Thursday, April 30, 2009

Another Taste of Taubes

Hey, I just wanted to post this here as it's a bit longer (and slightly different) lecture from Taubes' other one.

It's real media, for which I sincerely apologize.

Watching this video has given me a few ideas to investigate.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pulse: Insulin basics

In the first part of this series I explained some take home points. These were:

1. Insulin levels must be low for fat loss to occur
2. Growth hormone must be released for fat loss to occur
3. Calories out must be greater than calories in.
4. fasting drops insulin levels, raises GH levels, and cuts calories.

All of these points lead to some interesting questions. I'll deal with the first of these today: controlling insulin levels.

First, though, what is insulin? From Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories
Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated—either chronically or after a meal—we accumulate fat in our fat tissue. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it for fuel.

All food stimulates insulin release, but foods with sugar and/or starch (carbohydrate) release the most insulin.

Here's an excerpt from Taubes' book where he explains his basic ideas about nutrition or you can order his book here. You can also watch this video, but it's NSFW, since it includes shots of naked fat people. Taubes comes on about 2:40 if you're not interested in his bona fides.

So if insulin levels drive fat storage, how can we control insulin levels? There are three ways that I will consider here:

1. Eat small, frequent meals (SFM)
2. Eat a low carbohydrate (LC) diet of probably less than 10-15% but definitely less than 40% of energy
3. Fast intermittently (IF) for more than 12 but less than 48 hours

Let's talk about the "small frequent meals" theory. The idea here is that you can control your insulin levels by eating mini-meals of 100-500 calories, five to eight times a day. If you've read Body for Life or are a tupperware-toting bodybuilder, then you know all about this approach. The idea, as I understand it, is that you can keep things humming along, your blood sugar never dips, and you'll never get hungry if you just eat these small, frequent meals. The problem is that all eating has some insulin response. So eating five to eight times a day, even if they are small responses, creates insulin responses five to eight times a day. Even if Taubes wouldn't call this "chronically elevated" insulin levels, I think I would.

This also presents a couple of practical problems: if you have to eat five to eight times a day, this means you have to prepare five to eight meals a day: a tiny portion of meat, a tiny portion of carbohydrate, a tiny portion of vegetable. Five to eight of them. Welcome to the tupperware club, my friend. This is why supplement companies have hawked this plan for so long: not necessarily because it's more effective, but because preparing five to eight meals a day is such a pain in the ass, it's easier to eat a "meal replacement" shake--and if that stuff isn't processed food, I don't know what is.

The second practical problem with the SFM idea is ghrelin. If you've ever noticed that you get hungry at the same times every day, that's ghrelin in action. One of the effects is that you can basically train yourself to get hungry at specific times of day--we'll talk about this later, as it relates to intermittent fasting--but think about this for now, as it relates to SFM. If you eat these small, frequent meals at the same times every day, you are training yourself to get hungry five to eight times a day, and you're not eating enough calories to maintain your bodyweight, so the gherlin is just lurking in the background. So when you (inevitably) miss one of your five to eight meals a day, you get extremely hungry, and you go for whatever junk is nearby.

Ultimately, I can't recommend SFM as a solution for insulin management. That leaves us with two other options:

2. Eat a low carbohydrate (LC)diet of probably less than 10-15% but definitely less than 40% of energy
3. Fast intermittently (IF) for more than 12 but less than 48 hours

If you watched the video, you'll know that Taubes' solution is to use a LC diet to control insulin, and I think this is a good first step. I'll discuss my approach to LC diet later in the Pulse series.

The other option is to fast (not eat) intermittently for more than 12, but less than 48 hours. This isn't a complicated approach, but it definitely deserves its own post as well, because there are a lot of ways to screw this up.

The take-home points from today's post:

1. Insulin causes fat gain
2. Eating causes the body to release insulin
3. Eating carbohydrates (sugars and starches) causes a larger insulin response, and thus more fat gain

Stay tuned--the Pulse series is just getting warmed up.

