Friday, December 9, 2011

There Are No Hacks

For a while now I've been searching for a hack that might help me lose weight faster. I've occasionally found something that seemed to speed it up slightly like the Leptin Reset but that tapered off. I should digress for a moment and point out that I realize the Leptin Reset is about more than just fast weight loss, it's about addressing a myriad of metabolic and hormonal issues that might impact someone in many ways one of which is weight gain. It's also about gaining Leptin Sensitivity which should help with longer term weight loss. Low carb/Primal didn't really speed things up substantially (although I do like it as a WOE and I think it's an easier diet in many ways due to increased satiety) neither did Intermittent Fasting or a Ketogenic diet although I think IF is a useful tool and is something I will consider using at the right time. Ketogenic diets don't seem to offer a metabolic advantage and beyond treating some symptoms of various diseases is probably not that relevant to me. So I'm struck by the sad realization that it's just a long slow haul and it really all comes down to will power. I knew this already, it's not like I thought we could throw the laws of thermodynamics out the window, but I did hope for an approach that would help with satiety and perhaps result in some greater utilization of fat stores. Hey, losing 100 lb is hard, was hoping for a little bit of help.

On the flip side is exercise where I also explored what are the best options to help me lose weight through exercise in the most efficient manner. It's not like I wasn't expecting to do plenty of hard work, I have no problem with working up a sweat, but surely there are some approaches that result in optimal body re-composition. I've looked at fasted HIIT but it seems like it's most effective for those with > 35% BF or < 15% BF, go figure. Of course, sprinting is a good choice, so is HIIT but doing it fasted doesn't seem to offer much benefit unless you're really fat or really thin. It IS good to lift weights, helps retain lean body mass (you can even build a little while in calorie deficit if you are really fat or a beginner - I might be past that stage now) and has lots of other great side-effects, sadly weight loss isn't one of them. It's good to do cardiovascular exercise as well, sprinting or HIIT as I mentioned but we're back to burn some calories, hit the gym, spent 45 minutes on the elliptical, go for a run, play some racquetball and so on. Not exactly exciting and motivational, I've been doing that shit my whole life.

I've been considering some less exotic options to help me progress such as a juice fast, trying IF again perhaps a couple of days a week or increase my calorie burn substantially to thousands of exercise calories a week, maybe all of the above. I like this post on breaking a plateau:

I've made the same observations that a big change is often needed to break a plateau. Whether this has a physiological affect or just a psychological one I have no idea. My point is, I'm willing to try just about anything to shift the weight and reach my goals. I recognize that it's very hard to keep up a sustained high level of will power and motivation especially in the face of very slow results. Using different approaches helps maintain that momentum at least for me. Many people, especially dieticians and doctors would hear that and say "you need to eat a balanced, sustainable diet that will work in the long run", I don't agree. The reality is, every health marker is generally improved by losing weight, in fact, I suspect you're be better of losing weight on the twinkie diet if it meant losing more weight than you would by following a standard "healthy" weight loss plan, provided of course you transition to a healthier long term diet. There of course is the critical point but in my case, I've experimented so much with my diet, I track everything I eat and do and so I could easily transition from a slightly more extreme diet to a "normal" diet. I'm not saying I'm starting a juice fast tomorrow but I do have a different perspective on how to lose the rest of this weight and that is, just lose it anyway I can, I can maintain the lower weight, it's getting there that's a bitch.

The exploration is not over it's not like science has uncovered all nutritional mysteries or that my interpretation couldn't be flawed just that what I've discovered so far is that when it comes to weight loss there is no free lunch. There are no hacks (well, no good ones) and it all comes down to how badly you want it. I don't regret what I've experimented with and learned thus far, it's helped me lose 55 lb and drop to 25% body fat, that's not a bad effort. It's just that now I am having to get my head around the fact that I'm faced with a long haul of dieting and exercise. As I said, I never expected it to be easy but I suppose I was hoping for at least a change of scenery.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm Bad, I'm Back

Okay, I've been bad, I did exactly what I said I wouldn't do and I stopped posting. I do have some pretty good excuses ranging from work exploding in several weeks of endless all-nighters, massive stress, to a nasty gastro virus that wiped me out for nearly a week. It's no excuse, but here I am. I didn't completely lose it from a nutritional standpoint but I wasn't exactly on track either and I stopped working out. Then came thanksgiving so I decided to just reset and start again this week. The good news is I didn't really gain weight, I managed to keep things mostly under control but I don't want to stagnate I want to make more progress. So this week I'm back on the wagon. I'm following Leptin Reset, I've been hitting the gym and following a new routine and also walking daily. Tomorrow I have a HIIT workout planned. Hopefully I can kick start some more weight loss and body fat reduction, it's time to lose the next 30 lb or so.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Holy Primal

I was watching one of the videos from the Ancestral Health Symposium a while ago, in fact, it was a video of Robb Wolf's presentation and he said something that really resonated with me. He said (to paraphrase) how we must work to avoid the Ancestral Health Movement becoming a religion because once it does we will lose much of the audience we are trying to reach. It becomes self-serving, dogmatic and essentially the same as so many other approaches to diet and lifestyle that ignore reality and cherry pick studies or conventional wisdom to support their belief system. Brilliant. It's so true and it's what drew me to Primal in the first place. I noted how what is allowed and not allowed has been changed over the years based on research and experience. In Primal, everything is viewed through the lens of evolution but that doesn't mean it's a form of tunnel vision because that evolutionary lens is just one way of filtering information or framing approaches to nutrition and lifestyle. Although dairy is clearly not a "Primal food" it's fine if you tolerate it well. It also encourages an n=1 perspective meaning it's about finding out what is right for you so it becomes more of a framework to help you discover what is your optimum milieu rather than a rigid set of rules based on a narrow view of the universe. In my opinion this is what a nutritional framework should look like.

