Sunday, July 31, 2011

Scientific results (math is involved)

As previously stated, weight loss was not the primary goal of this month's challenge - rather it was to learn about how certain foods affect us and what changing one's dietary composition can have on health, energy, stamina, etc. Weight loss is, however, an important measure of what changed. Here are the mathematical results:

Patient Zero:

Friday June 1
Weight: 213.4 lbs
Body fat: 26.4%
BMI: 28.2

Friday July 15
Weight: 208.4 lbs
Body Fat: 25.6%
BMI: 27.5

2 week % weight change: 2.53%
2 week % body fat change: 3.03%

Sunday July 31
Weight: 206.4 lbs
Body Fat: 24.7%
BMI: 27.2

2 week % weight change: 0.96%
2 week % body fat change: 3.51%

Month-long % weight change: 3.28% reduction
Month-long % body fat change: 6.43% reduction

At the mid-month point, patient zero spontaneously decided to begin a light strength-training exercise program. On 10 days in the last half of the month, each of the following was done:
  • 10 pushups
  • 10 squats
  • 10 situps
  • 30 second plank
  • 10 second side planks
A total of 8.7 miles was walked in these two weeks, and he biked the 10 miles to work on 4 occasions. Had we been measuring muscle mass, this would likely explain for the slowed loss of pounds in the second half of the month - building muscle offset fat loss., but fat loss was a higher percentage with the exercise.

Even with this slowed weight loss, it is interesting to note that patient zero is also currently in the middle of a weight loss phase - a vegetable-focused Atkins plan. This program began in February, from a starting weight of 235. Prior to the July experiment, average weight loss was 0.84 pounds per week. In July, with no calorie or carb counting, the average was 1.74 pounds per week. The difference is likely better quality of food, with less artificial sweeteners, bars, shakes, etc. Patient zero plans to continue eating real food.

Patient One:

Friday June 1
Weight: 220 lbs
Body fat: 32.3%
BMI: 35.5

Sunday July 17
Weight: 214.2
Body Fat: 31.2%
BMI: 34.6

2 week % weight change: 2.63%
2 week % body fat change: 3.41%

Monday August 1
Weight: 212.0
Body Fat: 31.2%
BMI: 34.2

2 week % weight change: 1.03 %
2 week % body fat change: 0 %

Month-long % weight change: 3.63 % reduction
Month-long % body fat change: 3.40 % reduction

Patient one decided not to exercise any more rigorously in the second half of the month. Without exercise, patient one still lost more weight (lbs) than patient zero. It is remarkable how similar the percentage weight loss results are between these two patients, even with different ages, different activity and stress levels.

Fat loss is somewhat different - the exercise increased fat burning in patient zero, and the continuing weight loss mode is also likely a contributing factor to patient zero's consistent fat loss. Patient one started this program, and the initial weight loss is more likely in part to be water weight as the body adapts to burning fat instead of carbohydrate.

Again - this is just from controlling what you eat, not counting calories or carbs, or trying to control how much you eat. The foods selected are more nutrient dense, and more satisfying - second helpings were very rare this month. Neither patient felt like they were starving ourselves, and that's a nice feeling.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July Results!

First, I’d like to thank Mark Hulme for his excellent contributions this month. Without his dedicated research and thought this challenge would not have seen the light of day. I thoroughly enjoyed his posts this month. (so much so, I found myself going most of the month without posting or adding much to his.) There is so much food for thought. (pun intended and planned)

Going into this challenge Mark, Shanna and I decided to make this a lifestyle change, not a diet. We understood that we may find our selves in a situation where we couldn’t be 100% perfect but if could without offending; we would stick to our lifestyle. The only real way to fail this challenge would be if we made the decision to go against the challenge because if we made the decision to “eat this regardless of the challenge because I want it...”

Watching sports entertainment with some friends doesn’t give you a pass to eat a cheeseburger (unless it’s wrapped in lettuce) but if a lady invites you over for a meal, and there is an ingredient in the main dish you aren’t eating, you eat, at least as much as you can. This is Living Challenged, not Living Stupid. But just because the office brings in a cake or some donuts, doesn’t mean you can skip out on the challenge.

Could I go the distance? For 30 days?

Challenge Result: Passed

Image Credit:


After the first few days of this challenge, my body shifted from burning sugar to stored fat. My head hurt, I felt ill, and I wanted to cave in. I felt catawampus with an odd feeling in my stomach and a nagging headache. Even my behavior was altered during these first few days. I've since had several friends comment that I should be more understanding when certain others behaviors/emotions change outside of their control.

