I've decided that my reasons for blogging are changing. Frankly, I'm giving up on politics for the most part. Regardless of whether or not you live in a 'democracy' or a dictatorship, it's all so damn corrupt and frustrating.

So what else? Well, lately I've had a number of discussions about my low carb approach to getting and remaining healthy. Believe me, I've tried many things. Counting calories, extreme exercise, veganism, low carb, low fat, etc. etc. And if I'm honest with you, the low carb thing has been the most successful in terms of adherence (as far as I'm concerned, the most important thing) and actual successful results. When I was close to 300 pounds and lost 90 of that, I did do low calorie. But I have to say, I was constantly fighting cravings. When I got close to my goal weight, I tried to continue fighting the cravings but eventual gained back some of the weight (about 30 pounds) and have been bouncing back and forth with that.

Anyway, what do I want to do here. Well, one is try to document the rest of my journey (wish I had started at the 300 pounds but that was in 2003 and I didn't really blog at all then). The second is try to organize my thoughts around the science of it all, and the politics of nutrition and dieting.

Politics I say? Yes. It's funny reading some of these blogs (like the review I posted last time) and reading the comments as well. People are so intrenched in their dogma that they often do the very things they accuse others of. Using logical statements like 'eat less and exercise has to be it' without being able to quote studies that prove that point, quoting parts of studies that prove their point but ignoring the parts of those same studies that counter their point (the atkinsexposed site is really bad for this), quoting opinion without foundation.

So, where does the science sit on what diet is the most effective? Well, I think there are some points of agreement for most if not all diets:

1. Sugar - bad. I can show some studies of this but everyone from Ornish to Atkins would agree on this one.
2. Refined carbohydrates - bad. Again not much controversy.
3. Non-Starchy Vegetables -good. Even the latest iteration of Atkins (I can't speak to the original) encourages 'foundation vegetables'
3. Exercise - good. This one is actually more controversial then one might think in terms of weight loss. I don't believe it is a huge contributing factor to weight loss itself. I do believe (although I'd have to research the science to be sure) that there are many other health benefits to reasonable amounts of exercise such as body composition, heart health, flexibility, strength etc. Oh and yeah, I said 'reasonable' now the definition of what's reasonable is also controversial...

So what is controversial?

1. Fruit. So this isn't that controversial. Even Atkins suggest introducing some low sugar fruits later on. I think the amounts and types of fruits one should consume depending on the situation is controversial. For myself, with about 20-25 pounds left to lose, fruits would probably slow down the fat loss, but I cannot prove that. I think the intake of these is probably best tailored to one's own situation and body. If they cause cravings and weight gain, back off. If not, they are probably at a minimum harmless or even helpful. Of course, that statement is not scientific and I'd have to see the science to be sure.
2. Potatos and Rice - This one is controversial. But I have yet to see where they have a benefit in the diet so what's the harm in avoiding them?
3. Whole Grains - I'd say the same thing about these. There's potential for harm. Insulin going up too much in those most insulin resistant. I've heard things about whole grains reducing the availability of nutrients in other foods.
4. Meat and Animal products - I think this one is controversial for a few reasons. One is ethics and environment but that has nothing to do with individual health. The second are the health concerns but whenever I see a study about these, the science is so bad as to not tell us anything. One study of a low carb approach using vegetarian sources and animal sources 'proved' that vegetable sources were better and animal sources helped cause cancer. However, if you looked at the numbers, both groups were consuming animal sources, just by different amounts and the 'animal group' had more smokers in it. Doesn't strike me as particularily controled or valid.