June 2008 JNO Update

Here’s a brief life update.

The wife and I are in Augusta. We’ve been here on an ongoing basis since late December; prior to our move beginning in June of 2007, we found the need to spend about two-thirds of our time in Augusta (The rest being spent in Atlanta at our place in Ansley Park). I won’t go into it, but there were (and are still somewhat) some family things going on in “the AUG” that required our presence. Despite having spent most of the past year in Augusta, I still consider myself an Atlantan.

As much as Augusta has going on for it, the move here is temporary. We are likely to be here for a few more months and will then either move on back to Atlanta or move somewhere else (Maybe some place entirely different — Abroad? Another U.S. city? Trying to figure that out).

Our mobility has been largely driven by the nature of my current work, which continues to be development of the Implode-O-Meter network via our flagship MLI and the others (HFI, HBI, BI, and the forums). Web entrepreneurship is fantastic in this regard. It is hard to beat requiring only an internet connection and a laptop to work, and ofttimes, my Blackberry is sufficient. The fundamental drawbacks include the always-open nature of websites and the gnawing understanding that most all websites have a terminal shelf-life. That latter point is less true for personal sites like this one — at least, I hope to live a long and interesting life. Of course, this site isn’t likely to result in any tangible wealth!

What’s there to do in Augusta? Aside from mountain biking the excellent trails at FATS or going to the occasional movie, not a lot. I’ve been spending my leisure time trying to get in shape via improved diet and working out with a VKR station and kettlebells. I’ve experienced good results from this combo (high intensity, low-carb and fasting).

Just a few days ago, I happily discovered that Augusta has a newly formed Crossfit gym (Site “under construction” — and though the site doesn’t say it, they’re located at 766 Industrial Park Drive). Sonal and I went and checked it out last Friday, doing a modified version of Helen. Having completed another WOD yesterday (One by Rob Miller), I can say with confidence that Crossfit is not for the weak of heart. I expect doing Crossfit will do wonders for my fitness, moreso than I would have been able to accomplish with my poor-man’s home gym. We’ll see.

With all things health, I’ve been taking some progress photos that I want to make public in the coming weeks. The first of these stretches back to February of this year. Stay tuned.

Otherwise, I’ve been spending time enjoying the wonders of OpenArena, a free, improved version of the classic FPS Quake III Arena. I play with my trading buddy and college-chum “papahalv” (We “DOMINATE” via our satirical, two-member “clan” CBB).

And speaking of trading, I’m on the road to recovery from getting blown out of the water by Fed Shenanigans last August and then again in late November. That’s a story for another day.

The quiet life of Augusta has also allowed me to catch up on reading. For details, check out my books page. I’ve mostly been bouncing between Sci-fi and science books lately.

On the family front, I became an uncle in mid-March. Oh the plans I have for that one.

And that’s it. Just wanted to provide an update on my personal life for the “historical record” and to update anyone who’s interested. I’ll try to incorporate more “biogblogging” (or “bioblogging?” Just made that up) in the future!

Sunday morning

I wake up, but it is still early, so I roll over, readjust and keep my eyes shut. When I finally give in and rise, my cat decides to join me, and does his morning stretch — arched back, curled tail, yawn — you know the drill. I copy him as best I can.

It is quiet.

Coffee. While I wait for it to brew, I gulp down some cold water and feel it invade my throat and stomach. I gulp again but the effect is gone.

Still brewing.

I look out the kitchen window and note the sun’s light is not yet harsh. I imagine it is even bearable outside, maybe even pleasant. It won’t last. The newsman said today will be a scorcher, triple-digits — brutal.

Black coffee.

The warm mug in my hand, I find an inner calm in the new day’s stillness. Another week’s demands lay ahead, but they will wait. Today, I rest.

It’s Sunday morning.

Caloric Restriction, Red Wine, and Aging

First, a summary:

  • The physiological stress resulting from caloric restriction may extend your life. It could accomplish this by switching resources from reproduction to self-preservation. Alternatively (or additionally), it might accomplish this by helping downregulate insulin, thereby reducing the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome.
  • Resveratrol (Via red wine, for now) might also slow aging via some SIRT-1 mechanism or by somehow signaling to the body that stressful times lay ahead.
  • The stress from exercise3 might slow aging by activating physiological mechanisms of tissue self-preservation, as well.
  • And finally, I can chalk another one up for intermittent fasting, which personal experience says is the easiest way to practice caloric restriction.

The Details

My brother sent me a NYTimes article that talks about resveratrol, a molecule found in red wine, and its possible link to slowing aging. Resveratrol may thwart aging by spurring the production of sirtuins a.k.a. SIRT1 in humans. Per the Times:

[T]he door has now been opened to drugs that exploit an ancient biological survival mechanism, that of switching the body’s resources from fertility to tissue maintenance. The improved tissue maintenance seems to extend life by cutting down on the degenerative diseases of aging.