So I become concerned when I see people say "that's not primal", or "we couldn't have eaten that prior to agriculture so I'm not going to". In my mind, that's not the point. There is nothing to say that us big-brained homo sapiens couldn't divine the perfect synthetic food although it's seems like we haven't as yet. The point is that we can use evolutionary theory, paleontology, anthropology among other disciplines to help filter and sort the massive amounts of information regarding nutrition and health. It's a tool, the primary tool it just so happens for those following a Primal lifestyle, but it's still just a tool. It's not dogma to be followed and applied at all costs. In my opinion, Primal should be about what the science tells me is optimal for me in my specific circumstance informed by and shaped by how it fits into the evolutionary history of our species. It should be based on deep science and always be open to change. That is what will really set it apart from the myriad of other diets out there.

We should also consider that the "lens" of evolution is a dirty, smudgy one, we'll never know with absolute certainty what our Paleolithic ancestors consumed (unless some older, advanced alien race built a time machine at least a few thousand hundred years ago but no more than 1-2 million years ago - but I'm being really geeky right now). Beyond that it's likely that there wasn't a single world wide Paleo diet it would have varied based on the local flora and fauna. However, we do know some things for sure, we could not have eaten twinkies and loaves of white bread every day there simply wasn't the technology necessary to create these foods. I do find it odd how many people scoff at the idea of the ancestral diet, calling it the "caveman diet" when if they were informed they would know that much of science is viewed through the lens of evolution. It's a seminal theory that has a myriad of applications and applying it to nutrition science is brilliant and long overdue. Another interesting factoid is that Cordain's work determining the hunter gather diet was used to support the lipid hypothesis back in the 70s because his original conclusion was that we ate a relatively low saturated fat diet (think he was trying to appeal to the status quo?). He later reversed that finding when they recalculated the nutritional profile based on eating the entire animal. I find it interesting that an approach to nutritional science used to justify the lipid hypothesis accepted by so many is then rejected by the same people when used to justify a Paleo diet. Taubes discusses this briefly in Why We Get Fat. Never the less, it's not easy to determine what we ate all those millenia ago, although we have some sophisticated tools at our disposal such as stable isotope studies, it's still a stab in the dark. So we always need to think critically, ask ourselves could this all be wrong and be willing to accept change.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm not perfect and I like it that way

I have been thinking a lot recently about the pros and cons of following a strict diet and optimizing myself to the nth degree. Optimization involves experimentation to determine the optimal diet, testing to confirm the diet is having the right impact and then having a positive mental attitude. As a regular poster on MDA often says, to paraphrase, "Our thoughts change our DNA". By optimizing we can expect to reap a plethora or benefits including weight loss, looking good naked, more energy, better longevity. Sounds great, but despite that long list of benefits something is missing. The way I see it, life is messy and in many ways it's more fun that way.

Recently I completed 6 weeks following a strict Primal diet with specific meal timings as part of the Leptin Reset prescription as laid out by Dr Kruse. I'm glad I did it, I felt a great sense of accomplishment, I set out to follow it strictly for 6 weeks and I did, kudos to me. I lost 11 lb in that time, not bad, that's more consistent than my normal weight loss efforts and I noticed a whole host of changes as predicted by the good doctor. However, I found myself wondering at times whether I could eat that way forever and the answer I always arrived at was a big fat NO. I also felt this kind of fatigue, a deep-seated, mind-numbing, subtle fatigue that gnawed away at me. I didn't realize it at first, especially when I was losing 3 lb a week but over time I gradually felt just tired. Not physically tired but mentally fatigued. Then my wife mentioned that I had seemed unhappy for some time in fact, she said it to me multiple times. At that point I had to ask myself, why am I feeling this way, I'm normally a level headed, overwhelmingly positive dude so why had that changed? It could be the diet but then the food I was ingesting for the most part was the same as before just different timings. It could also be the lack of sleep due to our beautiful baby girl doing decidedly ugly things at 3am or maybe it was the cold turkey from diet soda. It then dawned on me that perhaps it was everything, a combination of numerous factors that conspired to remove much of my mental support structure.

I have heard of the concept of "tent poles" used in terms of important events that are part of a relationship that add strength to that relationship. The shared experiences that can support a relationship for the long haul. Another commonly referred to mental support is that of a "crutch", a habit (often a bad one) that provides a buffer or strength when dealing with adversity. My minor (okay, very minor) epiphany was that many of my psychological crutches had evaporated either because I removed them or because life and circumstances had a meeting and decided they would remove them too. Some examples of that support structure are small things like reaching into the fridge for that can of ice-cold diet soda that says "you can drink me and enjoy me guilt free" or dinner on a Saturday night with my wife in a warm coal fired pizza place, the bub sound asleep and some delicious food on order. So without those support structures I found myself with no mental breaks, no refuge and that was taking it's toll.

I should take a moment and clarify that we're not talking about a mental break down here. People deal with far worse on a regular basis, I'm fortunate to live a pretty good life, but nonetheless I obviously wasn't happy at a time when I had many reasons to be be happy.