Pulse: the Basics

I decided to make a series out of the post I've been working on--it's called "Pulse" and I'll let Brad Pilon kick it off.

Take home points:

1. Insulin levels must be low for fat loss to occur
2. Growth hormone must be released for fat loss to occur

Brad implies but does not explicitly state a few things here. The first is that calories out must be greater than calories in. The second point is that fasting drops insulin levels, raises GH levels, and cuts calories.

I'll be back tomorrow with more.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Barefoot Running vs. Shoe'd running

I'm working on a long post. Check this out for now:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Control Your Environment

Do you ever have this problem? There's one little corner of the office that has the candy and cookies and pie and every time you walk by those areas, you get hungry.

Or, you're at home, watching TV, and you look down, and you've eaten the entire bag again.

When you have control over your environment, it's easier to stop yourself from screwing up. I know this isn't exactly ground-breaking stuff, but like I say over and over again, the most basic principles, applied diligently and regularly, are all you typically need. Does it help to know the biochemistry of the human body? Without a doubt, but it helps more to eat less of whatever you're eating.

All of this is reminding me a bit of--What's his name? Mike Magnusson. He wrote a book about losing weight and finding himself--Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180". The first half of the book, that's what I'm identifying with.

Anyway, old Mike starts punishing himself on his bike, and doing crunches and stuff, and he's drinking espresso and protein shakes, and not much else. Really, it seems like a pretty extreme version of the Velocity Diet. Really, though, whatever he had to do, he was willing to do. I think that's the point you have to reach.

I don't mean that to be discouraging--the key here is to put the dumb part of your brain in touch with the smart part of your brain (this is the way that Merlin Mann talks about lifehacks). The lifehack in this situation is to not have the bad food in your house.

If you want to know why this is so important, take a minute to listen to Radiolab's Choice episode. Go ahead, it's worth it. For those of you who want the summary, just check this out. You hear what happens when you get distracted by some cognitive task, just a little? You take the cake.

Now think of your average work day. How much stress is there? How many times does bad food show up, all on its' own? This is why, I think, people gain weight when they stop smoking: they're so consumed with stopping themselves from smoking that they can't control their drives to eat.

So the smart part of your brain says, "Don't eat cake," and the dumb part of your brain says "cake". In a head-to-head matchup, who wins? The dumb part. The dumb part is big, strong, and willful.

But the solution is simple--the good news about the smart part of your brain is that it's smart. If the smart part of your brain can engineer situations where there is no cake to be had, then it wins by default. The dumb part of your brain never knows what it's missing, because it is only triggered by being near the stuff you crave. That's why TV is such a bitch if you want to lose weight.

In addition to making you less active, the TV actually makes you eat more. Why? How long can you go without seeing an ad for food if you watch TV? 8 minutes? Maybe?

The point of all this is to say: Control your environment, don't let your environment control you.

Don't bring the crap into your house. The best way to do this is to make a list of the food that is on your diet, hopefully whole and fresh, and go shopping for it after you've eaten.

At the office or workplace, don't go to where the crap is. And you know what the crap is: sugary, cakey, floury: crap. Anything made with corn, oil, or corn oil.

Cancel your cable. I don't think you should get rid of your TV, but maybe cancelling your cable isn't so bad. I like for this very reason: no ads, and you get to watch exactly the shows you want, in sequence. At the very least, using a TiVo or something to skip the ads would be part of the game plan to keep the temptation at arm's length.

By controlling your environment, you control temptation. If you can control temptation, you can control your diet. If you control your diet, you control your weight--and that's the whole point.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Planning meals ahead of time

I'm going out to eat tonight, because I'm not going to have enough time between work and This American Life's live show tonight. So, it's time to drop some science about how to plan meals on the go.