The reflex can be prompted by a faminelike diet, known as caloric restriction, which extends the life of laboratory rodents by up to 30 percent but is far too hard for most people to keep to and in any case has not been proven to work in humans [See Footnote 1 for discussion on this last sentence].

Whereas the Times article focuses on resveratrol, summarily dismissing caloric restriction, a 2006 article from The Economist does the opposite, going into more detail on the impact of caloric restriction on human aging and a recent study on the matter:

[E]vidence has been accumulating since the 1930s that calorie restriction … extends lifespan and delays the onset of age-related diseases in rats, dogs, fish and monkeys. …

Amid the hype, it is easy to forget that no one has until now shown that calorie restriction works in humans. That omission, however, changed this month, with the publication of the initial results of the first systematic investigation into the matter. This study, known as CALERIE2 (Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy), was sponsored by America’s National Institutes of Health. …

CALERIE suggests the [advantages of caloric restriction] are real. For example, those on restricted diets had lower insulin resistance … and lower levels of low-density lipoprotein [LDL] cholesterol. They showed drops in body temperature and blood-insulin levels?both phenomena that have been seen in long-lived, calorie-restricted animals. They also suffered less oxidative damage to their DNA.

The Economist article goes on to talk about resveratrol and even exercise:

Resveratrol is produced when a vine is under stress?for example, due to dehydration or over-exposure to sunshine. According to Dr Sinclair’s theory, which he calls xenohormesis, animals rely on such botanical stress signals to give them extra information about their own environments, in the same way that the alarm calls of one species warn others of danger. If bad things are happening to plants, he surmises, that is a reason for pre-emptive animal action. Animal bodies thus react to molecules such as resveratrol by activating their own defence mechanisms. These, in turn, protect their cells from stress-related damage.

Xenohormesis is a variation of a more general theory, hormesis … A good example of hormesis is exercise. In theory, this should damage cells because it increases oxygen uptake, and oxidative stress is bad for things like DNA. Of course, exercise is not actually bad for cells?and the reason is that the body activates defence mechanisms which overcompensate for the stress the exercise creates, producing beneficial effects. So, while chronic stress is always bad for you[3], a short period of mild stress followed by a period of recovery can be good.

More on hormesis here.

So what’s the common denominator between exercise, resveratrol, and caloric restriction? Stress. The introduction of acute stress may switch the body’s resources from reproduction to self-preservation4. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. If a band of human beings were facing environmental hardship, such as a famine, their bodies would need to self-preserve until times more suitable for the ultimate biological imperative, reproduction.

Beyond acute stress causing self-preservation and thereby slowing aging, there may be another angle here: insulin. Caloric restriction will reduce insulin loads on the body as entering a fasted state will require the body to switch from glucose-burning (Insulin upregulated) to fat-burning (Insulin downregulated). As I’ve blogged before, chronically high insulin (via diets high in carbohydrates) in the blood is positively correlated to metabolic syndrome or Syndrome X. The connection to slowed aging and lower insulin levels could just be the other side of the same coin, but if nothing else, it’s more support for incorporating some amount of caloric restriction in your life.

Footnotes:

1 I’ve got a question out to the author, Nicholas Wade, as to his last claim regarding caloric restriction and its impact (or lack thereof) on humans. I’m fairly certain that Wade means that the life-extending impact of caloric restriction has yet to be proven for humans, even though the CALERIE study mentioned above would contradict such a claim.

I take serious issue with Wade’s ambiguity here. Most of his article is about resveratrol and sirtuins and their potential link to slowing aging in humans. He goes into detail about a pharmaceutical company that is working on producing a drug that might induce the same effects. That’s fine, but why slam the door on an alternative (caloric restriction) that might slow aging for free? Is it because it’s “far too hard for most people”? How did he determine that?

Update 2008-06-13: Received a response to my email to Nicholas Wade. From part of my email:

Or do you mean that sufficient testing on caloric restriction’s impact on human aging has not occurred, thereby the theory remains unproven?

He indicated that the above interpretation was the one he intended. I will let him know about the CALERIE study.

2 Here is the official CALERIE website.

3 Perhaps therein lies some support for the claim that endurance training is unhealthy as it puts a chronic load of stress on the body.

4 Not surprisingly, Art De Vany mentions as much in passing here:

I practice intermittent caloric deprivation. This is a known enhancer of the immune system. This is pure evolutionary reasoning. During deprivation, the system reallocates resources from reproduction to repair and maintenance. The immune system is part of that adaptation.

Metabolic Pathways while fasted and Ketosis

Was just commenting on Patri Friedman’s livejournal (here) regarding how the metabolic channels used while fasting were the same as those used while on a low-carb diet. Taubes notes fact in passing in Good Calories, Bad Calories but since that’s a hard reference to check on the ‘net, here’s another bit of support from Dr. Mike Eades of Protein Power:

If you read any medical school biochemistry textbook, you’ll find a section devoted to what happens metabolically during starvation. If you read these sections with a knowing eye, you’ll realize that everything discussed as happening during starvation happens during carbohydrate restriction as well. There have been a few papers published recently showing the same thing: the metabolism of carb restriction = the metabolism of starvation. I would maintain, however, based on my study of the Paleolithic diet that starvation and carb restriction are simply the polar ends of a continuum, and that carb restriction was the norm for most of our existence as upright walking beings on this planet, making the metabolism of what biochemistry textbook authors call starvation the ‘normal’ metabolism.