After my minor epiphany and my wife pointed out that I seemed unhappy I decided it was time to step back a little. The reality was that the diet I was eating was probably more optimal, not having cheat days meant more consistent weight loss (probably) and skipping diet soda was definitely a good thing. So what could I change? How could I put back some of those mental crutches I removed? I decided to bring back lunch and cheat meals and to adjust my attitude slightly. Skipping lunch was just my attempt to do the best job of the diet possible but what I lost was a welcome respite during the day which often would include an enjoyable meal and maybe reading a few blogs or watching part of a DVD or even just sitting outside cooking something on the BBQ. Next up was cheat meals which I have had regularly for the last 6 months or so every Saturday night. That meal is often so much more than just some extra calories and shock horror, some grain, it's a couple of hours of turning off the nutrition-Nazi and just reveling in good company and good food. The meal is also a time to reconnect with my wife because there is just something different about hedonism shared. That doesn't mean every Saturday night should be an exercise in gastronomic debauchery, the meal can be a slight cheat or sometimes a pretty big one, the point is, the choices are wide open.

The attitude change involved just thinking a little differently in reconnecting with something I've always believed. You see, I believe life is meant to be a little messy, sometimes we should just enjoy the ride and if that means I'm not 100% optimal all the time then so be it.

Once I arrived at this conclusion is was like a great weight was lifted from shoulders. I'm still just as devoted to my health and fitness goals but there is little point in pursuing them if the process results in a degradation in mental health. I will reach those goals eventually and at some point I may not need some of those crutches but I will choose to walk without them when the time is right. I have noticed that I'm developing new ones like spending a few minutes with my daughter at times throughout the day. I suppose we adapt and find new survival strategies, but it's probably better done gradually than all at once.

Sorry Dr K and everyone on the MDA Leptin Reset thread, I'm not optimal, I'm not perfect, but I like myself better that way (and so does my wife).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Reconnecting with Sprinting

I've never liked running. Of any kind, period. For starters, when you're not buff stuff jiggles a bit, not an enjoyable experience, especially when you're the sex that's not meant to have jiggly bits. Secondly it's boring as hell. I also admit to some negative associations because for many years I was dragged out of bed at 6am by my parents or my sister to sleepily dress and put shoes on followed by stretching, usually in silence. That sort of silence that indicates everyone would rather still be asleep and in a way still are. We'd then make our way out through this big opaque yellow glass door that was a quasi-secret entrance on the side of our house and proceed to jog in various places around the neighborhood. Sometimes it was the playing field other times it was just the local streets. My favorite was a nature reserve along the water although you had to jog a little way before you found it, so it had it's pros and cons to my childish mind. The overgrown paths and the view of the water let my imagination wander and the foliage offered some quiet, cool relief from the early morning sun. My family of course was trying to help me and themselves as well and I honestly believe it did. To this day I have a much higher level of cardiovascular fitness than many of my friends including those much thinner and I attribute that to those years of jogging and exercise even if I wasn't very keen at the time. I distinctly remember my sister practically dragging me out of bed and as I slogged around the streets I would feel quite sorry for myself. She would call to me to hurry up as I jogged up a hill and I would yell back "I'm coming!" in an exasperated tone. Once I grew a little older the jogging stopped, sometimes replaced by fast walks along the coast but I never returned to running, the closest I would get was the treadmill and even that was a fast walk, never a run. In my mind I wasn't really designed for running, more of a shuffle or a fast walk, others, those lean people with seemingly endless energy are the ones designed to run and as far as I was concerned they could keep it.

In my recent efforts to obtain better health I came to the conclusion that dragging my flailing limbs through hours of cardiovascular exercise wasn't the best way to lose weight either. My main concern has been retaining muscle mass while losing body fat so I focused on weight training. I tried the occasional jog and I used a jump rope but I hated it and in then end dropped them from my regular routine. Recently I started thinking it was time to shake up my exercise routine and I took another look at Primal Blueprint Fitness (PBF). I had skimmed it previously and it was interesting but sprinting? Yeah, blah blah, ATP, short and long muscle fibers, whatever. No thanks. More recently, my experiences with the Leptin Reset including many discussions with others on MDA, has opened my mind to many alternatives and it's expanded my universe in some unexpected ways. So last week I decided I would finally try sprinting as per PBF.

So on a Thursday afternoon, after quick final review of the beginner sprint instructions I strapped on the heart rate monitor, loaded the puppy (a 65 lb Golden Retriever) into the car and headed to the local park. As I walked onto the grass, the mutt sniffing the ground excitedly (ooh, squirrel poo), I wondered what the hell I was doing. Suddenly I felt way too big to even think about running and what if hurt my knee or worse? I could just see it, "Local man found dead in park, one hand clutching knee the other one his chest.". Skinny people sprint, fat people waddle and then eat a hot dog. Still, I was here and the puppy would not be happy if I dragged her back to the car so soon. The instructions were to start with 6x50m sprints at just a moderate pace as a warm up, focusing on your stride, getting comfortable etc. Then 6x50m sprints at 75% maximum. You do that for a few weeks before going all out. Sounded easy enough. I picked a spot where two benches were separated by a wide expanse of nice soft-looking grass estimating it to be about the length of an Olympic swimming pool. Before starting I sat for a moment on the bench to take in my surroundings. I could smell the grass and hear lawn mowers in the distance. The only other sounds were the rhythmic thumping of joggers as they sauntered past. By this time the puppy had found a home in the shade under the bench and was busily licking my ankle, salty I suppose. I decided I had to start eventually so I encouraged her out from under the bench and we started into a tentative jog that gradually increased in speed. I tried to focus on my stride although I belatedly realized I didn't really know what the proper stride looks like so I just took my best guess. This isn't so bad I thought and the mutt looked exceptionally pleased although she kept looking back at me as if to say "is that it?". I reached the other bench and sat down with no small amount of relief. Well, eleven more to go I thought and I don't feel so bad. The instructions were to rest one minute between each sprint so I timed myself as I sat there before standing up again ready for another run. I completed the warm up runs and at this point sweat was pouring off me and the puppy was looking at me like I'd just completely betrayed her. She is used to air conditioning and a bowl of cool water always on hand I suppose. I took a break for a few moments and suddenly it dawned on me, this is not so bad. In fact, this is kind of fun.