Bring your own
This is usually both the cheapest option and the least practical. If you're into bodybuilding or fitness, you've probably seen the cooler people. Those people who pack like 16 tupperware containers for their eight meals a day? Yeah, that doesn't work for me. But, at the very least, this is an option. To be fair, I usually brown-bag my lunch this way, pre-measured and ready to go.

Nutrition Calculators/Information
The web has made things a lot easier. I'm going to Chipotle tonight, and I was able to use Chipotle Fan's nutrition calculator to plan my meal in advance. Basically, what this gives you is the opportunity to fine-tune your meal. I also like the fact that, because of the way Chipotle serves their food, it's easy to say "this, not that" without raising eyebrows or ruffling feathers. So, you can plan ahead, or you can freestyle and figure out what you ate on the back end. If you're really trying to lose fat and not in a maintenance phase, I caution you against freestyling too much--check out how much sugar those salsas have!

Intermittent Fasting
If all else fails, you can skip a meal. It's not going to hurt you. If you skip dinner, just go to bed at your normal time, and eat breakfast normally.

There you go, three options for eating on the go!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fat Loss Made Easy

I wrote a long post a while back about why I generally think that eating low carbohydrate diets is effective for fat loss, and I stand by that. More than that, though, I think the challenge of dieting is not picking the most effective one, but rather, it's sticking to the one you pick.

It's the same issue with exercise--the challenge isn't necessarily picking the most effective workout program, it's sticking to the program that you pick. This doesn't obviate the need for intensity or progressively more difficult workouts, but it does point out that it doesn't matter how good your plan is if you're not executing.

One important caveat--if you're not used to working out every day, don't start with weight training or interval training every day. Start with weight training or intervals a few times a week and then fill in your sessions with walking or yoga. Don't kill yourself--the point is to build the habit of being active.

So here's my three point fat loss plan. I'm giving it away for free. You ready?

1. Figure out something that you really want. This can be anything but food, and it should be something that you can afford but you usually wouldn't buy for yourself. More fitness equipment is great, clothes are great, going to see a movie, a new video game or video game system, music or a movie that you wouldn't normally buy, a book, whatever. You know what you want more than me. I am using an Xbox 360 to motivate myself.

Figure out how much it would cost to buy it at the end of 30 days if you broke your savings amounts down to a daily cost. So, I'm budgeting $300, say, for an Xbox and games, there are 30 days, $10 a day. I can afford this, so I'm good to go. If your rewards are smaller, you can give yourself more of them and do a reward bi-weekly or weekly.

2. Eat according to your diet plan and keep a detailed journal including what and how much, then punch it into a site like Fitday is much better than keeping a food journal by hand, something I did when I was coming down from my all time high of 273 lbs. If you're interested in why food journals work, check this out.

If you keep a food journal, and you are in the guidelines for whatever diet you have chosen, congrats, you get to put $8 (about 80% of the total) in the kitty towards whatever you want. (IOUs work just as well as cash, but cash is uniquely satisfying, don't ask me why.)

3. Exercise according to your exercise plan every day. For each day that you exercise, throw $2 in the kitty (about 20% of the total).

That's it!

So this post doesn't tell you much about how to get motivated or pick the correct program, but I do think it speaks a lot for maintaining your motivation. I've certainly felt a pick up with my motivation since I've instituted it. It is simple to implement, and easy to do, but will have profound effects given the compound interest of time. It will also help you build habits by creating things that you do every day the same way.

The final note--if you slip up during the 30 days, that's okay. Add whatever money you got for that day, but you may want to pick another reward (maybe one that's about 1/2 as much) and start working towards that. Feel free to go again if you found it useful--there's nothing to stop you from using it all the time, though my hope is that eventually, you will no longer need it.

Try this out whenever you find your habits slipping.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I take it all back

I've deleted all the affiliate links from this webpage. They're ugly. I'd also like to point out that I may be "backfilling" some of my posts,as they are more time sensitive than I had originally assumed.