As noted before, this makes intuitive sense. While in a fasted state, the body gets its energy fix by robbing the protein for gluconeogenesis from lean tissue and the fat for energy from adipose tissue. While doing low-carb, the body does the same thing — the only difference is that it gets the fat and protein from dietary sources.

The rest of the Eades article discusses ketones/ketosis, which I’m still working on fully understanding (the basics, anyway). Apparently there are other benefits to occasionally being in a ketogenic state that may include “de-junking” our cells. Neat!

The Stochasticity of Life

A few months ago, various circumstances led me to a brief bout with depression. It is a strange moment when you reflect that, “I am depressed”. As I’m prone to do when I don’t know much about a subject, I googled depression. As part of my searching, I ended up reading some insightful comments on depression by Art De Vany, who almost three years ago today, was watching his wife succumb to a terminal disease. Regarding depression, Art wrote (emphasis mine):

Are you depressed they ask? And I say no, you only get depressed when you compare the present state with one that is better or perfect in some way. If you accept the reality of the present state, then you can’t make these irrelevant comparisons of what is against the ideal.

You are so strong they say. And I say, no. I am just grounded in the reality of the now and trying to find the best things to do to influence the ensemble of paths on which our lives will evolve from here. If I become depressed or confused, I give up our moment of power. …

The lifepath ensemble formulation is a liberating idea because it makes you understand that you cannot achieve a unique outcome and that the transitions from this state to the next are stochastic. All we can do is to do those things that make favorable transitions more likely.

Not that depression is that bad a thing always. If it is motivating to realize you have fallen short of some attainable goal, it may lead you to improve your preparation for the next life transition. But, if you think you can achieve the change or goal with certainty, then you may become depressed in an unhealthful way. This can fall into a non-linear dynamic that is reinforcing, leading to deeper depression and, eventually, non-competent decisions.

After reading these comments a few months back, I sensed their truth while rejecting their application. Depression is sinister in that it is addictive — I wanted to wallow in my depression rather than work to escape it. It is so easy to be the victim.

Though I won’t elaborate on this further here, it’s likely that what helped me overcome my depression were the positive steps I took1 to improve my health. Not surprisingly, these steps were small to start but have cascaded, compounding their goodness in a non-linear fashion.

Underlying the depression application of De Vany’s comments is a central, important idea: the stochasticity2 of life. De Vany also calls it the “lifepath ensemble formulation”3. These descriptors evoke imagery of a symphony of circumstances, many of which are unpredictable, that drive life forward. So much of life occurs as the sum of a randomness. Even when not random, the number of causal factors in life are often so great as to destroy predictability.

Rather than despair over life’s innate uncertainty and randomness, I accept it. Doing so assuages my anxiety about potentially negative outcomes and empowers me to take the necessarily small steps that will further progress towards a goal. This is even more important when the lifepath ensemble seems nothing more than cacophony. Indeed, the stochasticity of life adds depth and beauty. Would you really have it any other way?

Though I can’t be sure, I bet that is what De Vany means by the “lifepath ensemble” — it is the string of individual actions that come together to set a course for my life. The course will be anything but certain, so accept the uncertainty, and work within it.

Extracurricular reading

  • Anyone else reminded of Knocked Up? There’s a line in that movie spoken by the father (played by Harold Ramis) to Ben (Seth Rogen) that goes something like “Life doesn’t care about your plans!” Here’s the mp3 of Ben more or less reciting this line to Allison (Katherine Hiegl). A strong undercurrent of this hilarious movie is the stochasticity of life.
  • I might have to blog on this in more detail later, but Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, practices “affirmations”. Affirmations is a method whereby you write out a specific goal 15 times a day for as long as it takes (at least six months) for the goal to manifest itself in your life. Mystical enough for you? Adams says he practiced affirmations regarding becoming a syndicated cartoonist. His affirmation was “I Scott Adams will become a syndicated cartoonist.” Correlation is not causation; however, I can imagine a causal pathway whereby writing down a specific goal encourages you to focus on means to accomplish the goal, consciously or otherwise. Alternatively, focusing on the goal raises your awareness and helps you tune out much of the stochastic noise of life and focus on taking those small steps. Here is a re-post4 of Adams’ post. Note: I have not tried affirmations.
  • My sister clued me in to Earl Nightingale’s “Strangest Secret in the World”. Here’s a ten minute clip of this on youtube. You can listen to it but the secret is that “we become what we think about”. Again, the method by which thought becomes action is unclear; however, it seems obvious that we will actualize our desires and our desires spring from our thought. So think!

Footnotes

1 Art played an indirect, but prominent role in that process, as well, so I probably owe Dr. De Vany a “thank you” or two.