Courtesy of tangywolf's (Flickr)
I stepped up to the grass again taking a deep breath enhaling the scent of the recently cut grass and feeling the warm sun streaming down on my face and neck. I could feel the expansion and contraction of the Golden's panting as she sat, poised ready to run. I launched into a near full sprint, probably a slow waddle compared to someone actually good at it, but felt pretty fast to me. The wind was rushing past my face, the puppy was pushing ahead, the faster I ran the larger the gap widened, she was having a blast, you could tell she was in her element, her stride lengthed and I knew I had no hope but I kept up the pace and then suddenly almost before it began I was at the other bench taking big lung-fulls of air and wondering why the hell I didn't think to bring a bottle of water. I felt exhilarated, endorphins were obviously kicking in and it dawned on me why runners like doing this stuff so much (still think they are mostly nuts). As I completed the rest of the sprints it occurred to me that I had been a little to harsh, sprinting is not that bad, it's better than bad, it's actually good and better yet, it took me about 15 minutes and my calorie burn was off the chart and my heart rate stayed elevated for a long time afterwards. Way better than slogging away on a treadmill for an hour.

I've been back to the park two more times since and I actually look forward to it. Really. No kidding, I really do. I swear. So mum and dad, sis, big opaque yellow glass door, I've been too hard on running, it's just taken a couple of decades to come to appreciate it.

Mark's argument against chronic cardio:

Tabata sprints (I'm working up to these):

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Progress Slowed is Still Progress

As I mentioned in my Leptin - A Hack that Finally Works post, I was losing 3 lb a week for a while when doing the Leptin Reset Protocol. I had dreams of this continuing for months and me reaching my goals although I knew that was unlikely. Well, the weight loss for the last couple of weeks has slowed to 1.4 lb a week, which is honestly not too bad. It's still more consistent than what I experienced prior  to the LR and is a reasonable rate to lose weight. I do noticed other changes like clothes continuing to fit differently and better muscle tone. These are harder to measure directly but are detectable nonetheless. I have eliminated weekly cheat meals for a month now and diet soda completely for three weeks which means I'm also artificial sweetener free. I'm considering looking for another hack that may give me a temporary speed increase, every extra pound is a step closer to the goal and it's a morale booster to see the scale shift a little more every now and then. So here are some options I'm considering:
  1. Eliminate Dairy - I actually don't eat that much dairy at the moment, don't drink any milk, but I do eat a fair amount of cheese and a little cream so I could fairly easily cut it out and see if I see an improvement.
  2. Eliminate Nightshades - I'm not sure if these can have a direct impact on weight loss but many doing the LR removed them from their diet and Dr K recommends avoiding nightshades.
  3. Try to eat dinner earlier and go to bed earlier. This is a big part of fixing a damaged hormone regulatory system as proposed by Dr K. It's a struggle though since my wife and I have a 2 month old baby so sleep is sometimes elusive.
  4. Increase intake of omega 3s. This is a big part of the Primal diet and something I try to follow by it's tough at time. A major contributor to this effort is to eat more grass fed beef which we've been trying to do. Also, I need to improve my supplementation.
  5. Increase vegetable consumption further. My carb intake is possibly a little low although I have no solid reason to think eating more will improve weight loss it's something I can experiment with.
  6. Continue with the weekly sprinting and weight lifting but walk more. I'm not doing enough moderate exercise because all that walking just takes up time. Nonetheless I think I need to look at ways to squeeze it in. A daily morning walk with the dog is probably a good idea and if I work on number 3 a little bit I'll get enough sleep to pull it off.

Honestly, I can definitely work on 4 and 5 without too many issue, number 3 is almost impossible and 1 and 2 and quite probable. So I think I'm going to stop eating cheese starting tomorrow and when we hit the supermarket I'm going to pick up a bunch of vegetables but I'll skip any nightshades which will help address 2 and 5. Number 6 is something I'm going to work on too, it's tough to fit everything in with a demanding job but I think it's worth it plus I've been feeling guilty that the mutt is not getting sufficient exercise.

I'm not confident any of these changes will improve the speed at which I'm losing weight, my body just seems to find homeostasis yet again, but hey, maybe a few of these changes will result in a bit extra lost for a few weeks, totally worth it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rice for GERD?

My wife and I were faced with a bit of dilemma tonight regarding our 7 week old baby. She's been spitting up after feeding although it varies in severity but enough to concern us. My wife visited to the doctor today who suggested instead of giving her Zantac to try mixing a little infant rice mixture into the bottle of breast milk. This apparently can help her keep the milk down and reduce the symptoms of GERD. On one hand I liked the sound of this and was glad the doctor was avoiding just pumping her with medications but I also worried about feeding her young, still developing body with rice. My wife also wanted to research it a little so we avoided giving her any just yet and have both been reading about the implications of feeding an infant solid food like rice. It turns out there are some studies which indicate an increased risk of type 1 DM when babies are feed rice or cereal. The interesting point that came from one of the studies (the second one) is that there seems to be window (between 3 - 7 months of age) when the risk is lower of rice or cereal causing the development of type 1 DM. That seems amazingly odd, there is a window of a few months, miss it and you have a significantly higher risk of developing type 1 DM. However, a couple of other points fell out of this:

1) In the first study the babies all had at least one parent with type 1 DM and were identified as carrying a gene that predisposes someone to type 1 DM. The second study showed an increased risk regardless of the genetic predisposition but it was highest if the infant first has the food at > 7 months and carries the gene.