After the initial "sugar withdrawals", I was shocked at how great I felt. I initially worried that I wouldn't be able to eat this way because it required preparation and work to make appropriate dinners. I quickly found out that once I started eating this way, I actually had the energy and motivation to cook after I got home from work. I didn't want to just come home and crash.

There were some tight spots, there were some temptations, but the joys of nachos, pub food and pies were nothing compared to the joys of increased energy and feeling healthy. After meals I wouldn't feel weighed down or sluggish, I actually got nourishment from my meals and energy to accomplish productive tasks.  If I needed a snack I wasn't going to poison my body with processed foods but give it something it could actually use. Almonds, home-made jerky, or sunflower seeds sound better to me now than chips or cookies.

I didn't want to have such a positive experience this month, I wanted to learn something, but I didn't want to like it. Liking it and seeing this much value would leave me little choice but to change my habits on a more permanent basis. Re-reading (About Living Challenged) why I did this in the first place made me realize that change is what I signed up for.

Somewhere people started eating improperly. I'm not sure the rules we followed this month are 100% scientifically or biologically correct. I'm not trying to tell any of you (all three of you) how to eat. But I will urge you to try something different. To test how your body reacts to certain foods/chemicals because you may not notice it now, but it may shock you in the future. I'm not going to eat that chocolate croissant that haunted me earlier this month. I'm going to slowly introduce various foods in, and pay attention to how my body reacts. This challenge really isn't over. None of this is.

Can we at least agree? Let's Eat Real Food.

Much of the Paleo/Primal diet's background is based in in the theory of human evolution - the idea being that humans are genetically selected and adapted to eat the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten prior to the invention of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago. While I don't subscribe to this view of how human life came into existence, you don't need to believe in it to see results from the dietary approach.

You don't need to pretend to be a caveman (even one as eloquent as this).

In the 1930s, a dentist named Weston A. Price performed an extensive study of cultures who were isolated from western civilization - modern hunter-gatherers, if you will, who did not eat modern processed foods. Price was seeking to find out how they avoided cavities without access to modern dentistry. What he found and subsequently documented in the bood Nutrition and Disease Prevention was a much larger body of knowledge on health and diet, as the people he studied were on the whole healthy, free from diseases of affluence (obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc.), and had very little in the way of dental problems.

Modern hunter-gatherers don't suffer the health problems we in the west do. No need for evolutionary basis there - either it works or it doesn't.

Eating natural, whole, real foods as close to their production as possible is a method that seeks to avoid:
  • Processed foods
  • Junk foods
  • Sugar & High fructose corn syrup
  • Sodas and sports drinks
  • Agribusiness & subsidized monocoulture crops
  • Factory farming & animal cruelty
Even if you believe the items above are not harmful, are there any of the above that you would argue are beneficial or necessary to human health? Can you live without these things? If you tried this for 30 days, what might you discover?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Trouble with Grains

Grains like wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, and rice all have three main problems:
  1. High carbohydrate levels - these grains are mostly starch, which if eaten in large amounts, raises insulin, leading to a host of problems including obesity, diabetes & heart disease.

  2. Anti-nutrients - the grains we eat are the seeds of grasses. The seed has a starchy core and a hard exterior, the bran. This exterior coating contains fiber (which is not as necessary as you might believe - you get plenty of it from vegetables). The bran is designed to protect the seed from being digested by an animal who might eat it and transfer it to a new location - the seeds "wants" to live and grow anew. Your body also fights to digest these compounds, which also bind to vitamins and then pass through your system undigested - they rob you of the nutrients you have eaten with them.

  3. Lectins & gluten - these are proteins that your digestive system does not know how to process well. They can pass through the intestine wall into the bloodstream undigested, where they appear to the immune system as foreign invaders. Your immune system fights against these proteins, and will often develop an immunity against them. The problem is that these lectins are structurally very similar to the proteins that are the building blocks of many of your internal organs. Chronic continued exposure to these lectins can result in developing an immune response that attacks your own tissues, resulting in inflammation and auto-immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis.... Eating grains has also been linked to schizophrenia, depression, infertility and cancer - PDF link.

While sprouting grains can reduce the levels of anti-nutrients in grains and make them slightly more healthy, they are typically not quite the nutritional powerhouse we might think they are: PDF link (see table 4). They lack Vitamin A, C and B12, and the (admittedly inexpensive) calories they provide will offset more nutrient dense foods like non-starchy vegetables and meats. It's all enough to make one wonder if they should be the foundation of the food pyramid.