2 To save anyone from looking this up — as I had to, “stochasticity” means:

the quality of lacking any predictable order or plan

3 Such a provocative descriptor and yet he has not since blogged on the “lifepath ensemble” again — 1 2

4 Quite bizarrely, the original blog post by Adams on his Dilbert Blog has disappeared. You can do the googling yourself if you don’t believe me. Strikes me as odd. Note: in the original post, Adams alluded to a book on luck by Richard Wiseman. That post is still out there for the reading.

More on Coconut Oil

Before I go into the details, here are my big takeways:

  • Cook with coconut oil — try it instead of olive oil for sauteing fish, beef, pork, etc.
  • The medium-length saturated fats in coconut oil are good for “quick energy” because they require little digestion before being quickly absorbed into the body. I cooked with coconut oil at lunch today and was sort-of jazzed all afternoon. Further testing will be required. Addendum: Found this abstract of a study on medium-chain triglycerides: the study showed a 12% rise in basal metabolism on MCTs as compared to only a 4% rise for LCTs.
  • Once again fats win out over carbohydrates. And with even more tasty fats to choose from, its only that much more compelling to jettison the crummy carbs from my diet.

The Details

I picked up some coconut oil from Wal-Mart yesterday. Mind you, it was hardly the uber-natural, ultra-low-processed stuff I should be buying, but I only realized that today. I’ll work on getting the good stuff later; in the meantime, the Louana brand will do just fine.

As curious as I am, after reading the afore-blogged glowing review of oils high in saturated fats, and coconut oil in particular, I had to learn more. Some basic googling led me to this page, which ugliness aside, is pretty informative. Here’s a hearty snippet, as emphasized or edited (…) by me:

Coconut oil is one of the most stable oils you can buy. It does not turn
rancid easily. … coconut oil was one of the foods Weston Price studied in his journeys. He discovered that the coconut was considered, by the local populations, a medicine food. He found that those civilizations that consumed coconut regularly had no knowledge of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.

Let’s take a look at the healing properties of coconut oil:

  • Coconut oil is antiviral, antifungal (kills yeast too) and antibacterial. It attacks and kills viruses that have a lipid (fatty) coating, such as herpes, HIV, hepatitis C, the flu, and mononucleosis. It kills the bacteria that cause pneumonia, sore throats, dental cavities, urinary tract infections, meningitis, gonorrhea, food poisoning, pneumonia, and many, many more bacterial infections. It kills the fungus/yeast infections that cause candida, ringworm, athletes foot, thrush, jock itch, diaper rash and more.
  • Coconut oil is called the “low fat” fat. … It boosts one’s energy and endurance. Many athletes use it blended into their drinks. It also supports thyroid function and increases your metabolism (great if you want to lose weight).
  • Coconut oil improves digestion and absorption of fat soluble vitamins, minerals (especially calcium and magnesium), and amino acids. It improves the body’s use of blood glucose and improves insulin secretion and absorption (great for type II diabetes). In fact, many diabetics (type I and type II) use it to reduce their symptoms. One’s risk of diabetes decreases with regular use of coconuts and coconut oil. And as we already mentioned, cooking with coconut oil does not create any harmful byproducts.
  • Coconut oil helps the body heal and repair faster. It aids and supports immune function, protecting us from a variety of cancers.
  • Coconut oil, contrary to much hubbub, is good for your heart. It keeps our blood platelets from sticking together (and causing dangerous clots). Regular users of coconut oils have a much lower chance of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries), arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and strokes. Coconut oil can lower your blood pressure.
  • Coconut oil is a natural antioxidant. It protects the body from free radical damage and prevents premature aging and degenerative diseases.
  • Finally, coconut oil is the best massage oil on the planet. What it does to your skin, you simply have to witness. It forms a barrier against infections, softens and moisturizes your skin, and prevents wrinkling, sagging, and age spots. It promotes healthy hair and complexion, protects from any damaging UV rays. …


These are some pretty extravagant claims. And unfortunately, they were not footnoted or referenced. A book by Bruce Fife was mentioned (See the nearest match available on Amazon, to the right), which might go into detail on some or all of these claims.

Setting aside some of the more panacea-esque claims, its hard to miss the correlation between consuming coconut oil and preventing metabolic syndrome (A.K.A. “diseases of civilization”), which may be linked to loss of insulin sensitivity or the damage of abundant insulin, which we know is linked to eating carbohydrates. Though I can only speculate as to cause-and-effect, its reasonable to assume that cultures whose diets have a higher percentage of fats in them relative to carboyhdrates are less likely to succumb to the problems associated with insulin (hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, etc. — metabolic syndrome).

The bacteria-destroying aspect of coconut oil is intriguing, as well. I understand why saturated fats naturally have a longer shelf-life (Lack of easily broken, carbon=carbon double-bonds), but I can’t help but wonder if another reason coconut oil takes so long to go rancid is some anti-bacterial trait of the oil, itself.