2) If the babies were fed breast feeding while given the rice or cereal their risk was reduced. I'm not sure if their total risk was reduced or just reduced compared to the other babies in the studies, meaning they still had an increased risk.

My wife and I decided we would hold off for the moment. The bubs symptoms do seem to be improving on their own so we're going to monitor her for the time being.

Regardless these studies made me wonder why are we trying to hard to feed rice and cereal to babies. Shouldn't the fact that feeding them those foodstuffs results in an increased risk of type 1 DM especially given that there is this small window when the risk is lowest suggest that maybe they shouldn't be eating them at all? Especially since the second study showed an increased risk even if the baby wasn't predisposed, at least that was my interpretation.

I grabbed these links from Kellymom, great site btw.

Norris JM, Barriga K, Klingensmith G, Hoffman M, Eisenbarth GS, Erlich HA, Rewers M. Timing of initial cereal exposure in infancy and risk of islet autoimmunity. JAMA. 2003 Oct 1; 290(13): 1713-20.

Ziegler AG, Schmid S, Huber D, Hummel M, Bonifacio E. Early infant feeding and risk of developing type 1 diabetes-associated autoantibodies. JAMA. 2003 Oct 1; 290(13): 1721-8.

Interpretation of the studies:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Primal Soda Replacement

In continuing my quest to rid myself of a nasty diet soda habit I experimented with creating another drink this time from soda water and green tea. The results were excellent, it's really refreshing, satisfies that need for something fizzy and also provides some health benefits (the Green Tea) and something sweet. Pretty simple really:

- Brew some green tea and stir in your required amount of Stevia
- Pour over a large cup of ice until the glass is about 3/4 full
- Add part of a can of La Croix Lime (or another other flavor your like) sparkling water

Don't add too much of the La Croix as it will overpower the delicate green tea flavor. Stir and enjoy.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Primal Thai Iced Tea - Alpha Release

I'm searching for some interesting options to replace my diet soda habit (Pepsi Max how I love thee) and one that occurred to me was Thai Iced Tea. I love that stuff, the familiar light tea taste mixed with intense sweetness combined with creamy coconut milk or cream all poured over a big cup of ice to make it really refreshing. Of course, I always felt guilty having one in the past all that sugar plus the saturated fat in the coconut or cream. I'm not worried about the saturated fat anymore but how can I make the rest of it more Primal and also compatible with Leptin Reset Protocol (LRP - sounds all technical and official)?

Dr K talks about Green Tea all the time and says he drinks it by the gallon and I keep hearing everywhere about the wonders of Green Tea. Here is a relatively recent meta-analysis of 18 studies, 5 of which were on green tea the rest on black tea. It did find a correlation between a reduction in Heart Disease and green tea consumption even at 1 cup per day. As always we must be careful to draw any conclusions from these results as the researchers point out more studies are needed as we don't know what other factors may have altered the results. Green tea drinkers might be more likely to eat vegetables for example or walk barefoot, who knows? What we want to see is a description and proof of the mechanism that results in the health improvement. Despite all that, we don't seem to see negative results from green tea consumption and there are a large number of studies (just search Google scholar) around the beneficial impact of green tea and there are some suggested mechanisms. Perhaps someone who knows more about biochemistry can explain some of the potential mechanisms but the evidence is enough for me to drink it and feel pretty good about it although I'm not expecting it to fix all my problems and walk the dog at the same time.

Green Tea also appeals to me because it has some caffeine but lots of other health benefits but doesn't come with artificial sweeteners. So Green Tea will be the base, next up is the sweetener, artificial sweeteners are out, again the health trend at the moment seems to be Stevia which is an all natural product. My wife and I were at Whole Foods last night and as I stood in the Stevia section I realized I had no clue which was the best option I just knew to avoid Truvia since it has some additives. I ended up picking up Stevia in the Raw for no other reason than it was on sale and seemed to be pretty, well, raw. Since then I've realized I probably should have picked up a liquid Stevia, but you live and learn. Last but not least we need our creamy blob of fat to tie it all together. In this attempt I tried some heavy whipping cream because I had some open but next time I will try coconut milk.

The end result? Pretty damn good. I could drink this stuff, plus I can drink it guilt free. Saying that, I don't think I'd drink a lot of it, maybe once a day or every other day. I'm going to experiment with another concoction made on La Croix water and green tea for my more regular drink.

Here's the recipe:

  • Mug of green tea, freshly brewed
  • Big cup of ice
  • 3 packets of Stevia in the Raw (or whatever Stevia variation you like)
  • Quarter of a cup of heavy whipping cream
Stir the Stevia into the still hot tea until it dissolves then pour it over the ice. Gently pour the cream over the top sit back and enjoy.

Stay tuned for the next revision where I'll try coconut milk instead and perhaps a different brand of green tea.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why did I get fat so young?

For a long time I've been curious about why I have always seemed to struggle with weight. My mother swears she fed me just like her other kids and that many of my friends ate more than me and a worse diet than me (worse meaning more sweets, cakes etc.). It shaped my whole childhood and much of my adulthood so as I've been on this journey over the last 8 months it's become increasingly important for me to understand why I struggled the way I did and still do.

