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.