Some extracurricular reading:

All about oils, Coconut milk and Whiskey

Just found an informative read about fats and oils over at Mark’s Daily Apple written by guest poster Scott Kustes of Modern Forager.

In the post, Kustes explains that the molecular bond stability of saturated fats makes oils high in saturated fats ideal for cooking.

Amongst the four types of fats, saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans, (trans being the only unequivocally bad fat), the lack of double-bonds in a saturated fat molecule makes it less prone to degenerating / breaking down when left sitting around or cooked.

On the other hand, monounsaturated fats have one double bond (See this graphic, bottom molecule for an example of a monounsaturated fat) and polyunsaturated fats have multiple double bonds. Double bonds are easier to break, so mono- and, even moreso, polyunsaturated fats are more unstable.

The big takeaway? When reaching for oils for cooking, coconut and palm oils as well as animal fat are all ideal choices as they consist of mostly saturated fats and monounsaturated fats (more of the former than the latter, at that).

Another interesting takeaway was that the the short chains of saturated fats found in coconut milk (or oil) are immediately absorbed into your blood via your stomach, resulting in a boost of energy which can noticeably raise body temperature, metabolism, etc. I might have to try that one out and see what happens. Makes me wonder if coconut milk might be an ideal beverage for endurance athletes who need an energy boost.

One other thing I learned whilst scanning Mark’s Daily Apple: apparently, whisky, gin, vodka, scotch, and 100% agave tequila all have zero carbohydrates. I was immediately a little skeptical as I find Maker’s Mark to be a bit sweet — but upon checking it out, yep, zero carbohydrates (I consider Maker’s Mark my reasonably affordable whiskey of choice).

Tequila shots anyone?

Art De Vany on Modern Life

Found some memorable quotes from a T-Nation interview with everyone’s favorite Evolutionary Fitness / Paleo-diet guru, Dr. Art De Vany (Discovered via Richard via Billy Jay). On Modern life:

What we use in this modern world are the brain modules that served the hunter-gatherer well. We have adapted them to our uses, and they function well indeed.

But, ancient life was full of extraordinary cognitive demands. Imagine being on a trail with the formidable predators that roamed the earth then. Life was a very long camping trip with no camp stove or energy bars to get us through. . . .

So, if you take this highly developed mind and put it in an office cubicle doing spreadsheets all day, you’re using ancient brain modules in a strange and possibly unhealthful way. . . .

Life was a far greater mystery then, far more dangerous and far more cognitively demanding than the lives we live now. What we might call an adventure now is what life was like then, every day.

Our ancestors lived in small bands of around 25 other people. Every person was important to the survival of the band. They all had value and contributed in some way. Now you can see thousands of other people and the comparison is almost always hard on your pride or sense of worth. And it’s hard to see your contribution in the broader scheme of things. I think this contributes to a sense of a lack of purpose and meaning in your life . . .

The rest of the interview (which is extensive) is worth reading for Dr. De Vany’s comments on evofitness, body building, insulin sensitivity, human growth hormone, etc.

Twight: “What you need is uncertainty … something that forces you to reinvent yourself, a whip to drive you harder.”

Over at Gym Jones, I read Mark Twight’s comments about living:

Burn the bridge. Nuke the foundation. Back yourself up against a wall. Have an opinion one way or the other, get off the fence and rip it up. Cut yourself off so there is no going back. Once you’re committed the truth will come out. You ask about security? What you need is uncertainty. What you need is confusion; something that forces you to reinvent yourself, a whip to drive you harder.

The entirety is worth a read. It reminds me very much of Thoreau in Walden:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived … I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it too its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world…

Creeds worth reading often.

Better Health via Intermittent Fasting and a Low-Carb Diet

I’ve been on a low-carb diet now for about two-and-a-half months. This has consisted of eliminating all breads, potatoes, and starchy foods from my diet (Regarding fruit, I pass on bananas with only the occasional apple while still eating berries and other colorful fruits). Furthermore, it has involved intermittent fasting. Through this diet and with minimal exercise, I have reduced my body fat percentage from around 20% to around 10% representing a loss of some 15+ lbs of fat and the gain of a handful of pounds of lean tissue (Weight change from approx. 182 to 168).

This weight loss was the easiest, most satisfying change in my health and body composition I’ve ever experienced.

As this post is extensive, here is the general breakdown:

  • Intro and Intermittent Fasting
  • Low-carb diet
  • Implementation and Conclusion
  • Additional Reading
  • Footnotes

Here are the details:

Intermittent Fasting

Yes, you read correctly, I used the “f word”: fasting. And I can read your mind:

  • What? You starved yourself?
  • Is that for religious reasons?
  • Yeah, that’s called anorexia!

No, no and no. And if I missed any others, no to them, too.

I first got turned onto Intermittent Fasting (IF) via Richard Nikoley over at Free the Animal who had been practicing Art Devaney’s evofitness sans fasting for about a year. Upon trying IF, Richard immediately noticed results in the form of both significant weight loss as well as change in appetite.