There are a couple of theories I've bumped into the latest of which was actually elucidated by Dr Kruse, of Leptin Reset fame when I posted the question on his blog and again on the Leptin Reset thread on Mark's Daily Apple (MDA). I don't have any papers to refer to for this first hypothesis but you can find a long list of cites on Dr K's blog entry at the bottom. The second one can be found in many mainstream publications like WebMD and I have included some links to the abstracts of some studies (Google Scholar is my friend).
  1. Our epigenetic switches are set by the initial burst of Leptin provided by our mother via Colostrum. So when a baby is formula fed this initial set point may not be optimal. Here is a quote from Dr K's blog regarding that point (

    "Leptin is made from our fat cells but we are not born with leptin from our own fat. We initially get leptin from our mother’s colostrum from breast feeding. This initial bolus of leptin then immediately goes to our hypothalamus to “set” the leptin receptors and our epigenetic switches, neurologic wiring controlling appetite and feeding, neurotransmitters and peptides that all control energy balance. I view this like placing a USB drive into your new laptop with a new driver in it to tell the computer how to use the new hardware you want install"

    Here is a response to a comment from Dr Kruse on his blog (

    "@Claudia you are correct. If the child is not breast fed and does not get leptin then the foods fed to the child will determine how their switches are set for the first six years of their existence. This has huge implications because the child’s gut also is playing a role here. It’s gut micro biome is determined by how it enters the world. We are designed to enter the world via the vagina. That passage gives us the inoculum of bacteria to start the gut micro biome and microfilms off to a good start. If the child comes via a c section the gut will be compromised. The child’s food furthernwill determine what kind of biome develops. If that includes infant formula loaded with HFCs and soy and gluten……well your life is not off to a good start. I think for women who realize these issues are big they can plan with ahead with stored human colostrum and post natal probiotics and a diet that emulates mothers milk which is very high in MCT and LCT fats and protein. Women who are leptin resistant or have IR (pcos) will be the moms most at risk for these issues and the risks are larger if them pregnant mom wasmlarge for gestational age and worse if grand mom had gestational diabetes. These all are bad epigenetic signs that foretell how the fetus will part ion it’s calories as it ages"
  2. Removal of Tonsils results in higher obesity rates - This one has been studied at least in an observational study looking for correlations and they indeed found them. In fact, children who had their tonsils removed seem to show a fairly significantly increased chance of become obese. I'm not a fan of this kind of study or I should say I am not a fan of drawing any conclusions from this study. That would be skipping a few steps of the scientific method, however, it does give us an interesting place to look. The last couple of links reference the papers themselves, the full text is behind a pay wall, but you can read the abstract.

    As I said, these studies prove nothing, they show a correlation but the researchers couldn't possibly eliminate all the confounding variables so take them with a grain of salt.

    I have found a few ideas to explain this phenomenon although I don't seem to be able to find the links right now. I don't find any of them very satisfactory, but the first one does have some appeal:

    a) Hyperactivity

    When the tonsils are enlarged a child will suffer from a form of sleep apnea resulting in fatigue which leads to hyperactivity. Apparently fatigue and hyperactivity are commonly linked in children and this is not controversial, seems odd, but okay. With the removal of the tonsils and the improvement in sleep the child becomes less hyperactive which results in less fidgeting which leads to less energy expenditure meaning the same calorie intake will cause weight gain.

    This make some sense. Dr Lustig (of You Tube Sugar fame) talks about how in his practice when he sees a fidgeting child he knows they are not at a high risk of obesity.

    There are also various studies linking the removal of Tonsils to an improvement in ADHD in children.

    b) Mothers are Stupid

    After removal of the tonsils the mother over feeds the child resulting in obesity. Give me a break. Seriously. This is just idiotic. Mothers, driven by maternal instincts will deliberately cause their child to become obese by overfeeding them over a long period of time because they went into hospital for a short, very minor operation. Really? Who spouts this garbage? This smacks of the typical "everyone else is stupid" theory that are pushed by second-rate doctors and researchers. It's more like these mothers with their sharpened maternal instincts will do the opposite, they will worry about the food they are feeding their child not wanting them to experience the lifetime of pain that is associated with being overweight. I get mad every time I see something like this.
Honestly, I'm not saying I believe this is 100% the answer, but it's very interesting nonetheless and gratifying to see some potential pieces of the puzzle falling into place.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Leptin - Finally, a Hack that Seems to Work!

I've been at this a while. Okay, not as long as some people but I put a good 6 months in Paleo last year although I wasn't terribly serious but this year I've been at it for 8 months or so and I've been pretty damn serious. Yet my average weight loss is fairy unimpressive. Each of my experiments with different approaches to dieting has been about finding what works for me and also, ideally a hack that speeds things up a bit. I'll settle for just an extra few pounds every now and then. I'm not talking shop vac in the rectum on full power fat extraction, but just an occasional blip to provide a little extra kick of motivation. Is that too much to ask? Well up until recently I would have said, "yep, sorry dude, you've been a fat bastard for decades so don't expect it to change overnight". About six weeks ago after deciding that leangains style IF wasn't working for me I discovered Leptin and Dr Kruse's (Dr K) blog (see my regular reading widget).