While toast in the morning is delicious and chocolate cookies can be nearly impossible to resist, the problems above are serious enough for me to at least avoid them on a trial basis - it's really not all that difficult.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Willpower - It's not what you think

One reaction upon hearing about this way of eating is: "That sounds like the way we should be eating anyway...." An all-too-common follow up is: "but I could never do it. I'd never be able to give up my ...." bread, toast, candy, soda, sugar, whatever. In my experience, it's not easy, but it's certainly not difficult.

We have been conditioned to think that weight loss is hard: you have either have to starve yourself and/or wear yourself out exercising for hours.

My experience is that neither of these things is necessary, and it can be almost effortless. I've heard it said that nutrition & diet are perhaps 80% of the equation, exercise is maybe 20%. If you're not eating sugar, it stands to reason that you don't have to burn it off.

If you stop eating (refined) carbohydrates & avoid added sugars, you are probably 50% of the way there. Making sure to eat good fats (avocado, coconut, olive), proteins, plenty of vegetables and avoiding industrial oils (canola, safflower, "vegetable") is perhaps the next 30%. If you do these things, even without exercising or counting calories, I have seen swift and substantial changes.

Your body has the ability to heal itself - you don't need a drug to get better if you cut yourself, to get over a cold, to mend a broken bone. If you give your body the nutrients it needs to function and stop giving it garbage it fights, my experience is that your weight will very likely normalize and level off based on the balance of food you are eating.

Strength of Will

Willpower is needed, but not the way you might think. It's not really about having to control HOW MUCH you eat - the satiety provided by protein and fat takes care of that naturally, especially if dietary sugar isn't increasing your appetite and excess insulin and lectins aren't blocking the hormonal signals telling your brain you're full.

Willpower is needed in WHAT you are eating. The good news is that it gets easier. It took a month or so before my desire for sweet foods diminished, and they really aren't much of a temptation anymore. Your tastebuds change over time, and are no longer overwhelmed and desensitized by sugar. After several months of avoiding sugar, some fruits now taste almost unbearably sweet - letting me know how much natural sugars are in them. I recently tasted an almond that was startlingly sweet: I had always wondered whether Amaretto's flavor had any basis in reality - now I know (not that I'll be drinking Amaretto any time soon. Vegetables I used to dislike now taste different. It's not them, it's me.

Once you start to normalize, my experience is that you feel the desire to exercise - it happens spontaneously, not as a requirement to loose weight. I exercise now because I feel good when and after I do, and I like feeling stronger and healthier.

I don't exercise to loose weight, or to compensate for sugar in my diet. Functional strength and flexibility are my goals. Here's what seemed like a balanced approach: exercise so that you can play - whatever you want, whenever you want. You should be fit enough to tackle any physical activity you come across without undue fear of injury. That's where I'm aiming. I want to want to play with my kids, and be healthy enough that they won't outpace me when they get to be teenagers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sugar Is Not A Necessary Nutrient

Sugar is not a nutrient: at best it is an empty food additive, at worst it is an addictive substance.

Refined sugar is not needed by your body - there is nothing in it that your body needs to survive. There are only a couple of body functions that require glucose (blood sugar), but you don't need to eat sugar to feed these functions. The body can create whatever glucose it needs through gluconeogenesis (source), a process that takes protein from your diet (or from your muscles if need be) and turns it into glucose.

In the FDA's instructions on how to read a nutrition label, they note the following about sugar: "No daily reference value has been established for sugars because no recommendations have been made for the total amount to eat in a day." Sugars are not identified an a nutrient to avoid eating too much of, nor to get enough of; they are simply a blank area in the FDA interpretation.

Sugar is addictive. It hits the same opioid receptors and dopamine centers in your brain that are activated by cocaine and other drugs. Here's an interesting study for you: Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward.

Sugar makes you eat more of it: most foods are a combination of the three main macronutrients: Fat, Protein or Carbohydrate. Protein and Fats are both satiating - they make you feel full. When you have eaten enough, the body's tissues to send the hormonal signal leptin to the brain, indicating you are full and can stop eating. High levels of insulin and insulin resistance block this leptin signal, meaning you continue to eat more than your body needs. Carbohydrates raise insulin, which blocks leptin, therefore carb/sugar consumption causes you to eat more.