Richard’s successes seemed interesting enough from a distance (Fasting? Fascinating but not for me!), but what catalyzed a personal trial in IF and low-carb came after watching a lecture1 by science writer Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories (“GCBC”).

The big takeaway from the referenced lecture was that insulin, not overeating or under-exercising, is the chief culprit in why people become fat. Since eating carbohydrates causes the pancreas to secrete insulin, there is a direct correlation between carbohydrate consumption and insulin secretion. Ipso facto, the argument is made that eating carbs makes you fatGCBC.

Could it really be that simple? Dieting and working out had failed to reduce my weight effectively — it certainly seemed like something else was affecting my weight. Richard’s success and Taubes’ conclusion sufficiently piqued my interest. Admittedly without knowing all the data, I chose to do an IF, low-carb experiement.

What exactly is intermittent fasting? Intermittent fasting is choosing not to eat for a set period of time, which unlike your daily sleeping fast, is a sustained break from regularly occurring feeding. Translated into some bright line rules, I’d define an intermittent fast as going at least sixteen hours without eating (call that a “short” fast) or going for as long as 30 – 36 hours or three meals (“long fast”). As defined here, a fast requires there be no dietary caloric load on your body.

Fasting for longer than 36 hours likely will not only result in diminishing marginal returns, but it could also start messing with your metabolism. Most obviously, all fasts must be broken by eating.

Completing one to two long fasts per week so long as they are separated by eating a few meals can result in some drastic health benefits while causing no harmful effects on metabolism so long as you are completing some form of regular high-intensity exercise2.

What happens when you fast? Some interesting biological things, apparently. For one, the body moves to mobilize fat stores from the adipose tissue (the fat under your skin) to consume the fat as energy. It accomplishes this fat mobilization as a natural extension of reducing insulin concentrations in the blood as well as an increase in fat mobilizing hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and growth hormone. Interestingly enough, growth hormone is also released to conserve protein from catabolism. Protecting the proteins in your body during a fast is important because your body needs its lean tissues to survive (be they muscle or organ).

A benefit of fasting (for your mind) is that it alters your perspective on eating. At the end of a 30 hour fast, you want to eat something good for your body. You don’t want to gnosh on some french fries, slam a sugary soft drink and eat a bowl of ice cream. Even more, via abstaining from food even when it is available for consumption, you are putting your mind in control of your behavior. Taking back a bit of control over your life is an empowering feeling that leads to improved self-image and confidence.

Biologically, whether fasted or fed, your body is going to take measures to maintain adequate energy flows to demanding muscles and organs. Your body gets this energy from dietary sources or from storage within the body. The key here is that your body is always working to strike an appropriate balance (homeostasis) given the current demands. Were it not managing this process, both eating too much or eating too little would result in your untimely demise!

The ability of our bodies to regulate energy during times of feast or famine is evolutionary engineering. It is reasonable to posit that homo sapiens have only recently lived in such abundance that they could expect to eat food throughout the day, three times a day or more. Go back 50,000 years and you’ve still got mostly the same genetic footprint for human beings, but an entirely different supply of food. These were times when “foraging for food” meant more than a run to the pantry. In other words, our genetics have been engineered to allow us to go without food for longer than ten hours without resulting in our bodies failing. For a tidbit more on the evolutionary aspects of intermittent fasting, see footnote 7.

The bottom line: by reducing insulin in the body and up-regulating fat mobilizing and protein-protecting hormones, IF naturally turns your body into a fat burning machine. During a fast, your body will use whatever energy necessary, which will be similar to the amount of energy required were you eating normally. Over a long fast, if your body requires 2,500 calories, you could expect the majority of that energy to come from fat stores. Thus, the combination of IF with exericse is an effective way to reduce fat stores and work towards a leaner body composition.

Now, the astute reader asks, “Couldn’t you switch your body to being a fat burning machine by cutting out carbohydrates from your diet? If you only ate fat and protein, your body would have to burn the fat for energy, right?”

Good question!

Low-carbohydrate diet

And the answer is, of course, yes! The metabolic pathways while on a fast are the same processes when on a low-carbohydrate dietGCBC (Also see Eades here). This is because in both states (fat/protein-fed or fasted) your body is going to rely on free fatty acids as its main source of energy. Does it really matter that the fat comes from dietary sources or from your cells? Apparently, not3.

If you want to know a ton more about this, and I reiterate this in the footnotes, pick up Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, an exhaustive book about the science and history of the low-fat-is-healthy hypothesis, the varying research studies behind low-fat diets, the research behind low-carbohydrate diets, obesity, diabetes, insulin, caloric restriction, exercising to lose weight, metabolic syndrome, some biochemistry and more. GCBC is a fascinating and eye-opening read.

As noted before, Taubes concludes that insulin is uniquely fattening. And again, since insulin is released after eating carbohydrates, carbohydrates are fattening.

Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that regulates blood sugar, or glucose. Glucose comes from carbohydrates either directly or upon digestion. The presence of insulin downregulates fat mobilizing hormones (Human growth hormone, adrenaline, noradrenaline, glucagon, for example). Upon the introduction of insulin into the bloodstream, free fatty acids are driven back into fat cells for storage as they are now deemed unnecessary given the newfound energy. When all this energy leaves your bloodstream, you get hungry! In this manner, consuming carbohydrates not only shuts down fat mobilization but it can even spur hunger.

Furthermore, insulin tells your liver to take glucose and make triglycerides or fat for storage. Even more, if you note the “glyc” in triglycerides — that is for glycerol phosphate which holds the long fat chains together. Guess where your body gets glycerol phosphate? From metabolizing glucose! Thus, not only does the presence of insulin spur hunger and fat manufacturing by the liver, but the glucose facilitates fat creation by providing the molecule necessary to build the fat!

Insulin, by way of carbohydrates, is like the triple threat to being lean. It follows logically that by reducing insulin concentrations in the body, you can curb hunger, stop fat storage, and maintain the fast-induced fat mobilization process discussed earlier.

You reduce insulin concentration by fasting and avoiding carbohydrate-dense foods.

Though it is unnecessary to fast while on a low-carb / carbohydrate restricted diet, fasting speeds things along via caloric restriction overall while still allowing you to eat normal meals when you do eat. Taubes contends that a fast effectively accomplishes the same thing as Atkins’ induction phase, which is a two-week period of eating twenty grams of net carbohydrates a day or less4.

Implementation:

Though this is by no means the way to implement this diet, this is my semi-specific methodology. You must pay attention to your own results and customize a system that works for you.

Fasting: On a day when I plan to start a fast, I eat breakfast and lunch. Then I eat nothing else until dinner the next day. During the fast, I am free to drink water, tea and coffee so long as no creams or sugars are added. Some even say diet soft-drinks are ok but I universally avoid artificial sweeteners. All said, this results in anywhere from a 26 – 30 hour fast.

I make it a point to do about twenty to thirty minutes of high-intensity exercise about an hour or two prior to breaking my fast (typically some combination of multi-joint weight-lifting like dips, pull-ups, squats, kettlebell exercises, etc.). Whether you do your high-intensity exercise while in a fasted state or not, the exercise must be done! It is not optional.

I break the fast with a nutritious meal with normal-sized portions. In all meals, I avoid or eliminate carb-heavy foods. I avoid bananas and apples and all juices while regularly eating all types of berries, tomatoes and avocados. Nuts are okay though peanuts are not nuts but legumes (I still eat them from time to time though).

As far as portion size, Art DeVany says, and I think this is sound advice, to eat to satisfaction not to fullness.

Breads, potatoes, legumes and candy are off limits. Yes I cheat from time to time. I accept it and don’t allow it to overthrow my broad efforts. I find myself cheating less more and more as my body further detoxifies from the high-glucose, high-insulin addiction. I do not avoid beer or wine though I am always sure to stay hydrated and again, pay attention to your bodies!

For breakfast, I regularly eat a couple eggs (yolk never excluded), bacon or sausage (uncured) and berries. Some say avoid dairy, I do not and have not, regularly consuming cheeses and heavy cream. I do avoid milk and yogurt (can’t find any yogurt without a minimum of 15 gm of sugar). Remember: fat is ok. For me, low-carb did not mean “high protein” — it meant “high fat”. We’ve all been programmed to be scared of “high fat” — if you need some guidance in getting over your fear of fats, pick up Taubes’ book.

After breaking a fast, eat at least six meals before doing another fast.

Some notes:

While on any initial fasts, be prepared for some folks to think you are completely insane. If you keep it up, you’ll laugh when you find some of these people trying it out themselves a month later. Also, some people may experience headaches while fasting (particularly women). This is your body struggling with the swithover to fat as energy. Feel free to start with smaller fasts (say sixteen hours) before working up to a longer fast. Again, this is very personal — the nuances of insulin-sensitivity differ from person to person. Do what works for you.

If you try this out, please report any results. Questions? Comment below or email me.

Finally, a disclaimer. I am not a doctor. All of the above is for information purposes only. Any experiments you try on yourself are your own responsibility!

Conclusion:

I feel good practicing IF and a low-carbohydrate diet. The cravings for things like pizza go away faster than you might think. Excluding easy, filler-type foods makes you a smarter, more creative chef.

Via this regime, nay lifestyle, I’ve gotten back down to a body composition level akin to when I was eighteen, something I had long given up as impossible5. And I’ve done it in only a matter of a couple months.

My results being undeniable, I now have my father-in-law, wife, and brother all practicing this diet, something I now see as a way of life6 that I can maintain indefinitely. My sister-in-law and sister are also dabbling with the diet, too.