When I first started looking I decided that I was already eating Primal which is what Dr K recommends so following his additional recommendations wouldn't be a big deal. For the first few weeks it was difficult because my daughter was born and honestly a somewhat stale, still cold from the fridge turkey sub is like crack after being up all night. So lectins and antinutrients be damned I'm downing that bread-narcotic and triglycerides and denser LDL particles can just go on forming that day. Then 3.5 weeks ago I started to get serious about it. Wow, it's an interesting experience. Since starting on it I'm losing an average of 3 lb a week. I NEVER. EVER. lose that fast. I've only got three weeks of proof so far, but hey, I'll take it, 9 lb in three weeks, sign me up! Will it continue this week? I hope so, but even if it doesn't, I'm still 9 lb closer to my goal.

So how does it work?

1. Eat a BIG breakfast within 30 minutes of waking. You can bend the 30 minute rule, but the BAB (Big Arse Breakfast) is required.
2. Breakfast should consist of 50-75g of protein and very little carbs. Don’t worry about fat and calories.
3. Do not snack, ever.
4. Leave at least 5 hours between meals
5. Eat lunch if you feel hungry, also make it low carb.
6. Keep carbs below roughly 50g per day
7. Eat a normal dinner, keep carbs low of course, to stay under 50g a day
8. Over time, try to phase out lunch and eat two meals a day. Eat more protein in the morning if you find yourself getting hungry before dinner.
9. Don’t worry about exercise initially

The goal is to do this for six weeks. I'm not counting the first 5 because I had a cheat meal every weekend. I started the six week clock last week so I'm 1.5 weeks into the 6 week reset.

The premise of this approach is that it resets your Leptin Sensitivity. Leptin is the master control hormone, the more body fat you have the higher your Leptin levels. Leptin is supposed to suppress appetite but when the levels are chronically elevated (yes, that would be me) we become Leptin Resistant. This effectively means the communication between the trillion cells in the body and the brain is no longer functioning appropriately. This has a whole heap of biochemical implications one of which is appetite control but others are insulin related and fat storage related. So it’s a vicious cycle the more fat you have the higher Leptin levels the more fat you will accumulate and store. This approach to eating helps reestablish Leptin Sensitivity, it can take a little while to settle in and 6 weeks are not always enough to achieve the reset but it’s a start.

From what I can gather, the big protein breakfast is really meant to help control cravings and suppress appetite. It does both for me. I can go all day without even thinking about food now. In the interest of full disclosure I do find I am eating less calories. Is the weight loss a result of the increase in Leptin Sensitivity or the reduction in calories. Not sure, although I'm not eating that much less than I did before. I am also not snacking at all. I have noticed other changes that Dr K refers to such as sweating more and increased libido.

So is a Leptin Reset the answer for me? So far it's working well, if I improve Leptin sensitivity it should help me continue to lose weight and keep it off.

Unhealthy Obession?

A discussion with my wife tonight reminded me of something I posted a few months ago after my sister visited and mentioned that she was worried about my obsession with weight loss. I appreciate both my wife and my sister's concern and I understand where they are coming from, however, I think differently on that topic...

Obsession. I want to break it down in this post and try to analyze my obsession and try to figure out if it's healthy and necessary or a sure path to the looney bin.

Whenever I write the word I hear it in my head as a sort of obsessssssion... in a sort of exotic, almost secretive tone, I picture a dark background with a woman looking provocative and an expensive looking bottle with clean lines. Something dredged up from my subconscious no doubt, guess the marketing worked. So perfume aside, am I obsessed? Maybe. Probably. I like it though, it keeps me focused. Maybe I should just let go. People are telling me this all the time these days, the people in the primal forum (over at Mark's Daily Apple) have all said it, don't track, don't obsess, just "live". It sounds so grand, I think, YEAH! I want to live! I want to go running through the park and do sprints on the beach regularly. I want to practice my grok squat and obtain the flexibility to sit in the position out bodies are naturally suited to. I want to eat amazingly healthy food and revel in the amazing health benefits and the abundant energy that results. I just want to do it ALL NOW!!! If only I was 170 lb or so, then yeah, forget tracking I'd just focus on eating healthy things and be done with it. Oh, to not be obsessed. To not google the nutritional content of the menu of the restaurant my wife and I are going to for dinner and pick out my meal before I've even left to drive there. Oh the luxurious freedom! To not take my measurements regularly. I mean seriously, I really don't want to own a body fat tester and a myo-tape, a heart rate monitor, those ketostix ketone testing strips in my bathroom cabinet are just sad. I've even considered testing blood glucose to see what impact different food have on me. Am I NUTS?!?!?! I would give it all up in a day to run free through the modern equivalent of the woods around my cave, replete in loin cloth and actually not having people averting their eyes, rushing the frail and sick away to safety and hearing the word liposuction muttered more than once. Sadly, I would never wear a loin cloth, and running through the park would be accompanied by me groaning about a sore knee, stopping every minute or so (okay, I'll make it a HIIT workout!). In other words, Grok wouldn't even recognize me. I'm not ready to be carefree Grok just yet. I wish.

Here's how I see it. When you have a good amount of weight to lose, it's going to take a while. Sure, you hear stories of people losing 60 lbs in 2 days drinking tears of a Tibetan Yak but for most of us, it's just going to take a really long time. Seriously long. So lets look at that, I need to lose weight, consistently for probably a couple of years. If someone knows how to do it faster and can guarantee it will work for me, please tell me. So honestly, let me ask you, what else can it be but an obsession? You have to stay focused for a really long time, eating the "right" things, doing the right things. Human being just suck at doing this, in fact, if a guy pursued the same girl unsuccessfully for 2 years you would say he was pretty obsessed. Maybe at the end of the 2 years she finally agrees to go on a date (have to have a happy ending). He was still obsessed. So seriously, what else could two years of sticking to a diet be other than an obsession. I can't see how it can be anything else.