For more info, this lecture "Sugar, The Bitter Truth" from Dr. Robert Lustig is a engaging and measured look at what effect sugar consumption has had on our bodies in the last 30 years. Watch below or listen to the audio podcast.

If your body doesn't need sugar to function and eating it is both fattening and addictive, it begs the question, why eat this refined carbohydrate at all?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two Drink Maximum

While alcohol can be a poison and is processed in the liver like other poisons and harmful substances, moderate consumption of certain kinds of alcohol can have several benefits:
The choice of alcohol is important. It is suggested to avoid beer (liquid grain, contains gluten), and sugary liqueurs, fortified wines and mixers - sorry Port, Sherry, Midori, Bailey's, Triple Sec, Jaeger, margarita mix, tonic water, ginger ale, sodas, etc. Distilled spirits are acceptable - gin, brandy, tequila, rum, whiskey, as are red and white wine. And Rose. (Sweet wines should probably be avoided on principle.) -Editor's note: Friends don't let friends drink white zinfandel.

So it you are going to drink alcohol, try a two drink maximum per day, and choose non sugary spirits. Here's a recipe to get you started:

AƱejo Especial
  • 1 oz. tequila
  • Juice of half a fresh lime
  • Juice of 1/4 fresh grapefruit
  • Splash of sparkling water
Substitute the tequila for gin and you almost have a gin and tonic.

See also the Norcal Margarita - recommended.

Perhaps the original post should have stated: "Unless they can be shown to have positive health effects, Don't eat things your body fights to digest, Don't eat things your body processes like poisons". This is one poison to take in moderation.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weight Loss Isn't the Goal, But...

While the previous post about this month's experiment focused on Gary Taubes' "Why We Get Fat" and the role of carbohydrate in that process, it is important to note that we entered this month not focused on weight loss. Our main interest in this experiment was to see how we would fare, how we would feel if we cut out sugar and other nutrient-scarce foods.

Those who are overweight are certainly at higher risk for many health problems - high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, etc., so loosing excess pounds, kilograms or stone would be a health benefit. For the purposes of this experiment, weight is but one measure of health. We are also tracking body fat percentage as well as more subjective markers like energy level, food cravings, digestion, to see what effect this change in lifestyle has on us.

It is important for those who want to consider this way of eating (Paleo / Primal) on a more permanent basis, that we not to think of it as a diet, and not to refer to it by that term. Our modern culture is littered with fad diets and most of us have tried some version of one, perhaps lost a few pounds with difficulty and subsequently regained them without much difficulty.

If Gary Taubes is correct, the reason for this yo-yo effect is not a lack of willpower, a sedentary lifestyle, or eating more than we burn. It is primarily the massive amounts of dietary sugar and refined carbohydrate that we typically consume. Discovering what to eat for optimum heath is the goal, and weight loss (if starting overweight) is one trackable metric.

That said, here are the starting and mid points:

Patient Zero:

Friday June 1
Weight: 213.4 lbs
Body fat: 26.4%
BMI: 28.2

Friday July 15
Weight: 208.4 lbs
Body Fat: 25.6%
BMI: 27.5

Patient One:

Friday June 1
Weight: 220 lbs
Body fat: 32.3%
BMI: 35.5

Sunday July 17
Weight: 214.2
Body Fat: 31.2%
BMI: 34.6

No carb counting, no calorie counting, no additional exercise - but more to say about that later.

These measurements were taken using a cheap bathroom scale, so there is some percentage of error, but they were taken consistently, so they are useful for comparison. Body Fat percentage, when measured electrically can differ based on one's level of hydration. The important thing to note is that the markers are moving in the right direction - down.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jet Fuel vs Battery power

Time for our first collaborative post, by collaborative, I of course mean, Mark did all the research/writing, and I'm posting it. I know there are some some questions/comments from the last post, we haven't forgotten them, and will address them in an upcoming post. There is so much great information.Learning about how to take care of our bodies should be important, this challenge has already taught me that I hope you take the time to carefully read this great post, and hopefully it inspires you. 
Your body can run on one of two fuels: Carbohydrate or Fat. (per webmd). Carbohydrate should be read as sugar, because the only things your digestion can do with any carbohydrate is turn it into sugar - glucose (source), or pass it out undigested. The body prefers sugar, and must process it first - it is like jet fuel that burns quickly and hot.  Fat is more like a battery for - longer term energy storage.