Additional Reading:

  • Fat: Mark Twight of Gym Jones talks about how endurance athletes run more efficiently on fat than on carbohydrates.
  • Martin Berkhan on Intermittent Fasting — talks about his history starting with when he was clearly overweight, to uber-skinny model, to experimenting with IF and weight lifting. Also read an interview with Martin here.
  • Fast 5 — a free ebook about fasting on a daily basis, not unlike Martin’s regiment in fast duration. A good introduction to IF.
  • Artificial Sweeteners Cause Energy Disregulation: More compelling (to me) than the arguments that artificial sweeteners cause cancer, is the contention that zero calorie sweeteners confuse our bodies, causing disregulation. I’ve avoided artificial sweeteners for the past two and a half months and haven’t missed them a bit. Note: had to link only to the clip I saved as Art has moved that post offline (or out of public view).
  • Big Fat Lie: an article from the UK Telegraph on Taubes. Read it and get the book if your interest is still piqued.
  • Intermittent Fasting: Art Devany is an expert of sorts on the paleo diet (which is low-carb by nature) and evofitness, which is high intensity “power law” training. Here he talks about his approach to IF, which of course, would have fit perfectly with the paleo lifestyle. Art is 70 and looks fantastic. Read his post on mental clarity and fasting. Note: both of these links are dead as Art redesigned his site and took much of the original content offline (unfortunately).
  • Your belly fat could be making you hungrier: A quote from the research:

    The extra fat we carry around our middle could be making us hungrier, so we eat more, which in turn leads to even more belly fat. Dr. Kaiping Yang and his colleagues at the Lawson Health Research Institute affiliated with The University of Western Ontario found abdominal fat tissue can produce a hormone that stimulates fat cell production. The researchers hope this discovery will change in the way we think about and treat abdominal obesity.

    More from Devany here. Basically, the fat in your abdomen is the last to go — almost fighting for its own existence towards the bitter end!

  • A Motivation I Haven’t Written About: Richard Nikoley talks about the link between carbohydrates and cancer cells. Apparently, cancer cells have an incredibly difficult time running on anything but glucose and even then, they burn glucose quite inefficiently. For this reason, a low-carb diet may have benefits for people fighting cancer.

There are others which I’ll have to point to in the future.

Footnotes:

GCBC Despite the name indicating the book is about foods and calories (a diet book), Good Calories, Bad Calories is a fantastic read on the history of research on low-fat and low-carb diets, insulin, weight-loss, pre-Westernized cultures and nutrition, cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, cancer (metabolic syndrome or “diseases of civilization”) and more. If you want to learn all about these topics, you must pick this book up. If you are skeptical about low-carb diets, I implore you to read GCBC. It is a fascinating read at approximately 450 pages (Note: the book is 600 pages, but 150 of them are references!).

1 Watch Taubes lecture on “Big Fat Lies” on Google video here

2 Defined as low quantity or time, high quality or work completed. Volumes could be written (and have been) on this subject. Bodyweight circuits where exercises are performed back to back (See C8B300 for an example) are one form of this. Tabata intervals are another. A Body For Life style cardio session is also popular where you do 2 minutes at Level 5 intensity, then four sessions of one minute each at levels 6, 7, 8, 9 and end with a minute at level 10 and then a minute of cooldown back at level 6 (This adds up to 20 minutes total: 2 warmup, 16 on the four minute intensity cycle, one at peak intensity, and one at cooldown).

3 Therein possibly also lies the answer to a question that arises regarding low-carb diets compared to non-low-carb caloric restriction diets. Research has shown that low-carb dieters can severely restrict calories, achieve significant weight loss, and not be hungry. Comparatively, non-low-carb calorically restricted diets wreak havoc on the dieters making them cranky and typically resulting in all the weight going back on upon ceasing the diet.

4 Many, many people I’ve talked to about this think I’m doing the Atkins diet. If I am, fine. Honestly, I haven’t read Atkins stuff well enough to say if I’m following his protocol or not. I mention the comparison of a fast and the induction phase as a means to point out the connection between fasting and low-carb diets as well as the benefit that fasting provides in terms of speeding along the process.

5 Having tried the aforeblogged Getting back to fighting weight (Post deprecated) Body for Life program and seen results, but only after untold hours in the gym (probably on the order of 100 hours) and pounding three protein shakes per day in addition to three meals.

6 Fasting twice per week is not something you have to do indefinitely. In fact, its too regular to maintain on a permanent basis. Our bodies should be kept on their toes! Periodically going to only fasting once a month would be an option (Or once every other week). Just be sure to mix it up. My guess is that once you try fasting, you’ll find that going on a periodic fast is something you want to do to clear your mind, body, etc. and/or ward off a cold, get over a weekend of gorging, whatever.

7 This diet conforms readily to the way our bodies seem to be genetically engineered by tens of thousands of years of evolution. Hunter/gatherer man wasn’t looking for french fries and rolls! It has only been in the past ten millennia that carbohydrate-dense, processed foods have been available for consumption. Our bodies simply struggle to cope with such a drastic shift in diet from nuts, berries, leafy greens (all slow-to-metabolize carbohydrates on the glycemic index), and meat to breads, rices, potatoes, and sugar which require immense amounts of insulin to regulate.