What I did notice is the people who tell me to not be so obsessed are usually not overweight, or at least not very overweight. Those that agree, that tracking intake etc is important at first are those who have generally lost large amounts. They know from experience that you need lots of tools to stay focused, you need to be a little bit obsessed.

So it is a question of degrees, of course there is TOO obsessed. Of course, moderation in everything, everything in moderation. I think a little bit of obsession is necessary for many people, myself included to stay focused.

I know that carefree, grok in a loin cloth, life is waiting for me. Okay, maybe I'll always need to be a bit mindful, but if I hit 170 lb I can probably afford to stop tracking everything like a data obsessed junkie. No more nutrition.pdf all over my laptop for different restaurants, I can hang up my body fat tester, pee on all the ketostixs at once, giggle and throw them away. I can put a comment in MFD every day, "not a fat b@stard anymore, don't need you - Thanks for all the help but I'm free now". Until then I'll cling to my obsession because it helps me reach my goal. I know I'm mentally healthy because I have a cheat meal on Saturday nights and I love my giant hamburger or slices of delicious pizza, I take weeks off from official weigh-in every now and then to just chill out and enjoy a social event the night before. I think these are all signs that my obsession is not an unhealthy one.

Can we call it a moderate obsession? A healthy obsession? With the occasional dip into slightly unhealthy territory every now and then perhaps. When Grok would recognize me as a potential tribe member I'll put down my body fat analyzer, but until then I need to know where I'm going and where I've been.

N=1 equals Me

My first post will be an introduction and then hopefully I'll move onto much more interesting topics. I've been blogging on another members-only site for some time about my efforts to lose weight, improve my health and generally look better naked. :) I really started to become serious about the effort in mid-January of 2011 when I started to track my calorie intake and exercise. Since then I have read seemingly endless blogs, papers, articles and books on diet and nutrition and found that my understanding of those topics has been radically altered. For most of my life I have believed and followed the conventional wisdom relating to nutrition believing that I was well informed. Boy, was I wrong.

I've struggled with weight my entire life although I did lose it all on several occasions. The most recent was about 12 years ago when I reached my goal weight by following a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. I mostly maintained the weight for 2 years but then it gradually came back and I ended up around 270 lb. Last year in 2010 I followed the Paleo diet after being introduced to it by a friend who told me about Loren Cordain's book with the imaginative title, "The Paleo Diet". I found this idea really compelling so I followed the diet for some time and lost 28 lb. Not a bad effort, but I wasn't incredibly serious about it. The premise of the Paleo Diet is to eat essentially what we would have consumed prior to agriculture. Dr Cordain prescribes lean meat and plenty of vegetables, lots of omega 3 fatty acids and very little carbohydrates.

In January 2011 after 6 months or so of Paleo I decided I would aggressively track my food intake and start performing n=1 experiments on myself with different approaches to nutrition to see what worked in my case. So for the first four weeks I ate a low fat, high carb (lots of whole grains) prescribed by most of the medical profession. I lost 3 lb over 4 weeks. Not bad. Meanwhile I was reading Gary Taubes "Why We Get Fat and What to do about it" and became interested in low carb diets. So I decided to try eating low carb again for a month and compare it to the previous month. I also was introduce to The Primal Blueprint by some people on the food tracking site I use so I decided to do the Primal Blueprint form of low carb which is essentially Paleo with more Saturated Fat. That month I lost 4 pounds. Not a dramatic loss, about the same really, based on that I decided I could probably lose on any diet provided I calorie restrict. Despite that I continued with the Primal diet because my research indicated this was a healthier way to eat.

I've been eating Primal since then and although the weight is coming off very slowly I enjoy this way of eating and continue to believe it's the best option for overall health. I've lost a total of 53 lb although I put some weight back on last Christmas, so weight loss since January 2011 is roughly 35 lb. I'm not setting any speed records.

I also started to exercise more which has always been a problem for me. In the past I seemed to be able to diet OR exercise but not both simultaneously. This year I've managed to consistently exercise and diet. I've been lifting weights 3 times a week for many months now and prior to that did weights and cardio or jogging. This has resulted in not only weight loss but a 10% drop in body fat percentage.

A couple of months ago I decided it was time to shake thing up a bit and look for another hack to speed the process up. So for three weeks I tried the Leangains protocol which is predominately used by body builders but it's a form of Intermittent Fasting (IF) which has grown in popularity and is supported by some studies showing positive metabolic changes and weight loss. Sadly, three weeks on leangains resulted in zero change in weight or body fat %. After some more research I found that many recommend IF for those already at a low body fat % which doesn't help me at all. I did receive some feedback that I should investigate Leptin and read the blog of a Neurosurgeon, Dr Jack Kruse. I read his blog and although initially I found it almost impenetrable, I was able to extract some useful information and satisfy myself that it at least made sense. After a little delay I finally became serious about following Dr Kruse's advice about 3.5 weeks ago. Since then I've been losing an average of 3 lb a week.

I will go into more detail regarding my adventures in different approaches to losing weight in other posts but that's the summary of my journey thus far. My goals have evolved over time, initially I just wanted to lose weight and reach a number on the scale but now I am interested in optimizing myself. In achieving my maximum genetic potential, whatever that may be. I not only want to be a healthy weight but also to have a healthy body fat composition, good blood lipids and be fit and strong. So I'm focusing less on the number as a goal and more on how I feel. I am aiming to reach a normal body fat % and I track my weight but I don't obsess quite as much about the final number.

So this blog is all about my journey to n=1 optimization. Perhaps one or two people will find it useful.