 You typically have less than 1 teaspoon of glucose in your bloodstream (calculation).  When you eat carbohydrates, that raises your blood sugar, which your body must deal with.  For reference, an medium order of McDonald's french fries contains about 10 teaspoons of carbohydrate for your body to process (source). Dangers of persistent high blood sugar levels include hypertension, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and a host of other issues, none of which you want (source and source). The mechanism your body has to exert control is insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas whose job it is to turn blood sugar into fat and push it into storage in your fat cells. This process is the method by which you gain weight. 

"What? There's some green in there."
If both fat and carbohydrates are eaten in the same meal, and the body has a comfortable blood sugar level, insulin will push the dietary fat into fat cells so that it can burn the sugar first. Any sugar over what the body may need is turned into fat for later storage. The fat may slow down the digestion of the sugar, but the carbohydrate will eventually be digested into sugar and processed by insulin. This is true whether the carbohydrates are high refined (simple) or complex - for the body to use it, it must be broken down into glucose.

A high carbohydrate diet is, to the body, a high sugar diet - over time, the effect is weight gain, obesity and metabolic syndrome, a pre-diabetic condition which may now affect 20-25% of Americans (source). The body's tissues become insulin resistant, so the pancreas must produce more and more insulin to have the same lowering effect on blood sugar.  If the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, you have type 1 Diabetes. If it can't produce enough to overcome your insulin resistance and control blood sugar, you have Type 2 Diabetes.
Many might agree with the statement "Sugar makes you fat", but linking obesity and diabetes to high carbohydrate intake is a difficult connection for some to make. The recent work of science reporter Gary Taubes has been a significant catalyst for starting to change the way I think about sugar and healthy eating:
Mr. Gary Taubes' presentation at Google gives an hour and half summary of his "Why We Get Fat" book.

Rest assured there is more to come on these topics, addressing specific foods (and drinks), and we will try to answer as many questions as we can, or at least point you in the right direction for additional research.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

July Challenge!

This month was originally going to be titled "Retry July" and I would attempt to complete the challenges I have failed up to this point. I scheduled that for this month for two reasons.

  1. Pride - I want to pass every challenge, they are all passable, anything can be done.
  2. I had nothing else to fill this month.

However, I will not be retrying all my previous failed challenges. Why?

  1. The purpose of these challenges are to have new experiences, growing as a person, or to learn something new about a subject, myself or life.
  2. I'd much rather challenge myself in a new way, and learn something/experience life.

A few weeks before July I was presented with a challenge that I could not resist. The challenger and his family would be doing this challenge anyway, but I jumped at the chance to join them in this experiment. What's even more exciting is they have even agreed to Co-Blog their experiences on Living Challenged!

The idea to do this challenge, and one of the co-bloggers came from my friend Mark. You may know him from such endeavors as the writer of The Archifilter, the composer of great Ukelele tracks, (such as the wonderful song adapted from an LC original, The Weapon, but more than likely you just know him from this. He and his family will be participating in this challenge and sharing thoughts, ideas and research.

So at this point you are dying to know the challenge.

This month's challenge is:

Don't eat things your body fights to digest, Don't eat things your body processes like poisons:

  • Grains - wheat, corn, oatmeal, bread, granola, pasta, etc., as well as rice and white potatoes.
  • "Vegetable" Oils - Canola, Safflower, Soy, Corn, etc.
  • Legumes - Beans, Peanuts, Lentils.
  • Sweeteners - Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Aspartame, Splenda, Stevia, etc.

Eat these until you feel full (not until you explode):

  • Lean proteins (ideally) grass fed meat, free range fowl and wild caught fish (4-8 oz per meal)
  • Seasonal vegetables and some fruits on occasion
  • Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil
  • Full fat dairy - in moderation, fermented is best, raw if possible.

You might be thinking, "oh so you are going on a low-carb diet for a month,  what a great challenge (eye roll)" -  It's not a diet. And it won't be easy, you pecksniffian, you.  Whether you would find that easy or difficult, petty or fun, the idea is to learn about the types of foods our bodies are meant to eat, how we react when we give our bodies the proper foods they were made for, energy/fuel. 

We will cover why we are doing this, the science behind what different foods do to your body, and how a single bachelor working in the city and a family of four deal with an alternative eating style in Los Angeles in 2011. So put down your lonely pie and pick up a cucumber, its time to eat the way we were intended! Or will we fall to the pressures of our peers, advertisers, ready-made meals, fast food or the convenience of High Fructose Corn Syrup, Breads, and the like. 

As always, if you want to live challenged, I recommend playing along. If you have any questions, the comment box is open.